Milwaukee Women Share Their Words of Wisdom

Good advice is something that really sticks with you, a searing truth cutting through the clutter of everyday life like a ray of sun through the clouds. With that in mind, we asked dozens of local women for their most inspiring insights.

EDITED BY DIANE M. BACHA AND CHRIS DROSNER


Julia Taylor; Photo courtesy of Julia Taylor

ON A GRACEFUL TRANSITION TO RETIREMENT

Julia Taylor

Retired President, Greater Milwaukee Committee; Artist

All the relationships that one builds in a career persist into retirement, and the trust that has been built means that you can still bring people together to do meaningful civic work – while having more time to play with friends and family.

Della Wells; Photo by Aliza Baran

ON BEING YOURSELF

Della Wells

Artist

You’ve got to believe and have faith in yourself. Don’t let other people shape who you are. I don’t think you’ll always be sure – it’s human to struggle with that. But don’t fall into what other people believe their truths are. Learn who you are and be the best person that you can be.


 

UNITY AWARDS EVENT

Join Milwaukee Magazine and Quad for the third-annual Unity Awards Event on March 8 from 6:30-9 p.m. at GATHER in the Deer District.


Stacia Thompson; Photo courtesy of Stacia Thompson

ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Stacia Thompson

Executive Director, Sherman Phoenix Foundation

Years ago, when I was given the opportunity to take a leadership role, I asked my boss about times when I would need to take care of my son, who has special needs.

Her words to me were, “Take care of home first because if home is not taken care of, then you’re not going to be present here.” And what I add to that is take care of yourself, as well. Because we’re no good to anyone else, whether it be professionally or personally, if we don’t take care of ourselves. And that’s taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, spiritually, professionally, financially. 

Sometimes we need a break from the devices, a break from work, and just a day to take care of ourselves. You might not do anything all day. You might not do any laundry, you might not do any dishes. But you might just veg on the couch all day in your pajamas and binge watch one of your favorite shows. Give yourself some grace.


FOUR TIPS FOR DOING IT ALL AS A SINGLE PARENT

Sarah Holtan

Communications Professor, Concordia University Wisconsin; Business Owner

One More Thing: At the end of my workday, I ask myself what is the One More Thing I could check off my to-do list. It could be as simple as scheduling a car maintenance appointment. It doesn’t work every day, but most days it frees up time later on and also declutters my mental load.

Do the Door Dash: As a solo parent of two, I’m solely responsible for 63 meals per week, plus countless snacks. Food delivery service and meal kits like Uber Eats and Hello Fresh are lifesavers. Door Dash is especially convenient because the app saves previous orders. I can order on the app as I leave work and dinner is waiting on the front porch by the time I arrive home.

A Cut and an Email: I use personal appointments where my hands are free to work. My hairstylist knows to pull up a small table and give me silence because I will be pecking away at my laptop for the two hours it takes to make me blond again.

The Support Group: Find a community of peers who can relate to your experiences firsthand. I was blessed to befriend a group of single parents when I lived in Shorewood. We keep a running text of our cynical, snarky witticisms regarding parenting. Nothing feels better than feeling like you belong.


Kathleen A. Cepelka; Photo courtesy of Kathleen Capelka

ADVICE FROM GRANDMA

Kathleen A. Cepelka

Superintendent Emerita, Archdiocese of Milwaukee

My Slovak grandmother never graduated from grade school but had more street savvy – and was more successful in dealing with people – than almost anyone I’ve known. Her advice has served me well: Be yourself. Admit what you don’t know. Show up and do your job. Be able to spot a phony. 

Lindsay Renier; Photo courtesy of Lindsay Renier

ON STRENGTH

Lindsay Renier

Family Law Attorney, Renier Hotopp Law

I believe that women who are going through a traumatic experience (like divorce or a custody battle) are stronger and more resilient than they give themselves credit for. I advise my clients that it’s important to provide yourself rest, relaxation and downtime – do not think of that as a lack of productivity, or a sign of limitations and weakness! Pushing from one project or personal challenge to another without time to rest is a sure way to burn out.

Caitlin Cullen; Photo courtesy of Caitlin Cullen

ON RISK

Caitlin Cullen

Food Center Director, Kinship Community Food Center; Former Chef and Restaurateur

My best ideas and the work I’m most proud of have almost always been borne out of trying something that was destined to fail. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from giving something a shot; chances are, even if it doesn’t pan out the way you thought it would, the only real failure is having not tried something you believe in.

