Bonnie Moore: Bringing the Shared Housing Movement to Boomers

Bonnie MooreWhen asked to tell her story, Bonnie Moore laughs. “Well, I’m 70 years old, I have a long story. I’ve been through three husbands. I was divorced before I even went to college. And while the truth is, I’m not cut out to be a wife, I’m definitely built for working life. I’ve run my own businesses before, but I didn’t become a serious entrepreneur until I was 69.”

At a time when most people would be putting their feet up for a long-deserved retirement, Moore was writing business plans and seeking developers to launch her online network supporting communal living among mature adults.

Moore’s drive to launch the Golden Girls Network was created out of necessity, but perhaps it also has its roots in her early years as a college graduate and divorcee living the hippy life in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. “I’ve always loved the camaraderie and convenience of communal living,” she explains.

A hippy perhaps, but for 27 of the 30 years she lived in the “City by the Bay,” Moore was an accountant. That is until she brought a class action suit against the California State Board of Accountancy in a fight over her right to refer to herself officially as an accountant rather than a bookkeeper. The case ended up before the California Supreme Court, and – although she lost by one vote – Moore became something of a celebrity, giving lots of talks on the issue of commercial speech. The experience sparked an interest in law, and so at 44 years of age she enrolled in law school, while working part-time.

“I was 50 when I graduated and the first question I asked myself was, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’”

But unlike her fellow eager graduates, Moore had to put her legal dreams on hold. “My 29-year-old daughter was diagnosed with AIDS and there was no question that I would drop everything to take care of her. She was one of the first patients in 1995 to get the untested cocktail because she was dying and had nothing to lose. Within one month she started to improve.”

It took almost three years for Moore’s daughter to get back on her feet, but as soon as she was, Moore decided to move on to the next chapter in her life. With a second divorce behind her, she set her sights on Washington DC, and with nothing more than a 15-year-old two-seater sports car packed with a suitcase and a blow-up mattress, she hit the road to finally live east of the Mississippi.

DC was a good move. After several temp jobs as an accountant, Moore secured a consulting gig with a CPA firm and stayed for 15 years until semi-retiring at age 69. She still works part-time for the firm on a project basis.

Bonnie Moore“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,” she laughs.

Moore’s inspiration for her next move came directly from her own experience. Divorced for the third time in 2008, she was saddled with a large mortgage for her newly remodeled 5-bedroom home in Bowie, MD. “Home renovation is a stressful process,” Moore says wryly. The recession had started and the house value was plummeting.

“I had my dream home. But my income was cut in half and I had 100% of the bills (her ex filed for bankruptcy). I knew I wanted to keep the house so I decided to start looking for roommates. Bowie is primarily a family town so it was challenging to get people to move out there.”

She focused on women in the same age-group. After some interesting experiences … the woman who reorganized all her drawers and the Jehovah’s Witness who shunned her Halloween decorations … Moore finally found four roommates that worked. Multiple house agreements have helped maintain order and balance the demands of five different personalities.

Fast forward five years to retirement and Moore realized her next opportunity was right in front of her. There was a market of mature women struggling financially and searching for housing, and the Craigslists and rent.coms of the world were not meeting their needs. She would establish a business to help other women do the same thing that she and her roommates were doing: find like-minded individuals to sharing housing.

Golden Girls Network is a membership-based organization modeled after that provides an easy-to-use platform for mature women (and men) to search for and find shared living arrangements from a national database. Users can be seek housemates to share in their home or rooms in other Golden Girls homes. Bonnie is also working on a foundation which will support a home companion program through which a housemate could receive a reduced rate for rent in exchange for providing assistance in the home of an older adult. “This wouldn’t include medical needs, but rather help such as changing light bulbs, doing the grocery shopping, and shoveling snow,” Moore notes.

“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,”

And while the idea came easily and the business plan has evolved, setting up Golden Girls Network has not been without pains.

“We were trying to do too much and there were liability hurdles that I didn’t foresee. Then I found someone to build the database, but let’s just say it didn’t go very smoothly. I almost packed it in until NPR contacted me. I wasn’t even in business yet! Three developers later, the database was ready to launch and the very same day, we were on the cover of the style section of The Washington Post.”

Completely self-funded (although looking for an investor), the network currently includes more than 900 people in 47 states. Moore is in licensing talks to expand the network outside of the US. And even though she doesn’t sport a hoodie, she joined a business incubation center at Bowie State University shortly after her launch.

“We’ve tapped into something that people are really interested in, it’s a sleeper thing. Baby boomers are retiring and their situations are not what they expected. There is an epidemic of middle-age divorce. People who lost the value of their homes or their jobs through the recession don’t have the money to retire the way they thought they would. What’s more, women’s salaries are lower than men’s and often they don’t have secure retirement plans. Retirement communities are expensive, especially for people on a fixed income. Living in shared housing helps cut costs dramatically and the bonus is you don’t have a house or yard to take care of. It’s kind of nice.”

So what’s next for the septuagenarian after she finds that investor and takes Golden Girls Network to the next level?

“Oh, I’m going to be the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ lady – the face of the company – and let someone else run it! One of these days I’m really going to retire and live the life of a Golden Girl.”

Pam Holland: Moxie and Tech, a Recipe for Success

Pam HollandIf she’d had a magic wand, Pam Holland would have been a photo journalist or done something in the arts, but instead the New Jersey girl, with a dash of New York, ended up in law school.

“Part of me loved the problem-solving aspect, but after law school I worked at a law firm doing commercial real estate transactions and I really hated it. It was like being a wedding planner for lawyers, too much detail, too many boxes to check.”

To her delight, she got laid off and was recruited to Fannie Mae where she did mortgage policy work. She loved it and stayed over two decades thanks to the interesting work, great benefits, and a near-perfect family/work-life balance.

