“In the pursuit of acceptance, you lose what’s interesting about yourself.”

Puja was born in Bombay, a very traditional society, where parents push their kids into 1 of 3 professions: Science, math or engineering. Puja always knew that she wanted to pursue a creative career, but most of her family thought it wouldn’t amount to much of a career. She comes from a family of doctors, accountants and engineers, but was lucky that her dad wasn’t such a traditional thinker. He encouraged Puja to do something that she was excited about. She gives credit to her dad for supporting her dream, and her mom for building the safety net around it. An avid saver, her mom made sure the rest of us could dream big.

When Puja was in high school, a professor introduced her to advertising. Even though she had her eye on fine arts, his advice was that she was better suited in recognizing different styles, storytelling and composition. A fine artist would master one style and he encouraged Puja follow the path of a creative director so she could use more of her strengths. 

After high school, she attended Sir J.J. School of Applied Arts (part of the University of Mumbai) for her BFA. It’s common in India to bribe schools in the form of donations as a way to get in, but J.J. was one of the few based on entrance exams. She could have paid her way into school, but they didn’t allow it, so she was accepted on merit, which is something to be proud of.

She graduated early at age 19 and started working at Leo Burnett in Mumbai. One day, she found the D&AD book and while flipping the pages, discovered a bigger world with such different work, it inspired a desire to travel and work outside of India. She found a scholarship opportunity for women pursuing higher education in the Arts. The scholarship was offered by TATA, an industrialist in India (his company now owns Jaguar). She applied (and won) that scholarship, took a loan from her parents so she could follow her dream and move the the U.S.

Her first stop was at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) to earn her Master’s in Communication. She thought if she didn’t make it in advertising, should would be a teacher. Moving to the U.S. was quite a culture shock. She went from being the majority, to being the minority. She had to figure out all the nuances that exist within that change. “Do they understand my accent?” “Do they get my jokes?” “Is brown skin also considered beautiful?” Everything that a non-caucasian child learns to deal with as a kid Puja was learning at 19. People expected her to have mastered being a minority. It was difficult at first and created a lot of self-doubt. She was ok with that and worked hard at catching up on everything American. Her goal was to grow, and the only way forward for her was through the discomfort.

After a few years of college and working at different ad agencies in NY, LA and Chicago, she aced the blending in. One day she saw a commercial she helped make air on TV where the father taught his son to pitch a tent. Puja thought to herself: “Why did I not cast a mother in that role?” In her pursuit of acceptance, she was losing what was interesting about herself. She was a woman, a woman of color, the only female creative in the room who had a seat at the table. The world couldn’t afford for her not to not point out things only she saw. When asked, she often says that “the only way to make space for different ideas is to embrace the awkward meetings and discussions. If you want to expand your world keep coming back to the table. It won’t be love at first sight and that’s ok.”

Pujas creative spirit, which gets restless if in one place too long, has not only taken her to multiple cities like LA, NYC, Minneapolis and Chicago but she has also jumped 3 countries including Switzerland, USA and India. This was exciting because she was now working with many people whose work was featured in that D&AD book that originally inspired her to move to the U.S.

When Puja and her husband were in LA they got pregnant and were ready to call someplace home. They had always loved Minneapolis, the lakes, the seasons and the people. So, their final move was to the Twin Cities where they had their daughter and bought a house near a lake.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
It wouldn’t be a celebrity because I don’t follow celebrities so I don’t about many of them. Susan Credle, the Global CCO at FSB Global. I want to know her secrets. The other person I’d invite would be my mom because we don’t get enough 1-on-1 time.

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
I don’t want to be famous, but I want to leave a mark. I want my life to mean something, and if it does, that means I’ll be remembered. And, it’s ok if it’s only my family that remembers.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?
I don’t, but I should because it would help me think things through more thoroughly. I’m an in-the-moment person and it doesn’t always work out.

When did you last sing to yourself? 
Last night, to my daughter when I put her to bed.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Wait, does it have to be an immature mind of a 30 year old? This is a hard question. I kind of want them both. I’ll go with mind.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
I don’t have a hunch, but a preference. I hope it’s a heart attack.
To me, that is better than drowning, burning or crashing in an airplane

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
For people, like my dad, who believed in me. My dad believed in dreams over being rational about life. I also think luck played a huge role. My job was to reach for my stars, which was to be a Creative Director in the U.S. If you did a pros and cons exercise on that dream, the cons would definitely kill it! Being persistent and at the right place at the right time had impact on my life. 

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
Being born a woman, in a third world country and middle class has created an adversity to risk for me. To succeed, you have to believe you are right. Even if I have all the proof that I’m right, society has taught me that as a woman I must question myself. I wish I could be more of who I am versus who I’ve been trained to be. 

I challenged her answer and pointed out that from my perspective, her whole story is about taking risks. From her career choice, moving around the world and settling in MN. Puja replied that risk is subjective. She wanted to rule the world, but she is settling for ruling her world.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
I don’t know if I’ve necessarily had dreams that I’ve not set a timeline to. If a dream doesn’t transition to a goal, it seems like a failure. I don’t give myself space to dream. I dream about a Creative Department having 50/50 gender equity, but that’s not in my control. My life has been about achieving, it’s just how I’m wired.  

