Tracy McCormick: Turning Darkness into Light

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Tracy McCormick is founder and owner of Lightfinder PR in Los Angeles. She shares the highs and lows of her personal and professional journey with Career 2.0.

Arriving in Manhattan in 1989 from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, I was young, big-city struck, and the world was my oyster. Barely out of college, suitcases duct taped shut, I lived briefly in an apartment with a group of female Columbia grad students in Spanish Harlem before getting my own place in the Upper East Side. It was heaven.

During college, I’d worked as a dental assistant for Jack Kammer, founder of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). I arrived in New York with no job, but landed one with AACD President Jeffrey Golub-Evans, a renowned artist and cosmetic dentist when cosmetic dentistry was just taking off. I was making $60k and working for the “dentist to the stars” in Manhattan.

I was accepted to NYU School of Dentistry. My career path was set, or so I thought. Upon telling my then fiancé about dental school, he balked.

“Whatever shadows are cast, I choose the light and the world remains my oyster.”

“We’re getting married, we want to start a family,” he said. “School will cost $100k and now is not the time!”

So I forfeited dental school, got married in 1990, one year after we started dating, and we moved to Westchester County. Our first daughter was born in 1991.

We moved a lot—from Westchester County to Boston, and back to New York following his trail of jobs. I was alone most of the time and when we were together, his emotional abuse escalated.

In 1995, our son was born, and our third child, a girl, was born in 1999. My husband accepted another Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 9.41.32 AMposition in Arizona and we moved again.

Arriving in Arizona was like landing on Mars—the desert seemed surreal. I spotted many saguaro cacti, and thought, “I’m stuck here now.” Then I looked up, saw the vast, blue sky and felt serenity I’d never felt anywhere else. I realized this might be the best place I’d ever lived.

My husband’s emotional abuse amplified, and by 2004 I’d had enough. I filed for divorce.

The root of all abuse begins with emotional abuse. “Whether it’s physical abuse, rape or incest, it begins with emotional abuse.

He moved back to New York, leaving our children and me in Scottsdale. Other than paying the mortgage, he cut me off financially. I needed a job.

Luckily, I love people and I’ll chat with anyone, anywhere. My gift for gab quickly led me to a job in sales for an international cleaning products manufacturer. One day I noticed a boutique fitness center opening up in my neighborhood. I went in to open an account, spoke with the owner, and wound up hired as the facility’s director of sales and marketing.

TracyMcCormickI signed 150 new members in six months, bought advertising on ESPN, wrote an ad that ESPN hired me to voice—which I did in one take. ESPN gave me more work, which sparked an idea to launch a radio career. Nothing wrong with reaching for the stars, right? That’s the journey of life.

A Craigslist ad for an AM radio station marketing rep with potential for “on-air” caught my attention. They hired me and I went on air immediately. I’d started a radio career!  I hosted “Your Insurance Matters,” a public advocacy program on 1310 KXAM.

Program director Jeffrey O’Brien, now host of “Business for Breakfast” in Palm Springs, gave me a non-paid spot on his show “The Daily Blender.” I created “Dear Tracy, The Relationship Expert,” a modern day “Dear Abby.” I was having fun! Later, when I was living in LA, I took “Dear Tracy” to Howard Stern’s “Miserable Men” show on SiriusXM. I called in from LA to New York at airtime.

So I was networking in Arizona and developing relationships in the film industry—everything we do is about relationships— and continued with the radio show plus a weekly remote broadcast from an Arizona State campus bar. The remote, called “Drive Time Happy Hour” featured live acoustic bands from around the globe. I thought it would be fun to manage a band, and plunged into music management. I also worked with a nonprofit for victims of emotional abuse, and learned about various healing modalities.

In 2006, I moved my children to Tempe. New adventure.

In 2008 I used LinkedIn to meet people in other cities for business. I was on dating sites too. Ironically, I’ve made more business connections on Match.com than LinkedIn!

I did meet a guy named Kevin on a dating site. Kevin was also in radio. Although we didn’t date, he invited me on his show “Driving With Gass.” I co-hosted “Drive Time” and did my “Dear Tracy” show on KWSS 106.7FM.

In 2009, I moved to LA., was working in A&R with Guitar Center, building a music management company, and joined another radio show called “Between The Sheets”.

I moved into a lovely rental house in Bel Air, CA then promptly had to vacate due to safety code violations. Out of savings, with no idea what to do next, my parents offered to temporally help with my children, but my ex wanted them with him. Not wanting to live with their dad, we chose my parents’ home in Wisconsin so I could travel back and forth to see them.

Next came an ugly custody battle, during which my father died of cancer, multiple myeloma. I lost my Guitar Center work because the court case and my father’s illness kept me out of LA for long stretches. Devastated and struggling financially, I started to rebuild.

New heartaches.

I found film location industry work through a friend, a union location manager. I wasn’t dating, but still Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 9.41.14 AMtrying my luck on dating sites.

In March, 2012 I met Leon, a former street performer and stand-up-comic, turned dark angry screenwriter. I was running my music management company, but a lawsuit between my most promising band and their former band mates halted touring. I signed several artists to various labels, and became an A&R rep for one of the labels, which I still am today.

By June of 2012, I had a temp job and Leon was unemployed. He sold a film that went to Sundance, but didn’t make money. Two days after convincing me to move in with him, Leon announced he needed  “a short break” from L.A. Little did I know, Leon had no intention of returning to L.A. He wanted me with him and in January 2013, we drove to Fairfield Iowa for his dad’s 75th birthday.

In Iowa, I took a marketing position with the Maharishi University of Management’s distant education program and learned Transcendental Meditation. A year later I was hired as Director of Media and PR for Maharishi Foundation and was doing PR for the Maharishi University of Management’s-David Lynch Masters in Film program. I spearheaded the PR campaign for comedian Jim Carrey’s commencement address at the 2014 graduation.

Maharishi Foundation abruptly shut down the communications department and I was let go. I collected unemployment, broke up with Leon, and started the healing process once more.

Today, I am principal of Lightfinder Public Relations, based in L.A., but I’m grounded in Fairfield. Whatever shadows are cast, I choose the light and the world remains my oyster.

From Teaching to Franchise Owner: 4 Pieces of Advice When Starting Up

Stacy ParkelA former teacher, today Stacy Parkelj is co-owner of a Tutor Doctor franchise in Dallas. She shares 4 wise lessons she has learned in starting her own business.

The journey towards doing what you love and being able to support yourself and your family is often fraught with obstacles, confusion, and innumerable questions. I myself have gone through several different eras of work, from being a teacher, operating a web design company, to managing a large sales team before returning to the classroom. It wasn’t until I returned to my love of teaching that I realized my passion for education could fit perfectly with my entrepreneurial spirit through opening a tutoring business.

