Think back to the sixth grade. Remember all the trouble you used to get into? What about 7th and 8th grade. Oh, boy. Now imagine how bad things would have been for you (and your parents) if you would have had an iPhone, Facebook and Instagram during these…growth periods. Yikes. Well, kids these days (yeah, I just said that) have all of this and probably a few things we don’t even know about. With these distractions and all the other challenges they face coming up in America, (post-economic meltdown and “KimYe”) it’s not hard to see why trying to instill good morals and values in youths has become harder than ever. We all know it. But for most of us who don’t have kids yet—or even if you do--we feel there’s not much we can do about it.
Kelley Raleigh had a different reaction to this issue. While studying social work at the University of Missouri, she became a Big Sister to a 13-year-old girl and was moved to see the direct impact she had on a young life. The experience inspired her to outreach further and she began to mentor more young kids. Kelley realized pretty quickly that this was her passion and her mission became clear: reach out to kids in order to help them discover their purpose. She began to feel that she was making a difference but the challenges of her newfound passion became clear pretty quickly too, “I realized there was a fine line between wanting to encourage and forcing your ways on someone. I learned to be careful not to put my own ways on [the kids]. I didn’t want to interfere with what parents were teaching them.” Kelley’s passion for mentoring became her career focus after she graduated and she became a program director for the Big Brother and Big Sisters' group mentoring program, teaching college students how to be mentors. She taught the little kids arts and crafts for fun, and lessons like how to be a good citizen. She also formed a committee of teens to produce open mic events, dance performances, short films and art exhibits.
In 2003 Kelley moved to LA and began working with Teen Insight as the Director of Teen Insight & The Institute for Youth Leadership. More than just giving her pupils fun activities to do, Kelley honed in on inspiring them to look inside themselves and figure out what they had to offer the world. She created a four day retreat in Malibu with the goal of developing leadership skills by creating volunteer projects. For three years they met and had each teen volunteer group presented a plan to visit one place in the world they would want to go. The amazing part: in 2009, one of these plans was chosen by Teen Insight to be a real volunteer project! Kelley and her team of family, friends and these amazing young people raised over $120K to pay for their trip to Tanzania, Africa. Kelley and 16 kids, most of whom had never left the greater LA area, traveled across the Atlantic to visit an AIDS orphanage, build classrooms, teach English and give mini versions of the same leadership seminars they held in LA. They even learned Swahili! The trip was three weeks long and it was life changing for all of them. The American students were inspired to change the world in a very real way and many of them signed up to make the trip again in 2011.
Talking to Kelley about this, I was truly amazed. Her easygoing manner belies her deep-rooted passion for creating change through youths. She considers the young girls and boys in her group, and their families, all part of her own family since she has been mentoring them for years. A woman of many talents, Kelley now uses her production background to create rewarding experience for her students. When she left Teen Insight to focus solely on service projects for teens, she started Leading by Example, a multimedia company where kids create positive, message driven content. Recently, the group created a “Stop the Bully” video and held a screening at their school. “I want to ingrain the desire to help others in my students, give them a hands-on experience with making a difference in the world,” Kelley said.
It was a lot of pressure to plan an international trip with young kids, keep everyone safe and healthy, and provide an amazing experience, but she did it all again with her own company in 2012. This time around, Kelley's and her team of youth volunteers visited AMANC, a special hospital in Mexico City for poor children with cancer. There, they practiced healthy visualizations and yoga with the sick, and just spent time with them. The experience was much different, but no less rewarding for Kelley and for the teen volunteer group.
It takes a great leader to inspire others to do good works. Kelley has inspired hundreds of kids to lead better lives for themselves, and to be examples for others. Her dedication to instilling values and creating leaders makes me feel a little bit better about the future of our youth. Hopefully her example will inspire other Made Women to reach out and support those coming up behind us as well.
For more information on Leading By Example please visit http://www.kelleyraleigh.com.
Talent can bring you fame and fortune, take you around the world, and, if you’re lucky, allow your wildest dreams to come true. It takes a true Made Woman to look past her own talent, and all it brings, and still be passionately inspired to help others. Adrienne Mari'ya does just that. No stranger to talent, she grew up watching her family tour the world in a group called The Honey B’s, witnessing firsthand what it took to be a successful entertainer. Adrienne had her first show at eight years old, dancing with Pebbles at the Universal Amphitheater. Adrienne went on to sing and dance in her first group at the age of 13 and this was when her talent as a dancer took center stage.
Adrienne was soon working with acts like the Rolling Stones, Rihanna, Far East Movement, Madonna and even danced in a video with her idol, Janet Jackson. Her dancing career was taking off at a whirlwind pace, but Adrienne stayed grounded. A single mother of two, she felt a duty to her kids and her community. In 2008, she saw that her kids’ after school program was in jeopardy due to budget cuts, and she felt something should be done. When her daughters expressed a desire to enter a dance competition, Adrienne took matters into her own hands and became a volunteer with the program. With no money and no other qualified dance instructors to help, she started Urban Xtreme and Team Xtreme, meant to provide positive activities to kids in the area.
Adrienne used her God-given sense of showmanship and ingenuity to teach the kids in her program how to wow audiences. Her shoestring budget meant that she had to shop for costumes anywhere she could, including the thrift store, and from her own closet and she did hair and makeup for the kids herself. Despite the challenges, she provided encouragement and compassion to the kids every step of the way. “I’m not in the business of what can’t you do, I’m in the business of what can you do. I had one kid who could only do the worm, and I told him ‘if the worm is all you can do you are going to do the worm across the stage!’” Adrienne recalls.
