By Sheilah Crowley
My life is similar to many other women today: I am a breadwinner, wife, mother, and friend. But one day, while being pulled by these competing priorities, I was forced to face a sobering health crisis. Ironically, it led me on the path to fulfilling my dreams.
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992. But I had been symptom-free until one July morning 22 years later in 2014. I found myself suddenly unable to walk to the subway because the communication between my brain and my legs was distinctly off. The ensuing litany of tests, neurology appointments and ultimately heartbreaking news that I had suffered an acute MS flare-up was a wake-up call. I could no longer risk my health for my beloved, but stressful, job as an executive at City Harvest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping feed the nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers facing hunger.
But retiring was not a viable option from an economic or psychological perspective. Even if I could afford to retire, I would not want to end my professional career now because it stimulates me. It is a vital part of my sense of self-worth as a person and a woman. I needed to find a new and inspiring way to meet this daunting challenge in my life.
Paralyzed by a lack of tools to fall back on and seeking a major course correction ahead for my life, I turned to a personal group of advisers who helped escort me to a new place, physically and psychologically.
By rescuing myself through connection and action, and recognizing that my lifelong leadership skills made me a natural CEO, I was prompted to lead a team of experts steeped in female psychology and human development, to create a customized program for women seeking similar professional guidance. My new business teaches women how to recognize their unique talents and become their own CEOs, independent contractors or employees in fulfilling jobs. Many are moms yearning for a first or second career and seeing an opening after their primary child-rearing years are over.
My second career is no less demanding. But it is less stressful because I love it even more than my first one. Not coincidentally, I feel more energized than I have felt in years and my MS symptoms are stable. This new career provides the flexibility I need to fulfill my other commitments — and most importantly — to maintain my health.
My experience may be unique in some ways, but there already is a growing trend of women becoming their own CEOs. In fact, it is the wave of our economic future.
“Women around the world will enter the workforce at an unprecedented rate over the next decade,” predicted a 2010 Intuit Report about significant trends thru 2020 and forces affecting consumers and small businesses, and those who serve them.
The Intuit Report cited an analysis by the business management consulting firm Booz & Company (which merged in 2014 with PricewaterhouseCoopers to form Strategy&, that describes itself as “a global team of practical strategists committed to helping you seize essential advantage”).
The report estimated that 870 million women worldwide — including roughly 47 million from North America, Western Europe and Japan — “who had not previously participated in the mainstream economy, will gain employment or start their own businesses … Women will overcome the legal and traditional barriers that prevented them from participating in some regions by using virtual, mobile and Internet technologies to run businesses without having to be physically present.”
These findings do not surprise me. Some women are so talented they could run our nation, but chose to run households. Most women could reignite a professional career or launch a business, but are not sure where they would fit in or where to start.
It is no wonder that given the sustained attention these women bestow on their husbands, kids, kids’ schools, their communities — in effect everyone but themselves — they haven’t had the space to ask: What’s possible for me?
If you’re interested in the power of this question, the next time you are at an intimate gathering of family and friends who have provided emotional support for you in the past, ask them: What do they think is possible for you these days?
I guarantee you will be surprised by what you hear.
Sheilah Crowley is founder and CEO of The Summit , a customized program to help women in the New York metropolitan area at a professional crossroad to choose their future path. Born and raised in Greenwich, she and her husband currently live with their two children in Brooklyn, New York.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published on May 17, 2016 in the Op-Ed section of The Greenwich Time. Republished here by written permission from its Op-Ed editor John Breunig.