Four long years ago, I took a leap of faith and opened my small business, a Tutor Doctor franchise location in the Dallas Ft. Worth area with the help of my father as a business partner. Since then, I’ve learned hard life and business lessons and have grown my business to support local community families. It is such a powerful blessing and gift to be able to do what I love every day, and I believe that everyone should be able to say the same for themselves.

Whether you’re going it alone, or entering business with a partner, it’s important to go into business with your eyes open and a set plan. Once you have the road map laid out and set the plan into motion, everything will fall into place with a little hard work and dedication.

Here are some pieces of advice that have helped me through the launch and growth of my business.

Be open to making sacrifices early on

Launching a successful business requires so much more than just a financial investment. Especially in the first few years, entrepreneurs should expect to invest a significant amount of time into their business, putting processes and systems in place to accelerate growth and move towards self-sufficiency. Because of this hard truth, dedication to launching a successful business forces you to shift priorities towards the business. Be prepared to miss sleep and events, and have a plan in place to help manage and care for your children.

Make Wise Hiring Choices

The employees you hire are unquestionably some of the greatest investments you’ll make into your business. It’s important to make strategic hiring decisions for the business, especially while the business is still being established. As much as it is possible, seek employees that bring more to the table than the skill sets required by their positions, and employees who compliment the business model and team members. Selecting employees who meet your criteria will create a synergy in your company that will drive it to successful heights.

Stacy Parkel
Stacy and her father and business partner

Seek out a support system

Business ownership can be a very lonely journey. As stress mounts and weighs on your shoulders, having a support system can mean a huge difference in your attitude, pool of resources and references and the future of your business. Finding a support system that will understand every inch of what you’re experiencing is crucial and sometimes requires reaching outside of your traditional circles. While your friends and family might be supportive and excellent listeners, unless they’re also business owners they may not completely understand your situation and not be able to offer helpful business advice. Finding a business-minded mentor will not only give your business the powerful resource of someone who has been through it all, but also an outside perspective.

Set a routine 

Without a doubt, the first few years of business ownership is punctuated by long hours, hard decisions and balancing the world on your shoulders. Thankfully, this phase of startup and extreme productivity doesn’t last forever. Once the dust has settled and the business is up and running, it’s vital to establish a proper schedule and routine. For me, that means that from nine to five o’clock every day I go into my home office and close the door. Simulating a real-world work environment while working from home establishes necessary boundaries for myself and my family and ensures that I can maximize my time. Even if you aren’t working from home, it’s important to find a way to end your work day and “turn off” your business brain.

Whether you’re going it alone, or entering business with a partner, it’s important to go into business with your eyes open and a set plan. Once you have the road map laid out and set the plan into motion, everything will fall into place with a little hard work and dedication.

 

The Bra That Changed My Career

Ali CudbyAli Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. She’s also a bestselling author and has been featured on TV and in print and online publications.

Most women put shopping for bras and root canal surgery right at the top of their “least fun things to do” list. For a long time, I felt the same way. Then in 2004 I had an experience that changed my mind – and my career.

Before 2004, when I went bra shopping it felt like an act of masochism. The largest bra I could find at our local department store was a DD, and it didn’t come close to fitting. When I did find a bra that sorta, kinda worked, it always somehow resembled a flak jacket. I was sure the saleslady felt sorry for me. As a teenager, all I wanted was lacy lingerie in pretty colors, but there was nothing available in my size.

I felt humiliated by those shopping experiences, as if each bra that didn’t fit was communicating a larger message: that I didn’t fit. I excelled in lots of areas, but failing to feel good about my body compromised my self-esteem and undermined my confidence. As I transitioned through my twenties, I figured out other ways to feel good about myself. I focused on my career and friends and eventually came to embrace my curves.

I began dating a charming Englishman who, before long, insisted it was time to meet his family on the other side of the pond. On a whirlwind weekend in England, we were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in. I veered closer to look at the window, and couldn’t help myself. Without thinking, I went inside, leaving my boyfriend’s family standing on the sidewalk.

The store was filled with bras that were pretty, lacy, feminine—and all in large cup sizes. I received a professional fitting and discovered I was a size I never knew existed. Even better, the lovely fitter brought me a dozen gorgeous bras to try on. With each new garment, I felt more and more whole. All of a sudden, I noticed myself standing straighter. “My girls were lifted for the first time ever, in a bra that actually fit, was nice to touch and pretty!”

That fitting changed my life.

“We were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in.”

On that day, I knew I would never wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras again. I got home and began talking to my friends, only to realize that whether they had grapes or melons, almost none of them had bras that fit. In fact, most of them said, “I know my bra doesn’t fit!” When I heard them, I was floored. For all those years, I had suffered in silence, thinking I was the lone oddball. How could so many smart, successful women have ill-fitting bras? Then it struck me — as women, we never really learn how a bra should fit.

That stroke of inspiration became the basis of my company, Fab Foundations. I created a methodology Fab Fit Academy Logofor helping women find bras that fit which became a book, Busted! The Fab Foundations Guide to Bras That Fit, Flatter and Feel Fantastic (no longer in print). Busted! was a bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list for a year! Next, I developed a curriculum for training – and certifying – lingerie retailers in the art and science of bra fitting. My methodology has been used by lingerie pros on six continents around the world … just Antarctica to go!

But a funny thing happened as I was working with all those amazing retailers. As much as they got great at providing fittings, their businesses didn’t always grow. I realized that fit excellence was not the ultimate foundation for creating the best possible business.

I went back to the drawing board.

Your Iconic Brand LogoPulling from my corporate background as a Marketing Executive at companies like The New York Times Company and Animal Planet TV Network, I investigated. A pattern emerged – if women didn’t FEEL good about their fitting experience, they wouldn’t become loyal customers. Period.

I shifted gears and started focusing on helping small business owners develop a foundation for customer relationships that transcended bra fittings. All of a sudden, the one-two punch of fitting/customer relationship started getting results. Clients were growing their businesses by 20%…35%…500%! Even my traditional, bricks-and-mortar retail clients were seeing incredible growth. I was so excited!

On top of that, clients were reporting that their employee engagement was improving, turnover was dropping, and (here’s one I didn’t see coming) a number of clients shared that their marriages were better than ever!

Simply focusing on the customer experience was the key to building the businesses they dreamed of owning.

It’s like the theme song for that 80s TV show, Cheers: You want to go where everybody knows your name. When businesses create that, they get customers for life.

Ali CudbyIn today’s disconnected world, having a place where you feel truly appreciated as a customer is rare and special. When businesses form that bond, they become Iconic in the eyes of customers. This fundamental truth goes far beyond lingerie. Today I love having the opportunity to work with clients in a growing mash-up of industries.

I used to think my AHA moment was when I turned around and saw my reflection in the fitting room mirror at Bravissimo. Now I know differently. When I got that amazing bra fitting, my relationship with my body changed. The day I made the pivot to customer experience, my mission in the world shifted forever.

