Let’s Hear From an Expert: Claire Diaz-Ortiz, co-author of One-Minute Mentoring

You’re the co-author of One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being One. How would you summarize the benefits of mentoring, for both the mentor and the mentee?

Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” It’s true. We simply can’t reach our biggest goals and greatest dreams without the support of others. Mentoring is a specific, targeted way to give and receive in order to help you get where you’re going.

We believe that behind every successful person, you’ll find a mentor—usually several—who guided their journey. There are many famous mentor/mentee examples out there—Socrates and Plato, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey—the list goes on and on.  With the pace of change today, we believe that mentoring can ground you and guide you in a way that few other activities can. The amazing thing about mentoring is that in many ways it benefits the mentor as much as the mentee.

My life was changed by mentoring when I arrived in Kenya after an around-the-world journey. I was planning to climb Mount Kenya and found an orphanage where I could spend a free night before my trek. There I met a child named Sammy Ikua Gachagua, who had lost his father to illness, his mother to abandonment, and his home to poverty. I never did climb Mount Kenya. My overnight stay turned into a year and led to a mentoring relationship that changed the course of my life forever.

People need to know that mentoring can literally change their lives. Yes, it’s true that mentoring will take some time and intention. It also takes time and intention to learn to drive—but once you know how, you can really go places! The same is true with mentoring.  We all have 168 hours each week. Investing a few of those hours in mentoring will energize you in a way that web surfing and TV watching never will.

 

For women in midlife, who are looking for a way to contribute, why is this a good time for them to consider becoming mentors?

Mentoring partnerships aren’t just about what you gain — but about what you give as well. The reason they are so effective is a successful mentoring partnership can reenergize any of us. That said, don’t be so sure you won’t be learning from your mentee at the same rate you are teaching him or her!

As for cross-generational mentoring, that’s when a young person is paired with an older person, so they can both learn and grow. Because Ken is a leadership expert in his mid-seventies and I’m a former Twitter executive in my mid-thirties, we are a living example of the lessons we’re teaching.

We’d like to see a lot more cross-generational mentoring happening. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of about 10,000 a day, which is causing a brain drain in our industries. At the same time, older people who are staying in the workforce could really use the skills and insights younger people have to offer. For example, I’ve taught Ken a lot about technology and social media—and he has taught me a thing or two about leadership. It’s a win-win, for sure!

 

What are the best ways for mentor wannabes to find prospective mentees?

There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. We’ve found in our own lives that mentors are all around you once you start looking for them.  You might find a mentor in a boss, teacher, neighbor, friend, or colleague. Or you might find one through a professional association, volunteer organization, or online mentoring organization.

That old saying works both ways—when you’re ready to become a teacher/mentor, the student/mentee appears. We encourage people to step up and become mentors because you won’t fully discover, appreciate, or leverage what you have until you start giving it away.

As for identifying a potential mentor/mentee, it’s important to think about compatibility. In the book, we show that there are two aspects of working with someone: essence and form. Essence is all about sharing heart-to-heart and finding common values. Form is about structure—how you might work together. For a mentoring relationship to thrive, you need to establish that heart-to-heart connection.

There are many different types of mentors out there, and the type you seek will change the way you seek one. Whether you’re seeking New-Hire Mentoring, Peer-to-Peer Mentoring in a Company Context, Cross-Generational Mentoring, Adult-to-Adolescent Mentoring, or another type of partnership, be confident when approaching a mentor directly, or learn the specifics of the organization if it’s within an organizational context. As one example, if you’re an employee seeking to find a mentor within your organization, start with Human Resources. Many companies these days have programs already thriving within your organization. I also recommend the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

 

What are your best tips for a great mentoring relationship?

In One Minute Mentoring, we teach the MENTOR model, a 6-step formula for success in mentoring.

M = Mission: The first step is a clear mission statement, creating a vision and purpose for the mentorship. By creating a Mission, you’ll put the relationship on solid footing.

E = Engagement: When we talk to people about mentoring, one of the biggest barriers they worry about is time. It’s true that a mentoring relationship will take a little time, but a few hours a month is not going to do people in, especially when they realize how energizing and inspiring those few hours will be. The reason we call the book One Minute Mentoring is that we have found that the best advice we ever gave or received was communicated in less than a minute. In other words, the guidance that really makes a difference does not come in the form of long, complex theories—it comes in short, meaningful insights. But first, you have to create that mentoring relationship so the insights can come through. Make a commitment to regular meetings. By deciding how to Engage, you’ll have clarity about how to work together.

N = Networking: Cultivating productive relationships is critical. By Networking, you’ll expand your horizons.

T = Trust: Building trust takes time. By building Trust, you’ll deepen the bond.

O = Opportunity: Mentoring relationships bring with them great opportunities. By creating Opportunities, each of you will grow.

R = Review and Renewal: Regularly reviewing your mission is essential. Keeping a journal as you engage with your mentor/mentee will reveal the ways you’re fulfilling—or not fulfilling—that mission. For example, if your goal in a mentoring relationship is to create a career you love, you can record in your journal each step you take toward accomplishing that mission. And by Reviewing and renewing your partnership, you’ll know if and when your season of mentorship has ended.

While each mentoring relationship is different, all can benefit by aligning with the MENTOR process.

 

Contact Claire Diaz-Ortiz

Email: Claire@clairediazortiz.com

Website: Clairediazortiz.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/claire

 

Claire Diaz-Ortiz is an author, speaker, and technology innovator who has been named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. Claire was an early employee at Twitter, where she spent five and a half years leading social innovation.

In Claire’s time at Twitter, she was called everything from “The Woman Who Got the Pope on Twitter” (Wired) and “Twitter’s Pontiff Recruitment Chief” (The Washington Post) to a “Force for Good“ (Forbes) and “One of the Most Generous People in Social Media” (Fast Company).

Claire is the award-winning author of eight books, including One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being OneTwitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time, Design Your Day: Be More Productive, Set Better Goals, and Live Life On Purpose, Greater Expectations, Paperback (Frames Series): Succeed (and Stay Sane) in an On-Demand, All-Access, Always-On Age, and Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption.

She is a frequent international speaker on social media, business, and innovation and has been invited to deliver keynotes and trainings at organizations like the Vatican, the US State Department, Verizon, South by Southwest, TEDX, and many others.

She writes a popular business blog at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com and serves as a LinkedIn Influencer, one of a select group of several hundred global leaders chosen to provide original content on the LinkedIn platform.

Claire holds an MBA from Oxford University, where she was a Skoll Foundation Scholar for Social Entrepreneurship, and has a B.A. and an M.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University.

She is the co-founder of Hope Runs, a non-profit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya.

She has appeared widely in major television and print news sources such as CNN, BBC, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Washington Post, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, and many others.




Becoming a Story Coach: Katherine’s Story

After 20 years helping low-income students, Katherine was feeling stuck and called to do something new. She has leveraged her talent and passion for helping others tell their stories to launch her own business as a presentation and story coach. 

  

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the youngest of four. My parents met on a blind date in high school in upstate New York and were ambitious to create a different life for themselves and their children. My father ran a small secretarial school business that flourished under his leadership. With success, my parents also drilled the notion that with privilege comes responsibility. I thought I wanted to be the head of the United Way or a teacher growing up. I knew I wanted to make an impact in people’s lives.

In high school, I met a woman through my parents who would change the course of my life. Her name was Linda Mornell and she was starting a nonprofit in San Francisco, Summer Search, to help low-income students break out of their limitations and change their lives.

While I attended the University of Pennsylvania, the real learning for me during those years happened on a summer internship to Kenya, where I lived with a Kenyan family and taught math at the local village school. A Summer Search student was on that program. I understood immediately that it didn’t matter where you came from, but who you are on the inside that matters most. I was determined to work with Linda and for Summer Search someday.

I graduated college with a degree in African American Studies then did Teach For America, which at the time was a new program placing recent college grads in inner-city schools for two years. I stayed in touch with Linda and, after visiting her twice, we made a commitment to work together. I moved to San Francisco in 1995.

I met my husband at a party here. He heard me laughing and sought me out. We laughed, danced, and sparks flew. When he didn’t ask for my number, I thought, “Well Katherine, it wasn’t meant to be. You’ve thrown yourself on enough men in your life, it’s time to let them lead the way. Let it go.” That Monday, he called me at work. Our first date was on my 27th birthday. I had to stand on a phone book in front of my apartment building to kiss him—he’s 6’7”.  We never really let each other go after that. It took some the courage to let someone in that much, but I have never looked back. We got engaged a few months later and married that year.

We have three children, Charlie (14), Joey (12), and Kate (10) and a very cute but fearful dog named Augie (3).

When did you start to think about making a change?

As I said, I was the founder’s first hire at Summer Search and was on staff for 20 years. Because I joined so early in the lifespan of the organization, I was part of the formative years of growing a small nonprofit. I loved Summer Search with all my heart and never thought I would work anywhere else.

It was impossible to push students to look at where they let their fears and self-sabotage hold them back, without looking at how I did that to myself too. I felt this enormous debt of gratitude to Linda and the students for all the ways they pushed me to grow. (Read more about how much Linda influenced my life in my post here.)

With Linda

I held several roles within the nonprofit, including Executive Director and managing a $20 Million Growth Campaign. My mantra in the middle years when my kids were essentially still babies was to be helpful and useful, which I was.

Yet over time, I no longer wanted to fundraise, and despite the fact that I was a leader who yielded some influence in the organization, I was feeling deeply stuck and torn by my years of devotion and desire to grow in new ways.

It was very confusing time for me because I had committed so much of my professional and personal life to this organization. I had personally mentored close to 1000 alumni. I felt like I was leaving behind a family. But in my heart, I knew I was no longer growing and I knew it was time to move on.  So yes it was brewing for a while, but it took me a long time to admit to myself, let alone others.

At the same time, I recognized that my kids will be off to college before I know it. Maybe dramatic since my youngest is currently nine years old. But my oldest just started high school and I see the end of an era coming down the pike.

Levar and Jabali, Summer Search alums I worked with

What is your next act?

I am now a Presentation + Story Coach. I launched my company, Katherine Kennedy, with the tagline Speaking to What Matters in January of 2016 at the age of 44.

I work 1:1 to help people craft their message and speeches. I believe everything you need to tell your story and connect with an audience is inside you. So my job is to help you access, organize and deliver.

I am also coaching people of all ages (executives to teenagers) on speaking with authenticity and confidence in business and informal settings.

I love the variety of people and am having so much fun in the most soul-affirming way. My clients have ranged from a 5-hour project for a speech the following week, to preparing for an on-camera interview, to crafting wedding vows, to a 4-month partnership to develop a TEDMED talk.

I recently helped the wife of the doctor who wrote When Breath Becomes Air. She was asked to speak for a Stanford Medicine X as well as the lauded TEDMED. We dug deep to lift her story and her message (not just her late husband’s) about love and loss. Lucy referred to me as having an “emotional divining rod” that can sift out what is essential to the person giving the speech as well as what will land emotionally with the audience.

 

Lucy’s speech

 

Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?  

The one thing that kept me going at Summer Search for so long was the work with the student and alumni speakers for their signature events. I loved this work so completely. It was creative, courageous, and deeply connecting. Each speech would take an overwhelming amount of craft and care, but it was exhilarating to play a part in helping someone tell their story with vulnerability, triumph, and confidence.

And thanks to some soul searching, I was moving in the direction of wanting to start my own consulting business. Could I transfer my ability to get close to people, understand what it is like to be in their shoes, decipher their hopes and dreams, their past and their future, and help them tell their story?

What do I call myself? A speaking coach? A story coach? And was there a market for this?

I wanted to work for myself, and I wanted more flexibility to be with my family. And I wanted to devote my professional time to helping people develop their message, and ultimately their confidence. Like my calling to Summer Search 20 years ago, this presentation and story work was calling me, too.

So that’s what I am doing!

