This is a really long blog post. It’s almost stream of consciousness. But I ask you to hang in there and read it. I not only talk about being named a Top 3 finalist, but the journey that got me there.
As I posted in July 2022, I found out that I was selected as one of NAWBO‘s 2022 Woman Business Owner of the Year Award Top 10 Class. Well, I just found out today that I am one of the Top 3 finalists for the award is sponsored by Bank of America. The winner will be announced at the National Women’s Business Conference on October 11 in Louisville.
I actually found out I was one of the Top 3 finalists not by email, but because one of my friends texted me “congratulations” with a picture of from NAWBO’s announcement. Normally I have a lot to say about a lot of topics. This time I was unusually quiet. It took me more than a few minutes to absorb what she told me.
It’s not like this is the first award I’ve been nominated for and I’ve been fortunate to have my hard work and success recognized by industry. My business partner, Molly Gimmel and I received INC5000 awards for 4 consecutive years (2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017) for Design To Delivery Inc (D2DInc). When I received the 2020 Enterprising Woman of the Year award, it was the first time I received an award from a national organization/magazine. The NAWBO WBO award means something different to me.
Molly first joined NAWBO right after we started D2DInc. Over the years I watched Molly develop professionally as a leader and business woman. I, however, was content to “stay in my lane” in business operations. I felt like most of what NAWBO focused on was business development, marketing, social media, and sales. The part I missed was the leadership development training and how developing my leadership skills would benefit me personally and professionally.
I finally joined in 2017 when I joined the NAWBO Circle. [Side note: Molly was one of the creators of the Circle, which is for businesses with annual revenues of at least $1 million per year.] I enjoyed the friendship and support of other woman business owners who had comparable sized businesses. They also understood the challenges a $1 million+ business has, which is very different from other sized businesses. After joining the Circle, I started to see changes in myself professionally. I was also coming out of my introvert’s shell.
After joining NAWBO I attended what is now called Leadership Academy. The first one I attended was combined with a Circle event. I didn’t go to the leadership sessions (I went hiking in the mountains instead), but in talking with my friends I realized it was a lost opportunity. I made up for it by attending other leadership academy events. I can’t quantify the benefits I received and actually didn’t realize how much I learned until later…and later came sooner than expected.
The “later” was after a NAWBO Greater DC Chapter event. I was talking with my friends and they said they didn’t have a Chapter president for the next year and asked if I would do it. Bottom line: they asked for my help and I gladly obliged. I like to be of service whenever I can so I agreed to join the board the next month and become the president-elect for the next board year.
To say I jumped in is an understatement. I agreed to join the board in March and became the Chapter president on July 1.
What I didn’t realize (and Molly tried to tell me) is how different being on a board of directors and being Chapter president is from running a $10 million business. I have great organizational, planning, and people skills that I knew I could use to help the Chapter. Plus I was on the event committee and knew the board members. What I learned OTJ (on the job) was how different working with other business owners is from managing a staff. I’ve worked with clients’ senior and executive management of large corporations, but being a Chapter president is event different from that. I knew it at some level, but as the saying goes “life comes at you fast.”
Fortunately, the other board members supported me while I learned new skills while leading the Chapter. I also brought skills that they could use, which came in handy as the COVID pandemic started 4 months before my term ended.
During my time on the Chapter board, I became a better leader who listened more, got more opinions, and learned to not do everything by myself. I brought these skills back to D2DInc and saw some tremendous results. I was always a good coach/trainer offering growth opportunities to my team. My new skills allow them to step up more and become even more engaged.
This allowed me to step back and spend more time doing other things. Things like spending time developing my coaching and consulting business, speaking at more events, doing more interviews, and most importantly – spending more time volunteering.
My time on the board ended in June 2021. I committed to 2 years, which I served, and I needed to take time for myself and focus on my health. I was burnt out from over two years of managing almost 100 employees during the pandemic. The pandemic stretched me in ways that left me continuously exhausted. I had to stay on top of everything to ensure we had the policies and procedures to keep everyone safe at work.
Hats off to the D2DInc business operations team for all of their hard work – they worked extremely hard and didn’t complain. We had 4 people working full time on business operations and pandemic related activities. Full time in this case 7 days a week and working more hours than I can count.