Every day I wake up (of course, I put on amazing lingerie) and feel ready to make the world a better place – one Iconic customer interaction at a time.

Ali Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. With Ali, businesses lay a strong foundation for building the deep relationships customers crave as the antidote to isolation in the modern economy.

The result? Customers are inspired to buy more often and refer like crazy, while businesses thrive and change customers’ lives.

Ali is a bestselling author and has been featured in TV, print and online for publications such as Cosmopolitan and Essence Magazine, among others. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and spends her spare time in her pottery studio.

Find Ali at www.YourIconicBrand.com

You Never Know: 10 Lessons from an Unexpected Career Journey

Joan Michelson - 702-806-3690 - blue - cropped - 31RBJoan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Media™, a media and consulting firm focused on innovation and leadership, especially in the energy-green space. She shares 10 lessons she has gleaned from interviews with innovators and her own career journey’s ups and downs.

Before I could even get through the second set of doors into the hotel lobby, this cute guy approached me and said, “You must be Joan.” This was a pleasant surprise. After a delightful evening, that included discovering that he lives in North Dakota (a place that had never been on my radar), he invited me out for the balance of his evenings in D.C., including dinners with his N.D. business colleagues.  

Figuring I needed to brush up on North Dakota, I researched it online and must have left cyber-tracks, because I started receiving emails from North Dakota companies asking if I’d be interested in moving there. Ha! This New York City girl? Not bloody likely….

Fast-forward a few months and I was recruited by the electric vehicle division of a top automaker in – you guessed it – Fargo, North Dakota, to lead their communications efforts and co-lead their marketing and sales team, even though I’d never worked in the auto industry (and didn’t even own a car at the time). I had great fun working with smart, interesting people who were making a difference – and it changed my life forever.

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Jack Canfield at Biz Book Festival

When the company president introduced me to the staff in their cavernous plant and said, “North Dakota nice wasn’t working so we brought out a New Yorker,” I knew he had my back and I could do creative stuff.  We generated hockey-stick growth, including bringing to life some of my quintessentially “out-of-the-box” ideas.

The sub-plot running in the back of my mind, though, was the lack of women in the industry, and even fewer women at these conferences or in related media. So, I seized the moment and spotlighted women dealers, women managers, and women buyers, especially because women make the majority of car buying decisions in the US.

Falling in Love, But….

A few years later, a victim of the auto industry collapse, I returned to my natural environment: big city life in Washington, D.C.  But I was not the same person.

I’d fallen in love – with an industry and a cause, with a dynamism and economic potential, with the creative spirit of a burgeoning industry being birthed by brilliant, creative, inspired and determined social innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders across sectors. I also had a deeper level of confidence in my skills, talents, ideas, judgment, intuition and network, and strong convictions about the need for more women in this industry. The next question was….

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Asst. Sec of the Army Katherine Hammack

How do I give my new passion, confidence, and convictions a voice and get paid for it?  The answer came from an unexpected but (in retrospect) natural place.

At a conference one day, a female media entrepreneur asked me to do a radio show on her network. The process that followed gave birth to my podcast series/radio show Green Connections™ and a new level of my media persona (I’d been in TV news and written articles for national media before).

The Green Connections Media™ mission is to grow a clean, green economy in which women have economic parity. We cover energy, sustainability, and clean tech, and how it intersects with every industry – from policy to The Pope, business to Broadway, and activism to the arts.  And, we feature mostly women experts (the opposite of the traditional media).

From my interviews with top leaders and innovators at Fortune 500 companies like Dell, Facebook, MGM Resorts, Campbell Soup, and government agencies like the Department of Energy, as well as non-profit leaders, and my own journey’s ups and downs, I’ve learned great lessons that translate to any career, any time.

10 career tips:

  1. Follow your intuition: Collect the information you need to make a decision, then step back. Take a walk, sleep on it, whatever suits you. Then check in: what does your inner voice say?
  2. Be open to crazy ideas and choices: These could lead you to a path of cool people and opportunities and fuller expressions of yourself – and all this could make you smile.
  3. Reframe a perceived “set-back”: Rejection is just life moving in a new direction, so make lemonade. Find the opportunity, then move in that direction.
  4. Be kind to everyone: Everyone. Period. From waiters to coworkers, to hecklers to people you meet on the subway. You may run into them again someday. Plus, it’s good karma.
  5. Listen for people’s values and agendas: You can learn a lot just by listening. Understanding what makes people around you tick can lead you to some very interesting places.
  6. Stretch out of your comfort zone: Read and listen to people who disagree with you – and hear them, even if you don’t like them. Push yourself to have a more creative idea – flip it sideways, ask someone with a different experience what they would do or how they would think about it.
  7. Increase your self-awareness: The more self-aware you are, the more successful and happy you’ll be, with better relationships.
  8. Make time for self-care: Numerous studies show that taking time for sleep, exercise and healthy eating improves performance and relationships, dramatically slows the aging process, and improves mental clarity.
  9. Trust yourself: The universe does not give you things you can’t handle.

And…

  1. ASK – ASK –ASK! Don’t be shy, just polite and tell them what’s in it for them, how your request dovetails with their world. Be persistent – pleasant – but persistent.

So, go out there and expand your reach.

You can do it. Yes, you can.

I’m expanding Green Connections and its reach, talking to more talented innovators every week, so there will be more lessons to share. Stay tuned and go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com to listen.

 

To listen to Joan’s insightful and engaging interviews with innovators and leaders, go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com. Follow Joan on Twitter at @joanmichelson or @greenconnectsdc and like Green Connections on Facebook. Read her blog in the Huffington Post. Joan also does communications consulting.

How I Turned Panic into Promise

Lauren Laitin

Lauren Laitin is owner of Parachute Coaching which provides clients with the structure, tools, and support, empowering them to clarify their goals and devise the strategies to achieve them.

I was standing at my trendy new desk, staring at the exposed brick walls of my hip, downtown office and trying not to panic. I had recently left the fast track at a leading corporate law firm to be a partner at a boutique legal group and, as early as day one, I knew that something was not right.  On paper, everything was going according to plan – I was in a leadership position, had hopes of interesting work, and, for the first time in years, control over my schedule. But, for a variety of reasons, this new professional endeavor just wasn’t working.

As a woman who had always been confident in my choices, who moved forward with purpose and ambition, I was surprised that I was not happy in my new job. It was agonizing to think that I had made the wrong decision. Even scarier was the question I pondered every day while trying to dampen the anxiety:

“How soon can I leave without being a failure?  Can I have a ‘gap’ on my resume?” 

Without fully arriving at those answers, I told myself I would give it a little bit more time, but if my gut said go, I would.  In short, I gave myself permission to accept that this move wasn’t right for me. I told myself it was okay to throw away the current plan, to accept that it wasn’t working and try something new. Indeed, things didn’t change and, almost exactly six months after that first day, I parted ways with the small firm and embraced the uncertainty of my next steps.

Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.  I turned to my laptop and typed “Parachute Coaching” on the screen.

When I was ready to leave big law, joining the boutique firm as partner seemed like it would be the perfect next step – or at least a great next step on my resume. By thinking in terms of a “solid” career trajectory first, I had tabled the idea that I had been contemplating for over five years – one that I had promised myself I would someday pursue … starting a professional coaching practice.

I was first introduced to coaching about five years prior when, shortly after returning to work from Lauren Laitinmaternity leave with my first daughter, I attended a firm-sponsored presentation about work/life balance led by a professional coach. I was eager to get some advice on how to manage all my competing responsibilities. I had always been efficient, productive, and motivated, but – with an infant in my life – returning to my demanding job made tasks that had previously been quite doable, daunting and overwhelming. My to-do list had never been so long. I was riveted as I listened to the coach talk about defining goals, following internal rather than external expectations, and focusing on personal values. There was something about the soft intensity coupled with the clear opportunity to help people that made me sure that some day I would be presenting to a group of professionals about work/life balance.

The only question was when.

For years I continued to daydream about who my clients would be, what we would talk about, and what changes they would make. Within days of leaving the small firm, I knew the time was now.

The name Parachute Coaching had come to me immediately. When asked to choose one word to describe myself many years earlier, I had chosen “parachute,” because it is open, colorful, and adventurous. Within weeks, I had launched a website, enrolled in a coach certification program, and signed my first client. Four months later, I had more than 15 clients and had rented professional office space downtown.

“Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.”

Once I committed to a career change, I realized this had been the right path for me all along. I am passionate about supporting my clients as they achieve their goals, and in so doing, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment from having achieved one of my own.

I made a conscious choice to focus on professional women because their advancement in the workforce has been top of mind for me for some time. Confidence is such an albatross for women in the workplace. By focusing on professional women, I can both make a difference in how individuals view themselves but also hopefully make a dent in the confidence epidemic overall.

Lauren LaitinI appreciate all the flexibility of having my own business. I work hard, but I finally have some time for myself.  I can go to the gym, which is something I haven’t done consistently since my first daughter was born. I don’t HAVE to plug in at night anymore, although I love what I’m doing so I often do, and growing a business can be a-round-the-clock activity. My husband will remind me on occasion that sometimes it’s ok to wait until tomorrow.

When my clients talk to me about the “fear of failure,” I remember my own feelings of insecurity and anxiety over making the “wrong choice” when leaving the small firm. Now I know that was the best thing that could have happened to me. Admitting to myself that I was not happy, realizing I had to do something about it, and moving on, was an empowering experience. And most importantly, it makes me much more empathetic and aware of my clients’ concerns about similar transitions … been there, done that.

Tips from Lauren Laitin
  • Focus on what YOU want to do, not what others think you should do.
  • Embrace fear – it can really be a gift; let it motivate you to put pen to paper on what the new opportunity or new business plan could actually deliver.
  • Ask for help. There are lots of resources out there; getting objective advice can be eye-opening, empowering, and fun!

From the Lab to Labradors: Finding Fulfillment Behind the Lens

Jenny KarlssonJenny Karlsson is a pet photographer based in Pittsburgh. She shared her professional and personal journey from scientific research to photography with Career 2.0.

I’ve always loved nature and animals. It’s not surprising I guess as I was born and raised in a small village not far from Bjurholm, in northern Sweden, where I spent my weekends and summers working on my family’s dairy and potato farm. I left the farm for the lab when I went to study Biomedical Laboratory Science at Umea University and worked as a medical technologist analyzing patient samples in hospitals.

But my heart was pulling more towards the path of research and exploration and so, when I was invitedDog Running to spend the summer after graduation at the Center for Biologic Imaging at the University of Pittsburgh, I simply couldn’t refuse. Once in Pittsburgh, I was offered a full-time position as a research specialist taking images, making movies of cells and tissues, and quantitating the response to different compounds.

While working full-time in the lab, I enrolled in a part-time MBA program at Katz Graduate School of Business with the idea that I would work for a microscope manufacturer or software company once I graduated, as others in the lab had previously done. I took up photography as a much-needed creative outlet when I wasn’t working or studying. I was mostly photographing still life and participating in photography forums such as Flickr until I came across a lifestyle dog photographer in Seattle … it blew my mind that pet photography could be a career.  When I told my boss I had found my dream job, unsurprisingly she looked at me skeptically. And, even though I shelved the idea for a while, my dream remained constant.

Hugging a DogInitially I started assisting local wedding photographers on weekends, becoming increasingly stronger in my technical abilities as a photographer and developing my vision as an artist and storyteller. About four years ago, I began volunteering at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, taking photos of dogs for their adoption profiles. It felt amazing to use my skills to give back while gaining valuable experience.

When I wasn’t working or studying, all my free time was given over to photography and building a client base. The demands on my time were hard as I also had just met my husband-to-be. After graduation, I spent most evenings and weekends working on my photography business. I continued working at the lab, where I’d happily been for a decade, until last year when I finally made the leap to photography full-time.

“No matter how much you plan and prepare for it, you’ll never be completely ready or find the perfect moment to quit your job. At some point you just have to jump and trust that you’ve put in place a good foundation.”

In the months before quitting, my husband and I went over all our personal expenses and reduced our spending, treating my salary as if it didn’t exist. We saved as much as possible so that, when I finally left, we had at least four months of living expenses in the bank. This really gave me confidence to make the move.

Although my ultimate dream was to become a pet photographer, I didn’t believe it would be possible to Couple with Dogsmake a living if I specialized in animals. Talk about mental roadblock. Although I photographed pets, I also took family portraits and covered weddings and bar mitzvahs. Eventually I ended up with a pinched nerve, and the joint in my thumb was so out of alignment that I couldn’t even lift my Shepherd-Akita Alice’s water bowl. The business I had created allowed no time for photographing pets, and my body was literally screaming at me that something needed to change.

With the help of an amazing business coach (shout out to Emily Levenson of Propelle), I started re-shaping my business, changing my message, and aligning my passion with why I had started my business in the first place. It was incredibly liberating to narrow my focus and truly speak to my target client. At the same time, it was very difficult to let go of my beliefs of what it would take to make the jump. In the end, I did it. It was almost a harder thing to do than leaving the lab.

Jenny KarlssonFollowing my passion rather than others’ expectations of what I should do was definitely the right decision. It can be challenging to have to self-promote constantly (this goes against the Scandinavian in me), but it’s so much fun when you find your “tribe” who value what you do. I love being in the driver’s seat, deciding how to run my business, what to say yes and no to, and how I grow as an individual, artist, and entrepreneur. It’s also hard work. Even though I have more time to devote to my business, I never feel like I’ve done enough in a day. I try not to work at night and don’t always succeed, but I live more intentionally now to make life more than work.

