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No new clothes.

For the last six months, I’ve been on a sustainability mission to cycle my wardrobe by buying solely secondhand.

As a television news anchor and reporter, you can imagine the volume of clothes I have in my possession at any given time- you’d be shocked at how good viewers’ memories are if you repeat outfits too often.

Couple my profession with the fact that I’ve been trying to find and refine my personal style since becoming a mom (and getting control of my anxiety, which you can read more about here), and I am sourcing thrift shops, consignment stores, and resale websites like Poshmark and ThredUp more than I’d like to admit.

The number of packages coming to my door has gotten quite annoying to my husband, and I’ve been flagged as a regular at my favorite Goodwill- which is only slightly embarrassing.

I am really good at thrifting.

It’s a strange juxtaposition that what’s now a source of pride for me was once a source of embarrassment.

As a kid, all I wanted was to wear the same brands as my classmates, but we just could not afford to pay retail. My mom would instead scour thrift stores for the lowest-priced Z. Cavaricci, Guess, and Calvin Klein items she could find, even if they weren’t in my size, and would then use her sewing skills to take the labels and affix them to the bargain brands from our nearest ALCO or K-Mart.

I will never forget the time my parents scrounged enough money to get me a real pair of Calvin Klein jeans- considered the best and most prestigious brand at the time- and the guilt I felt when I gained weight and they no longer fit.

NOW I know that no one would’ve ever known the difference between a pair of jeans from Goodwill or a pair from the mall… but then, it felt like I was in a different class in the caste system.

In a lot of ways, we were.

My family had always been the recipient of the discarded items from those better off; upperclassmen and cousins handed down clothes to us (which never fit me correctly because even though they were older, I was always a bigger size)-- my college roommate and I practically slept with our noses to the ceiling of our dorm room because my dad insisted on buying a homemade loft secondhand off of another girl in our hometown even though it was WAY too tall (with a gross, pre-cut piece of carpet included to go on the floor below)- and before I moved to Florida, none of the vehicles I had owned were ever cost more than $2500 (total). When I graduated college and had to furnish my first apartment, my living room set was purchased at a garage sale- along with the bedframe I had until I got married.

So while it’s only now a major part of my daily life, buying secondhand has always been part of my story. What I never considered is that sourcing the scores that I find myself bragging about- whether it be an outfit or furniture- is a skill so valuable it can become a full-fledged business.

That wasn’t the intent when Janelle and Jonathan Schwartz sold their first set of mid-century furniture.

In fact, they didn’t actually know what they were selling.

“I had this habit of stockpiling furniture- I come from a long line of people that just like to buy things and reuse them… particularly my mother… and she would take me to these garage sales and all of these things, and I had a habit of collecting these things with the intention of turning them into something that I would use,” Janelle Schwartz said. “It just got to a point where I started collecting too much, and it was in a third bedroom in the house we were renting… every time [Jonathan] would go in there, he'd be like, you need to get rid of something… we’re not even using it.”

A true yin and yang; the collection Janelle had built just looked like clutter to Jonathan. He begged his now-wife for something from the stockpile that could go up for sale. She settled on a set of pink painted chairs she had purchased for around $30.

“He posted it, and he just got this really insane reaction from people wanting to drive from really far to buy these chairs,” Janelle remembers. “It was ridiculous.”

The buyer wound up coming from two hours away to get the Craigslist chairs, offering double what the couple was asking in order to hold them so she could make the drive.

“I’ve been in sales and marketing for pretty much my whole adult life, and it was like a light bulb went off,” Jonathan said. “The lady came, and she actually gave us a lot of information, and told me those were mid-century. I didn’t even know what that term was… but I told [Janelle] go get me more mid-century, whatever that is.”

Both in corporate jobs, the two used the secondhand furniture finds to pay for their wedding, and soon they started to stockpile cash instead of clutter.

A $75 dresser turned into a $900 resale, and Jonathan knew they’d hit on something that could be lifechanging.

“He's very business-minded,” Janelle said. “I am not that person. I’m a daydreamer. But he is very business-goal-minded.”

Though he had the business background, from a practical standpoint, refinishing and flipping furniture wasn’t what anyone would have expected from Jonathan. He admits in addition to not really knowing what mid-century furniture was, he also was not a handy fixer.

“I never used a power tool in my life before all this, ever,” Jonathan said.

“It’s comical, because he has a finance background,” Janelle said. “He’s more of a techie guy, and he’s just someone who can function more with system sand things like that, versus hands-on carpentry and stuff like that.”

But just like you can’t build a furniture business without learning those skills, you wouldn’t be able to keep it afloat without the business mindset. The two had the secret sauce without even realizing it.

“If it was just me, it would have never turned into what it is. It had to be the right combination of efforts because I am simply just not that motivated in the sense of structuring this into something that benefits me,” Janelle said. “That’s how that ended up happening.”

It wasn’t long before Jonathan had taught himself to fix up their furniture finds, and the time spent in the carport of the home they were in working with power tools started to surpass the hours he was working in his corporate role- a rare pre-COVID remote position.

“I was working in my office during the day… and I kept finding myself leaning into the carport, which is where all the furniture was,” Jonathan said. “I could not get off the computer fast enough, I just wanted to be outside and use my hands, and be creative.”

There was very little competition for the couple at the time- just about anything they found, they could sell.

“Once I saw that I could, if I dedicated all my time to this versus half my time, I could make a real business out of it,” Jonathan said.

He was first to decide to drop his full-time gig to take on entrepreneurship, but not without careful planning.

