There are two important parts to your brain that play a critical role in your ability to change careers. The first is your frontal lobe. This is the place of reason, options, possibility and belief in opportunity. The second is the amygdala, which is where fear and “fight or flight” reactions hang out.
When the brain is confronted with something it fears, your amygdala gets activated. The amygdala’s job is to keep you safe, and career changing is not safe to the brain. Since the brain senses something risky afoot, it will do anything to sabotage you. The amygdala might activate some of your old behavior patters or it might engage you in a way of thinking that counter act your desire for change. (more…)
As I continue along my path of a year of magical thinking and saying yes to all life and job opportunities, I just finished my last shift as a seasonal employee at Crate & Barrel. The epiphany of getting this part-time job hit me when I realized that I was incorporating a path though C&B a few times a week as part of my quest for 10,000 fit-bit steps. Hey, I should get hired at C&B! Just think about all the discounts I could get for the side tables, lamps, and art my family needs to finish designing our living room. The savings alone was reason to join the C&B brigade, but – more importantly – it was a chance to knock off the desire I’ve always had to work in the retail industry. I mean don’t most homebodies want to work in retail surrounded by amazing home accessories? I also wanted to assuage my guilt from looking for a full-time job and just enjoy the holidays. Boy was I naive!
The night before I started the job, I had a recurring dream of crashing into the festive martini glasses stacked precariously on display. I have a true glass phobia that stems from our fourth child shattering a hurricane lantern on his face, an injury that required over 70 stitches. This fear was compounded further when I saw the five different types of hurricane lanterns on display in the store my very first day.
The first week on the job, I studied the C&B catalog by night
I wanted to seem seasoned at work and put up a decent retail fight.
I would know on Monday where the garlic press lay,
Only to see the orange magnetic paring knife in its place the next day.
At first I knew where each and every ornament that we carried was placed. From the glitter stars, and glass balls to the Santa’s hand-painted by race.
There were candles and candies and fake branches galore But I shook when each morning I could not find them anymore.
So instead of memorizing the C&B scene, I just faked it and acted like a retail queen!
(And it worked… once in a while until a seasoned sales associate called me out.)
I was too shy to ask in the hiring interview about the discount. In fact it was two weeks into my retail honeymoon when I casually asked a colleague how much the furniture discount was. I choked on the free broken C&B candy cane I was munching on when my veteran retail friend explained I got no furniture discount until I had been there five months! Knowing that would never happen as I had spent the night before soaking my feet and bribing my kids to massage my feet, I was devastated. This just compounded the grief I felt that same morning when I realized we C&B sales employees did not even get a discount at the Starbucks attached to the store (thus my eating the free candy cane in lieu of a Starbucks panini because I would then be losing money during my unpaid lunch break).
Anyone who has worked in retail can attest that it is very physical work. I rotated my comfy but homely Dansko, Clarke & Born shoes on a regular basis but always woke up the next morning with sore feet. During a normal eight-hour shift, I would hit ten thousand steps on my fit bit without even trying.
Most employees despised the red aprons we had to wear for the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I enjoyed it because I did not have to worry about what to wear and I could hide the free candy samples and my iphone in the apron pockets. I was never comfortable with the “no phone rule” as a mother of four kids anyway.
For me, it was the walky talky earpiece that drove me mad. Now mind you, I have been a TV producer the last 20 years and we squawked back and forth to one another all day but this had nothing on the C&B airwaves.
The earpieces were the communication tool between the sales associate and the merchandise team. The “merch” team worked the bowels of the store and knew where every wine glass, napkin ring, and salt and pepper resided. They brought up every scan pan or kitchen appliance a customer wanted. So naturally I was eager to be their friend, indebted to their expertise.
Now I am not a shy person, but I quickly learned it was best to be brief. For some reason this lovely group of people assumed alter egos on the “walky,” like shock jocks, and more often than once I was humiliated for not knowing we were out of ornament boxes, holiday tissue paper, or a certain type of picture frame.
But really the customers were the most colorful part of this retail experiment: Be it the father who came in holding his 2-year-old child in one arm and two razor sharp Wusthof knifes in the other hand demanding the C&B knife guarantee or the woman who told me I was moving like molasses – she was in a hurry and had a lot to do but first please box up her 37 different gifts into different size boxes, quickly!
There was a sea of returns. Some of the returned items I had never seen, and were obviously bought at Sur La Table or Pottery Barn, but a few brazen customers tried to fault me for mixing up the store. I recall with fondness the woman who returned the “unused” cookbook holder right after Thanksgiving. I could see her mashed potato and cranberry sauce still on the glass.
The optimist in me continued down my commitment path even as I missed my oldest sister and her West Coast family visiting for the holidays or the neighborhood holiday parties for yet another shift at C&B. But this seasonal job will eventually end, right?
It was a cinch to sink all my work hour wages into purchasing C&B essentials. I made upwards of $10 an hour. My capitalist 14-year old son reminded me one day I better get to my minimum-wage-paying job. So on that principal I refuse to use a calculator to tally my total, but if I eyeball it and ignore a few transactions I probably broke even. Thankfully, my husband talked me out of buying the Pizzelle maker, the silver dollar pancake skillet, and the mini popover pan.
What did I learn? I can pack any glass like a pro in two seconds flat! (I officially timed myself.) I adored the store management and I made some lovely new friends. Most of the C&B employees are a delight and comprised mostly of college students and retired school teachers, and just like me trying to figure out what to do next. The TV producer in me is thinking of using my experience as the foundation for a new show. A pilot program with a lot of women and gay men figuring out life amidst an inexpensive furniture and kitchen accessory store never confused with William Sonoma!
To taste Puja Satiani’s chocolate is to enter a world where you will never be tempted to buy a bag of mass-produced chocolate again. The 36-year-old has always loved chocolate, but it wasn’t until she started contemplating what she would do once she abandoned the corporate track that she started thinking about chocolate as more than just an occasional treat.
