Penny Pearlman: I Get Restless
I’ve always tried to live my life with the philosophy, that, like a bumble bee, contrary to what others think I’m capable of, I fly anyway. About every five years or so, I get restless and have to shake things up. At each stage, I’ve learned life lessons.
As a latch key kid in the late 1950’s-60s I learned independence and self-reliance. I graduated college at 20 years old, became an art teacher, got married and had a child. I started to get restless. When my son was three, I went back to school for a masters in art therapy. I then worked in an inner-city methadone detox clinic, and a mental health day-hospital program. I got divorced.I learned I married too young without knowing who I was and that I wanted more. I becameexecutive director of a residential treatment program for addicted women and their children. It was a huge challenge for me since I had no formal leadership/executive experience. I was on talk radio within a week after starting the job and spoke at national conferences. I was learning to be bold.
Realizing I wanted more responsibility and more money, I decided to get an MBA. Living in Philadelphia at the time, The Wharton School was in my backyard. I was older, an atypical single-mother student. I wasn’t initially accepted, but waitlisted. I learned about the importance of persistence and taking action when opportunity presented itself. Going to Wharton was the best investment I ever made in myself. I was overwhelmed, challenged, and stimulated.Through more persistence and networking I got a consulting job with a health care consulting firm. I was promoted every 18 months. I loved that job – the challenges, the diversity of projects, how smart the rest of the staff was. I learned I was capable of more that I originally thought.
Then love claimed me and I moved to Connecticut to be with the man who became my second husband. What we do for love!
I became Vice President for Planning at Bridgeport Hospital. When I was there for almost five years, I got restless and started my own consulting practice. I learned I liked the challenge of seeking out work that was just above my current skill level. I had faith that, though I didn’t know how I would do something, I would figure it out.
Then at 54 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of non-hodgkins lymphoma. After six weeks in the hospital, chemo and a stem cell transplant, I more than survived, I’ve thrived.
I’ve relied on my resilience, through the deaths of my parents six weeks apart, my brother’s accident when he was hospitalized for 6 months and having to manage his affairs, through my own illness and then the diagnosis of my beloved husband’s brain tumor and his subsequent death a year later. I learned to never allow myself to be with toxic people or in toxic situations and to look for the joy in every day.
The pace of my life hasn’t slowed down. I was ED of the Center for Hope, interim director of facilities management at Sloan Kettering, interim CEO of the VNA of New Britain. In my consulting practice, I’ve helped organizations large and small plan their future.
In 2009 I published “Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas,”which is about how to be a winner in any field told through the stories of 22 former Miss Americas I interviewed. Three years ago I took up Flamenco dancing and have traveled to Spain twice to study. These days, I dance, I write, I volunteer and I help others through my motivational speaking. The best lesson of all is that I learned that by following my passion, I continue to fly anyway!
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