“There were synergies that we didn't realize were there,” he said of all the jobs he had worked in corporate, mostly in sales and marketing. “Every experience that I had in corporate gave me kind of the tools that I didn't really know I was going to need as an entrepreneur.”

Now let’s not get it twisted- people aren’t quitting their jobs, especially high-ranking, high-paying jobs, without having some money in the bank. Full stop. I feel like this is a misconception based on the constant barrage of #bossmoves we see on social media, and every person I’ve interviewed for this blog has told me the same thing: financial security is crucial when making this leap.

Jonathan set a goal to set aside the couples’ mortgage for one year before walking away.

“I told [Janelle], I had a target number in mind,” Jonathan said. “If I hit this number, I'm going to leave. I knew I could always go back and get another job or something, but something inside of me said, you have got to try this.”

Going all-in on a dream, even with money in the bank, is scary. It goes against everything we’ve ever been taught about how to structure your budget; most of us have been reliant on a paycheck every two weeks for all of our adult lives. The more time Jonathan had to dedicate to growing Warehaus, the more it took off- but it still took Janelle some time to join him.

“I’m not a risk taker in that regard,” Janelle said. “I was on my own at a very early age, and I had to support myself, so I felt like I needed the dependency of reliable income.”

Janelle and I seem to have had similar childhoods, with that scarcity mindset threaded into our subconscious like the thread holding the Goodwill labels onto my Kmart jeans.

“There's this mindset that you have to hustle all the time, and that you need to survive,” Janelle said. “We’ve had to pivot our whole lives to continue to support ourselves, so you learn that when things are not going the way you want them to, you have this survival mentality to make it work. You don’t have any other option.”

They didn’t just survive, though. Business was thriving. At that time, most of their sales were on Craigslist and Etsy, and social media sales hadn’t really hit the fever pitch they have today. The buyers they had were all over the country, and from all walks of life, including celebrities.

“Someone bought a table for John Malkovich in New York, and then when Orange Is The New Black came out, the lead actress bought these lamps from us that were really cool,” Janelle said. “And we had these conversations, many conversations, where [Jonathan] just assured me that if we were both in this, it would take off, and it would do two or three times more than what it was doing.”

In my own journey of self-improvement, I’ve learned a little bit about limiting beliefs and how they are the saboteur in our success. Janelle held the limiting belief that she could not possibly leave her corporate role, even as Warehaus continued to grow.

“I didn’t see the value in myself or what I could contribute to what he was doing,” Janelle said. “I’m good at finding things, it’s being the eye for the company to find things that were suitable for our audience, and he kept saying, I need you... you don’t understand.”

Jonathan knew that together, with both of them focusing on growing their side hustle full-time, they’d be unstoppable.

“He convinced me of my value. I did not know my value,” Janelle said. “In working for a lot of places where you’re just considered a number a lot of the time, you don’t really feel like you’re given that value. And he gave me that value. He still does.”

“I had very low self-esteem when it came to my work. I would go above and beyond for everybody, and above my title, above my position, always to give extra, and it was never appreciated,” Janelle said. “He said, you know, you keep giving to these people, and instead, you could give it to us, and it would benefit us.”

The pull got even stronger when the couple’s son, Sebastian, was born.

“I said, you’re on permanent maternity now. Tell them you’re not coming back,” Jonathan said. “This particular job, I really disliked the way they treated her. She was underappreciated. She was an absolute monster for them, a gold nugget, and they didn’t see it. They treated her so poorly. The management was just very unappreciative and aggressive. I was like… why would you go back to that, just for a guaranteed paycheck? It’s not worth it.”

King. Energy.

That was 2018, and neither has worked for anyone else since.

“I can say, to his foresight, we really grew exponentially from that point on,” Janelle said. “That played a huge role in us starting the physical location.”

After a short stint in Seminole County, Warehaus found its permanent home, a literal warehouse, in College Park in 2020. Of course, we all know what else happened in 2020, but it didn’t hurt sales as most of their business was online, anyway. They saw a huge boost to their social media following, and became a space for socially-distant social gatherings, growing community as well as their clout.

“That’s when things started to really roll with selling things locally, dealing with local people, versus selling everything out of state,” Jonathan recalled. “It just kind of started to snowball.”

The family was all-in; Sebastian would be strapped to Janelle in a baby carrier scouring estate sales in the early days.

That’s since evolved- now, estate companies contact Warehaus first for bulk buys before the general public even knows what’s coming.

“We still like digging through boxes and records and books and all the cool little intricacies of someone's house, a lifetime collection,” Jonathan said. “That's the stuff, I think, after all these years of flipping large furniture… that's the fun part for us. Being able to get in there, and dig through someone's lifetime collection of things.”

So when does the comfort come amid entrepreneurial uncertainty?

“I don't know that there really is any getting past it,” Janelle said. “When you're so used to this societal norm of having to be constantly on, and constantly working, and to survive… it’ was a survival thing for me.”

Data collection helps to ease those worries- by now, the couple has several years of books to prove their formula is a money-maker. Not only is the business financially feasible, but it has given them the freedom that a steady paycheck from a corporate position never could.

“Your wealth comes in your freedom, your time, your ability… if your kid gets sick, you can pick them up and bring them home and hang out with them for the day, or take a bike ride on a Tuesday morning at 9:30, or come home early if you want,” Jonathan said. “Or, you know, le’ts talk to Karla at 10:30 on a Thursday, because you want to.”

(So grateful for that over here!)

“There’s so much wealth in that,” Janelle echoed. “I volunteer at my kid’s school, and he sees me often there, and it’s a great thing for him to experience. We didn’t have that. That’s just really cool to be able to give him that experience.”

