If you have ever experienced a major setback after following through on a plan, there are basically two ways you can respond: retreat and declare defeat, or push forward and take charge of the unexpected change, seeing it as an opportunity instead of a setback. Let’s meet some women who harnessed the unexpected changes in their lives and moved forward despite – or because of – those changes.

Brenda K. Stier, president of Marketing Works, Inc., built two businesses: one out of a situation where change happened to her, and the other when she was in a situation that she knew she had to change.

While she was working as a public relations coordinator for a small ad agency, the firm experienced financial difficulties and closed without any warning. She was in the middle of projects with several clients.  Out of a deep feeling of responsibility, Brenda offered to finish those projects, letting the clients pay her directly. Soon, more work and referrals came in, and what was initially a temporary situation became Brenda’s full-time business.

When one of her clients offered her office space within his building, Brenda immediately moved a computer into a cubicle there. When another client called shortly after, asking to whom they should make out a check for payment, Brenda looked out the window at the street sign – Greencrest Drive – and replied “Greencrest Marketing.” She operated Greencrest Marketing for three years as a sole proprietorship, then incorporated the business and added a partner as a 50% shareholder in the corporation.

Over the next five years, Brenda’s business grew.  However, it gradually became apparent that she and her partner had very different views on business, relationships and life in general. After a lengthy and difficult process, her business partnership was finally dissolved.  Again, Brenda felt obligated to take care of her existing clients, so she moved her business into her home and began operating as a consultant to many of her original clients. Five years later, Marketing Works, Inc. functioned as an outsourced marketing department and had grown from Brenda’s home into a 2,000-square-foot facility with six employees.

Looking back at the changes that happened in her professional life, Brenda says, “With each major change, you think it’s the end of the world, only to look back and realize it was the most positive, life-altering change that could have ever happened. You learn the most from the difficult experiences. And it’s those experiences that you’ll also never forget.”

Brenda went through career changes first initiated by the action of others, but she held on to what she believed in, in order to move past the setbacks and create new opportunities. Now she can run her business in a way that is compatible with her own values, and she can honor the sense of responsibility and caring she feels for her clients, a quality that led to starting her own business in the first place.

Discovering What to Change

The catalyst for becoming your own personal “change agent,” that is, orchestrating the changes in your life, differs for each one of us. Making change often comes out of a need to be true to yourself, to recognize and do away with negative situations that cause you to compromise. Perhaps it is an undeniable instinct for self-preservation that instigates change. Regardless of the reason, making change happen can take place at various stages of your professional career or your life, and it is up to you to be at the helm of that change.

For Mary Azzarto, CEO of Plumb Design, Inc., seeing change in a positive light has been a personal goal throughout her career. Each time she lived through a major professional transition, from a new job to a promotion, to a relocation, she has tried to see the shift as a challenge to reconfirm what is important to her and to move forward in a direction that is true to her personal values.

When she was 23 years old, Mary worked for a consultant as an analyst. Her responsibilities included initiating a quarterly newsletter.  She assembled a team to produce the newsletter and even worked after-hours for a month to write, edit and design a prototype. After presenting the sample newsletter to her boss, he gave her the go-ahead to publish the first issue, which received rave reviews. Suddenly, her boss withdrew his support of the project, announced that he was putting a stop to the newsletter, and refused to discuss it further.  Realizing that her boss felt threatened by her ideas and her success, Mary left her job, looking for opportunities where she could put her intelligence, initiative and experience to better use.

Mary could have chosen to remain in her position. She could have tried to change her boss’ resistance to her ideas. Or she could have accepted defeat and made sure she did not attract attention to herself in the future. Instead, she concluded that she would be wasting energy that she could use to build her professional skills and serve customers. She knew that she could not afford to stay in a job where her talents and ideas were not only underutilized, but were actively being suppressed.

Deciding to leave her job wasn’t easy for Mary, but in hindsight, she says it turned out to be the right decision.  “[Leaving my job] taught me not to sell myself short and to see opportunity in adversity. It put me on the path that eventually led to my co-founding and serving as CEO of a new enterprise, Plumb Design,” she says. “I think many women are initially intimidated by change, but it only takes one turn for the positive to realize that being stagnant works against you, both personally and professionally. One challenge is that many women are brought up to be ‘fixers,’ and therefore will stay in a bad situation – one that might even be harmful to them – and try to fix it, even when fixing it is neither in their best interest nor within their power.”

Mary feels that another challenge for women is unlearning the fear and intimidation that has been taught to them over the years by people in power positions – such as their bosses – who do not want to hear their ideas or watch them succeed. She believes that women can benefit from having an “I can do anything” attitude.

Mary acknowledges that change can be difficult, even frightening, but she pushed beyond doubts and fears to create a business she loves. You can either allow change to happen to you and be buffeted around by events, or you can assess the situation and either make the changes work in your favor or create additional changes to move your life in the direction that feels right to you.

Always be open to change. Being open to change helps you to create opportunities, even when the changes aren’t planned.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.