The movement Adrienne started quickly grew. Urban Xtreme won third place in their first competition and second place in the next one. As the wins piled up, people couldn’t help but take notice. Donations started rolling in.The sets got bigger, the concepts more imaginative, and Adrienne found herself building full Alice in Wonderland sets and creating costumes for 20 children at each show. This alone would be a huge undertaking for anyone, but Adrienne somehow found time for this project, her own singing/dancing career, and her management/full service entertainment company, Entertainment Vision Group. The joy and fulfillment of passing on a love of performing arts and of being a part of her children’s lives kept her going. “I had never seen my daughters so confident,” she says. So when Adrienne’s daughters and a few others on the dance team asked for help creating a submission video for a competition show on the Disney Channel called Make Your Mark- Shake It Up, she couldn’t say no.
The motto she passed on to her kids was always “show up and show out!” To her, this means there is no right or wrong in creativity; just be present, do it and go all out. She made sure to stay true to it for the video. She and the other parents helped the kids take over Hollywood Boulevard. They created a 17 foot long banner and stood in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and then created all the routines. Click here to see all the cuteness.
Lo and behold, Urban Xtreme made the top 50 out of 100,000 submissions. They were asked by execs at Disney to quickly put together another video, and soon made it to the top six on Make Your Mark- Shake It Up, Disney’s highest rated show. Adrienne’s drive and dedication helped to push this team to over 30,000 followers on Twitter, over 100,000 views on YouTube and onto the cover of Entertainment Weekly alongside Justin Beiber. Adrienne, always the humble one, is clearly overwhelmed by the success of her team, saying excitedly, “It wasn’t even a thing! God uses the most unlikely people in the most amazing ways.” Urban Xtreme is now sponsored by Vlado Footwear and is working on their debut single with Grammy award winning producers. This has become a team effort with friends and family members of the dance team pitching in to make this happen.
In a beautiful example of reciprocity, God had more in store for Adrienne. One day she received a call to audition for the Michael Jackson This Is It tour. This non-technical dancer found herself on stage competing against 2,000 other dancers for a spot on tour with the best who’s ever done it. She had stayed up practicing all night before the audition, but she was still nervous: “I just asked myself, ‘what would Janet do?’” Adrienne killed it. She advanced first to the top 40, and then to the top 17 women. And then the big moment came. Michael showed up to pick the finalists. Adrienne took the same advice she had always given her kids – she showed up and showed out. Adrienne was called by name and was promised a place in future shows and the Vegas review.
When the King of Pop passed it was hard for Adrienne, who considers working with him the pinnacle of an entertainer’s career. But nothing will stop this ball of energy. She still commits much of her time and energy to Urban Xtreme, which serves as its own reward, but also continues to open doors for her. Recently, she opened for Dwele and does motivational speaking and hosting for the Urban Xtreme school tours. She continues to pass along the knowledge gained from years in the industry: “My mother told me Hollywood is 90% business, 10% talent, and there is no truer statement. Hone your kids’ craft and treat it like a business. Don’t just sign anything because a major label says so. Teach your kids to know their worth. And that if they aren’t likeable nobody will want to work with them.’” Adrienne Mari’ya proves that talent, rooted in good character, truly has no limits.
British born, Barbara Sealy’s story is marked by many things. Pain and poverty, hurt…numerous trials and tremendous growth. But her story also represents the essence of achievement, of victory. Last week, I was honored -- or shall I say, “honoured”-- to hear some of Barb’s remarkable story first-hand. In her lovely English accent.
Born and raised in Forest Gate, a community in London’s East End that she compared to US’s inner cities, Barb had a rough childhood. Originally from Barbados (an English colony), she and the rest of her large family arrived in the East End of London in the ‘50s to find a new, diverse community with people from a variety of backgrounds. Growing up, Barb faced extreme poverty and abuse from her father, until her mother took on raising her and her brothers and sisters alone. From an early age, Barb loved music and started using it as an escape: she would lose herself in music and film, and she and her siblings would sing together to cope with their often tumultuous environment. As early as her teens, Barb had inherited a strong work ethic from her mother; she remembers vowing that she would do everything in her power to keep other children from experiencing what she had in her household.
As an adult Barb visited the States on a vacation in 1987, and a year later she decided to make the move permanent. Whereas back home she had never been encouraged to think about career options (she was more focused on survival), she knew deep down that there had to be something more. By now she knew that she wanted to help people and be a philanthropist, but she wanted her work to be tied into music somehow. “Music lifted my spirits,” she reflects. “I said if I can help another child not feel isolated or scared, and show them -- through music -- that they can achieve what they want, it would be really cool.” And that’s just what she set out to do.
Barb’s first jobs in the US included working for companies like Disney, as an administrator in the Video Division, but she credits her time working with the Grammys as the biggest learning experience of all. As the assistant to Michael Greene, the President of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Barb was truly tested. “Because of how I was raised, I didn’t really have the social skills to help me to see how the corporate side of the world really works... I saw how somebody ran a company from the inside and it really set me up to do what I'm doing now.”
During this time, she met Robert (Bob) Brodhead, and they immediately clicked. They came from similar backgrounds and both had a mission to help young people. The two were asked to start the West Coast operation of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz, an organization that has been thriving in Washington, D.C. for years. In this role, Barb worked to bring the jazz program to inner city kids by building after-school programs and other ventures to keep music education alive. She spoke to music departments at South-Central schools like Hamilton and Washington and found corporate sponsors like Nissan and the NBA to help support the programs. At one point, she coordinated a multi-school jazz band with, Reggie Andrews of Locke High School, that would play pre-game and halftime shows for the Lakers!
During her time with the Institute, she put together a scholarship fund and raised well over a million dollars to help students go to college. “Kids who would not have the opportunity financially were able to attend UCLA, USC, the Manhattan School of Music and the Berklee School of Music. The Monk Institute was very successful.”
What’s more, she taught these students that a solid career in music is not about fame. “I always taught that it’s more about having a career and supporting themselves doing what they loved. Do what you love and the money will come. In the meantime, you must know how to run a business and balance your checkbook.” These weren’t official classes, but kids would hang out after the program and ask Barb and her team about these realities. “They weren't learning this stuff at home. Nobody told them what would happen if they didn't do these simple, but life-changing things.”
