Ten years ago, I flipped the table I was sitting at and started out on a new adventure.
It was Friday, May 31, 2013.
I left my corporate career to start my own company, You Empowered Strong. After 20 years climbing the corporate ladder, playing the game, and at times, selling my soul to someone else’ agenda, I said goodbye.
I not only said goodbye to job security and my somewhat lucrative career, I also said goodbye to my life in Milwaukee, my friends, and everything I knew. I packed up a lifetime of memories and stuff, as I anticipated what was ahead of me.
After a brief visit in Illinois with my mom (who was still living there at the time), I rolled into Austin, with Payton in tow, for a new beginning.
We arrived on Thursday. June 13, 2013.
Honestly, it's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since I made the decision to walk away from my corporate career, to follow my heart, and to create bigger opportunities to inspire, influence and impact. I still remember the build-up to how it all came to fruition.
There were signs. Oh, so many signs. In fact, there were three distinctive signs that brought me to this path:
It was March 2013, and time for our annual reviews and bonuses. I typically received an “E” (or exceptional) rating, meaning I usually saw a significant bump … especially in my variable pay (which I preferred over just a minimal increase to my salary).
This particular year my combined raise was 19% overall.
I remember seeing the number, and instead of feeling elated, I felt flat. I simply looked at the statement, then pushed it aside. To be honest. I didn’t even feel like I put my best effort out the year prior. I felt like I barely “showed up” and I felt extremely disengaged. When I shared that with a friend, she said: “Are you crazy? Didn't you just tell me you received a 19% raise ... and, your not thrilled?”
My response: “No, not really. I feel like it’s just more money in the bank. I doesn't really motivate me to do anything differently or show up bigger (mind you, there was a time in my life where money was a HUGE motivator for me). In fact, I kind of feel like George Constanza from Seinfeld …I actually just want to crawl under my desk, hide, and take a nap.
I had dinner with an old college friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 2o years one night. In fact, she was my former RA when I lived in the dorms. To say Karice is a serious badass that I admire is a mild understatement. She is a totally fucking rockstar. Not only did she fly F-16 fighter jets for the Air Force, she also (now) is Chief of Surgery.
We were talking, and catching up, and she mentioned how much she admired me and that I inspired her. What? She was MY inspiration! I was a bit taken aback as she was one of my heroes. I couldn’t believe that someone I looked to for inspiration also could feel the same way about me.
As we were talking, I remember her saying: “My mom asked me once why I wanted to fly fighter planes for the military. She said: Why would you want to put yourself through such intense training just to do that?
[In case you aren’t aware, training to fly in the military is extremely tough, especially for woman. You go through all kinds of unimaginable scenarios … just as been kidnapped or taken hostage by the enemy. It’s brutal training, to say the least.]
She then responded with words that cracked my soul wide open. Karice responded: “I told her ... because every time I fly, my feet don’t touch the ground and my heart dances.”
My heart dances …
“When the hell was the last time my heart danced?” I wondered.
Not for a fucking really long time I mused, painfully, as I let the admission and truth sink in. Her words knocked the very breath out of me, and cracked me wide open (even though, in that moment, I wasn’t fully aware of it).
I was out with some friends for dinner one night. As we entered a newer sushi restaurant in downtown Milwaukee that I had never been to, I noticed a woman who felt really familiar to me. Except, I couldn’t figure out how I knew her.
We were at the bar ordering drinks, when the woman approached me and said, “Candy? Candy Barone? Oh, I thought that was you! Do you remember me?”
I looked at her, continuing to try and place her, when she interjected: “It’s me, Dee Dee … or, you might remember me as Deanna. I was one of your students in the AAA Program.”
[Ok, just to provide a little context … the AAA (Aspire, Adapt, Achieve) Program was a school-to-work program I created back when I worked for Johnson Controls. Senior leadership had come to me asking how to bring more women and minorities into to the business. I told them that it wasn’t by looking in the job market, but rather, that we needed to get into the schools to show inner-city kids what was possible. To build the pool of candidates from the ground up, to pave the way. Hence, the AAA Program was birthed.