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
It’s really simple. It’s that I identified what I wanted in life. There were two doors to choose, with pros and cons behind each. I picked my door without questioning my choice. Of course, I’ve thought: “I’m good at math, I should have been a trader.” Sure, I’d have money, but it wouldn’t make me happy.


Do good deeds. Don’t get caught!

I remember when Prince died, people called into a radio station telling stories about his generosity and how it was contingent upon keeping it a secret. He probably made them sign contracts, he was so stubborn. I believe those stories. As a Prince fan, I’m well aware of his enforcement of secrecy at shows and parties. NO CAMERAS ALLOWED, EVER! If you got caught with a camera (or phone), you got thrown out and he kept your camera (or phone).

The marketer in me thinks this is a missed opportunity. These are the stories that build loyalty because they are authentic to the brand. It makes me wonder how different the public perception of him would’ve been if we knew more about his good deeds. Would more people have cared enough about him to ensure he was in good health?

The contrarian in me admired his commitment to secrecy. Remaining anonymous keeps the giver focused on the deed and eliminates a temptation to become the story. There is something powerful in that.

Do good deeds. Don’t get caught. I like this phrase. It’s simple and reminds me of my intentions. It also feels cool to make moves in secret, but the events of the last month have me rethinking that. 

As the shutdown of the economy was beginning, I saw a surge in posts about how people were donating and spending in their communities. I had my own “a-ha” moment about shopping at a local bookstore, instead of the chain store that I was used to. I felt like a dummy because I already prioritize my spending with small businesses, how did I miss the bookstore? l was influenced, and diverted my book purchases to the local store. Since I was influenced, I thought I would try influencing.

So, I posted about where I donated and how I spent with small businesses during that first week of the shutdown. Sharing my spending amplified a feeling of relief. A quick fix to the anxiety I had thinking about the unknown impact to my lovely city and her unique offerings. If I’m being honest, simply donating and spending made me feel just fine too. I’m unsure which had the biggest impact.

Do good deeds. Don’t get caught. It’s a good mantra, something I aspire to. As I reflect on it, I think it’s about finding a balance between sharing and not sharing and being clear about my intentions around the share. The true value of giving is in the act itself. Telling people about it, hopefully inspires them to lend a hand, but more importantly…it inspires them to act so they can experience how great it feels to help other people.

I’m curious, are you public about your kindness, or do you keep it to yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments.


“This suit requires swagger. On the days I don’t have much, I’ll wear this to make up for it.”

With Amanda’s story, I’m reminded of the women who came before us and how different the pursuit of economic security once looked. Many of our mothers and grandmothers weren’t expected to work outside the home, nor were there many opportunities. They were raised to lead domestic lives by getting married as soon as possible. Amanda is the descendant of 2 women whose pursuits of domestic life were upended by situations they couldn’t control and turned them unexpectedly into career women. 

For her mom, it was a divorce. She had to figure out how to get a job and financially support herself and Amanda. She made it happen though, Amanda never felt like she went without anything. She got her clarinet lessons and many of her clothes were sewn by her mom. Looking back on her mom’s experience, she has a deeper appreciation for how hard she worked. It was never her mom’s goal to work full time and be the bread winner. She wanted to be a mom. 

A generation earlier, Grandma Shirley’s husband died so she too had to figure out the economics, during an even tougher era for women being accepted in the workplace. Her Grandma did just fine, by the way, and ultimately became the head of her division. Both women had to figure out how to get money without men during a time when society didn’t offer many opportunities for women to be financially independent. 

These 2 women are very important role models to Amanda and it’s easy to see how she learned to be driven and independent by growing up with them.  

Amanda grew up in Southwest Missouri and spent her childhood just wanting to get the hell out of Southwest Missouri. While in high school, she took her first journalism classes and thought she would ultimately write for Rolling Stone. She was the editor of her school newspaper and like every good GenX’er started a ‘zine after she graduated. Starting the ‘zine was the first time she realized that she liked organizing the thing more than she liked the actual writing.

She attended college at Missouri State University, majoring in English Literature. In college, she was also the Editor in Chief of her college newspaper. Because she was Editor in Chief, she was personally liable for any libel that may be printed in the newspaper. Mistakenly, a defamatory article was printed about a college football player and he indeed decided to sue her. From October to May of her Senior year, in addition to her schoolwork, she spent 40 hours per week working at the newspaper and 20 hours per week fighting the lawsuit, which was dropped that May. After that, she never wanted to see the inside of a newsroom again.

She took her talents to the world of advertising at an agency in Kansas City. She was intrigued when she interviewed because the people were young and cool, there was a dog in the office and people were wearing jeans. There were still cubes, it was the’90’s after all, but she was seeing the beginning of the more relaxed work culture.

They hired Amanda as a PR writer and she moved to KC, where her first gig was ghostwriting for a pest control magazine. She was super curious about the company and the work and was quickly recruited into Creative Copywriting. Again, hitting on the theme she discovered after high school, she was more interested in “why” they were doing things, rather than the actual writing. 

She transferred into media for 6 months and learned as much as she could. Meanwhile, on her own time, she was writing a book about internet communities. The book was a result of primary research she and her co-author conducted to create one of the first (if not the first) published ethnography of an internet community. Her book was published in 2004 and then CurrentTV called and hired her to consult with their on-air talent about the digital community. 

