One year ago we launched Career 2.0 with a question – how do you walk away from a career, a successful one, and dive into a passion in midlife? How do you, effectively, start over from scratch? And here’s the kicker … how to do it without giving up financial security, which, let’s face it, is much more critical in midlife than it was when you were starting your career.
Since we first asked that question, we’ve been blown away by the amazing women we’ve encountered. After a year of writing, covering more than 100 women in 11 countries who have started over in midlife, each in her own way, we are more convinced than ever that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself personally and professionally. To celebrate the first anniversary of Career 2.0, we have collected nine stories from our first year. These women and their stories demonstrate the astonishing variety of ways it is possible to make yourself over in midlife, as well as the courage, grit, creativity, and joy that accompany that leap of faith.
We checked back in with the subjects of these stories to hear how their work has progressed and as you’ll see, it’s never a dull moment in the world of entrepreneurship and small business. What have we learned from these conversations?
- Things don’t always work out as planned, but people never regret having tried.
- Entrepreneurship is not as easy road – women business owners are working harder than ever – they are also loving every minute of it.
- For the most part, women want to be their own boss in their second act. (We have yet to find a woman who decided to go for a corporate job in midlife, but if you’re out there, please let us know.)
We’ve been fortunate to share these stories with more than 35,000 readers in 80 countries in the last year. Our readership continues to grow and we will share new stories along with expanding our content in 2015 to provide more resources for women launching their second acts. (Subscribe to Career 2.0 to make sure you never miss a story!) We hope you keep reading and sharing our stories, but equally we’d love to hear from you and offer you the opportunity to share your stories and inspire others as a guest contributor.
“You work so hard to set something up and then you think, how do we sustain it?”
After five years in LA, Meghan Dowd found her bliss recreating a little bit of Southern California in her small home town in rural Iowa. With her mother, sister, and brother (and two very small children in tow), she started a kombucha microbrewery, ShakTea, that produces a probiotic alternative to juices and soda for local markets and the Des Moines Whole Foods.
When we last spoke to Meghan, she was waiting to get picked up … by a distributor that is. And as of last month she’s happy to report she had been. Lomar will take her product to Hy-Vee stores across Iowa and other Midwestern States. ShakTea also got picked up by “a really cool co-op” in Minnesota called the Wedge. “When we got our first order from them we were like, WHAT?!?!?”
“Entrepreneurship is everything I dreamed of and more,” … meaning more work, she makes clear. “When you have that dream initially to start your own business you think of all the fun and easy stuff you’re doing to do, but it’s a lot more than that to get to your vision. But I’m so happy every day that I get to wake up and do this. I’m on my own schedule – there are plenty of demands but it’s mine. I’m building my own vision, not just someone else’s.”
Dowd gave advice that we haven’t heard many women verbalize, although their experience can testify to its truth. She used to say to other entrepreneurs “start small.” But now she finds herself thinking, “How can I get big?”
Figuring out how to not be “one of many” is hard, Dowd proclaims. “At some point in time you have to make a big move and differentiate yourself and figure out how to get noticed. And that’s where I’m at now. Then you have to think about it in a big broad way … and then you have to think about taking some bigger risks.”
“If I’d had it all figured out in the beginning, I would have missed some chances for personal growth.”
After living out her childhood dream of becoming quite a successful lawyer in the banking industry, Trusha Patel became disillusioned after the credit crisis changed the focus of her work and, eventually, left her sidelined as a consultant. She found solace in cooking, and the search for the spices of her homeland led her to a new business idea.
As if it’s not enough to start your own business, how about doing it in a new country where you’ve just moved and have to become familiar with local business and food and safety regulations not to mention customs and cultures. That’s what Trusha Patel did when she launched Spice Sanctuary, her own unique blend of organic spices harvested from farmers in her native India.
When we spoke with Patel seven months ago, she had just signed several big customers and sales had doubled with 75 stores on board. Her goal was 100 by the end of the year. We weren’t surprised to hear that she’s achieved that goal. She is now in 100 stores across Canada and the team has two part-time sales reps, an assistant, and a social media coordinator – all women! And in addition to Career 2.0, she’s also managed to be featured on several Canadian morning shows and Sirius XM’s What She Said Radio.
