By Kristen Domingue
The day I met Sarah, I was part of a group of businesswomen who came together with the express purpose of growing their businesses. I was a part of the group for about a year before Sarah joined.
I’m not really one for making new friends. I’ll be honest, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing some of the worst sides of women in the workplace. The cattiness, the backstabbing, the microaggressions that women can display towards other women—all of that has given me surreptitious pause when it comes to professional collaborations with women. It’s painfully unfortunate to witness those who should be fantastic allies turn into spirited detractors from other women’s success. It’s disheartening to admit that women can be like this.
But not Sarah Dew.
I remember the day I met Sarah like it was yesterday. We each shared our business and what we needed help with and what we could bring to the table. While new to the group, Sarah’s honesty and integrity about who she was, what she needed, and what she could offer marked her as immediately trustable. There were many more experienced business owners in the room that day, but it was Sarah who stood out as a woman of extraordinary character.
Her work in creating this magazine and her commitment to the greater community of women business owners — and to Ann Arbor specifically — has won my heart over and over again. I hope you enjoy getting to know her through this article as much as I have over the years.
How we got started
The Brick has been in print for two full years as of this month. The first print issue was made available in December of 2017. However, we started about six months prior to that, in June.
Before starting The Brick, I was the owner and editor-in-chief of a different magazine that was a marketing vehicle for a consulting business I ran. I still run that business now; we’ll celebrate a decade in about a year or so. The original magazine was fun for me; we put out quarterly issues for two years. But as marketing strategies for that business changed, we retired that magazine. Its value was always in the back of my mind.
I loved what it did for the women business owners who were featured. I loved reading their stories. It had such an amazing impact on the readers as well, and that feeling of doing something big that brought together women who were changing lives never left me. It occurred to me that we didn’t have anything like this in Ann Arbor. I could see that Ann Arbor is of a size that could sustain it, so I figured, why not? The women of this community are interesting, and they should have a place to have their work featured and be inspired by one another.
Why women, why now
When it comes to the magazine, I am a consumer as well — I’m a member of the target market for the magazine. When I look at us, I see a collective of driven, smart, and compassionate women. Many of us are moms and have families. Many of us own businesses. These are women who are actively committed to making the world a better place — not just for their own families, but better for everyone they interact with every day. When they talk about what they’re up to, they can sometimes think their work is small. In my opinion, in a world where there’s so much divisiveness, all of it counts, all of it is significant. When I look around, I see that it’s women who are doing the work of bringing people together in a moment when it’s so easy for all of us to be torn apart.
The content that is targeted at us, however, doesn’t reflect that. It doesn’t show how we’ve grown as a demographic. When I looked around at content for women like us online and offline, it wasn’t a reflection of what I was thinking about, what I was interested in, or how I even viewed myself. Overall, the world of print and digital content for ambitious and family-minded women rubbed me the wrong way. I was bothered by the ways it erased us, or kept focusing on the fact that there might be something wrong with us that we could fix to better please a man, a boss, or to avoid messing up our kids. The premise for content directed at us is, essentially, “You’re not right the way you are now.” Whether the editors and publishers mean to or not, they send the message that we need to lose weight, put on more makeup, wear these clothes.
I reject that wholeheartedly. The women I see and meet in the world are amazing. They don’t need to change anything about themselves. I would prefer to hear about what they’re accomplishing.
We’ve grown past that point as women. We’re doing more, thinking about more, and giving more. We deserve to get more than that from a magazine. My main question when I started the magazine was, “What if I could create something that was of interest to women like me, that actually felt good to read? Something that gave information and also told important stories, since story-telling is central to the way we learn as human beings?”
I wanted to share the stories of women you might hear about from friends and from friends of friends. The celebration stories, the triumph stories. I wanted to share those stories that don’t always get the recognition they should, especially right now in our country.
Just like you, just like me
I wanted to share stories about women who have opened businesses, who have overcome loss in unique ways, who are impacting our community in ways that aren’t always highlighted on the news. These are the stories we wouldn’t hear about in a regular magazine. “Just-like-me” stories are typically relegated to celebrities, to normalize and humanize them. But I wanted “just-like-me” stories to humanize the woman next door that you haven’t met yet. Hearing our stories reflected back to us raises all of us up.
We call it The Brick because I see each of these women doing their part to make our community a better place, to build it up. We’re each bricks of our community, and it’s the work we’re doing individually that make us who we are as a whole.
I love that we get to tell stories like that of Dr. Sabiha Bunek, and how she overcame hardship and adult bullying to open her practice. We recently featured Coach Kim Barnes Arico, and had a very honest conversation about women and ambition, as she sees so many talented players give up basketball because they don’t see how to play professionally and have a family.