They ultimately offered her a full time Director role. She had a “WTF” moment when she realized that by accepting this job, she just leapt off the career ladder within agencies. It worked out ok, she worked up to VP of Product and left after 4 years.

She moved on to another start-up in San Francisco and had just met a man who was based in Minnesota. They dated long distance for 3 years, and Amanda knew she had to think about relocating to Minnesota if she was to continue being with him. 

She took a meeting with Zeus Jones. It was scheduled for 30 minutes and turned into 2 hours. She didn’t interview anywhere else because she knew Zeus Jones was the perfect fit. She accepted an offer in 2013 and in 2018 became one of the first female partners. She also married the guy she moved here for.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Patti Smith because of a million reasons. I’ve idolized her since my young goth punk phase. She seems like the coolest woman in the world and has an incredible sense of her own style.

I was super into music as a kid. The Regency Showcase Club was where I saw shows when I was a kid living in Missouri. Then, in college, I worked for an alternative rock station. I have over 3,000 CDs from that era!

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
Hmmm…I don’t think so. I’m pretty private and close to my friends. I don’t want all the things that come with fame. Sounds like a nightmare. I’m too much of an introvert. Reading books is how I relax.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
I would never sing to someone else. I sang in choir and choir competitions. I sang opera. I was always part of a chorus, and not the person in front. I sing to Kelly Clarkson in the car like nobody is watching. When I moved here, my stepdaughter and I would have Taylor Swift dance parties in the kitchen.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
I have a fear about how I’ll die. My Grandma died of Alzheimer’s, so I have a fear of that disease. When I forget something I feel like: “Oh, this is it!” Watching someone suffer through that disease is horrible.

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
By appearance, it looks like Joel and I have a matching aesthetic and that we both like to dress up. Our house appears this way the most, but in reality we compromise a lot. He’s minimalist and I like patterns. When it comes to dressing up, I love it and he doesn’t. However, he’s very fastidious about his appearance. He’s not fancy, but he’s put together and will have 87 navy blue tee-shirts. We both work around marketing so people may think our jobs are close in common, but they couldn’t be more different. My job is broad, where Joel’s is specialized.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I met my stepdaughter. Spending time with her has unlocked something in me I didn’t know existed. It’s something I never thought I’d have because of my fertility issues. Claire’s mother is incredible. She calls me her “co-mom.”

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I never took school seriously. Now, I fully understand what I can accomplish when I apply myself. Looking back, I could have done more incredible things! I wish my mom had been more disciplined about applying myself in school, but it probably didn’t occur to her because she had totally different goals.  

What do you value most in a friendship?
Honesty. That was easy. I have enough people around me who blow smoke up my ass. I want people to tell me the truth. I over-index on truth telling, which is sometimes off-putting to people.

What is your most treasured memory?
The night before my first wedding I spent at my Grandma Shirley’s house. She asked me: “Is the sex good? Cuz life is long and if it’s not good, don’t marry him.” 

What is your most terrible memory?
Right before my Grandma Shirley died, my mother and I took her to the eye doctor. It was the first time I realized what the Alzheimer’s had done to her — she sat there with her hair unkempt, in a ratty sweater, the rings on her fingers filthy from who-knows-what. All her life she was very well put together. Not stuffy, but she liked to get dressed, if that makes sense? But sitting in that doctor’s office it was clear she had been undone and wasn’t herself at all. People were looking at her and frowning, and it was all too much. I ran out and cried in the parking lot.


How can I be of service?

Have you ever found yourself in a state of perpetual hunger for the next thing? For me, it always centers on “achieving.” It’s the next promotion, next big-name client, next design award, next, next, next. Focusing on next, fools me into believing that I’m moving forward, improving, winning, achieving. The problem is, I keep moving the goal line, so I’m always on to the next. What I’ve noticed is that I’m never really present and few things ever live up to my expectations once I get there. Get “where” exactly?

This insatiable need for the next thing has served me well in my career because that is what people hire me to do. I think of the possibilities and then bring them to life. I get paid well, I work with impressive people on impressive projects. Check, check. However, this mindset, unmanaged, has not served me well in my personal life. 

I recently found myself unable to see past “next.” All the “next’s” didn’t seem interesting, fun or worth it. It shut down my ability to be creative, which is debilitating and leads to all sorts of other problems. This wasn’t the first time I experienced this, it was just the most eye-opening. It forced me to ask different questions and find new methods for how I set my goals so I could enjoy the journey, rather than feel exhausted in a never-ending marathon. Instead of focusing so much on myself, I switched the questions I was asking. “How can I be of service?” instead of “How does this fulfill what I think is expected of me?”

That simple shift from self to service eliminated the creative block. Ideas started flowing again and I could see possibilities. Life didn’t seem hard, it felt easy. Opportunities presented themselves, I didn’t chase them. 

One of those opportunities was a position on the board of directors with an organization serving women entrepreneurs in Minnesota, WeMN.org. It was serendipitous how it all fell into place so I wanted to record this moment because I know I’ll need a reminder, now and again, that my mindset and what I truly value is the key to finding my joy and discovering all the possibilities.


“I found a way to help others while working in marketing.”

As a young girl, Amanda was always drawn to TV, design and advertising. Her mom would say that when the family was watching a TV show, Amanda would pay closer attention to the commercials than the show. Amanda thought that was charming until she had her own daughter and realized that all kids are captured by TV advertising.