And in the end, saying I’m a pet photographer always results in interesting conversations. People want to know whether I’ve photographed snakes, spiders or the like. For the record, I hate snakes and only photograph dogs, cats, and rabbits … well at least for now as I recently discovered that one of my neighbors has a pet pig, and I am working up the courage to ask if I can photograph it. Liz if you are reading this, what do you say?

Check out Jenny’s awesome website: Jenny Karlsson, Pet Photography.

Tips from Jenny Karlsson
  • Design a life and business that makes you happy. Choose to do the things that are aligned with who you are as a person, and what excites you. If you’re not having fun in your business, why do it in the first place?
  • Run the numbers and figure out how much you need to cover your personal and business expenses for a certain amount of time. Equipped with this knowledge you can more confidently make the jump and go for your dream. The day may be closer than you think.
  • No matter how much you plan and prepare for it, you’ll never be completely ready or find the perfect moment to quit your job. At some point you just have to jump and trust that you’ve put in place a good foundation.
  • Don’t get caught in the comparison trap, everyone has their own struggles. Look at the big picture and be happy with what you’ve created.
  • Surround yourself with a diverse group of driven women in different industries and form a mastermind. Create an environment that fosters honest conversations, allows for vulnerability, and provides support and accountability. It’s hard to be a business owner, and it is immensely important to have a sounding board to share the wins, struggles and question marks with. Your spouse/partner will thank you!
  • Schedule regular self-care dates in whatever form you prefer. The body has a tendency to hold a lot of stress, and it is important to be kind to it and take care of it, otherwise burnout is just around the corner.
  • There is always more to do, and it is easy to sink into the “not enough” trap. Focus on celebrating the wins, and build momentum one day at a time.

Helping Others Find Financial Freedom through Franchising

Valentines photoJane Stein is President of Your Franchise Is Waiting, a consultancy firm which helps people in various stages of reinvention discover the possibilities offered by business ownership through franchising. She shares her somewhat bumpy ride from corporate financial services to self-employment and why she loves nothing more than helping people get out from under the corporate shackles.

I was a senior VP of Investments and Certified Financial Planner with Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley) for more than 20 years in Houston, Texas. I got married at 35 to my 42-year-old husband and cranked out two adorable boys – time was a wasting afterall.  When you have a full time stressful job (is there one that isn’t?) it truly takes a village.  We relied heavily on the kindness of not only strangers but also family and hired help.

Our second child was all of 4 weeks old when I felt that something wasn’t right. He didn’t make eye Boys at the Lakecontact (when he nursed!) and seemed to be in perpetual motion. I knew he had autism. This was 1997, and autism was just starting to be on the radar, as opposed to the full blown epidemic it has since become. Being the kind of person who believes “everything worth doing is worth overdoing,” I jumped into overdrive and surfed the internet until 2 am every morning researching every possible intervention known to man. We did gluten- and casein-free diets, sound therapy, supplements, skin brushing, as well as the traditional speech, occupational, and “floor play” interventions. By this point, my son was living in the back seat of my car and therapists’ offices. Needless to say, it was a crazy ride.  Not so great for the marriage either, which is another story.

Should I stay or should I go?

Then along came 9/11 and after struggling to get out of bed for six months, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I realized that I was seriously burned out and had not enjoyed what I had been doing for years. I was tired of the same conversations day in and day out and wasn’t learning anything new. I felt that crushing feeling of “is this all there is?” and of life being fleeting. I wanted to spend whatever time remained raising my own children (at this point, we had two full-time nannies) and living in a place where they could play outside without being covered by mosquito bites from head to toe in minutes. We Jane Steinresearched various cities that met our criteria (should be safe and have clean air and water, an educated community, and four seasons) around the country. We assessed our financial picture and where we could cut back, and took a leap of faith. We relocated the family to Boulder, Colorado, which had good public schools and more than its fair share of quirky kids. I figured mine would fit right in.

There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong.  It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.

Cut to ten years later when my oldest was leaving for college, I began to feel restless and Jane Steinrealized I was bored, bored, bored. Hiking, golfing, going to lunch with friends and volunteering did not fill me up.

I did some deep thinking and realized I:

  • love working the way some people love weekends,
  • need an organizing principle in my life: for me it’s work
  • wanted to build another empire if I could – I missed the challenge.
  • missed having discretionary income to be more generous in my philanthropy and, let’s be honest, to spend.

There’s more I could say, but at age 58 I did a lot of research and exploration of various career options and eventually relaunched – as a franchise broker.

I work from home connecting people in transition into businesses that are a good match for them based on their investment parameters, skill sets, and income and lifestyle objectives.  Walking people through the steps of reinvention is very rewarding.

“There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong.  It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.”

I love learning about new business concepts every day. I get to try to connect people to their dreams of self-employment and hopefully open the door to what will be their future financial security and the satisfaction that comes from “steering your own ship.”  Now I help people invest in themselves, instead of managing their passive investments, and it’s much more exciting and empowering for them.

This is a business I can do from anywhere there is a phone line and an internet connection.  There’s no reason I won’t do this well into old age.

Stepping past the fear 

Personal reinvention is hard.  Things have to be pretty miserable for you to overcome the hurdle of inertia and fear. But there can be great reward in taking the leap. Transitions are a part of life. Most of us will experience quite a few in our lifetime. The best ones are the ones you initiate yourself. It’s a great feeling to chart a new course. In facing your fears, ask yourself – in a year, will my situation improve if I do nothing? If the answer is no, you and I both know what the right move is.

When I decided to leave the financial services industry, I woke up every morning feeling free. After a while, that feeling was replaced with a sense of adventure. I was going to reinvent myself – again. Investing in a business is a bold move. But it just might be the right move.  And remember, women make great entrepreneurs!

Interested in learning more about franchising? You can connect with Jane on Facebook and  LinkedIn.

Bringing South American Sweetness to New Jersey

Veronica SainVeronica Sain is Founder of D’ Leche, an all-natural, gourmet baking company focused on creating traditional artisanal specialty sweets inspired by recipes from Argentina. 

The taste of Argentina, authentic and all natural, is challenging to find in the United States. For families that have left behind their Argentine culture, rich with tradition and delicious food, a small taste of smooth dulce de leche or an exquisitely sweet Alfajor is a welcome comfort. It’s that longing and my passion for baking that inspired me to embark on my latest venture and create D’ Leche, an online confectionary that provides foodies with delicious pastries and caramels inspired by traditional Argentine recipes.

My journey to launching dleche.com was in part spawned by my frequent drives nearly an hour north of my home in New Jersey to purchase Alfajores from an Argentine bakery that made them just as I remembered as a child in my native Argentina.  Working for more than ten years in the corporate world in sales and marketing and as a paralegal beforehand, I never really saw myself as someone who would work until retirement in a typical 9-to-5 job. I had long had dreams of starting my own business and experiencing passion in work. The realization of what I could do came to me on those drives back and forth to the bakery. Not everyone had the access I had to yummy Argentine treats and so began my quest to produce and sell my own hand-crafted line of Alfajores, featuring the silky dulce de leche centers I knew others craved as much as I did.

