Quitting, jumping the gun, following the wrong lead: Mistakes may have gotten these women down, but they certainly weren’t out. There’s no “in spite of” here. These women used their blunders and miscalculations to forge sounder careers and stronger businesses.
DOREEN BOLHUIS Gymco Inc.
I quit my dream job.
Following college graduation, I began my career in a job I'd dreamed of and planned for since seventh grade: teaching and coaching at a prestigious high school. I absolutely loved my work, my students and my colleagues. However, in June after my fourth year of teaching, I was pink-slipped. Because of budget cuts, the newest teachers were laid off with no certainty of being called back.
It was a shock that turned out to be an opportunity.
In late August when I was called back, I had already crafted my plan B, and I turned down my teaching job with its steady income and great benefits. I think my family and friends wondered about my sanity.
Armed primarily with courage, confidence and great resolve, I began a journey that led to the birth of my business, Gymco Inc. I unwittingly became a pioneer in the gymnastics and sport industry and—with no business model to follow—created my business and systems from the ground up. I forged my way in an era when there were no female CEO role models, no support for entrepreneurs, and when banks wouldn’t grant loans to women. Determined and optimistic, each problem and barrier I faced served to make me stronger, more strategic and more focused.
Today, Gymco is an award-winning facility for gymnastics and sport development. Our innovative programs have impacted over 80,000 children and we’re starting to serve our third generation of West Michigan families.
My career journey has certainly stretched and demanded more of me than I thought possible. It's made me stronger, more resilient and wiser. I've learned to lead and have become a better person in countless ways. Looking back, I'm glad I made the mistake of quitting my job. It was the best mistake I ever made.
JORDAN CARSON WOOD TV8
I had this bold idea of going to the Oscars to cover the red carpet, and applied for media credentials without asking my boss.
I thought it was a long shot, but why not apply! A few weeks later, I received confirmation that we did, indeed, receive media credentials to cover the awards. I was so excited. But it was time to tell my boss about my grand idea, and that I applied for credentials without asking first.
I explained my plan, presented the credentials, and described all of the behind-the-scenes coverage we would bring back to our West Michigan viewers.
After hearing my plan, my boss (who‘s amazing) said, “Yes.” She loved the idea. In fact, she thought I was a go-getter for doing my research, stepping out of the box, and working to bring unique content to viewers in West Michigan.
I went to the Oscars with an amazing team from WOOD TV8. We were fortunate to capture all of the content we had hoped for. I always tell myself: “Ask for what you want, even if it seems difficult. No one likes rejection, but there are only two answers—yes or no.” There’s a 50/50 chance that your hard work and planning will pay off. Take a leap of faith: You never know where it may lead you.
SHELLEY IRWIN WGVU
In elementary school, I wanted to be an actress. Junior high, a TV star. In high school, I wanted to be on the radio!
I proudly hold a Master of Science in Physical Therapy.
I worked diligently in physical therapy for 15 years. But the career that always tugged at my heart was one "in the spotlight.” Luckily, I enjoyed career No. 1, but I took opportunities in my "down time" to get involved in the media business and participating in community theater.
In my late 30s, I decided to follow my career dreams. Today, I celebrate 15 years of being in broadcasting.
If I had studied broadcasting right off the bat, you'd see me on the Today Show or at the big house, NPR. Physical therapy, however, taught me the importance of making a guest feel comfortable—the trust so needed in a clinical atmosphere is also needed when I present you with a microphone! You can trust me! My best compliment? “You made me feel so comfortable.”
CYNTHIA KAY CK Productions
Staying ahead of the pack for a technology company is challenging—everything changes at breakneck speed. Many years ago, we decided to move into the world of digital nonlinear editing before our customers were ready, and before most people even knew what it was.
Think of it this way: Just as you can cut and paste a document, you can cut and paste video. That might not seem amazing, but back then it was. In fact, we were one of the very first in the country to buy this very cool, expensive AVID editing system. It was the same year that the renowned filmmaker George Lucas bought one to do rough cuts of his movies on site. We were so excited about the technology that when AVID asked us to be a beta test site, we jumped in. That was when I learned firsthand about being ahead … But not too far ahead.
Early on, we loaded one new release and it turned all our video blue. People looked like Smurfs. It took hours to get the video back to normal. As a small company starting out, those were hours we didn’t have. It caused major headaches—not to mention that the cost went down significantly the next few years. We bought in too high. Way too high!
The good news is, that mistake forced us to be aggressive in seeking out new and larger clients. That put us on the path to having a client-base today that is enviable: large, global companies that we serve while still living here in West Michigan.
JANIS PETRINI Express Employment Professionals
Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids was growing, and as a small business we needed a larger space in order to accommodate our growth. In 2008, we had been in business for 12 years, and we were helping more and more people find jobs each year.
The advisors and business experts I was working with were encouraging me to buy a building, and we were able to find one that was perfect, but also expensive. With the real estate bubble of 2008, it was priced well above the true market price. This building would have provided my business with plenty of room to grow for the future, but it was more than we needed at the time.