I helped Ana tell her story

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Well as you have heard, the transition to decide to leave was painful and I didn’t even know how much I needed to move on, or how ready I really was.

I took a course called Playing Big with Tara Mohr. I looked at all the ways I was holding myself back and the fears and self-doubt that were keeping me there. I especially saw how the anxiety I was feeling about leaving had a direct relationship to old behaviors of people pleasing and not listening to the sound of my own voice. That voice inside that’s trying to be listened to but gets shut out by the more critical anxious voice of fear.

I drew upon the strength of my prior students and did my own research, too. I read the book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges. He kept illustrating how every new beginning must start with an ending.

I also found ways to build energy for my next act. Help and clarity came in the form of a new friend who was also a writer. I whispered to her on a walk that I wanted to help people find more meaning in their lives. That a part of me believed that the gifts I had of helping Summer Search students and alumni tell their stories and craft a compelling speech could be translated to others, but how? She offered, for a price, help with creating content for a website. I bit the bullet and hired her. I still wasn’t convinced I was leaving Summer Search but I knew that I had to take leaps in other ways if I was ever going to feel the confidence and clarity to live a creative life again.

Then I quit. The day after the Summer Search 25th Anniversary. The event and the speeches were a huge hit and yet, I knew it was time to go.

So I enjoyed the holidays and then started putting one foot in front of the other: developed my website, took on a few clients and started learning about social media. That was a year ago. I have learned more in this past year, than the 10 years prior!

Being honored at the 25th gala

How supportive were your family and friends?

My husband had been let go from his safe but unfulfilling sales job with a software company the year before and had been exploring becoming a full-time personal trainer. After college (eons ago!), he was a US National Rower, and the athlete and trainer in him was aching to get out.

My husband also saw my growing discontent with my role and with the office politics that are inevitable with a growing organization. I think when I called him from New York the day after our 25th anniversary to tell him I quit, he wasn’t surprised.

Since we are in similar phases, we keep reminding each other how we are doing the right thing, for ourselves and for our children, and let’s face it, for the people we want to serve through our new businesses!

I thought my parents would be disappointed (must have been some old voice inside) and to the contrary, they were so proud of me. My mother exclaimed,
“Oh Katherine, you can finally take care of yourself!” My father knew I had been struggling and said, “You now know what being in limbo feels like. I am proud of you for making the decision. Cut the cord. It will get easier.” I think they are thrilled to hear me so energized and excited about this next act.

I was worried about how Linda would feel too. While she was no longer officially on staff at Summer Search, we were still close and weathered a lot of the storms there together. Linda understood though and, with my departure, has also been able to move on more as well.

My close friends were thrilled. They knew I loved Summer Search but were tired of seeing me feel undervalued and stifled.

The most interesting part was my children. They were old enough to share some of my thought process about why I was leaving Summer Search and how important it was for me to take the skills and passion I developed there to others. That it was time for me to grow.

I was able to share with them the letter I sent to my former students, where I talked about my care for them, and how I had to confront my fears the same way I had encouraged them all along. My kids are proud of me, and frankly grateful to have some of their mom back. Most of my time is working on moving my consulting business forward but I have more flexibility and less stress, if you can believe it. 

At Carlton’s high school graduation in 1998 (Summer Search student)

What challenges did you encounter?

The greatest challenge I have encountered is patience—patience to find clients— and humility—humility that I still have a lot to learn. Both feel good though, and I know I am on the right track. I want to honor the stage of life I am in with my children and want to build this business over time.

Practically speaking, I am breaking out of my own limitations with technology and social media. I am proud of my website but since launching, I have been hired to help with one TEDMED speech and three TEDx talks, and it hit me recently, I have nothing on my website about that! So I have thrown in some language about it but still have to figure that out.

Another challenge is putting myself out there in my blogging. I have never dreamed of being a writer. And, I panic just like the rest of us when it comes to public speaking. To the outside eye, I am confident and persuasive, but it still makes me nervous. What I love about it is the challenge though and the joy and confidence that comes from just doing it.

And I have had to do everything myself, from the Quickbooks to the networking, which is part of what I have loved.

I am learning how to keep enough time open in my calendar for clients who need me in a pinch and also plan my weeks out to accomplish what I set out to do.

With a former student I coached for a keynote

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

When I am doing this coaching work, I loooove it. My brain hurts in the best way. I am using all faculties. I am using what I learned through opening up people with care and directness. I am using my years of understanding behavior and speaking to what’s not being said. I am using my ability to interact with people to make them feel safe and able to share what’s most deep inside. And of course, I am using my creativity to make each speech, presentation unique to my client’s true wishes and message. What keeps me going is that I love this work and I know it is my deepest offering to the world.

In fact, I just got off the phone with a Temple Board President who gave a speech for Rosh Hashanah. He was thrilled with our work together and said he would never give a speech again without my help. I was on speakerphone with his brother and son and they kept asking how, how did I help? We re-wrote the whole speech and as he said, I gave him the space to learn how to be himself and craft the words like a conversation. I feel overjoyed that I can help people be their best version of themselves in moments that truly matter and that will make an impact.

Every time I listen to Tom Petty’s acoustic version of “Learning to Fly,” my heart swells with gratitude. I never thought I would have a next act. I thought it was me and Summer Search for life. I am learning to fly – and it feels great!

Luke and Laura — I helped Laura craft her wedding vows

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

I have learned that I have a lot to give—and a lot more to learn! But that I have a gift for helping people access what is inside of them, organize their message in a compelling way that is true to them, and connect with an audience, big or small. That feels good. I didn’t set out to have this passion or skill 20 years ago, but here I am.

I have also learned that letting go and moving on isn’t as hard as one thinks. It is the thinking about it, not the doing, that’s hard.

And that the only person who is accountable for your growth is YOU.

And that it’s never too late. Should I have left Summer Search earlier? Oh, who knows. I choose to feel proud of my 20-year commitment and beyond grateful for a next act!

Baker Beach, where I often walk, for inspiration and rejuvenation

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

This one-liner helped me enormously: Every new beginning must start with an ending.

As well as all of these:

We are all called to something. Yet callings need to be activated.

In order to say YES, you have to say a lot of NOs. Be super duper selective.

And schedule your workouts like a doctor’s appointment!

Watch your tendency to be a martyr.

Keep listening to the sound of your own voice. The coaching folks call it your Inner Mentor. Whatever you call it, trust yourself.

Some of my favorite books

What resources do you recommend?

Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead book and coaching course by Tara Mohr

B-School online marketing course with Marie Forleo

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, a book by William Bridges

Jac McNeil, Business Coach for Women

Katie Monkhouse, Creative Services (website help!)

Kathleen Duich, Writer

The Copy Cure, Online copy course

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo

SpeechSkills in San Francisco and New York has a great one-day class called “Projecting Yourself with Confidence and Credibility”

The office I share with my husband

What’s next for you?

Change and establishing yourself take time. I am coming to the end of my first year as a Presentation and Story Coach. I have realistic goals for my earned income over the next three years.

This past fall, I invested in myself with a business coach. She helped me see my specific strengths, clarify my offerings, work through some tricky client situations, and establish goals for myself. I highly recommend her!

So with that said, this year I have bigger goals in terms of income and impact and have hit the ground running. I feel grateful!

 

Contact Katherine Kennedy at Katherine@katherinekennedysf.com

Website

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Launching a Furniture Business at 56: Lena’s Story

Moving back to the US from Greece in midlife forced Lena to rethink her career plans. She launched LAMOU, a unique online store featuring custom-printed furniture.

Tell us a little about your background…

My background is full of dynamic forces that have given form to my life and shaped who I am. I was born in Providence, R.I., to two Greek physicians who came to the United States for post-graduate studies in the mid-1950s. I am a post-war child, in the full sense of the word, especially considering that my parents witnessed World War II in Greece—the Nazi occupation and the ensuing civil war. I was schooled in New England, attending a Quaker school for girls from kindergarten through high school. It was a rigorous and empowered environment and a true prep school for life and learning.

I grew up in a bi-cultural environment—Greek and American, rather than Greek-American. My parents embraced Greek culture and exposed me and my two siblings to Greece from the time we were very young. Beginning in the early 1960s, we would travel to Greece in the summer and my memories of summers in Greece are strong, poignant, and part of who I am.

With Mom and my siblings in Greece, 1966

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 1981, and worked at several jobs, before deciding to go back to school and get a Masters in Architecture. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 with a mission: architecture and design.

As women, we have to balance our professional goals with family, and that is one of the biggest challenges we all face. I ended up living and working in Greece, and married in Athens soon after graduating from Penn. It was quite an adventure being a woman architect, educator, and designer in Athens, and a constant struggle to balance professional aspirations with marriage.

Magazine feature in Greece

I have a daughter, Artemis, who is just shy of 22 and a senior at Bard College. I divorced her father when she was quite young, but decided to stay in Athens until she finished high school so that she could have two parents influencing her life. I call myself a single parent, however, as the joys and responsibilities of parenting mainly fell on me.

Although I am sometimes nostalgic for the nuclear and close family model I experienced as a child, I nevertheless feel that parenting alone is a huge accomplishment and delivers a message of strength, especially in current times where family models are becoming more and more flexible. I did, however, have the love and support of my own family to see me through the many challenges I faced as a single mother and a professional.

In my professional life, I did many different “jobs”: I designed houses and gardens, entered plenty of competitions, taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, set up a non-profit with funding from the EU with two other women architects, started a furniture design company with production in Istanbul, and continued to pursue my love of visual arts through painting and drawing.

I must admit that I would not have been able to do all of the above without the help of several women whom I employed while in Greece to help with childcare when my daughter was young. I felt these young women were very understanding of my need to create and were excellent co-parents for my daughter’s upbringing. I could not have done everything I did without the advantage of having help with childcare.

With Artemis in Greece

When did you start to think about making a change?

This is an interesting question in my case, as sometimes historical events influence a person’s choices, versus decisions that come about as a result of deep reflection. I knew that I wanted my daughter to go to college in the United States and enrolled her in an IB (International Baccalaureate) program in a private school in Athens. I had cultivated this with her from a very young age, knowing full well that her exposure to schooling in the US would be a determining factor in her life and would broaden her horizons.

When the financial crisis hit Greece in 2010, jobs dried up and I lost my salaried position as professor of architecture in a private university in Athens that was forced to close. In addition, we lost my mother to cancer at the end of 2010, and it seemed to me like the earth was shifting. I was bereaved, far from my siblings and my father, without a steady income, and witnessing the political turmoil that was happening on a daily basis in Athens as a result of the financial crisis.

With Mom and one-week-old Artemis in Greece

 

With the help of my father, I was able to see out the last two years of Artemis’ IB program in Greece, and help her navigate the college application process. I also had lots of time on my hands, and turned to painting and the visual arts full time.

My daughter’s hard work paid off: She was offered a terrific scholarship at Bard and there was no reason for me to stay in Greece anymore. My father was still alive but heartbroken (my parents had been together since medical school in Athens). With Artemis enrolled at Bard and Greece falling apart at the seams, I moved to the US, into the house where I grew up in Providence, which my father has maintained to this day. It is odd to return to one’s childhood home at 56, but my father is alive and well at 91, and having a home to return to definitely made it easier for me to take the risk of re-invention.

Our family celebrating my father’s 90th

The first few months were excruciatingly hard. What was I to do? How could I possibly translate all those years of working in Greece into something here in the States? How could I enter the workforce in my 50s and compete with all the accomplished young? How could I give up friends, familiarity, my support group, and my routines?

Life sometimes is strange and very serendipitous. Things seem to happen for a reason and the universe conspires just when we despair. The summer before I was leaving Greece, in 2013, an old and dear classmate from Penn, Ann Clark, contacted me to say she was coming to Greece, accompanying her new life partner to a medical convention, and that she was moving to Providence. I too, was about to move, and this was a huge source of comfort for me. Maybe Ann and I could figure something out together.What is your next act?