For over six months, I dedicated my time to researching stories of Alfajores from various regions of Argentina and tested assorted recipes at home. I especially spent a lot of time developing hand-crafted gourmet dulce de leche caramels made of all natural ingredients, similar to what you would find in Argentine bakeries.

D'LecheAs a new entrepreneur, I learned quickly about the importance of having a supportive network to tap into. I joined the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship Corporation (WCEC), networking with like-minded women, and attended many classes to ensure I launched D’ Leche on the right foot. It wasn’t until I felt I had the necessary tools and knowledge that I left my corporate position and launched the business, six months after having my initial idea.  As a startup, to keep costs down I rent a commercial kitchen and joined Restaurant Depot (which has many locations) for purchasing of some bulk products.  I still purchase my organic ingredients locally to maintain quality.  Since D’ Leche is an online store, there’s no overhead for rent.

I was surprised at first by how rewarding entrepreneurship can be. It’s definitely harder than your typical office job, but the rewards are limitless. But being an entrepreneur is certainly not without its challenges. I admit that not having a business partner to bounce ideas off sometimes puts a lot more pressure on me to be decisive. The upside is that it makes the decision-making process easier as the “buck” stops with me.

“Working for more than ten years in the corporate world in sales and marketing and as a paralegal beforehand, I never really saw myself as someone who would work until retirement in a typical 9-to-5 job. I had long had dreams of starting my own business and experiencing passion in work. The realization of what I could do came to me on those drives back and forth to the bakery.”

Some years ago I read a book by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart into It, and realized that his story proves great ideas don’t come easily, but only come with persistence and courage. Starbucks is what it is today because he never gave up. I keep that in the back of my mind everyday, especially when I feel like things are not going right or I learn about a disappointing business deal. Staying focused and forging ahead will get me to where I want and need to be. To ensure that I don’t miss a beat, I am constantly connected to the happenings of my company, learning more about the specialty food industry, and thinking of ways to grow and market dleche.com.

As a solopreneur, my thoughts are always racing, even on weekends and holidays. Because I don’t haveD'Leche the structure of “weekends off,” I must enforce work/life balance by disconnecting – usually by heading to the beach, visiting a historical town with quaint shops, or going to a summer festival. It helps me clear my mind and makes space for new ideas like my new organic soft peanut caramels.

And while sometimes I think it would be nice to have a partner, I work very well independently. I’m also an optimist – maybe to a fault – but it’s what keeps me moving forward. I plan to grow the online store and open a brick and mortar, D’Leche Café, within the next year. From there, I hope to expand the business as a franchise. I imagine already my D’Leche Cafés, places where people from different backgrounds and with diverse interests gather to forge new friendships and of course indulge in my delicious confections.

Sweet Tips for Fellow Entrepreneurs
  • Join a professional network or organization to make connections and learn from others in your industry. Live meetings (Face2Face) are best for networking.
  • Allow yourself to be inspired by your background because that’s what makes you unique.
  • Disconnect every once in a while and make space for new ideas.
  • Remain positive and persistent; don’t give up on your goals.

For more information about D’ Leche, visit www.dleche.com or email concierge@dleche.com.

Recycling My Life by Helping Others Recycle Theirs

Tiffany BeverlinTiffany Beverlin is the Founder and CEO of DreamsRecycled.com, an online marketplace specializing in divorce items such as wedding dresses and rings and comprehensive website for the divorce community. 

Let’s face it: Life can suck at times. Perfect families, perfect relationships, and perfect lives is not reality for most people. Life is a constant stream of ups, downs, plateaus and curve balls for the majority of mankind.

I had spent the majority of my adult life married, a devoted mother to my three children, and wife to my now ex-husband. I loved it. I gave up my career to stay home and raise my children. I felt fortunate to be able to do so; after all, not everyone gets this privilege. I was happy – or so I thought. I had three healthy kids, a husband who made plenty of money to support us, a beautiful home, a great group of friends and so on. It was pretty much everything many women dream about.

Then life happened – the sucky part I mentioned earlier. And I wasn’t prepared for it. That’s where the dream died.

When you find yourself going through a divorce, you quickly realize that the financial burden rests squarely on your shoulders. You can’t rely on your spouse’s income anymore. That’s hard enough. But what nobody tells you is that trying to go back to work after a 12-year hiatus makes you virtually unemployable by most human resource department standards. This was the reality I faced.

I wish I could say I handled it well, that I was the poster child for being strong and holding it all together. But the truth is that divorce could bring Hercules to his knees. I was a mess: A crying, depressed, may-not-ever-get-out-of-bed disaster. A few months in to a very messy situation, I had that realization that hits you like a ton of bricks: My dream really was dead.

On one of my darkest nights, I went to bed exhausted, as I often did, from the emotional trauma of it all. Struggling to figure out how I would find a job or earn cinderellyany income, I drifted off to sleep. That’s all it took to start my entrepreneurial journey.

That night, I literally dreamt that I had to sell my engagement ring for the money but couldn’t find a jeweler or pawnshop that would take the ring and give me a fair deal. I was desperate. I needed the money. Yet there was no place I could turn to sell what was once one of my most prized possessions.

Upon awaking, I realized that this dream was actually a reality. I did some research and quickly discovered that there was no marketplace for what I needed. Pawnshops would rip me off, jewelers would buy it for 50 percent below market value and selling privately could take months, if not years.

I started to wonder why there was no website for people like me. There were divorce lawyers and therapists everywhere, but there was no community, no support, no advice and certainly no place to sell my old ring and dress to fund the next stage of my life. I could name at least a dozen wedding websites but couldn’t name a single URL for divorce.

I wish I could say I handled it well, that I was the poster child for being strong and holding it all together. But the truth is that divorce could bring Hercules to his knees. I was a mess: A crying, depressed, may-not-ever-get-out-of-bed disaster.

Days later I had incorporated my company and retained a web designer to build the first online community and marketplace specializing in selling items from divorces. My old, dead dream of marital bliss and the perfect family had spawned a new dream: entrepreneurship.

I worked hard, educated myself, and studied all of the things I thought I should know to make this business a success. From e-commerce and marketing to branding, SEO, social media and Google analytics, I threw myself into it head first, mostly at 1 a.m. while my kids slept. I also started to research divorce, something I quickly realized was a giant of an industry ($50 billion a year in the U.S. alone).

When DreamsRecycled.com launched I was unbelievably lucky to have my story air on Fox News and syndicated throughout America. I was quickly featured in Dreams Recycled LogoThe Huffington Post and numerous other media outlets. It was at this time when I realized the size and scope of my business endeavor. There were millions of other people like me who felt lost, lonely, and were in need of practical information. They needed a place to connect, bond and find their next dream. Over the course of the first year I was contacted by thousands of men and women who simply wanted to share their stories and connect with me. Some simple thanked me for inspiring them to recycle their lives after divorce.