Satiani was seven when her parents moved from Pakistan to Miami, following their siblings who had already made the leap overseas, in search of better educational opportunities for their two daughters. Satiani’s path was fairly typical for first generation Pakistani Americans. She lived at home and worked her way through the University of Miami graduating a year early. She spent her last summer in Washington D.C. as a White House intern and fell in love with the city. So after graduation she went straight to law school at American University, worked for a federal judge, and then landed a job at a law firm where she worked as a litigator in government contracts. (more…)
Ligia Galvao Vaz is an optimist right down to her toes. You just can’t help but feel good when talking to her … she’s contagious. Maybe it’s that indomitable Brazilian spirit, or maybe it’s just the way she’s wired, working hard to get where she is today but so positive about life and the opportunities she has been given.
“I’ve always had dreams. When I reach one, I move on to the next. That’s what I teach my daughter, if you have a goal, nothing is impossible if you want it enough.”
Born in Salvador, Bahia, on the east coast of Brazil, Vaz began her working life at 18 years as a secretary at a bus company. Straight out of high school, she decided to forego university so she could gain independence and buy her own place. She moved up the ranks to a supervisory role but left after six years to join a concert producer as an office manager. (more…)
We all know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France and that Lady Liberty carries a torch, right? But quick, can you tell us how many spokes the crown has, and what that number represents?
This might be a simple one… the answer is seven, representing the seven seas and seven continents. The single torch represents unity. The date on the book is the birthdate of the United States. So collectively, the symbols tell the story of people from all around the world coming together to the United States – immigration. But this is just one of many stories that Dr. Rebecca Klemm gets excited about telling children and adults as part of NumbersAlive!, a small business she started quite by accident in 2011 at the age of 61.
Forty years prior, Dr. Klemm was a junior in college preparing to teach math. She secured a position teaching 9th grade while still in her final year as an undergraduate. At the end of that year, she was admitted to the PhD program in Statistics at Iowa State University. (more…)
It’s funny how life circles back on itself, offering us a second chance to grab hold of a skill or interest we had as a child but abandoned like a forgotten toy as we transitioned to adulthood and got overwhelmed by work and raising families. When struggling with what we are meant to do or what would make us most happy, we often revisit a younger, more carefree and rootless version of ourselves. Leeya Mehta is no different from many of us in this respect except that she has decided to take the leap. Stepping off the conventional career path, the former international development specialist has thrown herself full-time into writing: “When I write, I feel incredibly happy. It’s remarkably satisfying. I don’t find that any part of my life is missing, which is what I used to feel before I became a writer.”
Born and raised in Mumbai, India, Mehta grew up in an open household highly appreciative of culture and the arts. Her mother, an English Literature teacher, writer, and journalist placed few constraints on her only daughter and encouraged her from an early age to express her feelings through writing, acting and directing.
Despite her relatively Bohemian youth, Mehta’s sensible side propelled her onto a more conventional path and she enrolled in Mumbai University’s St Xavier’s College, where she studied economics and math. Surrounded by theories and algorithms, Mehta found reprieve and inspiration in poet and novelist Eunice de Souza, head of the English Department at her college. She also acted in a major role in a unique production of The Crucible by candlelight and started writing a young adult novel when she was nineteen, thinking that somehow she would be able to simultaneously pursue her multiple interests.
Awarded a Chevening scholarship, the British Foreign Office’s equivalent of a Rhodes Scholarship, Mehta did a Master’s in economics and politics at Oxford University in the UK. On returning to Mumbai at the height of the tech boom, she was recruited to run a legal services internet start-up, Legal Pundits, launched by family friends. She did the job for two years before moving on.
“I had started a young adult, semi-fantasy novel that I wanted to finish. I was young and adventurous so I quit my job.” Mehta lived at home with her mother and grandparents, as is the norm for single adults in India. But she was disciplined, writing every day from 7am to 5pm, and doing some consulting in international development on the side.
“This was a wonderful period! My poems and short stories were published and I wrote for newspapers. I was invited to read my work in New York and at the University of Michigan. Because of my private sector experience, consulting seemed the best way to earn a living and allow me the time to write, and I was trying to figure out how to do both when an exciting opportunity took me on a UN University (UNU) fellowship to Tokyo.” At the UNU Mehta researched and wrote a paper on how to make a profit from environmental stewardship. Her experience in Tokyo led to a series of poems set in Japan, but also strengthened her resolve to balance a career in international development with her writing.
Around this time, Mehta’s mother, who had remarried and moved to the US, became quite ill. Wanting to be closer to her, Mehta enrolled in Georgetown University’s Public Policy Master’s Program to study energy and environmental policy as her goal was to work for an international NGO. She was editor of the Public Policy Review, and, during her first year, she signed up with the World Bank as a consultant on energy and carbon finance projects in the Africa region.
Marrying a fellow Georgetown graduate, Mehta soon found herself with two small children, a busy job, and little time to write. It gnawed at her. “There was always the sense that I was missing something fundamental. I knew what it was. I had already had a test run, I knew what it felt like. I wanted to go back to it but, with a young family and work, it was hard.”
Mehta stayed with the international institution but took on a new position after a few years as an independent evaluator of the Bank’s gender mainstreaming policy in the poverty and gender group. “I had a great gig with two phenomenal managers. They allowed me to work from home and I had a lot of flexibility to operate,” she recalls.
At the end of 2012, Mehta took advantage of the flexible work hours and moved to an as-when-needed basis. She did some projects on the side but for the most part immersed herself in a new novel about three generations of women in an Indian family and how each one responds internally to violence in the home, how their own rage has unintended consequences.
And then, with her manuscript coming together, tragedy struck.
The family home caught fire in the middle of the night. “It was a full blown crazy fire. It was providential that I woke up in time for us to escape being trapped and we were able to walk away with our lives. But we lost everything. Absolutely everything. And we had very little insurance. It took a couple of months to get back on our feet. We stayed with friends during that period. We had to start over completely.”
While Mehta’s husband’s computer had melted and fused to the kitchen table, her own Toshiba, although burned, had the hard drive intact. She brought it to local consumer electronics firm, Best Buy, to back up the drive. Incredibly they lost the drive and it only turned up after several weeks of hounding them. Staying with friends at the time, a somewhat distracted Mehta unfortunately placed the back-up and original together in a box, which was promptly lost along with three other boxes and her husband’s tennis rackets when they moved into their current apartment.
