What I Did to Get Cheetah Going as a Single Mom – December is “Celebrate Single Moms Month” at Cheetah

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT 200

Celebrating my birthday with my daughters. Being a single mom required all of us to become more flexible. We aren't just good project managers, we got good at yoga too.

December, we are celebrating Single Moms at Cheetah Learning and offering $50,000 worth of scholarships for Single Moms. Apply here: www.cheetahcertifiedpm.com/scholarship.html

We picked the busiest month for Single Moms to celebrate them.  You see, I have been a single mom now for over 20 years.  What I used to wear as a badge of shame, that I failed in my marriage 20 years ago, I now realize was the biggest turning point in my life and the best thing that ever happened for me.  My children were young when I became a single mom, three and five years old.  My husband and I had just finished building our first home.  He started a new teaching job closer to our new home. And he fell in love with a woman he met at work.  I was out, she was in.  Yes, I was angry.  Yes, I was scared. And yes, I picked up the pieces of my life and went on.

After two years of struggling on the West Coast with no family close by, I threw in the towel, sold that dream home, and moved the girls and I back “home.”  My sister-in-law helped me get a job at United Technologies Research Center. My sister helped me find our new home – a mile from her and three miles from our parents. In those two years out West alone, I failed not one but two businesses.  Still I was welcomed home with all of these failures under my belt and two little ones to boot.

It was again the best thing I ever did.  I landed squarely on my feet with a fantastic boss at the Research Center. After my first year, I had my first performance review. This was a new experience for me, as I started my first company at 25 when I left the Air Force and had been self-employed for ten years.  I was not used to having a “boss.”  But this boss was good for me and just what the doctor ordered.  My boss, Ginny Lentz, a big player in the Systems Engineering world said to me – “You are a great Project Manager (I had no idea).  But you have no formal training in Project Management.  Take a couple of classes and learn what passes for formal Project Management.”

Well, not one to pass up a great idea, I started studying what passes for “formal Project Management.”   At the same time, I was getting well-known at the research center as the project turnaround master.  My boss approached me to create a course to teach people my project turn around facilitation skills.  I said, “What we need more here is a really simple Project Management methodology and I’d like to create a class for that.”  She said – “Well, we have Project Management training covered.” (Yeah, I’ve heard that a LOT since then).  We were sending folks to a five-day Project Management course and they would return still not being able to do Project Management.  (I never really realized none of these guys were single moms and they might be at a disadvantage from being “instinctual” project managers).

My boss went to another division in UTC and I then was sent to report to the Chief Operating Officer of the research center, as they wanted and needed me to continue doing my project turnaround facilitations.  I had free rein then to create anything I wanted to create. I had been studying accelerated adult learning theory and practices for almost a decade as it was my passion and true calling.  I knew I could create a really fun one-day accelerated learning experience where people would learn this idea I had for a simple approach to Project Management.  I got to test it out with hundreds of people over the next year as “research.”  My success with it was my eventual undoing at the research center.  I was landing teaching opportunities all over UTC with this program, and my boss was none too happy – we were a “research” center, not a training center.  He offered to let me leave with my program or take another assignment using my Aerospace Engineering background.

This was not an easy decision. I was still a single mother. I had failed two businesses several years earlier – why I got this job in the first place.  But I knew I had something great, as did my students who had already taken the class.  My younger brother saw me struggling with this decision. He had just recently sold his first company.  He gave me an emotional life line and said he’d be there to help out a little if need be (he had his own young family to care for).  And I had saved almost $40k in my retirement account through a savings matching program with the research center.  Yes, I am an entrepreneur and a risk-taker – I would use my retirement account to fund my business.  I didn’t really want to use my brother’s help but it was there if I needed it.  So I quit the job with my family’s blessing and support and went back out into the uncertain world of being an entrepreneur.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this – it was not easy.  The girls and I had gotten used to my nice paycheck.  We had a Mustang convertible.  I did not want to be strapped with those payments while getting this new business going so I traded it in for a Ford Taurus station wagon (it looked like a “Cheetah.”).   The money I got for the trade-in paid the mortgage for three months.  On the way to the dealer, the girls, then 9 and 11 were sobbing. They loved this car and they loved what this car represented for our family.  They had lived through the “bust” times with me that had us moving from Washington.  I assured them we’d be getting another convertible when this business took off.  This did not help.

