Carol Gee – Owner, A Feast of Words, LLC

Carol Gee, M.A, a retired military veteran and university administrator, is owner of A Feast of Words, LLC, VenusChronicles.net (her one-woman writing service), and is also an author and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in a number of venues, including the Chicken Soup series and Woman’s World. She lives in Stone Mountain, an Atlanta, Georgia suburb.

Tell us about one of the toughest periods of your life.

The toughest period in my life began just before starting my senior year of high school. My mother retired after 20 years working at the Library of Congress and announced we were moving back to her small hometown in Virginia. As you can imagine, being the ‘new’ girl in the twelfth grade was tough. While the other students weren’t necessarily mean, they weren’t overly welcoming either. After all, many had gone to school together forever and had their friends.

Graduating high school, and with no money to go to college (I had taken many college prep classes and had good grades), and with few job opportunities, I took a job with the local shoe factory. There were a total of three factories in that small town. Not only was the work dirty, it was hard and we were paid by the piece so we had to work fast to make quota, and it was frequently dangerous.

Doing this day in and day out made my life seem desolate. Then, one day on break and flipping through a magazine, I came across an ad for the United States Air Force. In the ad, a young African American female sat alongside a young Caucasian female and a Caucasian male in front of board with some kind of knobs. Suddenly, this seemed like my answer.

Filling out the postage-paid postcard, I dropped it in the mailbox on the way home, and completely forgot about it…until a recruiter called. Before I knew it, I had taken the entrance exam, a physical that checked me from head to toe (where I fainted twice) from the long day and stress, and was on my way to military basic training.

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to write. I remember jotting down little short stories to entertain my younger sister as early as age ten. On the other hand, the women in my ‘village’ (folks who came to my mother’s beauty shop, members from our church, etc.) thought I would make a great teacher. “Because you speak so well,” many said, and because few knew many African American women writers making a living through writing. Without a college degree, I knew that both were impossible.

The AF changed my whole life’s trajectory. Not only did I travel the world and learned to embrace other cultures, I also earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees courtesy of the GI Bill (no student loans), as well as met and married my life partner – a union that has spanned over 46 years.

Suddenly, opportunities abounded. Twenty-one years in the military, a short stint as a mental health counselor, and over twenty-eight years in higher education at the college/university level – yes, this did include teaching. Then, nineteen years ago, I finally did it. I wrote and published my first book. The Venus Chronicles was a spoof on the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Today, I am author of four books, three of which are part of a series that women fondly coin ‘girlfriend’ books. These books chronicle a day in the life of the modern woman, me. With such essays as Now That I Got My Mind Together, The Rest Of Me Is Falling Apart, I May Not Be Able To Find My Way Out Of A Paper Bag (what my husband says), and I Can Make A Mean Pound Cake – these are laugh-out-loud fun books. Today, I also enjoy a vibrant freelance career; proof that what does not kill you, indeed, makes you stronger.

Maria Wendt – Founder & Influencer, Maria Wendt, Inc.

Maria Wendt helps female entrepreneurs get clients online. She is on a mission to help women leave their soul-sucking 9-5s and get paid doing what they love. She lives in Wilmington, DE with her husband and an enormous collection of books. You can find her (and a bunch of great free resources) at www.mariawendt.com.

Tell us about one of the toughest periods of your life.

One of the toughest periods of my life was when my grandfather passed away. I was extremely close to him and he passed away just a few months before my wedding. I took his passing really hard and slipped into depression. It was extremely hard for me to motivate myself to work and I found myself asking, “What is the point of all of this?” It really caused me to question a lot of my goals and my desire to be in business. If we are being totally honest, I almost quit my business and got a “real job” because the idea of hiding away in a cubicle was extremely attractive in the moment.

I got through it by leaning on my support system. My husband, sister, and my entrepreneur friends all refused to allow me to quit. “You’ve come too far. Don’t quit now. You’ll regret giving up on your dreams.”

And deep down, I knew they were right.

Even though in the moment I wanted to close up my business and settle for a corporate job, I couldn’t bring myself to give up on my dream. I had worked too hard for too long to quit now.

These days, I am doing much better. I have a thriving business teaching women how to get clients online. I just hired my 7th team member. I am happy and fulfilled – and so glad I persevered through that challenging time!

What books helped you through it?

I am an avid reader so it’s hard to choose! I find that the book The Big Leap was extremely helpful. In it, it speaks about how we tend to self-sabotage right before we hit a new level of our lives. I know this was the case for me. I could see into the future and I knew my business was about to blow up and it really scared me. The Big Leap helped me realize this was normal and it gave me tools to push through the fears and overwhelm.

Royce Gomez – CEO, RoyceTalks

Royce Gomez, CEO of RoyceTalks, knows what it’s like to have wealth and assets and knows what it’s like to start from the bottom. She has spent more than 25 years as a serial entrepreneur in a variety of verticals, and today coaches entrepreneurs who want to scale sustainably. Royce resides in Colorado with her husband and three dogs. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, wine tasting, traveling, and seeing her adult children as often as possible.

Her love of strategic planning and marketing have married beautifully to create a thriving, international business that allow her to travel and enjoy her hobbies.

Tell us about one of the toughest periods of your life.

In 2006, Royce was on top of the world. She owned 29 investment properties, was spending time with her children, homeschooling, and enjoying hobbies as a family. The family had the quintessential Colorado lifestyle with horses, dogs, a hobby ranch, and the SUV, but in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, Royce lost everything. With tenants out of a job, there were multiple mortgages to pay, and cash was spread too thin.

Royce had also taken literal falls. Having been thrown from horses several times, she had permanent neck injuries and concussions that had their effect on memory loss.