These are important stories that show women that there’s nothing to fix because there’s nothing wrong with them. Instead, we’re going to share how women just like you are figuring it out, and doing their work in the world, living fulfilling lives. They’re happy, they’re healthy, and they have challenges just like the rest of us. These are the things that I wanted to read about, but couldn’t find when I looked at the standard women’s magazines. I had a hunch that these are stories women in our community want to read about as well. So far, the feedback from the community has shown us that this approach deeply resonates. We still have articles about fashion and such, like a typical magazine, but I can see that our approach raises the vibration in our community, which I am 100% committed to doing. It think it also sends a message and raises the bar for content directed at us in the future from standard publications for women.
In the past, as we all know, the media has not been an equal playing field, especially for women of color. I can see I have the opportunity to change that to make sure all voices are held as equally important to our community as a whole. For divisiveness to heal in our world, we can’t afford to be divided “on accident” any more. So, I’m very intentional about including women of color in our features and telling their stories as well.
Our cover stories
We get asked once in a while, “Oh, how did this or that person get on the cover of The Brick?” There’s no formula for it. There are some people who take the advertorial route because they have an event, cause, or business that they want to give more exposure to within a certain time frame. Others come to me through our network and pitch a story. Not every story pitched is the right fit for what we do or for the larger strategic plan for The Brick. Sometimes we have to decline good stories because for various reasons, it’s just not a fit, most often to do with timing. But we’re always listening and being introduced to women we can include to tell the story of our community. Other times, we have feedback from our readers who tell us who they want interviewed and featured. For example, this year we were able to get time with Sarah Harbaugh, who was our most requested interview to date; that was so awesome to share her story with the readers who asked for it.
I knew I didn’t want the life I had built
I mentioned this magazine isn’t my first one, or my first adventure in publishing. In fact, my first adventure in publishing was an attempt at sanity while having little ones at home. I think that people forget that it’s not easy to keep a sense of self when you become a mom, to maintain your own interests and mental pursuits. No one warns you how mind-numbing children’s books can be, or how monotonous your days can get once they’re sleeping through the night and before they are in school.
Also, I had kids while in a demanding career as an acute care nurse. The salary was fine, but the hours were killing me. I didn’t have it in me to do ten-hour days of crisis after crisis anymore. Between that and being a mom to three young boys, it just wasn’t realistic to expect that of myself anymore, nor was it the kind of life I wanted to live anymore.
Could I have kept doing it? Yes. Did I want to? No. I wanted a different kind of life, but I didn’t know what that would be yet. So I started a blog, just to keep my brain busy when they were tiny, and that blog grew.
Surprisingly, it ended up being a profitable blog, and that intrigued me. I knew there had to be a way I could grow the blog into something more, so that it could support me. I’d heard about people who built a blog and used it to make a living. I wanted to know if I could do that for myself because I knew if I could pull it off, I could leave nursing and do more fulfilling work. I found a woman who was able to help me grow my business, and I trained with her for four years. It was during that time I created the first magazine, and met the women who would become my collaborators and future co-founders of a new business I now run.
Our business, Las Peregrinas, helps women business owners and entrepreneurs build, grow, and scale service-based businesses. Our primary focus is on business development, operations marketing, and leadership development. We meet women from all over the world who are growing their businesses and it’s always fascinating. I love figuring out what will work to make their business grow. Same thing with The Brick: I’m fascinated by figuring out the growth strategy for this magazine and creating a lasting legacy.
A day in the life: from guilt to just getting it done
Now life is different. My three boys are in two different schools. They’re all around the same age, but I noticed that one of them learned differently than the other two, and I wanted him to have the best chance of succeeding later in life by getting educated in the way that worked for him now. I knew this would change our day-to-day commute times and the school activities they participated in — our whole lives, really. I also knew that to make the change that was needed, I was going to have to think about things differently.
While I’m a very independent person, I don’t believe in doing things alone (not anymore!). And I knew that it would be unrealistic to expect that I could manage three boys in two different schools on two different sides of town by myself. So I budgeted for a babysitter, specifically a commute babysitter: one who could help take the kids to school and get them from school. While I don’t have her help every day, the days she’s available are a huge blessing. Most days I drive them to school, which means the workday doesn’t start until about nine o’clock, sometimes a little later. If the babysitter is around, I can squeeze in a little workout; this week for example, I took the dog to the park and we did our 10,000 steps.