As a small business owner I was worried about the financial risk, even though our financial health was strong. All of my advisors, business experts and real estate experts I spoke with were encouraging me to make the purchase and set myself up for long-term success. At the time it seemed like a good business investment, but I made the choice to walk away from the building against everyone’s advice.
Many considered this to be a big mistake on my part.
Well, 2009 hit the country and the financial market was destroyed. The real estate market tanked and our business growth slowed down. If I had bought that building, Express Employment Professionals would not be in business today.
In the end, I found a more modest space that met my financial commitment. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year and I count this decision as one of my best mistakes (according to others). Because I walked away, Express Employment Professionals has continued to thrive in Grand Rapids and continues to help thousands of people find great jobs every year!
ELIZABETH SCHENK Posh Petals
At Posh Petals, we don't call them mistakes ... We call them "happy accidents." (Thank you, Bob Ross.) And they happen daily! But, if I have to choose my best happy accident, it would be pricing things too low and giving away too much at the beginning of my career.
I turned things around by gradually increasing pricing and setting boundaries. It's nice to give some discounts when you're first starting out, but you don't want to sell yourself short.
Even though it wasn't necessarily the best business decision at the time, it really helped me develop some nice relationships with people who are still customers today.
KRIS SPAULDING Brewery Vivant
When designing our building layout, we weren’t in alignment with the architect, construction crew and budget. After bids came back, we were three times over what we could afford. Nobody in the room besides us believed the project could be slashed that much and still survive. We had to make tough choices, and cut out a lot of costs we thought were vital.
Looking back, if we would’ve done everything we wanted at the time, the business would look a lot different than it does today. Slowing things down was actually a good thing for us, in the long run. For example, in the space that would have held the kitchen, we now have three 100-year-old wood tanks in which we make our very popular wild and sour beers.
Being small, nimble and creative in using limited resources focused our vision and let the space evolve in a more honest and responsive way.
Photo courtesy of Steph Harding.
DR. JACKIE TAYLOR Pondera Advisors
During my high school graduation, it was announced that I was receiving a scholarship to Michigan State University. What a wonderful surprise, and what a joy! However, no specific confirmation of that scholarship ever appeared. Living in a tiny town “up north,” there was no one to assist me in following through.
I moved to Lansing, went to work full time, got married, had two wonderful sons and continued my dream of someday attending MSU.
Someday finally came when my sons were in middle school. While still working full time, I began classes at Lansing Community College. Graduating from LCC, I was ready for MSU, but MSU still wasn’t ready for me.
But Aquinas College opened the door for me, and what a special privilege to become a career student at Aquinas. Finally, at the master’s and doctoral levels, I made it to MSU!
Did I make a mistake in not knowing how to follow through at high school graduation? Or was it better timing in my life, a time of really knowing that a higher education pathway was my true dream and that I would get to MSU at the right time? I only know that my dreams came true with LCC, Aquinas, and MSU—and led to a better career than I could have imagined.
Photo courtesy of VillageStudio Photography.
JUDY WELCH Michigan Women’s Foundation
I was working in the loan department at a bank in Dallas, Texas in my early 20s. I had been in that role for about six months, and felt I had mastered the job and was doing quite well.
I have always been a quick learner and felt that I was ready for more responsibility. During my six month review with my boss—who had been at the bank 20 years and was one content in his job and where he was at—I told him I was ready to be promoted and that if I had been with the bank for 20 years as he had been, I would be president by now.
I had to apologize to my boss, found it caused a strain working together, and soon felt I had to transfer out of the department.
Making that comment helped me recognize that my boss was in his position for a reason. Not everyone aspires to be at the top. Sometimes, we need to appreciate where people are in their career and not be so quick to judge. The department was doing quite well under his leadership—and I could have stayed in the department and learned from him, and would have been promoted sooner within the bank.
I was young and a little too aggressive, which I thought was an attribute, which turned out to be a derailer.
SHANNON WILSON Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
I try not to look at any experience as a mistake, but as an “opportunity for growth.” That being said …
I once thought money was everything and moved into a role (based mostly on salary) without fully considering all the intricacies of the position and what I would give in order to meet the demands.
I believe that if you’re going to do something, you must do it to the best of your ability. When I took the role, I wanted to make a big paycheck. Young in my career, I didn’t fully appreciate aspects to work outside of the bottom line, which I interpreted as my salary.
I had to change my perspective. Look at things differently. I also started to appreciate the monetary value that happiness has. Don’t get me wrong … Money is important. It just isn’t everything. I learned that everything has value.
Without taking that position, I definitely wouldn’t have an appreciation for the other aspects of a job that make it great. I don’t want to just have an awesome job, but a phenomenal career. I want to inspire others, do meaningful work and positively impact my community. These attributes of a career are often outside of the day-to-day work, so it’s important to me that I’m in an environment that allows me an opportunity to be fulfilled in ways outside of my paycheck.