But the itch to start a business was constant.

“I’d drive my husband crazy with my ideas. There was Kippah Girl, producing colorful kippahs, the beach buggy rental business (secretly it was just because I loved the name Buggies at the Beach) … I recall standing in front of a soda machine many moons ago saying ‘I wish I could get bottled water from this.’ I’ve always been identifying opportunities.”

Toward the end of her time at Fannie Mae, Holland went to a career counselor and discussed her Pam Hollandentrepreneurial dreams. “Even as a kid, I’d been trying to figure out how to make money. I’d have garage sales and made candles, selling them door-to-door. I remember the coach said if that little voice has been talking to you since you were eight, then maybe it’s time to listen to it. I never thought starting something new was an option for me, but after that I began playing with the idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

About a year or so later and one year before she turned 50, Holland decided to resign. The mortgage crisis had hit, Fannie Mae was in conservatorship, and the economy was blowing up.

“There were no longer opportunities. I had totally outgrown my seat, there was nothing left that I really wanted to accomplish. I felt like I had one more career in me and knew that never starting that business would be my number one regret.”

Despite all the ideas bouncing around in her head, Holland didn’t jump right away into entrepreneurial life. She took a consulting position with Bank of America, but after two years hit a wall and decided to leave – but not without a plan.

“I remember the coach said if that little voice has been talking to you since you were eight, then maybe it’s time to listen to it. I never thought starting something new was an option for me, but after that I began playing with the idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

For some time, she had been thinking about a business that would teach technology to “late adopters,” both the tech adverse and older generations. A lover of gadgets, Holland was always playing with the latest technology, testing out apps, and troubleshooting devices. It all began with a class she called “Getting to Know your iPad” which she offered at a local community center. “Bingo! That was it. The class was full with a waiting list. I went to other community centers and started picking up one-on-one clients. It’s mostly coaching, filling in the gaps, and getting the client comfortable with the technology.”

Pam Holland
A Tech Moxie client showing off the new iWatch

That was two years ago and Tech Moxie continues to evolve. While Holland still does classes and works occasionally one-on-one with clients, she hires contractors to provide most of the services while she concentrates on growing the business. That has proven the biggest challenge thus far: “It’s a very scalable business, I want to go national, but I need to step back and see the bigger picture.”

Tech Moxie is all self-funded. To her husband’s dismay, Holland said she was “willing to live in a cave” to make this happen. Marketing has been her biggest expense, the website and branding and so on, but the loss of her corporate income has easily been the biggest startup cost. But this tech moxie is in it for the long haul.

“Sometimes I wish I had started sooner, but I’m not sure the market was ready. Tech needed to catch up. Mobile phones have really changed the game because, as people age, the accessibility features open up doors that were previously closed. I love when I show a client with Parkinson’s how to use Siri for example. Helping people understand the tech puzzle gives me such a sense of accomplishment and the best part is finally my time is my own.”

Tips from Pam Holland
  • Fake it! You don’t need to be an expert, just be confident … look for breadcrumbs.
  • The only way to learn how to run a business is to go through it.
  • Work on the most important issues first, not the easiest, otherwise you’ll never get to the big stuff!
  • Having an idea does not mean you can execute it. You need to think about the means to manufacture or produce something, but tech has definitely leveled out the playing field.

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!

Susan Lander: The Lawyer Who Channels the Famous and Infamous

1421227_219711334874164_531552474_o“Steve Jobs was really fascinating,” says Susan Lander of her tête-à-tête with the tech icon detailed in her book, Conversations with History: Inspiration, Reflections and Advice from Celebrities and History-Makers on the Other Side.

“He really blew my mind, crackling with brilliance and innovation,” she says, still in awe of the conversation.  “And Kurt Vonnegut, he was brilliant too, but believe it or not, Notorious B.I.G. was my favorite. I didn’t want to interview him at first, but he pushed for it, and he became one of my favorites. And of course, Betsy Ross came out as gay when I spoke to her, which was the big revelation in that interview.” (more…)

Puja Satiani: Pursuing the Sweet Life

Puja Satiani
Courtesy of E Komo Mai Photography

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…)

Joi Gordon: Volunteering Your Way to A New Career

Joi Gordon (right) with a client from Dress for Success

Not everyone is as lucky as Joi Gordon. She discovered early in her career that she needed to make a change, that job satisfaction and happiness could only result from doing something that propelled her out of bed in the morning. And while Joi may have been lucky in her timing, she says it’s never too late to do what you love, especially if what you love is living a life of community service in the non-profit sphere.

“The best time to explore the possibilities is when you can volunteer. Find out what you’re passionate about, and give your time and your talent. Join boards and get oriented with the operations of an organization. Understand what is required to run a non-profit organization. When the time is right, make the switch. Because there will be a right time. There’s always a right time for a person to refocus, reshift.”

An only child, Gordon grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Oklahoma where she studied radio and TV broadcasting at the University of Oklahoma. Those were the heydays of court TV and Gordon was sure she wanted to be a court reporter, covering scintillating trials and breaking down legalese for the average Joe. Heeding the advice of a professor who recommended she get an institutional understanding of her preferred beat, Gordon opted for a juris doctorate from her Alma Mater.

As a means to an end of a career in legal journalism, Gordon returned to NY to take a position with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. All was going to plan until the newly minted public prosecutor switched on the local news one morning before work.

Gordon recalls vividly, “It was the usual busy morning, trying to get out the door for work when I was distracted by a story on a not-for-profit that had just opened its doors six months earlier. The organization, Dress for Success, was appealing for donations of women’s business attire to help them in their work of getting disadvantaged women into the workforce.