I am the co-founder of LAMOU, which I launched with Ann Clark in 2015, at age 56. It is a new concept in furniture that offers the opportunity for customers to engage in the process of design through technology. Our initial product offering is wood tables that are custom printed. Our website hosts LAMOU’s proprietary collection of designs as well as guest artist collections. In addition, we have a toolkit builder on the site: Anyone can upload a photograph, print, painting, or design and purchase their own table, flat-packed and delivered to their door.

Classic Line end tables

The name is a combination of our initials “L” for Lena, “A” for Ann and the word “mou” which in Greek means “mine.” We thought it was a fitting name for a company that is involved with personalization!

I love the idea of slowly building a community centered around participation in design. It has been wonderful to see the personalized pieces that customers are ordering and how enthusiastic they are with the process and the product. I also love the process of building LAMOU and turning it into a robust business; every day is a challenge and there are new issues to be solved and problems to address. Building a business is like solving an ever-evolving puzzle, and as such, I see it as one more design project. 

With my partner, Ann

Why did you choose this next act?  

This next act, came about after many, many, brainstorming sessions and explorations, together with Ann and on my own.

When I first returned, I was lucky enough to be offered a stint teaching as an adjunct at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), and that helped keep me balanced through a very challenging transition. I soon realized, however, that trying to enter the academic world at my age, with all the political intrigue and insecurity that accompanies an adjunct position, would not be possible. I reached out to builders and contractors and got a few jobs—an addition here, an interior there—but again was confronted with the reality that building a reputation from scratch in the already-established architecture scene here would be close to impossible.

I joined an artist’s collaborative, which I enjoyed, and I reached out to the community here in Providence, where I did manage to win recognition for my work in juried competitions.

Solo Show, Coastal Gallery, 2016

Ann and I started meeting more and more frequently and spoke often about the trials and tribulations of being uprooted in your 50s. Ann had a successful practice in Chicago and was going back and forth the first year, trying to keep the balance between her old life and a new beginning in Providence, so she was feeling similar frustrations.

We both shared an interest in furniture design: Ann had done several pieces for private clients, and I had a design company in Athens that had received considerable attention. We also both shared a love of art and painting. We were aware of new technologies in the design industry, and we each had myriad experiences with clients wanting to participate in the design process.

All of our talks and iterations of what to do next somehow naturally evolved into the idea for LAMOU: a platform that would introduce a new concept in furniture. By combining printing technology with furniture, we would open the door for people to engage with us in a community setting. We would start with one product and slowly build the company into a new platform for participating in design.

Epic Line Persian table

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It was hard. Becoming an entrepreneur in your 50s is not an easy task, especially as a woman, and in a start-up culture dominated by youth. It takes determination and a lot of hard work. You have to relinquish your role as an “expert” and become a novice all over again. It also involves a lot of patience and flexibility: You have to listen and learn, ride out the frustrations and the insecurity, believe in your idea, and persist.

I think you prepare as best you can, but it is really in doing that you learn. Starting a business is a risk; you can have an MBA and still fail. There really is no way to prepare when you do something for the first time: You just build stone by stone and nurture your wounds along the way!

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My daughter, my father, my sister and my brother were extremely supportive and still are.

I really did not share much of what I was doing with many friends. I think you have to be careful when you start something new. People become risk averse as they age, and you can be talked out of ideas or aspirations if you are not careful. Sometimes it is better to discuss things once you are on the way and not before.

There is an advantage to starting something new in your 50s: You are wiser and more self-confident than in your 20s, and you do not need the approval that you sought in your youth. My few dearest friends were and are extremely supportive, but I still do not discuss with them in detail about LAMOU. I sometimes feel that talking replaces action, so I am a little guarded when it comes to sharing.

With Artemis in Brooklyn

What challenges did you encounter?

There are so many I do not know where to begin. Learning how to set up an e-commerce company, how to write a business plan, how to market in a digital age, the design of the website, designing the products, sourcing and manufacturing, accounting, presenting and networking constantly, choosing the right co-workers, raising money… The list goes on and on. The most important thing is having the right partner when you start something as challenging as LAMOU. That is where a true sense of teamwork comes into play.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Yes of course, I thought about giving up, on many occasions. There were times when I just wanted my old life back: painting from morning till night like a hermit or lecturing to students, or designing a structure. There were—and are—plenty of sleepless nights where I woke up startled and thinking about failure.

Again, I have to state here that having a strong partnership makes a huge difference when becoming an entrepreneur. Ann picks me up when I am down, and vice versa. There are times when we are both down, and those are hard, but somehow we are both equally persistent, both experienced in life’s struggles, and both stubborn. When times are rough, you have to have a fierce sense of commitment and belief to see you through.

Reviewing custom design with Ann

 What did you learn about yourself through this process?

That life is an adventure and you have to embrace it. That nothing is written in stone, and one can make changes even though change is hard. That I have stamina and have much more to learn. That the past has a way of resurfacing and influencing everything you do and who you are, and that will, perseverance, and belief can help you achieve.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I really do not believe in regrets or revisions, so no, there is not anything I would have done differently. Life is a process, and a learning one at that. So, as long as my conscience is clear, I feel I can take on many challenges.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Be true to yourself and believe in yourself. Do not be scared of re-inventing yourself and do not let others sabotage you. Life is precious and we have no time to waste. Failure is just a perception: Turn your defeats into victories and let them inform you. There are many amazing women around us; trust them, seek their advice, and depend on them!

Keep an open mind and be a lifelong student. Learn to pivot, to compromise, to give things up for the sake of an idea, a goal or a dream. Rely on your own process which will constantly guide you in evolving.

Etched in Stone table

 What advice do you have for those interested in launching a new product-based business?

You need to define your market and delve into the statistics of that market. It is important to figure out the competition and decide what your advantage is—your value proposition. It’s a good idea to conduct focus groups and get “early adopters” on board who can champion your product from the get go. You also need to figure out your business model: will you sell to consumers, to businesses, or both, and what are your distribution channels? How are you solving a problem in a more competitive way than others? What is your main message and how can you capitalize on it and stick to it?

You really have to take the process step by step and learn as you go along. One thing that is important is to hire experts who can help and guide you. Professionals who care enough about clients to listen and to educate them. We have been very lucky with our team: our web developers, our design team, our attorney, and our production team. However, we did a great deal of research and vetting before deciding on whom to work with, and we cultivate these relationships.

Another piece of advice I can offer is to constantly research and find resources when you do not know how to do something. Ann and I participated in a business plan seminar, in a digital marketing seminar, and we entered the RI business plan competition. We also took—and continue to take—advantage of the budding startup community here and various networking organizations.

We had plenty of hiccups along the way and had to let certain collaborators go, either because they were not pulling their own weight or because it was not the right fit. One thing we were told by a wise businessman: “Be slow to hire and quick to fire.” I think it is important to remember this in any venture: Take the time to really interview your collaborators, and cut the relationship quickly if things are not moving forward or the relationship is creating conflict. 

My desk at LAMOU

 What resources do you recommend?

For those wishing to become entrepreneurs, I suggest reaching out to the Small Business Administration in your city or state to find out what programs they offer. We were very lucky in Rhode Island. The University of RI has a Small Business Development Center and, through their program, Ann and I were assigned an excellent business advisor who meets with us regularly with no fee. He has been very influential in helping us through thick and thin.

I would also suggest finding non-profits that specifically deal with women in business. In Rhode Island, the Center for Women in Enterprise is one resource. (SITES)

Seth Godin is an excellent resource for anyone considering starting a business, and his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)is a great read and one that anyone taking on a new challenge can relate and refer to.

Present your ideas at every opportunity to talented and knowledgeable people. We attended a meet and greet that Golden Seeds held in Boston. Golden Seeds is an angel investment company that funds women entrepreneurs. We met the Managing Director, who has continued to follow our progress and act as an unofficial advisor.

Our wonderful, brilliant, web developers and advisors are located in Athens, Greece. They have generously given us their time, their insights and their expertise. The company is called Greymatter and I highly recommend them. The beauty of living in a connected world is that you can source partners from anywhere.

Our web designers are James and Nina Lavine, two very talented RISD graduates, who helped us formulate the “look” and essence of LAMOU from the first meeting. They are incredibly talented, professional, and a joy to work with.

The experience we have had with Ted Howell, our attorney, has been so rewarding. Ted’s expertise is working with start -ups, and he has all the knowledge, patience and flexibility to execute anything an entrepreneur needs. Ted agreed to be on our board of advisors in addition to being our attorney.

Another Ted, but equally as important has been Ted Peffer at IOLabs in Providence. Ted runs an amazing print shop that caters to a demanding clientele. He was with us from day one offering all of his knowledge and guiding us through the development process.

Lamou tables at West Elm Pop Up

What’s next for you and for LAMOU? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

LAMOU is still an early-stage company so the next steps are growing and scaling the company so that we can achieve our vision of a robust online community for those who share our vision in design participation. We are hoping to add new products and are considering the idea of including actual surface treatments for the home, which can be personalized through printing technology. We want to open the design process to customers and give people as many choices as possible in designing their environments.

I definitely have another next act, and I believe it will be in the visual arts and design, as well as in community service or volunteering. I have had an adventurous life, and it is time to give back and really become active in the “political” sense by engaging with underserved communities either as an architect, a teacher, or a volunteer.

 

Contact Lena Georas at lena@lamoudesign.com

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Lamou Blog

Facebook Page

Instagram: #lamoudesign

Personal Instagram: #lenamoumou

Linked In: Lena Georas




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Tami Forman, Executive Director of Path Forward

You are the Executive Director of the nonprofit, Path Forward. Can you tell us about your organization’s mission?

Path Forward is a nonprofit organization on a mission to empower women (and men) to return to the paid workforce after they’ve taken two years or more away from their career to focus on caregiving. We fulfill our mission by working with companies to launch and implement mid-career internships.

What programs do you have in place to support your mission?

Our program has two big components. First, we provide materials and training for HR and recruiting teams at our partner companies so they can launch the program and recruit participants. This component includes training for the managers who will be supervising returnees. In our work we’ve discovered that managers need support to successfully work with returning professionals. Our manager curriculum covers recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, giving feedback and how to handle the end of the program, whether the returnee is offered ongoing employment or not.

Second, we provide training and development for the returnees in the program to help them successfully navigate their career restart. This component includes creating a plan to expand their skills and build relationships during the internship, giving them tools to navigate their work/life logistics, and developing skills around getting feedback and using it to fuel success. We also cover career management topics like resumes, interviews, and negotiating offers. Our sessions with the returnees boost their confidence and give them concrete plans for successfully transitioning back to their careers.

Our program began in Colorado with partner companies Return Path, ReadyTalk, SendGrid, MWH Global and SpotX. We expanded to California, where we’ve worked with PayPal, GoDaddy, Instacart, Zendesk and others; and to New York where we are working with AppNexus and Verisk Analytics. In all we’ve partnered with more than 20 companies to expand opportunities for women restarting their careers.

What unique challenges and opportunities do you find for women in midlife who are seeking to return to work after caregiving?

One of the biggest challenges is confidence. We see women questioning whether or not their skills are still relevant. Another challenge is how the work environment has changed. There is a whole new world of technology, terminology, team dynamics, and office set-up, to name a few of these changes. Last, a transition back to work affects the whole family. Returning parents may need to change how their childcare is managed and how their home is run.

The good news is that opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce are expanding. Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of diversity at all levels of the organization. We also find that when companies stop focusing on the perceived disadvantages of a candidate who’s taken a career break, they begin to see real advantages in hiring someone with a prior professional track record and a wealth of life experience.  For example, returnees often have really strong communication and collaboration skills, both from their prior work experience and from what they’ve learned through parenting, volunteering, and community work. Professional maturity and the ability to manage multiple projects and priorities are some other key benefits.

What is your track record?

To date, 80% of our program’s graduates have been offered ongoing employment at the company where they participated in the program. Another 10% are employed elsewhere, resulting in a 90% employment rate.

