My name is Holly Richards and I am recovering from the surprise of a lifetime, something I never, ever considered, a divorce at 59 ½ after 25 years of marriage. My ex-husband told me that he wanted to move out when we were sailing into Venice, Italy on our 25th wedding anniversary cruise. We had our life plans made. After 35 years of hard work as an IT project manager and business executive, I was planning to retire at 60 and we would take a cruise around the world. Somewhere I missed the signs that something was wrong. I was a wreck. Luckily, a friend referred me to an incredibly talented and capable family therapist. He helped me through the divorce recovery process with many of the same tools he uses to help people recover from drug and alcohol addiction.
In one of our first sessions, he asked the toughest question of all – what makes you happy? I could not remember anyone asking me that before and I certainly had no answer for him. How could I have a happy marriage or a happy life if I did not know what I wanted or what made me happy? I needed to figure this out. I also needed to build connections to fill the hole in my heart. My mother suggested I go back to church. I did. I walked in and the first song was about Jesus, how he loves and never leaves you. I was hooked. I tried every volunteer group in the church. My therapist steered me to connect with my siblings. I did. My neighbor suggested that I make a list of all the things I was doing with family and friends that I would not have done when I was married. I did and the list grew from 5 to 10 to 25 things.
All of this was leading back to the question – what makes me happy. I learned that I need to take responsibility for my own happiness. I learned that my personality needs purpose and mission to be happy. I learned that to be happy I needed to make a difference, have a vision and help other people.
Based on the volunteer work at the church, I learned that I could squirt mustard onto burgers, sort canned goods, greet visitors and set-up, chop, cook, serve and clean-up at church lunches. But I felt I wanted to leverage my management skills and possibly build my own business. With a group of friends, I organized monthly meetings. We talked and talked about how women with professional background could help women that were going through tougher times for many reasons. We decided on the idea of workshops to teach women job search skills. We outlined a curriculum and we volunteered with other non-profits doing similar work. In 2013, we formed a board for Gals Starting Over that contains my therapist who is CEO of an alcohol recovery center, my pastor whose is now pastor of his own church, my accountant, my best work buddy who is also CEO of a software consulting company, and my two best friends who supported and participated in every aspect of the program. Now, we have volunteers helping with curriculum, with marketing and social media, and with fund raising. We have volunteer coaches and instructors and supporters that help with so many aspects of this small business. We have been offering the program three times a year at the church starting in 2013. Our vision is to expand to communities around the United States by providing the program through churches, community centers and groups of women that want to make a difference.
And my story, in addition to the blessings of heading Gals Starting Over and working on our expansion, I am currently engaged to a handsome Greek entrepreneur who is a great cook, gardener and family man. We are going to Greece for a month this summer where we will celebrate the baptism of his two young grandsons. OPA!!*
*OPA is a Greek word. It is a humorous affirmation that you’re the best; that you’re where you’re supposed to be; and that you need to stop and celebrate.