“It was as if everything was conspiring to get rid of that book! January was very hard for me. The thought of starting the book again was depressing. I kept getting pains in my chest. I even went to the doctor for a stress test but she laughed me off. I knew I should not let this kind of stress get to me but it wasn’t that easy. Yet I knew where my contentment lay, and that I had to be tenacious; I set myself a goal to write every day and hit a certain word count. It was just a matter of getting started and then it felt so easy.”
Like a fairytale, occasion followed calamity. Mehta’s mother stepped forward, offering to cover childcare and other expenses so her daughter could focus more intensely on writing. “It’s the most amazing thing she’s ever done. She sat me and my husband down and said, ‘You’ve been through a really traumatic experience. I’m going to give you what you need to make this happen. I want you to get back your emotional and physical health. I want you to write your book because that’s what you want to do. I don’t want you to worry about money, and so for two years, you can count on my support. What are my savings for if not to help you?’”
And so she began again, this time without worrying about money and investing more time in her health and wellbeing.
In addition to completing her novel, the 38-year-old Mehta continues to write poetry and is invited to read and speak on panels. “The poetry was always easier to take off. Being featured in publications like The Beloit Poetry Journal has opened many doors and I have found that poetry publishing is a nurturing world. I’m driven to write fiction but I’m drawn to the creative process of both. I do one and come up for air and then I do the other.”
And if she is not successful with her novel? “I’m just going to write the next one. I’ve made up my mind. My mother’s two-year cushion is coming to a close but we’ll adapt to the situation. This is what I was meant to do. I’ve got to write.”
Leeya Mehta’s Tips for pursuing your passion
It’s hard to have every box checked off if you want to pursue something other than your job. It’s difficult to take care of yourself, your family, and find the time to focus. If you can, invest in help around the house, invest in exercise, sanity, nutrition…get help where you can.
I would encourage young people to stick with one thing if you can. It’s nice to have something you can develop, and get better and better at. Even if it’s a hobby on the side, be it technical or creative, one must be single-minded
Have confidence and be optimistic. Have the stamina to pursue what you are doing without getting bitter
Build a community around yourself, that enriches you and celebrates you and makes you feel secure
You can read some of Mehta’s poetry here. Below is one she selected for Career 2.0
David and the Hummingbird
For Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Joyce tells a story of the day
the bird flew into the shed
and would not leave;
it beat its wings until it fell
exhausted to the floor.
But it didn’t end like that,
nor was this the beginning—
The morning of the Kill,
the hummingbird flew through the open door
and circled round and round the blood
“It was not interested to feed,” she said,
but just to see and understand.
It went up into the rafters
and then down again
towards the cement floor.
Its blues and greens dancing in
the light and dark;
the corners hiding it and then
like magic, letting it be seen.
David tried to make it leave;
first, sugar feeders lured it outside;
then, when it was noon, the
darkest noon they’d ever seen,
the thunder began.
He set the sugar water inside the garage door
“It must not starve,” he said.
The day was hurried, like the
wings—it beat and beat.
The world grew still behind the
murmur of the bird
as if to move, to breathe, would be too much.
The rain was sheets of ice;
it pierced the ground, it tore into the hillside’s heart
forcing the mountains to slide and the roads to close.
At dusk the rain stopped, bringing on a night that had not known a day.
The sky cleared and that was when she said she knew
the bird’s heart had begun to burst,
“You could hear it banging in your ears.”
The small buzzing body lifted up to the
ceiling one last time and dropped.
From where it lay the stag’s head was a foot away;
the eyes of the beast, strained and dead;
the bullet hole straight through its neck
revealed the moon in the night sky which shone
like a polished coin.
He picked it up to rest it for the night
in a shoebox with soft muslin cloth.
She said, “Its eyes brimmed with tears.”
Was it fear? It did not tremble.
Was it relief? Did it not know it was only David?
And he said, “It is bereft. It must be saved.”
Then began the longest night.
He left the bird to sleep beneath
the stars. It did not know
the inside of their house.
It could get disoriented in that space.
He lay beside her in
their bed, his ever faithful
heart racing beneath her hand.
Kindness cannot be measured by a single good deed—
a few here, a few there, some withheld.
Love measured out in spoons
as if it were a finite bucket of gold dust.
He would not sleep—
he tore the covers off
and shot down the stairs—
It would be cold, the raccoons might overturn the box.
The bird twitched and murmured in its sleep,
he put it on the garden table and
covered its feet.
Back in bed he tossed and turned—the coyotes would not spare its life
One a.m. and out he went again.
Carrying the box in, he saw its
eyes open and look at him.
What a strange look it gave, as if
there was no meaning there—
a still hard look, but liquid eyes,
as if it was not a bird to
speak of anything—
its mystery not a mystery at all
for it hid nothing
and revealed nothing both at once.
He sat beside it in the hall
he wrung his hands
he stood up
and paced and breathed
he towered over it, afraid of it
and yet he had to watch it once again.
It had been resting while he paced
now it turned its head
a movement so small an immeasurable dot in space
and looked up at him.
They stared into each other’s eyes
this grown man and this miniature creature of the flower world
Decades he had lived so well
this small bird seemed to know it too.
“What is the meaning of it all?” he asked aloud
The hummingbird closed its eyes and went to sleep.
He sat down again and prayed a while
As the bird’s breast rose and fell;
the morning light would bring it back;
he dreamed of it in his garden years from now.
As the sun came fiercely into the room
it was not clear any more who slept and who kept vigil—
the bird watched him as he slept
but closed its eyes again when he began to stir.
The hummingbird stayed with David until
the stag was gone, a day late, in the butcher’s van.
Their friends who’d shot the beast would send them some to taste.
David’s heart leapt with joy,
the sun was hot and the
little one was gathering its body and
shaking the sleep away.
He tried to catch its eye again but it did not look at him,
and then, as if the night was no time to go,
as if it had tried for David’s sake alone,
it died under a blazing morning sun at eleven o’clock.
I am honored to be writing a guest Career 2.0 blog after my weekend attending Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. I was the perfect candidate, freshly laid off of my job of 19 years as a TV producer. I was canned from my job August 7 while on vacation so I decided to say yes to every opportunity and reconnect with old colleagues and friends while on sabbatical. By chance, I met my old friend Julie at Panera with whom I worked 15 years ago. We used to watch Oprah at 4pm each day at work. We looked important because we worked in TV and had headphones on so people thought we were actually working.
