Tell us a little about your background.
I was raised in Greendale and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, the youngest of seven children. My parents were conservative “good Catholics,” and my mom wanted twelve children; six girls were born, then finally the prized boy, and then they planned to have the seventh child. My mother was convinced she could conceive another boy, a playmate for my brother, Billy, but I was a beautiful, curly blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby named Susie. While I was the youngest, my brother was treated more like the baby of the family. I was fiercely independent and loved to roam outside with my dog, my pony, my duck, and climb trees.
My father was a banker and worked at the Savings & Loan that my great-grandfather had started. I began to model my career after his. Something with stability, longevity, and that was accepted as a “good job” by society. As a child, I remember longing to be an entrepreneur. I got my degree in Business & Marketing from UW Milwaukee. I was a resourceful, hardworking child: I began to babysit at twelve and always worked; I even ran a small business on campus as I put myself through school.
I got married at age 22 and graduated from college a few months later. I started my first career with Kohl’s Departments stores as a Management Trainee. I quickly progressed through the various Assistant Store Manager positions. As the company was expanding, I too increased my level of responsibility by moving to the corporate office and becoming the manager of customer service, store operations, and communication for over 150 stores. I continued with Kohl’s for thirteen years of growth and promotions. I remember observing my boss and thinking “His stress is so high he’s going to die of a heart attack.” Is that what I’m aspiring to? NO!
Moving from Assistant Manager to Corporate Offices for Kohl’s
When did you start to think about making a change?
My husband and I took a three-week trip rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Our children were three and five and we left them at home with family. It was on this trip that I did some serious soul searching of what my next act would be. I knew I was attracted to natural methods of healing, but I had no education or experience aside from two of my favorite classes in college, taught by a Native American medicine woman, about philosophy and how to use Great Lakes plants for food and medicine. These were elective classes which had nothing to do with my business degree, go figure… I still have those class notebooks 30+ years later.
Rafting the Grand Canyon
I began to allow my mind to play with possibilities of a next act. I didn’t know what it would be but I created a list of desires, keeping in mind that I was the main breadwinner of the family. My husband was a stay-at-home dad who worked part-time on weekends and evenings.
One day, my brother invited me to look at a day spa with him. He is a massage therapist and was looking to rent a room in a beautiful spa on the North Shore of Milwaukee. I walked through the spa and immediately felt this was a business that excited me. Within six weeks of that day, my brother and I went into business together. I remember a conversation with the Russian esthetician who we inherited with the business. I naively stated, “You know, I’ve never had a facial or eyebrow wax,” to which she arrogantly replied, “I know.”
I remember thinking, I may not know this industry, but I have a passion to learn it and I do know is how to run a business, manage people, and excel in customer service—while always being willing to learn. It was very scary to take the plunge but because my brother and I made the decision so quickly, there wasn’t much time to overthink it. In hindsight, this was a gift. I prepared by taking a three-month professional leave of absence from my corporate job in order to continue to provide health insurance for my family and provide a safety net to see if I could support in this new venture. My husband was very supportive and for many years helped with weekly operational tasks.
The early days: My brother is on the left, my husband on the right
During this time, I went back to school to become a licensed esthetician through the Institute of Beauty and Wellness and found out that I really enjoyed being in the treatment room and working one-on-one with clients. At that time in my life, I prized myself on my ability to multi-task and so I did it all. I managed all aspects of the business and offered facial services too.
Our most intriguing service was Reiki, healing energy touch, offered by a woman in her 70s. She worked on an on-call basis, which took a lot of coordination with scheduling—not a very efficient way to run a business! The businesswoman in me wanted to make Reiki more accommodating and the spiritual muse in me was intrigued with the idea of learning to do Reiki myself. Still, my overwhelming thought was, “Who am I to offer Reiki? I don’t have magic healing powers.”
As any Reiki practitioner understands, the Reiki energy and healing is independent of the practitioner. The Reiki flows through us for the client’s highest good and purpose. As Reiki practitioners, we are commissioned to be clear, conscious conduits and invite our own ego to step out of the way. I was certified to Reiki level I with Nancy Retzlaff in October 2001 and went on to complete my Reiki Master/Teacher certification in Sept 2008, at the age of 45, with Laurelle Shanti Gaia and Michael Baird at Infinite Light Centerin Sedona, Arizona.
