When was the last time you woke up and couldn’t wait to get to work? Maybe you are one of the lucky few who have that experience regularly; maybe you have spent years raising a family—certainly a full-time position—and haven’t even considered pursuing your own interests; maybe you long for that sense of excitement and genuine engagement with your life’s work but the list of reasons to stay in your current job has kept you from taking the leap toward fulfillment.
The list of reasons not to pursue work fueled by personal passion is long, and long on logic. From the heavy hitters of financial stability, benefits, and job security to the equally weighty drag of emotional vulnerability and self-esteem, there are plenty of reasons to just stay the course. Then there’s the argument that transforming your greatest passion into your daily work will quickly turn your inner fire into drudgery. Okay, so those are the arguments against.
But what if you could create work from something you truly love in a balanced, thoughtful way? What if through dreaming and planning and learning you could bring your vision into being and work with purpose and passion?
For many women the opportunity to explore this kind of transformation arises at midlife. Whether it is because children are leaving home, opening up space and time and energy, or financial burdens are lifted after years spent dedicated to a career, a hard-won knowledge of self and confidence emerges in these years, and women often embrace major changes and self-development.
Professional Certified Coach Maddie Weinreich says that in her life-coaching practice she works with many women who, at this pivotal period in their lives, shift to look within and explore transition and new vocations. “Women have been giving, giving, giving for years—putting so much energy into raising families, supporting husbands, working, or running the house. They’ve all been CEOs of their own lives; then, when the kids get a bit older and they’re not in such demand, they still have that energy—and now they can look toward what makes them feel good. They can ask, What would make me happy? What would fulfill me?”
Maddie found herself asking those very questions, and she is one of three women who share their stories here, describing how they created work that is less occupation and more calling. Their journeys are very different, but the end result in each case is a life that sees them spending their days doing something they love.
I would guess that not many women have résumés that include occupations as varied as corporate accountant, yoga teacher, business owner, and life coach. And yet, to hear Maddie Weinreich describe her career trajectory, the evolution seems completely organic.
Having spent her early working life as an accountant for a commercial travel business in Boston, Maddie left the traditional workforce when she and her husband moved to New Hampshire to raise their young family. When the recession hit and her husband’s real estate business dried up, Maddie transformed a personal love of yoga into a successful yoga teaching career, leading as many as 15 classes per week and hosting weekend workshops for women. But while she loved teaching yoga, she didn’t love that her family’s financial security was now dependent on something that had once given her a sense of personal joy and fulfillment. “I had a passion for yoga, and then it turned into a business overnight because I had to make money, and that created a lot of pressure.”
It was while she was still teaching that she participated in a personal growth program that would ultimately lead her to move forward from what was now feeling like stifling work toward a new career. “Through the program I learned what different patterns were running my life and how to start to move through those patterns and transform myself—instead of trying to get away from things that were difficult in my life, I eliminated that way of being.” Fascinated by the power of the skills she was learning and eager to develop her “new operating system,” Maddie became a facilitator for the program and through that work met a woman who was a life coach. “I became very curious about life coaching,” Maddie says, “because I had seen this woman demonstrate such wonderful communication skills—she empowered and energized the whole room—and I wanted to be able to do the same thing.”
After an introductory weekend workshop, Maddie was hooked; she continued with further life coach training, finding that she liked it and had a natural talent for the work. She began to coach friends and acquaintances to practice the skills she was learning, amazed at the transformative impact their sessions could have. “I started working with individuals, people who wanted to make some kind of a change in their lives. They were asking, ‘How can I be more myself and bring more of me into the world and sing my own song, whatever that song is?’” As the people she worked with started to see their lives change, they wanted to continue, and Maddie had her first clients. From that point, she says, her life-coaching business grew by word of mouth.
As she started down the road of her new career, Maddie knew that she didn’t want to repeat her experience with yoga; she wanted to avoid the financial pressure she had felt as a yoga teacher so that she could continue to enjoy the work she was doing and let it develop naturally. To that end she invested time helping her husband build his businesses, using her background in accounting to develop accounting systems for his new ventures so that they would operate well and allow her freedom to build her new work gradually. Her planning paid off, literally, when the businesses she helped establish provided enough income so that she didn’t need to rely on life coaching to pay the bills. “I didn’t have to look to my business to support me,” she says, “so I was able to develop the passion for it.”