So Julie and I went for a walk, and at the end of the walk she mentioned she had an extra ticket to the Oprah odyssey and I of course jumped at the chance to go. I then went home and furiously plotted, begged, borrowed, and stole Saturday carpools to be able to be present on Friday night and all day Saturday at the Oprahpalooza! So Julie and I (Julie 2.0) met up Friday night at the workshop. Little did I know she had third row seats on the floor of the Verizon Center. I could spit on Oprah. And yes she is the happy, heavier Oprah we all know and love. Of course I have watched too many Oprah shows and immediately when I sat down I felt underneath my chair for the keys to a new car. Sadly they were not there.
So now it is Friday night at the Verizon Center and I’m waiting for Oprah to inspire me. She rose out of the stage a few feet away and joked that, while she could not sing or dance, almost the entire Verizon center was sold out to hear her speak on a Friday night. Mostly women, skewing on the more African American scale but not by much, multi-generational women there to be inspired on what they should do with their lives. We held hands, danced together, and laughed.
So much estrogen wanting to know how to be guided and to find our dream job.
Oprah lesson one is that “the universe delivers what you put out there”. So basic yet true! If you are positive, positive things will come back to you. This message is followed by “you cannot manage other folks”. So do not go there, wasted energy, focus only on yourself. Finally “you co-create your life, so manage it as you want to live it”. It sounds corny now but we had these bracelets on that lit up in colors that correlated to the mood you were feeling. She inspired us all, made us laugh– she is really quite funny – and we all loved the night. I felt like Oprah was my BFF, my sister. I held hands with strangers next to me. Her final takeaway that night was an intimate moment she shared about her grandmother who raised her. As her grandmother got older she explained that one day she hoped Oprah would be as lucky as she was and work for nice white folks. This family was kind to her grandma with money, and donated clothes and food and only hoped Oprah could have the same thing. Oprah rounded out the night thanking us all for being her white folks. So very powerful, we all left on a high!
I had an epiphany during her talk that life is too short to be unhappy. I was inspired enough when I got home I told my husband, Mark, he should quit his job on Monday. Thanks Oprah! Oops, now we are both unemployed.
I’m back in my chair on Saturday morning by 8 am. This is the day we are rolling up our sleeves and figuring out the life we want. Oprah strolls out on stage right in front of me wearing jeans and a blue sweater and glasses and is ready to be the teacher. We have worksheets to finish the day and she is going to moderate us through the exercises.
So we begin by picturing someone we love and writing down what we wish they would do to succeed and be happy. Of course I pick my husband, who hates his job, and proceed to cry like a baby as I write down what I want for him. The cameras filming the event seize on me and I continue to cry outright; thankfully Julie ignores my very blatant tears and slides a tissue my way. It being all women in the crowd mostly, Oprah explains eventually we need to do the same exercise for ourselves. Women never do that for themselves. We then listen to a poet named Mark Nepo, by whom I am now wooed, and I find myself checking my texts on how the kids are doing at various sporting events. Oprah brings us back to the workbook and we fill out a pie chart on how we rank our lives—I spaced out and fill out 75% of mine to include family and friends and then pencil the other areas in like job, health, hobbies, spirituality, financial situation and the contribution to the world, and they all only get a teeny piece of the pie because hey that is the truth of a mom with 4 kids! I clearly need to start balancing out the pie with a few more slices for me. Then Oprah fills hers out on the big techno screen and she only rates her job a small portion of her pie chart. Shocking considering she had her own talk show for 25 years and owns her own TV network. But Oprah’s financial situation pie slice had a gazillion smileys—mine had two.
Saturday continued with inspired talks from Liz Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love who encouraged everyone to find their inner quest. We all have that dream dormant or ready to conquest. Now that I am unemployed – as will be my husband Mark come October 3 thanks to Oprah – we are so very tempted to take a memorable trip but we have a high school teenager too. So sadly it will not happen. I think the most inspirational speaker for me during the two days was a young pastor named Rob Bell, a hip 30-something man with a gift for story telling without the religious connotations. His message was what a miracle it is to be alive and have a conscientious choice.
I think the message I want to end with is that we all do not know our 2.0 yet and are trying to figure it out. I change my plan everyday. Oprah says everyone of us is looking for the same thing – we want to know we matter! And everyone has a story to tell, I just may not know mine yet. I do plan to spend this Sunday watching OWN’s Super Soul Sunday to be inspired again.
Thanks for reading oh and yikes I have a job interview this coming week. Game on Oprah!
Ferrall Dietrich has fond memories of growing up the daughter of a US Naval officer in Europe, moving every two years, and being home schooled alongside her younger brother by her mother, for whom adventure and family time was the priority. While her father commanded a US Navy ship that patrolled the coastal waterways, her mother commanded the family’s Series Land Rover that toured the windy coastal roads waiting for the ship to dock so the family could reunite.
“She would load us in the car and we would study in the backseat as she drove all over Europe,” recalls Dietrich. “We drove from port to port around the Mediterranean as well as up into England and Scotland.”
The car was old. There was no defrost, no AC, a heater that warmed only the driver’s right leg, and the windshield wipers were manual at best, but it didn’t matter. “It was such an adventure – driving all over Europe, staying in pensiones, exploring new towns, doing things a bit different,” Dietrich laughs.
In between trips, the family was stationed in Southern Italy, but, for Dietrich, the road trips were the most memorable times. Her mother — long before the days of cell phones and satellite navigational systems — managed to track the ship, route a path to the next docking station, and teach the children at the same time. For her mother, the hard work was a love story. “She couldn’t bear to be without my Father,” recalls Dietrich. But for her daughter, the lesson was “You learn a lot on the road, you take risks, life is an adventure.”
When Dietrich was in ninth grade, the family moved back to Washington, D.C. for good. Although now settled, Dietrich was left with a permanent sense of adventure. After high school, she attended Colby College in Maine where she majored in Russian and Soviet Studies, motivated in part by a desire to enter the clandestine world.
“Hands down, all I wanted to do was be a spy,” says Dietrich, who envisioned the career would come with a built-in travel and adventure schedule similar to the way in which she grew up.