In July 2021, everything changed. I was just ramping up my “I’m going to have more time for other things” life when I realized that I had lost my peripheral vision in my right eye. That led to a lot of doctor appointments (ophthalmologist, retinologist and neuro-ophthalmologist). It’s also the first time I saw my ophthalmologist concerned. In a nutshell he said “this is bad”, but he also said “don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.”
He referred me to the neuro-ophthalmologist, who I saw in October 2021. Dr. K ran some tests and then ordered an MRI to see what was causing my vision issues. He called me the day after the MRI with news that changed everything. He told me I had two brain tumors. Funny part of this story was I was on a Zoom meeting when his call came in. I muted the meeting to talk to him. When he gave me the diagnosis, I disconnected the call without saying anything to the other meeting attendees. Later, one of my friends said she thought the call dropped as I never changed the look on my face or let on what happened.
I met with the neurosurgeon on November 8 (six days after my diagnosis). He said we couldn’t wait to get one of them out. Surgery was planned for December 1. Tick tock – I had to devise a strategy to keep the business operating while I would be out recovering from brain surgery.
Fortunately, I had trained our VP of Business Operations to cover for me during prior absences. I am very organized and process driven. Over the years, I wrote standard operating procedures for most of my tasks. I had to write the others before going on leave. I also had to leave clear policies and procedures so Molly could take over some of my tasks. I had to quickly get Molly up to speed and leave her a list of when things were due.
I am very proud that the operational foundation I had laid over the years. It meant that the company would run smoothly during my “months” long recovery. Having written policies and procedures meant it was ready to use. There is no way I would have been able to get everything written in less than 3 weeks.
I was hoping to be back to work in the spring, but found out in March 2022 that one of the tumors had started growing again. I would need radiation treatments as additional surgery couldn’t be done safely. My neurosurgeon said I needed to stay off of work during radiation treatments. My leave got extended. I returned to work mid-June 2022. I had been off since November 30, 2021.
In January 2022, I told my neurosurgeon that I wanted to use my medical journey to help people. I used my business operations skills to keep D2DInc running. I also used them to help me navigate pre- and post-surgery activities. If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, you’ve seen my planning posts and videos. Using my planners gave me something to occupy my mind that didn’t stress me out. It also helped me keep track of appointments, treatment plans, and medications, and questions for the medical team. I created sticker layouts to stimulate the creative side of my brain.
I’m frequently asked why I became an entrepreneur. My answer is I was a reluctant entrepreneur. It wasn’t my goal. Now years later, I’m a serial entrepreneur. I now think the universe had other reasons for me to become an entrepreneur. I’m a teacher and coach by nature, so I enjoy sharing my experiences and knowledge with others. Since my diagnosis, I am sharing my experiences with other entrepreneurs to help them keep their business running after a serious or life threatening illness diagnosis or while being a caregiver. It’s a very scary time because you’re dealing with immediate health issues, and the short- and long-term effects on the business. I want my story to offer hope and a roadmap.
When I was diagnosed, I kept everything private. I had a lot of my plate (really a buffet rather than a plate) so only my closest family and friends knew. In May 2022, I decided that I would come out of the shadows and share my story.
May is Brain Tumor Awareness month so the timing was perfect. I not only shared my medical story, but used it as an opportunity to fundraise for the National Brain Tumor Society raising almost $5000 by the time the fundraiser closed. I had a lot of supportive calls and texts after my post, but what struck me was the number of people who contacted me to share that they or a loved one also had or has a brain tumor. This told me I was on the right path. I have information that can help them and I’m happy to share it.
Being a Top 3 finalist gives me another platform to tell my story and help others. I don’t know if I’ll ultimately be selected as the winner. I do know that regardless of the outcome, I will still be talking to people about business operations (my passion) and brain tumors. We don’t usually get to choose the life path that we’re on, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It hasn’t always been easy, but life isn’t rosy all the time.
One of my goals is to end the stigma about business owners who have chronic illnesses. We keep things quiet, not because they are private issues, but because of how we think people will perceive us. That it somehow makes us weaker or perceived as weaker.
There is no reason to go through a chronic or serious illness on your own and without outside support. I want to change this attitude by business owners, and by business associates and clients. This doesn’t mean it has to be a public declaration on social media. It may be creating a safe space or having a trusted individual like me to noodle through the specifics and develop a plan.
As I’ve said: “My story and journey of what I overcame and went through may become someone’s roadmap and survival guide.”