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December 17, 2017

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An Astronaut and an Anchor: Mae Jemison and Linda Lorelle

Mae: Linda and I met in the last century as freshmen at Stanford University. We did not know each other, but we were both young African American women from Chicago, outgoing, and we loved physical activities.

Linda: Mae breaks the stereotypical view that most people have of extremely smart women. Yes, she is brilliant and I would put her intellect up against any woman or man; but she is also fun, funny, down to earth, compassionate, artistic, and beautiful, inside and out. She is most definitely not a nerd.

Mae: We both loved dancing. Dance has been very important in our friendship and has served to strengthen it over the years. I admire Linda for her incredible dance skill, interpretation, and energy. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they move, and if dance is your avocation, even more of your character and aspirations are revealed.

Linda: My favorite college memories are of the two of us choreographing dance performances. How many astronauts do you know who can tear it up on the dance floor and then break down exactly what it would take to create artificial limbs for someone who would like to dance, but can’t because they have no legs? I am in awe of her.

Mae: I respect Linda because she had the nerve to pursue professional dance after graduating from college with honors in Italian and psychology. I wanted to go to New York to pursue a career as a professional dancer, but after much discussion with my mother, I went to medical school instead. Dance is something Linda and I continue to share—if no one else can appreciate why movement brings such a smile and a connection—all we have to do is look at each other. At Linda’s wedding we danced—hard enough to sweat— into the night.

Linda: Mae is one of the most gifted speakers I have ever heard. She has the ability to take you where she wants you to go, yet all the while you don’t realize you’re being led there. Once you get there, you have that “Aha!” moment. She always does it with humor.

Mae: Linda’s outlook on life is confident, enthusiastic, strong-willed, and energetic. She goes for what she wants. And if it does or does not work out, she is ready for the next episode. While some of my friends might have been skeptical about my career path, Linda was always supportive. Talking to her about going to Africa as a doctor or becoming an astronaut or leaving NASA did not faze her.

Linda: Our friendship has strengthened through the years because we accept each other as we are and continue to support each other no matter what. There were times when we didn’t see each other for quite a while as our lives took us in different directions. But each time we come back together, we pick up where we left off. When I got my TV job in Houston while Mae was training at the Johnson Space Center, it was a dream come true. It was meant to be for me, her best friend, to cover her historic launch. It was extremely emotional for me—I cried during liftoff—and one of the highlights of my career.

Mae: Linda is a bit sappy, and it’s wonderful. Linda is not constrained about displaying warm fuzzy emotions. It is a quality that I have come to appreciate more and more as I have gotten older and realized how rare and beneficial genuine positive emotions are in this world. From her undying love for “Teddy,” her childhood teddy bear she brought to college with her, to her teary eyed news coverage of my space shuttle launch, to her compassionate delivery of scholarships through her charity for students who would normally not get to go to college, Linda makes us all take a deep breath and smile.

Linda: I have so much respect for what Mae has accomplished and continues to accomplish professionally, but I have just as much admiration for the kind of person she is. She is as real as they come. Our friendship has endured because I know I can be my true self with her, warts and all, and that she won’t judge me. She’ll just be there, and that’s a true friend.

Dr. Mae Jemison blasted into orbit aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992, becoming the first African American woman in space. Today, the Jemison Group focuses on the integration of science and technology into everyday lives. Linda Lorelle is an Emmy Award-winning anchor in Houston whose reports have not only touched lives but saved them. The Linda Lorelle Scholarship Fund provides major college scholarships to Houston-area students.

Refusing to be a Victim: Cindi Broaddus

She had already endured the deaths of her parents in a four-year span, a failed marriage, and the challenge of raising her three daughters as a single parent, but apparently all that hardship for Cindi Broaddus was preparation for the harrowing night of June 5, 2001.

While riding in the passenger seat with a companion in the middle of the night on a trip from Newcastle, Oklahoma, to San Diego, Broaddus suddenly found herself covered in deadly sulfuric acid after an assailant flung a gallon of it off a bridge and through the windshield of the car. The only thing that stood between Broaddus and death turned out to be her choice of footwear that day. She had worn sneakers instead of sandals, protecting her feet enough from the burning acid for the doctors to administer the morphine shots to alleviate the excruciating pain.

