Take a stroll through downtown Excelsior with Natalie Hagemo, and you’ll quickly understand the old Cheers saying about how “everyone knows your name.” Except with Hagemo, people not only know her name, they know about her puppy potty training, how she recently went back for her GED, and her Grandma Betty’s quest to make it into the record book for owning the most pairs of sunglasses.
Hagemo is the first to admit that she isn’t the least bit shy about sharing all the candid details of her life—be they good, bad or as her kids insist, too much information. She attributes her intimate personality to her Hawaiian upbringing, though she admits that she wasn’t always so at ease with herself.
“When I was younger,” says Hagemo, “it was all about covering up what I didn’t think others should see, but as I got older, I started sharing things, and finally I started thinking, ‘Okay, how can I learn from all this?’”
This lemons-into-lemonade philosophy has helped Hagemo overcome many hurdles in life—including an impulsive marriage, the usual stressors of raising three kids, doubts in her religion and her own father’s drug addiction. According to Hagemo, sharing what she calls her “perfectly imperfect life” has allowed her to free herself from the fear of being judged, and enabled her to genuinely communicate with people and “just start living outside the box,” she says.
To date, Hagemo has participated in the Mrs. Minnesota International pageant, using the event as a way to share her own perspective on her father’s drug addiction and educate young people on the real-life effects of drug abuse. She is a central player in Excelsior’s charitable Girls Night Out events, and volunteers to benefit organizations like the ICA Food Shelf, the Red Cross, Free Arts Minnesota and Dress for Success.
And besides sharing her time, Hagemo continues to share her life’s daily adventures though her personal blog, Stop Handcuffing the Dog, and her regular column, Outside the Box in the Lakeshore Weekly. “My hope is that readers can relate …and to encourage women to step outside of their comfort zone and try new things. I truly believe that if we celebrate what makes us different and imperfect, life becomes more fun,” Hagemo says.
It seems like there’s a time in each of our lives when we take a step back and take inventory of our accomplishments. Sometimes we’re pleased with what we see and other times… well, we’re forced to realize that we’re in need of a massive overhaul.
In the business world, Tammy Hauser is a specialist in these situations. Ten years ago, Hauser put her analytical and creative talents to good use and started Blue Sky Thinking, a consulting company that helps local non-profit organizations evaluate their business strategies and implement changes that restructure, reinvent or simply rejuvenate their organizations.
Hauser calls them her turn-arounds. “These organizations, they’re committed to their missions,” praises Hauser, “but sometimes not so successful on the business end of things.” After a few adeptly executed changes, however, organizations like the Animal Humane Society and the Springboard for the Arts have come to serve as shining examples of the positive changes that Hauser’s company can make.
To date, however, Hauser’s most successful turn-around is arguably her own personal life. As a divorced and re-married single mother, Hauser of Minnetonka spent years struggling to establish some semblance of balance between her thriving professional career and an utter lack of personal time. “I felt alone and stuck,” recalls Hauser, “in the midst of my marriage, divorce, work and kids, I had lost sight of me…and it was like I was just then coming up for air.”
Hauser evaluated her own life much as she did the many companies she worked with, and quickly recognized the deficits: few female friendships, little time for personal reflection and growth, and most of all—no fun. “I missed feeling 13 again,” admits Hauser, citing the close friendships and frivolous fun of her adolescent years. And Hauser had a sneaking suspicion that she wasn’t the only over-worked and mentally exhausted girl out there.
Hence, the Ultimate Pajama Party was born: A one-night, grown-up, girls-only slumber party that serves as an opportunity to take some time for pampering and the formation of lasting female friendships—all in the setting of spa treatments, shopping, tasty treats and live entertainment—with a portion of the night’s proceeds donated to a charitable cause that additionally furthers the advancement of women.
Since its inception, Hauser has received glowing reviews of the evening, which have bolstered her resolve to continue introducing ways to encourage and celebrate female happiness and empowerment. “Basically, you just need to come back to what makes you happy,” says Hauser, “and suddenly you see other ways to live your life.”
For some people, life is a series of predetermined steps. From the moment they finger paint as toddlers or care for their first pet, they somehow just know the answer to the ubiquitous, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Christine Dillon knows—and admires—these people, but she's the first to admit she isn’t one of them. “I’ve always envisioned myself doing multiple things, not limited by profession or industry,” she shares. “For me, the main trouble has been deciding and choosing which things to do first.”
Regardless of any indecision on the career front, however, Dillon has always known that family ranked high on her list of priorities. Despite being a Minneapolis native, about 5 years of Dillon’s adult life has been spent migrating around the country with her husband, who works as an insurance adjustor. Their nomadic lifestyle meant frequently leaving behind things that many of us take for granted—friends, furniture, a permanent address—but it also allowed Dillon to be there as her daughter grew up.
As their daughter neared school-age, however, life on the road began feeling less and less sustainable. They subsequently bought their home in Wayzata, and Dillon has spent the last couple of years adjusting to their new life. “At first it was weird, I felt displaced… but family has always been my anchor,” says Dillon, as she describes a new routine of swim lessons, Brownie meetings and perhaps most impressively, her decision to continue with her own education.
Currently in her first year as a part-time student, Dillon still isn’t 100 percent sure where her new road will take her, but she sagely notes that regardless of when and how she gets there, it’s a step in right direction. “I feel like getting an education is like downloading a map,” explains Dillon. “All the sudden, you have something to go off of, freedom to choose and change.”
She admits that taking on this new challenge would have probably been easier in her twenties, but going back to school later has its benefits, too. “Doing it now, I have a different perspective,” says Dillon, “I appreciate it so much more, and now I can actually see how [the things I learn] really apply to life.”
And given her own positive experiences, Dillon encourages anyone wanting to further their education to take the plunge, regardless of where they are in life.
When asked to talk about her life thus far, Sarah Borchers is at no loss for words. She talks about her tumultuous time at various software companies, and the amazing opportunities afforded to her by her MBA. She chooses descriptions like “wonderful” and “amazing” when speaking of her multi-talented husband, and admits to being “shocked (in a good way!)” by how taken she was with motherhood. But a certain passion and excitement creep into her voice when she speaks about her latest endeavor, which speaks more powerfully than any adjective she could have possibly used.
In 2008, after spending more than five years as a member, Borchers of Medina was nominated to serve as president of the Junior League of Minneapolis (JLM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the potential of women and helping the community at large through education, leadership training and volunteer work.
Despite her extensive schooling and entrepreneurial spirit, even Borchers admits to having felt a little apprehensive about taking on the role, but she notes, “That’s what I really liked about the organization, too; they’re willing to take a chance on people and help them to grow.”
And in the last year, the organization has grown substantially under Borchers’ leadership. In addition to assisting well-established programs like Backpack Buddies, which ensures kids have enough food to get them through the weekend when school lunches aren’t available, and Between the Lines, which connects families separated by incarceration through literacy, Borchers will work to redouble their efforts at advocacy and enacting long-lasting changes at the legislative level, as well as narrow their organization’s focus to affect more substantial change.
But Borchers has not only seen a change within the organization and its affect on the community, she has noticed a significant positive change in her own life as well. “I can’t tell you how much it’s made a difference in my life,” glows Borchers, “in terms of the network of people, the knowledge of the community and just knowing I made a difference. It’s an absolutely amazing feeling.”
This past June, Borchers passed the torch to the incoming president, who will continue to grow and change the organization through new talent and fresh ideas. Borchers herself is currently considering work in a community relations position, which she hopes will act as another venue to further the JLM’s mission.
“Women working together and making things happen in our community,” says Borchers. “I just love that.”