After the success of the Thelonius Monk Institute, Barb turned around an after school program called Colors United, and then she and Bob Brodhead founded Creative Counseling Network (CCN) in 2006. Both programs were supported in large part by Barb’s close friend and January’s Made Woman of the Month, Barbara Vohryzek.
With CCN, Barb and Bob created a program that offered performing arts training, as well as mental health treatment. “One thing we noticed when working with other nonprofits was that we were providing great shows and entertainment, but the kids still had to go back to their environments and lacked the mental tools to carry the positivity through.” Sanctioned by the Department of Mental Health, CCN offered psycho-social rehabilitation, and involved social workers and therapists.
After CCN, the unthinkable happened in Barb’s life. She experienced a huge health scare that left her bedridden and fighting for her life. During this dark time, her former students and friends gave her another reason to keep fighting. “I said, I can't just lay here or I'm going to die. Part of what kept me going is that many of my students, like Miles Mosley, had called me; they had graduated and gotten their degrees, but the music landscape had changed and they didn't know where to start. So it came to mind that I should create a music management company to represent some of the people that had come through my programs over the years.” So Barb decided she would See it into Being -- and created SB Music Management.
Barbara started managing multiple artists from her house, even though she struggled just to leave her bed each day. Many of her artists weren’t even aware of her illness, and knowing she had to make a call or send an email was what gave her the resolve to move from her bed, to at least her couch (“I contemplated calling it On the Couch Productions!”); this was literally the difference between her life or death. “Other people give you things to fight for, so you start to fight for yourself,” Barb recalls.
Today, Barb’s music management company is thriving, and she has seen artists like Miles Mosley, described as the Jimi Hendrix of the upright bass, grow to have hugely successful careers. Miles’ group, the West Coast Get Down, is a collective of jazz musicians who have traveled the world together, playing for people like Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, American Idol and the Voice.
By setting her artists up for longevity, Barb is “trying to change the face of management and the music industry by showing artists that they can have well-rounded music careers.” Miles Mosley, for example, has also carved out a niche in the film and video game trailer world, composing scores for major film trailer houses, publishing companies, web series and multiple Viacom projects.
The amazing thing is that through it all, Barb has stayed true to her life’s purpose. She has helped countless young people not only overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, but to gain independence and thrive as well-rounded artists and individuals. “I wanted to teach people to become adults the best way they know how... Just because you came from a hard background, it doesn't mean that you can't have dreams. Young people need to see that they have a place in the world, regardless of their circumstances. But they also need to know that nobody gives you anything; you have to work for it.” If they’re in need of an example of hard work, they don’t need to look too far.
What does it take to be great? It would be so much easier if we could call up Oprah and ask her, but most of us don’t have that luxury. Instead, we have to try, fail, win, lose, step up and get shot down before we can figure it out. The mental warfare involved in just getting through a Made Woman’s week can be overwhelming. That’s where Danielle Dowling comes in. A life coach by trade and a “spiritual ass-kicker” by design, she has made it her mission to help women like us: Women striving to be great but may be in need of a little mental kick in the pants every once in awhile.
After working as a sales and marketing director for companies like Bloomingdales and Equinox, Danielle recognized the need for someone who could speak to successful female professionals in a language they would understand. She found herself attempting to do just that, becoming a sort of informal therapist to women around her struggling with the dual pressure of pursuing career goals and managing a personal life. “I enjoy helping people work past an issue,” Danielle imparted when I spoke to her, “I became very interested in life coaching and how the mind works.” In 2010, Danielle decided to make her gift of offering guidance into her career and started her life-coaching practice. Since then, her portfolio has expanded to include speaking engagements, writing for multiple publications (including Made Woman Mag) and her own digital guides and workbooks.
On top of a successful life coaching practice, she is working toward obtaining her doctorate in psychology (just 1,000 lab hours and one dissertation away!). But a stuffy, traditional psychology practice is not what she has in mind. “The goal is to inspire women to lead inspiring lives; to achieve their dreams, whatever those may be,” Danielle says. There is not one dull thing about Danielle, and breaking through the clutter and catching the attention of the busy female professional is her forte. Here’s an excerpt from her Facebook page:
“I'm interested in compassionate ass-kicking and radical transparency. I believe in truth that frees and guts, guts, guts. My clients are women who are looking to step up their game, in love + life. They're either already good at what they do and want to be better or are stuck and want to get unstuck.”
Danielle offers a fresh and intriguing approach to dealing with the mental roadblocks so many of us encounter. Her passionate approach is based in psychology research and her own years of experience as a life-coach. “[Clinical] psychology looks at the past, what are the roots and causes that have you stuck? We work-shop the past to understand how you got here. Then we create a custom blueprint to get you to where you want to go. I approach coaching from a therapeutic angle with an action oriented goal.” She has tailored her approach to fit the clients she hopes to attract: dynamic, fun, funky, progressive winners; the type of individuals who may be put off by the traditional approach of psychology and not seek help, fearing that they may seem “broken.”
Naturally, a huge area of discussion for her 20 and 30-something clients is romantic relationships.The dating market these days can seem bleak to many of us, but the reality is that it gets worse, not better, as you get older and busier with your career. “In modern relationships, people are looking for partnerships. Partners who help us attain our goals in life. We are so far away from where we were 50 years ago, when the only expectation was a house and a paycheck. Higher expectations for our potential mates may complicate things. This is a phenomena Danielle sees all too often. Take for her example her beautiful, 31-year-old client who works as an executive but is unhappy about her long list of failed relationships. She’s capable of locking down a great job with great pay, but is unable to make a lifelong connection. “We looked for a pattern in her relationships” Danielle remembers, “This brought up issues of bullying from when she was younger. We found that she had a false belief system around self-image.” The prescription? A 10 week, 10 session regimen where she identified patterns in her client’s behavior and established a stronger sense of integrity. “We broke it down and rebuilt her self-esteem. She’s now with someone new and feels celebrated and at peace.”