She left that day for work, planning to contact the organization only about dropping off some items. Speaking with the young founder, Nancy Lublin, Gordon was inspired. The 22-year-old had dropped out of law school to launch Dress for Success with a $5000 inheritance from her grandfather. Teaming up with some nuns from Spanish Harlem and supplementing her income by playing poker in Atlantic City, Lublin was shameless in her pursuit of resources for her non-profit. As soon as she heard Gordon was a lawyer, the entrepreneurial Lublin offered her an unpaid position on the Board of Dress for Success.

Gordon immediately felt a connection with the organization and appreciated Lublin’s passion. She signed on with the Board and provided oversight as Dress for Success began to build out the platform to expand its operations beyond New York. After a little over one year, and only 29-years-old at that time, Gordon knew she had found her passion and signed on full-time to run the Dress for Success New York office as Lublin took on a worldwide role: “I left what I was doing without even questioning it. I cannot say I grew up wanting to be in the helping profession, but I decided this was going to be my path, my journey, and my opportunity to make a difference. My decision was met with mixed reviews from my parents. My mom was always a strong supporter of me, if I was happy, she was happy. My dad, an immigrant from the West Indies, was less sure. Being a lawyer meant having status, he was definitely more concerned about the shift and didn’t understand how his only child, a lawyer, decided not to do that anymore. But he came round and before his death last year told me how proud and happy he was that I made that decision all those years ago.”

Gordon ran the NY Office for three years until Lublin decided to step down from the organization to write the next chapter in her life, inviting Gordon to step DFS Joi Gordon with Vanessa Williamsinto the CEO role in 2002. In addition to suiting up women for job interviews, under Gordon’s leadership, Dress for Success has focused more intently on employment retention and offers resumé-writing support, interview training, and general all-around confidence building. “It’s not unusual for us to work with women who have spent 20 years in the corporate world, lost their job, and then lost their way. They need an organization like ours to pick them up again. We work with non-profit job training agencies offering hard skills training like computer training or a culinary program, for example. They refer a woman 48-72 hours before her interview, and we help get her ready. If she doesn’t land the job, we help her further along the process to help her find employment.”

Dress for Success has helped more than 775,000 women find work and is now in 136 cities in 17 countries around the world. “I never would have imagined to have operations in so many countries and find this common denominator, not only in the women we serve, but the women who serve the women we serve – our volunteers. They are so passionate about helping women overcome obstacles and succeed,” Gordon says proudly.

Gordon acknowledges it was easy for her to make the transition. She was young, with a husband and child, but no debt as she had gone to law school on a scholarship. She was also earning a modest salary as a public prosecutor so her day-to-day expenses were reasonable.  But based on her experience with Dress for Success, the 46-year old CEO is adamant in her belief that women must discover their own inner motivations. “If you don’t move forward, you’re standing still. Join a board, do your research, get involved in organizations that you believe in and feel strongly about. Figure out the timing. Look for the right opportunity but it must be strategic, you’ve got to do your homework and you need to get involved. There are so many opportunities for people to get involved in the non-profit sector first as a volunteer, then as a Board member and hopefully then as an employee.”

DFS Joi Gordon 2011 GalaBeing in so many cities worldwide, Dress for Success offers many volunteer opportunities for women looking to get into a new field, learn new skills, or even get a foot in the door. They can serve as image consultants in the boutiques, helping clients getting suited for interviews. Others can work in the career centers, reviewing resumes and doing mock interviews. “Women of a certain age have such wonderful experience in the workforce to offer. We get great use out of retirees to act as speakers for our numerous workshops for example.”

And the best thing about volunteering is that you become a known quantity to a whole group of people previously outside your network. So while you may not have a lot of experience in that new field, your passion and commitment will be proof of your reliability, putting you in serious contention for a job in the organization should one arise, or in similar organizations where others can vouch for you. Volunteering also does wonders for one’s confidence and feeling of fullfilment.

As Joi says, “I’m incredibly fortunate to have a job that combines my commitment to public service with my passion for women’s issues. Volunteering is wonderful in that it offers that opportunity to everyone.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with Dress for Success, information is available here.

Encore is an organization targeting men and women in midlife careers looking not only for continued income but the promise of more meaning – and the chance to do work that means something beyond yourself. Read an earlier Career 2.0 profile on Jere King who did an Encore fellowship.

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Juliana Maio: From Hollywood Contracts to Espionage on the Nile

Maio_author-photo-783x1024For as long as she can remember, Juliana Maio has nurtured two identities: her creative side came with a love of literature and storytelling while her more practical diligent self longed for bringing greater justice and harmony to the world. As a child, she kept her classmates rapt with invented tales and plays and yet, as a refugee, it was impossible for her to remain untouched by her circumstances. “It was amazing to see even as a child how powerful words could be, what language was capable of, but equally I was also very much in touch with what was fair and unfair. I wanted to change the world and I thought maybe I could do this through words.”

Maio was born in a suburb of Cairo known as Heliopolis, City of the Sun. During the Suez Crisis, her third generation extended Jewish-Egyptian family was expelled from what had been a very pluralistic and tolerant country. Some went to Brazil, others to Italy, Canada and the United States, but thanks to her mother’s French passport, the three-year-old Maio immigrated to France. “We were basically refugees. My life was uncertain and unstable growing up. I never really knew if we were coming or going or where we might move. I went to boarding school from about 5 years to the age of 12 because my parents had to work full time,” she recalls.

After many years, Maio and her family took up an invitation from her uncle to join him and his wife in California. Eighteen years old at the time, Maio was less than positive about the decision, especially as she had just been accepted to study acting with a troop: “I ran away from home. I wrote a letter to my parents explaining I loved them but couldn’t join them in America. My sister was supposed to deliver the letter at 7pm. In the meantime, I had arranged to meet my boyfriend at 5pm so we could leave together. He never showed up due to a mix up with the meeting point and so I frantically ran home with my suitcases hoping my sister had not yet delivered the letter. Arriving just five minutes after 7pm, I was confronted by my entire family … I mean my entire family, my aunts, uncles, everyone was there. I was immediately locked up and that was the end of it!”