The family affair didn’t stop when Sebastian was old enough to ditch the baby carrier; he’s in the store and is an entrepreneur of his own, trying to find ways to earn money and learning about the business, all before entering grade school.

“We’ve always been so tethered to a punch clock, at a 9 to 5, that freedom is worth all the sweat,” Jonathan said. “It’s just a different life.”

From not knowing how to sand furniture (or really knowing much about the iconic era of mid-century) to building an eclectic, booming business… all while building a family and refining their own home décor sense.

The biggest lesson I learned from Janelle and Jonathan?

You’re probably more qualified than you think.

Everything you’ve done up to this point counts as experience toward your big dream.

“That’s the hardest part, I think, is applying your creative thoughts and the dream or the visions that you have… once it actually gets noticed by other people, and you start making money, that's where a lot of people get jammed up,” Jonathan said. “Forecasting, growth, profit and loss, all that stuff gets really intense when you’re just trying to create something.”

In business, like in life, it’s helpful to have a partner. A yin to your yang.

“I can’t imagine it being a one-person job, where someone has to wear all those different hats,” Janelle said.

The second big takeaway from our conversation: Let your corporate job fund your dream job.

(Jonathan said it, not me.)

“The most important thing is to have security financially, before you make the jump, you need to have something to fall back on so that you don’t have that pressure initially,” Jonathan said. “Work your passion, and use whatever you make from that job, hold onto it until you have enough to say- even if things go belly up- I’m good. That gives you the space and freedom to create, to pivot, to try new things.”

From clutter to Craigslist to a new career path- all born out of a side hustle neither expected.

Doesn’t it make you want to drive around and look for discarded furniture to flip?!

“I consider myself a dreamer, and I just keep trying to change the game a little bit every time I do something,” Jonathan said. “You have to keep kind of leveling up to stay relevant and stay busy. That’s kind of what we’re doing.”

“Warehaus is just the evolution of ideas.”

There’s a version of you who has already done it.

Show up as ‘that girl’ until you become her.

Approach each day through the lens of your highest and best self.

These are some of the mantras I’ve repeated to myself almost daily since the start of the year. I came in hot with a successful 75 Hard from January 2 to my birthday, March 17, and since then I’ve been working to remain consistent and disciplined to my health and fitness goals… and it’s working. Physically, and mentally, I feel better than I have in a very long time.

It turns out mindset- and manifestation- are the true difference makers when it comes to changing your life. For the first time, I created a real vision board for the year- not just on Pinterest- and I’m watching my dream life come to reality. All because I quite literally woke up one day and decided to make a major change. I was tired of feeling anxious and restless and stuck. Maybe you’ve been there, too.

Still, sometimes after all the planning and preparation for a big shift, the panic can set in.

What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail? Who do I think I am to even try this?

Those are the types of questions Adrianna Sekula asked herself the day she launched her business, Solidarity Partners.

“I was so confident, I knew I could do it,” Sekula said. “And the minute I hit ‘click’ on launching anything, it was panic. There were people reposting, people saying nice things to me, people being kind, and I just could not read them… I remember thinking, why did I do this?”

Anyone who has met Adrianna is likely surprised to read what I just wrote. While the rest of us are just showing up as that girl until we become her, Adrianna has been that girl. By the time I met her last year, I felt like the last person in Orlando to do so; she has the cell phone numbers of everyone who’s anyone from local government to legislators in Tallahassee, and a circle of friends that could have been ripped from the pages of a magazine if Vogue met 40 Under 40 met Forbes. When you enter her world, she’s an instant cheerleader, backed up by a deep squad that has hands on every circle within Central Florida. So where did the self-doubt come from?

“It’s something I’ve worked very hard on the past year, that is much easier now… but you do care about what other people say. You do care about what other people are thinking,” Sekula said. “But in reality, people are probably not even saying it. We think people are talking about us all the time… and it’s such a horrible way to talk to yourself. There’s no grace in it. It’s shocking that you can talk to yourself fthat way, in a way you would never talk to a friend.”

Solidarity Partners is the culmination of years of relationship-building and advocacy work, which has become synonymous with Sekula. Named for the Solidarity movement in communist Poland, which Sekula was born into and fled with her sister and parents, the boutique government relations firm aims to be a partner in public policy, business strategy, and market integration.

“Making connections between businesses, and advocating for businesses to governments or to elected officials,” Sekula explained. “I was born in Warsaw, and my family immigrated here when I was four years old. And so my Polish heritage is very important to me. And the word of solidarity in general is bringing people together and being in union with them and being connected to them and being their partner.”

Learning she is a first-generation American was an aha moment for me, as the work ethic and positivity all started to really click. Before I even befriended Adrianna, I knew about her epic 4th of July parties and her patriotic spirit, as well as her adoration for shaping public policy and chasing the American Dream.

“I think a lot of immigrants will say it really defines who you are as a person, and defines how you view things, and defines your view of America in many ways,” Sekula said. “Especially in this hyper-partisan atmosphere that we’re in now, I think it really says who you are and how you work and what you are grateful for.”

Adrianna was old enough to remember moving to America, after first leaving Poland to Greece and applying for entrance. A Lutheran church in Titusville sponsored her family, paying for the move, housing, and English classes for her parents.

“We moved here with nothing, no language even,” Sekula said. “It was a community, a church, that brought us to Florida… and my parents bootstrapped it from there.”

Many children of immigrants I’ve spoken to share a similar sentiment of feeling pressure to

perform in school, life, and business, but Sekula says she never felt that; rather, an innate knowing that she was witnessing opportunity firsthand.