In high school, while determining her career pursuit, she always felt an internal conflict between her calling to help people, based in her strong faith, and her desire to work in advertising. She entertained the idea of joing the Peace Corp to fulfill her goal of working in service of others. It wasn’t until she had a conversation with a teacher about her career goals and how she viewed advertising vs. helping people as an either/or decision. She was 17 and the teacher told her that “Good people need to be in marketing to make it better.” 

The teacher helped her realize that we all have the ability to do good and we have to spread ourselves across industries to make it happen. We can’t put the responsibility solely on nonprofits. 

So, off she went to pursue her degree in Mass Communications at Winona State University, where she was very active in peer ministry and worked 20 years per week. Graduating in 3 years and debt free is a source of pride for her because it shows what a hard worker she was and is.

After college, she worked at several ad agencies, Fallon being one of them, in various account roles rising to leadership very quickly. I first heard of her in 2009 when she was recognized on the 40 under 40 list in the Minneapolis Business Journal. At that time, she was the VP of Creative Services at UHG where she built their internal agency, Carrot. I remember reading about her work in that issue of the Journal and thinking that I wanted to know this woman.

Whether she knew it or not, she was building her path as a successful intrapreneur. An intrapreneur is someone with entrepreneurial spirit who is able to position themselves within large organizations to bring their ideas to life. It’s a unique funding strategy and quite smart really, if you can manage the constant push back on your ideas, as well as the politics in a large company.

Her most recent work of art, I’m sure you’re familiar with, is the Small Business Revolution. Amanda has brought this series to life on Hulu, Amazon Prime and .com, working as the Chief Brand Officer at Deluxe Corporation. From where I sit, this is where all the good stuff comes together.

Amanda leads by the principle of “doing well by doing good.” You’ll hear her say it all the time, in conversations, articles and speeches. It’s not just another pithy mission statement from an executive. She really lives it. She lives it so authentically that she often can’t describe it when asked about her leadership style. It’s so innate and comes from her core. It’s like asking Monet: “How did you paint the Water Lillies?” I doubt he’d be able to explain the detail people yearn for because sometimes things just come from inside a person. I see Amanda’s work in the same way.

If you haven’t watched Small Business Revolution, you’re missing out. Her team at Deluxe is revitalizing small businesses in small towns across the country. America gets a say on which town by voting on the submitted nominations. The winning town gets awarded a $500,000 boost to revitalize businesses and Deluxe documents the transformation by creating a touching series of small business stories for us to enjoy.

Let me take moment and tell you why this work is so truly aligned with Amanda’s mission to “do well by doing good.” Small business ownership ain’t sexy. Nobody has the same love affair with small businesses like they do with the “start-up” culture based in Silicon Valley. Especially not in small towns.

In a small business, you earn every single penny. When employees don’t show up for work, the owner will put on a uniform because someone has to cover the hours. When the small business owner can’t make payroll, she’ll forgo her salary to ensure that her employees are paid. Sexy, right?

Small business owners typically start their companies for altruistic reasons. They want to create a lifestyle for their families so one parent can stay home. Or, they see a problem they can solve to help people. It may simply be that they want to open a coffee shop on main street because even small towns should have good coffee and a place to meet with friends. The beginning of the idea is rarely about money, which is contrary to the start-up fantasies we read about today.

All of these wonderful stories and nobody was paying attention, at scale, until Amanda came along. Through her vision and commitment to helping others, she has shown a light on a community of people that rarely get the spotlight, even though they are a huge economic force in this country. Small businesses create about 50% of the non-farming gross domestic product (GDP), or roughly $6 trillion every year. Since the small business revolution program launched in 2015, it has achieved over 9 billion impressions in social and earned media. Nearly 4,000 articles have been written about it. It was named by Inc Magazine as one of the top show entrepreneurs should be watching. It is the #1 unscripted show on Hulu, outperforming network competitors by 5 times. And finally, it has been discussed on the floor of Congress, twice.

That is quite a spotlight.

What’s truly exciting, is that I believe Amanda is only getting started. We haven’t really seen anything yet. She shared with me that her experience with the Small Business Revolution has been incredibly fulfilling and has also exposed hints to her about her next mission to help people. Her experiences in these small towns across the country have opened her eyes to opportunities around the topics of diversity and inclusion. Being a woman of faith and her commitment to working in service of others, I’m confident she’ll find clarity around those topics and what’s she’s supposed to do next. Let’s just say that I’ll be waiting, watching and cheering her on.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Ellen or Oprah. They both use their platform for doing good. I don’t think they have fame for nice houses and cars. I think they have answered a higher calling.

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
I would not mind being famous if there was a greater purpose for it. Any notoriety I may already have is because I’m destined to do something good. As I continue to earn more visibility because of my platform with Deluxe, I’m still discovering what I’m supposed to do and where I need to lend my voice. Through my work on the Small Business Revolution, diversity, inclusion and love are topics that are trending for me to have a voice around.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Sleeping in only to get up and be active right away so it’s done for the day. Giving a speech and connecting with people afterward. Then, going out with my family to have good beer and good food.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning. I play Pandora when I’m getting ready. I sing in the car. I sing anywhere people aren’t listening.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
I’ll be hit by a bus because I always have my head down, on my phone, not paying attention to where I’m going.