Initially the move to the US was very difficult as Maio did not speak English very well. “All of a sudden, language was no longer available to me. It was a huge handicap, both in practical terms but also in terms of my identity. I couldn’t express myself.”

Maio with her husband and daughter. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Sanabria

Thrown into the deep end, she enrolled at the University of San Diego and to her credit, did well enough to transfer to University of California at Berkeley. “God bless their hearts. I will be forever grateful to them for accepting me. I remember my first year. I was basically taking PE, French literature, Spanish, and maybe one English class. I studied very hard and wherever I went, I carried a dictionary.”

Maio graduated from Berkeley with a degree in Political Science, but realized she could not fulfill her dream of becoming a writer, journalist or even an actress due to language constraints. So she leaned into her other side, the wanting-to-change-the world side, and decided to go to law school. “I got in to UC Hastings, again I couldn’t believe my luck. I did very well as a student but I must admit I chose my classes carefully,” she laughs. “Finally I felt like I was on equal footing with everybody else. It was a new vocabulary for everybody. It was a new way to write and think for all the students.”

Realizing her English skills might somewhat limit her ability to be a litigator, Maio decided to become an entertainment lawyer. It was a natural extension of her love of the arts. “If I couldn’t be a writer or actor myself, then at least I could represent them.”

She interned with international law offices O’Melveny & Myers and after graduation, nabbed a plum job with a top entertainment law firm, Schiff, Hirsch & Schrieber. “I was drafting contracts for the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Dick Clark, Cliff Robertson, Walter Hill, you name it. But even more lucky for me was my mentor Gunther Schiff, the head partner who himself had immigrated to the US as a teenager. To this day, Gunther is like a second father to me.”

Although women were starting to make inroads into the law profession at that time it was not easy for the less-than-conventional Maio. “I found it difficult as a woman, especially a woman with a French accent. Some clients crossed the line and asked me out. It was always a dance in terms of ingratiating yourself to them as a professional and yet making very sure you did not alienate them when trying to make it clear you had no interest in them in a romantic sense. Maybe because I was single and French and refused to put my hair in a bun … people made assumptions,” she says.

When the firm broke up, Maio followed her mentor Schiff to new offices where she continued to practice law for five more years. But the pull of the entertainment business was too strong and she briefly left law to indulge her creative side. She joined a studio, Triumph Films, a joint venture between Columbia Pictures and Gaumont Films, as VP Worldwide Corporate & Business Affairs, where she was involved with the acquisition and distribution of foreign and indie films. She loved it but it was hard going. “There was a tremendous amount of internal politics, and I was not comfortable in that environment. Law firms are much more businesslike. Even if you have issues, as long as you do your work, people treat you professionally. To be a lawyer is probably the safest profession in the entertainment industry. It’s a cocoon,” Maio explains.

The division was eventually dissolved at Columbia and, after the birth of her daughter, Maio returned to the safer soil of law, founding a new practice with her partner Leanna Heath. “Before we knew it, we were representing major talent like Frank Darabont as well as production companies like Vestron and New World, and even banks.” They ran the business successfully for five years until Maio decided once again to try her hand at the creative side of the industry. She teamed up with her husband, Michael Phillips, Academy-Award-winning producer of films classics like The Sting and Taxi Driver, to set up Lighthouse Productions. Maio was the business affairs manager and her husband’s “lawyer with benefits”.

Maio_bookjacket“It was wonderful to finally get so close to the creative process. Representing talent was the first step but as part of a production company, I was finding the books to turn into movies, seeking out authors, working with writers. I enjoyed it so much, I decided to launch myself more completely into the process and began writing myself.” An established lawyer with a husband and child, she finally felt she was in a safe enough place to take the time to work on one particular writing project close to her heart that had been consuming her for some time. She explains, “People would ask me where I was from. I always said France but at the same time I knew I was Egyptian. My family often spoke Arabic at home, I grew up on Egyptian food. I kind of poo-pooed it and yet my past was so complicated, I never quite understood it. Why were Jews living in Egypt? Why was my father Italian but spoke English, French, Arabic, and Greek? How did my mother get her French passport? I was simply curious and motivated by a deep desire to understand where I was from.”

When she started reading, she discovered the fascinating world her parents grew up in. “Egypt had hundreds of thousands of foreigners. Cairo, in 1941, was ten times more exotic than Bogart’s Casablanca. It was the tail end of the Golden Age where all these communities – including Arabs, Jews and Christians – lived together so peacefully. I couldn’t stop researching, I couldn’t let go of it. If I was so fascinated by it then others will be too. So it gradually it became the kernel for a book.”

She was elated to learn her agent in New York thought the first chapter had potential. She wrote five more chapters and waited on pins and needles for the response: “I was on vacation in Montana when I called her to hear her thoughts. All of a sudden, there was a bear and everybody was screaming, ‘Run! Get out of the way!’ and I remember just standing there with the phone to my ear as all hell broke loose around me. All I cared about was what this agent thought about my work. My heart fell at her words, ‘This is promising’, because I thought I had it done.”

And so basically for the next ten years what kept Maio going was ‘This is promising’. While still practicing law and working at Lighthouse, she wrote and rewrote, did additional research and tried to find that delicate balance between thriller, love story, and real history. “If becoming a lawyer was difficult it was nothing compared to becoming a writer,” laughs Maio.