“They moved here for a dream. They moved here for the American dream. And things are cliché or stereotypical for a reason, but it’s true: they couldn’t achieve what they achieved here- in Poland- at that time. Maybe now it’s different, but at the time, in the 80s, during communism, they couldn’t do that. So they were seeking a better life. They left their families, their parents, their siblings, and all their cousins, with nobody… just so my sister and I could have a better life here,” Sekula said. “I take it as less pressure and more gratitude. My parents are both so grateful, and I’m grateful for the smaller things.”

Sekula remembers approaching her 18th birthday and encouraging her dad to apply for citizenship, so that she could vote.

“I really cared about the system,” Sekula said. “I didn’t even realize I wanted to do politics at the time, but I rally remember caring about wanting to vote, and knowing I wasn’t able to.”

Witnessing her dad ace the test to become an American, and later in life, her mom doing the same, are core memories for Adrianna that has driven her decision-making in the years since. Shortly after her 18th birthday, Adrianna entered the workforce, opting only to take a few college courses and instead focus on making money.

“We grew up in a household that was struggling financially a little bit,” Sekula said, noting that her parents separated shortly after moving to the States. “Me and my sister lived with our mom, and it was tough. It wasn’t easy. It was really tough financially. She did not have a college education, a degree, she was working two or three jobs… She is the most incredible mom in terms of the way that she raised us and cared about us. It wasn't a lack of that. It was a lack of being available, and a difficulty growing up, so I knew that I wanted to make money. That's what it was for me.”

Anyone who claims that money can’t buy you happiness is missing the point. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but life is certainly easier when you know you have enough in your bank account to cover your basic needs and lifestyle. It frees you up to pursue the things that really do make you happy.

“I wanted to be out of my situation, and to me, that meant money,” Sekula said. “I think money allows freedom and allows your life to be easier in many ways.”

With the goal of a paycheck in mind, Adrianna started working for a logistics company in Seminole County, working sales and making what she thought was big money at age 18. While many of her peers were full time students with part time jobs, she was the opposite.

“When I reflect back now, no one can make these decisions for you, right? People may be pushed into something because their parents tell them to, or into something completely separate because a friend wants them to, but really, if you want to change any trajectory of your life- your career, what you’re doing with your day- it’s completely, 100% up to you. It sounds like such a common sense thing to say, but it’s true,” Sekula said. “And it wasn’t until I was put in a situation at that place of employment that I realized I needed something more than this.”

Unlike many of the people I’ve interviewed for this blog, Adrianna’s decision about making a major life change came to her in a radical flash.

“There was a woman who worked there, that was probably around my age now, and she was about to take maternity leave with her third baby… and she taught me how to do her job in one day,” Sekula said. “And I just vividly remember thinking, oh my gosh, I don’t want to be here when I’m 39, teaching a 19-year-old how to do my job in one day. I probably put in my two weeks’ notice a week later.”

Sometimes when you change your mind, you have to change your scenery in all sense of the word. Adrianna set out to change her identity, and in doing so, she removed herself from the job, who she was spending time with, what she was doing on the weekends, and start fresh.

“I knew that where my life trajectory was going, wasn’t positive… it wasn’t negative, but it wasn’t anything. It was just going to be a life that I was living day in and day out, clock in and clock out, nothing to it. And I knew there was more,” Sekula said. “I had to remove myself from the entire situation.”

“I’m telling you, I did a 180. It was all mental. It was all just me saying, I’m changing my life completely today. I said, I’m a different person now. And guess what? You can do that. You can say, I’m a different person now. There will be people who say something about you when you do that… but you can. I can be something completely different if I choose to do so, and so can everybody else. I just decided that I was a completely different person.”

(Show up as that girl until you become her.)

Adrianna eventually transferred her credits from Tallahassee Community College to Florida State, and got her first taste of politics on the Model United Nations Club and student government. In what little free time she had as a full time student, she worked as a bartender, and one of her regulars was a top lobbyist in the state capitol nearby.

“We had built a relationship, and she said, you'd be so good at this job. You'd be so good at going and representing and getting to know people and building relationships and advocating for whoever you choose to advocate to the legislature,” Sekula said.

The connection opened a door to an internship at a lobbying firm for the last ten days of the legislative session, and Adrianna was hooked.

“I remember thinking, this is it. This is exactly what I want to do,” Sekula said.

The term lobbyist can carry a negative connotation- Adrianna prefers the word advocate.

Her first job was with the PACE Center for Girls, lobbying for budget allocations on behalf of teenage girls who were either on the way to being or had already been in the juvenile justice system.

“You’re advocating,” Sekula said of the semantics behind lobbying. “I was an advocate, especially when it comes to children, and working for a nonprofit, you're advocating. And yes, you do need to build relationships with elected officials and politicians and get them to trust you and understand what the organization does... But it is for good. It is for good.”

Navigating the capitol can be daunting. It’s taken me almost 14 years as a reporter in Florida to really grasp the process and all the stops along the way for a piece of legislation- I certainly wouldn’t have been able to figure it out right out of college. But Adrianna did… and she wanted lawmakers to know her, too.

“Being that young, advocating to these legislators, at first you are terrified. These people- all of them- are my grandfather or my parents’ age. So it’s tough to become known, and especially with a nonprofit because nonprofits don’t give money to politicians- they don’t have cash to throw at elected officials,” Sekula said. “You really just have to build a relationship on them liking your product, which is your nonprofit. And being very young, it’s hard to be taken seriously sometimes.”