After numerous surgeries and reconstructive procedures, Broaddus thought about her three grown daughters and realized she had two options: “Either I am going to be a survivor who feels sorry for myself, or I am going to go out and try to make the world a better place,” she says. She also found a way to look at the lessons of personal growth and discovery brought on by this catastrophic event, despite the fact that the perpetrator was never caught. “Had this not happened to me, I probably would never have gone outside of my comfort zone,” she says.

After transitioning from an at-home mother to an advertising salesperson with a local cable station to put her daughters through school, Broaddus found a new calling following her near-death ordeal. She wrote A Random Act, which features the lessons she learned from that night, and still finds time to go on the public-speaking circuit. Helping her spread her message along the way has been her brother-in-law, Dr. Phil McGraw, who featured her on his show in 2002 and 2005.

Broaddus has also experienced a small taste of politics, teaming up with a state senator in Oklahoma to push through legislation that became the Cindi Broaddus Act, which makes it a felony to throw anything from a bridge or overpass in their state. Years of skin grafts after that nightmarish evening, Broaddus refuses to dwell on why it happened to her. Triumphantly, she is not consumed with hatred for the person who committed the heinous act. “Forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves,” says this eternal optimist. “I didn’t want to be bitter, and I didn’t want my children and grandkids to bear that burden.”

“Being a victim gets you nowhere,” says Broaddus. “Make every day count. We are all here on the earth for some reason.”

Raising a Champion and Battling a Bully: Linda Armstrong

Despite weathering several abusive relationships and the hardship of being a single mother, Linda Armstrong always encouraged her son to pursue his athletic goals. And while raising her boy, she displayed the toughness and determination to forge ahead through life’s unexpected obstacles that would one day prepare her son Lance to battle cancer and become a seven-time champion of the world’s most prestigious cycling event, the Tour de France.

Her own fight against an uphill battle in life while raising a future athletic superstar is the subject of her book, No Mountain High Enough – Raising Lance, Raising Me. “I always had a hope and dream that I could rise above it,” she says about the troubles in her life.

Armstrong, 52, got her GED in 1970, had the courage to walk away from a marriage rife with mental abuse and infidelity, and earned a real estate license in 1990. Today, after 15 years as a global account manager with a technology giant, she is involved in fundraising, advocating for children, and addressing issues that include teenage pregnancy and domestic abuse (lindaarmstong.com). She also works as an unofficial spokesperson for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars to fight cancer.

Raised in Dallas as the oldest of three children and the daughter of an alcoholic father, Armstrong took on babysitting jobs at age ten. Her escape was watching the Donna Reed Show, the embodiment of the perfect family she hoped one day to have. Yet in high school, she dated the captain of the football team and got pregnant. Her mother didn’t approve and forced her to move out.

The romance turned abusive, forcing her to drop out of school and take on clerical and receptionist work to support little Lance. “I didn’t have a soft place to land because I had no skills,” she says. “But I’m like a seed. Where you plant me, I will blossom.”

When Lance was three, she got married and began a decade of mental abuse that she eventually brought to an end because it was affecting more than just her life. “I believe in marriage and that people should be together,’’ she says. “I kept thinking he would change. I didn’t want to fail, and I always had a hope and dream that I could rise above it. But this was affecting Lance.”

As a mother, Armstrong has always been at the top of her game. Even with the backdrop of a difficult childhood, she pushed Lance to set goals and to pursue his dreams. “Follow your heart,” she told him, adding, “I’ll do the rest.’’ She’s always believed that part of parenting is to “find the one thing that children are passionate about, and support it.”

When Lance moved out at 18, she felt like her right arm had been cut off. Yet ever the optimist, Armstrong recalls thinking, “You’ve got to love them and let them go.”

Having undergone therapy to help heal the psychological scars of her earlier relationships, she married Ed Kelly, a retired IBM executive, in 2002. They enjoy a healthy, loving relationship outside of Dallas. This petite and charming dynamo is now able to talk about her challenging life experiences, which once made her feel alone and ashamed. “I am at peace knowing that I can help other people.” As for those ubiquitous yellow Livestrong wristbands, Armstrong wears two of them “because I’m the mom!”

