Becoming The Woman and The Leader I Wanted To Be

After reading/listening to DvF’s memoir, The Woman I Wanted to Be, I found myself thinking about my own journey: past, present and future. What lessons could I reflect on and share with my lovely girls to help them become the women that they also wanted to be? I also started thinking about my favorite book, True North, which sparked my interest and desire to develop my own leadership skills.

Everyone has difficulties and struggles in life, but the important thing is to use your experiences to shape your future. I’ve never once looked at myself as a victim, I actually feel incredibly blessed to have supportive family, friends and peers surrounding me. Knowing your story is SO important to guiding you to discover your passions and true purpose in life. Today I wanted to share my story and my journey to authentic leadership.

Reframe negatives and use them as motivation.

When I was 17, my Mom passed away from cancer right before my senior year of high school. I was completely devastated and really had no idea how to cope with the situation at all. I have always been a “glass is half full” kind of girl, so I decided to focus all of my energy on my school work. While I really wanted to take fun, easy electives like most of my friends, I instead signed up for Pre-Calculus and Physics electives. Math does not come easily to me, but I love the universal language of numbers. It’s challenging, fascinating and stimulates the analytical side of my brain that I so love using.


My Christening with Mom and her parents.

Everything happens for a reason.

I earned my highest grades that year and was accepted into my #1 choice for college majoring in elementary education. I actually ended up changing my major my sophomore year from elementary education to mathematics education because I had really missed taking math classes after I fell in love in pre-calc in high school.

When I was 21, I met Mike. My sister and I were shopping the day after Christmas, which was a tradition that we had created after my Mom passed. Mike was home from school and working at the mall. He just happened to be called into work that day because it was so busy; he wasn’t even on payroll yet. I was waiting in line for the fitting room and started talking to Mike to pass the time. After a few minutes, we found that we had similar majors and started talking about Calculus in the middle of Abercrombie. The rest is history and we got married in July 2009 when I was 24.

7th wedding anniversary 1

After college, I taught high school math for two years (between student teaching in NYC and maternity leave placement and a full time tenure in NJ). This was during 2008/2009 right when the economy crashed and I was laid off from my teaching job because of budget cuts. At the end of 2009, Mike was also laid off from his job in NYC at a wall street trading firm. We were both newly married, still living with his Mom and now, unemployed.


My Students and I in 2009.

I took the year to figure out what I wanted to do with my life… I thought about freelance makeup, I did some math tutoring and I also studied for the GMAT because I wanted to go back to school. I knew I wanted to change careers and go into business, but I wasn’t really sure how to make that leap.

This is when Mike started his business with a professor and colleague from Northeastern and entrepreneurship journey #1 began.

Sometimes we’re tested, not to discover our weaknesses, but to discover our strengths.

In June 2010, we finally made the move to NH when I was offered a position at a company in the area and I officially started my journey as a corporate gal. Our first four years up here were some of the hardest years that I’ve ever been through. When you first start a business, you don’t make money. When you get your first job, you also don’t make any money. We had to be VERY resourceful and clever with our money because sometimes we just didn’t have enough money to buy groceries. During these 4 years I rarely shopped (just Christmas and my birthday), we only went out to eat when someone visited and getting Starbucks was considered a “date” for us. If our friends and family wondered why we were so obsessed with Starbucks, this is why. I also learned how to be really creative with purchases: I would buy my designer items on Piperlime.com with my banana republic coupons, discount codes and credit card points. This is pretty much how I accumulated my KS shoe collection and why I only wore Banana Republic for so many years.

Prepping for a virtual juice cleanse with TSC, the first blog I started following.

In 2011, I decided that I was going to retake the GMAT and apply to business school. My grandmother was my inspiration to go back to school. She completed her master’s degree while she worked and raised 3 children during a time when women were not supposed to have a college education. I loved that she was a strong woman who defied stereotypes and went for her goals.

After training for and completing a bucket list goal of running a half marathon in October 2011, I then dedicated my time to studying. I woke up every day at 4:30am so I could get in a quick 20-minute workout and then study my GMAT materials. I did this for 6 long months: study before work, after work and on weekends. Sadly, during my studies, my grandmother passed away. I took the $20 Mega Bus to NYC, did GMAT prep the whole trip, attended the funeral (that I also sang at) and tried to cope with my loss. After it was all over, I got back on the bus and continued my GMAT prep on the way back to NH.


My Grammy.