“So, I sat in the front row of every committee. I know it sounds so odd, but every committee meeting in Tallahassee, I sat up front. Everyone else was sitting in the back rows. Everyone else is texting on their phone the whole time… because they've been there, they've been there for decades. They know the system. But I didn’t know. So I thought, you had to see me. You couldn’t mis sme. So when they saw me, they knew I was the PACE girl. They didn’t know my name, but I was known as the PACE girl in Tallahassee, because I was up front and always in their faces.”

Taking a front row seat is a habit that’s stuck with Sekula. If you see her around town at any event (which you will- she’s at all of them!) she’s likely up front, cheering on the speakers or appearing as one herself. She used the same tactics she learned in Tallahassee to create meaningful connections with local leaders in her second role out of school, with what was then known as the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando. Instead of getting the attention of state lawmakers, she had to learn the ins and outs of local government.

“I made it a point to really build a relationship with [the commissioners]… let me find out who you are,” Sekula said. “I made it a point to get myself out there. I didn't stay in the office… this job is all about relationships. I ate out for breakfast and lunch almost every day.”

Though for a long time she thought she made up the rule, Sekula eventually read the book Never Eat Alone, and learned the schedule she kept then and still maintains to this day is common among business leaders.

“Those are your free times of day, that people usually do alone. They either take a lunch break or maybe eat at their desk, but it’s a really big chunk of free time where you could be breaking bread and sharing a meal with someone and really getting to know them,” Sekula said. “So I'm always out. I’m eating anyway. So what’s better than breaking bread with someone and sharing about life, not just work?”

Those ‘free’ times in Sekula’s schedule are in high demand, with her booking breakfast and lunch weeks in advance. Even to schedule our interview for this blog took an act of Congress- but being busy is part of launching a business.

The position with the home builders earned Adrianna relationships with every elected official in the tri-county are- and plenty of other important people, too. So when a position opened at the biggest game in town, it was easy for Adrianna to get a meeting with one of the few people she hadn’t already met.

“The opportunity came up at Walt Disney World for a government relations position, which was a local piece of their team in Orange and Osceola Counties,” Sekula said, noting that two different mentors notified her of the position coming open. “I remember thinking, to be able to work at one of the best companies in the world, right here in our backyard, would be phenomenal. Immediately, just based on the relationships that I had with local elected officials, this was a local government relations job, I felt very strongly that I was the fit for the position. So I went for that, full force.”

Those initial mentors became sponsors for Adrianna, serving as a conduit to connect her to the hiring manager within WDW and, you guessed it, scheduling a lunch.

“I remember thinking, how can I tell this guy I know everybody, when I don’t know him?” Sekula recalled. “He’s very important in the state legislature, he’s very high up at Disney. I went to my mentors and told them, I really need to meet him. And at first, they said, apply for the job. I said no- I need to meet him.”

The lunch played out like most of Sekula’s- true relationship building, bookended by business. She told the Disney exec to look out for her resume.

“I did go through the formal process, which was many steps,” Sekula said. “But I think it did help to forge that personal relationship with he person who was in charge of the government relations team, to show my personality outside of what sometimes is a fear-based setting of an interview, where it’s not as straight-laced or as comfortable as sharing a meal together.”

It’s no surprise, Sekula snagged the job, putting her in charge of local government relations for the largest company within our local government.

“Whenever anyone says that Disney is their dream place to work, I highly recommend it. It’s magical. I grew up in Central Florida, but I did not grow up going to the Disney theme parks,” Sekula said. “When I tell you that I feel the magic of why they’re such a successful company, it’s really true. And this is coming from a department that’s just business- straight-laced government relations. You still feel it.”

I can’t help but think of one of my favorite Disney movie’s scores (which is on heavy rotation in my house right now)- and Moana’s dad working to convince his daughter that Motunui is all she needs… and no one leaves.

No one leaves a job at Disney… right?

Turns out, that was part of the problem.

“I always want to grow my career. I always want to do more. I want to be able to accomplish a lot. I’m very career-driven… and of course you can grow at Disney, but our team was very, very small,” Sekula said. “My leader there at the time, is still there. There was no upward mobility for me in government relations… I wanted to stay in public policy, and there was no upward trajectory for me at the time, and I didn't see it any time soon.”

Her next move may surprise you. Sekula stepped away from one of the largest companies in the world to work at a startup, working in the plastic recycling space.

“I wanted to go somewhere I could build a team, hire people, build entire programs. So I was able to do that… and it really taught me a lot,” Sekula said. “After that I said, okay. I’m ready.”

What had been in the back of her mind for years- ever since her first real job in Tallahassee- was launching her own brand and business. Now, she had the resume to back all the relationships she had built- with experience in nonprofit, for-profit, corporate, and a startup setting.

“I knew my relationships were not only based on those particular jobs, but they were me as well,” Sekula said. “I was building them as a person, as Adrianna, and I think in the back of my head I always knew I could do this, for not just myself, but for a lot of companies and use my connections and my influence and my advocacy and who I know to help other people.”

So now we circle back to the preparation- planning- and panic- that went into the launch of Solidarity Partners. Sekula says some of the self-doubt stemmed from her identity being wrapped up in her employer, something a lot of us can relate to.

“I knew I could do it. That’s why I did it on my own, and I’m accomplishing something amazing, I’m working for myself. There are so many people who would never even consider this leap, so how dare they think anything when they’re in their comfortable position?” Sekula said. “Are people even saying these things? Probably not. Or maybe. But either way, what does it matter?”

The risk was worth the reward. A year in, and Sekula has launched a vertical of her business alongside friend Jo Newell; Drop The Mic Coaching, which debuted in March of 2024, helps everyone from executives to interviewees nail the art of public speaking.