But when she went down the path – from being interviewed to taking polygraphs – a realization seeped in that she hadn’t expected. Being a spy may come with adventure, but it also came with a structure and lack of freedom that was not appealing. “There’s a lot of control over your life that I wasn’t willing to give up. When it came down to it. I wanted freedom.”
So Dietrich settled on what she called a “very D.C.” career path — meaning she worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative correspondent and an assistant on the staffs of both a U.S. Congressman and Senator. From there she moved to the Japanese Embassy as a political consultant, the only woman at that time in a non-administrative role. Finally, she left the political world for small business, joining her father, who had built a financial engineering company after he retired from the Navy as an Admiral.
In 1999, now bitten by the business and entrepreneurial bug, the then-32-year-old decided to pursue a full-time MBA program at the University of Maryland to strengthen her business management and financial skills. Upon graduation, Dietrich decided to give a more traditional career path one last go, and accepted a position with Arthur Andersen in the Office of Government Consulting: “Amazing people and experience, but I knew within a year that the job was not for me, and I started to search for that next step, for inspiration for that next chapter.”
She and her husband, who had a similar upbringing of living overseas and traveling decided to hit the road. Amazingly, both of their employers agreed to give them one-year sabbaticals. “We put together a bucket list of places we’d always wanted to see and took off, spending a full year traveling the world. We spent a lot of time in Western China, climbing in the Karakorams and to the base camp of K2 from the Chinese side, and explored New Zealand, Bhutan, and Australia for months. We climbed and trekked and camped our way around the world and loved every minute of it.”
When the year was over, Dietrich returned to an Enron-scandal-plagued Arthur Andersen, and the company dissolved, relieving her of the decision to return or not. The adventures of the past year had solidified Dietrich’s resolve to move away from corporate life and seek a more entrepreneurial path. As such, she moved to the National Historic Trust for Preservation to run their start-up Corporate Good Neighbor Program. In the next couple years, she also became a mother to two boys, moved with her family to Boulder, Colorado, and then back to D.C. Throughout these years, she stayed rooted to the adventure of the outdoors through adventure racing, endurance riding, and trail running.
Dietrich always wanted to give her boys a taste of the kind of upbringing she and her husband had experienced. Starting when the boys were 5 and 7, every summer after school ended, she put them in the car with the dogs, threw a tent on top and hit the road. They camped their way across the country, with the West being the perennial favorite, and racked up 10,000 miles each summer. “I wanted to try and recreate my own childhood experiences as best I could for the boys. And selfishly, nothing made me happier than the freedom of no schedule, being outside, exploring and seeking adventure at every turn. It is so amazing and for the boys, such a wonderful way to grow up.”
All those miles on the road proved an invaluable incubator for entrepreneurial inspiration. As she drove (and drove), an idea started brewing. She knew she wanted to go back to work, but the idea of an office job in a big company was no longer appealing. She kept wondering “How do I bring a little bit of what I love about the West — the outdoors the energy, the laid back feeling of it — how do I bring that home?” One thing that always struck her upon returning to D.C. after a summer on the road was the lack of diversity in the women’s activewear and lifestyle market. Her road trips, her time in small towns and cities across the country, and her love of the outdoors exposed her to so many unique women’s brands, none of which could she ever find in Washington. As a result, Dietrich started toying with the idea of opening her own women’s activewear store. Initially, the idea seemed daunting – mostly from a financial perspective. However, after significant time spent researching the industry, its trends and the marketplace, combined with a deep personal understanding, she decided that if there was ever a time to do it, it was now. She decided to go for it.
And so began core72, a local, women’s boutique that not only features all the activewear and lifestyle brands Dietrich discovered and loved over the years, but also encourages local women to get out and be active through sponsored in-store and community events promoted via core72 social media.
Launching the business was a team effort as Dietrich’s husband took a year off to help her put the business together. “We both needed to be 100% behind it so we worked together on the financial and business plan and all the marketing research,” she explains. To fund the business, Dietrich and her husband used their own savings structured as a personal loan to themselves. They backed that up with a SBA small business loan for unforeseen needs.
Years later, Dietrich credits her MBA as being critical to her success in terms of helping structure the business and understanding the financials. Another key to her success? Research, research and more research. Dietrich talked to as many other small business owners and local retailers as possible and tapped into the experience of brand representatives at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah. She also read every book available on opening a store (Retail Business for Dummies anyone?) and planned as much as possible in advance to understand the flow of inventory.
But Dietrich stresses that even if you have the idea, the desire and the start-up capital, a solid business plan is absolutely critical to credibility for potential landlords and suppliers. “Every vendor we work with – and even the landlord of our store – required a solid understanding of why core72 should represent their company. People want to know you’re positioned for success, that you’re going to do a great job representing their product and be a viable, successful storefront.”
Dietrich credits LivePlan, a business plan software program, as well as available data from industry associations, with helping her establish benchmarks for the business, although she admits that none of it truly makes sense until you’re in the thick of it: “Every month is a lesson learned,” she says “For example, I’ve never paid as much attention to the weather as I do now — literally the city shuts down when it starts to rain or there is any inclement weather.”
Despite a slow March, thanks to late in the season freezing temps, the store, now entering its second year is exceeding planned expectations, and doing well enough that she is considering opening a second location. It turns out, as Dietrich had hoped, that people in DC do want to get out and look great while doing it. And she’s the perfect adventurer to inspire them.
Dietrich’s Tip on Launching a Retail Store
Be passionate about what you are selling. I am intimately familiar with our brands and have personally “tested” many of them. I really believe in these companies, many of them women-owned and “Made in the USA”, I believe this knowledge translates into an authenticity that customers appreciate. While it is important that core72 is successful, it is also important to me to support these brands and introduce them to a new marketplace that I know will be as excited about them as I am.
Know your customer base. Throughout our business plan, we tied in the theme of “They are Us”. I specifically opened a store in an area with which I was intimately familiar and could service a demographic I understood and knew very well. This familiarity made the initial buying process a bit less daunting and somewhat less risky. We build on this foundation of customer knowledge every day, tweaking our inventory buys, and delivering, hopefully, a more tailored, personal shopping experience.