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
We both love craft beer and traveling. We also appreciate our midwestern roots. Being raised in the midwest, we learned a good work ethic and how to be frugal. “Save before you spend,” is one of our mantras.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I know I’m supposed to say my daughter. Motherhood is an important part of my life, but I wasn’t put on earth solely to be a mother. I wouldn’t change it, I like being a mom, but I’m most grateful for my ability to look at life and appreciate the serendipity of it all. I rest in this space of believing that life is one part hustle and one part the universe doing it’s work. I can control the hustle by showing up everday and doing the work. The universe part, I can’t control, but I believe in it and that mindset gives me perspective. 

What is your most terrible memory?
One time I said something mean to someone in Sunday school and I replay it all the time in my head. I was trying to be funny and it didn’t land right. I didn’t realize the impact until the teacher told me how it came across. I was devastated because my love language is Words of Affirmation and if that is reversed, it’s painful. It was just a joke that went wrong, but I ruminate on it to this day.

What does friendship mean to you?
It means encouragement. Being that support system when needed. I see my role in friendship as being a cheerleader for my friends. 

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
I’ve dreamed of taking a year off, traveling around the world and homeschooling my daughter. We haven’t done it for all the same reasons everyone else hasn’t. It’s expensive and I fear not being able to get a job when I return. I have the same worries as everyone else.


“Hey, Pretty Nikki!”

A spark of light and energy, this woman always put a smile on my face as I would pass her desk every morning on the way to mine. “Hey, pretty Nikki” was how I greeted her. While probably an inappropriate way to greet a co-worker, I didn’t care. When I saw her sitting there, usually in bright colors and a lovely smile on her face, it was the greeting she inspired me to make.

This rising star in the product world grew up in an entrepreneurial family whose business was food and wine. I always hold a special place in my heart for women who grew up with parents who made their own way. I feel an immediate kinship and we understand each other in a way not everyone can relate to. 

Jumpsuit: Banana Republic; belt & heels: A New Day, Target

Originally from Pittsburgh, Nikki’s family moved to Chanhassen, MN when she was 10 years old and has lived in Minnesota except for the brief time she worked at a company in Madison, WI. 

Nikki was a musician in high school, where she joined an a cappella group with 7 other kids. She lettered in music and academics, illustrating her curiosity in right and left-brained activities.

After high school, Nikki attended the University of Minnesota, Duluth, majored in marketing and Spanish and graduated during the last Great Recession. Job hunting was tough during this time, because she wanted to work at an ad agency, but the downturn in the economy hit that industry especially hard. She ultimately landed at Epic, where she worked as a project manager in healthcare software implementation. It was at Epic where she learned to expand her influence to an audience of stakeholders in the medical field, learning to communicate to physicians how her technology solutions were actually going to improve their lives.

From Epic, she went to Thomson Reuters, where she discovered the Agile process and it solidified her interest in web and mobile development as the career path she wanted to be on. 

Chambray shirt: Target; white jeans: Paige

She eventually got her Scrum Master certification and that is when Target came calling. Target recruited her as a Senior Scrum Master, but it didn’t take long until she was promoted to a Lead Product Owner. She grew fast during her time at Target and also completed her MBA program at Concordia University in St. Paul, MN.

Sadly, for me, she recently left Target to take the next step in her journey to world domination. This dynamic force took her talents to Best Buy. And while I miss seeing her everyday when I walk into the office, I’m excited to watch her have impact in whatever space she decides to enter next.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? 
There are 3 women I would like to have dinner with. The first is Queen Victoria. She was an austere, iron-fisted woman. She was England! The second woman is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. The compassionate leadership she exhibited after the mosque shootings in Christchurch was inspirational. The third would be my mom’s mom. I never met her, but she led a nursing department in the 60’s & 70’s and I’d like to know what that was like. I’d also love to hear stories about my mom when she was young.

Dress: A New Day; earrings: Sugarfix

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
When I was little, yes. Now that I’m older, no. However, I am an avid consumer of Reality TV and would like to have the access that fame gets you, but wouldn’t want to have the public profile.

When was the last time you sang to yourself or someone else?
I sing all the time! That’s how I express myself. I sing in the car. That’s just what I do. 

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
Most of the movies I watch are horror, so I feel like I’ve thought about it, but now that you ask, I really haven’t. I hope I die peacefully with a million people around me.

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
Nick and I have a lot in common. We’re both “type A” personalities. We’re very family-oriented and close to both of our families. We are adventurous and that can express itself in many ways like: Travel, new career challenges and home improvement projects. New experiences are very important to us.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My family. We moved away from our extended family in Pittsburgh when I was 10 years old. Back then, I had lots of family within a 5 mile radius. So, when we moved to Minnesota, it made our immediate family very close. 

Dress & red earrings: A New Day from Target

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? 
I wish I’d grown up physically close to more of our extended family. I missed out on running around and playing with cousins. I wouldn’t change how I grew up, but it would have been better with more family around.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Can it be a magical ability? I would choose teleportation. I love going to new places, but I don’t love the process of traveling. That, or doing math in my head.

Dress: A New Day; earrings: Sugarfix; boots: Universal Thread.

What is your most treasured memory?
My wedding day. We had family travel from all over the country to attend. Some had never even been to Minnesota! The night before the wedding, we were reflecting on how awesome it was that everyone was coming. My dad said: “Look at what you did Nik, you brought everyone together.”

