You remember the start of your empire like it was yesterday: While cleaning your son’s room, you noticed the heat lamp had gone out in his pet lizard’s tank. Poor Bertram looked awfully cold in there, so — being the master crocheter you are — you sprang into action, creating a sweater for the little guy in mere minutes. As you fit that snug, pink jumper over his writhing body and watched him settle comfortably on his favorite rock, you knew you had found your calling. It was time to start a business.
Did people doubt you? Sure. Mock you? You bet. But look at you now, America’s favorite billionaire and reptile apparel magnate, with plans to release an exclusive line of turtlenecks for turtles next fall.
Pursuing a new dream is never easy. It takes faith and fortitude — two things that often come from a defining moment. GOBankingRates discussed that very moment with 16 successful businessmen and women. Get inspired by these entrepreneurs to follow your own dream, whether it’s starting a business, changing industries or turning a side hustle into a full-time job.
She Was Getting Quite the Reputation
Marsha Barnes is the owner of The Finance Bar, a revamped school bus on which she teaches personal finance to clients. She decided to become a financial coach on the go because of her growing network.
“I began to receive requests to partner with many of my dream clients,” Barnes said. “At that moment, I realized that my name was being mentioned in rooms that I had never stepped foot in.”
More on Barnes’ Journey: How an Entrepreneur Grew Her Net Worth With an Old School Bus
Her Mentor Retired
Migdalia Rivera was a senior corporate paralegal for eight years, working directly under the general counsel — someone she greatly admired. When he announced his retirement, she knew it was time to leave, too. “I stayed that long because of him. He was a great boss,” she said. “[But] starting my own business would allow me the flexibility I needed to raise my sons while doing what I enjoyed, like writing, speaking, traveling and, of course, being my own boss.” Rivera created Latina on a Mission and has been building her brand ever since.
He Lost His Father
When Dan Stickel’s father passed away, he was made executor of the modest estate. He was shocked by how complicated the whole process was. “There was no software to help with it. [No] instructions, financial accounting, reporting, etc.,” he said.
In the midst of grief and stress, Stickel had an epiphany. “I realized my professional adult life had been dedicated to creating software to solve problems, and that I could actually serve the world — and make money — by addressing this need,” he said. And thus, EstateExec, the leading online software to help estate executors, was born. “While I may have missed some opportunities to do things with my father, I resolved not to miss this business opportunity,” Stickel said. “His loss inspired the creation of [my business].”
Her Boss Questioned Her Vacation Time
Claire Tak, the creator of the blog Claire’s Holiday, wanted to travel, but work was holding her back. “One day, I was sitting in a meeting with my manager, who asked about the PTO I had submitted. She commented, ‘You’ve been taking a lot of time off,’ — which was not true. It was in that exact moment I knew I had to quit and just go for my dream of being able to travel when I wanted,” Tak said.
Tak changed careers just four months later, becoming a consultant, which allowed her to work remotely while traveling to new places. “Month by month, I ticked off places that were on my bucket list: Alaska, New Orleans, Barcelona, Madrid, New Zealand, Australia, Montreal — to name the big ones,” she said. “I’m so glad I did it. Life is all about now. No more waiting.”
He Was Getting Married
Jim Wang, the creator of Wallet Hacks, always knew that he didn’t want a 9-to-5 office job, but he didn’t decide to make his career change until he was about to get married. While meeting with three different wedding caterers, Wang’s mind wasn’t so much on cake and champagne as it was on the future. “It was a whirlwind [and] sometime in the third meeting, I realized that now was the time to quit my job,” he said. “I’d started a personal finance blog that was doing well and if I waited any longer, I might never quit … The wedding was a tent pole moment for me, and I timed my exit to coincide with our honeymoon. I’ve never looked back.”
She Had a Unique Perspective to Share
In the summer of 2014, Kelly Hoey had just left an interim CMO role at a startup and had shuttered her own startup venture six months earlier. “I recall I was a little lost at the time as to the direction my career should take,” she said. That’s when she received two emails from two different authors — coincidentally around the same time — asking for her opinion on networking. “At that very moment, I knew what I was going to do next,” she said. “I had to claim ownership of my ideas and write my book on networking.” Hoey went on to share her perspective in “Build Your Own Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World” and now travels the country as a public speaker.
She Had a Baby
“I knew it was time to pursue my passion for writing shortly after having my daughter,” said Amy White, the blogger behind Daily Successful Living. “I had been writing for a few years, but had just dabbled and never taken it seriously.” Wanting the flexibility to spend more time with her daughter made her wonder if blogging could be her new job. “Children completely change your priorities,” she said. “From that moment on, my hobby blog became my number one priority and my true passion project.”
She Got Sick -- and Then Got Inspired
Home and healthy living expert Lisa Beres decided to pursue a new dream after getting sick. “In 2002, I became extremely ill [due to] toxic exposures from a newly-remodeled home,” she said. Beres decided to become a bau-biologist, someone who investigates damaging chemicals in buildings, which further opened her eyes to how she’d gotten sick. She realized that others were likely going through the same thing, too.