Now, 10 years later, Maddie’s life-coaching business is thriving, and she’s still inspired by the work. “The greatest reward is that I now have a career that is so awesome. I train coaches around the globe—traveling to places like Dubai, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Canada, California, and Washington, DC—and mentor new coaches. It’s fascinating and fun.” And, she says, the opportunity to be surrounded by creative and inspiring people is an additional gift: “I get to be around people who are interested in and proactively working at making the world a better place.”
Taking the Leap: From Dreamer to Doer
In addition to having navigated her own journey and built a thriving business, Maddie Weinreich helps clients move forward to transform their lives through her work as a life coach. For women who may be considering launching a new career or making other transformative changes, Maddie says the first step is to take the time to carefully identify exactly what they want. “Oftentimes our ‘wanter’ gets broken,” she says. “Often we’re in survival mode, and we’re not thinking about what we want. So, the first step is to open up that part of ourselves—the dreamer.”
Maddie says that women should ask themselves, What do I dream of, long for, want? Often clarity on these points can come from probing deeper, by asking things like, What’s important to me? What lights me up? What do I value? What would make me jump out of bed in the morning? Once these desires and values have been identified and awakened, one can start moving forward. A life coach can be helpful during this process, Maddie says, by “looking at whom you want to become and pointing you toward your bigger life, reminding you where you’re headed.”
For Health and Happiness
Bobbi Cohen remembers developing an interest in nutrition as a teenager, as she became aware of how unhealthy many of the foods she was surrounded by were. “Growing up in Texas, the food options were not healthy,” she says. “I knew something was wrong with that, and nutrition became a passion. I wanted to understand nutrition and how it affects our well-being.”
Bobbi’s interest in nutrition fueled a love for cooking healthful, creative food, and she continued to explore her interest after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area and while raising her two children. “As a full-time mom and housewife, I spent a lot of time cooking and baking. I think food brings people together and provides us with our health on so many levels—not only what we eat and how it fills our bellies but also the act of eating with people as a beautiful experience. Enjoying food is one of the most wonderful things we do.”
When Bobbi sought relief from ongoing stomach discomfort, fatigue, and other symptoms about five years ago and ultimately discovered that she was gluten intolerant, her commitment to creating fulfilling, satisfying, and tasty food took a turn that would launch a new career. “I had to learn all about being gluten-free; and while I wasn’t afraid of that change—I knew I wanted to feel better—I also knew that I had to give up baking as I knew it.” Having spent years baking treats for her family, this realization was a blow. She remembers specifically the day she put her flour on a high shelf, out of reach, and closed the cabinet door: “I thought, That’s it. I’m not going to bake any longer.” But a year later, she was back at it. “I knew I had to learn to bake gluten-free,” she says.
What followed was a period of experimentation and recipe development, as Bobbi built a repertoire of gluten-free baked goods that had her family and friends waiting at the oven door. After a conversation with a local bagel store owner who wanted to offer customers gluten-free baked goods, she began selling her cookies at the shop and also at a café in the area. “The next thing I knew,” she says, “I had a full-fledged baking business.”
Though Bobbi hadn’t set out to create a business for herself, she had always known that when her kids were grown and out of the house she would likely look to pursue a career in nutrition and food. “While I was raising my kids, I was thinking ahead about what I would do when they left home, and I always thought I’d be a nutritionist or do something in a related field,” she says. The transformative impact that eating gluten-free had on her overall well-being and the subsequent culinary exploration fueled a new fire. “I became very passionate about being gluten-free because it changed the way I functioned; it gave me so much energy and a renewed sense of health,” she says. The business—bobbilicious baking company—“grew very organically from embracing this new challenge in my life.”