Her horse business was taking its toll on her body and her finances. She made changes that required her to be less involved with horses to save what could be salvaged for the family. Opportunity presented itself over 1,000 miles away, and the family relocated to Florida. Royce got a job and spent the next few years rebuilding.

Hitting Rock Bottom

A few years after arriving in Florida, and working hard to rebuild, the second fall happened. This time, it sent Royce spiraling until hitting rock bottom. She had left her job to go full-time into entrepreneurship again; she was starting to build momentum when a divorce came along.

Royce left a marriage of 23 years with nothing. No job, no health insurance, and no savings. The only thing she had left was the responsibility of her 18 year old who wasn’t ready to enter the world on her own as an adult, and the family dog. There were days she got up only to show her kids she could set the example. She wanted them to see “it’s not what happens to you; it’s how you handle it.” This was Royce’s motivation for the next few years.

During this time of rebuilding, it was also a time of blessing, learning, and expanding her circle of influence. There were times, 31 weeks out of the first year to be exact, Royce didn’t have the money to pay rent. She sublet the apartment and used couchsurfing and Airbnb to keep a roof over her head. She would’ve been homeless if it weren’t for the generosity of friends at times. The time Royce traveled, however, opened up numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth. She was invited to Costa Rica to cover a social enterprise story, was introduced to a gal in Sicily who is now a lifelong friend, and so much more Royce covered these amazing vignettes in a book, The Spontaneous Journey.

The Climb

This time was a blessing in disguise, and a time she will never forget. After three years of toiling, Royce had built a 6-figure business coaching and copywriting. Her clients expand far and wide, having coached more than 200 startups, mentored at numerous Startup Weekends and business incubators, and using what she learned from The Spontaneous Journey to build her business. Royce has written copy for startups, nonprofits, and national brands like Calvin Klein, Berkshire Hathaway, and others.

Because of Royce’s dogged determination and business acumen, she was given the opportunity to grow an insurance agency that had faltered and gone through numerous owners in a short period. Royce successfully grew the agency 11% in a year before handing it off to someone who loved the industry.

Today, Royce is blessed to live a life where she is not in survival mode, but thriving. Thriving spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. She spends her days investing into the lives of entrepreneurs who are giving their all for their dream. Her perspective changed two years ago, from a coach to a partner. Royce considers herself a partner in their success, and understands she is a teammate. Their success is her success. This mindset shift has propelled her business forward with hyperspeed.

Phil Strazzulla – Founder, SelectSoftware

Phil Strazzulla is the founder of SelectSoftware, which helps HR buy the right software through free online guides.

Tell us about one of the toughest days of our life.

I graduated from college in 2008. It wasn’t the best time, but I was still able to get a job at a small finance company that I was very excited to work for. I’ve always been a finance geek, and thought that working in a boutique firm would allow me to get more exposure to decision-making and strategy.

Fast-forward a year later, and I had lost my job. It was the peak of the recession, and those in the media were saying that I would be part of a “lost generation” who’s career would probably never launch due to a lack of opportunity. The next year would be one of the hardest in my life and there were many times I thought that I would never get another good job.

I spent those twelve months subletting a room in NYC from an older couple who wanted a bit of extra cash. I worked at two startups for basically nothing in order to keep building my skills and network. I applied to hundreds of jobs, and went on well over 50 interviews. Most of these companies never hired anyone, let alone me, and the rejection started to take its toll on my confidence.

I finally broke through and got a job offer for a small consulting firm. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was enough spark to give me hope. I actually didn’t take the job, and in what was probably a very dumb decision, I instead rolled the dice to see if I could get my dream job working in venture capital. I’d been interviewing with a firm for a few months at that point, and they were close to making a decision on me.

I ended up getting the job, after being rejected by them twice in the previous months, but finding new ways into the interview process. From there, I went to Harvard to get my MBA (they liked the comeback story I guess), and then started my own business.

It was a very trying time, but the experience shaped me for the better. It started to build a muscle that allows me to fight through the various adversities inherent in starting a business, and gives me confidence that I can get through whatever comes my way.

Christy Velasquez – Founder & President, Orangewood Lane

I’m a chef from Los Angeles, California and moved to Lyon, France and started Orangewood Lane, which focuses on sustainable food tours and corporate events for international tourists and businesses.

Tell us about one of the toughest periods of your life.

It was about two years ago when I lost my boyfriend of twelve years. We met when we were both young. I was 19 and he was 23 and we shared a life together along with our two adopted dogs. When he passed, my world was turned upside down and everything I knew disappeared in an instant. It was a traumatic, debilitating, and life-changing event to experience at 31 years old.

The first year of his passing was the hardest. The milestones, as I like to call them, were the toughest to get through: birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. They’re all events I was hoping to sleep through and just waiting for the clock to strike midnight. That first year was also a wave of sadness, depression, confusion, and just a downward spiral of my life. I knew I needed to change things drastically to get out of this negative space I was digging myself into. I decided to take a chance and travel to France. I quit my professional job, packed my things, and traveled. I had my eat, pray, love moment and it changed my life. I slowly started to see what my life could be after such a great loss. I started seeing myself as my own person. There was my life before the loss of my partner and then there was my life after. I had the opportunity to change and recreate my life as I saw it. It was a blank canvas and I had the paintbrush. After a year of being on the road, I decided to settle in Lyon, France and started my own food tour business. I think about the past two years and how my life has changed. I think about what my life would have been if I didn’t lose my partner, but I also look at my life now and appreciate so much more of what I have and what I’m building.

Grief is a journey we experience after a great loss and it’s a different journey for everyone who experiences it. I know my grief will never truly disappear and I don’t want it to disappear. It’s a part of me. It’s a reminder of who I am and what my journey has been.