It took me two years of nearly 24/7 working to get the business generating a livable wage.  The girls were my “stamp” team helping me with every bulk mailing we did promoting the one-day Project Management course.  I got a couple big breaks – the first was a publisher for my first book, Cheetah Project Management.  I needed to get the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation for my book to be credible in the market place.  I looked at how people were preparing for that exam – most were spending six months with various study guides, and over 40% were failing it.  I looked at the content on the exam, and I researched what tricks in my accelerated learning tool bag could create something far different.  And I decided that instead of just studying to become PMP certified, I’d create a way to do it in a week – yes, from start to finish in one week. September 2001 – just 18 months after I quit my job, I rolled out our first Accelerated PMP Exam prep course.  It was also the week of 9/11.  Yes, my first PMP students and I on a break watched the second plane fly into the twin towers.

All those students passed the PMP exam.  The following month, we held a class in New Jersey – just across the river where the twin towers had stood a month earlier. Every student in that class passed as well.  Word got out and we started filling up classes everywhere.  Cheetah Learning took off.  We soon outgrew the girls’ stamp team and moved the company out of the house.

The town where I grew up and was now raising my daughters had gone through some tough times as well.  In 2003, when at my daughter’s middle school to pick her up for an orthodontist appointment, I noticed a parole officer talking with one of the students. I asked the security guard at the sign out location what was going on.  He said without thinking this was anything odd – “Oh, that is a a parole officer – about fifty kids in here are on parole.”  My daughters and I had recently had a family meeting on where was the best place for them to be going to school as the oldest one did not like this school.  Yeah, I didn’t like this school much either.

We found a great school for her pronto and got her in mid-year.  It did require me to do more work as I now had to add “taxi driver” onto my other mom duties.  While meeting with one of the admissions officers at the school, I noticed my favorite book on her coffee table: “Do What You Are;  Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type.”   I noticed her name was the same as the name on the book.   She was one of the authors.  We got into quite an animated discussion on how much this book had changed my life (I read this book in 1992 and realized I was more of an entrepreneur and teacher than a rocket scientist  – it helped me make the shifts I needed for my ultimate long-term success).

She wasn’t so much into this field anymore, but her husband was.  I had an idea I wanted to test out with him – teaching people based on their personality types.  We tested it out with our PMP students for a couple years, and then I started creating curriculum using people’s personality types to help them learn faster and to learn how to do their projects better and negotiate better.  It was fascinating how well that worked for folks. I was really onto something with this.   We created numerous courses for our PMPs to take for follow-on, as once they earned their certification, they had to maintain it by taking 60 hours of training every three years.

Yes, it’s great to earn your PMP, but it takes a lot of experience to earn it – and while it is good to earn a credential so you are aligned with the global standards in Project Management theory, I knew that people were not living up to their full potential without tapping into their innate strengths.   Then I heard of the studies that showed in companies around the world, only 25% of people are working in their areas of strength.  I had known the numbers for years that 75% of all projects fail.  I saw a strong correlation here – well of course, if only 25% of people are working in their areas of strengths, it makes sense that 75% of projects would fail (and we all do projects).  I knew I had the tools to help do something about this and this is where the Cheetah Certified Project Manager (CCPM) program was born.  As embedded into the very fabric of our courses we already had and had had great results with thousands of students, were the very skills they needed to learn and leverage their innate strengths.

So let’s bring this back to single moms. Many on the Cheetah team are single moms or were raised by single moms.  We were discussing why we are all so good at Project Management – and it’s not just because we work for a Project Management training company.  We have the instincts for it – we have to because we have a LOT to do with our children, our homes and our careers.  You’ve heard the saying if you want something done well and done fast, give it to the busiest person you know.  And who is that? The single mom.  So here we are, back to my first performance review in 1998 – “Michelle, you are great at Project Management, but you have no formal training.   Get some formal training and people will take you more seriously.”  And yes, that proved to be the best advice I ever got.

So we’re doing the same thing here for other single moms.  We have $50,000 worth of scholarships for up to 100 single mom’s to become Cheetah Certified Project Managers.  This program is designed by single moms, so we know what you’re dealing with.  It’s 60 hours, it’s all online, you do the course work over twelve weeks.  You can even do some of the activities with your children (they can become great Project Managers, as well).

Visit us at www.cheetahcertifiedpm.com/scholarship.html to learn more.   If you are not a single mom, but know one, please forward this to them.  And if you are not a single mom, but feel like one – let’s talk.  We can help you, too.

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