When life threw these women curveballs, they knocked them out of the park.
Making a fresh start isn’t always a choice.
Only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept each year, with most crumbling before the end of January. But some people don’t have the luxury of loosening their resolve. They have to find a new job, or their kids won’t eat. They have to eat better and lose weight, or else their high cholesterol will kill them. If they don’t roll with the punches, they get knocked out.
So these five women forced to make fresh starts in 2017 told Moneyish how they passed the tests that life threw at them with flying colors. And the lessons they learned can put you on the path to making 2018 your best year yet.
BRIDGING THE RESUME GAP
An entrepreneur who spent the past decade as a stay-at-home mom struggled to re-enter the workforce to support her four kids after getting divorced. So she teamed up with a former colleague to launch a baby gear rental business that’s given her new livelihood – and new life.
The gig economy gave this divorcee a new passion project to support her family.
Trish McDermott helped launch Match.com in 1995, but left a decade ago to take care of her four children while her wife worked. “But when she filed for divorce in 2014, she made it very clear that, to the extent possible on her end, I would be on my own,” said McDermott. “I had to go reinvent my life. And that was really devastating.”
So with kids ages 11 to 20 to support, McDermott went back on the job hunt – and employers weren’t interested. “I’m in my early 50s with a background working in internet start-ups, and the industry is notoriously young,” she said. “And when you’ve been out of the workforce for 10 years, you become irrelevant and dismissed.”
She visited a career counselor in 2016, even though it mortified her. “How embarrassing, as a woman in my 50s who once had a big career, to have to go have someone evaluate my potential to earn an income,” said McDermott, 57. “But she ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The job coach told her to stop sending resumes, since the employment gap was holding her back, and to network directly with people she had known at Match who recognized her worth. And when former colleague Fran Maier reached out days later with a start-up idea, McDermott seized the opportunity.
She’s now a cofounder of Babierge, a baby gear concierge service that got rolling last year, which serves two purposes. They rent strollers, car seats, playpens and other cumbersome equipment to parents on vacation so that they don’t have to worry about traveling with tons of stuff. And people looking for a side hustle can sign up to rent out and deliver the goods in Babierge’s growing fleet of Trusted Partners. McDermott said they earn an average of $600 a month, although some busy bees have raked in a couple thousand. In fact, this is how McDermott has made ends meet until Babierge takes off enough to pay her a salary.
“This has been a way for me to make income, but to also learn to love the work and really understand it,” she said. “And we’re giving stay-at-home mom entrepreneurs a way to do what I didn’t have the opportunity to do, or couldn’t figure out how to do, which is to stay vibrant and active in the workforce, and to add to your skill set.”
Maier and McDermott raised $500,000 from their savings, friends and family to get the ball rolling. Now Babierge is running in 117 markets and serving 5,000 customers in the U.S. and Canada, and adding five new markets every week. “We’re going to be triple that next year. We’re growing really fast,” said McDermott, noting the goal for 2018 is to expand into international markets and to continue growing the business.
But even more importantly, Babierge has given McDermott her confidence back. “My self esteem really took a hit with the divorce, and I had to ask a lot of hard questions about myself,” she said. “But building this community and helping these other women become successful has been a game-changer. It’s reminded me that I’m a talented entrepreneur. And that has just breathed new life into me.”
WRITING YOUR OWN DESTINY
A woman whose almost daily migraines kept costing her jobs realized that working from home was key to accommodating her condition. So she launched her own publishing imprint this year, and wrote and published a picture book about a whale who also suffers chronic pain.
Plenty of people spent New Year’s Day nursing hangovers at home. But imagine trying to work through debilitating headaches every single day.
That’s the misery that Judith Klausner, 31, has suffered since she began getting chronic migraines at 13 years old. About 37 million people are afflicted with these neurological episodes, which are no mere headaches: They’re characterized by throbbing pain in one side of the head, often accompanied by nausea and sometimes seeing auras, flashes or bright spots. And about three out of four migraine sufferers are women.
“For over a decade I have been on an endless series of preventative medicines whose side effects make me sick, weak, and foggy, and still fail to keep the nearly-daily migraines at bay,” said Klausner – which has made holding most traditional, in-office 9-to-5 jobs impossible.
First the Somerville, Mass. sculptor tried teaching art in an after-school program, but the public school was a minefield of migraine triggers: bright lights, loud noises and strong smells. “I had to use every single one of my sick days, and all of the personal days, and my boss was not thrilled,” she said.
It was a pattern that was repeated at various administration gigs: “I would start each position during a better patch (when she wasn’t having daily headaches), hopeful that I could make it work … until inevitably, I’d be calling in sick, which would become medical leave, and then permanent leave,” she said. “Because my disability is invisible – I’m not in a wheelchair, so you can’t just see that something is wrong – I always felt like employers thought I had misrepresented myself somehow, like I was masquerading as a normal person to get in, and now they knew that I was broken.”