During this time, I chose to dissolve my business partnership with my brother and move into my next act.
What is your next act?
I am a Reiki practitioner with my own business, a Healing Center I named White Sage Spa. I worked with a life coach specializing in holistic business owners (Jaya Savannah) and structured my services to reflect inner and outer beauty along with wellness.
I offer Catalyst Life Coaching, Emotional Empowerment workshops, anti-aging facials, Reiki services & classes, Raindrop therapy (a balancing massage from Lakota Indian tradition using essential oils), and even officiate weddings, occasionally. I work in a beautiful shared space with other solo-wellness practitioners who offer services including massage, acupuncture, nutrition, and counseling.
Credit: Abigail Kathleen Photography
It wasn’t until age 47 that I had the courage and confidence to begin teaching Reiki. Reiki is an amazing self-healing tool that was the catalyst to my own journey in the importance of self-care. During the early years of running a business with my brother and raising two daughters, I strove to balance being a working mother and wife and business partner. Yet I was not the balanced zen-like healer I aspired to be. I recognized the stress and dysfunction in my business relationship with my brother. The grounding energy of Reiki led me to see the imbalance within me and harness courage for my true next act. Since then, I have become a Reiki master and teacher.
I have continued to up-level my education. At age 52, I completed an additional coaching certification with the International Institute for Emotional Empowerment and am also a teacher/mentor to others going through this certification process. I now understand that coaching/teaching and modeling self-love are my life’s purpose. It fills my heart to watch my clients make choices toward their desire vs. what they think someone else wants them to do.
I teach and model a life of balance and self-care. As I take care of myself at a high level, it allows me to hold space for others to learn the benefits and gifts available to each of us through the consistent act of self-care and nurturing. I’m in a business where I hold a safe and nurturing space for individuals to experience their own inner and outer beauty. I believe one of the greatest ways to teach others is through modeling the joy and happiness that flow naturally when we listen to our own needs versus living a life reacting to what we believe others need. I have lived both ways and I know the gifts that are available to each of us when we honor our desires through consistent self-care.
Why did you choose this next act?
When I evolved my business from a bustling multi-faceted seven-room spa to a simple one-woman show, some folks asked, “Why would you downsize?” I looked at it as simplifying and stepping into what made me happy—not what society was telling me to do. i.e. bigger, better, more.
It was a great opportunity that excited my heart and spirit. I remember thinking,
“This is one of those meaningful points in life where I either take the risk and go for my desire or stay on the safe path that is draining my life force and happiness. I’m young and if it doesn’t work I can do something else.”
Teaching a workshop
What challenges did you encounter?
The most overwhelming challenges were rooted in poor communication with my business partner/brother. I chose to dissolve the business partnership with my brother because we were not in a healthy relationship. I could see and feel the dichotomy of being in a healing business—attempting to present a calm, healing environment—while raging inside at the dysfunctional relationship that my brother and I were engaged in. Knowing that he would not be easily persuaded to leave the business, I took a huge leap of faith and sent a certified letter to him suggesting that he buy me out, I buy him out, or we sell the business—because I could no longer be in a healing business with a partner whom I was not in a functional relationship with. Reiki taught me to increase my faith and let go, trusting that the outcome would be for each of our “highest good.”
This was a very scary time since I was the main breadwinner for our family. I loved the healing industry that I was in, however, I recognized that if I didn’t shift to take care of my own needs, I would burn out. My husband was 110% supportive of me separating from my brother. He’d watched the toll it took on me to not only run the business but also to navigate the various roadblocks that were created by having a non-communicative/non-supportive partner. The biggest challenge was that when my brother and I went into business, we never created a formal business agreement outlining what would happen if we wanted to dissolve the partnership. If I’d taken the advice of my lawyer friend who encouraged us to create a legal document of partnership prior to beginning the business, this would have made dissolving the business easier.