As for entrepreneurship? Patel loves it. Of course, having an established network in the country in which she was operating would have been a “valuable head start,” but still it’s taken just under three years for Spice Sanctuary to be at the point she had envisaged when she started. And the extra struggle in her new country? “If I had known, or had it all figured out beforehand, there would have been no learning or personal growth for me (like learning patience!), so I’m really grateful. I use it to reflect on and gauge exactly how much I have achieved for myself and for the business. I love working for myself and now I can begin to enjoy the balance of more personal time too.”
“Go for it, but proceed cautiously.”
When we first shared Mary Hickey’s story nearly ten months ago, she was settling into enjoying her success 12 years after starting Next Gen Memorials, or as she joked, “a death business.” Hickey had come upon the idea when a friend had lost a parent and had a difficult time finding an affordable urn the ashes. The former Cisco marketing executive had been searching for a business to launch, one that would free her from billable hours and give her longer-term financial freedom.
Hickey was happy to go it alone after first launching with a partner. The money was good, but the time commitment was all encompassing and in her second decade of entrepreneurship, Hickey was looking for ways to ease that burden and enjoy the fruits of her labor. She’s made progress on that front.
“I’ve started on my quest to go for more digital products!” One of Hickey’s most popular online items, a memory board which allows users to memorialize their loved ones with photos at services, was incredibly costly and time consuming to ship safely so Hickey came up with a digitized option that customers can download and create at home.
Hickey encourages anyone with the desire to dive into entrepreneurship: “Now is the time more than ever that the economy’s improved and people are so accepting of entrepreneurs.” Will she stay in this business forever? Probably not – the next step for Hickey will be to find someone to run her now nearly 13-year-old business. In the meantime, she’s enjoying her new networking group and advising other female entrepreneurs just starting out in San Francisco.
“It’s been a blast!”
We met Julie Thorne Engels when she was at a crossroads – she had left her comfort zone working for a large branding agency to launch a startup focused on empowering women through digital vision boards, Bettyvision. Bettyvision had not grown at the rate at which funders expect startups to these days and Thorne was intent on channeling that same expertise into another venture focused on women.
A year after we profiled Thorne Engels and the launch of her start up, Tribement, a branding and digital agency focused on millennials, Thorne can now proudly claim she’s worked with more than 100 entrepreneurs, brands and start-ups, taking them through Tribemint’s Brand Vision Workshop. “It’s been a blast to experience the key stakeholders of companies come together in an intimate setting and rock their visions and develop a strategy to make them a reality.”
She’s especially proud of two millennial female founders she advises, Ann Wang and Jessica Willison, who launched www.Enrou.co and won the Forbes 30 Under 30 award this year.
“It was always my dream to be paid handsomely for helping brands achieve their goals. However, it took us a long time to focus on this solely because I was fearful that no one would hire us for this service alone. My sage advice is to hone in on the one reason you want your phone to ring each day and then keep telling your network how to hire you!”
“The thought of doing anything else or working for anyone else is unbearable.”
Mary Beth and Helen Graham both had long and successful careers – one as a commercial real estate business manager and the other as a teacher – when they found themselves with the time and freedom to pursue a long held shared dream of working for themselves and owning their own store.
The big news from the Graham sisters is that they have moved their store, Toad Hollow, to Keyport, New Jersey. “We love our store and our business, but after Christmas we decided we wanted that small town feel, and now we have it. Being able to walk to work is a huge plus.”
The sisters have also continued to build their business and, in addition to their booming store, have started making more products on their own. The result? 40% of their sales now come from Etsy.
When asked if they would ever go back to their previous lives, “Oh my God, no! No way. We love being our own bosses. There are stresses that go with it, but this is it for us.”
“It was quite a stretch for me even trying this, but it was a good experience.”
DeLores Aiazzi was one of our more intriguing stories. This 57-year-old was diving into politics for the first time, running for Mayor of Reno after a long and stable career as a microbiologist. It wasn’t that she had dreamed of a career in politics, but an opening came at a time when Aiazzi felt compelled when no one else was standing up to represent a point of view that she felt needed a voice.
SPOILER ALERT! ;- ) Aiazzi did not win, but she’s ok with that. Although she was disappointed that only 10% of the electorate turned out, “I realized that politics, or at least being on television, was not my forte, but that’s good to know. It was quite a stretch for me even trying, and it was a good experience. I’m absolutely glad I did it and learned a lot. I realized I was not willing to win at any cost. Someone told me I should say I would lower taxes, but I wasn’t willing to do that. I got many positive comments about how honest I was, but that doesn’t win elections.”
