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From Tomboy to CEO



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Tomboys grow up to be many things.  They become mothers, wives, teachers, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and yes, they even become CEOs in a male-dominated corporate culture.  In the coming months our column will 

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explore some of the common myths surrounding tomboys and will introduce you to tomboys who grew up continuing to engage in their love of competitive sports, coupled with their drive to be successful in the professional world.  These tomboys know in their hearts that their success today can be attributed-at least in part-to being able to explore their masculine side at a young age, and that being a tomboy was and still is okay.  As strong women, we can lead the next generation of tomboys to even greater levels of success and acceptance in our society.  It is up to us to set the right example! I look forward to teaming up with all of you through this column and welcome your stories about successful tomboys that you feel warrant mention here.

Trust Your Journey

Beth Brownlee-Founder

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Beth Brownlee- resting after climbing to the top of Stone Mountain in Georgia

In retrospect, many things can come into focus.  Looking back on the twists and turns of her life, Beth Brownlee can see that every step of her journey has led her to where she is today.

A Journey to Awareness

By:  Jean Harper

I have heard the statement "no, pain, no gain" all of my life, but I guess I only ever superficially understood it-that is, until today.  With the messages from The Secret, and The Laws of Attraction and so on, most of us have a newfound openness, enabling us to appreciate the depth of meaning behind such statements.  That is certainly true for Beth Brownlee, founder of "Trust Your Journey", a new company based on the principle of its name.

Beth Brownlee is the perfect person to present in our series "From Tomboy to CEO" because not only is she a great example of a young tomboy that turned into a CEO but she is also a great specimen of a woman-I think you'll appreciate her story.

Beth Brownlee was born in Tucker, Georgia, and lived there for 48 years of her life.  She has one younger sister and one older brother.  Her father passed away in 1999. Her mom turned 77 earlier this year and much like her daughter, she lives her life to the fullest; taking cruises, ballroom dancing and dating men who often have difficulty keeping up with her fast-paced lifestyle.  Beth laughs and remarks that even she can't keep up with her mom, but is happy to see her enjoying her life.

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Beth- Skiing in Colorado

By all respects, Beth was a tomboy as a child.  She envied the freedom that the boys had and chose boys as her best friends.  She recalls that when she was growing up, girls were always held back a bit for safety reasons.  An example of this, she recalls, was when the neighborhood kids were allowed to camp in the back yard, the girls had to stay inside the fence while the boys were allowed to camp just outside it.  Because she usually hung out with the boys, she too was allowed to camp outside the fence, and found this empowering.

Beth was very close with her brother as a child and she feels fortunate to have had this relationship with him.  When there was a football game in the yard and the kids lined up to be picked for the teams, Beth's brother always picked her either as his first or second choice-another empowering feeling that she thinks was a tremendous boost to her confidence.  She recalls when she was 9 or so and her brother played on a football team in which she was not allowed to play.  She was given a mouthpiece and a jersey and allowed to lie on top of the equipment.  She chewed on the mouthpiece and felt the equipment beneath her, imagining that she was a part of the team.  The boys treated her with respect and she appreciated that.  She says that these events also had an enormous impact on her confidence.

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Beth during a fishing event in Islamorado, Florida-Keys

Beth has always been around sports.  Her brother pushed her to bat left handed, even though she was right handed, which she believes made her an even better player than she would have been otherwise.  Throughout high school and college, Beth participated in sports such as softball, basketball and track & field.  At North Georgia College Beth was offered a basketball scholarship in her second year and went on to major in P.E.

After college Beth went on to teach high school, where she was a gymnastics and basketball coach.  In 1982 she left teaching to take a position in sales with Athlete's Foot.  She then moved on to Reebok in 1985 and remained there until 1988, when she was offered a position with Avia.

In 1990 Beth decided to go out on her own as an independent rep for a company called Hind Apparel.  Hind Apparel soon recruited her into management and she went on to become the National Sales Manager, before being headhunted by Asics to run the entire East Coast sales group.

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Beth- Playing golf in Palm Springs, CA

Beth landed at Columbia Sportswear in 1998, where she worked for 8 years.  Columbia Sportswear is headed by Gert Boyle, a woman who is in her early eighties and is still an active Chairman of the Board.  Beth was a regional manager with Columbia and her career was heading upward when in July 2004 she was promoted to Director of U.S. Sales for Columbia, the pinnacle of her career.  She was soon scheduled to relocate to Portland, Oregon and life seemed to be going great, as it always had. She was confident, a successful business woman, and was right in the middle of a great life.

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Beth hiking - left photo- and with her motorcycle- right 

However, in June of 2004 Beth had noticed a small knot under her clavicle and had thought nothing of it.  The previous May she had had a mammogram and the doctor had detected a small calcification but this was reported as a routine finding. She did not connect the two incidents.  Despite the routine finding of the small calcification, the doctor ordered a biopsy and Beth agreed.  Unperturbed, she put off the biopsy until September 20.

On September 21, 2004 Beth received a call from her doctor-she remembers thinking it odd to have a personal call directly from the doctor.  The doctor then calmly informed her that she had breast cancer and that she needed to have surgery immediately.  She was scheduled for surgery on September 27.