While Danielle has become somewhat of an expert on dating and romantic relationships, she says that she hopes to help women deal with relationships in general, “How to handle your relationship to anger, your relationship to joy, your relationship to your self esteem” It’s not easy helping others work through their issues. She learned that talking to her clients about their joys, disappointments and rage triggered her own joys, disappointments and rage. Her advice to others who are interested in life coaching or psychology? “Get really comfortable with your own sh*t, specifically your past. Accept, analyze and try to have forgiveness. Otherwise you are going to get stirred and distracted.”
The power of Danielle’s message, combined with her abilities as a former marketing and sales professional make her a force to be reckoned with. I’ve interviewed her, worked with her and heard her speak, and there is something so intriguing about her approach. With her upcoming book, “Soul Sessions: Practical Tools for Freedom Fighting and Accessing Your Power,” her t-shirt line, “Soul Candy,” and emergent online presence as a dating expert (including a video series with Your Tango), the sky truly is the limit for this Made Woman. And since she is a professional spiritual ass-kicker, we’re sure she’s taking a few of us with her.
From the market crash of 2008 to the recent US presidential election, job creation has been at the forefront of political and economic discussions in the US and beyond. In this volatile economic environment, more and more people have ventured into entrepreneurship -- either by choice or by default; and local and national government has adjusted accordingly.
According to the Small Business Association’s (SBA) Congressional Budget Justification for the 2013 fiscal year, the SBA achieved an all-time record of $30 billion in lending support to 60,000 small businesses in 2011. And at a time when budgets are being cut left and right, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, has created the Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) to help support this growth and integrate small business needs into the way the government is run.
In September of 2012, Barbara Vohryzek was appointed by the governor as the Deputy Director for Small Business and Small Business Advocate of GO-Biz. Barbara, who insisted I call her simply, “B” (she won me over with that fact alone), has always been drawn to small business. She credits observing her father’s business while growing up in San Francisco with giving her an inherent understanding of how they’re run. “I lived with the ups and downs of the business…I knew small businesses – I understood the agony and the ecstasy of that path. It fit very well into my desire to help people, so the passion came naturally.”
As the seventh of eight sisters, she never felt that being a woman should hinder her in the business world. “[My mother] did not believe that there should be any barriers in any aspect of life simply because you were a woman. I function from this basic belief…aren’t we all human beings, after all?” This powerful mindset was made evident when she was accepted into UC Berkeley at just 15. “I was in a hurry, even then!”
Her personal life moved fast too. Barbara was married at 16, had two sons and went back to UC Davis at 22, thinking she’d be a doctor. That quickly changed after she interned at the UC Davis Medical Center ER and Sutter Davis Hospital. “I realized that, while I wanted to help people, working with their bodies in this way was not what I wanted – too much blood for me.” She was already on her way to a degree in Economics, so she decided to continue on that path.
After earning her B.A., she was unsure of what to do next. “Unfortunately, there was limited career guidance at Davis back then (this was 1979).” She had just become a single mom, so her decisions became even more strategic. She applied to graduate school at Davis and came up with a plan: if she could qualify for a teaching assistant job and live in student housing, she’d be able to support her family. And that’s just what she did.
In Barbara’s second quarter of the M.A. program, a chance encounter altered the course of her career. She ran into a friend at the grocery story who was working in the California Office of Economic and Business Development. “I asked if she could get me the roster so I could inquire about internships.” Her friend sent it over, and Barbara called the only woman on the Director/Deputy Director list, Joyce Flannery. “I wanted to call a woman because I was nervous.” Apparently, there was no need for nerves. Joyce asked Barbara to come in, and by the next week she was interning in the Office of Local Development. Just three months later, she moved to a paid internship position. “I had officially moved into the field of economic development. And the rest is history.”
Since 1987, Barbara has had her hands full. She founded the California Statewide Certified Development Corporation and served as the Executive Director until 2009. She had a daughter from her second marriage during that time, and served as the president of Vohryzek & Co. from 2009 to 2012. In the latter role, she provided consulting services in a variety of areas for small businesses. She’s also served on a number of boards and committees since the ‘80s, including the California Economic Development Lending Initiative (CEDLI), and Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute (SETI). Clearly, California’s governor knew what he was doing when he appointed Barbara!
Today, with GO-Biz, Barbara serves as the principal advocate in California on behalf of small business. Responsible for representing their views and interests to state agencies, she makes sure that small businesses are aware of the state programs which could benefit them. She advises small business owners to use the free and low cost resources available to them, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website, www.sba.gov, and the GO-Biz website, www.business.ca.gov. “These are good places to begin the search for the expertise and technical assistance resources in [your] community or those that are available on-line. Those resources can also assist small businesses in the search for the appropriate financing tool for their growth.” Fielding complaints from small business owners and helping them resolve issues is also part of her day-to-day position, in addition to advising GO-Biz regarding legislation and administrative regulations.
In the four months she’s spent in her new position with the GO-Biz team, she has been “learning the lay of the land and starting to map out strategies to address some of the issues which face California’s small businesses.” GO-Biz has launched an Interagency Working Group to create and implement strategies that help businesses to communicate with the State on business matters. They have several small business outreach events planned for 2013, all with the mission of serving California’s small businesses.
Clearly, this appointment is no small feat! But that’s not all “B” has under her belt. Did I mention that she also co-founded a community bank in 2005, now valued at $21 million? In addition to serving on the bank’s board, she serves on the Loan, Assets and Liabilities and Executive Committees. While I’m not sure when she sleeps, she appears to be taking it all in stride; remaining incredibly sweet and eager to help whenever we’ve spoken.
Of course, I had to ask this small business guru her advice on starting a new venture in this economic climate. As far as “It has been my experience that businesses started at the bottom of the economic cycle tend to fare better than those that are started at the top – it makes sense if you think about it. A business that can survive difficult economic times has the tools to do very well. Starting today gives you that.” Still, she admits that entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody: “I think it’s a great time to start a business if you have the right product or service. That is the tricky part, and that is what makes entrepreneurship the wild ride that it is. Not everyone has the stomach for that ride.”