We’ve had so many successful women come through our program, but I’ll highlight a few. Lisa Stephens was an electrical engineer who took a 20-year career hiatus to raise her two sons. She taught herself several coding languages but needed someone to give her the chance to prove herself. Return Path gave her that chance and two years later she is still working there as a software engineer and was recently promoted. Marina Groothius had a prior career as a direct marketer and was able to use the Path Forward program to transition into a career as a marketing analyst. Marina was featured in a story in Fortune. PayPal brought nine women into their program and all of them are now employed as engineers—seven at PayPal, one at a small start-up, and one at Google. One of the women who stayed at PayPal is Shashi Dokania, who has an incredible story of being inspired to teach herself to code because of her son.

 

Do you have plans to expand? How can my readers find out more?

We are meeting with companies in Colorado, California, and New York, and are planning to expand into cities like LA, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and Washington, D.C., among others. Readers should go to our website to sign up to hear about opportunities as they become available.

 

Contact Tami Forman at hello@pathforward.org

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Facebook

Twitter: @PathFWD

LinkedIn

Tami M. Forman is the executive director of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization that creates midcareer internship programs to ease the transition back to work for women (and men) after taking a break for raising children or other caregiving responsibilities. Path Forward trains HR teams and hiring managers on how to support these programs successfully and provides support to participants to make the experience successful. Tami is building this organization from the ground up, working with donors, partners and participants to fulfill the organization’s mission. Tami spent a decade as a tech marketing executive with data solutions provider, Return Path. Before that she worked in book publishing at Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin and held senior-level web editorial positions at iVillage and News Corporation. Tami is passionate about helping women achieve work/life integration so they can find career success and personal satisfaction. She lives in New York City with her husband and two kids, aged seven and nine.




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Wendy Sachs, Author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot and Relaunch Their Careers

You are the author of the newly-released Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers. Why did you feel it was important to write this book?
The book really came out of my personal experience. I think many writers write about what they know—and in my case I also wrote about what I needed to know. I had lost my job at an advertising agency, which was a bit random to begin with. I had never worked in advertising; this agency had actually been my client when I was working in PR. But now I was trying to pivot into one of these hot new positions at “content” studios that are emerging at agencies. Everyone is trying to figure out how to monetize this new breed of “content.” I had been reading about how this was the future—old school journalism, news, marketing and PR were changing, and I wanted in. I feared if I didn’t get a job soon, i would become a dinosaur. I felt like my professional currency was fading.

So when I lost my job at the ad agency (they ultimately couldn’t monetize the content) I started hustling for a new gig, and wherever I went it seemed like the person interviewing me had graduated college in 2009. That would have made them around 28 years old. It was shocking. More alarming was that the Millennials who interviewed me had a hard time figuring out how I would fit in; they couldn’t fit me neatly into a box. My experience is broad and deep. I’m really a multi-hyphenate and giving them my elevator pitch wasn’t working.

After one particularly depressing interview at a start-up, after I grabbed some kale chips and coconut water before walking out the door, I realized I needed to overhaul my pitch. I needed to rebrand myself. I needed to lean into my skills and probably pick up new ones. And that’s when I turned to some of the successful lessons that come out of Silicon Valley. After all, we have a cultural crush on Silicon Valley; it is our North Star guiding everything we do, from how we work to how we communicate. And there they embrace failure. They are masters of branding. They engineer serendipity. I started taking a closer look at what the start-up world is doing and decided to apply some of those strategies and lessons to women.

What challenges and opportunities do women face as they seek to make it big in their careers? 
There is no doubt that gender bias still exists. It’s often not overt, but it’s subtle—an unconscious bias. We are judged differently. As a culture, we still are grappling with what female leaders look like and sound like. We still admire a very manly, alpha male form of leadership; and that needs to change. The good news is that what I have found personally and through my own research is that female networks are exploding and women are really committed to raising women up with them. This isn’t just about mentors or sponsors, but active female networks that will share job leads and offer to introduce women to other people. I am lucky to be a part of one of these female networks and it’s been life changing. It’s emotionally supportive and has helped me professionally too, even with this book.

On a corporate level, we are also seeing a renaissance of commitment to diversity. Companies realize that they have bled female talent by losing women to motherhood and inflexible work schedules. And now many companies are actively trying to bring women back in through “returnship” programs or by simply reimagining work schedules. The other exciting development are platforms like Après and Landit that look to bring women who took time off or are simply at an inflection point in their careers and match them with companies. These platforms are like LinkedIn for women. They also offer services to help write your resume and practice interviewing—they even have confidence coaches to boost your mojo.

Have you found any concerns that are unique to women in midlife and beyond?
Yes! Many women who have taken time out of their careers and are looking to re-enter feel overwhelmed. They fear that they don’t have the relevant skillsets. They also worry that their networks aren’t as strong as they used to be. But most importantly, they suffer from a lack of confidence. Women tend to doubt themselves more than men. We want to be perfect—we are afraid of failure, and this fear can hold us back. The most effective way to grow confidence is to take risks, to take those chances. We need to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. That’s how we can move forward.

 

You talked to many women who successfully pivoted in their careers. Can you give us examples of women who did this in midlife or later?
At 60 years old, Jill Abramson, the Executive Editor of The New York Times—the most senior woman ever at the Times—was very publicly fired. Her firing made international headlines. But Jill don’t go into hiding. She decided she wanted to start teaching at Harvard and write a book. Interestingly, Jill believes that in her firing she has become more of a role model for women than when she was at the Times.

Deb Kogan, 50, keeps reinventing herself. Deb is now working as a Vice President at a global communications agency, writing books and writing for the TV show Younger. She always has a “side hustle.” Deb’s trajectory has taken her from war photographer to TV producer and novelist to writing for TV and now to her corporate job.

What are a few tips you discuss in your book?
We need to all think like entrepreneurs, even if we aren’t running our own businesses. We need to brand ourselves professionally, to let people know what we do and what we are looking to do. Visibility is extremely important;  that means you must network—often. Look to create opportunities for yourself by going to conferences and events and meeting people who maybe you would never think of meeting. Expand your circles. Also, remember that it takes work. Engineering serendipity means laying the groundwork so you are aware of when opportunities exist and then you are prepared to seize them. It’s all about taking some action. Small steps can lead to bigger steps. But you must get going. Inertia is a killer.

What resources do you recommend? 
Après, Landit, Ellevate are great platforms and websites. General Assembly offers some fantastic classes online and in person, in cities around the country.

Contact Wendy Sachs here 

Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers

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About the Author
Wendy Sachs
 is the author of Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot–and Relaunch Their Careers(AMACOM; 2017) and a master of the career pivot. An Emmy-award winning TV news producer, Wendy has worked at Dateline NBC, Fox, and CNN. She also worked as a Capitol Hill press secretary, public relations executive, CNN contributor, content strategist and editor-in-chief of Care.com. In a more random role, Wendy appeared as the on-air spokesperson for Trip Advisor. A frequent speaker, Wendy has written about work/life and women’s issues for multiple publications, including The New York TimesCNN.com, the Huffington Post and Refinery29. She has appeared on dozens of radio and TV shows, including Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, Fox and CNN’s Headline News. Wendy lives with her husband and two children in South Orange, New Jersey. For more information, please visit wendysachs.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter




Becoming a Daily Money Manager in Midlife: Susan’s Story

After almost two decades in banking, a string of personal losses led Susan to re-evaluate her life. She quit her job and founded My Trusted Partner, where she helps the elderly and busy professionals organize their finances and legal documents.

 

Tell us a little about your background.

Me, the baby, with my parents and siblings in 1966

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I currently reside (I moved away as an adult and came back years later). I am the youngest of four children. Both my parents are deceased. I graduated from Culver Academies and DePauw University and was married at 22 years old—one month after the suicide of my future father-in-law. I moved to St. Louis for a year to support us while my husband was finishing graduate school. We settled in northern Indiana, where I started my banking career. We had no kids and divorced several years later. Now, I am happily married to a man who has three grown children. We have a 3-year old granddaughter and a newborn grandson.

With my husband Paul, his children, and our granddaughter

I spent almost 20 years in the banking industry with two careers—one that included many roles on the banking center management side and the last 10 years as a Private Banker working with high net worth clients for a local bank in Indianapolis. I was the 52nd employee of almost 300 employees. Additionally, during my career, I was fortunate to have supportive bosses who encouraged community involvement so I was active as a volunteer, event chair, and board member with several organizations. I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected.

During the last ten years of my career, my husband and I entertained his donors and my clients or attended bank-sponsored events approximately four nights a week, including weekends. Some would say it was a fun and glamorous life; however, I grew to resent the time taken away from our family and leisure time, and the energy drain I felt on a daily basis. I was one of the few “regulars” called upon to attend these engagements. Combining this activity while doing my job to cultivate new business, manage a large portfolio, and serve as a loan officer and culture coach affected me, my health, and my relationships with those close to me.

With colleagues when I worked in banking

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

In 2014, my husband and I experienced seven deaths between our families and friends. It just didn’t stop for us. To make matters worse, I was terminating an assistant and experiencing some health issues related to feet and legs due to wearing high heels. It was during this time that I told my husband that I was making a plan to change my job rather than stay put and become miserable to the people around me. In January 2015, I met with my boss to discuss other job opportunities. Unfortunately, by fall, I knew that I was not taken seriously; I concluded that no job would be created  and no opportunity would present itself at a bank that I had truly loved and succeeded at.

This January 2016, on the one year anniversary of the day I initially talked to my boss, I left my job. When I announced my resignation, she asked if we could discuss another position; I responded something like, “You had a year.” She asked if I could stay to train my replacement and I said, “No, my new routine begins.” I told her it wasn’t personal. We are still friends. Frankly, I think leaving a long-time career and place that I invested a lot of time and effort in requires a period of grieving. It felt like a death of part of my identity. The end of a career is similar to the death of a loved one or of a comfortable relationship that didn’t last.

This winter, as I was driving to a yoga class, Diane Rehms of NPR was interviewing Barbara Bradley Hagerty about her new book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. She spoke to me so I went to the bookstore and bought her book. I tabbed a section of a person whose life was like mine, Laurie Plessala Duperier. I emailed Barbara and Laurie and still correspond with both. It was Laurie who led me to you, Hélène, and Next Act for Women. One of my hobbies is to write to authors of books that resonate with me. So far, at least a dozen have written me back! If they take the time to write, they certainly deserve to have feedback especially with people who like what they wrote, right? Someday, maybe I will write a book that others will feel the same way!

 

What is your next act?

I am a daily money manager with my own business, My Trusted Partner, LLC, which I launched last year at age 50.

While I was still in my banking job, I started receiving calls from clients in need of help with daily money management. Some didn’t have relatives living in the area and felt a need for support. Others had resources but no knowledge of how to manage their life. A daily money manager is someone who manages personal banking needs when the person doesn’t want to, or know how to, do it. It’s a much-needed service for seniors, busy professionals young and old, and those in transition due to death or divorce.

I can organize financial documents, legal documents such as wills, trusts, Power of Attorney (POA), and other important documents in one area for loved ones to locate. I can pay bills reconcile bank statements, open and sort mail, and address any other projects needed such as home maintenance issues. I provide an extra set of eyes for loved ones. It’s surprising how many people don’t have wills or POAs and may need some help with budgets too. Some things I do and other things I can refer to a professional.

I love the personal relationships I form with people. I love knowing that I am making things easier by being helpful, organized, and knowledgeable. It still draws on my banking experience—in a good way.

And I love owning my business. It’s been something I have wanted to do since I did a career test in college. The test showed I rated high as a small business entrepreneur or teacher. Funny, because I have always enjoyed teaching and mentoring my staff and younger employees!

Working with a client

 

Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?

Well, I spent a lot of time during the past three years getting to know who I was, what I enjoyed, and what I valued with the help of a life coach. I narrowed my options, based on my skills and values, to a community relations position or trainer, executive director of a non-profit, or a small business owner with a focus on service. My high level of service, professionalism, and planning are some of my strongest qualities.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

I set up the shell of the business in 2015 but waited until I left the bank to launch the business this spring around the time I was attending a conference where I knew I would be running into former coworkers.