Prepare for rainy days. We opened the store in March, 2013 and met/exceeded planned financial projections every month that first year. We were confident in our business model, in the inventory we needed and our steady stream of customers. Then, in March, 2014, we met the winter that would never end. D.C. came to a screeching stop, and no one was in the mood to shop. People were done with the weather and either got out of town or stayed home. We had shipments of inventory coming in, bills that had to be paid and half the income we expected. It was a huge wake-up call. We made it through, but it was tight financially, very scary and I never slept. It was a reminder to keep the expenses down, rein in the big inventory buys (we can always reorder), and squirrel away as much as possible every month for that rainy day – because it WILL come.
Remember those friends in college who incited envy because they had their career path all worked out … in eighth grade? Well, relax. That’s not Julie Eisenberg. “I had no plan,” she shares. “Really, no plan! I don’t think I ever thought about the future when I was in college, or even now,” she insists.
But despite her claim that she was never one to look to the future, when you listen to her story it’s clear that she always paid attention to the, perhaps subconscious, need for community participation in her schooling and career choices. Lending her voice and skills to those in need and helping build communities is a thread that’s woven throughout her varied career, one that goes from union organizer to yoga studio owner.
In the early eighties, after the Linguistics and Women Studies major graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Eisenberg spent a year backpacking through South America, getting up close and personal with the people and politics she had been studying the past four years. Her attachment to the region deepened and she headed back to Madison, Wisconsin, to add a Master’s Degree in LatAm studies to her resume. Shortly thereafter, she returned to South America, this time to Chile.
Eisenberg cites a string of family and friend influences that led her to work in the union movement but it was her own experiences that played the biggest role. “I got a job on campus my freshman year at Madison and signed my first union card then,” she says. She felt strongly about the issues and felt close to that community. So when she went back to Chile, she landed a job as a community organizer, where she began to hone the skills she had begun to develop in her union.
“By the time I came back to the States three years later, I had been a card-carrying member of a union for years,” she added. “So it seemed like a natural fit to take a position as a union organizer for a teachers’ assistant union.”
She was young and had lots of energy for the job and she excelled at it. She would stick with this career for nearly 20 years. After five years in Millwaukee, where she worked for teachers’ and other unions, she was offered a job in DC working for a division of the AFL-CIO that represented some of their affiliate unions. Her division assisted unions seeking analytic research to secure financial data and anything else necessary to make their case in negotiations.
“It was a fantastic job. I loved it, but it was also very high pressure.”
Eisenberg was on the road a lot, working long hours, and representing everyone from airline to healthcare workers, but she spent the most time with meatpackers.
As real evidence of her passion for worker’s rights, the life-long vegetarian worked with the meatpackers union for years fighting for better work conditions. “It was challenging for me for sure. The smell of death around the meatpacking plant is brutal, but it’s a horrifically dangerous job for the workers and there are lots of injuries. When you talk about workers that need a union, meat and poultry workers are at the top of the list.”
Eisenberg’s Spanish-speaking skills were vital to help her communicate with many workers and get a real sense of the conditions. Despite the long hours and challenging conditions, Eisenberg didn’t consider a change. “That would have involved thinking about the future,” she jokes. Instead, she found another outlet – yoga.
Soon after she moved to DC, Eisenberg reluctantly started practicing yoga thanks to “a hippie neighbor from California who taught classes out of her apartment.” The natural athlete was skeptical at first: “I sort of went kicking and screaming … there was lots of stretching and I wondered if it was really doing anything, but I kept going back.”
After four years of practicing yoga, she realized she was getting more serious when she sought out classes on the road while traveling for work.
“I went to a class in Omaha, Nebraska, once that I loved. It totally resonated with me. I also had a teacher in North Carolina. I was practicing all over the place.” So, Eisenberg began taking teacher-training modules on weekends and immersion yoga weekends whenever her schedule allowed.
Upon moving to the Petworth neighborhood of DC, she found a new studio teaching Kundalini yoga. “It beat the crap out of me,” Eisenberg recalls. “It worked on postures but also a lot of breathing and chanting. It was very powerful and different from anything I had ever done. I found it so challenging but I loved it.” She loved it so much she became certified as a Kundalini teacher.
It was right around this time that Eisenberg’s longtime employer decided he needed a change. “He was a wonderful boss and had given me so much opportunity, but when he decided to shut down the office, I realized I was tired too, and I didn’t want to go work for another union. It had been nearly 20 years and these campaigns really sap you.”
So Eisenberg decided she was just going to teach yoga and see where it led her.
“The financial transition? Oh my gosh — it was crazy. The things you take for granted when you have a full-time job, like going out to dinner, that all had to go, but the teacher training itself is powerful and gives you the sense that you can go off in a different direction and make it work.”
Eisenberg, who was single at the time, realizes she was very lucky to have severance and unemployment to get over the transition hump. She had a very low mortgage which was also a help but, “without the severance, I don’t think I would have been able to make a go of just teaching.”
It was just enough of a cushion to give her a couple months to develop a steady slate of classes. She picked up students whenever she could at a variety of locations and then – fortuitously – a friend who worked at Miriam’s Kitchen called and asked if she’s be willing to teach yoga to the homeless there. She loved the volunteer time trying to “bring a little bit of peace and tranquility into the lives of the homeless men and women.”
It was through her work there that she connected with another instructor who was launching a non-profit to provide outreach yoga to underserved areas. Eisenberg was offered the executive director position and took it. Finally, through the combination of the office and the teaching jobs, she felt like she was back on her feet. But fundraising, a key part of her new job, was not really a natural fit. So, eighteen months later when a friend mentioned a space in Petworth that would be perfect for a yoga studio, she jumped at the chance.
Eisenberg initially partnered with a friend, but now runs Lighthouse Yoga Center on her own. At first, the overhead and rent were low, so the transition was smooth. After two years in the first location, she has moved the studio to a more central space in Petworth and expanded its offerings.
And in a way, Eisenberg has come full circle: no longer an official community organizer, her business has become the heart of her community: “My favorite thing right now about running Lighthouse is that we are becoming a great part of the community. Our students say all sorts of people feel comfortable coming here and we take that role seriously. We want to be there for the people in our neighborhood, providing a break from the stress of everyday.”