Whether you venture down the entrepreneurship path or not, Barbara maintains that, “you really don’t know what lies ahead – life has a way of moving in directions you could never imagine… Follow [your heart] as much as possible, and [don’t] get too beaten down by the obstacles or failures; sometimes our life’s greatest gifts emerge out of our mistakes and failures.”
Like some comic book action heroine, Eve Torres leads a double life. By day, she focuses her time and energy on things like speaking to high school kids about bullying and teaching self-defense tactics to women. By night, she pulls on her electric pink suit and kicks ass as part of the WWE’s wildly popular wrestling competitions. The duality of her life is clear when you compare the tough Diva--who can handle acrobatic take downs and fast paced boxing sequences--with the calm, down-to-earth young lady who graduated from USC with a degree in industrial and systems engineering. The ability to transform into such a strong character each night is what has led Eve to become such a popular performer. How popular? For starters, she’s got over over 400,000 Twitter followers. And her focused vision and innate business sense is shaping up to allow her to take the platform she has created for herself to the next level. She is definitely a rising star—aka Made Woman—to watch.
This Colorado native didn’t grow up with any Hulk Hogan dolls in her room. With her modeling and dance background, Eve was more interested in rond de jambe’s than roundhouses. But that didn’t stop her from jumping head first into the fiercely competitive environment of the WWE. This cultural phenomenon of professional wrestling started in 1952 and has grown to become a worldwide success with 13 million viewers, shows broadcasting to more than 145 countries, and over $600 million in revenue. While the elaborate stunts and dramatic storylines may not be for everyone, the WWE has millions of intensely loyal fans who tune in religiously each week to see who’s going to get the smack down. The passion and excitement of the packed stadiums were infectious and, at 23, Eve had found her niche. “I fell in love at my first show,” she says.
This former Clippers Spirit cheerleader always knew she was going to be a performer. With the hopes of getting back to doing what she loved, she entered the WWE Diva search in 2007 and was crowned the winner. While most people would have just taken the sweet contract and backstage hosting gig with a smile, Eve knew that she could take this opportunity even further, so she began training to compete in the ring. “I said if I’m going to be a Diva, I’m going to be a champion Diva. I’m going to change the game.” But you need more than a pretty face to be a good fighter. And you need to be more than a great fighter to actually become a recognizable face in the world of professional wrestling. “You are sort of thrown into the ring and have to learn in front of millions,” she remembers. While learning to not get her ass kicked, Eve had to quickly develop a character that people would want to root for, “I had to learn to tell a story with millions watching and hope people connect,” she says. And you thought your job was hard.
The choice to commit to the professional wrestling lifestyle is not an easy one. There are exhausting travel schedules (4-5 cities a week), mandatory public appearances, and intensive training. And then you have to deal with the people who can’t separate fact from fiction. There are those who think Eve really is the brash Diva she plays on TV, “If people hate you on TV they are going to hate you in real life.” But what you see on TV is a small part of her life. She considers herself a homebody and you can usually find her on the beach. She says the skills she learned in college, like pulling all nighters, time management, and communications are all things that help her with career balance.
Five years later, and Eve has definitely made a name for herself in the ring. This year alone, she appeared in the huge Wrestle Mania event, and won a championship title. If you visited a 7-Eleven you might have seen her face on one of their Big Gulp cups since she was featured the national SummerSlam promotion. Eve also plans to make a name for herself as a philanthropist with her work with the WWE, Make a Wish, Tribute to the Troop’s, and her own personal mission: teaching women self-defense. One of the fighting techniques that Eve has come to master is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A special form of this fighting style was created at the Gracie Academy, where Eve teaches, so that a smaller, weaker person could defeat a larger attacker. A blue belt herself, she believes this martial art is perfect for women to learn and use for self-defense. “There are subliminal insecurities that come with being weaker,” Eve says. Knowing this, she uses methods like women’s only classes to create an environment where they can feel free to go outside their comfort zone, “some women will only want to train with other women.”
In addition to the Jiu-Jitsu classes she teaches, Eve was also asked by the Gracie family to appear in the “Women Empowered” series of training videos on self-defense. She says that getting to teach young girls self-defense is one of the biggest accomplishments in her career. She also speaks at RAINN events, an organization committed to providing support to victims of sexual assault. She sees herself as a role model and diligently protects her brand. “I stopped drinking three years ago and have had to turn down sponsorships because they don’t fit my brand.” Eve sees the WWE personality she has created as a perfect extension of her mission. “Girls need to see a female figure being strong.”
Eve is confident that this off-the-beaten-path career was meant for her and she feels she is providing the younger generation with a positive role model. Rather than take the easy route she has turned a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity into unique and useful platform championing the strength of women. At the heart of it all she has achieved her dream to be a storyteller and says “I love the idea of this powerful woman who can kick butt. I’m proud of that.”
You can see Eve in our very own "I Am a Made Woman" video, out later this month (sign up here to get an email when it's released!)
You go to the right schools, work day in and day out on your chosen career path, enjoy a bit of success and start to think you have some (maybe not all, but some) of it figured out. Suddenly, the ground splits underneath you and you fall down to rock bottom. Who knows why things like this happen? Maybe you’re supposed to grow from the challenges you face. Maybe it’s just a natural, inevitable part of life. Either way, it’s up to you to decide what to do next.
When the ground fell out from under Sherri Graves, she was already far down the road to success. A gifted student, she attended the University of Alabama for her undergraduate degree, majoring in English and history. As part of her history courses her she took economics and ended up earning all A’s. The dean of the business school noticed her hard work and offered her a scholarship, on the condition that she switch to a business major. Although she loved the English and dreamed of a career in the arts, the dean had made Sherri an offer she couldn’t refuse. She made the switch and graduated summa cum laude from the business school and in the top one percent of her class. Samford soon came knocking, offering her a full scholarship for grad school. She earned her masters and entered the working world as an associate at a major law firm. After some time there, she accepted a position on Coca-Cola’s in-house legal team and quickly moved up the ranks. In her free time, she read to and tutored kids and volunteered at homeless shelters. She was also a huge sports fan, attending college football games at every opportunity.