Published in March this year, City of the Sun tells a tale of life in Cairo – “Paris on the Nile” – during WWII. To Maio’s delight, the book hit number 1 on Amazon’s bestseller list for eBooks on the 4th of July weekend. As NY Times best-selling author, Nicolas Meyer, says this work of historical fiction “weaves a tangled tale of espionage, wartime romance, political intrigue, and action in a city crawling with all four.  If you liked Casablanca, this story is for you.”

With plans for a sequel, Maio is obviously undeterred by the time it took to write the book. “I had a passion, I had a dream and had to get it done. But also I thought my book would make a difference as it portrayed how Europeans, Arabs and Jews lived peacefully together in an extraordinary society. It’s so disheartening to see that it’s gone forever. The hatred today is completely political. Politics hijacked the hearts of the people. But if it was possible before, maybe it is possible again.”

Tips from Juliana Maio:

  • Listen to your own voice and put blinders on (don’t compare yourself to others).
  • Be 100% focused and determined.
  • Do your homework.
  • Find people who believe in you.
  • Be grateful for having a passion.
  • Be ready for when the miracle happens.

Trusha Patel: Swapping Commodities for Cumin Seeds

Trusha Patel
Trusha on location in India with ginger farmers

Trusha Patel has a passion for spice and finding just that right flavor as she cooks has always offered her sanctuary from the stressful life of corporate law. And now she has made it her mission to bring those high quality ingredients from the farms of India and Europe to your table, helping you transform all kinds of dishes in ways you could never have imagined. “A simple thing like adding a little ginger and cinnamon to smoothies or even black pepper to orange juice can turn good into exceptional.”

Born in Kenya to Indian parents, Patel moved to the UK as a child. Fulfilling her childhood dream, she studied law at the University of Manchester and, after training and qualifying with Linklaters, she moved to Credit Suisse First Boston as an Associate specialized in banking transactions. After one year, she was recruited to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) in London where she spent the next 8 years as a front office derivatives lawyer.

“It was a trading floor position. Basically I sat among the traders and marketing guys, working with them on the transactions. I got a lot of exposure as to how things are really done. The trend at that time was very much on credit derivatives and everything that basically triggered the economic crisis. That’s what was driving the volumes, driving the revenue for the bank, all these high-end, multi-million-dollar transactions.”

It was a lucrative career, but it all started to come apart in 2008 with the lack of liquidity in the market. “It was all about cheap credit, cheap loans, and the bigger corporations leveraging off that to make money.  I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was ten. I was pretty senior and successful, and at the time it was everything I had dreamed of,” she recalls.

Once the crisis took hold, CIBC’s focus was to mitigate its risk. It was not going to be easy as – of all Canadian banks – it had the greatest exposure to these types of transactions. Patel’s job centered around managing the losses and reducing inventory, essentially deconstructing all that had come before.

Two years earlier, after a trip to Canada, Patel and her husband had applied for permanent residency under the Canadian Federal Skilled Workers Program. “We were looking for a lifestyle change and wanted to open some options for our future. Since I was working for a Canadian bank, it seemed like a good idea.”

So it was providential timing that the residency applications were approved around the same time CIBC started cutting jobs and repatriating staff.

At the end of 2009, the couple relocated to Canmore, about 1 hour outside of Calgary, Alberta. Unable to practice law without retraining, she carried on working for CIBC but on a consultancy basis. Her husband was less fortunate and found it very difficult to find work. Reluctantly, he returned to the UK to work for a British bank. “We were having this long distance marriage, which was not in the plans, but we had to adjust to the situation. He was doing months there and a few weeks off in Canada. It was a very difficult time.”

Patel speaks openly about how she wanted to make the transition from the banking sector. “I felt pretty toxic about what was going on and really wanted to break free from it. I was on the lookout for something else.” Cooking had always been her passion, an escape. “I would lose myself in it without thinking too much, it would take me away from my long, long days in the office.” She had a special affinity for Northern Indian cooking as it recalled days spent in her mother’s kitchen.

Initially she thought she could open a modern Indian restaurant and catering business and conducted some marketing research but quickly it became apparent that “Canmore was not ready for that. There were people who didn’t even know what a samosa was!” But even aside from that small issue, Patel found she was having to adapt the ingredients of her favorite dishes to what was available locally. The quality of spices was particularly disappointing, “The dishes I made in the UK always needed additional seasoning. Even switching to more organic sources was not doing it for me, they just weren’t delivering the same flavor profile.”

Taking things into her own hands, she begin experimenting with her own blends and, encouraged by her husband, decided to sell them at a local Trusha Patel cinnamonmarket stall with tasting notes and advice on spice pairings. When they were quickly snapped up, Patel knew she was on to something. She began researching different spices and the buyers from whom they could be sourced. She was particularly interested in understanding the relationship with the farmers and how the spices were harvested and processed.

It took a further eight months to get all her suppliers on board, but the real challenge was establishing the business and dealing with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “It was a completely new industry and new country for me. All the labelling rules, the bureaucracy involved in setting up the business, getting my organic certification, understanding what could be said and not said according to the CFIA, the little nuances or things that may be misinterpreted by the consumer… it all took me more time than finding the people I wanted to work with,” Patels explains.

There were other hurdles too. She learned a hard lesson by spending a lot of marketing dollars early on at a trade show. While interest at the show was high, the sales conversion was not great and the expected orders did not materialize for months. “After that, I just got on the phone and started cold calling. It was difficult. I’m not a salesperson. I’m pretty reserved. I took the rejection so personally. My husband was my savior because he coached me on how to respond to people and we even did some mind-mapping to help with my response to people’s feedback.”