This program was designed to work with a group of students over the course of their high school experience (they entered the program their freshman year and would be part of the program until graduation). I would teach them both soft skills and job-related skills, introducing them to various opportunities in engineering, accounting, technical field work, etc. (think STEM before it was really a thing).
This program was my baby. I worked with these students every Wednesday afternoon, coaching and mentoring them in the areas of emotional intelligence, soft skills, presenting, using their voice, and the like. Over the summer, they would then intern in various positions. At the end of the summer, they would give a presentation about all they learned. Eventually, upon graduation, for those interested, there would be potential job opportunities within the company. Needless to say, this is one of my shining accomplishments in my corporate career - this program filled my soul.]
It all started to click. “Oh my god, how are you?” I asked her.
Deanna then proceeded to share with me all that she was up to, including running two restaurants downtown. We talked for a while and caught up. It had been 12 years since I last saw her.
Finally, she asked me what I was doing. When I shared with her, she replied softly and thoughtfully: “Oh, I am a bit surprised to hear that. I always thought you would be doing something more like what you did for all of us with the AAA Program. In fact, do you know that some of us still get together and talk about what you did for us? You really saw us. You helped us more than you know. You gave us a safe space. You changed our lives.”
What’s so interesting about all these signs is that they showed up with such a beautiful synchronicity in the span of only two weeks. And, after hearing Deanna say that to me, I thought back to the first time I left GE Healthcare to take on a nonprofit stint.
When I left and felt called to the opportunity, I truly thought it was my dream job. Wow, was I wrong. Despite that, the opportunity was another defining moment that cracked me wide open ...
In that position, I was asked to take over the experience department at an interactive museum and laboratory for students spanning from middle school through college. Again, think STEM. I was charged with bringing in new curriculum and interactive learning environments where students could lean into hands-on, application-based education and experiences.
I felt so called to this work.
Unfortunately, the institution only wanted my resumé, credentials and network. They had no desire to actually give me space to lead. So, I found myself back at GE Healthcare after that heartbreaking realization.
Yet, I felt something start to stir deep within me.
Ironically, what came through was the initial birthing of You Empowered Strong … only, I didn’t know it at the time.
I still can remember waking up in the middle of the night, shortly after I went back to working at GE Healthcare, with this idea brewing in my mind, or should I say in my heart. Originally, when the concept of YES came to me, I thought is was 'Youth Empowered Strong.'
It was only after an extremely powerful, and activating, conversation with a mentor and dear friend of mine (shout-out to Kevin Chadwick) who introduced me to Andy Andrews book: “The Traveler’s Gift (game-changing read, I might add), who said to me” Candy Barone, my friend, you have a ‘decided heart.”
It was in that moment that I realized that YES was You Empowered Strong. And, the even bigger a-ha in that moment was that YES was not a program I was suppose to run while still burning and churning, and winding and grinding in my corporate career … YES was actually who I was.
Fast forward 10 years later to today.
Here I am reflecting and celebrating 10 years doing this work. Let me tell you, it's been one hell of a crazy ride so far! And, not at all what I thought it would be when I first started.
What I’ve learned over the past decade comes down to a couple key things, and is a continuous reminder for what’s in store for the next decade of my entrepreneurial journey:
This journey is anything but a linear one. it winds and moves, and changes course, more often than not. It is fluid, dynamic, and ever-evolving. When I allow myself to be in flow with it, to be aligned as fuck, I get to ride this path with greater ease.
I’ve learned that in being present to what invites my energy and focus in, when it feels aligned and fulfilling, my ‘yeses’ are easy, effortless really. In doing so, infinite possibilities open up and greater opportunities drop in.
It’s only when I let go of controlling "how" and "when" something will happen do I get to experience the true abundance available to me. For all I have to do is show up and respond to the inspired action in front of me.
Letting go of control has taken me some time to understand, and still is a process for me to grow in. But, when I do surrender, I am guided in my work instead of feeling that I need to guide (or direct) the work myself.
I came from a belief that my worth was a direct derivative of how much I got done, what I accomplished, and society’s metric for what success looked like. I was so caught up in that belief during my corporate career that it eventually had me in the hospital believing I was having a heart attack.