Laura Gutiérrez; Photo courtesy of Laura Gutiérrez

ON A GROWING CAREER

Laura Gutiérrez

Executive Director, United Community Center

Advocate for yourself. You are your best cheerleader and need to be confident to seek what you need in order to grow personally and professionally. Have the courage to take risks, whether it relates to a decision or career opportunity; if it doesn’t work out, reflect, learn from it and move forward!


ON LIVING WITH PURPOSE

Tammy Belton-Davis; Photo courtesy of Tammy Belton-Davis

Tammy Belton-Davis

Founder and Principal, Athena Communications

Life is short, so do what fuels your soul. Make sure your core values and passions shine deeply. Be it your faith, family, friends, passions or whatever else, ensure the things that feed you and bring you joy are prioritized in your everyday life. 

Anne Zizzo; Photo courtesy of Anne Zizzo

Anne Zizzo

Founder and CEO, Zizzo Group

I am purposeful about living my best life. Each morning, I ask myself “If today is my last day on earth, would I want to do what I am about to do?” And whenever the answer is “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to take action.

Sometimes it’s those little, easy actions like slowing down to check in and spend time with friends and family. But most often, this daily ritual helps keep me in a frame of mind where I am able to contextualize the disruptions required to make my visions a reality as rewards, not as risks.

Cecelia Gore; Photo courtesy of Cecelia Gore

Cecelia Gore

Executive Director, Brewers Community Foundation

I have three messages that I reflect on regularly: Use my energy and influence to improve someone’s life. Love my family and friends. Leverage my personal privilege and experience.


MY FAVORITE QUOTE: CECELIA GORE

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

-MAYA ANGELOU


Jessie Cannizzaro; Photo courtesy of Jessie Cannizzaro

ON RUNNING A BUSINESS

Jessie Cannizzaro

Owner, Milestone Plumbing

Do not ask others to do things that they have not personally witnessed you willing to do yourself. I believe this is where respect comes from. I am not beneath emptying the garbage or cleaning the toilets, because these are important duties that should be done well, too.

As a team, we always share in the successes and failures together as a “We.” This is hammered home in our company culture daily, and we call each other out on it. My team catches me and knows that they have been empowered to correct me when I slip, too.

Always do what’s right, even if it means you are standing alone. And never be afraid to fight for something based on principle. There have been quite a few challenges I have fought through that have been incredibly time-consuming and costly as a result, but doing what’s right usually is.

And celebrate wins, even the small ones.


MY FAVORITE QUOTE: JESSIE CANNIZZARO

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

-PABLO PICASSO


Kristin Dufek; Photo courtesy of Kristin Dufek

ON UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITY

Kristin Dufek

President, Eppstein Uhen Architects; Chair, Milwaukee Women Inc.

Be open to taking the road less traveled – opportunities that arise which are not what you feel may fit into your professional plan may end up being exactly what is perfect for you. Stay nimble and open-minded, always.


Shana Blackman; Photo courtesy of Shana Blackman

ON STAYING HEALTHY LATER IN LIFE

Shana Blackman

Physical Therapist; Owner, MyPT 

The aging body requires preparation. We wouldn’t go into a board meeting without preparing a presentation and expect great results. So how can we sit at a desk all day and then expect our bodies to produce great results during whatever activity we enjoy?

For an aging athlete, accepting pain as a reason for inactivity is a choice. Your body will adapt to what is asked of it, and your pain can change with the right guidance. Choose to prioritize, prepare and empower your body instead.

And lastly, choose movement – in life, career and especially with your body! The older we get, the more we need. No matter how you do it, just move!

Kyle Rechilcz; Photo courtesy of Kyle Rechilcz

ON MOTIVATING A TEAM

Kyle Rechlicz

Head Coach, Women’s Basketball, UW-Milwaukee 

This season, our team is focusing on advice Becky Hammon, head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, gave her team: Be proactive, take initiative and ownership in your process and your goals. Being determined and know that having hardships will ultimately shape your progress toward success.

I also love to tell my team of 14 women not to let anyone in the cheap seats have an expensive opinion on their lives. We have a tendency to care way too much about what other people think. Live your best life without the fear of disappointing people or making mistakes because the mistakes we make actually teach and shape us into better human beings. 

