Cup 8

Person: Barbara Burnham

drink: bottomless cup of fresh brewed coffee

Life rarely goes according to plan.

Barbara Burnham’s life was right on track—she had graduated from college, found a job, married her college sweetheart, had babies and achieved her goal of being a stay at home mom. For as long as she could remember, that was exactly the life she wanted.

Well the Barbara I sat down to coffee with at Little Daddy’s Family Restaurant outside of Detroit is much more than just a wife and mother. She is a licensed builder, renovation consultant and designer (I saw her portfolio—she’s good) and now an emerging entrepreneur with no plans to stop working anytime soon.

The life she has differs greatly from the life she planned. What happened? Well, life has a funny way of getting in the way of plans.

Barbara is 5’-8 with short blond hair, wears bronze colored glasses, and is old enough to be a grandma—because she is one. She told me this in an email so I would be able to find her at the restaurant. She could have left out the part about her age—I never would have known Barbara is old enough to be a grandma. She has exuberance and the spirit of a woman that is eternally young at heart. Not too mention her great style and sincere compassion—I liked her immediately.

We were seated at a table and placed our orders. Then we jumped into conversation. A friend through the University recommended that Barbara and I meet and I was looking forward for the chance to hear how a successful woman juggled a family and career.

I found out the answer to that question rather quickly. Barbara works hard and does what it takes to get the job done. However, that wasn’t the greatest lesson I learned during our meeting. 

Barbara loved her role as a mother; however, she knew something was missing. Her artistic talents weren’t being used so she found a landscape design job she could do from home and each night after she put the kids to bed she worked until 2 am completing her assigned project. It was a challenge to juggle, but it gave her the creative outlet she needed. 

When her children entered elementary school she found a job where she could be home before the boys came home from school. She was working for a builder that recognized her talents and encouraged her to get her builder’s license. She studied for the exam and advanced into a new career opportunity.

A few years later, she started doing small renovation projects for friends—kitchens, bathrooms, etc. She was looking at her finances one day and realized when she worked for the contractor she kept 20% of the profits. When she worked for herself—doing the same thing—she kept 100% of the profits. That’s when she decided it was time to take a plunge and start her own design consulting firm

After 13 years in that role, she saw another opportunity. For her sister’s 60th birthday, Barbara made a beautiful piece of artwork out of relief tiles that had block ‘M’s (her sister is an alumna of the University of Michigan). The piece, which now hangs in her sister house, receives endless compliments from friends, made Barbara realize the potential for college-themed tiles. With her years of experience working with tiles, she knew she had found a business opportunity that was perfect for her.

However, a good opportunity does not mean it was an easy opportunity.

The process of becoming an entrepreneur has been difficult. Barbara has had to teach herself new things, take risks, go outside her comfort zone, and deal with the mistakes that every entrepreneur experiences at one point or another. Yet, amidst the challenges, the process comes with big rewards.

As Barbara told me stories of her past, I realized that she follows a simple pattern repeatedly. She makes a plan and follows it, but when something feels out of place, or she recognizes a new opportunity, Barbara makes a change. She stretches out of her comfort zone to try something new. This causes her to learn, to grow, and ultimately gain experience and confidence she can leverage into a new opportunity—restructure her plan. She follows that plan until something feels out of place—then she repeats.

Throughout her life—and everyone’s life for that matter—there have been two types of change: internal and external. Barbara’s husband had a job that required them to move places they hadn’t planned, that’s external. Barbara realized she needed a job in addition to being a stay at home mom, that’s internal.

There are two ways to respond to unexpected change. Let the change control you, or you control the change. Barbara chose the latter. Barbara listened to her heart and worked hard in whatever situation life threw her way. As a result, she is doing a job she is passionate about, has a wonderful family, and a life that creates fulfillment. She knows she has much more to accomplish before she is truly fulfilled, but she’s on the right path.

I greatly appreciated Barbara’s insight because it helped me understand a quote I once heard:

You can do everything, just not at the same time.

Every time Barbara tried something new, she started a new chapter in her life. She was a mom, then she worked, now she in an entrepreneur. She has been able to do that because she never stops growing and taking risks. She has never stayed stuck in a rut for too long. Growing, learning, meeting new people, trying new things—that is what keeps life exciting and wonderful.

After having a cup of coffee with Barbara, I feel a sense of relief about the future. I learned that—as much as I plan or try to follow a specific path—my life is not going to end up the way I expect. But that’s okay. Because if I react to the change with the right mindset and continually try new things and seek opportunities I am passionate about, life will be just fine.

In fact, it will probably end up better than what I expected.