STRONG self(ie) Spotlight:
Co-Founder Stephanie Szewczyk
As the Co-Founder of STRONG self(ie), the mom of three awesome kids (and three furry ones), and wife of 18 years to Mark I often get asked how I got to where I am. Everyone has a story...here is mine...
I'm a typical mom with a current unique circumstance. We are in the process of building a home, which I have solely designed every nook and cranny of - but for now we are in a temporary residence until we can finally move into the new place (counting down the days!!!). Every weekday morning I am up and walking dogs by 5:30am so I can get the kids out the door by 7:15am. The new school is a 20 minute drive across town...joyful, yeah NOT! I then head back across town to work, walk dogs again and maybe grab a snack. Occasionally, I squeeze in a workout before I have to pick the kids up at dismissal. After that bell rings, life gets busy. Dance, lacrosse, tae kwon do, voice lessons, basketball tryouts…the list goes on and the mom Uber keeps on running.
This is pretty much the life of most moms, but I’m not complaining. In fact, I am the happiest I have ever been. My kids are healthy and loving their new schools. Mark has a wonderful job that he enjoys. I am building my dream home while establishing myself as an entrepreneur for the second time in my life.
Where I Come From.
My dad started a trucking business from nothing and continues to work his butt off every single day. He's very successful and although he could retire, it just won’t happen...it's just not in his genes to slow down. My sister and I grew up learning that working is just something you do…not something you choose to do. His work ethic was instilled in us and it's the most valuable thing he has passed on to both my sister and I.
Since I was 14 years old, I have worked in some capacity at various places. Pizza joint - I suck at waitressing but I can make a killer pizza! K-Mart - blue light special, anyone! Receptionist at a tanning salon - now you know I grew up in the 80's! I have worked all sorts of retail and office jobs, before moving to pharmaceutical sales and medical device sales. You know…pretty much everything.
A Defining Day.In 2012, we were living in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Mark had an intense job and I was constantly traveling, either by plane or car, up and down the East coast for my job. The kids were so little and life was crazy in that little kid way.
The day it all changed feels like yesterday.
At nearly 9:00 p.m. on a Thursday night, I arrived home after traveling for three days and our nanny, who was amazing and the only thing holding things together, was leaving. Mark was ten minutes away and I was exhausted. In fact, I was done. Mark walked in the door and, as if he just knew, he said, “Stephanie, I know you love to work but something has to give.”
In that moment, I didn’t know if I wanted to punch him or kiss him. Why should I have to give up my corporate job? Just because I am the mom, is it fair to expect me to make that sacrifice?
I looked at him with weary, yet grateful eyes, and finally said what I didn’t want to admit, “I know.” After much discussion, we decided I would resign from my corporate post. I was scared as hell. Stay at home mom…can I do this? I resigned in May; finishing out my time with the company I had called home for five years and was set free.
Gulp. Now What?
The kids and I spent five weeks in Ohio that summer at my dad’s house. I felt scared to go back to Boston. Home alone with three kids and no job, no nanny, no plans, no agenda. I remember my dad saying, “This isn’t the end…this is the beginning.” He asked me what I would do, if I could do anything. I didn’t answer him at the time, but my gut said, start my own business.
Turning Inward.By the fall of 2012, we settled into a routine and things were good. I enjoyed staying home, yet had the nagging urge to do something more. I kept going back to the question my dad had asked me…what would I do if I could do anything?
Mark knew I wouldn’t be idle for long so when I said I wanted to start my own interior design business, he didn’t miss a beat. He is so supportive of my business endeavors and really believes in me. So, I took classes and opened my design studio, 28 Main, in Hopkinton less than a year later. Stephanie Spice Designs, LLC was up and running.
The first year was utter craziness, yet the most rewarding work I had ever done. The feeling that if I didn’t get it done it would not happen was the most motivation I had ever experienced. My little business flourished and I had a three-month wait list for new clients. My kids loved “working” at the studio on the weekends and I finally felt fulfilled. I was working 70+ hours per week and our lives were crazier than ever, but in a good way. I was the master of my life and loving it.
Fast-forward two years and Mark’s job transferred us to Chicago. That closed my design studio and I found myself saying goodbye to so many wonderful clients and friends.
Facing another chapter to write, I decided to truly take a break. Get the kids settled into a new school and community and figure out where the heck the nearest Target was. My self-imposed break didn’t last long. I picked up a few consulting jobs with realtors and a new design client here and there. I was occupied, but not committed. I had time to volunteer at the schools and be more present in my kids’ lives.
As the chair of the PTA’s fundraising committee, I met another mom, Kristen Hutchinson. I liked her from the beginning, but I didn’t really want to make friends because I didn’t know how long we were going to stay in Chicago. It felt safer to simply pass the time until our inevitable next corporate move. Ultimately, Kristen and I worked on fundraising together for three years, all while building a great friendship.
Staying Put and Growing STRONG
Once we knew we would be staying in Naperville long term, we decided to build a new home. Doing so would force us to change school districts, which meant the end of our fundraising dream team. Kristen and I would chat occasionally about different ways to still work together and finally in the spring of 2017, we dreamed up a subscription box idea out of our shared desire to empower young women.
We wanted to teach our two young daughters about strength. We wanted to be their role models.
In June of 2017, STRONG self(ie), Inc. was founded and we are officially off to the races. We work constantly. We work at 4:00 a.m. We work at 11:00 p.m. I am never not working. Our minds race with ideas to grow, potential collaborations, ways to find the next sale, networking opportunities, attending events…it’s a constant creative grind. (Thank goodness for Voxer!)
Being an entrepreneur is the most stressful and rewarding thing I have ever done. STRONG self(ie) is growing every day. The analogy I like to use is it's an empowering train and every day more people get on board. Kristen and I truly believe in building this business one box at a time! Empowering and building up strong girls across the United States, box by box.
My son, Mason, is intrigued by entrepernurship and all of it's complicated pieces and parts. My family encourages me when I’m down, when I get frustrated. Yet they celebrate every sale and every new subscription. Last night before bedtime, he said, “Night mom…I am proud of you and Miss Kristen. STRONG self(ie) is doing good things.” Although I started out wanting to be a role model for my daughter, I see that I am setting examples for my boys as well. Teaching them hard work, grit and commitment and learning from failures and celebrating successes.
Our STRONG self(ie) journey is only beginning and we will keep our empowering train moving forward and spreading our mission of building strong girls for life. As a mom I never really thought about making my kids proud but hearing my kids say they are proud of me and the work I am doing, well I'll take that success all day long!
Stephanie is the mom to Mason, 12; Scarlett, 10; and Maklin, 7. She has three rescue dogs named Bella, Saylor, and Scout. She has been married to Mark for 18 years. Stephanie has a Degree in Business Administration and holds several Interior Designs Certificates. She is the co founder of STRONG self(ie), Inc., owner of Stephanie Spice Designs, LLC and styles for J. Hilburn. She enjoys decorating, photography, traveling, reading and spending time with her family.