Share an embarrassing moment in your life. 
I have, what others may think, are embarrassing moments daily, so I don’t think I embarrass easily. The only thing I can think of is that I totaled my car by hitting a deer. A one-car accident and had to call my dad to pick me up. That was kind of embarrassing.

“Justice requires an accomplice.” -Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler

This week in a team meeting, we watched a TEDTalk about unlikely allies by Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler. “Justice requires an accomplice.” Those words hit me because they made me finally understand that I am required to make change.⁠

I think there are times in life when you realize that you need to be quiet and just listen. That’s where my head has been since I saw the murder of George Floyd. I’m seeking understanding and (re)educating myself on topics I thought I already understood. Ally-ship requires responsibility and I’m working on my qualifications to earn the title, Ally. ⁠

Women I Work With is a personal project and I don’t think people are looking for my press releases on current events. But I do feel a responsibility to the women who have committed their time and told me their stories to assure them that I am engaging in anti-racist work and believe Black lives matter.⁠

My commitment to becoming qualified as an ally will be reflected in my actions and participation in my community more than explicit social media posts. While social content is useful, I am a woman of action and it’s where I believe I will have the most impact. ⁠

I’m sorry it took me so long.

“In the morning, my feet don’t hit the ground until I’ve set an intention and prayed for all my people.”

Rachel was nominated to be featured by one of her business partners. She was on my list, but her partner’s nomination bumped the timeline. As I was reading through his impassioned application, I was nodding in agreement and thinking: “Of course!” I was thrilled to receive a nomination from a professional man lifting up a professional woman who inspires him. More of that, would be amazing.

If you ever get the privilege to meet Rachel, one of the first things you’ll discover is her contagious laugh. As soon as I heard her laugh, I immediately started laughing. It reminds me of a girlfriend from my hometown who had what I always called a “trigger laugh.” She could be across the classroom, bust out laughing and instantly I would start laughing, having no idea what she was even laughing about. There was just something about her laughter that made me want to join in the fun and ask what we’re laughing about later. I had the same reaction to Rachel’s laugh.

She not only laughs a lot, she likes to make other people laugh. Her childhood dream was to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live. She earned her performing chops as the opening act for her dad’s gospel band. Always the performer, she thought she was destined for comedy television. Unfortunately, her parents crushed that dream. They didn’t think being on SNL was practical. They would always tell her to go to college, get a real job and make money. They also thought the big city of NYC would eat her up and spit her out. They thought she was too innocent and naive to make it in the big city. They were probably right, but they underestimated the warrior and survivor they raised.

Instead of comedy, she found the next best thing, advertising, which can be pretty comical. As a young person, she was consumed with ads and found herself constantly critiquing them. So, when she attended Moorhead State University, she majored in it. 

Her first job out of college was at Blackdot Agency, working on the Herberger’s account. Herberger’s corporate headquarters is located in St. Cloud, Minnesota which at the time was a minor detail she didn’t pay much attention to. It wasn’t until she met her current husband that she started to connect the dots of their paths and how they almost crossed so many times. 

She continued working up the professional ladder in advertising, making her way to executive leadership. In the mid-2000’s she started to look around and no longer recognized the appeal of that artificial world. “What am I doing?” she asked herself. Realizing that she was out of alignment with who she thought she was and who she was serving, she went on a journey of discovery. She was looking for something different and something that felt more in line with her values. 

She moved around to different agencies, tried corporate and nothing really felt completely right, until she discovered technology. Finally, an industry that excited her again because of the ability to solve real problems that affected how people do their work. 

Rachel worked in consulting for several years, still feeling that pull of something else. That “something else” was entrepreneurship. It makes sense that she has an entrepreneurial tendency because it ran in her family. In addition to full time jobs, her parents flipped houses by working evenings and weekends. They were doing this in the ‘80’s before this model for additional income became popular. Her grandfather, who was a preacher, started over 400 churches! So, you can see how Rachel could easily evaluate the risk of starting her own business.

Last year she took the leap and founded Covalent North, a business and technology consulting firm, with her two business partners “They complete me!” 

What is your most treasured memory?
November 2, 2017 is the day my husband adopted my kids, Charli and Cooper. It was the end of a period of heightened alert for me. It was the first time I was in front of a judge without the fear of the unknown. Prior to this day, my ex-husband continued to bring me to court in retaliation of my decision to leave him because of domestic violence. On November 2, 2017, I witnessed my current husband step up and expose his heart. It’s one of the gifts he’s given me that I will always anchor to.

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
Besides being on SNL? It’s never going to die! I want to be on a stage motivating people to be their best selves. I haven’t done it yet because I needed to live through some of these experiences and get to a place where I can feel authentic on stage. I believe I’m closer to that place and am able to harness my stories for good. Being on stage isn’t the goal, it’s the part after when I get to connect with an audience one-on-one. Seeing hope in someones eyes is the most satisfying feeling you can be part of.

What do you value most in a friendship?

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
Sharing the gift of seeing people for who they are, not what they are. I already know how to do this, I’m deeply intuitive. I wish I could show more people how. My son Cooper for example, he’s autistic, and he’s so awesome! I wish people could see beyond the autism label because it would open a lot of eyes. 

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
We both grew up in rural Minnesota. We’re both total jokesters and very outgoing.