How did I prepare? Two days after I left my job, my husband and I went on Caribbean vacation to celebrate my 50th birthday—walking the beach, doing yoga, kayaking, and enjoying the sun. It was the best way for me to make the initial change to my routine. When I returned, I did nothing for a month, which was extremely difficult. During my previous life, I took great pride in accomplishing a lot on weekends, not realizing that it was exhausting me and those around me. I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

In March, I decided to do a 30-day yoga challenge on an impulse, which turned out to be one of the best things I have done. Since then, I am a regular yogi but keep myself in check that I don’t over-do it. I am cultivating new friendships. Even though I am an introvert, the absence of social contact through a career has been a challenge, so I look for opportunities to have lunch, coffee, walks with others, and join the board of a small non-profit called Paws and Think—an organization dedicated to improving lives through the power of the human-dog connection. 

With Kathy Janes, volunteer coordinator for Paws and Think

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

Once my husband understood the business and how aging Baby Boomers could be instrumental in my business development, he was on board and has been my biggest fan! Some don’t understand why I left a great job to start a new business. They say that this is a temporary stop for something greater down the road, while others say that this is great fit for my personality and background.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Now, I don’t have the reputation of an organization to open doors, so to speak. Now, it is me and how I show up. First impressions are lasting ones! I am challenged by time. The business isn’t going to come to me so I have to put myself out there and let people know what I do.

To promote my new business, I applied the business development skills I used in my previous jobs. I made a list of people I knew, including centers of influence, those people who may refer business to me: CPAs, financial planners, Estate Law and Elder Law attorneys, bankers, trust officers, geriatric care managers, and healthcare advocates. These are people I feel comfortable referring business to and I can also ask them specific questions when dealing with a client’s issue.

Announcing your new venture is a great way to let people know that you have started something on your own. Preferring the personal touch, I called people I knew well and left the business relationships to emails and letters. Committing to calling a few people every day was a good goal for me. As I spoke to them, I asked for referrals. Word of mouth really is the best way to reach new clients and a vote of confidence!

This year, I started personal and business Facebook pages, and my website is up and running. I hope to blog about topics that I think are most relevant to my clientele.

I spent the last 10 years safely and quietly doing my job under the bank’s image. At times, I felt I didn’t speak up or show up. Now, I am marketing myself. It is time for me to shine my light and be the person I was meant to be.

With a client

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Absolutely! Fear of failure is HUGE for me. If I fail, everyone will know. If that’s the worst thing that happens, then I guess I’ll just have to see what happens! Many years ago, when my boss told me I needed to entertain clients over lunch, I wondered how I could do it so I read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. It’s a great book that encourages you to push through the fear.

My husband has been very encouraging when I get down. I know that my late parents are looking down at me and are there to nudge me in the right direction too! Also, I feel liberated by this experience so I know I can keep going. I have no regrets.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. I have been given a lot in my life as well as a lot of adversity—suicide, three bank robberies in 8 years, and divorce. Those close to me would say I am resilient and courageous. Anything that I have taken a risk on has been greatly rewarded. One of my mantras is: No risk. No reward. Finally, I learned to trust myself. It was a huge epiphany when I realized that I was doing things to please others, and now I can trust myself with the decisions I am making at 50!

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

Yes, I probably would have taken more time off just being, and probably travelled more during the hiatus. My husband and I love to travel and explore. And, self-care has been something I have had to learn. There were no role models for me to follow. I look for opportunities to recharge and care for myself when days don’t go well or people don’t behave the way I hoped.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Don’t let your age or fear hold you back and keep you from doing something different. Even it you aren’t ready to change your job, make a plan to try one new thing a day, whether it’s driving to work a different way or sampling a new food. Get out of your comfort zone. That’s when we grow!

Since I have been gone, people I know ask me “How’s retirement?” to which I respond, “I’m not retired, just reinventing myself.” Don’t let other people’s comments on what they think you should do affect what you know about yourself. Find new people who will support, encourage, and believe in you. Leave the critics and jealous people behind. They are wasting your time and energy.

Hatha Yoga at The Yoga Studio

 

What advice do you have for those interested in becoming daily money managers?

I know several people, men and women, who would be excellent daily money managers. They are kind, patient, good with numbers, manage their own family member’s finances and home, and have integrity. It is a great job for people who want flexibility and variety. You can work for yourself, have a partner, or form a team, depending upon how big you want to grow. Finding the right people in other professions to refer clients back and forth helps. Determine who the people are who are like you and if you would like the type of people they have as clients. You can partner with them on presentations too.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging and rewarding. It takes patience, perseverance, goal setting and a vision for how you see your life and time evolve. It takes setting healthy boundaries.

 

Favorite books

 

What resources do you recommend?

When I started researching this field, I came across AADMM, American Association of Daily Money Managers. They have a mentor resource and can answer any questions you may have regarding starting a similar business. Every month, we have a virtual call with other daily money managers to bounce ideas off each other and see what works for others in the field.

I have a life coach, Julia Mattern, who has been instrumental in my growth. She works with the entire person, not just the one who is trying to figure out a new career. I have learned a lot about myself.

I recommend the following books:

The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms by Beth Buelow

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life Jen Sincero

50 Things to Do When You Turn 50: 50 Experts on the Subject of Turning 50 Ronnie Sellers

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

The Richest Man in Babylon: Now Revised and Updated for the 21st Century – Common by George Samuel Clason

It’s Not About the Money by Brent Kessel

The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career by Jack Welch & Suzy Welch

The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying Suze Orman

With Paul, in Rome

 

What’s next for you?

I definitely have another next act in my future and would like to think that this is the beginning of a new chapter for me—that this is the stepping off point for other opportunities. I would like to consider teaching, speaking, and other entrepreneurial opportunities. Certainly, there’s a need to teach financial literacy in schools. Who says you have to do the same thing for the rest of your life unless you love it?  Life is short, and I am seeing that there is more to life!

 

Contact Susan St Angelo at susan@mytrustedpartnerllc.com

Website

LinkedIn               

Facebook Page         

 




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Beverly Jones, Author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO

Through your company, Clearways Consulting, LLC, you provide executive coaching and workshops to support professionals facing challenges and transitions. What challenges and opportunities do you see for midlife career transitions?

Change – sometimes dramatic change – is inevitable in today’s careers. In my book, I discuss how the idea of spending your entire work life doing the same kind of things now seems quaint. Today, it’s normal for careers to flow through many phases, involving varied skill sets.

The inevitability of change can feel daunting, but the new environment brings good news as well. You can take charge of your career, much like an entrepreneur. You can learn survival skills, experiment with options, and know that there is always room for fresh starts, whatever your age.

Tell us more about how your book, Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO, and why it might be of interest to women in midlife or older. 

The book is written as a practical guide for being more nimble at work. It’s intended to help you become more adroit and adaptable, better able to handle common predicaments and to capture opportunities, one by one. It explains how one key to resilience is mastering your own go-to system for getting started when it’s time to make a career shift.

 

What is your best advice for women in midlife who are seeking to make a career change?

Think about how you want your life to look in the future. Then create categories of action items with the potential to gradually transform your career to something that better supports your ideal vision. For each category, start methodically taking tiny steps.

 

Can you give us an example of someone whose midlife transition you helped navigate?

Generally my client conversations are confidential, and I can’t talk about them. However, I recruited a wonderful client, Nancy Augustine, who was willing to have NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty tape a series of coaching sessions over eight months. Barbara documented Nancy’s transition as she finished her term as a university visiting professor and launched her consulting activity. You can hear about Nancy’s change process in an NPR segment and read about it in Barbara’s great book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.

In her book, Barb observed that Nancy’s transition occurred through a series of small shifts: “I think this is how Nancy and Bev charted Nancy’s future. No dramatic swings…she is just making tiny adjustments within the areas she excels at and loves… and bit by bit she nears her mark.”

 

What are your favorite resources you send your clients to?

I frequently recommend the work of Kerry Hannon, including my favorite of her books, Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, and her website.

And I’ve found AARP.org to be full of excellent resources.

 

Contact Beverly Jones at beverlyejones@mindspring.com

Clearways Consulting, LLC

Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: 50 Indispensable Tips to Help You Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work

Facebook Page

LinkedIn

Twitter: @beverlyejones

 

Beverly Jones, author of Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO: 50 Indispensable Tips to Help You Stay Afloat, Bounce Back, and Get Ahead at Work, is a model of career resilience and reinvention. She started out as a public radio/TV writer, next created and led university programs for women, and then trail-blazed her career as a female Washington law firm partner and Fortune 500 energy executive. Throughout her varied work life she has mentored other professionals to grow and thrive.

Since 2002, Bev has flourished as an executive coach and leadership consultant, helping professionals of all ages to advance their careers, shift directions, and become more productive. Based in the nation’s capital, she works with clients spread across the country, including senior attorneys and accomplished leaders at major federal agencies, Congress, NGOs, universities and companies of all sizes.  

Bev is a popular speaker and facilitator, she creates workshops and other events around the needs of her clients, and her blogs and podcasts are found at www.clearwaysconsulting.com and media sites such as WOUB.org.




Launching a Business to Teach People Digital Skills: Jessica’s Story

Being laid off after 28 years and some self-development classes led Jessica to discover her talent for coaching others to learn Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. She recently started her own company, Alt-Enter, where she trains adults in those and other digital skills. 

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up overseas, in Africa to be precise. My father was initially in the Foreign Service and then in private business. We lived in Sierra Leone, Zaire (now the Congo), and then back in Sierra Leone. I came to the US for boarding school in 7th grade, enrolled at the University of Chicago for college, and have stayed in Chicago ever since. I made the typical trek north: from Hyde Park (where the University is), to Rogers Park (the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago), and finally to Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago. I have lived in Evanston for over 20 years.

Age 4

Both my parents and my two brothers (and their families) live on the East Coast, so I don’t see them as much as I would like. Frankly, I envy families who have stayed in the same geographical area.

I worked for Unilever, a global consumer products company, for 28 years, which was a wonderful experience. I was a Facilities Manager, then transitioned to a consulting role after a layoff. I loved almost every minute of my employment in Corporate America. I was good at the office politics and the complex processes and procedures.

I have been married over 30 years (to a wonderful man I met as a sophomore at the University of Chicago), and I have a 25-year-old daughter. She lives in Evanston as well, with a wonderful young man, so we see her at least once a week, which is great. I have two terriers that keep me very busy with the required amount of dog walking! Good thing I have an enormous amount of energy.

Our family at the State Fair when our daughter was little

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

When I was laid off from Unilever, I realized that I had let some of my technical skills atrophy. I had gotten too “comfortable.” I embarked on a self-study program for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. As I got better, I started answering questions at my local public library, where I volunteered. At some point, the Branch Manager at the Evanston Public Library and I decided to hold a “Tips and Tricks” program on MS Office. This was very successful, and we started refining the model (how long each program was, how often it was offered, the agenda for each program). Eventually, the main branch of the library became interested in the programs, and we launched a larger, more formal program there, teaching MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in multi-week series. All of these programs were free and I was conducting them on a pro-bono basis.

It was around this time that I started to think about starting my own company, but I was still very happy working as a contractor for Unilever. I did decide on a name, in case I ever were to start my own company.

Working in Bangalore, India while at Unilever

In April of 2015, Unilever decided to “insource” my role to the U.K. A wonderfully capable young woman was hired, and I had the task of “handing over” my knowledge, processes, and historical materials over to the team in the UK. This was a bittersweet experience, made easier by the fact that they were sorry to see me leave, and I genuinely wanted them to succeed without me. Also, I once had a boss who instilled in me the importance of being as good on the last day of the job as on the first day. This admonition has stayed with me, and informed my leave taking. And I am pleased to say that they didn’t have a question about anything until nine months into 2016!