Jacqueline Fontaine Schram; Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Fontaine Schram

ON ACTIONS AND CONSEQUENCES

Jacqueline Fontaine Schram

Director of Public Affairs and Special Assistant for Native American Affairs, Marquette University

I always remember these words from my mom and her mom: What goes around comes around. This circularity is foundational in Indigenous ways of knowing. It fits so many of life’s contexts, but one of the intended lessons here relates to how words and actions make people feel. If I gave good energy, it would be returned. The reverse was also true, so first, be kind.

Marcelia Nicholson; Photo courtesy of Marcelia Nicholson

ON COALITIONS

Marcella Nicholson

Chair, Milwaukee County Board 

You’ve got to build bridges with people who, on the surface, you may not think you have much in common with. Great things happen when we invite a diverse group of people to our table to feast. Just like a potluck, we enjoy our meal more when we have a variety of offerings.


Griselda Aldrete; Photo courtesy of Griselda Aldrete

ON NAVIGATING CONFLICT

Griselda Aldrete

Community Advocate; Former Director of Stakeholder Engagement, Alliant Energy; Former Executive Director, Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission

Following your inner compass, never ignoring what it tells you, is always the best way to address conflicts. As women, we have the gift of intuition – always listen to your gut, and never allow someone to tell you that how you’re feeling about a situation is wrong or invalid. Speak up if something you’re experiencing is not right, and trust the process. 

In some situations, conflict can help working relationships get better; great growth can happen in these situations. However, don’t be afraid to walk away from unhealthy work situations where conflict is the norm.


ON INTUITION

Grace Weber

Singer-Songwriter

Trust your intuition. It’s a powerful and beautiful thing. Over the years I’ve worked on understanding the difference between when I’m hearing my anxieties or fears, and when my intuition and gut are speaking to me. Knowing the difference and exercising that muscle of believing in, trusting and loving yourself will help give you direction, show you new paths and lead you down amazing roads.


Fran Kaplan; Photo courtesy of Fran Kaplan
Photo courtesy of Fran Kaplan

ON CONNECTIONS ACROSS CULTURES

Fran Kaplan

Co-Founder, Nurturing Diversity Partners

I am lucky to have had many life experiences that helped me build and cross bridges. I grew up in a Jewish family in a very Christian, rural part of Indiana and as a teenager stumbled into an opportunity to live with a family in Mexico, an immersion into a new culture and language that set my life path in many ways. These experiences helped me understand what it is to be an “other.” And what it means to be accepted and cared about by people different from me – and to accept and love them back.

What I’ve learned is that I don’t know what I don’t know. If I’m with a community of people new to me, I first just want to be observant, to notice how they greet each other, listen to what’s important to them. I observe, then follow their lead.

It’s really not that hard. Just be open and curious. Don’t worry about what you don’t yet know or understand. Most folks will accept you and your mistakes if you come to them with that humility.


Stephanie Horne; Photo courtesy of Stephanie Horne
Sydnie Horne; Photo courtesy of Sydnie Horne

ON MIXING FAMILY AND BUSINESS

Stephanie and Sydnie Horne

Owner (Stephanie, left) and Marketing Manager (Sydnie), SoHo Boutique and Pink Moon Bay

Our ability to communicate openly and honestly with one another has been super important for our relationship. Knowing that it is not personal can make those more difficult business discussions easier to tolerate for both of us. It just leads to a more productive conversation.

We have also taken those same open and honest communication skills into our mother- daughter relationship, and we genuinely believe it has done nothing but strengthen us as a pair. We have a fantastic business and personal relationship because of it.


Maxine Aldridge White, Photo courtesy of Maxine Aldridge White

ON BEING A BEACON

Maxine Aldridge White

Judge, Wisconsin Court of Appeals

My advice? Look around. Find some of the people who shine light into this world, whether it be lights of hope, perseverance, hard work, fearlessness, empathy, sympathy or other positive influence. Go toward that light. Take from that light, use it to fuel your own lamp, your own work, so that you can in your own turn light the
way for others. 

One of my own lights is my “she-ro,” mentor and friend, Marian Wright Edelman. She is an amazing lawyer, leader, writer, mother, wife and advocate for children, a role model for selfless service to others. She’s also author of Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors, in which she explores the gifts of her mentors’ support and lays out the value that such connections bring to both the giver and receiver. I am so grateful to Marian and her influence in my life – shedding light on darkness and bringing peace, comfort and hope to new horizons.