When did you last sing to yourself? 
This morning, alone in the car! It was some random song on the radio. I always sing in the car.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Alive or dead? I would want to have dinner with the founder of Fraser, Louise Whitbeck Fraser. She was a pioneer and could see the special.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Rachel and I debated this for a good 10 minutes. There’s no easy answer, but she finally committed to the mind.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
Sometimes, but rarely. I’m an improvisational person, I go with my heart and gut. If I practice, it feels artificial.

Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…
Interesting because I’m an open book. So then I think, is it an activity? Nachos is honestly what popped into my head.

Hope is a game-changer, a gift and it changes the landscape

Meeting entrepreneurs who are so clear about their purpose, is infectious. Spending time with them, elevates my mood and leaves me feeling like anything is possible.

Junita is one of those entrepreneurs. If you ask her about why she started Junita’s Jar, this spirited woman gets a very serious expression on her face, looks you straight in the eye and says: “I never want another woman to feel like she can’t talk about the abuse she may be suffering from an intimate or domestic partner.”

Junita has known since she was 12 years old that she’d own her own business, she just didn’t know what it was. As a strong-willed girl growing up in St. Paul, she was always fascinated by creating something out of nothing if that something didn’t exist. 

Her grandfather owned a barbershop and her mom started a nonprofit, so she witnessed entrepreneurship in her family. In my experience with entrepreneurs, there’s commonly a family connection to that lifestyle. As a kid, if you witness your parents or close family members running their own business, it tends to be an easier leap to make because you’ve seen it with your own eyes.

Junita was closest to her mom’s entrepreneurial experience, witnessing her success as an owner. Junita’s mom was a fulltime mom until the last of her 8 children started Kindergarten. Then, she returned to school and started her nonprofit, Family Values for Life. Junita and her siblings helped out when needed and are able to proudly say that Family Values for Life is best known for a Back to School Community Event on the Eastside. They filled a whole parking lot with tents of vendors donating supplies to kids to start their school year right. Junita and her siblings worked alongside their mom at this event and saw what was possible at an early age, even if she didn’t realize it until later in life.

To understand how a precocious 12-year old girl declaring her future entrepreneurial endeavors to the current realization of that declaration as the owner of a mission-driven cookie company, you have to understand Junita’s experience surviving domestic violence.

Married for 14 years and a mom to 2 amazing children, to the outside world, her life looked good. But the painful reality is that she was slowly losing herself to emotional, verbal and physical abuse. 

As the years passed, she wanted to leave her marriage, but she didn’t know how to get out. Nobody talked about relationship violence and the more isolated she felt in her situation, the more she started to believe it was her fault. “If only I could do (fill in the blank) better, things at home will improve.”

She didn’t talk to her family about it and she didn’t talk to friends because of the “perfect couple” perception. So, she decided to look to her church and her faith for counsel. Unfortunately, the church let her down. At the time, the message delivered was to “pray more” and then things would turn around.

One day. she hit her lowest point and she went for a run and didn’t come back. She checked into a hotel, not telling anyone so she could try and figure out how she could leave with her kids. She ultimately was able to leave and has been on her own for 5 years!

Her personal experience with violence in her marriage laid the foundation for her mission-driven cookie company, Junita’s Jar. Baking cookies brought her peace because it connected her back to her childhood when her grandmother used to come over and prepare meals every Wednesday. It was during these meal preps that Junita would hear all the family stories. 

The process of baking became therapeutic because it was an escape from her marriage. Pulling the ingredients, mixing them, putting the formed cookies in the oven and then sharing with her kids. She had control over something in her life and it felt terrific. 

She took this process and made a product she could sell to fund her true calling to help people. The program she started is called “Cookies & Conversations”. She works with student leadership organizations on college campuses to host a two hour event discussing relationship violence. Junita brings a panel of experts in domestic and intimate partner violence. She invites a representative from the medical community, a therapist and a survivor. After their presentation, they leave time for Q & A and that is the most engaged portion of the event, revealing to her that it’s something people need. People need to know how to work with the medical community whether it’s for their own mental health or to reach out when they are in danger. These conversations must be had.

“That’s the crazy thing about purpose. I articulated mine when I was 12 years old, but it wasn’t until I felt like I had nothing to give the world that I was able to pursue it. I think it’s because I never lost hope.”

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
My dad. He was a man of few words, but he as a very wise man. He died at 58 and he had this deep wisdom. He could listen to what was going on and always give a good solution. I was the first daughter to get married in the family, so I’m the only one he walked down the aisle. Because he died so young, he didn’t get to see the impact he had on our lives. Even though I never told him about the abuse in my marriage, looking back on some of the comments he made, I believe he knew. 

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
My dream is to be a world-renowned speaker to inspire people to move beyond their comfort zone to create change. So, if that’s famous, sign me up! 

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning in the car with my son. The Hamilton soundtrack. He knows every word to every song on that soundtrack.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
No, but I want it to be peaceful. I want to go to sleep and not wake up, but not now! Maybe when I’m about 110.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My family and my faith.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I don’t think I would change anything. I wouldn’t be the person I am without the experiences that I’ve had. 

What do you value most in a friendship?
Trust, but you better be funny!