Tips from Julie Eisenberg:
Let go of your material needs. Stop shopping for things that aren’t critical, for example.
Develop a good network of friends and colleagues who will support you in your new venture. Don’t be shy about emailing them to invite them to classes or events.
Don’t get overly hung up on how much income you need to bring in each month. Build a little cushion and then realize that some months may be better than others, so you can make it through the slower months without freaking out.
In fact, try not to freak out in general. Everything works out in the end.
Kelly Collis has a job many would envy. As co-host on D.C.’s The Tommy Show on 94.7 CBS radio, – she spends her mornings chatting away on the radio, laughing alongside her co-host and best friend, rubbing elbows with visiting rock stars, and scoring choice seats in the house at local concert venues. But don’t be fooled. Collis didn’t stumble into this job. Her path was one of non-stop hard work, astute media skills, a fierce entrepreneurial spirit, and a genuine appreciation for community service.
As a child of Washington, D.C., Collis was exposed to the power of communications and people skills from a young age. Later in his career, her father, an emergency-room physician, was a Bush appointee at the Pentagon during the first Gulf War, and she attended the Holton Arms School for girls, where many of the students were the children of diplomats and the current head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, attended.
For most of her life she had her eyes set on a career in politics. Heading to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, to study politics and interning at the state capitol for a Senator, Collis recalls, “I thought for sure I’d return to be a big-time communications director for a Senator or Congressman.”
After graduation, she landed a job back in D.C., working for the Senator-turned-Congressman. Starting as a low low-level legislative aide, and moving on to help with fundraising, after almost four years, Collis was networking with local CEOs and other decision-makers in the area, including the new leadership of AOL.
She caught the start-up bug as the lure of new media eventually got the better of her. Collis headed for Freedom Channel, a start-up founded by local media entrepreneur Doug Bailey. In the pre-YouTube era, the online video platform was a great vehicle for local luminaries interested in expanding their reach and influence.
“It was a perfect transition for me. I was using all my media and political skills. Because my marketing budget was exactly zero dollars, I really learned how to use the media to tell our story and that’s really where I cut my teeth.” Collis also drew on a skill ingrained in her from her time on Capitol Hill – call it what you like, constituent relations or customer service, but the Hill helped Collis become a pro at it.
But like so many others who dreamed of following in AOL’s path only to be disappointed, Freedom Channel faltered and Collis did not make her millions. Unemployed, single, and the owner of her first mortgage, Collis answered an ad posted by a communications exec looking for part-time help building media lists. With nothing to lose, she took the gig. Wise choice as the part-time position turned into a partnership at a small PR firm with $5 million in billings, which counted MSNBC, a leading cable and satellite news media channel, among its clients.
Six years and many life changes later, including a husband and two children, Collis tired of the constant travel to Redmond, WA, where MSNBC is headquartered. Eager to be her own boss, and spend more time in her hometown, she hung her own PR shingle and scored National Jean Company as her main client. “The position at NJC was perfect. I could bring my daughter to work in a pack-n-play, and control my hours.” It didn’t hurt that Collis was a fashionista who leveraged her killer communications skills promoting NJC across the city at like-minded events. But not one to let moss grow under her feet, as she got more involved in the fashion scene in D.C., Collis spotted a trend that led her to a new business and later forged the path to her work in radio.
“I would see these young women all over the city waiting in line to go to trunk shows, restaurant openings and the like, and that’s where I got the idea for City Shop Girl.” Similar to Daily Candy, but with a focus on deals, events and openings, Collis’ daily email newsletter took hold quickly. The newly single mom was flying around town, feeding the appetite of her tens of thousands of readers with news of hot events, unique products, and Collis’ recommendations for must-try restaurants. But like so many women who find themselves making major changes at times of personal upheaval, Collis found herself struggling to figure out if City Shop Girl would support her new life as a single mother. “Going through the divorce was very emotionally distracting. The kids were young and I was working for myself. It weighed on me that I didn’t have a safety net.”
But she knew a few things for sure–she loved working with the media and had even started doing guest spots on TV to promote City Shop Girl news. But, in her late thirties, she felt she was past the point of launching a new career in TV. “Someone told me I should brainstorm with Tommy McFly, a new local radio whiz kid, but I was hesitant. I wanted to hate him – this young guy coming to my city and thinking he’s a big deal on the radio.” But the unlikely pair struck up a fierce friendship from the start. Geography helped. McFly lived down the street from Collis, and the two started spending more and more time together. “He was a creative entrepreneurial spirit, and we had a lot in common.”
Soon, McFly was offered his own morning show on 94.7 FM, The Tommy Show. One of his first calls was to Collis. “You’re not going to get the job,” he started, “but as your friend I need to tell you about this opportunity. The station wants a female cohost that has kids. You should apply.”
With no radio experience, Collis applied for the job. It was a long shot she knew, but the more Collis pondered the idea, the more she wanted the job. “I started thinking about how it could change our family… a steady job, health insurance. That mattered to me.”
Detractors at the station were silenced when they heard the demo tapes cut by Collis and McFly. The chemistry and camaraderie was palpable. Being that it was a new station and new show, having a strong PR background worked to Collis’ advantage and she charmed her future-boss-to-be: “I can be your marketing and PR person. I can pitch stories, promote the station, and be on the air.”
It was a compelling package. And it sealed the deal.
Today Collis, now 40, starts her day at 4 a.m. when she drives out to the station in Maryland to review the day’s news and talk with McFly about that day’s show. Still leaning on her political skills, Collis knows that while laughing all morning on the radio is great fun, the job doesn’t end there. She spends time after the show and weekends visiting fire stations, schools, local malls and hospitals – understanding that radio can be beneficial medium to be part of the greater D.C. community. “It very much reminds me of when we used to do events with the Congressman.”
For those of you that have tuned in on your morning commute, it’s obvious why Collis, now approaching her third anniversary with the station, has been a hit. Sure, she yucks it up with her co-hosts, but she also connects with listeners, sharing very personal details of her life. In fact, Collis’ fiancé recruited McFly to take part in his proposal – documenting the process on the radio in the morning, and recruiting the band Train to take part in the engagement surprise.