Right around this time was also when Mike and I took up second jobs and worked at a restaurant. He was a host and I was a bus-girl: Fri and Sat night (sometimes Thurs night too). The best part was getting dinner and drinks at the end of the shift because we could barely afford groceries. I tried to keep it a secret from coworkers, but after a few weeks, the word got out when some of my coworkers came in for dinner… and I bussed their table. Talk about embarrassing. But you do what you need to do in times of desperation.

Later that Spring, I quit my restaurant job when I got a promotion and I also retook the GMAT exam. I scored HIGHER than my goal and was thrilled. I sent off my application to UNH and a few weeks later, found out that I was officially beginning my MBA program in the Fall of 2012.

Nothing worth having comes easy.

GMAT prep was the warm up for my journey as a full time student while working full time. My corporate job was demanding, high stress and I literally had to SNEAK OUT of the office at 5pm to run to class on weeknights.

I was in class twice a week until 9:15pm, which meant getting home close to 10pm and the other weeknights were spent doing homework. I was back to my 4:30am wake up schedule, but this time I was doing homework all morning until I went to work. Homework in the morning, homework in the evening and group projects on the weekends. It was non-stop and exhausting.

I will never forget the time that I ran out of deodorant and had to use Mike’s for the week because I didn’t have time to run to Target (and this was before Amazon prime was really a thing). Mike was my rock during these two years and took care of EVERYTHING: household chores, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry… EVERYTHING. He had my back and supported my goals and dreams 100%.

Business school was demanding and challenged me in new ways that I didn’t think was feasible. My mind opened up and I was like a sponge taking it all in. The classes that impacted me the most were leadership and strategy, which I took in my final semester in 2014. It was during my leadership class that I started to become very aware of the toxic leadership that I was experiencing at my corporate job. Also, the more that I learned about leadership, the more I started to realize that I wanted to be a leader for others.

My MBA classmates became my family during these two years; I saw them more than I saw Mike. We drank wine in class, worked tirelessly on projects on campus or in my living room for 10 hours at a time and just bonded in the most amazing way possible. I will always have so much love for these friends who helped shape the woman that I am today.


My MBA family.

Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.

After I graduated in the Spring of 2014, things at my corporate job just continued to go downhill. Mike started working at PwC and for the first time, we were finally a double income family (aka DINK’s). All of the things that we could never buy and all of the experiences that we could never do were finally possible. I’ll never forget how excited we were to buy new Sonicare toothbrushes, an additional set of dishes and a new set of kitchen knives. I also started coloring my hair for the first time in YEARS and added some blonde to my naturally darker hair. We saved up for little trips since we hadn’t traveled anywhere since our honeymoon in 2009, went out to eat and had real date nights, paid off the bills from renovating our townhouse and I splurged on a few designer things that I had always wanted. I also financed a used version of the car that I always dreamed of owning and stopped leasing for the first time. Mike was also able to get a used version of his dream car too. Neither of us are excessively materialistic or superficial, but we do enjoy and appreciate nice things in life.

Bar Harbor Trip

Our first mini-vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine.

It felt SO good to have some disposable income to enjoy ourselves after years of living off of the bare minimum. But after a few months, the luxuries we were finally able to enjoy had a deep, dark cloud hanging over them. I was completely MISERABLE during the hours of 9-5 and found myself having panic attacks at work and crying in the “private room.” I really got into meditation to try to calm myself down. I tried SO HARD to push through it and make it work because I am very stubborn that way (I’m a taurus).

But like in the movie Enough with Jennifer Lopez, I finally had enough. The final straw was in April of 2015 when the toxic leader locked me in her office (again) to go down the list of things that were wrong with me. I literally started meditating while she was putting me down, but after an hour of insults, I left her office crying hysterically. In April 2015, we went through a re-org and that was supposed to alleviate things, but it only bought me time. At this point, my goal was to try to stay as long as possible because the thought of going back to one income again terrified me, especially with all of my new student loans from business school.

My one saving grace during this time was my new boss, who was also my good friend at work. She tried SO hard to help me and stop the toxic leader from emotionally abusing me, her and all of the other women in the office. I loved her because she was smart, open-minded and an amazing mentor and leader. I was so conflicted because I loved working with her and the other girls in the office, but the toxic leader was just overbearing. I can’t even tell you how much crying I did before finally making the decision to leave. In November of 2015 (one year ago) I finally decided that I had enough and I turned in my resignation letter. That same morning, by the grace of God, Mike found out that he had received a rare mid-year promotion at PwC. He was 1 of 4 in the country (in his practice) to get a promotion. It was like the stars aligned and I knew I made the right choice. I learned so much from my corporate experience in product development, marketing and merchandising, but I was beyond due to start a new chapter in my life.