Share an embarrassing moment in your life.
Just one? I have a good embarrassing and hilarious story. Because my dad worked for an airline, we flew everywhere as kids. Back when we were traveling as a family, you could bring a lot of bags. We traveled with everything, so many bags. On one particular trip, as teenagers, we were going to a church convention and then to Mississippi to see family. We brought a bag of catfish on ice back to Minnesota with us. When we were riding up the escalator, the bag burst and catfish went everywhere! We were mortified and all of us kids just scattered away from my mom because we were so embarrassed.

What is your most treasured memory?
On what became the final father’s day that my siblings and I would physically share with my dad, we sat by his bedside, reminiscing and sharing stores. I was 10 weeks pregnant with my son and was lucky to be able to share the news with my dad. He didn’t live to meet my son, but I gave my son his name.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
The mind. Well…I don’t know. It doesn’t say I’d be senile. I’d work that body.

“Hey, cutie.”

“Hey cutie,” is always how Carmen greets me when we run into each other at the office. She has such a bubbley personality that when I see her, I find myself speaking in a silly high voice and giggling a lot. That’s the effect she has on me.

It was such a treat to do this photoshoot with her because I’ve watched her completely transform over the last 2 years. She was diagnosed with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) which made her really sick, all the time. The diagnosis required her to change her whole diet. Through lots of trial and error, she learned that she has to adhere to a restricted Paleo diet. 

Carmen said that she had never been so mentally challenged and it was a struggle to push forward with a positive attitude. “I could no longer do the things I loved, so I had to find new ways of having fun.” 

I felt for her as I watched from the sidelines. As she started to come out on the other side, she became a source of inspiration for me. She started posting terrific make-up how-to’s and recipes that she was trying with her new diet. Seeing her new content show up in my feed made me really happy.

Carmen is from Iowa, where she grew up in a creative household. Her mom was a high school art teacher and Carmen always took art classes as electives when she was in high school. Her mediums are watercolors and colored pencils She says she is the artistic one among her siblings. 

During her senior year, she entered a poster contest for the Snake Valley Art Fair. The contest upped the ante with a cash prize and Carmen won. Not only did she win the cash, her work now hangs in the Art Center of Burlington and she was honored by the Gallery with a “30 under 30” exhibition.

As she was considering college, all she could think about was how she could apply art to a practical career. On a college visit to Iowa State, she discovered the graphic design department and loved it. It connected all of her talents and felt like a natural path.

After she graduated from college, one of her professors connected her with Target. She was working part time at a kitchen store and thought: “I’ll just send my portfolio and see what happens.”

She was immediately contacted by Target and was supposed to have a phone interview. However, the admin scheduling the appointments accidentally scheduled an in-person interview. So, Carmen drove all the way up from Iowa to Minneapolis to interview, and the rest is history.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? 
This is a really hard one because you have to be selective. I like a lot of things and it’s hard for me to edit. Tom Hanks. I’d love to have dinner with him. He seems like he’d be personable. His mannerisms and style remind me of my dad, as well as his charming personality.

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
No. I’m an extrovert and I like to talk, but being the center of attention is stressful. Being famous seems like too much pressure around who you should be rather than who you really are. For example, at work, I don’t need to be singled out and recognized for work that a whole team contributed to. I’d rather help others on my team get recognized. That’s more rewarding for me.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
Depends on the call. I’ve discovered as an adult that I have more anxiety about things like this. I want to leave the impression that I’m professional and organized. I want to be mindful of what I’m trying to accomplish. If I’m calling my friends, I don’t rehearse. We can gab for hours. 

What would constitute a perfect day for you?
A day without any routine. None of the daily routines matter. Breakfast for dinner. Movie in the morning. Just a day of randomness. Like that time we ran into each other at the Norseman. Those spontaneous moments are the most fun. 

When I travel, I don’t make plans either. I do what I feel in the moment.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
Like all the time. Singing is one of my favorite things. I don’t take myself too seriously, so I sing all the time. The other day, I made up a song about making pumpkin bread. I used to be in choir and I play the piano so I can sing. Sometimes, I’ll rent out the room at the library so I can play piano and sing.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
The body of a healthy 30-year-old. I feel like what wears people down later in life is their body and it causes crabbiness. 

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? 
I have a lot of dreams about the apocalypse, tornadoes or being stung by bees.

Name 3 things you and your husband have in common.
Hard to narrow down to 3 because we have so many things in common. We both really love pop culture and collecting vinyl toys and albums. We both have a kid-like spirit and never want to grow up. We want to enjoy all the same things we enjoyed as kids, but as adults. We also both have strong connections to our families. They’re very important to us and we make sure we spend a lot of time with them.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
There are a lot of things, but mostly I’m grateful for getting sick. It’s been a turning point in my life and has forced me to reflect on who I am as a person. Like, I loved to cook and bake but I never did it before. Now that I’ve had to do more cooking, it’s made me realize how much I love it! Buying cool clothes is fun now. Before I had to just buy what fit. Now I have more confidence and take more fashion risks.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? 
I don’t think I would change anything. I didn’t have the struggle of poverty, or the privilege of money, so I have a good work ethic. My family values that we’re successful and happy in our lives. Gosh, what a great opportunity to not pay for college. BUT, having to pay made me more responsible.

We spent a lot of time together as a family. When I was a kid, my mom stayed home with us full time. It wasn’t until I was in elementary school that she started teaching. My dad came home from work every single day. Not a lot of people have that experience growing up, so I’m lucky.