But after a slow start, the Spice Sanctuary emerged undeterred. The production line was launched, the website was live with an online store, and bloggers started to mention her range. By the end of 2013 Patel was listed with 50 outlets and had built up a relationship with wholesalers. “Purveyors of Fine Quality Spices and Seasonings”, the Spice Sanctuary imports an exclusive range of premium grade organic spices, blends and rubs as well as Pukka-branded teas.

The best news came when her husband landed a job in Calgary and the couple was “finally able to have a normal life”. They celebrated by traveling to India to meet her suppliers and the farmers. “I came back recharged and in full-speed-ahead mode.”

Trusha Patel“We got a gelato company on board, a popcorn manufacturer, executive chefs, and even a brewery uses our spices. Sales have doubled. Right now we are listed with 75 stores but my target is 100 by the end of this year. Being featured on The Marilyn Denis Show was especially fun.”

Does she ever miss law? The 40-year-old spice guru’s response is swift and unequivocal “No! It’s been tough to wait two-and-a-half years to see success and get buzz around the products, but it’s finally coming and I know I am on the right track. I have full job satisfaction in what I do right now.”


Tips from Trusha Patel
  • Always give things in life your best shot. As long as you know you have done your best, that’s what matters.
  • Make sure you have a support network (family or friends), someone who can give you perspective. Someone who knows you and gets you back on the right track.
  • Travel and see the world. It will enrich you in more ways than you might think possible
  • Life is too short so don’t be afraid to laugh, cry, believe and feel the beauty around you as much as possible!

Brenda Berkman: From Pioneering Firefighter to Printmaker

IMG_2126Brenda Berkman is no shrinking violet but she didn’t set out to be the poster-child of women firefighters. She just wanted to do her job. At the same time, she wasn’t going to pretend gender discrimination in non-traditional employment didn’t exist and so she tried her best to make things better for those who would follow. For 25 years, Brenda fought fires and sexual inequality, rising to the rank of Captain in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Not one to recoil from challenges, in her fifty-fifth year, Brenda revisited her long-ago passion for art and is currently an established printmaker, chronicling important social and environmental issues and keeping the memory of 9/11 alive through her work.

With a (Summa Cum Laude) degree from St Olaf College, the native Minnesotan went on to grad school at Indiana University with the intention of teaching college-level history. While wrapping up her Masters, Berkman did a summer job at a law firm and was drawn to the idea of using her skills to achieve greater social justice. And so she left the PhD program and switched to a legal track at NYU Law School.

But she found the law to be socially conservative: “Just think about it. In order to win a legal case, you have to refer back to previous decisions. It’s very difficult to move the ball up the field in law in terms of social justice issues. It’s not that it can’t be done, a couple of legal decisions can flip the paradigm, but it’s difficult.”

This growing awareness, combined with her natural athleticism and active personality, made Berkman think twice about whether law, and spending time sitting at a desk, was actually right for her. Although she remained in law school, she started to look around for inspiration.

In the summer of 1977, she was amazed to see the FDNY was – for the first time – allowing women to take the test for firefighter. “Up until that point, it didn’t matter if you were an Olympic-caliber athlete or holder of the ‘Strongest Woman in the World’ title, if you were born a woman, the FDNY did not want you.” But in response to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title VII legislation, the Department realized they had no choice but to make the change. But they weren’t going to make it easy so they changed the entry exam, making it more difficult for women to pass the physical portion.

Photo by Joyce Benna
Photo by Joyce Benna

“Although I was finishing up law school, I thought firefighting could be the perfect occupation for me. It combines my strong desire to help my community and other people. The fact that it was not a desk job really appealed to me. I figured the job would be physically and mentally challenging and I would have to learn new skills. You never know what you’ll be called on to do as a firefighter and I’d have to know a little about lots of different things.”

Berkman along with about 90 other women took the physical part of the firefighter exam. They all failed. “I believed at the time that the test was not related to the actual job of firefighting. The FDNY had put in a bunch of obstacles that did not adequately measure the ability of a firefighter to the job. So I fought back.”

Berkman was the sole named class plaintiff to challenge the test in federal court. The City argued that she was just trying to make a political point. “I had to testify under oath that if I won the case, I would quit practicing law and become a firefighter.”  And so, true to her word, when she won the decision five years later in 1982, that is exactly what she did. Even her own mother was amazed by Berkman’s decision: “She and everyone else wondered: ‘Why would a lawyer go through all this training, take a 50% cut in salary, and jump into the deep end of the pool?’ In all honesty, I had the luxury to do this because my then-husband was a lawyer and I could always return to law if it didn’t work out.”

Following Berkman’s example, many women came out of the woodwork to join the force. But their numbers were small and it was hard going.  With only one woman to a battalion [several firehouses], they were very isolated. And Berkman’s reputation of ‘Chief Troublemaker’ did not help. “The first ten years were extremely difficult. There was lots of harassment and retaliation, I wasn’t even sure some of the men ‘had my back’ during some calls. With male firefighters who refused to speak, train, or even eat with me plus anonymous death threats and pornographic harassment, it was hard to feel part of the “team”.  But I refused to quit something I loved because some men felt women shouldn’t be doing it … You know, I wasn’t a complete idiot. I wasn’t going to continue doing the job if I wasn’t up to it. This is serious business.  After all, we are in the life-saving business.”

Not only did she love her job, but she was good at it, and for the next 25 years served her adopted city with competence and pride.

Like many others, Brenda Berkman’s life was changed forever on 9/11. On that unforgettable day, the then New York City Lieutenant lost many colleagues and friends. After surviving 9/11, she spent the next months working at Ground Zero in recovery efforts until the site closed.

Five years after 9/11 and after 25 years on the force, it was time to retire from the FDNY and the fire service. “It got to the point it wasn’t fun anymore. I was getting older. I realized I wanted to do something else with my life. Partly this was timing, changing as a person, but post 9/11, I realized that continuing as a firefighter was not good for me. I needed to recalibrate.”