ON PROTECTING SOMEONE AT RISK

Carmen Pitre

President and CEO, Sojourner Family Peace Center

First, it is important for you to understand how hard it is to leave. If any of us were told, “You have a half an hour to pack your bags, take whatever you can take, I’m bringing you to live in a place with 50 strangers,” it would be frightening on all levels. Leaving is not easy. That’s a reality.

Become a safe person. What that means is when people come forward, believe them, make space to hear them. Some of these things can be difficult to hear. But make a commitment to being a safe person and saying, “I hear you, I want to help, and it’s not your fault.” And then get familiar with resources that are available and ask how you can help.

Understand, it’s ultimately their choice. It’s extremely painful to watch people we love suffer, but they deserve the dignity and respect of being able to make their own decisions.

Do your own feeling work. When we witness and hear about people getting hurt and harmed, that’s hard for us. So we need to tend to that.

Finally, we need to understand the power of love and relationships and how important we are to each other. I’ve heard it said that we are hurt in relationships and we heal in relationships. That’s why we desperately need each other.


Dasha Kelly Hamilton; Photo by TJ Lambert

ON WRITER’S BLOCK

Dasha Kelly Hamilton

Wisconsin and Milwaukee Poet Laureate; “Creative Change Agent”

When your writing is frustrated or stalled, write something else. The passage you wanted to write is still baking in your subconscious. It could be a sign that you’re overthinking the text or undervaluing your creative process. In any event, the words you’re reaching for are inaccessible because one of you – the words or your pen – aren’t ready. Hundreds of other words will be ready. If you were working on a memoir, for instance, switch to poetry. If you were working on something serious, switch to something silly. Even consider a list of questions about a memory or a two-minute free write about whatever is in your immediate vision. You’re allowed to write for just-because reasons, too. 


Jessie Terrell; Photo courtesy of Jessie Terrell
Ann Terrell; Photo courtesy of Ann Terrell

ON GRACEFUL LEADERSHIP

Jenise Terrell  

CEO, Public Allies 

Ann Terrell 

Longtime Education Leader, Author of Graceful Leadership in Early Childhood Education

JT: My leadership style has been greatly informed by watching my mom lead. And the first leadership lesson I learned from her was to master your craft and always be prepared. Mom, I remember you poring over your binders late at night on the kitchen table. 

AT: Knowing your craft and being prepared is important, but you have to take care of yourself in order to do the good work that we’ve taken on or been assigned. 

JT: My second most significant takeaway from watching you lead is to honor those who came before us, recognizing that we’re standing on their shoulders. It’s not enough to be the first, if we are the last. It is our obligation to ensure we are not the last to come through the doors that have been opened for us. We have to make sure there is a robust pipeline of leaders that follow us through the doors. 

AT: Send the elevator back down and bring someone else up; lift as you climb. That is so important and so key as we move along our leadership journey – honoring those who supported us and bringing others along with us. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many women in my life who have mentored, supported and opened doors for me in this journey. It is so important to honor those folks – the people who believed in you, mentored you. In turn, it is our responsibility to bring others along. I’ve tried to do that. There are 20-plus women whom I’ve mentored. I’ve seen you do that in your leadership style too, Jenise, bringing others along. 

JT: That is a big part of how I choose to lead. And it is a choice. Seeing people for who they are — who they have the capacity to become if given the opportunity. Most importantly for me, I have an affinity for leaders that look beyond the shiny penny and see promise in those whose potential is not typically recognized. In leadership sometimes it’s the small decisions we make on a day-to-day basis that have the greatest consequence. Just asking the question, “What does this human being need in this moment” can be powerful. 


Venice R. Williams; Photo courtesy of Venice R. Williams

 

ON FINDING PEACE

Venice R. Williams 

Executive Director, Alice’s Garden

Each morning, before opening my eyes and leaving the comfort of my bed, I ask my Creator and my ancestors: “What is it that you require of me this day?” The unfinished business of the ancestors is the blueprint for my life. I am the continuation of their story. There is so much in the world, in our everyday living, seeking our attention and our energy. I believe this to be even more of a reality for women. Distractions from the path we were born to travel are numerous, and often, overwhelming. I encourage you to check in with your higher power, whatever that looks like for you, before beginning your day. Immerse yourself in the legacy of one, or a few, of your ancestors, drawing them to you. Ask what may be required in the course of your day. Listen. Receive. Honor their journey, while strengthening your own. 


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s November issue.

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