“After death, it’s the second biggest fear amongst human beings in the world,” Sekula said. “Just because you are at the top of your game as a business owner or CEO, doesn’t mean you know how to effectively communicate your message.”

Drop The Mic includes coaching on the very thing that’s been key to Sekula’s success; the lost art of relationship-building. Social networking- away from social media.

“When you're at a table for an event, when you are at a meet and greet, when you're at a networking event that so many people dread, how do you get the most out of it? How do you get that elevator pitch down? And how do you really captivate and build relationships in a small amount of time with strangers?”

Clearly, that's something Sekula is an expert in.

Running two businesses is no doubt a demanding schedule (especially when you consider she’s out at breakfast or lunch almost daily), but Sekula is committed to continuing to give back. The advocacy work that helped launch her career is still a pillar of her values, and she fills in what free time she has with serving on boards, committees, and sponsoring fundraisers.

Her ultimate goal, though, is to gift her mom a new home.

“She’s worked so tirelessly, and so hard, for my sister and me to have the life and the lifestyle that we have now… she was working constantly, and working really hard, and trying to set an example for us about, one, work ethic, and two, digging yourself up and also at the same time being grateful for everything. This woman is grateful for everything that her life has either given her, good or bad,” Sekula said about her mom. “She’s constantly positive. She's the most outgoing, positive, energetic person.”

Sekula’s mom graduated from UCF at age 55, proving it’s never too late to pivot or pursue better for your life.

The apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

“We want to give her what she gave us,” Sekula said.

The greatest gift, perhaps, is the perspective of what it means to start over- navigate something new- whether that be a new country or new business- and handle it all with grace.

“Knowing that I am helping other people… my clients are happy. I’m helping nonprofits with the work they’re trying to do, both in our community like I always have, and with bigger brands, and it feels good,” Sekula said. “You really learn a lot about yourself when you’re by yourself, and you don’t have a staff, you don’t have a boss, you don’t have anyone telling you what to do. You learn a lot about yourself that way.”

Maybe more than anything, making a big leap teaches us we really are capable of changing our lives- just by changing our minds.

“I’m honestly in the most confident, best spot I’ve ever been in my life in terms of what I’m doing for a career.”

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In 2013, amid a dispute with our then-landlord over basic, promised amenities (in this case, a washing machine) and feeling frustrated about our finances, I opened a card in a stack of mail that would change our lives. Inside, my grandmother had written a short note, and included a large check.

To say I was shocked is the understatement of the decade.

It’s no exaggeration that I’ve never seen that kind of money; I grew up unquestionably poor.

I remember being with my parents, sitting inside a bank and looking out a large glass window as they begged a man in a sport jacket with thick 90s glasses for more time to pay back certain debts, and though I don’t remember the words spoken across the desk, I remember the barrage of emotions from my parents that followed- anger, grief, desperation, back to anger, and then sadness. I remember the weekend when all our farm equipment, tools and more were put on display in our quartz-rock driveway, auctioned off to the fathers of my classmates and driven away to their new homes; the combine cab I sat in as a little girl as my dad worked through harvest… the giant yellow John Deere tires where I’d posed for photos on our rented acreage.

Declaring bankruptcy didn’t just mean selling off all our possessions and starting over, it meant my parents had to look for work outside of what they’d always known- farming. Both of them grew up on a farm, and my dad had gotten a degree in Agriculture from Iowa State University… a top school for Midwesterners. Why some people can do so well in farming and others lose it all, I’ll never understand, but what I really did not understand at the time is why my grandparents had managed to be the former and did not step in as my parents became the latter (I understand this even less now as a mother myself).

Though it wasn’t my grandparents’ job to bail anyone out, and though our family is not the type to typically air dirty laundry in this way, it did create an unspoken rift that lasted until my grandfather passed in 2013. I say grandfather because, had it been up to my grandmother, I am almost positive the outcome of the bankruptcy proceedings would have been different. Even his obituary noted his farm-related success: [he] appeared on the television show “What’s My Line” … He was a hard-working man and spent most of his life developing and advancing [his feed yard]. Eventually, he did feed cattle in six states and earned notoriety in the Farm Journal Magazine for his success in farming. A New York motion picture company made a short film about the feed yard operation which aired as a preview to movies in theaters. Visitors from around the world toured the operation to learn about cattle feeding and farming.

I digress.

It’s my belief that my grandmother started writing checks toward the end of his life as a way to repair the damage of the confusing paradox we witnessed as a family found in bankruptcy. She was a strategic woman, making sure the total amount gifted did not put anyone into a compromising tax situation; instead, it was enough to give us all a fresh start, and perhaps a different outcome than the one her daughter and son-in-law had faced while raising children. To this day, I’m not sure I’d be a property owner without the boost of her gift, dropped randomly in my mailbox one day, and I 100% would not have had the opportunity to witness the transformation of Orlando’s Mills 50 as a resident of the neighborhood.

Brandon and I used that check to bolster a down payment on our first home, a 1925 cute-as-a-button bungalow one block off of Mills, the epitome of up-and-coming at the time. The Fresh Market was just about to open around the corner; the Guesthouse was still the Peacock Lounge; Pig Floyds was just a concept; you get the idea. The moniker Mills 50 had just been coined a few years earlier- previously known commonly as the ViMi District, one thing that hadn’t changed was the heavy Asian influence on the neighborhood, started decades earlier when an influx of Vietnamese refugees put down roots in the community.