At the age of 55, Berkman handed in her “helmet and hose” and started to look anew for inspiration. Collecting a pension and without immediate financial worries, she didn’t have much in mind except that the next step should be something completely different and yet she wanted to retain the ability to help the community.

She started volunteering at church in social projects targeted at the elderly and homeless and worked closely with the 9/11 Families Association and the United Women Firefighters Association. “Believe me, I had lots of opportunities, once people hear you are retired, they think you have an infinite amount of time. You really must figure out what you most like and where you can make the greatest contribution.”

“9-11” (self-portrait), stone lithograph

Despite her busy schedule, Berkman felt a need to be more creative. As a child she had always been interested in art and music and throughout her career as a firefighter often received gifts of arts books, easels, and painting sets as friends knew of her interest. It took actual retirement to find the time to pursue her interest. She started taking print-making classes at the Art Students League. “Printmaking appealed to me because there is a certain amount of technology and process involved as well as creativity. Having been a firefighter and having to learn how to operate different kinds of tools, it seemed like a natural fit.”

At first she felt guilty. “I thought of art as being kind of selfish choice for me. I should be out saving the world but here I am drawing … but then I realized I was making something out of nothing. Being creative has become a huge thing for me. It has touched me in a very important way.”

Winter Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge, stone lithograph
Winter Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge, stone lithograph

Berkman donates a lot of her art to charitable causes and finds ways to use her work to help others. In anticipation of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, she worked with other artists to organize a collaborative project to deal with their responses to 9/11. Berkman worked on numerous rebuild projects after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. She also visited northeastern Japan after the 3/11/11 tsunami to talk to survivors and share her experiences as a New Yorker of how the City worked together to rebuild after 9/11. Some of her artwork was inspired by that trip. Other topics in her art deal with social issues such as oils spills in the Gulf and the 2008 financial collapse. Today she is working on a series of 36 views of the new One World Trade Center, a multi-year effort as the prints cannot be completed until the building is finished.

“All these different types of expressions turned out to really great for me personally but I hope that they are also helping others to move past their grief. Frankly I’m not so interested in making money although it would be nice to move some of my art out of my apartment! I’m more focused on just making and doing the art. In that sense, it has been very rewarding.”

Any regrets? “I don’t think anyone comes into this life with all the answers on how to make a successful career journey. I know I didn’t. When those women and I entered FDNY, we didn’t have anyone to turn to as an example or mentor. So looking back, I definitely wish I had understood the value of being able to talk about my story and make those outside firefighting – the ordinary citizen, the policy-maker – aware of the importance and benefits of having women firefighters. I wish we had spoken up more. It’s not that I wanted to be more high profile but I should have gotten the message out better. It’s a problem that still exists today. If you can convince people that women can be firefighters, you can convince people that women can be successful at anything. People need to understand how important it is to open jobs to women in the trades, the uniformed services, the military, and other non-traditional employment fields. These are careers women and girls should be considering but it’s still not happening.”

In fact today, there are fewer women firefighters in the FDNY than when Berkman joined the department in 1982.

Berkman may regret not having spoken her truth as a firefighter all the time, but she certainly pioneered the way for many women to follow and is recognized for all she did to improve the lot of others. (Berkman is the recipient of the National Organization for Women’s Susan B. Anthony Award and other accolades and has been the subject of numerous articles, books, TV shows, an off-Broadway play and the 2006 PBS documentary “Taking the Heat.) And now as an artist she is getting a second chance to break new ground.

You can view and purchase Berkman’s art on her website.

Tips from Brenda Berkman:

  • Don’t let stereotypes hold you back!
  • Even if you can’t earn income from your passion, work it into your life and with time you might be able to make the shift.
  • If you are not ready for the deep end, go in the wading section and transition to the deeper water when you are ready.
  • People don’t respect you if you don’t speak up for yourself. Speak your truth.




Jane DiGiacomo: From Hamptons’ Lawyer to Small-Town Hospice Director

Jane DiGiacomo’s life story could easily be a film. The credits roll as she crosses the western prairies in her 31-foot Airstream camper, new husband and young child in tow, seeking out the important things in life and leaving law and a lot of baggage behind. But DiGiacomo is not an actress. She’s the real deal: a confident, happy woman who fearlessly gave up what most people spent their whole lives working towards, financial success and prestige, to experience the smaller pleasures in life: “I’m not special, we all are remarkable, we just have to see it in ourselves.”

DSCN0948 (1)
Jane, Miles and the mega-cool Airstream

Always attracted to understanding life’s fundamental problems, DiGiacomo studied philosophy at Barnard and was aiming for a PhD. But she fell into law when her father thought this a ridiculous plan. “He said he would only pay for me to go to ‘professional’ school so I guess this planted the seed that I probably should find a career where I could support myself.”

Paying her own way in the end, she attended the University of Minnesota, transferring in her third year to Columbia Law. From there, DiGiacomo worked as a litigation associate for three years in Manhattan. But city life was not really her thing, so she moved to East Hampton, Long Island, where she joined a regional law firm. “I did more independent, directly rewarding work and started building my own client base.”

After two years, DiGiacomo had risen up the ranks and was on serious partnership track. And then came what she calls “The Big Pause”.

In the midst of a divorce, DiGiacomo found herself at a crossroads. She started meditating regularly with zen sangha – studying with Peter Matthiessen – something that became a very important part of her life.

Her zen practice led her to take a leave of absence to sort out her feelings. The move shocked her partner champions at the firm: “I made no promises, I told them I was going away to do a meditation retreat for at least three months, maybe more, and that maybe I wouldn’t come back … It was kind of a big deal,” she adds with a chuckle.