Kelly Collis’ Tips For Success:
Efficient use of time is my motto, there is only 100 units a day I can spend on everything – that includes job, children, my personal relationships, exercise, and everything else. Prioritize every day!
Don’t take a conference call or meeting without an agenda and knowing in advance all parties in attendance.
Get rid of the fear of missing out (FOMO). We live in such an age where everything is real time. There is no way to be everywhere. And saying no is ok.
Have you ever wanted to be a radio DJ or TV presenter? What did you do/are you doing to turn this dream into a reality?
When you are focusing more on fixing your “weaknesses” to meet the needs of your job instead of working to your strengths, it could be time for a change.
When you were a child, you were encouraged to be creative. Open up that space, go back and try to remember those gems.
Don’t feel bad that you waited so long to change. There is no time like the present.
Fear of failure is a self-inflicted hurdle. Stop making arbitrary rules for yourself!
Take the time to reflect, think about what you enjoy at work and at home. Where do things feel easy and follow that trail.
Misery can be a great motivator, when you have a soul-crushing job, the balance has to tip
Having a hectic work–schedule can make it difficult to reflect. Be realistic and honest with respect to your resources. At the same time, career change is work and you need to carve out time for it.
Be sure to understand your values and priorities and let these guide your decision-making.
Try to avoid the “shiny object syndrome” criteria for decision-making. Let’s face it, most of us will not open a B&B in the South of France. Instead look at the appeal of it and apply it to the career choices in front of you.
Talk to as many people as possible about your plans for change, get it out there that you are looking to change and turn the plans into a reality.
Don’t let inertia stop you, overcome your fears and move forward.
You don’t have to jump off the cliff … You are allowed to take baby steps to reduce the risk.
You might need to shift to good before you get to great. As long as you stay on the road to great, you will get there.
Be willing to fail and have the grit to stand back up and try again.
Rebecca Dallek is a Career and Leadership Coach based in Washington D.C.
Who among us hasn’t fantasized about tossing away their corporate job for something more fun, more glamorous, more … more of anything that you’re not getting at your current job. Sometimes, the opposite of where we are seems like just the place we want to be.
For Cathy St. Denis, that fantasy was sparked when frustration at work and a longing for something totally different collided during a 2001 spring vacation through in France. The wheels started turning after a day hike through Provence, when St. Denis and her tour group stopped at a charming bed and breakfast.
An early evening of chatting with the innkeepers while sipping wine and drinking in the scenery culminated in learning that each year the inn hired an apprentice to help run the show – a nine-month position where you could learn the “inns” and outs of the B&B business. Et voilà! The seed was planted.
St. Denis returned home to her demanding corporate communications job in Washington, D.C. but continued to mull over the idea … could she be the next apprentice? She was energized by thoughts of chatting with guests from all over the world, perfecting her baking and cooking skills, and exploring Provence in her free time. But not one to rush into things without careful planning, St. Denis planned a fact-finding trip to Napa to visit two women-owned and run inns. But the trip, planned for September 12, 2001 was postponed due to the tragedies of 9-11, an event that helped cement St. Denis’ determination even further. If life can change on a dime, why waste another moment fantasizing? Just get on with it.
So St. Denis charged ahead, applying for, and securing the internship due to begin on March 1, “shoulder season” in the inn business. Although she knew her adventure was certainly not going to be a fortune-making one – the B&B offered a small stipend and room and board, but no salary – it also carried little financial risk should it not work out.
The innkeepers were clear on her responsibilities: preparation of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “The duties were openly discussed, but the actual length of the working day was not,” says St. Denis, who noted alarm bells started going off shortly after she arrived. “In the first couple of weeks on the job, it was apparent to me it was going to be a slog.”
Her day began at 6 a.m. when she was instructed to turn on the warmer for the frozen pastries, by 8 a.m she was scuttling between serving breakfast, making fresh croutons and other items for the menu later in the day, and stripping the guest beds – six rooms worth – many with multiple beds. By 10 a.m. when breakfast had ended and the communal table was cleared, St. Denis began the laundry, which involved 2–10 loads depending on the number of guests. This was not a simple process as the sheets had to be hung out to dry. “The owner was, how shall I say, very particular about how the laundry was done, and if you didn’t do it precisely, we’ll, hell hath no fury…”
In between loads, on most days St. Denis would get started on dinner and dessert, a task that took most of the day. And while the guests were eating, she would race upstairs to do the turn-down service, quickly returning to take care of any post-dinner needs. By around 10 p.m. she was ready to tackle the kitchen – a restaurant-sized kitchen that had to be cleaned from top to bottom each night, including the dishes, some of which were too delicate for the dishwasher. After that, she set up for the next morning, returning to her room just before midnight, like Cinderella, to get a quick night sleep before the next day.
While St Denis took care of everything at the B&B, the innkeepers took daily siestas, and despite one of them being a classically trained chef, they still relied on their apprentice for most of the food preparation. For St. Denis, there was little chatting with guests, few trips exploring the nearby towns, and little-to-no camaraderie with her fellow innkeepers. Instead she developed dark circles under her eyes and lost 22 lbs. despite being surrounded by creme brulée, rich cheeses, and paté.
In June, she knew she needed an exit strategy and, within a month, gave her notice for September 1, a more-than-fair amount of time for the owners to find a replacement. Their response? “But who will watch the inn while we go on holiday?”
Sometimes you fantasize about a life change or a new job, and it turns out to be just that … a fantasy. “I knew within a month, I had no desire to ever own an inn,” says St. Denis. Even the owners, who relied so heavily on their staff, were tied to their B&B for nine months a year, a responsibility that didn’t seem appealing, despite the one positive experience of chatting with guests, 95% of whom were lovely, she says.
“You know, I realized I had a really good life in Washington with good friends, a great house, a successful career, and I owned my time.”
Today, more than a decade later, St. Denis is happily still in communications in the transportation industry…although she still occasionally fantasizes about perhaps working at a winery.
Tips From Cathy:
If you are considering a drastic career change, minimize your financial risk. Don’t invest any of your own money until you’re sure about the switch.
Do your research! If a potential employer dangles a shiny object in front of you, be sure to ask about the downsides! Or better yet, ask to speak with someone who previously held the position.
Go for it! Things may not work out but the experience can still be rich.