It seems just as natural that the business, grown from a personal passion, is now enjoying an equally passionate response. After seeing the success of her treats in local outlets, Bobbi pursued the grocery chain Whole Foods and recently signed a partnership agreement that has delivered bobbilicious baked goods to the market’s shelves and to consumers nationwide. “I pinch myself all the time and think, Wow, I made this happen,” Bobbi says.
Putting Patients First
Elizabeth Chabner Thompson always knew that she wanted to be a doctor. “I grew up in a very medical home—my father and grandfather were physicians—and it was considered an honored profession,” she says. Her only question, from the time she was young, was what kind of doctor she would be. Having initially opted to begin her training in gynecologic oncology, she ultimately became a radiation oncologist after making a personal choice to move closer to her parents’ home in Boston when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer after Elizabeth’s first year of internship. “It was wonderful to be able to be there for my mother as she finished chemo and recuperated,” she says, “and radiation oncology was a different path, but it still involved taking care of patients with cancer, which I knew I was committed to.”
Cancer not only was central to Elizabeth’s career but also loomed large in her personal life. In addition to her mother’s diagnosis, her grandmother and great-grandmother had both had breast cancer. With this genetic legacy front and center, Elizabeth had spent her adult life carefully monitoring her own breast health, undergoing mammograms and magnetic resonance imaging scans as well as multiple biopsies. As her family and medical practice grew, Elizabeth felt she was no longer willing to live with the constant uncertainty about her health. “I was losing days at work and losing time with my family because I was always under scrutiny,” she says. “My risk was high, and I had a busy life, and I just couldn’t do this any longer.” After consulting with multiple genetic counselors and surgeons, Elizabeth opted to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy with direct implant breast reconstruction.
The experience that followed, as she transitioned from doctor to patient, was eye-opening and made Elizabeth more fully aware of the vulnerability that patients feel and the need for basic tools to aid in the physical recovery following this type of surgery. “The recovery process brought me closer to other women who were going through mastectomy and reconstruction,” she says. “There are so many things that I appreciated as a patient that I never would have dreamed of as a physician.”
As Elizabeth considered the tools and the tips that helped her through her own recovery, she began to keep a list, which continued to grow after she took a part-time position as a patient liaison in the plastic surgery practice where she had undergone her own reconstruction. She would listen to patients describe concerns and note products that made a difference—everything from having a toothbrush and toothpaste available to brush their teeth after surgery to comfortable mastectomy bras and baby wipes. As she worked to provide patients with these “extras,” she realized how profound their positive impact was on patients’ recovery and their overall sense of well-being. Elizabeth saw that the deficiencies in what was currently provided for patients presented the opportunity to build a business that could transform patients’ recoveries and have a truly meaningful impact during such a difficult time.
In 2011 Elizabeth founded BFFL Co., a company dedicated to improving the patient experience through a line of bags, bras, and accessories to meet the needs of patients undergoing breast cancer treatment. Since that time the company has expanded to create treatment-specific bags for a variety of other needs, including the Mommy/Delivery BFFLBag, Neuro/Brain
BFFLBag, and Prostate BFFLBag. In each case the bags are carefully filled with items chosen with the unique needs of patients in mind. Caregivers and friends can purchase the bags for loved ones, and hospitals now order the bags in bulk to provide to their patients.
Though launching a new business has been scary at times, Elizabeth says the timing of this transition feels natural. With her four children now in school, she has had a bit more freedom to manage her time; and while she continues to enjoy her work as a physician, she has been excited by the opportunity to explore this more creative venture. “There are times in your life when you have brain power and productivity power,” she says. “My forties have been the time that I have really expanded my creativity.”
Though the work has been fulfilling, Elizabeth is clear about the fact that she has faced challenges, including financial and emotional stress. “I’ve put myself out there and have exposed myself, and my heart has been wounded at times,” she says. “And, financially, it has been a huge stress.”
And yet despite the challenges, Elizabeth has continued to keep her eye on the prize—the well-being and the comfort of patients—driven by personal passion and experience. “The mission of the company is to try to give back some dignity to the patient. That’s where we really want to help people—whether by designing better recovery garments or gowns or other little things that will help. We want to help patients and offer people wonderful ways to connect.”