By Laura Foti Cohen
A new year is traditionally a time of new beginnings, but some changes are more significant than the turning of a calendar page. Whether leaving a long-time job or starting a new venture, making a big move or coping with the death of a spouse, Ebell members meet life’s challenges head-on, overcoming fears and embracing opportunity. They find that their skills and life experiences coalesce to support and guide them through a transition and beyond.
Rae Jones was happy running her own 13-year-old public relations firm and not looking to make a change when the board members of Great Beginnings for Black Babies (gbbb.org) approached her two years ago. “The outgoing executive director and co-founder had come out of retirement as a nurse to start the organization because of the high infant mortality rate among African-Americans. She had served 18 years. “Initially I said no, but the more research I did the more impressed I was with the organization’s history and reputation.”
“I came in knee-deep, in the middle of a funding crisis with the state and First Five LA. It was a baptism by fire. The good thing was that I was able to wage a media campaign because of my background.” The group got a lot of coverage and state funding was reinstated, through 2014.
Great Beginnings annually serves 700 women and their children through age five, helping with counseling, job hunting, housing, food and more. It offers empowerment classes for women and a groundbreaking fatherhood program. Rae says, “It’s almost like everything I had done prior to this prepared me to take on the leadership of this organization. I love the work we’re doing. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’re helping people to prepare for the rest of their lives.”
Marjorie Fierstadt spent 25 years at IBM, 15 in management. In the 1990s she was offered early
retirement as part of the company’s downsizing efforts. “Leaving IBM was like leaving Big Daddy’s house, lots of uncertainty,” she says. “It was clear to me that any opportunity for me would require a move. So I took the package.
“I had a lot of skills but I didn’t know where I would be able to use them. On a fluke I went to a job fair for Delta Airlines and got hired. I learned the airline business. In reservations sales, the job was very confining – I didn’t like it. I started working outside sales for a local travel agency. I’d learned direct sales through Mary Kay.”
Today Marjorie runs her own travel agency, and for the past two years was President and Treasurer of the Travel Consumer Restitution Corp., a fund derived from assessments required of all travel agencies operating in California. Claims submitted by California consumers are reviewed by a board which decides whether the consumer’s claim meets the criteria for restitution from the fund.
Marjorie notes, “Having your own business is very demanding. And there is no guarantee that your efforts will be profitable. When you’re an entrepreneur, everything from the president to the receptionist is your job. You have to be resourceful, dig deep in your desires and stamina and really push yourself to get things done.”
Gloria Droguett has navigated some major career shifts. She stayed home with her two sons while they were growing up, helping her husband in his sales job. “Once my sons were in high school, I ended up working in tax shelters and made a very good career out of it.”
It didn’t start off so well. “The man running the business ran out of money and was going to lay me off but I told him I would hang in there, and just before the end of the year we made $6.5 million in six weeks. I went a year without a salary – he not only paid it later, he bought me a car and sent my husband and me on a trip. I ended up the National Sales Manager and CFO.”
After about six years, it came to an end. Gloria says, “So many people bought bogus tax shelters during that time. We found ourselves defending ours in court endlessly. Even though ours was legitimate, going to court was expensive. So we closed the business.” Gloria and her husband, an artist, began traveling to art shows selling his work.
One new Ebell member who is a specialist on new beginnings is Lee Lawrence. While looking to make a change from her job as a dental hygienist, she found her calling. “I preferred doing creative things,” she says. “I started consulting dentists on running their businesses and then developed that business consulting into career consulting.” Today Lee is a career consultant.
She says, “Even adults don’t always know what they want to do with their lives. I look for people’s interests and talents to help them find their dreams. Being in a field you don’t like, or working at something you don’t enjoy is no good. I love being a part of how good people feel when they find the right area they really want to work in, when they’re excited about the career they’re following.”
Some life shifts combine the professional and the personal in a big way. Some years back, Kate Nunes sold her Hancock Park house and moved to Washington State to run a bed and breakfast. She says, “I loved running the B&B and I loved my big old Victorian Inn. I met interesting people from all over the world. But I couldn’t stand the weather. It rains 360 days a year. It was quite an experience and if nothing else it showed me how much I loved Southern California and how much I missed my friends.” Kate returned after two years.
Her advice for someone contemplating a major move: “Visit a lot; understand the climate and the people. I had only visited very briefly. I had friends but no family. When people say ‘it rains a lot’ you have no idea what they mean.”
Moving has an impact not just on location but on possessions. Kate says, “I had to downsize significantly and that was traumatic. You have to get rid of so many memories that are tied up in the things you have. You keep telling yourself ‘it’s just a thing.’ But it’s hard. I love living in Park LaBrea because of the convenience, but I still wish I had a big house.”
Kate, a widow, adds, “When you lose a spouse, my only advice is don’t make any big decisions for a while, because they will come back to bite you in the rear. You’re not always thinking right because you’re mentally and probably physically confused. It’s good to let some time pass and then decide what you want to do. You may not want to do anything.”
Cynthia Comsky, presenter of PLAYdate who lost her husband David three years ago, would agree with that advice. She says, “People tell you to wait a year before making any decisions, but that’s not nearly enough. Even when you know what’s coming, you think you’re prepared but you’re not.”
Cynthia and David had worked together in the entertainment business after he retired from his law practice. “We had great fun working together,” Cynthia says. “He had a creative mind. When we developed ideas it was lovely having a lawyer and a husband right there.
“There’s a strength that comes from knowing you had a great marriage. There’s no guilt, but there’s a big empty hole, and you have to find a way to fill it. You ask yourself, ‘what am I going to do?’
Fortunately I have good health and good ideas. ” For Cynthia, “PLAYdate was a godsend. I promised him I’d continue doing what I love and I have.”
There are moves and then there are moves. Patty Carroll, a Los Angeles native, moved to Paris in 1976, then came back in 2003 to take over her father’s real estate business, Hollywoodland Realty, when she inherited it. She still holds a version of her Paris job, working in advertising for the French division of Condé Nast and its magazines Vogue, Architectural Digest, Glamour, GQ and Vogue Homme International. “For the first three years I was going back and forth a lot, but now it’s a lot less. In the meantime I’m trying to give a whole new beginning to my dad’s business.”
About her move Patty says, “I probably would not have come back at that time, although I would have at some point. I love Hollywoodland and always bugged my dad to leave it to me, and he did. So now I have to make it work. The funniest thing is, I would ask him why he was doing things the way he did, like ‘Why aren’t you closing the Larchmont office?’ As soon as I sat down in his chair everything became clear to me.
“Things work out for the best. To quote my dad, go with the flow. Embrace whatever your life is and make the best of it, just throw yourself into it and great things come out of it. The lifestyles merge because you’re taking what you’ve learned from one and applying it to others. You find that your instincts are right, and you still use the same instincts even when you do something different.”