“[Then], one day while walking along the strand in Hermosa Beach, Calif., the name ‘Green Nest’ popped into my mind,” said Beres. “I had an epiphany right then to create a one-stop, e-commerce solution for eco-friendly products.” She and her husband, Ron, now teach people how to eliminate harmful toxins in their home.
She Had a Family Member in Need
“It was when I was caring for my mother, who had a cancer scare last year, that I had my realization,” said Peti Morgan, creator of The Leveraged Mama. “She lives in a town quite far from my home, [and] I realized that if I had an online business, I could be there for my family when needed and not need to worry about getting time off work.” This was exactly what she needed to quit her job and pursue her dream of having a profitable online business.
She Didn’t Want to Be Tied Down
Latifah Al-Hazza had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to do after college. One thing she knew for sure was that she loved to travel, but didn’t love planning trips with her friends with corporate jobs. “I would have to plan trips almost a year in advance so that my friends could schedule it with their boss, and, on top of that, I could only travel with them during specific months and only for a short period of time,” she said. “This restriction scared me.” It was then that she decided to make travel her new career. She created Femscape Sojourns with her mother, a business that offers women travel packages to destinations around the world.
See Her Full Story: A Mother-Daughter Duo Turned Their Passion Into a Successful Business
She Couldn’t Wait to Get Off Work -- to Start Her Second Job
Christine Luken decided to pursue her dream when her side gig became the best part of her day. “I couldn’t wait for my workday to be finished because I was super excited to coach my clients in the evening,” she said. “Although my day job paid me well, I didn’t feel like the work I did changed people’s lives in a tangible way. I became so restless, it felt like it was killing me to stay put.” So, she got her finances in order and then made the leap. She’s now a money coach known as The Financial Lifeguard and a two-time author.
He Realized He Wasn’t Saving Enough
Drew Nevins of the blog Guy on FIRE wanted to achieve financial independence. He started with a pretty lofty goal — reaching $1 million by age 30. “I vividly remember sitting on my living room couch as a 25-year-old,” he said. “At the end of every month, I would — and still do — update a spreadsheet that tracks my net worth. My net worth was nothing crazy at the time; I had less than $100,000 to my name.”
After some serious number crunching, Nevins realized that one source of income just wasn’t going to help him pursue his dream. “This light bulb moment put me in motion to earn, save and invest as much as possible. I took on part-time work. I switched jobs and negotiated raises. I also invested in stocks and real estate,” he said. “Now, at 28, I have a realistic chance of reaching $1 million by age 30.” The soon-to-be-millionaire plans to spend his time traveling and enjoying life outside of an office.
She Made a Birthday Wish
“I remember clearly the day I decided to pursue my dream,” said Laurie Sepulveda, blogger behind The Three Year Experiment. “It was my 37th birthday, and my husband asked me what I wanted. For some reason, I told him something that had only been an impossible idea before — that I wanted to be able to split our time between my family in the Southeastern U.S. and his family in Chile.”
The couple lived in New Hampshire at the time, so the dream seemed far-fetched. “But just one and a half years later, we both transitioned to remote jobs, and we now spend the school year in North Carolina and our summers with our Chilean relatives. By allowing ourselves to imagine bigger dreams, we figured out ways to make them come true,” Sepulveda said.
He Wanted to Do Something Meaningful With His Life
Paul Vachon, creator of The Frugal Toad, made a big midlife career change shortly after his son was born. “I came to the realization that my work was unfulfilling and teaching [science] would allow me the opportunity to directly impact the lives of others in a positive way,” he said. So, he left his corporate finance job to follow his passion. “It was the right decision for me at the right time in my life.”
‘The Universe’ Was Telling Her Something
Nora Dunn, writer behind The Professional Hobo, had always wanted to immerse herself in other cultures. And yet, it wasn’t until a series of ill-fated events that she altered her career path to focus on travel.
“I was in two car accidents in the space of a week,” said Dunn. “People said, ‘The universe is trying to tell you something!’ and I said I needed ‘the universe’ to speak in English, because I was very busy running my business and cryptic clues like car accidents were unappreciated.” Shortly thereafter, Dunn came down with back-to-back bouts of bronchitis, which devolved into pneumonia.
Forced to take some downtime, she reflected on her current job. She realized she was extremely unhappy and wanted to make travel not only her career but a way of life. “So, six months later, I sold everything I owned, handed in the keys to my loft and I was off on a full-time world travel adventure that lasted 12 years,” she said.
Something Was Missing in Her Life
“It was in 2015, right after my third son was born, and I was going through what was probably a bout of postpartum depression,” said blogger Caroline Vencil. “I realized that I was … bored with stay-at-home-mom life, lonely and just felt like something in my life was missing.” Vencil decided to start a blog “literally on a whim with very little research or knowledge of how to actually make it profitable.”
The move paid off. “It took about a year before it actually made me any money, but now three years later, it was the best decision I ever made,” she said.
More on Careers
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- Watch: How One Millennial Turned His Photography Passion Into a Profitable Business
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