But lo and behold, a new chapter of life started for Sherri in 2007, when at only 36 years old, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her life as she knew it changed completely. Chemo treatments left her feeling weak and isolated, and she was forced to take a leave of absence from Coca-Cola. The foundation that she worked so hard to build fell out from under her. There were days that she couldn’t walk or even get out of bed. But with every new challenge she learned to see the positive. For one, she didn’t have to deal with it alone; her good friend Chuck took care of her and even carried her when she couldn’t get up. Pretty soon their friendship blossomed into a serious relationship. “How I defined love changed. I redefined commitment and love,” she remembers. The two married after Sherri’s first year of treatment.
With her career on hold, Sherri made it through the daunting days of medication and treatment, by relying on her deeply-rooted spirituality, her family, supporting friends… and her love of reading. She escaped into the pages of her favorite books and rekindled her lifelong passion for the written word. Sherri began to wonder if she could become a writer herself. She wrote a commentary on Mitt Romney’s 47% comment on her personal Facebook page which garnered so much attention, it led to a few guest features on The Huffington Post. She knew that she didn't want to just write fluff, “I [thought] about what would bring meaning and purpose to each day. No matter how many days I have left.” Her outlook on life had changed and she knew that everything she did would now have a mission behind it.
Cancer worked as a catalyst in Sherri’s life, making some everyday things impossible and other things -- previously out of reach -- possible. While Sherri’s writing at that point included mostly legal contracts and briefs as opposed to fiction, she began piecing together her vision for a series of books for kids. Each book would highlight a college mascot who would take kids on adventures around a campus, teaching manners and good sportsmanship in a fun and engaging way. Still an avid sports fan, Sherri had noticed the way school rivalries had become unhealthy, with opposing teams practically bullying each other. Things like booing refs and jeering irked her; one Alabama fan even poisoned a tree after a loss. “I don’t want people at high school and little league games picking up habits from college games. These were not good examples for children.” Working through her illness, Sherri was able to create the Game Day Rules series, three books highlighting the University of Alabama, Georgia, and Georgia Tech. In just a short time, her books were published and are available from Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She plans to expand the series to include stories with the mascots of Duke, Auburn and the University of North Carolina.
After years of education and working as a lawyer, Sherri’s story turned out much different than what she expected. But instead of being bitter about what’s behind her, she concentrates on being grateful and finding joy in this new story unfolding every day. She knows that she couldn’t have achieved her dream of becoming a writer if she hadn’t first worked in the business world: “The legal world and Coke provided me with a wonderful opportunity to learn, meet wonderful people. I learned what I can and cannot do. How to follow through on a project. And the people that I met have been of supreme support. So I gained from that experience.”
And the blessings keep coming. She and her husband recently celebrated their five year anniversary. She doesn’t dwell on memories like losing all of her hair during their first year of marriage. She just feels lucky to have found someone to support her through it all, “I take with me all the blessings that came. Even the blessings in disguise.”
Armed with a purpose -- plus incredible talent and business sense -- Sherri has forged a new path. She still takes pills almost every day but still finds the strength for philanthropy as the co-chair for an organization called Atlanta Cancer Care Foundation, which pays for lodging, travel, and expenses for cancer patients. “I realized how common our humanity is. How easy it is to be compassionate.” Physically she has good days and bad days, but she still finds time to reads to kids. “I want to do normal things like think about having babies… But I can’t start a family so this is my way to bring joy to children.” On every level, Sherri’s life had been transformed, “I live life intentionally now. I look at the color of the leaves… I don’t let the lowest point of my day define my life.”
Sherri’s story is a beautiful example of how to transform whatever life throws your way into something positive. Bad things happen, but they can set you on a good path. They may even bring you closer to your dreams and allow you to inspire others. The tragic turn of events, and her life before it, imbued Sherri with the skills, knowledge and inner strength she needed to live a purposeful life, “If I had tried it at age 20 or 23, I could have done it but I wouldn’t have all of the knowledge.” Sherri found that for her cancer was just the beginning; there is much more to her story. And we wish this Made Woman all the best.
You can’t ever say enough about busy entrepreneurs. They juggle their professional and personal lives and (if they are any good at it) become successful. Usually it’s thoughts of self-sufficiency and dollar signs that get these go-getters through the hectic days and sleepless nights. But for Made Woman Liz Norris, there are other things that keep her going.
Liz makes her living as an esthetician. She owns her own salon in Burbank, California and spends her days doing facials and beauty treatments for women from all around LA. She specializes in everything from waxes to lash tinting and prides herself on not only running a professional business but also treating her customers as friends. Liz got into the beauty business because she wanted to help other women feel good about themselves. “I grew up with acne, and I thought if I could fix my own skin, I could help other people fix theirs.”
Liz got her start working for others, first in a medical spa and then in various salons. It took some persuasion from a friend and a leap of faith to decide that she would be better off working for herself, and in 2004 Vanity Private Studio was born: “I wanted the freedom to dress how I wanted and make my own schedule…it was the best thing for me.” Today Liz’s venture is a success, and was even voted one of the Best Bikini Waxes in Los Angeles by LA.com. Her client list of over 1200 people continues to grow each week..and it includes yours truly. I trust my eyebrows to nobody other than her! (I have been going to her for 9 years!)
You would think it would be enough to start a successful business and achieve your dream. But after she found success in the beauty industry, Liz found her true passion in caring for animals. When Liz isn’t working in her salon, she is home in Santa Clarita on her 45-acre ranch where she has rescued over 70 animals! 6 horses, 2 donkeys, 4 dogs, 2 cats, 2 rabbits, over 40 chickens, 11 ducks, multiple turtles, a tortoise...the list goes on.