I still love connecting with my users, but the biggest miracle of all of this was that I was inadvertently recycling my life as well. My company gave me a career, a purpose and a reason to get out of bed. Each person I helped propelled me to make the website bigger and better. Each story I heard inspired me to keep going. My website inspired me to date again. After all, how could I blog about moving on if I personally wasn’t attempting to do so? It made me realize I wasn’t alone, not even in my most dismal divorce moments.

My story may not be the norm in business. I had no tech experience, no startup knowledge and no e-commerce background. But if you believe in your product, follow your passion and focus on the task at hand, anyone can recycle their life and start their next dream.

 

Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Eliza LucasEliza Lucas is Owner and Operator of Top Dog, an all-American, hot dog and fried clam shop based in Rockport, Massachusetts. She shared with Career 2.0 the story of how this small business got its start.

Very few people would think of opening a hot dog stand as a “get-rich-quick” scheme. And indeed it isn’t. But looking back, it was the best decision my husband, Scott, and I ever made.

It was 2001 and we were living in the metro Boston area. Scott, who had just been laid off at his tech startup, was working as a disc jockey on Boston radio and I was video producer, but we both knew we wanted to do something else. We had always hoped to move to the North Shore (coast of Massachusetts) because it seemed like the ideal place to raise a family, and I wanted to offer my children something like what I had when I spent my summers there as a child.

We settled on Rockport, MA  – an idyllic place with a great school system. My grandmother had owned a shop there while I was growing up and Scott and I had often kicked around the idea of doing something similar. But opening a shop on Bearskin Neck was a dream that, frankly, we never thought would come true.

Top DogThen we had a major stroke of luck … the Portside Chowder House restaurant, at the time a Rockport staple, changed locations and their old spot on Bearskin Neck became available. If we had known back then just how hard it would be to get our little hot dog shop off the ground, we likely never would have taken such a gigantic gamble. The building needed to be totally gutted, we weren’t married yet we were taking this huge life-step together. We had no plan and no money.

Minor details – we dove in!

What we did have was a belief – one that has served us well ever since. We were sure we didn’t need to come up with some sort of spectacular breakthrough product in order to have a successful business. We believed in the idea of glorifying something basic. That is to say, you can take something simple and if you do it really well, customers will appreciate it and they will come back for more. Bearskin Neck didn’t have a hot dog stand at the time, there was a building available, and Top Dog was born thanks to a loan from the local small-business-friendly bank, Rockport National Bank (now part of Institution for Savings).

Everyone has heard that tired old phrase “if I’d known then what I know now,” but I’m being completely serious when I say that the only reason we did this was because we were young and naive. Top Dog has grown every year that we’ve been in business. However I think every new business owner underestimates just how long it will take before you start seeing actual results. We couldn’t afford any additional help, so either Scott or I had to work the restaurant at all times.

Looking back, that may have actually been the secret to our success. Because we did everything ourselves, we kept total quality control over our product. We Scott Lucasknow now that a hot dog stand on Bearskin Neck was a pretty good idea. But it would never have worked out if our food had been mediocre. We don’t just sell hot dogs – we sell really good hot dogs! With effort, and no other options, we somehow succeeded in making the ordinary extraordinary.

However, the second Top Dog actually started to grow, we faced a new challenge. We are a seasonal business and, once we could actually afford help, we had a hard time finding it. As soon as we got staff trained it was time to close shop for the winter. It was a vicious cycle that really frustrated us early on.

It was then that we found even more reasons to be thankful that we’re based in Rockport. People have a real attachment to this town, and they quickly grew to love Top Dog. We were shocked by how much everyone genuinely wanted us to succeed. A lot of people in the Rockport business community had laughed at the idea of a hot dog stand, but they also were always willing to lend us anything we were running out of and were legitimately interested in our success. I vividly recall talking to Kenny Porter of Roy Moore Lobster Co. in our first year in business and, when I mentioned that we would be competitors, he simply said he didn’t look at it that way and was more concerned with having as many high quality establishments in town as possible (though he later told me he thought we’d be gone in a year!).

We struggled at first, but we were eventually able to build a part-time employee network, comprised of people who even today are always willing to drop everything and help us when we need them. We still have a cook who comes in at any time. And one of our girls has been coming back every summer for ten years (this will be her last, as she’s graduating from college).

Top Dog TeamAs we’ve established ourselves, we’ve been able to slowly branch out, and now we constantly tweak our offerings to suit our changing customer base. We began selling clams in 2008 – we couldn’t afford to be one dimensional, plus we had to add a more expensive price point because, if every sale were a hot dog, we’d have had to up the foot traffic through the restaurant to a level that wasn’t feasible. We do well off the tourist market, but we also do our best to cater to the locals (99 cent hot dog night is still something we do mostly for the local crowd, as it’s very much an “in the know” event).

I don’t know if there ever was, or ever will be, an “aha” moment where we’ll suddenly decide we made it. But we were named Best Fried Clams on the Northshore by Northshore Magazine in 2014 (and again in 2015!), which put our clams on the map. But more importantly every week of the summer someone stands up and says “that was the best ___ I’ve ever had.” That’s really what keeps us going. If it weren’t for accolades like that, we’d have both quit a long time ago.

After nearly 15 years in business, Top Dog is still growing. We’ve brought it to a point now where Scott runs the restaurant and I run the business. We’re even Top Dog Fried Clamsconsidering opening a second location. But we would only do it if we could run it ourselves, because the quality of our food is really what’s made us successful. Even now that we’ve grown, we make our own tartar sauce and source the highest quality local clams and lobsters.

We started out with the idea of glorifying something basic, and that remains the foundation of Top Dog today.

The Highs and Lows of Launching a Business

bitzy_baby.jpg-large

Former teacher Whitney Reeves is the co-founder of Bitzy Baby,  a juvenile safety product company with a mission to instill confidence in parents that when their babies are put to bed they’ll sleep safely. Bitzy Baby’s signature product offers a solution for parents seeking a safe alternative to the traditional crib bumper. Reeves reflects on her experiences of starting a new business. 

You’re Never Ready

“You’re never ready” is something I heard a lot before my husband, Seabren, and I had children of our own. It’s a phrase I also said as a former Bitzy Baby Cribelementary teacher to parents as their children went off to the next grade. And it’s what I say to anyone with an idea that they are passionate enough to explore further. And yet, that phrase is a reminder of how “never being ready” means be brave anyway! Have the courage to jump in because you learn more from experience than anything else and because no one else has the exact same experiences as you. You’re the only perfect fit for that next adventure!