My brother was initially shocked by the letter. He hired a lawyer and we began the negotiation process. We continued to run the business together and kept the conflict completely confidential from our staff and our family members. We came to an equitable solution within four months, where I paid him a sizable amount of cash to buy him out. Even though this put my husband and me in a financial crunch, it was a situation where I knew my freedom far outweighed the cost.
My brother continued with his massage practice in a different location. Years later, when I re-structured my business into multiple practitioners working collectively, but not as my employees, I welcomed my brother back in to rent a room. During those years I had learned healthy boundaries and how to use my voice. While I recognized that I could not be in a business relationship with him, I was open to having him work adjacent to me, running his own business. I’m happy to report that our relationship is better today than ever.
With my brother Billy at a family party
Reiki helped sustain me. The Reiki prayer has been my daily practice to stay focused and grounded:
“Just for today do not get angry, don’t worry, be grateful, work hard and be kind to all living creatures. This is the secret of inviting happiness, the miraculous medicine of all disease for the improvement of body and soul.” ~ Mikao Usui
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
After completing my Life Coaching certification in 2009 with Patty Jackson, I took a long look at what made me happy. I recognized that I love working with my clients, both one-on-one and in groups. What I was tired of doing was supporting all my employees and managing all the tasks involved with little time for myself. Hence the shift to my own one-woman business.
I launched my original business believing it was my job to support and take care of everyone. As I transitioned this business into my own solo practice, White Sage Spa, and continued on my personal journey by becoming a Life Coach, my greatest lesson was in learning the importance of taking care of myself and trusting that others have what they need to take care of themselves.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Get clear on what you desire is and why you seek this desire. Whatever you choose, recognize why you are choosing it and visualize how you will feel while you are living your new re-invented self. Listen to your heart/gut as your main guide and be aware of making decisions from fear vs. love.
With friends (Patty is second from right)
What advice and resources do you have for those interested in Reiki?
Focus on the aspects of the business that you are talented in and don’t hesitate to hire strong support people to help in the areas that you are not strong. Create a team and empower your team to create for the highest good of all concerned.
If you have an interest in learning Reiki, first recognize who you are learning this for. Many Reiki students have a big heart and desire to offer Reiki to others. The foundation is that Reiki is a self-healing tool. We must nourish ourselves before we can effectively transmit healing energy to others. Reiki will create deep transformative healing for you and all that you work with. It is important to understand that the Reiki is flowing through you, the practitioner, and is not dependent on your ability. We all have the ability to channel this Reiki love and light energy. Anyone can learn Reiki.
I have attuned three children and their mothers. Attunement is the sacred practice of aligning the student’s chakras to be open and to receive and send the Reiki energy to all. Ironically, the children understood and got out of their own way easier than adults. Why? The doubting-ego voice is not as loud at age 10 as it is at age 40. As you search for your Reiki/Master Teacher, be sure you connect with them on some level. I do not recommend being certified for Reiki via the Internet. I think it is important to have a group experience, a teacher you can reach out to with questions, a community to come back to for Reiki shares. If you are searching for a teacher, get clear on what your expectations are and ask questions. You will always be energetically connected to your Reiki teacher so be sure that this connection feels good to you. I also recommend waiting a minimum of 30 days between each Reiki certification level.
If you have the desire to learn Reiki, follow your heart and do it. The mind might be saying, “Who am I to offer this healing touch?” Remember that Reiki is available to all. The more Reiki practitioners we have in the world, the more unconditional love will be shared.
A Modern Reiki Method for Healing by Hiroshi Doi
Reiki Best Practices by Walter Lubeck and Frank Arjava Petter
The Book of Chakras: Discover the Hidden Forces Within You and Chakras and Their Archetypes: Uniting Energy Awareness and Spiritual Growth by Ambika Wauters
F.E.E.L.: Feel Every Emotion as Love by Michelle Bersell
With my husband and kids
What’s next for you?
My next act is continuing to teach the benefits of self-care and balance through one-on-one coaching and group workshops and to continue to attune others to Reiki so that our world will become a kinder, gentler place to live.
See Original Blog Post on Next Act For Women