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  1. Blog
  2. Women to Know

How She Did It: 6 Women-Led Passion Projects

They worked full-time jobs while launching their dream careers

woman painting
Photo courtesy of Atelier Unes

Following your passion and paying the bills can be a bit tricky, but there are ways to manage both. Some women are able to eventually end up quitting their day jobs to fulfill their dreams, while others continue working a 9 to 5 for other reasons. Either way, making your dream happen requires gumption and fortitude.

Cheris Hodges, author of Tempted at Midnight, wanted to be a romance novelist from the time she was a child. She started her career as a newspaper journalist before self-publishing her first book in 2001. She eventually landed a 16-book deal with Kensington Publishing in 2006, but has worked a multitude of jobs ever since, including her current position in internet sales, selling credit cards at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, working in business development at a car dealership, and working as a staff writer and reporter.

“I work jobs where I have really good insurance because paying for it yourself is really expensive,” Hodges says. “I found that when I talk about [writing] everything else is just an odd job. It’s sad that your passion doesn’t give you everything that you need, but because it’s your passion you can’t let it go. If I was writing books just for the money, I would have quit years ago.”

Her advice to women on the fence about following their passion is to just stop thinking and do it. “It’s always better to figure out that this is something I want to do and sacrifice time and money for than wait until later wondering,‘What if?’” Hodges says. “As women, we always put our needs and wants on the backburner because we’re not taught to reach for the stars most of the time, but when you push that mindset to the side, then you can go after it and follow your passion and fight for it.”

Hodges isn’t the only woman who’s taken the often-messy plunge into entrepreneurship. Here are five other women who have held down full-time jobs while pursuing their passion projects.

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Kemiyondo Coutinho

The Ugandan-born screenwriter, filmmaker, director, and actress spent her days driving for Lyft in Los Angeles while working on her passion as a director and filmmaker. She directed numerous music videos and landed a huge hit with her film director debut Kyenvu, a film about a young woman who encounters street harassment daily and eventually is attacked. She was frustrated with the lack of female directors and acting rejections in the industry and decided to take matters into her own hands by writing her own part and getting a crash course in filmmaking before filming the movie in Africa for three days. Kyenvu has racked up numerous awards including Best Short Film at the Pan African Film Festival and a finalist in NBCU Short Film Festival in 2018, and it’s the first Ugandan Film to be streamed on Hulu.

Read more: Cool CEO Alert: Empowering Women Through Comic Books

Nicci Levy

The founder of Alchemy 43 started her career working the Benefit Cosmetics counter at the mall while in college and discovered that making sure women feel beautiful is her passion. She went on to have a 10- year career in corporate cosmetics at companies like MAC Cosmetics and Nordstrom and later at Calvin Klein Beauty, where she launched their cosmetics line. Levy became fascinated with the medical aspects of beauty like micro-treatments with jobs at Botox, Juvederm, and Latisse and shifted her career and launched Alchemy 43, an aesthetics bar specializing in micro-treatments.

Audra Dipadova Wilford

Audra Dipadova Wilford discovered her son Max had brain cancer when he was 4 years old. She and Max founded the MaxLove Project in 2011, just months after his diagnosis, to help other families who have children with cancer learn about and access lifestyle changes and innovative medical treatments and therapies to fight the disease. Wilford was the director at Saddleback College, where she worked as the Director of Student Life, but in 2016, she made the big leap, taking her nonprofit full time.

Erica Barrett

With a passion for cooking, Southern Culture Foods founder and CEO Erica Barrett was glued to the Food Network to learn about the science of cooking. With a degree in business finance, Barrett was working as a Target manager and payroll consultant all while making extra money selling meals she prepared. In 2010, Barrett won a $10,000 grand prize in a video recipe contest sponsored by the Food Network. She launched her company, brought her mom on board, and perfected her pancake and waffle mixes along with other breakfast staples. Her company is now making seven figures in yearly sales.

Read more: She Lives in Atlanta. Her Last Job was in Iceland.

Sara Blakely

Spanx founder Sara Blakely worked for a company selling fax machines and went door to door for seven years in her 20s before an evening of frustration with a pair of white pants led her to cut off the bottom of her hosiery. A new idea was born. She told Forbes, she knew she would create a product that millions of people would use. The first prototype was held together with Duct tape and paper clips. She pitched it to Neiman Marcus, and it ended up in stores everywhere nearly two years later. She quit her sales job at 30 years old to run her company, Spanx Inc., full time.

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