I have to work out. If I don’t work out, I at least need some alone time. I’m an introvert. When the kids were little, that was hard for me because I had to be all things for them, and two out of the three of them are quite extroverted. I had to learn that I’m not letting them down if I ask for an hour alone. I used to feel guilty and sometimes I still do — like I’m being a crappy mom and that took me a long time to sort out. But it actually turned out to be really healthy for me to have space to be me.
So now, hiring someone to take the kids to school just so I can get a work-out into my day is a big step for me, given that just taking a single hour to myself used to make me feel so guilty. I had to learn that it’s not “too much” to take care of our (physical and mental) health by outsourcing our biggest excuses. As women, we have to stop letting that “I don’t have time” mentality (because we’re too busy caring for someone else) to be the reason we don’t care for ourselves. The cost of not doing it is always going to be greater. I think about this a lot with the magazine and the kind of stories we tell. I think women need to hear more stories about how other women are making their lives work and fitting the pieces together. There isn’t a “right way,” there’s just the way it works for you; a babysitter who handles some of the weekday commutes is one way that works for me.
When I get to work, the day starts with a series of appointments for The Brick, and other days for the consulting business. In the mornings, I might meet with our advertising sales person to review our growth plan or with other team members to look at an upcoming issue. In the afternoon, I might meet with business owners and work with them on their business. Work is nearly always done at four, because I pick up the kids from school. Then there’s the coordination of afterschool activities, making dinner, and doing homework. After this, they go to bed and I’ll lay on the couch and watch some ridiculous TV for about an hour. Then I go to bed and start it all over again.
This year for the holidays, the boys and I will be here and opening presents Christmas morning. That’ll be followed by a visit from my parents up from Cincinnati. We alternate between spending Christmas in Cincinnati and Michigan. I have to say, I am looking forward to a relaxing holiday season. Even if the boys insist that Santa isn’t real, we still make sure to leave out cookies and carrots the night before. And they still have some doubts, because Santa is pretty hungry when he gets to our house.
Trying to live a balanced life: I’m a mom. I’m also still me.
I always feel like I’m not doing enough. Not only with my family, but also when it comes to building the community. I love Ann Arbor; but like many women who have children at home, it’s hard to be active in the community in a significant way outside of the work I do on the magazine. That said, however, I do try to stay connected as much as our schedule allows, so I can have time that allows me to be Sarah, not just Mom.
For example, if I haven’t spoken to a friend of mine for a couple months, I make sure to reach out and grab coffee. I’m lucky, I’ve fallen in with a very inclusive group of women here in Ann Arbor. One or the other of us will always invite someone else to come along so our circle gets bigger. It can be a challenge to keep things going with school-aged kids, but it’s nice when we can make it happen. I make it a point to let the kids have their play-dates, but to also make sure I have “Sarah time” with my own friends instead of trying to combine it or skip my personal time.
Further, I try to keep my own interests and not let my life get consumed with theirs. I have a weaving hobby —I know, it’s dorky, but I love it, I even read a book about it this summer! (I’m laughing as I say this as I look back and wonder how I fit reading into the schedule.) Like almost everyone else, I have an online binge hobby of choice. For me, it’s playing Lord of the Rings. Also dorky, I know. On vacation, if I have a big block of downtime, you can find me playing Lord of the Rings online. (I may love it too much.)
I also love to cook, which helps, since I have to do it anyway. Almost all of our meals are homemade. I try to keep it simple by doing the “cook once, eat twice” thing. I don’t want to be obligated to cook every single night, but I do want something home-cooked every night. One of the house favorites in the wintertime is chicken and dumplings from scratch. A typical week can include a Bolognese with pasta of some sort, or chicken parmesan. It could be anything that I think is going to be delicious and filling for the boys. I’m mostly vegetarian, but I know they need protein, so I try to keep it light while still getting them the fuel they need to get through long school days.
One of my favorite ways to make the monotony of it all fun is to cook on Sundays while drinking a glass of champagne and listening to Hildegard von Bingham on Pandora. She was an eleventh-century Christian mystic. I get my $10 bottle of champagne (don’t judge me) and drink it barefoot while making dinner and doing food prep for the week.
And that’s me in a nutshell. It takes a lot to keep it all going — mainly stamina and the ability to constantly accept that it’s never going to be perfect — but it gets figured out.
More than anything, when I look at what I want for you and for me as we walk into 2020, it’s this:
We are in this together. If you are in need of something, reach out to those close to you for support, or maybe even ask for help from someone you aren’t close to. Ann Arbor is home to so many giving and generous people; make sure you tap into that. Let’s raise each other up.