I had several hero’s growing up the first of which was Amelia Earhart. Her bravado was infectious to a young girl who early on wanted to push the limits of what she could do. Amelia’s skill as a pilot, the fact that she was doing something that other women weren’t at that time made her immortal in my eyes. I am sure it’s not so very far off for many of the women who choose to become dentists. While there are many women in dentistry it’s a much smaller percentage that are in the role of Dentist and even smaller percentage that are sole practitioners or practice owners. These women too must feel like bit Amelia, pushing the boundaries of what women who have gone before them have done.
Looking back, I realize now that the women who influenced me and continue to do so to this day are women who didn’t politely step outside the box, but rather ran full bore and took a huge vault with a tumble outside of it declaring all the while, “I can do this!” Recently I realized that it wasn’t that they were loaded with money, or because they had vast educations or because opportunity was paved before them. It was because they saw the world differently. They weren’t comfortable in the normal paradigm with the standard protections or “restrictions”, however we want to cloak it, that society tried to provide.
During World War II as part of the Navy Waves my grandmother was the first woman to ace the Navy mechanic’s exam. Dressed in a skirt suit, starched within an inch of its life and high heels, she would travel across the country to pick up broken down trucks that were being brought back from overseas from World War II in Europe. At a port, they would pick them up and bring them back home to Chicago. Regularly diving in huge long convoys filled with women like her they would have to pull over, tug on coveralls and then hoist up the battered hood of the truck to climb on top of the engine and do necessary repairs so they could continue the drive. Once they got the truck back, repairs would be done and the trucks would be either sent back or parted out. She did this while having two small children at home and a private kindergarten that she ran. She did it because she was so passionate about contributing to the war effort. And she did it because she was never bound by traditional concepts around a women’s capability.
Many summers, my mom’s best friend, Phylis Clemenson, would have our family out to her cottage sitting on the banks of Lake Michigan. It was a storybook cottage with lots of woodwork, all hand carved. She and her sister built the entire cottage with hand-tools! Just the two of them! Seriously, two women, hand tools, determination, vision and absolute confidence they would succeed.
Now, I know many women do that now, but back in the 50s when they built the cottage that was unheard of. And hand tools! Can you imagine the strength it would’ve taken to use a real hammer and nails, to saw by hand, to crank a drill by hand? Determination and grit, skill, not to mention the matter of creativity, artisanship, studying others… so many admirable qualities and behaviors went into building that cottage. The craftsmanship is unparalleled.
Four built-in bunks on the far wall of the cottage had deeply carved picture frame woodwork around each one that made them feel special and a bit private. But most of all I loved the screened in porch that ran along the back facing the water. It felt like Lake Michigan was so close it was lapping at the back steps. In the evenings, after dinner, while the adults were in having coffee, I would lie out there on a twin bed covered by old quilts and I would read the very book that Amelia had signed for Phyl when she had been introduced to her idol as a young girl. Under that dim yellow bulb, I would watch the fireflies out in the yard and listen to the waves coming up on the shore and dream about the great adventures I would take on when I grew up. It was perfection.
More than anything that cottage was a symbol, a physical representation of what women can do if they put their mind to it and if they work together. It is a lesson that is central to my being, and shaped my perceptions and actions throughout my life. She and my grandmother laid and important foundation for many women and for the woman I would become.
As I grew up my career followed a winding path and I was fortunate enough to marry a husband who supported all the twists and turns. Deep in my heart I always knew that there was a new challenge waiting for me around the corner and I was comfortable sometimes needing to take a step back to make a huge leap forward. Still as I distill it down, it’s really been serendipitous, one learning experience building on another and all showing up at the perfect time. It wasn’t always easy to see that as it was occurring, but looking back now I see the artistry at work.
Many times limiting beliefs would try to creep in. We hadn’t saved enough for me to make my next leap. More than once I was an independent contractor or 100% commission. Talk about a leap into the unknown! And yes, we often struggled for the first little bit, but in the end, we always found ourselves far ahead. It’s important to understand mine wasn’t a second income. Rather my career twists had a heavy impact on our ability to keep food on the table. Still each one paid off in many ways, not only financially.
Most recently my career twist brought me to Memphis, TN to join Fortune Management and begin a career as an Executive Coach for Dentists. Having worked as an HR Business Partner for over 15 years both in large Domestic and International companies, my experience in business strategy, maximizing organizational strengths and developing weakness is broad. And, I decided it was time to make a more personal impact. I wanted to take years of corporate training and distill it down to have a direct impact on the growth of small business where change could be fast and fluid and the impact more quickly realized. I deeply enjoy the dental community and I am inspired by the growth and opportunity available. I look forward to becoming an even more valuable resource to it in the years to come.