For women like us who have spent numerous years creating our identities around our work or our families, taking a step in a new direction can feel like a katydid molting its exoskeleton. It’s unsettling and liberating in equal measures, possibly painful–we can’t ask the katydid–and we suspect, itchy.
Here we share stories of women who have scratched a new itch. We hope these stories may provide the insight and encouragement for others to leave their old skin–familiar and easy as it is–and go into a new world a little naked and scared. But not alone.
Today, we’re happy to highlight the work of Thea Wood of Austin, Texas.
What kind of work or passion are you pursuing now?
I started a non-profit called Backstage Chats Foundation that is committed to amplifying the voices and careers of women in music. We offer scholarship grants to grass-roots teen music camps and produce a podcast featuring rising stars and industry experts who are often overlooked by mainstream media.
How old were you when you began in this new direction?
What did you do before you made this change?
I spent 10 years as a certified image consultant where I worked mainly with women in male-dominated industries. Besides individual consultations and speaking engagements, I published a book and founded an international e-magazine called SheSpark. I was also the first TEDx Talk speaker at UT Austin. Early in my career, I was a music journalist/editor who became the first content programmer for AOL’s music department.
What prompted you to make this change?
Empowering women as been a passion for a long time. After seeing Joan Jett’s documentary “Bad Reputation,” I walked out exhilarated and ready to write an article for SheSpark about what I learned. My excitement turned to anger when my research showed that all of the obstacles, sexism, stereotypes, and challenges that Jett faced in the ’70s (and I experienced in the ’90s) hadn’t changed at all. It compelled me to “shift back and give back” to women in music. Starting the foundation and podcast seemed the most impactful way to do that.
What from your previous work or life situation helped you in your reinvention?
Certainly, my experience as an online publisher with SheSpark was a big advantage in setting up the podcast, website, marketing materials, and more. Outside of skill sets and an established network of service providers, it taught me how important a team is and to delegate instead of trying to do everything yourself. Recruiting a board of directors (which we are still expanding, for those who are interested!) and a group of passionate volunteers has been invaluable.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
I’m still in the middle of a massive learning curve with regard to the foundation and fundraising aspects. If corporations had the same legal restrictions on operations/sales strategies as non-profits do on operations/fundraising, they would be crippled. We’re also competing with thousands of non-profits for donors and sponsors. This competition has birthed a “What’s in it for me?” environment that’s not as altruistic as I thought; so, non-profits have to design multi-tiered systems to recognize and thank their supporters in a value-add way. Value-add means different things to different prospects, so it’s a moving target. Of course, all of this requires money, resources, and expertise.
How are you overcoming them?
Tactically: Hiring consultants for various startup needs helped us launch the foundation and podcast quickly. Our board/volunteer support is a key to success. And the practice of constantly re-evaluating and adjusting your strategy based on wins and losses helps us get to the next level. The failures hurt, but are inevitable if you’re doing something new.
Emotionally: Staying focused on WHY I’m doing this gets me through the adjustments, learning curves, and unexpected obstacles. At the end of the day, it’s all about lifting up the next generation of female music makers.
What fears did you have to face?
Fear of failure! Letting down the people who run the camps and the teens who may miss out on a life-changing experience. Plus, my ego would be crushed. Yep, I admit it.
What kind of support did you receive in your reinvention?
My husband, family, and friends have all been there for me, emotionally and financially. People who have known me for a long time say things like, “You can tell you are right where you belong—back in the music world and empowering women.” And I do feel that way! But the encouragement is why the non-profit has come this far in less than a year.
How have you grown or how has your life improved as a result of taking on this new pursuit?
Every day, I come home in a great mood. A momentary panic may sweep over me as I ask myself, “You had fun all day long– how could you have possibly gotten any work done?” Then I look at my checklists and calendars and realize that I got a ton of work done. It just doesn’t feel like work. You can’t beat that quality of life.
What advice would you give to other women at this age who are looking to reinvent themselves?
Your age is an advantage—don’t be afraid of it. In fact, your maturity will help you navigate obstacles and learning curves better than most. And remember that if you’re brave enough to do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.
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