Aiazzi is more than content to be back in her comfort zone. “I realized that being in a job a long time gives you the flexibility to do what you want to do – and time is what matters to me. I want to watch my grandkids grow up rather than be at work all the time.”
Aiazzi is back in the microbiology lab, far from the uncomfortable glare of TV cameras, but she hopes her example is a lesson for others to push their limits and test their safety zones. “Just the other night someone said to me, ‘doing what you did gave me the power to think that I could do that.’”
“You need an idea, good friends, and funding but you also need to be lucky.”
Deborah Hernan had an exciting career working for brand giants like Revlon and charity giants like amFAR, advising the likes of Diane Von Furstenberg and Elizabeth Taylor. But when she became a mother, the desire for more time at home, and her background in the cosmetics industry sparked an idea – why not create a line of natural Tween skincare products?
When we checked in with Hernan, we thought she seemed a little coy. And we weren’t imagining it. Hernan and her tween skin care line, Ottilie & Lulu, are “on the verge” of potential partnership with an “amazing retailer.” “I’m all a tither trying to make that happen,” says Hernan. “It would be, quite simply, absolutely phenomenal.”
While we’ll have to wait to hear how this story turns out, Hernan says, the lessons of Career 2.0 – taking a chance to try something new – were definitely at play with the potential partnership opportunity. Just take this thought away, “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.”
While the news is exciting, and Hernan loves what she’s doing, entrepreneurship is much harder than she thought it would be. “It’s not the work, you know there’s a lot of work involved. It’s the all-consuming part of it. Having worked for a corporation before, it’s an all-consuming thing but there are times you can turn off your brain. When you’re an entrepreneur it’s never like that.”
“You can do the best you can but after that it’s not in your control. There are no guarantees.”
From a career in IT management to professional coaching and back to IT again, Srirupa Dasgupta was inspired to create a for-profit social enterprise. While holding down a full-time job, she launched a food catering company, hiring only refugee women, and then – with her life savings – converted the business to a full-time restaurant to ensure regular employment for the women.
Perhaps because of this leap, Dasgupta was one of our most popular stories. We profiled her just a little over a month after her ethnic food restaurant, Upohar, opened last year, and she was figuring out a good balance for scheduling staff and meals with catering. Now, she has three core employees and two more part timers, refugees living in the community, and a steady stream of diners thanks to all the media attention her social impact business has received. Upohar’s mission is to help disadvantaged women overcome significant barriers to workforce entry and achieve financial stability and self-sufficiency.
After her career 2.0 profile, her story was picked up by NPR’s All Things Considered, which then prompted a new round of local media coverage in Pennsylvania. In addition to the booming business, the coverage also led to local discussions about social entrepreneurship and what is a social enterprise. So she now also hosts monthly community dinners centered around one topic, such as social enterprises. Dasgupta loves the dinners — an opportunity for people to gather over food and talk about interesting things.
Dasgupta is also settling into the life of an entrepreneur. “It is hard for sure. But I’m settling into it after all these years and learning to pace myself. In my younger days I would push for an outcome or a result but that’s what creates stress. And I think I’m older and wiser now, and I have learned to live in the skin of it. You can do the best you can and after that there are no guarantees. I have learned to become comfortable with that. What can you do beyond your best effort?
“More women are breaking out on their own. It’s the wave of the future.”
Growing up all over Europe, Ferrall Dietrich had led a life of adventure with her family and hoped to bring that same sense of adventure to her work life in her second act. So she took time off from a series of government and consulting jobs to find a way to make it happen. The result is Core 72, a women’s adventure clothing store
Today our favorite outdoorsy retailer is about to double the size of her empire in Northwest Washington, D.C., with a second store coming this spring. “It’s very different than opening the first store. I don’t have panic about ‘will people buy this?’ I feel like it’s a great space and I have a good handle on the inventory and the operations. The biggest challenge is handing the reins over to a store manager and dividing my time.”
As Dietrich’s baby grows, she’s bringing on extra support with four or five new staff members which she realizes will change the dynamic drastically. But she’s focused on the same goal as always — continuing to ensure that the store has a local feel and is community oriented.
“I absolutely love it. I can’t tell you how much I love it. That sense of working for myself is constantly reinforced. Not having to answer to anyone else has been great.”