Stop holding yourself back. If you aren’t happy, make a change.

October 2014 is when I had the idea to create a space for entrepreneurs to connect and achieve success. I always had a vision of what Style Collective is now, but when I started it two years ago, it was under the name “Collective Passions” and I really had no idea what I was doing. The path to success is never a straight line. The photo & caption below are so eerie.


My first Instagram photo October 2014.

Under Collective Passions, I wrote about business related articles (which I just re-published to my business category here) and used my Instagram to repost photos of women who had businesses in fashion. During that phase of research and experimentation, I found myself drawn to the fashion blogging community. I ended learning about the industry by pivoting Collective Passions into a lifestyle blog. During this time, I became friends with women who were also starting fashion & lifestyle blogs. We bonded through DM’s and they helped me get through a time when I was emotionally drained and my confidence was at an all-time low.


I visited Ruthie in June!

During the summer of 2015, I became VERY close to my friend Ruthie who I had met through blogging. The idea of “Collective Passions” finally came back around as “Style Collective” and I will FOREVER be grateful to Ruthie and the founding members who gave me the confidence that I needed to launch it as a business. In June, Ruthie and I parted ways with leading SC together, but I truly believe that God put her in my life at a time when I needed her the most. Ruthie and I are still friends and I am so truly happy for all of the amazing things that she continues to accomplish.

In understanding and framing your story, you will find the calling to lead authentically.

Style Collective was formed as a reaction to an experience that should never happen to other women. I left my job in corporate marketing after being bullied and harassed by another woman in the workplace. The experience had left me feeling defeated and emotionally drained. I want there to be a better way for women to work together and help each other achieve success. I’ve made it my mission to empower other women, improve their happiness and help them achieve their goals through sisterhood and support of a shared passion. Style Collective is that mission.


Leaders are defined by their unique life stories and the way they frame their stories to discover their passions and the purpose of their leadership.

So here we are today, almost 500 members strong and almost one year after leaving my full time salaried career to pursue my dream of helping others. I cannot believe it and I am honored to be able to lead such an amazing group of women. I am so incredibly grateful that I am able to do what I love and have my heart filled with so much happiness and love. Because of my past hardships, I will never ever take this journey for granted.

I truly would not be the woman I am today without every single experience that I have had. I wanted to share my story because my life isn’t perfect, but if you can reframe your negatives and use them as motivation, then you can create the life that you have always wanted. It takes courage and hard work to take control of your own destiny, but if you have the will, the drive and a plan, then you can do it. Take it all one day at a time and enjoy the journey.


Words To Live By:

Reframe negatives and use them as motivation.

Everything happens for a reason.

Sometimes we’re tested, not to discover our weaknesses, but to discover our strengths.

Nothing worth having comes easy.

Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.

Stop holding yourself back. If you aren’t happy, make a change.

In understanding and framing your story, you will find the calling to lead authentically.

Leaders are defined by their unique life stories and the way they frame their stories to discover their passions and the purpose of their leadership.

“At this point you may be wondering, doesn’t everyone have a life story? What makes leaders’ stories different from everyone else’s? Many people with painful stories see themselves as victims, feeling the world has dealt them a bad hand. Or they lack the introspection to see the connection between their life experiences and the goals they are pursuing now. Some get so caught up in chasing the world’s esteem that they never become genuine leaders. The difference with authentic leaders lies in the way they frame their stories. Their life stories provide the context for their lives, and through them they find their passion and inspiration to make an impact on the world. Novelist John Barth once said, ‘The story of your life is not your life. It is your story.’ In other words, it is your story that matters, not the facts of your life. Our life stories are like permanent tapes playing in our heads. Over and over, we replay the events and interactions with people that are important to our lives, attempting to make sense of them and using them to find our place in the world. Reframing our stories enables us to recognize that we are not victims at all but people shaped by experiences that provide the impetus for us to become leaders. Our life stories evolve constantly as we shape the meaning of our past, present, and future. Warren Bennis says, ‘You are the author of your life.’ He advocates using our stories to provide the inspiration to create our futures. As the author of your story, can you connect the dots between your past and your future to find your inspiration to lead authentically? What people or experiences have shaped you? What have been the key turning points in your life? Where do you find your passion to lead in your life story?” – True North

Becoming The Woman and The Leader That I Wanted To Be