In our Success, Her Way interview series, we talk with women who are pursuing their own ideas of success. You’ll get personal insights on the paths they’ve chosen, how their definition of success has changed over the years, and what their habits of success these great women have. — Share it with your friends and colleagues if you find yourself inspired by it.
Today’s successful lady is Amy Peterson. She is an attorney for the Detroit Tigers — a homerun for this baseball fanatic. She is also one of those amazing entrepreneurs intent on making Detroit a better place to live again. She runs a jewelry business that works with Detroit’s underserved, homeless women and has given a number of them access to dignified work and shelter. Read about how she pasted rejection letters from baseball teams on her wall as motivation and how her adorable dog Elbie is the reason she started the jewelry business that is currently a finalist in Martha Stewart’s American Made competition.
Tell us a little where you are in your career and how you got there.
Amy Peterson: I consider myself incredibly blessed to be at this stage in my career “life.” My dream as a little girl was to work for a baseball team and I am fulfilling that dream today. However, it was about a year and a half ago that I realized I had another calling that was waiting to be answered.
In Detroit, I live next door to a well-known shelter called COTS. We share a yard with the neighbors of the shelter. I would often walk my overly friendly and curious English & French mix bulldog, Elbie, in the yard. He would go right up to our neighbors as they were enjoying their day. I would often apologize for his aggressive desire to cuddle but most people loved him. While he was getting all the attention, I would strike up conversations with the tenants of the shelter, particularly the women. Their stories were ones of courage and persistence.
Many had left very difficult situations and went to the shelter for temporary relief. Many women didn’t have control of their financial situations for myriad of reasons including abusive relationships, loss of job, recession, etc. It was then that I realized their unfortunate turn of events could have happened to anyone at any time. These women needed someone to believe in them. (You can read an article on Rebel Nell in Forbes Magazine. –ed.)
It was at this moment that I knew I needed to start a company that not only provided them with jobs but with education. Rebel Nell came to exist out of that necessity. We employ the women directly out of the shelter and train them how to make jewelry from fallen graffiti. We also provide them with financial management, business education, and life wellness skills to that they can successfully transition to an independent life.
This business is my passion project but I also consider it part of my career. I love the duality of my career “life” right now. I have been able to pursue my passion, and now I am able to help others pursue their passion.
What about your work and career do you enjoy the most?
The thing I enjoy most is interacting and learning about people. Everyone has a story and you should take time to listen. I also really enjoy problem solving, coming up with creative solutions. This is prevalent in both areas of my career. I have learned a lot from the women I work with at Rebel Nell. They face many obstacles that are often overlooked or misunderstood. We try to find creative solutions to help them overcome these obstacles and help them get on the right track.
What is your personal definition of “success”? Has it changed over the years?
My definition of success is ever evolving. I am constantly setting goals for myself. Once one goal is achieved, I set another goal. This can be good and bad. I think it is good to eliminate complacency, but it also means you are never satisfied. You can always do more, help more, be more thoughtful.
Some people say success is achieved through a series of habits. What are your “habits of success”?
I think my successful habits are that I am tenacious and never content. I am always looking for ways to improve, learn more. Also, never let anyone tell you that you can’t pursue your dream!
What were the more difficult steps you took on your path? Can you tell us more?
I think the more challenging times were when I was faced with tremendous adversity and roadblocks. It would have been so easy to give up. That goes for both my job and running Rebel Nell. I am fortunate that I learned at an early age, being a competitive ice skater, that when you fall down, you have to get up and continue. That was a great lesson that I have carried with me.
To go into more specifics, I had finally graduated law school and business school and was applying — to work for free — to all Major League Baseball teams. I felt that if I could just get a foot in the door, I could prove myself. I had so many rejection letters that I started to collect them just to get the cool looking “no thanks” on baseball letterhead. I used the rejection to fuel my fire instead of letting it sizzle.
For every rejection letter I received, I would send out 5 or more applications. I also had a lot of people tell me that as a woman, I was crazy to want to work in sports. Fortunately, I have amazing parents and they always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. They made me extra persistent and tenacious.
However, there are always days when you question your decisions and certain choices you made. At the end of the day, you have to believe that you made the right decision even if the outcome isn’t what you wanted. I remember a saying from a wall in our childhood bedroom: “You will regret the decisions you didn’t make more than the ones you did.” That is still one of the best quotes.
Are there any things you’d never compromise or sacrifice for your career?
Although challenging at times it is very important to have a work life balance. It took me a while to learn how important that is, but you need it to continue to grow and be strong in the long run. You will burn out if you don’t take time for yourself. I believe that women put a lot more pressure on themselves to work hard and not take any personal time. You need to find an escape no matter what it is whether it be family time, hobby, travel.
If you had to choose one moment of success that meant the most to you, which one would it be?
To choose one moment is incredibly challenging. I think the day I was promoted to Associate Counsel of the Detroit Tigers was one that made me feel like all of the hard work, dedication, sacrifice and late hours paid off. I am also incredibly proud of the fact that Rebel Nell just celebrated its one year anniversary and all of the women we have hired are working full time, taking great care of their families, and have all moved out of the shelter into homes.
Having made it through a year being a completely sustainable business is something that really makes me smile but we still have a long way to go.
What’s the next project you’re looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to growing Rebel Nell and bringing on more women. I am excited for all the new challenges that are yet to come in all facets of my life. Bring it On!
Thank you so much for speaking with us and sharing your path, Amy.
Check out the other interviews in the Success, Her Way series. And be sure to share them if you find them inspiring.