In The Boss, women share how they became successful and the lessons they learned along the way.
In the United States, many children live in single-parent households led by women. My two sons fit into that category, and I felt an overwhelming amount of guilt, pressure and shame that my sons weren’t growing up with a second parent in the home. I also felt the constant tug between being able to find the time and energy to raise my sons and provide for myself and them. Finding the courage to build and grow my own business, a commercial design firm named Décor Interior Design, allowed me to conquer my financial strain and cure the social isolation that I felt as a single parent.
Even though my parents were married and I grew up with a mother and a father in my home, I was born and raised in a project tenement on the west side of Chicago; I didn’t have a straight path to success. I went to college, got married, started working and soon I was expecting my first child. Before I could blink, I was getting a divorce. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I became a single mom. It’s a reality I never imagined. My then five-year-old son, Jackson, asked me why his father and I were separating. I think I was speaking to the both of us when I told him, “That in order for any relationship to work, you both have to want the same thing.” I don’t blame either of us for not knowing what we wanted, but happily ever after we were not.
At the time, I had an amazing job with promise and potential, working for an international furniture manufacturer. In addition, I would take side jobs helping people decorate their homes and offices. I remember helping a client and picking up a check that was twice my monthly salary. I immediately realized the freedom and flexibility to not only write my own paycheck, but also to be in charge of my schedule and life. I left my full-time job to pursue entrepreneurship, and I launched Décor Interior Design.
In the mid-2000s, my company’s revenues were in the six figures and I had three employees including myself. Our client base was predominately residential, and business severely fluctuated. When the housing market crash happened in 2008, some people recommended that I shut my doors. I recall staring at the phone, anxiously saying, “Come on, people. Call! Didn’t you see the episode of HGTV Designer’s Challenge I was on?”
By then, with my head barely above water, I had more time than money. I’ve always been fueled by the words “no,” “can’t,” “maybe,” and “not supposed to.” So even though my business and the businesses of my competitors were struggling, I persisted and began to read, learn, consume and implement everything I could in order to increase my revenue. I utilized local business development centers and the Small Business Administration to re-write my business plan. I enrolled in a variety of entrepreneurial programs such as Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Business and UCLA’s Executive Education Program. I attended networking events five nights a week. I applied for every socio-economic diversity certification that applied to me.
As fate would have it, the phone finally rang — someone did see my episode. It was a facility manager from Warner Bros., who invited me to her office to discuss a potential project. After designing and completing that project, I realized there was a huge opportunity for me to offer my services to corporations. With the best reference ever and project photos to prove it, Décor Interior Design began servicing Fortune 500 companies and the federal government. In addition to expanding our client base, we enhanced our breadth of products and services. This grew our revenue by 400% and our employee count quadrupled.
I had worked tirelessly to make all of this happen, operating on an average of four hours of sleep for over 15 years, and sacrificing everything — including my marriage — to realize my goals. My sons, Jackson and Matthew, are a driving force and look to me as a dream maker and promise keeper. I plan to always deliver for them.
As Décor grew, so did my circle of influence. I was able to build a community in my industry, form peer groups and become a leader in my field. These people are not only clients, but also mentors, cheerleaders, brand ambassadors and family. Ultimately, I realized my divorce only defined my marital status. Single, by my definition, does not mean alone. I became more resourceful and resilient after my divorce. As a single mom, I pushed the boundaries of family into a cohesive, creative and collaborative lifestyle.
When I look back at my life and what I’ve accomplished, I am grateful for my family, my company and all the blessings I have received. I love to recount my unique and challenging experiences. I dwell on how they have shaped me and made me stronger. As I ambitiously develop and pursue my next steps, I want to stretch the narrative of my life beyond the confines of motherhood or business owner. I want my sons to see that they can do anything they want and that family always comes first. My mantra: Be grateful for what you have, create opportunities and be fearless in the face of change.