The Birth of Bitzy

I have a rare genetic gene that made my pregnancies high risk and, facing our infant’s potential fragility, we wanted the safest environment possible. It was during this time that the idea of Bitzy began. Safe sleeping shouldn’t be complicated. As a problem solver and believer in figuring out what you don’t understand, I felt compelled to do what I taught my students every day: be brave and try. After analyzing all the critical features needed for a safe sleeping environment, I designed the crib bumper solution. A product that provides not only modern, collapsible and preventative features but also creates a cushioned, breathable environment essential for infants sleeping up to 16 hrs/day.  What began for Seabren and I as a product has transformed into a mission advocating for the safe sleeping of all infants.

When you’re an entrepreneur, there are moments when you’re deciding if the best choice this week is to allocate this week’s grocery budget and scour your shelves for meals so you can utilize those funds for your start up.

Recognizing a NEED

Bitzy Baby Nursery RoomAs consumers and producers, we don’t make a purchase without an emotional connection. It may be the specific scent of a shampoo, the texture of a shirt, or the desire to be part of a group of consumers. And that is often the exact reason why entrepreneurs create something. Because they ARE the consumer wanting what isn’t available yet. As parents of a newborn, with busy careers and a new home, we were expected to do the traditional thing and settle down. But Seabren and I aren’t the conventional type so we took on the birth of an additional “baby” and launched a company.

A Supportive Cofounder Does Matter

My husband and I are opposites but our differences make for a perfect fit in our business relationship. Unlike most start-ups, we’re able to pause to focus on our family time and then dive into projects after our boys’ bedtime until the wee hours of the morning. Our “meetings” consist of nachos, dreaming big, finalizing priorities, and winding down with a favorite rerun to cap off the night.

Because we’re opposites, Seabren knows not to speak only in numbers and I don’t need to explain why I chose a specific color or graphic. We respect our different areas of expertise and challenge ourselves rather than each other and, because of that, we are the perfect cofounders. And although we’re opposites, we’re both dreamers and doers, so it’s key that we support each other in our strengths but, more importantly, our weaknesses.

Start-up Goals Outweigh Challenges

There is no manual! You’re signing up to start something that will require some creativity to make it a reality. You’ve got to have a passion that’s rooted in something so much more. When you’re an entrepreneur, there are moments when you’re deciding if the best choice this week is to allocate this week’s grocery budget and scour your shelves for meals so you can utilize those funds for your start up. It’s in those moments that you have to feel passion for what you are doing rather than simply wanting to produce something or make money.

Whitney Reeves Bitzy Baby with a Crib on the Beach

Three Invaluable Words: Focus, Framework & Finance

As someone with a newborn infant diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, in the throes of renovating an old home and starting a new company, there are three important words I have always kept in mind: finance, focus, and framework.

No matter what you are balancing at home, launching a startup takes guts and it’s tough to find the financial resources to make it a reality. You have to make sacrifices. Every day, you must focus on your business and carve time out, trading sleep for extra coffee. But developing the right framework for converting your idea into a business will make things easier and that requires planning. You must become an expert in your field.

Overall, you have to recognize your success is based on your strengths and weaknesses. Establishing a support network that helps you succeed, finding creative financial resources, and having the drive to continue when things become challenging are ingredients for creating your perfect career 2.0.

Embrace the Change: Love What You Do Every Day

Maddie SciulloChanges in life aren’t easy. They give you that anxious, stomach-sinking feeling and fill your mind with worrisome scenarios. But life is full of changes, good and bad, that you must embrace.

When it comes to your career, you hope the changes that come are always positive ones that help you grow and prosper. Some changes in your professional career will be influenced by outside forces, while others are completely driven by you. However, the changes you need to make to continue to move ahead professionally are not always clear.

The perfect path for you will never magically appear. It will not materialize in a puff of smoke at the optimal time. It will not have signs; it will not come with a map. To find the path that will lead you to what you want to do – to what you were meant to do – you have to discover it and be bold enough to take the first step.

It won’t happen overnight, but step-by-step, inch-by-inch, you can find a career path that energizes and excites you.

How you know it’s time for a career change

Making a huge change in your professional life can be at once exciting and terrifying. Exciting because of the possibilities, and terrifying because of the other possibilities. Still, as frightening as it may be, sometimes not making the change is even worse.

So how do you know when a career change is in your best interests?

Boredom is getting the best of you

Your work isn’t exciting anymore, so you’re just going through the motions. When you wake up in the morning, it’s hard to imagine getting out of bed and into your work chair. And by the end of the day, you’re completely drained.

You’re feeling indifferent

You’ve already checked out. You find yourself doing the bare minimum and having little concern about your performance.

Your patience is dwindling

Tasks that you used to enjoy doing aren’t fulfilling anymore – in fact, they just seem to annoy you. You can’t even bear the thought of coming back tomorrow and doing it all again.

Restlessness keeps you awake at night

When you’re at work, you find it hard to sit still and focus. When you’re not, you get this itching feeling that there’s something else you should be doing. You feel like your talents are being wasted and that annoys you. There’s something else that you want to do and you can’t wait to get started.

It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.

Don’t look at these feelings as a bad thing.

As disheartened as you must feel, try to view your feelings as an opportunity. This is your chance to find what you love to do. It takes courage to recognize when you need a change and to act on it.

Top of the WorldMake the change

Now that you know it’s time to make a career change, take the dive. Jumping into something new – something that you’re passionate about – will feel refreshing and rewarding.

What do you want to do?

First, think long and hard about what it is you want to be doing every day for the rest of your working life. What are your values? What excites you? Why do you enjoy those things?

Also, who already does what you want to do? They’ll be able to provide you with sage advice and insight.

Expand your horizons

You know what you want to do, but what do you need to do to get there? Beef up your skill set, take coursework, get certified. Whatever it takes.

Look within your company

If you like the company you work for, look within the company for other opportunities that encompass the things you’re looking for in a career. It’s much easier to make an internal transition, so if your current company offers your dream job, take it.

Maybe it’s time for a bigger career change

If the opportunity you’re looking for doesn’t exist within your current place of work, it’s time to move on. Don’t waste any more time doing something that isn’t making you happy. Maybe you’ll need to pack up your bags and move to where the work is. Maybe it’s time to be your own boss. Whatever the case, know that one day you’ll look back and be happy – not to mention proud – that you had the strength to make the change.

Network, network, network

Get out there. Talk to the people who do what you want to do, the people who can help you. Find a mentor. Ask questions, find answers. Be open and honest. You can’t have too many friends, and you certainly can’t have too many of the right friends.

It’s going to take work

It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.

Remember why you’re making this career change and what’s at the finish line waiting for you. Remember to ask for help on the hard days. Remember to celebrate on the great ones.

You’ll get there, eventually.

Maddie Sciullo is the Social Media Manager/Content Manager at C-leveled, a special amalgam of incubator, accelerator, technology and business advisor plus a full-service, in-house marketing department, based in Pittsburgh, PA.