Like most of us, I bought into the bullshit. The notion that somehow more was better. More is what I should aspire to. That my worth was a result of how much shit I got done. I still remember bosses of mine urging me for more … “more stuff” as they put it.
Not more quality, more quantity. Just for the sake of “more.” It’s why we live in a constant state of the ultimate four-letter word: BUSY. We have convinced ourselves that more is the pathway.
When, in fact, what I have learned is real success is actually the opposite. It’s about doing more of what truly lights me up, and less of the stuff that drains me.
It’s about changing our definition of success from one of accomplishment to one of fulfillment … our soul’’s fulfillment.
It’s one of the reasons I love doing work with clients in their unique Human Design. For when we can understand our own unique wiring and energetic blueprint, we can then redefine what success looks like for us, individually and collectively.
Just like your spiritual walk, no one can tell you what success looks like for you. It is a personal path, and one only you can decide what it means to you. Success is different for everyone, and changes depending on what stage of life you are in.
Remember when I said that once upon a time money was my biggest motivator? This was true in my 20’s and 30’, when financial security was extremely important to me. I didn’t want to end up like my parents. I wanted to feel safe.
Now, as I am about to turn 50, my drivers for success are different. My motivators have changed drastically. Now, success is more about how I show up and how I chose to serve. It’s about being able to inspire, influence, and impact meaningful change.
The old adage that “it’s lonely at the top” is utter crap. No truly successful person does so in a vacuum. We are wired for connection, for community. It is the essence of being a spiritual being having a human experience.
The human experience is about humanity. It’s about connecting to our people, our tribe. And, it’s to realize that we are not for everyone. But, for those who are for us, and we for them, we are here to do great work together.
Each of us is a piece of the cosmic puzzle. We each have our part, our incarnation cross (aka, purpose, ikigai, dharma) to live out. We call to us those who can activate those gifts within us. This who challenge us, call out our bullshit, support us, truly and deeply see us, and can hear the call of our hearts.
It’s only when we align ourselves to those activators, those alchemists, does the fullness of our gifts shine through. I like to use the analogy that each of us can call in and connect to our tribe of Care Bears (remember that cartoon). And, when we come together, we are able to create our own Care Bear Stare.
I absolutely love this saying from the late, great spiritual teacher, Wayne Dyer: “There is no could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. There is only what was and what is.”
Think about that. How much time do we spend rehashing the past? We replay incidents and decisions over-and-over again to the point of no return and exhaustion. We wonder why nothing changes in our lives.
Nothing changes when nothing changes.
When we keep telling ourselves the same story wishing for a different outcome, we are robbing ourselves from the present moment. We are not holding ourselves accountable to make a different decision.
To express gratitude for whatever happened, the good, bad, and ugly. We miss the opportunity to bring the lesson forward.
I saw a video the other day where an influencer was being interviewed. He was asked: “What would you tell your younger self?”
His answer blew me away, and is the epitome of this lesson, in my opinion: “I wouldn’t,” he responded. “Who I was then, and all the choices I made, is why I am standing here now taking to you. All of that brought me here.”
He continued, “If I were to tell myself anything, it would be just to feel ALL of it.”
I absolutely love that.
While I have had many unexpected detours and shifts throughout the past 10 years, I am so grateful for all it’s taught me about myself, about what my spiritual walk is about, and how it helped me opened up to my life’s work.
As I continue on this path, I continue to learn and evolve. I find myself more a student now than I’ve ever been, and I feel an innate sense of curiosity and wonder coming through.
I’ve come to realize that the more I know, the less I know … and, that leadership truly is a choice. I get to choose how I want to show up, how I serve, and how I take personal responsibility inside those two spaces. I get to say YES to myself, destroy the NOISE, and allow myself space and grace to be aligned as fuck in who I am.
And, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, here’s to the next 10 years … whatever that may bring. I’m ready and open for it.
Thank you, my beautiful friend for being part of my community, for being on this ride with me. It has meant everything to have you be part of this. For you are one of my Care Bears!
With love, respect and deep reverence.
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