I started looking for a new job in mid-2015, but noticed that my heart really was not in it. I wanted to decide my own priorities, and be valued because of my gray hair, not despite it. In mid March 2016, I made the decision to start my own company, using the name I had selected several years earlier.

Teaching Microsoft Word at the Evanston Public Library (photo credit: Lynn Troutmann)

 

What is your next act?

I am the founder of Alt-Enter, which I launched in July 2016 at the age of 53. As I mentioned above, I had already picked out the name several years earlier. It comes from the keystroke used to force a line break in an Excel cell. I chose it because of an experience I had when teaching a seasoned Excel user. I was showing her some very advanced things in Excel, like pivot tables, and then I used ALT-Enter. Her face lit up, and she was so excited. It turns out that this keystroke combination solved a problem she had been struggling with for a while.

My business is teaching people digital skills, focused primarily on Microsoft Office products (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook). I teach adults who want to improve their digital skills for various reasons:

1) Perform job-related tasks more efficiently and more effectively

2) Gain skills necessary to get a new job

3) Participate in hobbies such as photo organizing

4) Share files and communicate with friends and family

I provide individual coaching and group classes. I try to match the format with the needs of the student.

What I love about this business is seeing the look on people’s face when they realize that they “get it”—they understand something that they didn’t think they could. I strongly believe that everyone can learn to use these and similar programs (such as Google Apps). I do not believe that these skills are the province of the young. In fact, I believe just the opposite: the more you have learned in your life, the easier it is to learn something new.

Teaching “Scary Functions” on Halloween

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

I never had a burning desire to be an entrepreneur. As I mentioned, I was very happy working in a large corporation—I thrived on navigating the size, bureaucracy, complexity and politics.

However, at this time in my life, I did not want to start over. I know that there exists a cult of youth in many large organizations, who prefer to hire young graduates and train them. I didn’t want to fight the uphill battle to prove that my experience was valuable, not a handicap.

I had been turning this option over in my mind for several years, so when the time came, going in this direction felt natural.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It wasn’t hard to take the plunge at all. However, I will say that at various points over this past summer I have realized that every step I take forward locks me into this path a little more. That realization stops me in my tracks (mentally) every time I have it. But then I just shake it off and keep going.

I did several things to prepare to be a successful small business owner:

I took a 12-week class on starting a small business (see Resources below). I cannot stress enough how important it is to educate yourself on the ins-and-outs of owning a small business. Just because you are good at what you do does not mean you will be good at running a small business.

I obtained certification from Microsoft in the Office programs, and joined the Microsoft Certified Trainer program. Membership in this program has given me access to a network of fellow trainers, small business owners, experts, and content. If you are planning to position yourself as an expert in something, find the other experts and join their organization. Expertise is not a zero-sum game; they can be an expert, and so can you!

I became certified in QuickBooks Online, because I knew that I would be using this software to manage my business’ finances, and could also develop this as a line of revenue.

I sent an email out to friends and family, notifying them of my intention to start my own business. Taking this step helped me state what my business goals were and why I wanted to do this. I remember hitting “send” on the email and thinking, “Well, that makes it final!” It was a way of drawing a line in the sand for myself.

 

Graduating from the Sunshine Enterprises Program

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My friends and family were very supportive. While I always accept the possibility that I can fail, my support network has unflaggingly bolstered me. I don’t always agree with their very optimistic view of my business, but it is nice to hear it nonetheless.

While support is always welcomed, I have valued even more the constructive critiques offered by some. I have one friend who was brave enough to offer real criticism of my business card. She told me that she didn’t know what I was selling with the card that I had. (Keep in mind that I had already spent a lot of money on the card, and was proud of it.) But she was absolutely right. She and I re-designed the card, completely, and I couldn’t be more grateful to her.

My old business card

My new business card

 

 

 

What challenges did you encounter?

For me, the biggest challenge is patience. My business is essentially a word-of-mouth referral model, and it will take time to develop the referral network. During this time, I have to keep trying as many different advertising and marketing tools as possible. For example, I recently created a Facebook ad, spent $50 and got one hit. So now I have to figure out if the ad itself was ineffective, if the program was not interesting, or if I targeted the wrong audience.

This leads me to the second biggest challenge. As a small business owner, you have to be everything: worker bee, bean counter, cheerleader and janitor. There never seems to be a time when you are in a comfort zone. Because I am in Technology, I have to spend at least one hour a day on Research and Development. I love learning something new, but learning something every day can get a little tiring.

Finally, everything I do needs to be an example of my capabilities. If I send out a proposal, it needs to be a perfect document. If I post on LinkedIn, it needs to be something fresh and on-point about technology. These are high bars to clear on a regular basis.

And sometimes I don’t clear them. I still need to refine my website, based on recent constructive critiques. This is after re-designing it completely, based on another constructive critique. I am sure this will continue as I grow and my business grows. Be open to helpful critiques; they will help you far more than empty praise.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

No, I haven’t thought about giving up. I know that the alternative (going back into a corporate role) would present its own challenges. I realized a couple of years ago that there is no “grass that is greener.” There are challenges and hurdles with starting a business, but there would be with anything I do. I have chosen this path, and I am focusing on being present in it.

Pepper

Jengy

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I realized that in my midlife I have a much higher tolerance for failure and risk than I had when I was younger. In the process of passing some of the expert level exams for certification, I failed several times. Instead of hanging my head, I promptly scheduled my next test. I think that once you have reached middle age, you understand that failure is a label that has no real meaning unless you give it one.

My tolerance for risk has also grown, because I understand now that if I put in hard work, get the right training/education, and network like heck, I am likely to succeed. Maybe not immediately (almost certainly not immediately!), but eventually. Luck does play a role in all of our lives, but I firmly believe that we also play a hand in making luck.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I think I would have started developing my clientele before leaving Unilever. I had the opportunity to do this, but just wasn’t sure that opening my own business was what I wanted to do.

My family now

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

There is a notion in the U.S. that if you are “following your dream,” you will be happy from thenceforth. That’s not true. Following your path will involve disappointments, triumphs and lots of humdrum activity. Make sure that the path you are choosing is something that you will enjoy during the valleys and the ordinary everyday.

Make sure you are comfortable selling your services. I knew I was in the right business when I realized that I could speak comfortably about how good I was at training (and not feel like I was bragging). Creating your brand is a critical part of starting a new business, and you will spend a lot of time in the first year doing just that. You have to deeply believe that you are good at what you do and that you should be paid to do it!

Be prepared to work hard and feel uncomfortable. Making your living doing something new is scary! It will be a while before you have a reliable income stream (probably), and a while before tasks become easy. In the meantime, make sure you have some restful hobbies (I knit a lot), and exercise every day.

At “Open House Chicago” with friends

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your career/reinvention path?

If you are interested in being technical trainer (of any kind), there are lots of avenues available. Most large tech companies (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, QuickBooks) offer certification options. These are great ways to show that you do indeed know the product.

Once you have obtained certification, most tech companies have great communities you can join. I am a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), and the MCT community is warm, welcoming, and helpful.

Next, get experience teaching. I started by volunteering my services for my library, and I learned a lot teaching a variety of classes over several years. Do not expect that if you are good at the technology you will also enjoy teaching. They are two different skill sets, and to be an effective trainer, you have to like both.

Show up! Go to every networking opportunity, speak to everyone, haunt blogs and websites, comment on other people’s articles and posts. Apply for any opportunity that you are qualified for, even if it is a stretch. I recently got to serve as an Ambassador at Microsoft Ignite (the annual MS show) because, on a lark, I submitted an application. I did not think I would be picked, but I was. Attending Ignite was a great experience. I met lots of great people, found out about a lot of resources I had no idea about, and won a $3200 computer. Should I say it again? Show up!

  

My home office

 

What resources do you recommend?

First and foremost, if you are starting a small business, take a small business class. In Chicago, Sunshine Enterprises offers a 12-week class called the Community Business Academy.  Another great resource is the Women’s Business Development Center. I am sure that there are similar resources wherever you are in the country. Look around. I can’t stress enough that even if you are great at what you do, running a small business is a different skill set, and you need to train for it!

Perfect a three-minute pitch and your presentation skills. When you reinvent yourself, you have to pitch yourself and your skills all the time. One book I loved for learning about presentations is Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. He also has a website packed with tips on how to hone your message and be clear on what your offering is.

Sign up for this blog, Next Act for Women, and read it every time it comes out. I reached out to one of the women interviewed, Sharon Danzger, and she was welcoming and helpful. She is the one who critiqued my original website. Because of her kind prompting, I re-designed the site completely, and it is much better. (It still needs more work, but the time she generously spent giving me specific on-point feedback really helped me!). Check out her website. She has great material there.

Also because of Next Act, I reconnected with another woman, Rebecca Berneck, who runs a business called Officeheads. She and I had met over five years ago, but there wasn’t any real synergy for us at that point in time. When I saw her featured in Next Act For Women, I reached out, we talked, and we are now brainstorming partnership opportunities.

Join your local Chamber of Commerce. You may get business directly from that organization but, more importantly, you will meet other people engaged in this same effort. I met a wonderful woman, Cindy Levitt, who runs an organizing business, Peace by Piece. Cindy was very encouraging, and graciously allowed me to riff on her business name to create my tagline: Building digital skills, bit by byte. Leverage the contacts you can make at the Chamber, but remember, help your contacts first before you ask for anything from them.

If you are comfortable speaking in public, do so. If you are not comfortable, get comfortable! Sign up for the SpeakNet group on Slack. This group is focused on technical presentations, but I am sure there are similar resources out there for non-technical speakers. And don’t be afraid to set a stretch goal. Sign up to be a speaker on something that you are comfortable with, then use the deadline of the engagement to make yourself an expert!

Below is a sample list of resources that I use to regularly improve my knowledge and skills in Microsoft and other tech products.

Public library

Your local public library (or one in the surrounding area) is a great source for books and classes. I teach beginner all the way to advanced classes in Excel, Powerpoint, and Word, at my local public library, all of which are free. Public libraries also have access to great sites for basic digital literacy, and of course, books! Most libraries focus their collection on beginner book series (such as the “For Dummies”) but check out your library’s entire collection.

Amazon

While I generally like to buy books from independent local bookstores, the only exception I make is computer manuals, which I buy on Amazon. I personally like the Inside Out computer book series but there are many options. If you can, check out a sample of the series you want to buy first, to make sure it has the right style for you.

They are all priced between $25-$40. All of these manuals come with sample datasets with which you can replicate their exercises.

SafariBooksOnline

I love this site. Of all the resources I listed here, this is by far my favorite. It is a subscription-based model, but if you like learning from books (and some videos), it is worth it. The breadth of its collection is amazing. Simply search on “Excel” and you will find over 150 videos and 700 books. This is well worth your investment if you are in “learning mode.”

Lynda.com

Lynda is a part of LinkedIn, which is now owned by Microsoft. You can expect that this site will start featuring more and more Microsoft material. However, there is already plenty of material on MS Office on the site. Simply enter the name of the program in the Search box, and you will see numerous videos at multiple levels. These are packaged in short videos, with an accompanying transcript.

Lynda is a paid service that costs $25/month or $240/year for the basic membership. To have access to the sample datasets used by the instructor, you have to pay more (although some instructors will provide them gratis). You can follow along using your own dataset. There is a free trial option that lasts 10 days.

Also, check with your public library. I know that my library provides access to Lynda using your library card.

PluralSight

PluralSight is a competitor site to Lynda. It costs $30/month, and I think it is more technically oriented than Lynda.com. With a free trial you could take a few of their online courses during that time.

YouTube

YouTube has a wide variety of content, from basic to advanced. Because that content is not curated, I use it on a spot basis, if there is a particular skill I want to know how to perform. There are excellent resources on it, such as the channel ExcelIsFun (for Excel).