She easily rented her small East Hampton house over the summer and headed north to join the monks and nuns at Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist Monastery in Nova Scotia for four months. “I got a really good picture of what that life would be like should I go in that direction. But it didn’t matter what I did. My neurosis followed me. I was still going to have to deal with my need to be valued and achieve external confirmation. I knew I had to go back to life and face it, I couldn’t run away anymore.”

Picking up where she left off, DiGiacomo rejoined the firm “continuing in high-powered mode.” And then, when she was 33, she got pregnant from a short-term relationship just around the same time she made partner at the firm. In addition to work, she dove into school and community activities to build up her life in East Hampton.

But keeping busy at work and in the community was not enough. “Even though I was doing well financially, the fact that it was just a means to an end was becoming really evident to me … I considered starting my own firm but this wasn’t something I was ready to take on as single mom. So I started working out of our smaller office where I had the chance to focus on local clients and test the idea of going out on my own. It was going well, and then I met Miles.”

Her life turned upside down as she travelled out West to see her new steady. She fell in love, not only with him, but also the expansiveness of the western landscape. “I knew it was going to be difficult to stay where I was.” Soon after Jane met the love of her life, her mother developed terminal cancer, a life event that opened DiGiacomo’s eyes to the truth – life is too short, don’t compromise.  “When she died I knew I was done.”

She took some time off to extract herself from her life: “Mom’s death readjusted my perspective. Having Miles in my life freed me to consider other options as he’s a computer programmer and able to work anywhere.” The plan was set. At 39-years old, she quit her job, they sold their respective homes and bought an oh-so-cool Airstream to traverse the country looking for a home. “We pretty much took off. We literally did not know where we were going.” The idea was to spend time in a few towns where they thought they might like to live.

Ultimately, Nelson, British Colombia fit the bill perfectly.

“It was no small thing because we had to immigrate. I couldn’t work for the first four years and instead stayed home with Kell and our two new children, Ziji and Elka.” Once their immigration status was resolved, DiGiacomo looked into becoming a small town law practitioner but was overwhelmed by the commitment involved: several exams, followed by a badly paid 6-month apprenticeship, commuting every day, and leaving kids in day care. “Then I realized I didn’t have to do that. Being successful financially was not what I needed. It was liberating that I didn’t care anymore.”

Once she had accepted this fact, the next steps were easy. She decided to earn a living doing something she really enjoyed and cared about deeply. And so she started looking more closely at community services and not-for-profit work. She is currently the Executive Director of the Nelson and District Hospice Society, a community organization provides volunteer hospice services.  In that capacity, she also works closely with Kalein Hospice Society, which has an expansive mission including encouraging dialog about how we create care for the dying and how this influences how we live our own lives. DiGiacomo is drawn to the work because it centers around questions with which she has struggled her whole life “Why are we here? What are we doing with our lives day-to-day?”

For DiGiacomo part of the answer has been coming face-to-face with one’s own death. She does not mean this in a morbid way but rather living the reality of knowing how precious our lives are. Her advice? Don’t get lost in the dream of achieving something. Get out there and do it. That’s what will make it all worthwhile.

Jane DiGiacomo’s Tips for Success:

  • If you are a working mom feeling torn about where you are spending your time, but also feeling like you are not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom, just do it (if you can). Spend some time with your kids. It will change who you are. It may encourage you to make different decisions about your career and future.
  • Once you no longer prioritize money, power and prestige, it’s a relief. You realize what’s important and it’s not that stuff. It’s really not about THE STUFF.


Are your possessions, salary and prestige holding you back from finding true happiness?

Lisa McLish: Trading Contract Law for a Life of Social Work

mcLishWhen Lisa McLish was enrolling in law school at Catholic University more than two decades ago, she vividly remembers pausing briefly to consider the joint law/social work degree on offer. Something about the idea of social work spoke to her, but the extra year — of school and debt — turned her off, and she quickly dismissed the thought. After all, she knew wanted to be a public interest lawyer, and for that, she mainly needed a law degree.

“Looking back, I could have easily gotten a joint degree, but I didn’t take the extra time.”

After law school, McLish realized the type of public interest law she had dreamed of doing was harder to practice than she thought. “No one tells you before law school that those jobs are actually very hard to get.”

So initially McLish took a clerkship and then moved over to the Justice Department where she spent nearly 15 years doing government contract work. McLish was happy, in a way, at Justice. “I was a trial lawyer, and I liked that part. It was actually kind of exciting.”  There were also supplementary perks.  “Being a lawyer gives you an automatic cache; it’s nice but also hard to give up. Everyone kind of understands what you do even if they don’t really understand.” (more…)

Estie Dallett, Negotiator: From Insurance Claims to Incorrigible Canines

EstieDalletNot a dolphin trainer, or a rock star, or a ballerina, when Estie Dallett was eight, she recognized herself as a balance-seeking Libra and wanted to be a judge when she grew up. To become a judge, she first had to be a lawyer. “I was very academically oriented, and I knew from an early age that the expectation in my family was that I would go to an Ivy League school, like my siblings before me,” Her father, a long-time archivist at the University of Pennsylvania made this expectation clear.

She did not disappoint. From the prestigious Maderia School in Virginia, Estie moved on to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. She secured a clerkship and then a position as an associate at one of Washington, DC’s oldest “Big Law” firms, only pausing before law school to teach English in Africa for a year – a detour she says her father didn’t understand.

Once an attorney, Estie forged ahead, working long hours and moving up the ranks. But she rarely even had the time to think about whether the work she was doing was what she really wanted to do and found herself too drained to seek a vibrant social life. “I was doing insurance law, and I started thinking to myself. ‘Is this what I wanted to do when I was little? Work all the time and help Fortune 500 companies that already had money get more from their insurers?’” (more…)