But in 2017, she finally found a boss sympathetic to her plight: Herself. “After my latest failed attempt at a normal person job, I went through some depression about failing at succeeding in the adult world, and I started thinking about what I really wanted to do. And I’ve always loved writing and creative projects,” she said.
She founded a small independent publishing imprint, Dancing Mantis Press (named for her favorite insect), and vented her experience in an inspirational picture book, “Noah the Narwhal: A Tale of Downs and Ups,” about a whale who has unpredictable “good days” and “pain days” that his friends and family struggle to understand.
“One of the things that had been hardest for me had been feeling so alone, so helping children and others with chronic pain, and making them feel less isolated, is really important and powerful to me,” she said
Dancing Mantis Press is a one-woman show for now. Klausner used Weebly to build her own website, writes her own press releases and uses an on-demand printer to make books as they are ordered, versus having to lay out capital for a massive order that she would be pressured to sell. She is writing a sequel this spring, and plans to develop a “Noah the Narwhal” book series.
“I’m just barely in the black right now, but I am going to make this happen. I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have time and enthusiasm and passion,” she said. “And I can do all of this from my couch with the lights off, which is where I need to be with my disability. I found my own way to work the way that I need to function.”
ROLLING WITH THE CHANGES
The past year and a half has been a rollercoaster for this freelancer, who moved twice (with an infant), became a stay-at-home mom, and just recently transitioned to being a working mother. But she took valuable lessons from each experience – such as learning when to ask for help, and what makes a toddler-friendly apartment.
“When I tell people about the past year, they look at me like I’m crazy,” said Brooklyn freelance designer and art director Valerie Morgan, who moved with her husband Jonathan and then six-month-old son Benjamin from Detroit to Brooklyn after Jonathan got a job at NYU.
That was just the beginning of a whirlwind period that saw them move twice, start new jobs and learn to be parents. First, they had to vacate their Windsor Terrace apartment in January 2017 because the radiators were emitting a noxious odor that gave them headaches and nausea.
“We had to do an emergency move at the beginning of the year to Park Slope,” said Morgan, 41. But they turned the forced relocation into an upgrade by finding an apartment near Prospect Park that was more toddler-friendly than the third-floor walk-up they were leaving. “We realized there are things that we need – like to live on the first floor so we’re not carrying the stroller up two flights of stairs, and a place where the bedroom is away from the street so that traffic doesn’t wake up Ben,” she said.
The former creative director for Hour Media was also adapting to stay-at-home-mom life. “Having someone who needs your attention all of the time is a huge adjustment. And then at the same time, you’re completely alone — moving here and not knowing anybody, and being at home all day with the baby, was just completely different from what I was used to,” she said. “I would not trade this year for anything — there is nothing in me that would say, ‘I really wish I had worked more’ — but some days did go by so slowly.”
So Morgan began preparing to return to work. She hired a babysitter to take care of Ben a few hours a week so that she could do some freelance assignments and send out her resume. “I think a lot of women – and moms especially – feel like they have to be the perfect supermom, or the mom boss, but everyone needs a little help sometimes,” said Morgan. “I’ve learned to stop trying to do it all, and then getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I just say, ‘Why don’t you take Ben for a little walk so I can do this?’”
She recently landed a part-time job at a food magazine, and now finds herself adjusting to the opposite dilemma: Leaving her son with a nanny three times a week while she returns to the daily grind. “I didn’t think it would be quite as jarring as it has been to go back to work,” she admitted. “I had been looking for work all of this time, but now being away from Benjamin for so many hours was a struggle.”
Re-entering the workforce has given her an even deeper appreciation for her home life, however. “I remember living in New York 12 years ago, and everything moved so fast – we were rushing to go to work, to go out – but now I’m not in a hurry anymore,” she said. “We go to the library. We go to the park. We can walk the dog. It’s not like I’ve got to get somewhere as fast as I can, which is nice. I’m just here.”
REPORTING FOR CIVILIAN DUTY
This married couple learned to hold down a long-distance relationship while he was deployed overseas with the U.S. military for the past seven years. Now they’re learning to live together like normal civilians again, and pursuing their passion projects: He’s getting a degree in engineering, and she’s pursuing a singing career.
Amanda and Brendan, who withheld their last names, have been married to the military since they were wed almost seven years ago.
Brendan, 31, entered basic training not long after they tied the knot, and was deployed in special operations units in the Horn of Africa and the Ukraine for six to nine months of every year for most of the past decade, while Amanda, 31, remained in California working for a nonprofit.
But last July, Brendan finished his final deployment and returned home for good. So they have been re-adjusting to civilian life for the past several months – and to seeing each other every day. “A lot of people are joking that now we actually get a chance to get to know each other after being married for almost seven years,” laughed Amanda, admitting that they argue about where things go in the house, like any couple, such as her favorite catch-all basket in the kitchen.