Though Orlando wasn’t the first stop for Michael Nguyen’s parents after they immigrated from Vietnam, it’s where he considers home base; and Mills 50 is woven into the first-generation American’s history.

“I remember vividly it being like Little Saigon, it has so much meaning to me and my family, that’s where we go grocery shopping, a lot of my parents’ friends are owners of a lot of the small businesses on the strips, the little Oriental Market, some of the small restaurants, it’s a very close knit community,” Nguyen said. “So being able to be this new generation of business owners, redeveloping the area, is really cool and exciting.”

Nguyen just celebrated a year in business at his stunningly-designed, upscale bar and restaurant, The Moderne. Sitting at the corner of Colonial and Shine, it represents the intersection of tradition and trajectory in Orlando’s Asian food scene.

“I just love Mills, the cultural richness of that area,” Nguyen said. “I really wanted to reflect that in Moderne, and I feel like doing an Asian-style-fusion concept is a really great way of tying in all those classic authentic flavors in a new, modern way.”

With literal lines out the door and a wait list of three or more hours upon opening, The Moderne appeared to be an overnight success… but Nguyen told me the concept was nearly scrapped midway through planning, all due to COVID. He and his family had signed the lease for the property just weeks before the world shut down, placing unprecedented restrictions on bars and restaurants.

“The project was very much always going, and we were always looking at inspiration in terms of design, what we would do for the food program, cocktail program, everything,” Nguyen said. “But when bars were shut down for those periods of months, we actually pivoted, and Moderne was supposed to turn into a hot pot restaurant. A complete 180. Not a lot of people know this because this was just a few months during COVID, but we worked on a completely new project, scrapped The Moderne… the logo, the name, everything- design, renderings…. Then when later bars reopened and it looked like they weren’t going to be closing again in the future, we did a pivot again and went back to Moderne where we left off.”

Pivoting isn’t anything new for Nguyen, who didn’t set out to be a restauranteur despite his family having such success in that space; in fact, it was a temporary gig helping his parents run their Japanese sushi and grill concept, Maki Hibachi, which has two locations in Orlando (including one in, you guessed it, Mills 50) that took him away from a path toward becoming a pharmacist.

“I was going to school to study pharmacy, working as a pharmacy technician at the time, when my parents opened Maki Hibachi, and it started off as just a part time thing, helping out on the weekends,” Nguyen said. “Long story short, the general manager ended up getting fired, so I filled in that role for a little bit. My dad was trying to find other candidates to fill the spot, but then eventually he was just like, you're pretty good at this. If you want to keep doing it, and work together, we'll keep opening stores, father and son, we can do that.”

If it sounds like every father’s dream scenario, consider the cultural factors at play here. Michael jokes that his parents would rather have seen him become a neurosurgeon, but pharmacist was at least in the medical realm. And even though he was raised by entrepreneurs, the work of running a restaurant didn’t come naturally to Nguyen.

“It definitely didn’t happen right away. I was pretty bad when I first started,” Nguyen said. “I initially started off as a server and I did so poorly that they took me off the floor and moved me to be a hibachi chef…. And then when I had to step up to GM, I had no prior restaurant experience besides that job.”

To make the scenario even more high-stakes, Nguyen was still in school, about to apply for pharmacy programs.

“I was managing the store and then also taking organic chemistry and microbiology, and doing all the labs, and then also being a pharmacy technician, counting out the pills and making the creams, all this crazy stuff,” Nguyen said.

His casual recollection of what was no doubt an extremely stressful balance to strike is evidence of the work ethic he was exposed to growing up.

“Especially as a kid, I never pictured myself being a businessman or business owner, just because of the way my dad was geared. Seeing the long hours, how hard he was working, his life was very much work, work, work, work, work, and that intimidated me. I didn’t necessarily want a life like that for myself,” Nguyen said. “And I don’t think he wanted that for his kids, either.”

“I think when you become a business owner, you realize how tough and difficult it is, and you realize that it’s not for everybody.”

He sees all the pressure with a fresh perspective now when reflecting on his parents’ perseverance.

“Super hard workers. Their work ethic is levels apart from anything I could do,” Nguyen said. “They are so dialed in, all the time, 24-7. It’s pretty admirable but very intimidating to see that and say, damn, is this the standard I should hold myself to? Because I know that’s how they look at me.”

Despite the high standards and societal expectations, Nguyen says he received full support from his family and friends when he made the decision to stop the pursuit of a pharmacy degree and go full steam in the service industry.

“At the time, I was 20 years old. I was just a college student, I had very little skin in the game,” Nguyen said. “It was easier for me to pivot. It’s not like I was raising a family or in a career that I went to college for, and then did a complete 180 to pursue something new.”

“Because I was young and I didn't have many obligations, it was easy to make the transition. But it's still scary going from one field to another like that.”

Being a young manager isn’t easy, and the transition from peer to boss can be even more difficult to navigate; I’ve seen this firsthand with my husband and some of our closest friends who have climbed the ranks in their various professions. For Nguyen, the stakes were even higher, as a lot of the people he would come to manage were either his high school classmates or his elders. Though he’s in charge, he says he looks up to his staff at The Moderne.

“These people that I am working with at Moderne are such inspirations. You know, they love their craft. They're so passionate about what they're doing. They genuinely just love giving people a good time, making people great drinks and great food, that’s their calling, that’s what they’re passionate about. So just seeing that, experiencing all that, it’s almost intimidating to be their leader or their role model and try to live up to this, because it’s not like I was born into this… this is something that kind of fell into my lap and I just made the most of it,” Nguyen said. “So trying to be the leader of these people is sometimes stressful because, you know, how do I live up to that? It almost gives me imposter syndrome, but on the same coin, it’s also very motivating.”

“I have these people on my team, and they’re great, and they believe in me, and they put their trust in me, and I don’t want to let them down. It propels and motivates me to keep doing better, not just for me and myself, for my family, but for my team as well.”

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and high are the expectations for an establishment that comes in as hot as Moderne. I remember wanting to visit in the first few weeks and having no shot- some people even weaseled in just to take Instagram pictures, not able to get an actual table.

“None of us were expecting that, at all… I didn’t even do any marketing,” Nguyen said. “We did a grand opening and lines queued up… expectations were very much high, and especially if you’re waiting three hours for food, you’re like, this better blow my freaking mind.”

Consistency in quality of the food and beverage is key, but so is consistency in service. Nguyen feels lucky that unlike the restaurant industry as a whole, Moderne hasn’t seen a lot of turnover, allowing the kitchen and bar staff to really perfect each item on the menu.

“You've you got to replicate that dish hundreds of times during a dinner rush, and it's got to taste the same every single time,” Nguyen said.

Some of those items were cooked up by Michael himself; he and the head sushi chef at Maki collaborated to create the signature dishes at The Moderne, including my personal favorite- the KFC (Korean Fried Chicken… run, don’t walk to try it!).

“I didn’t intend to. I’m very much the business guy. I enjoy cooking as a hobby, but I wouldn’t categorize myself as a top-level professional chef. Maybe an advanced home cook, if anything,” Nguyen said.

Regardless of the credentials in the kitchen, Michael has his sights set on some of the highest recognition in the restaurant industry for Moderne; he’s hoping to join the growing number of Orlando businesses that have been Michelin-recognized. The most recent guide was just announced, and The Moderne was not featured… but he’s not giving up hope.

“I think what we're going to approach that Michelin-caliber this year, probably very soon. So that's the goal… with the kitchen, and the front of house, just further fine-tuning our craft to eventually become nationally recognized,” Nguyen said.

“You have no way of getting them in the door, it’s just that they show up. But if they show up, I want to be ready. I want to blow their minds.”

With those aspirations, there are no off-days. You have to bring you’re A-Game every.single.time. And as Orlando’s food scene gets more crowded, you not only have to be consistent- you have to stand out.

“With social media, my explore page is all restaurants, all restaurants,” Nguyen said. “There’s always something new going on. There’s a new restaurant here, new this, new that, new and shiny. Everybody’s so fixated on that, and it’s really hard to stay relevant and keep pushing the envelope and not get buried by the sea of new concepts.”

So what would he hope the Michelin judges order if they stop by The Moderne?

So. Many. Things.

“For some of our sashimi-style appetizers, I would do the tuna truffle, the tuna kobashi… then we’ll work into some of our hot small plate options,” Nguyen said. “I hate recommending the KFC just because everybody orders it, but it’s just so good at the same time, so I’d want them to experience that crunch, you know?”

“Then the gyozas we have, we have this shrimp and crab gyoza… we make them fresh in-house, hand folded, served with a truffle beef stew, a yuzu aioli, pickled cherry tomatoes, and black sesame and herbs. It’s just got this beautiful blend of being light, refreshing, the perfect level of acidity and saltiness, it’s so good, so tender. That would be it for apps.”

For the main course, he’d recommend his personal favorite, the duck- or the braised pork, a nod to a classic Vietnamese dish he grew up eating with a Venezuelan twist, courtesy his head chef.

If the judges are somehow still hungry, he’s got the perfect sweet ending: the yuzu panna cotta.

“It’s infused with Sichuan peppercorns, so it’s got this little tingling element for your tongue… it’s banging,” Nguyen said.

The creativity of the menu means Nguyen never gets bored eating at his restaurant, and each night the team in the kitchen creates a ‘family meal’- freestyling an off-menu dish for the staff.

“They make some crazy good stuff… I’m constantly in a state of eating. It’s hard to stay on top of fitness,” he laughed.

In addition to getting Michelin in the door, he’s hoping to help his parents close the door on the working part of their lives. His mom has technically retired, but his father is still at it.

“Seeing them relax a little bit and being a little more hands-off is very fulfilling for me,” Nguyen said. “When you’re young, you just don’t have perspective, and you're ignorant to a lot of things. But the more I grew up and made my transition into the adult world, everything that my parents were doing, whether I agreed with it or not, came from a good purpose. They just wanted the best for their family.”

“Coming from a whole different country, with whole different cultures and cultural norms, coming to America, and starting over, I have nothing but respect and admiration for them.”

It’s something innate in us- that crosses cultural boundaries, countries and continents- the desire for future generations to have it better than we did. I believe this is what led my grandmother to do what she did for us, when she couldn’t for her children. My witnessing a bankruptcy auction is not so different from Michael’s witnessing of the hard work his parents put in to creating a legacy in a new country; both shaped our childhood and thrust us on a path to pursue the hard work in hopes of creating our own success, and maybe make it a little easier on those coming behind us.

“This lifestyle’s not meant for everybody,” Nguyen said. “there are going to be some difficult days where you feel like you’re drowning, and that doesn’t go away for weeks, even months, sometimes even years. But if it’s something you really want to pursue and you think you have what it takes, once you set your goal and set your plan, the next thing to do is just trust the process.”

“If you believe in something, and you're doing your absolute best to pursue that, the fruits of your labor will eventually bear themselves to you. Whether that's six months, a year, or two years, five years… everybody's story is different. If it's really what you want, don't give up. Pursue it relentlessly until you get there.”

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