Following the call from her doctor, Beth began to notify her family and friends.  She was immediately surrounded by those close to her.  She recalls the feeling of love that she sensed in everyone around her and how much she appreciated their strength and support.  Life for this healthy, productive woman was about to change drastically, and she would need to gather all of her strength to focus on the only thing that mattered now: her life.

As scheduled, Beth went in for her surgery, which lasted for 6 hours and consisted of a mastectomy and simultaneous reconstructive surgery.  The physician brought a portion of the muscle from her back and swung it to the front, keeping it connected with its blood supply.  A breast implant was positioned underneath this newly positioned muscle.  When Beth woke up and looked down at her body she was amazed at how normal it looked.  Her pain, though intense, was controlled by drugs and she was discharged from the hospital in only 2 days.

It took 30 days for the surgery wound to heal before chemotherapy could commence.  Beth describes the chemotherapy as the worst experience of her life and credits her good health prior to the cancer with helping her endure the treatment.  Beth experienced all of the possible side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea, some vomiting, a loss of taste, and the eventual loss of all body hair.  The only food that appealed to her was potato chips.  She had lost all desire for all of her favorite foods.  She described the worst part about losing her hair-fluid would pour from her nose due to the lack of nose hair to slow it down.

To make things worse, the day after each chemotherapy treatment, she received a white blood cell shot.  This shot left her with flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fever and exhaustion.  She clearly recollects that after her third chemotherapy treatment, she was so sick that she no longer cared if she lived or died, because of the misery her life had become.

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Beth- During chemo

In November 2004, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day, Beth sat alone, feeling miserable and ready to let go.  She recalls picking up her journal and writing these words: "Your health is the most important thing in life, and without it nothing else matters."  She repeated in her mind, "Nothing else matters" and sank into a deep depression, wanting it all to end.  She curled up in her pity and stayed there.

Beth managed to continue with her therapy and shortly she received a gift from an old friend.  She had received many, many gifts but this one was different.  She opened the gift and inside she found the words "Trust Your Journey" inscribed on a small token gift. These words seemed like magic to her and she stared at them for some time.  The message was clear and she credits these words with saving her life.  Through these words she was able to realize that there was a purpose in her experience and that this illness would pass.

Beth recalls the stress that her busy life had placed on her prior to her illness.  She acknowledges that the stress was self-inflicted but that she was unable to establish her priorities.  While she was sick she spent a lot of time reflecting about the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink.  She concluded that the one common denominator that we all experience as humans is stress.

After surviving cancer Beth feels more at peace within herself.  She is calm and just doesn't "go there" when it comes to stress.  Her external world, which she had tried so hard to control, was no longer as important to her, and she could now let go and trust her journey in life.

In 2006 Beth Brownlee founded "Trust Your Journey" with her business partner, Ruth Nichols. Ruth Nichols is also no stranger to adversity.  As Beth battled cancer, Ruth struggled with the declining health and eventual death of her husband, and then the birth of their only child. These two women, with a renewed appreciation for life, have set out on a new journey to combine the work that they know well with their new social and environmental consciousness. Both women have many years of experience in the retail industry and share a love of the outdoors.

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Beth Brownlee and Ruth Nichols- Founders- Trust Your Journey

Beth Brownlee is a perfect start for our "From Tomboy to CEO" feature, as she exemplifies the confidence gained by young women who are allowed to be themselves, allowed to experience the bumps and bruises and explore the world without fear and without being overly protected, as many young girls are.  Beth gained a lot of confidence by participating in sports and she learned what boys are taught routinely; that you can accomplish more by being a part of a team that you can accomplish alone.  Being allowed to be a tomboy was a positive thing for Beth and the confidence and strength she garnered from it took her on a journey without fear.

At the end of our interview, Beth said some things to me that really made me think:

"When I was a little girl, I just did things, without thinking about it. I could have gotten hurt, but I didn't think about that."

"If I had thought about all of the things I did in my life too much before I did them, I probably would not have done most of the things that I have done in my life."

"You can't say, if I just could have known I would not have done this or that." 

 "You just have to trust your journey-I trust my journey, now." 

"I am grateful for life's lessons, and I want others to do the same."

As I conclude this story, I am grateful for my new lesson and I am stronger for having heard Beth's story.  I feel fortunate for my health and more confident to trust whatever life sends my way.

Thanks, Beth!

About Trust Your Journey

Opening in November, 2007, the inaugural line of Trust Your Journey products includes 100% organic cotton tees, sweatshirts, bags, journals and even a sterling silver pendant of the symbolic TYJ logo.  Each piece features their symbolic logo, which is a heart with a spiral labyrinth inside signifying love, togetherness and a journey from beginning to end.  Each detail has been vital in developing the brand.  The products must be environmentally friendly as well as complimentary to women.  The organic cotton t-shirts feel soft against the skin and the tags in their clothing are made from recycled materials and include a famous and inspiring quotation.


Trust Your Journey
2265 Stowe Drive
Reno, NV   89511
775-852-8715
Contact Beth at Friends@trustyourjourney.com



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