Blogs

A Google search will yield hundreds of blogs. Because these are not focused on linear learning, I wouldn’t make the blogs your first stop. But they can be useful on occasion. Here is a list of some that I like:

https://blogs.office.com/excel/

http://chandoo.org/

http://datapigtechnologies.com/blog/

http://www.clearlyandsimply.com/

http://www.contextures.com/

http://www.mrexcel.com/

Google with search terms like “MS Office,” “MS Word,” “Presentation,” and you will find a huge variety of content.

Don’t forget to check out my Bit by Byte Blog. I cover a lot of ground, but most of it relates directly to technology such as MS Office applications.

Community Colleges

If you want to take a deep dive into Excel, you can see if your local community college offers a class. Oakton Community College offers two Excel classes, which are multi-week classes at specific times of day.

 

Contact Jessica Jolly at Jessica.Jolly@AltEnterTraining.com

Website

Connect with me on Facebook (find out more about my classes and events)

Find me on LinkedIn

Follow me on Twitter: @JBJ2110




Helping dogs with water therapy: Laurie’s Story

With Gunny

After a demanding legal career, Laurie followed her heart to open a business offering healing water therapy for elderly and ailing dogs. She’d go on to write a memoir of her adventures with her beloved dog Gunny.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Port Arthur, TX, which is a small town on the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana border. I have a brother and a sister. We raised horses when I was young, and I showed my horse competitively until I was about 13. The first time my parents let me out of the yard, I came home with a puppy from the neighbor’s house, who I named Bandit. My current immediate family consists of me and my husband, Juan Carlos Duperier, and our chocolate Labrador retriever Dino.

I went to college in San Angelo, TX at Angelo State University and received a BA in French and English. I then completed a joint degree in law and a Masters in Foreign Service (JD/MSFS) at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, in 1990.

I started practicing law when I graduated from law school, and began my career in Los Angeles, CA for a big New York law firm (Shearman & Sterling) in the litigation department. I wanted to leave DC, because, honestly, there were just too many lawyers and it seemed that everyone I met and spoke to was a lawyer and wanted to talk about their work more than anything else. (In LA, everyone wants to talk about the entertainment industry, but that was more interesting for me because it was not an industry that I was working in.)

When I lived in LA, I spent most of my free time with my cousin Brian, who is like a brother to me. We decided to go to Madrid, Spain one winter on a “two for one” special with American Airlines, and that turned out to be a life-changing trip. A couple of days after we arrived in Madrid, we went to a little tavern near the Plaza Mayor called the Meson de la Guitara, hoping to hear some Spanish guitar music. Sitting at the bar that night, clapping to the Flamenco music, was Juan Carlos, who later became my husband. We struck up a conversation with him and ended up spending a lot of our vacation time with him. This was 1995, not long after Terry McMillan published her book How Stella Got Her Groove Back about falling in love with a guy in Jamaica when she was on vacation. When I returned home, I got teased a lot about how I got my groove back in Spain! Juan Carlos and I literally mailed letters back and forth for over a year, talked on the phone, and saw each other every 3 or 4 months, at which point I decided to move back to Washington, DC because it was a much shorter trip to/from Spain. Two years later, in 1997, he moved to the United States and we married.

 

We had discussed what to do about wedding presents, and decided that his present to me would be a puppy. I had not had a dog since college because my long work hours just didn’t permit me to care for another being, so I was pretty excited about the thought of a puppy. We agreed we would get a chocolate Labrador retriever, and he went alone to the breeder to pick out our dog. Although we did not know it at the time, he found my long lost soul mate for me—Gunny—and nothing was ever the same again.

After about five years in Los Angeles, I decided to move back to Washington, DC. By then, I was working for a Washington, DC based law firm (Arnold & Porter) in their Los Angeles office, so it was relatively easy to transfer to their DC office.  Eventually, I became an in-house lawyer at The Philip Morris Companies, now known as Altria. I was posted to Hong Kong, then Lausanne, Switzerland, to the headquarters of Philip Morris International, where I became Vice President of Compliance Systems, overseeing world-wide compliance for the company.

In 1995, I came back to Washington, DC to work for Altria as Vice President and Associate General Counsel, supporting the government affairs, trademark, and corporate affairs groups. I did a variety of things in my legal career—litigation, regulation, corporate affairs support, and compliance—and it was all interesting.

In total, I practiced law for 18 years, most of it quite happily. My work was challenging and I worked with incredibly smart and talented people throughout. But, as often happens, the further up the ladder you go, the further away you get from doing what you were trained to do (and love to do)—and the more time you spend on HR issues, conflict resolution, internal politics, and managing lots of people. Those aspects of the job I found draining and much less rewarding.

Living in Switzerland

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

I had a low level of dissatisfaction for a couple of years, whereas previously I really had loved my jobs and the people that I worked with. I was losing my passion for what I did, but I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or could do—and what I was doing was quite lucrative and made for an easy life financially. So, while I thought about quitting and doing something else, I also told myself that I could keep doing what I was doing for a while longer and figure it out later. After all, I was in my mid-40s and had a lot of life left ahead of me.

And I thought that by sticking it out for several more years, I would be more financially settled and better able to transition to whatever the next something was going to be. That said, the phrase that was always humming in my head was, “How long am I going to wait to start living my life?” I worked incredibly long hours, traveled frequently, and didn’t feel that I had much of a life outside my job.

Then, a really crazy thing happened. I was laying in my hammock in the back yard reading the Sunday Washington Post when the base of the hammock suddenly broke and the giant 4×6 piece of wood from which the hammock hung catapulted into my head. It knocked me unconscious and tore a big gash in my forehead, barely missing my eye and resulting in extensive stitches. Luckily, there was no concussion or bleeding on the brain, proof of just how hard my head is!

But for a couple of inches, I could have lost my life rather than have a scar on my forehead, and that is when I decided that the answer to my question about how long I was going to wait to start living my life was “not long”. I couldn’t wait to start living my life because, as I was reminded so jarringly on a regular Sunday afternoon, none of us knows how long our life will be. So, it was time to get moving and figure out what to do.

Lucky for me, my chocolate Labrador retriever, Gunny, had been working on a plan for me, and he led me to my next act.

What is your next act?

I own Gunny’s Rainbow, LLC, a warm water swimming pool for dogs. I focus mainly on rehabilitating geriatric dogs suffering from arthritis and dogs recovering from various orthopedic surgeries. I also am a Reiki master and incorporate that healing energy into my practice with many of the dogs.

The first thing I did after I quit my job in 2008, at 44 years old, was sell my house, buy a new house about a mile away from my perfectly good house in Bethesda, MD right outside Washington, DC, and build an indoor swimming pool to open Gunny’s Rainbow. Gunny was my heart dog, my soul mate, and the guiding light of my life. He needed a lot of physical therapy, including swimming, in order to maintain his mobility and his quality of life, so from his need sprung the idea for the next chapter in my life: I was going to build and run a dog swimming pool. Gunny knew that I needed a change from my legal career, and I think he knew that I could care for other dogs with the same compassion and love that I cared for him. He knew that I would do anything to help him, and if that meant that I needed to stop practicing law and build a pool for him and other old dogs, then that was what I was going to do.

There are many things to love about working with dogs all day, especially geriatric dogs. For starters, they are always honest and most always very kind. They take their aging in stride, much more so than people do, despite often suffering greatly from arthritis and other degenerative diseases in their later years. So, they are incredibly happy and grateful to have the chance to swim and float in warm water, which enables them to move without pain. It also helps to ease their pain as the warm water soothes their joints and allows them to float, weightless for a time, in the water.

What I love most about swimming with old dogs is the relationship of trust that develops between us, and knowing that I have brought comfort to them in their last years. By helping the dogs, I am also helping their people who so often feel helpless in the face of their dog’s physical decline. As one client said to me, “swimming at Gunny’s Rainbow makes an old dog feel young again.” And often, it really does!

Gunny lived for several years after I built the pool, and he was really happy that the other dogs had a place to swim and heal, although as it turns out, he had zero interest in swimming. Too bad! After getting me to quit my job, buy a house, and build a pool, he swam twice a week whether he liked it or not! It really was an important part of maintaining his quality of life. Unfortunately, he continued to fight various diseases along with his orthopedic problems, and when he turned 14, we knew there was not a lot of time left.

Gunny at the pool

 

You have gone on to write a book. How did this come about?

As Gunny’s health declined, and our inevitable parting loomed, another evolution began to materialize. We were two souls that had become one: I no longer knew where I ended and where he began. Soul mates. And for years, people who knew of our crazy adventures around the world and all of the life-or-death moments we experienced, had said to me, “You should write a book!”

I thought that WE should write a book. So I asked a friend who was an animal communicator to interview Gunny on about 20 topics or so, and over the course of about six months, she did. I incorporated the thoughts and feelings that he expressed into our memoir, The Endless Path: A Memoir. It is a story about love, loss, courage, and what it means to walk through life with a soul mate that you have known over lifetimes.

In many ways, publishing the book was actually much more difficult for me than opening the pool. I found it terrifying to share my intimate thoughts and feelings publicly, and I was concerned that people would think that I had totally lost my mind. As if opening a dog pool wasn’t enough, now I was publishing a book sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings about my dog, our immeasurable love for each other, and worst of all, the depth of my grief when he died. It was truly unnerving. But I promised him before he died that I would tell our story, so there was never any question that I had to see it through. And I did. The Endless Path: A Memoir was published in September 2015.

Much to my delight, I have had nothing but lovely reviews and messages from people about the book. Many people have taken the time to review it on Amazon—all 5-star reviews so far. Other people have reached out to me to tell me what the book meant to them and how they completely understand loving a dog so much; they shared with me the depth of their grief when they lost their heart dog. It turns out a lot of the world feels the same way I did. Like me, they just never felt comfortable talking to people about it because it didn’t seem “normal.” Several of my clients at Gunny’s Rainbow are therapists and they recommend the book to their clients who lose a companion. I did not set out to write a self-help book. Gunny and I just wanted to tell our story. But we are certainly happy if in fact our book—and me “going public with my crazy” as I call it—gives others comfort.

 

Why did you choose this next act

I really never considered doing anything other than opening Gunny’s Rainbow when I quit my corporate legal job. I was motivated by love for Gunny and wanting to help him and other dogs, and it coincided with my need to find a new career path for myself.

Early on, I toyed with the idea of maybe looking for a position on a Board of Directors for a company to earn some money and keep one toe in the legal/corporate world, but I quickly became immersed (pun intended) in doing water therapy and the two things did not seem compatible. One reason I say that is because I went from a job where I de facto put on body armor every day to withstand the conflicts and ordeals of corporate life, to a job with dogs where I really was able to work with an open heart and total vulnerability. A dog is not going to hurt you emotionally. Pretty much ever. And there are no hidden agendas and politics to manage. So, I felt like it would be Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde to try to do both well and I preferred to just be one person—the nice, open-hearted one.

Because I was totally “done” with practicing law, I have not missed it at all. I loved it almost all the years that I did it, but I did not want to do it anymore. So in that sense, it was not hard to quit. Financially it was very scary, however. I had always drawn a paycheck every two weeks, had paid vacations, and had good health insurance. Those days were over the moment that I quit my job. Under the best of circumstances, working in the pool I would be able to make no more than 1/10th the amount I had made as a lawyer, and likely a lot less. Plus I had the added expenses of building and running the pool. So, while I had enough savings to ride it out for a while, it was a plunge into the unknown in terms of financial security.

I wish that I could say I did a lot of thoughtful preparation, but I didn’t. I looked at the numbers to see how long I could last running the pool in the best and worst cases, and then I just did it. Because I was motivated by love and a deep desire to make this change, I did not do a lot of the financial due diligence that one frankly should do. I did take classes on how to swim/rehabilitate dogs, so I made sure that I knew what I was doing in my new chosen profession, even if I did not exercise as much financial diligence as I should have. The reality is that I was going to open the pool and give it a shot even it did not work financially in the long run.

 

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

It was a mixed bag. I think most everyone understood my desire to quit my job—they knew that I had worked awfully hard for almost two decades and how little free time I had in my life to do fun things. It was a great run, but it came at a cost to my personal life.