Liz’s selflessness and love for animals is unlike anything I’ve seen before. When I asked her why she felt the need to help so many she said, “[Animals] are helpless. Most people can get jobs and find ways to support themselves. They are at our mercy; they have no control over their life at all... I want to do anything I can to help them.” And help them she does. Most of her time and money goes into supporting and caring for these animals.
While she has no formal training, Liz says she is becoming “quite the vet” after taking care of so many animals on her own. Her duties can range from nursing a rooster with a respiratory infection to hatching chickens, to dealing with injuries and administering medication. When she doesn’t know what to do she finds her answers through research and Google. “Thank God for the internet,” she says.
Not long ago, Liz faced a serious injury from a horseback riding accident that left her in a wheelchair. You’d think that would have slowed her efforts down, but it didn’t. She would wheel herself around picking up bails of hay, balancing them on her lap in order to feed her horses. Every morning she would take her walker to the chicken coup to make sure the birds had food when she could hardly get around herself: “I thought of it as forced physical therapy,” she says.
Now fully recovered, Liz’s normal workday starts at 7am and doesn’t end until 1am. She has a 50-minute drive to and from her salon and before she can leave she has to make sure all of her animals are fed and cared for every day. As I mentioned before, I have been going to Liz for 9 years and I haven’t once heard her complain about it being too much. She truly loves what she does and it’s inspirational to see how one person can take care of so many things and still wake up ready to do it again the next day!
So what’s this Made Woman’s five year plan? She says she would love to have a place where people can come on the weekends, bring their kids and spend time with the animals. She still wants to run her salon, of course, because she likes the balance of being able to make people feel good about themselves and then coming home to her peaceful ranch and her animals. For Liz, finding success meant becoming her own boss but her true mission in life is to help animals in need.
So, you want to start a business. Maybe it’s a bakery, a line of eco-friendly workout clothes, or a dance studio. Whatever it is, you’re excited to bring your vision to life. But before you can share your expertise with the world, you have to become an expert at the rules of business. As a baker, clothing designer or dancer, this is quite possibly the last thing you want to do. Tax codes, contracts, and complex paperwork stand in your way and distract you from your plan. This, of course, deters many aspiring entrepreneurs (I know it’s slowed me down a time or two). But in a country that touts the promise of the American Dream and the importance of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, why isn’t starting a start-up a lot easier?
Jen Reuting asked herself this very question after working as a secretary for investment bankers during college. She was only 17 when her employers at the time embezzled the company funds, fled the country and left her with an empty office building and a reaffirmed interest in entrepreneurship. Instead of focusing on her classes at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, she used her scholarship checks and the empty office space she had inherited to start her first company, InCorp.com. InCorp.com provides registered agent services and Jen’s first challenge was to get some clients. To do this, she started a direct mailing campaign to the presidents of local companies offering them free services for a year. A true hustler, Jen didn’t let the fact that she was only 17 and had never owned a business before stop her: “I was 17 going on 30. I lied about my age, wore suits... I had nothing to lose.” Besides, she figured that if someone was biased just because of her age or gender she didn’t want to do business with them anyway. Smart girl. Some were skeptical at first, including her employees, but they saw how passionate she was and soon she was on her way. Today InCorp.com is the third largest registered agent service provider in the U.S., with over 100,000 users, including some Fortune 500 companies.
Great story, right? Well, it gets even better. InCorp.com was just the first business Jen started. Next was MyLLC.com, which specializes in helping entrepreneurs form and manage LLC’s (God bless her.) But, wait. Why would someone who is doing so well with one business shift gears completely? Well, it goes back to the question, “Why is starting a business so complicated and how can we make it more simple?” Jen recognized all the barriers to entry in the business world and felt that she could change the game: “I wanted to change the info space and make it easier for small businesses.”
Jen didn’t go to law school and knew how difficult it could be to understand the legal aspects of entrepreneurship firsthand. There had to be a way that this complicated process could be explained in plain English to the average person. She spoke with some lawyer friends to try to learn the ins and outs, and while she picked up a lot of legal knowhow from them, she also learned that law school doesn’t teach you anything about business law and contracts. Another huge disconnect. Wisely, Jen realized that she had to start another new company. “I didn’t want to shift the brand and alienate my current clients. But I was getting really passionate about helping small businesses.”
In her first few years running InCorp.com and MyLLC.com, Jen was able to interact with these up-and-coming business owners and saw that there was a huge need for her services. One client had just inherited some money from his mother who had passed. Understandably, he was scared to lose what his mother had left behind for him, but he had a dream of owning his own limo company, “I helped him get incorporated and told him ‘Just go for it. You’ll be fine.’” Six years later she says she sees his limos all over LA and Phoenix, and is happy that she was able to help him expand and become profitable.
Jen has helped many people take their big dreams and turn them into big business, including a few dummies. In 2007, she authored the 400 page nationwide best seller, “Limited Liability Companies for Dummies,” part of the well-known “For Dummies” series. For Jen, writing the book was just another way to provide tools to would-be business owners. “There is a lot of fluff out there, not a lot of hard facts and info. Writing this book was really rewarding.”
You would think that with two very successful companies and a bestseller under her stilettos Jen would be done. Nope. Last month she launched DocRun.com, an online software solution which generates customized legal documents for entrepreneurs. The company’s mission? To lower the barrier of entry to the small business market for entrepreneurs, providing them with easy access to affordable, attorney-level documents. Basically, it takes the crapshoot out of creating contracts and documents when you have no idea what you are doing and have no money to hire someone who does. “Lawyers don’t own the law, the people own the law. But this fear has developed. This is part of the reason I’m so passionate about DocRun.com.” (Startups everywhere rejoice!) And people are buzzing about this unique concept for a business. In testing alone, users were excited and loved the problem solving aspects of the software. “This will save people from having a lawyer charge them $5,000 to create an operating agreement by doing find/replace in a Word doc,” Jen says. The best part about the concept is the customizable aspect; the service is automated and puts everything together for you. “Most lawyers can’t keep 50 states laws in their heads but DocRun can.” That, my friend, is an “ah ha!” moment.
