She was all done. Frustrated. Angry. And more than a little bit annoyed.

She was 45 and fed up.  Determined to make some changes.

Mary Kathlyn sat at her kitchen table making a list of all the things that held her back while working in a “man’s” world for the 25 years. She made another list of the lessons she had learned. She was good at direct sales and had gone toe-to-toe with the best in the industry — but she wasn’t happy.

She wasn’t being treated fairly.

A man with half her experience and a third her skill was making more than twice what she was earning. And only because she was a woman. That’s it. Picked on. Diminished. Teased.

Over the last few decades of rising to the top of every sales job she had ever taken, Mary had learned how tough it was to be a woman in a “man’s world”.

Now, as she sat there thinking, she wanted to turn those lists of lessons into a book about business management.

How could she help other women just like her?

But as she continued writing  and as her lists grew, Mary Kathlyn realized that she had put together a business plan for her “dream company.”

There was just one problem: nobody believed her. Not the banks. Not even the business leaders she had created millions of dollars for.

That made her even more determined to pull it off.

Deep in her subconscious lay an attitude of relentless determination instilled in her by her mom when she was just a kid.

When she was 7, Mary Kathlyn would have to wake herself up, get herself dressed and fed.

And then dress and feed her father. He had been suffering from tuberculosis for years and couldn’t even get out of bed.

When school was over, she’d go straight home. No hanging out with friends. No after school activities. She would clean the house, do her school work, and then cook dinner for her father. All of this while her mother worked sixteen-hour shifts to provide for the family.

A tough mom. With an even tougher will to win.

And some nights, Mary Kathlyn didn’t know how to cook dinner. So she would call her mom at work to get directions.

As a young child, she could cook complex dishes like potato soup and chili. Every time she had to call for help, her mother was loving and patient with young Mary and would explain step by step how to do each task, each time ending with encouragement.

“You can do it!”

Words uttered so often to her as a child, Mary Kathlyn would find herself repeating them to herself when she needed to push on.

“You can do it.”

Unable to afford college after graduation, the next best thing for a woman to do in 1935 was to get married. And so she did.

At 17, Mary found herself walking down the aisle. She gave her husband three children before he joined the military to fight in World War II leaving her the sole provider for her children — financially and emotionally.

Through sheer exhaustion, Mary Kathlyn managed to make it work. And work well.

She had learned from her mom how to make thing work when you needed to. Full-time job. Children. Taking care of the home.

She did it all with apparent ease.

When her husband returned from the war, he told Mary Kathlyn he wanted out. A divorce. He was leaving her. No explanation. No therapy. Nothing. Just gone.

Heartbroken, Mary Kathlyn knew she didn’t have time to sit around and cry. She had children to provide for and now knew she needed a job with flexibility and a decent wage. She needed to make more money. As soon as possible.

She found what she needed in direct sales. She was good at it. Really good at it. She knew how to deliver an in-home presentation that was professional and persuasive.

In fact, she was so good that she was the person they picked to train the other sales people.

“Do what Mary is doing,” management told new recruits.

But being awesome at what she did didn’t mean Mary got more money.

She quickly found herself frustrated having to repeatedly training the men who would eventually take the promotion she had worked so hard for. Men who were less experienced–and bringing the company less money–were making more money than her because they “had families to take care of.”

She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, “I have a family too!”

Instead, she sat quietly, taking mental notes, and continuing to do what was expected of her–for twenty five years–until she finally retired.

Creating lists and lessons at a kitchen table.

But that didn’t last long for her: “My retirement was less than a week old, and I already knew why so many obituaries include the phrase ‘He retired last year.’”

Mary Kathlyn wanted to work, but not like she had been.

She was nervous. But confident. “You can do it.”

About a decade earlier, Mary Kathlyn met someone who would be pivotal in her future.

As she was pitching her sales presentation, she noticed all the beautiful faces staring back at her. They had amazing skin. Flawless complexions.

It stuck in her mind.

When her presentation was over, all the radiant faces gathered around the hostess, Ova Spoonmore, hoping to get a sample of her beauty cream.

Mary Kathlyn was intrigued. And even more impressed when Ova offered Mary Kathlyn a sample of one of the products.

The son of a tanner, Ova used the same softening chemicals in her facial cream that she saw her father use in his work–softening the harsh chemical smells with fragrances and creams.

After sampling the product, Mary Kathlyn quickly became a believer and a loyal customer.

Years later, sitting at that kitchen table, Mary Kathlyn again thought about Ova and her facial cream.

This was her “dream company”.  The products Ova had spent years perfecting would be the perfect start.

“You can do it,” she told herself.

“Beauty by Mary Kay” was born.

She bought the rights to the cosmetics she had used for years. And began to put the pieces in place.  But just as she was about to launch, tragedy struck. Again.

Her second husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack a few weeks later. Mary Kay, being no stranger to loss, had to make the tough decision of whether to continue or fold.

Her children were already grown.

Could she really do this by herself?

She felt lost without her late husband. Her partner. Her friend. Her buddy. He was the numbers guy. She was just going to handle sales and recruitment.

The day of the funeral, Mary Kay sat down with her children and decided. They would press forward.

Her 20-year old son, Richard, was immediately behind his mother. He agreed to quit his job, take a pay cut, and move to Dallas to help get his mother’s dream off the ground.

Mary Kay’s eldest son Ben had a family of his own that he couldn’t uproot.

He was out. But he still believed.

Giving his mother a check for every penny he had been saving since high school.

As he handed her the check for $4,500, he threw back the words his mother so often used.

“You can do it!”

Her children, encouraging her the same way she had always encouraged them, made it easy for Mary Kay to refuse to dwell on life’s setbacks: dead husbands, dead-end jobs, pay inequality, zero recognition.

Other women had also been dealt similar hands. But it’s what she did with those experiences that made the difference. Mary Kay decided to take the cards she was dealt and reshuffle.

Defeat was not an option. It never had been.

As she would tell her sales reps: “Every problem is an opportunity for massive success.”

Mary Kay knew she could do anything. She dove into making the most successful business she could imagine—for everyone she employed. She wanted every woman to succeed. And took special care to make sure her business plan didn’t encourage stepping on other women to get to the top.

Direct in-home sales. By women. For women. The business model was simple and empowering.

Every consultant’s success was based only on their own effort. There were no set rules about how much a woman could make. No limits. She made sure awesomeness was within reach of every Mary Kay Consultant.

“You can do it.”

The same is true for you.

The problems you’re going through right now are an opportunity for you to achieve greatness.

That frustration you feel inside you is the fuel driving you toward your destiny.

Your experience isn’t an accident. And it shouldn’t be wasted.

You’re going to have problems. Life is going to be unfair. You are going to face obstacles that seem impossible. In your moment of weakness and stress, use the lessons you’ve learned to create the future that you desire.

Do it better. Be the catalyst of change that enables others to realize a better future for themselves alongside you.

What you’re going through right now, isn’t an accident.

You’re being tested for a reason. You’re being trained. You’re learning.  Use your experience to create the future that you desire.

“You can do it.”

And 50 years later, Mary Kay cosmetics is doing it. Empowering more than 3.5 million women on 5 continents in 35 countries.

This year alone, those millions of women will sell more than $4 billion worth of Ova’s face cream.

“The definition of successful people is simply ordinary people with extraordinary determination.” 

For Mary Kay, it started at a kitchen table. Frustrated. Angry. And looking for answers.

Where will your story begin?

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