However, quitting a high profile lucrative job to open a dog pool was a bridge too far for many of them. Had I quit to do consulting, or work in a law firm, or practice law and use my degree in some way, I think it would have been more understandable for them. For starters, swimming dogs is not really a “profession” in anyone’s mind. Second, it is not anything that I had any background or training in, so it just seemed weird to people. Third, and very importantly, they did not see how I was going to ever have a client or make a living since most of them had never heard of a dog therapy pool.

In a nutshell, I don’t think anyone was against me quitting, they were just baffled by what I was going to do in my “new life.” They saw, I think, little chance of success. And for many, they also saw little value in it. That always amused me because why would I have more value to society as a tobacco lawyer than as a dog water therapist?

My husband was supportive of me quitting my job and opening the pool, even though it meant big changes to our lifestyle because I had been the main breadwinner in our family. We did not have a safety net other than our savings. No wealthy family members and no lottery winnings! No one knew better than Juan Carlos how stressed out I was, and I was often in a really bad mood. I worked late every night and many weekends, and was exhausted a lot of the time. That said, we had a nice standard of living and took great vacations and had all that we needed. They say that once you have enough money to cover the essentials in life of food and shelter, having more money does not correlate to happiness and I think my experience proves that rule. I did not need more stuff. I needed to be happy and have time to enjoy my life. The Spanish are expert at enjoying life so that was a concept that Juan Carlos was 100% in agreement with!

 

With Juan Carlos and Gunny

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Regarding the dog pool, the first challenge was actually constructing the pool room and getting all the equipment that I needed. It was also a huge challenge to run the business out of my home because of all the regulations on home businesses where I live.

Once I tackled all of that, the next challenge was to get clients and build a business. Serendipity found me when the first person who called to bring her dog to swim happened to be a website designer and she wanted to barter swims for website design! It was perfect because a real client, who really knew what I did, designed my website. I hoped that “build it and they will come” would be enough, and in a way, it was. Clients found me on an Internet search, and I really have not had to do any paid advertising at all. That website, a good reputation, and word of mouth have kept the pool full of clients for 7½ years now.

The third challenge was a physical one. It is very difficult to lift 80 to 120 pound dogs in and out of the pool, and tough to be submerged in water for 5 hours a day. I had sat at a desk for most of my life, and this was physically demanding work even if it was not mentally demanding the way my legal job had been.

 

We had to expand our home to build the pool

Lastly, there was a huge emotional challenge that I had not really properly anticipated—dealing with loss and grief. In many ways, what I am doing is hospice work. I am absolutely improving the quality of the life of the elderly dogs and their people, and bringing them joy and relief from pain, but the personal loss that I suffer with so many of them dying has been emotionally very difficult.

Regarding writing and publishing The Endless Path: A Memoir, there were innumerable obstacles.

The first obstacle was having the time to really concentrate on writing while running the pool. I had the person who was working with me work an extra day of the week so I could have that time to write. It is very difficult to write a memoir for half a day and then go socialize and swim dogs in the other half.

Book signing

Secondly, it was very challenging to confront all of the emotions that came up writing the book. The writing itself was not difficult—I had been writing my whole life, albeit in the legal world—but I am a natural writer so it comes easy for me. Gunny and I had made a promise that we were going to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, regardless of whether it reflected poorly on one or both of us, and some of those truths were hard to tell.

Third, I had to decide between self-publishing and trying to get an agent/publisher. I made a small attempt to find representation and ultimately decided that I would rather have complete control over how our story was presented, so I went the self-publishing route.

Lastly, the skills and tasks involved in actually publishing the book and marketing it are things that I could NOT do alone, so I hired some very competent people to help me and that is how I resolved those challenges. I found the perfect website designer to design the book’s website; found a professional proofreader; started publishing at the famous local bookstore here in Washington, DC (Politics & Prose); and, with patience, found someone to help me with a marketing plan to sell my book.

 

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Although it sounds trite, failure was not an option. In terms of the dog pool, I believed that the business could work and it does. Dogs get better and live longer, people are happy, and new clients come to fill in the spots of the old dogs when they pass away. So honestly, no, I never thought about giving up. The closest I came to giving up was when the expense and stress of leaks and equipment failures overwhelmed me. Once I got those resolved, I did not look back.

In terms of writing The Endless Path, I would not say that I thought of giving up, but there were times when it was really quite emotionally difficult to keep writing. I did not really have a choice, however, because I made a promise to Gunny that I would tell the world his/our story, and I always keep my promises.

I guess through it all, the truth is that Gunny kept me going on both fronts. Both the pool and the book were his legacy and I did not want to let him down. Had I done this only for myself, I don’t know if I would have a different answer. But I wasn’t doing it just for me, so I was highly motivated to see it all through and to succeed. I was also fortunate to have a husband who really wanted me to be happy, and who was willing to make changes in his own life to help me make changes in mine.

 

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I learned that there is nothing more powerful than the power of love. So now, when faced with a challenge or negativity, I throw love at it. I did not know that I was capable of loving so deeply, and did not anticipate the strength that I would find in loving and being loved with such intensity.

I also learned that I can do more than one thing in life well. We always hope that we are good at more than one thing, but now I know that I can practice law and argue with the best of them; I can run a business; I can write a book; and I also can go to the most quiet and tender part of my being and just “be” with a dog who is hurting and bring him comfort. Those are wildly different things, and I am surprised to find that I am able to do all of them pretty well. I already knew a lot about what I did not do well—such as accounting or sports, it is a long list—so it was nice to have a longer list of things that I can do. And hopefully I will discover some new things in the coming years!

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I honestly don’t think so. I think I did what I needed to do at the time I needed to do it. I could not have written the book earlier. I could not have opened the pool later. And I could not have kept working in my lawyer role for much longer or I would have become physically ill. I feel that I listened to my heart rather than my head when there was a decision-making moment, and that my heart kept me on course.

 

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Listen to your heart/your gut/the “knowing” place inside of you. If you feel you need to make a change or you feel an internal dissonance in what you are doing and what you want to do, value that and listen to it. I am not saying that your good brain has no role to play, but I think if you try to be only logical, only rational, or listen to others, you may not end up in the best place for you. I think we all know on some level what we are here to do and it is not necessarily just one thing in our life! So let yourself realize the full expression of your unique self and don’t let others who are timid or afraid hold you back or make you doubt yourself.

I think changing what you do for a living often involves getting in touch with parts of yourself that you may not have really been well-acquainted with before the change. So it is hard—on you, your family, and your friends. And I think it always brings change to your life in a variety of aspects from your friends to your finances. But it is your life, and I think it is important not to sit back when you are old and ask “I wonder what would have happened if I had . . .?” Better to know the answer to the question, and follow your heart and your inner desire, come what may.

Book club!

 

What advice do you have for those interested in working with animals?

If you think that you want to work with animals, fantastic! But don’t think that working with animals means you avoid working with people; the people are the ones who bring you the animals, love them, and are involved in their care. So you have to interact with and love people, too. And, know that there is almost nothing that you can do in terms of working with animals that pays much money, other than being a vet. It doesn’t matter how good you are. There is a ceiling on the amount of money that you can make unless you start to franchise and expand. And then guess what? You aren’t working with animals any more, just lots and lots of employees. That is fine; but just know, that’s how it goes!

For those thinking about writing a book, I would say that you need to remember that the book process has three distinct and totally unrelated parts: writing it, publishing it, and marketing it. It requires three different skill sets and it takes a really long time. So, if you have a story to tell, tell it! Hire good people in each of those three areas to help you as necessary. And persevere in the face of a rejection.

 

 

What resources do you recommend?

With regard to running the dog pool:

La Paw Spa in Sequim, WA teaches dog water therapy to adults, most of whom are looking to change careers.

Kathleen Prasad at Animal Reiki Source is a resource for people who want to learn reiki for animals.

For certain swim equipment for the dogs: Dog Leggs, Critter’s Inflatable, Ruffwear.

With regard to writing my book:

Teresa Spencer provides a variety of services to assist authors, from ghost writing to, as in my case, helping me outline the book before starting to write it.

Jo Spring for proofreading services and other author publishing assistance.

Politics & Prose was instrumental in handholding through the publishing process.

I ultimately published with Ingram Spark. They have drawbacks, but are the biggest book distributor in the world so the book is easily available on Amazon, B&N, etc.

Leigh Kramer at Helicopter Marketing, for assistance in marketing the book.

 

 

What’s next for you?

I think my next transition is to slowly move from working with dogs in the water to writing full time. As I age, it is harder and harder to do the physical work required in the water, and it is harder and harder to deal with death on a constant basis.

Having told my story in The Endless Path: A Memoir, I would like to keep writing to tell other people’s and dogs’ stories who are unable to tell them for themselves. Everyone has a story and, to me, they are all fascinating. So, I would like to help give voice to those stories, much as you do here on your blog!

 

Contact Laurie Plessala Duperier at info@gunnysrainbow.com.

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Twitter: @lduperier

Websites: theendlesspath.com and gunnysrainbow.com

 




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Romy Newman of fairygodboss

You are the Co-Founder and President of Fairygodboss, a “community of women helping women.” Tell us more about your company.

Fairygodboss is a business with a social mission: We want to help improve the workplace for women everywhere. Our goal is to engage a conversation between women about their careers and jobs, and get candid information about the challenges that women face.

Often, we find that there is a cone of silence around the daily workplace challenges that women confront. We want to open the dialogue so women can find camaraderie in their experiences and companies can get a more accurate picture of what women experience.

 

What challenges did you see for working women, that you are seeking to address with Fairygodboss?

We hear from our users that they face challenges in terms of unequal promotion, unequal compensation, and unequal evaluation. In addition, we hear often that they face “microaggressions” (a word I’d never heard before)—meaning, the struggle with lots of small cultural and institutional slights that add up over time. We hope that by allowing women to share their experiences, they can draw strength and support from our community. And we hope that by highlighting these challenges, we will help support companies to make effective change.

 

 

 

 

What is the range of information and insight your site provides to women seeking professional positions? How do you get women to contribute?

We ask women lots of different things: We ask them to evaluate their employer and we ask them to give advice to other women. We also crowdsource data about maternity leave policies and salaries. To get women to contribute, we use a lot of social media—and we ask our users to share us with their friends. We’re so excited about how viral we’ve gone!

 

How is this information relevant to women in midlife and older?

Since starting out with Fairygodboss, we’ve come to realize that there is something that we call “The Aha Moment.” Often, younger women are not aware or subjected to gender bias in the workplace. Yet when they reach midlife, become mothers, or achieve more senior positions, suddenly their experience changes. They have a harder time getting promoted, face discrimination, and have to manage work/life balance in a different way.

Fairygodboss is a site for women at all phases in their career. But we certainly find that it’s women who’ve reached “The Aha Moment” who most often seek us out.

 

How does this work? Is this a membership program? 

Anyone can access most of the data on Fairygodboss, but we do ask users to register and leave a review before they access our user review content. There is no cost to join.

 

What resources do you recommend?

We love Ellevate. They are a great organization and they publish highly useful articles every day.

One of my favorite books is Personal History by Katharine Graham. She was such a brilliant lady who achieved so much and broke a lot of barriers. I highly recommend that every woman read it at some point in her life.

And Allyson Downey recently published a great book called Here’s the Plan.: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.

 

Contact us at info@fairygodboss.com

Website: www.fairygodboss.com

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Twitter: @fairygodboss

Instagram: @fairygodboss

LinkedIn

Romy Newman is president & co-founder of Fairygodboss, a business with the mission to improve the workplace for women everywhere. Previously, Romy ran digital advertising sales and operations for The Wall Street Journal, and working in marketing at Google and Estee Lauder. Romy is the proud mother of 2 children, and spends her precious spare time doing yoga and crossword puzzles. She is motivated by helping other women have the same wonderful workplace experiences she’s been lucky to have.