Is Jen Reuting ushering in a new era of entrepreneurship? Will the bakers, clothing designers, dancers and dreamers of the world soon be able to quickly and easily get past the legal jargon and red tape that clouds the business world? She seems to think so. “After the economy collapsed and more and more people were getting laid off, they weren’t going on welfare. They were starting their own businesses. This is the age of the entrepreneur.” The beauty of it all is that Jen has made money and become incredibly successful by helping others pursue their dreams. “As long as I’m capable of creating something of value it's my responsibility to do so,” Jen says. Made woman? I think so.
These days a lot of women say they want it all. The career, the family, the active social life. But not too many consider the huge physical and emotional toll that juggling all these competing priorities takes on your health. Working a 10 hour day and then going home to cook and clean leaves very little time for fitness. Luckily, entrepreneur and fitness expert Christine Kwok recognized the need for women to have a more balanced lifestyle, and set out to help other Made Women like herself.
Christine operates Balanced Strength, her own health and wellness company. She understands the juggling act between work, social activities and fitness, which is why her business specializes in making health accessible and achievable. She says, “When you do anything in life, you can only be strong if you have balance.” And true to form, this busy entrepreneur took a break from her weekend schedule to chat with me about all things MADE. She explained to me that her mission was born out of what she wasn’t seeing in the corporate world. “I have worked in corporate wellness for so long with many busy professionals; time is a huge challenge for most people. More than 80 percent of us don’t get the minimum exercise we need per week.” And it doesn’t help that most of our jobs require us to sit at a desk all day. Even those of us who do manage to stay active have to counteract the eight or more hours a day of sitting. “We are online, we are always plugged in and connected. I can’t make people go where they don’t want to, or force the gym on those who don’t even have time to brush their teeth. So I want to really meet my clients where they’re at and provide them with the proper fitness resources.” One of the things that makes Christine’s company so unique are the options she gives her clients. She offers Skype training sessions and an interactive online application called CK Connect. These mobile resources set her apart from trainers who can only be found in the gym.
As someone who has always been physically active, Christine recognized the need for more fitness education early on. While in high school she participated in swimming, track and gymnastics. Despite multiple injuries, she never gave up on fitness. “It made me think about how training needed to be done more intelligently. I thought ‘I should not be getting injured like this.’ And so I pursued physical therapy.” While in college, she quickly learned that just treating injured people was not for her. Christine, who always enjoyed wearing different hats at the workplace, began to study great leaders and educators in the fitness industry. She learned about core work and functional strength to prevent injury and this knowledge was eye opening. As someone who was a personal trainer throughout her college career, she began to work in corporate wellness right after graduating. But in the back of her mind, she knew she always wanted to make her side business of practicing strength and preventing injury her full-time gig. And in 2005, she made it happen.
Since then, Christine’s business has flourished. What keeps Christine moving is thinking about how she would feel if she didn’t do what she always intended. “The 15-20 percent who are exercising are already motivated, they don’t need me. I want to be there for the people who don’t know how to access that motivation.” She recommends that other women who desire to start their own business figure out what they love and focus on doing whatever it takes to meet those goals. “You have to keep the bar raised for yourself and your personal health. You can’t thrive if your health isn’t there.” The same philosophy for loving what you do can be applied to fitting fitness into your daily routine. If you have an extremely busy day at the office, Christine suggests, “Go to the thing that you love doing. Don’t run if you don’t like it or can’t. Just go out for a walk. Any exercise is as easy or as hard as you make it. Take a stroll between conference calls. The fresh air makes you more alert. Go up or down stairs. Power walk up parking structures, ramps or hills. And of course, make sure you are stretching.”
And the best news of all is you don’t really need much of anything to get started on your own path to wellness. While a mat and exercise bands can be purchased on the cheap, there isn’t really any home equipment needed in order to achieve a better body. “So much of what you do utilizes your body weight and being creative… you don’t need ab machines from infomercials. Countertops, rolling chairs, pretty much anything in your home will do. ” In essence, Christine is all about telling others that all they really need to succeed is themselves. As a woman who possesses an MBA and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, as well as the International Sports Conditioning Association, she certainly has set the bar high for what you can accomplish if you believe in yourself.
That being said, you would think it would be easy for a fitness guru to squeeze in a work out. But this is difficult for all of us, including Christine. “The day goes by fast. By the end of it I will find something to distract me with. So I try to work out in the morning before I meet with my clients.” Christine’s preference is a peaceful early morning workout in a local park before the streets of LA get too busy with traffic. Christine’s hard work and motivation rubs off on others too. She trains households together and groups of girlfriends. This enables others to be held accountable not only to Christine, but to each other as well. And this fitness expert is doing all she can to make fitness affordable to all, something particularly important in this economy. She makes plans to meet budgets and if you are training in a group, the cost can be split. “A healthy lifestyle is not that difficult. The steps towards it are not life altering. It only takes baby steps to obtain optimal health. A drastic change immediately equals failure,” she says. But perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of Christine’s job is not only her clients’ benefit, but what they teach her. “They keep the bar raised for me. They cause me to take it to the next level.” Christine’s willingness to learn from the people she works with is what helps her to push herself. “Personal training is very personal. You can be vulnerable. You have to find someone you trust.”
For Christine, embracing balance equals strength. She proves that strength is not only a physical attribute, but one that can be achieved by flexing mental muscles as well. “A strong woman is a woman who pursues her dreams and will act in spite of fear and despite possible judgment. And then be OK with taking a break on the weekend,” she says. Christine’s strength is connecting with people and helping them to be the best version of themselves, and she sets a great example for us all.