Armstrong’s will to overcome hardship — to find “the diamond in the dumpster, the blessing in every bummer” — is transferable to your own career trials. Use her shining example to win yourself a yellow jersey in the workplace.

HOPE: A good attitude and optimistic outlook are the first steps in your journey to success. Follow that up with solid, realistic goals that’ll get you to the finish line.

HELP YOURSELF: Counseling and education were two key elements that helped Armstrong pull ahead of the pack. You can help yourself too – by seeking help for your challenges, taking a course, or sharpening your existing skills.

HELP OTHERS: Armstrong shares her story to help others in trying circumstances to overcome the odds. Reach out to your clients, co-workers, and friends in need. You’ll not only feel good about yourself, but you’ll build a reservoir of goodwill.

Linda Hall: Wise Winner

Whoever said landing a new job at sixtysomething is impossible hasn’t met Linda Hall.

At 63, this Salt Lake City computer programmer knew she didn’t fit the profile of a traditional techie. The industry is male-centric and youth-dominated, both of which worked against her during her nine years at a global IT giant. She was surrounded by swarms of fresh college grads and twentysomethings with sharp skills and the ability to learn at lightning speed.

Yet even with what was sometimes a generation difference between her and her colleagues and oftentimes her bosses, Hall was good at her job, and with a warm and welcoming personality, she was well-liked by peers. As an extremely dedicated employee, she was frequently called on to work into the wee hours of the night to complete critical tasks.

None of that mattered when, thirty years into her career, Hall received the worst possible news for a mature worker in the technology sector: She was being laid off.

With just a three-month cushion of severance pay and benefits, Hall was justifiably nervous about securing a new job. Being single, a steady salary was a financial necessity, and being career minded, a meaningful and challenging job was emotionally critical. Job searching is always difficult but with a line of young, fresh geniuses in front of her at every interview, there were weeks of despair and discouragement where Hall worried that her career days may have been behind her.

She used her anxiety to establish a plan—thanks in part, she says, to the advice in Women For Hire books and on our website. She stepped up her networking immediately, asking everyone for both job leads and candid feedback on strengthening her resumé. She enrolled in a weekly job search workshop offered by her church where she developed a polished elevator pitch, rehearsed interview questions, and connected with head hunters.

All of those efforts—along with the belief that her maturity and years of experience were assets and not impediments—finally paid off. Four months after the layoff that turned her world upside down, Hall received an offer from one of the largest banks in the city as a programmer with regular nine to five hours and a $15,000 increase over her previous position.

Today Hall says she love the new challenges she’s facing and the relationships she is building. And perhaps best of all, she cherishes her unique position and perspective as a mature woman in a young person’s world of work.

Pamela Nicholson: Loyal Leader

You hear the stories all the time, from the mail room to the board room. They started as the intern and now they run the company. Enter Pamela Nicholson.

She’s living proof that the right mix of determination, perseverance, and loyalty can be leveraged for major success within an organization.

Her title stands alone, but her humble beginnings tell the whole story. Starting at Enterprise Rent-A-Car as a Management Trainee shortly after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1981, Nicholson spent the next 25 years steadily climbing the corporate ladder. Today she oversees the operations of the whole company as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

As she’s grown professionally, the company has too. Enterprise was a regional rental car company with only 10,000 vehicles in service; and as one of the company’s top performers throughout her career, she has been essential in helping Enterprise achieve its tremendous success and growth. Today it is the largest rental car company in North America with more than 850,000 vehicles, Enterprise Fleet Services, Car Sales, and Rent-A-Truck Divisions.

Only the third COO in Enterprise’s history, a company now celebrating its 50th year, Nicholson stands out as a woman in a very male-dominated industry, the automotive business. Because she started her career at the rental counter, and has held nearly every position in between—from Assistant Branch Manager to Branch Manager to Area Manager, Regional VP and Corporate VP—she has a very down-to-earth approach with the employees she interacts with and appreciates their responsibilities. They, too, value her because she’s been there and done it.

Nicholson of all people knows that mutual respect is essential. After all, given Enterprise’s long tradition of promoting within, the counter clerk today could be the big boss in the future.