“Before I would just say ‘OK’ and do it his way for a month or two – and then I would wait for him to leave and change everything back to the way I liked,” she admitted. “Now we have to have these conversations.
“But one great thing I would say we’ve formed from living this lifestyle is, we’ve gotten very, very good at communication,” she added, having kept in touch with her husband mostly through letters or text, since his deployments often weren’t conducive to Skyping or phone calls. “Not hearing your husband’s voice for six months is hard. So quality time is important to us.”
And now it’s Amanda’s turn to pursue her passion, which is becoming a singer/songwriter under the stage name AJ Duke. She’s always enjoyed songwriting, and has been inspired to pen lyrics about her experiences as a military spouse.
“It was a huge wake-up call for me to see the realities of what military family life is like,” said Amanda. “My best friend’s husband was on the same team as my husband. And she has three kids, and their dad hadn’t been home for Christmas for three years in a row. Or I spent July 4th with a vet who lost his leg during Black Hawk Down. So how can I put these stories into words, to try to even give a glimpse into what this lifestyle is all about, and what people go through?”
She released her first single, “Soldier’s Heart,” for Veteran’s Day last November, and will be visiting friends on military bases in 2018 to hear their stories and record more songs.
Meanwhile, Brendan has been acclimating to civilian life. “The best part of getting out is the freedom from having to always be where somebody else wants you to be. I can do whatever I want, and be where I want to be,” he said. “But it’s easy to get lazy if you don’t have something to focus on, so I’m staying self-motivated by working 12 hours a day hauling lumber, and using my G.I. Bill to finish school.
“There’s a saying that I like: There’s two ways a man can be beaten; he can die, or he can quit,” added Brendan. “Once you quit, you accept defeat. And that’s got me – and Amanda – through everything that we’ve been through: Just don’t quit.”
This engineer feared she’d be the odd one out at work socials if she didn’t drink alcohol with everyone else. But she learned that giving up wine and cocktails isn’t just acceptable – it’s also given her a clearer head, a great relationship and the extra money to buy a new car.
Tech industry happy hours and networking events had this engineer, consultant and educator heading toward alcoholism.
“I was a country of one where I could do what I like: I was single, I didn’t have any dependents, and I worked from home,” said Margaret Groves, 37. “You can drink at lunch – or drink at breakfast – and sleep in until 2 p.m. on Sunday, and it creeps up. All of sudden, you’ve put on 40 pounds and spent five years saying ‘I’m gonna do X, Y and Z someday,’ but you never do.”
She was swept up in Seattle’s “robust drinking culture,” as she put it – particularly as a stress reliever any time a tech bro would tell her she was in the “wrong” field. But she admitted the weekend – and sometimes midweek – hangovers were getting harder to rebound from. “Drinking four doubles on a weekday seemed normal,” she said.
But she came across a couple of articles written by other 30-somethings taking stock of their drinking habits at the beginning of 2017, which addressed how the alcohol binges and ever-worsening hangovers in their mid- to late-30s were costing them hours of lost productivity. And then the day that President Trump was inaugurated was last call for her.
“I can never have just a little of anything, so it was easier for me to just give up drinking entirely,” she said. “And I had a moment of clarity that drinking at the patriarchy was not going to erase the patriarchy, and I didn’t want to wake up hungover again tomorrow. So I stopped drinking.”
She had troubled sleeping for the first month or two, and would find herself driving to the liquor store or putting wine in her shopping cart without realize she had done it. “The hardest part has been the muscle memory,” she said. So she took the wine out of the cart, or drove away from the liquor store.
It helps that giving up booze has brought a number of new joys into her life – such as losing 15 pounds, saving enough money from not running up tabs to buy a new car – and moving into a new apartment with her boyfriend, who’s also sober.
“I was at a bar with friends last April and asked for a soda water, and the guy next to me asked, ‘You don’t drink? I don’t either. What are you doing here?’” she laughed. “And now we’re moving in together, and he’s terrific, and I met him because I wasn’t drinking.”
She had worried her tech friends would ostracize her for sobering up, but it turns out, no one besides her new boyfriend has even brought it up. “I thought it was going to be a big deal the first time that I asked for soda water with lime, but no one even batted an eye,” she said. “I always had this idea that non-drinkers were a weird breed who had to separate themselves, maybe to go AA, so it was very inspiring to find it can be normal to not drink.”
And sobriety has taught her to trust her decisions. “I no longer have to second-guess my motives for things, like ‘Maybe I wouldn’t have said that or done that had I had one less drink,’ or, ‘I decided not to go for that job because I was hungover,’” she said. “I trust that I’m making better decisions than I have done in the past, and I’ve become so much more productive.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved