We’re so delighted to have Misha Sturns as our August Woman of the Month. If you missed Part I of our interview with her, we talked about sibling rivalry, boy band crushes, pursuing secret dreams, and unexpected career paths.
In Part II, we delve deeper into Misha’s hard-earned relationship advice, what it means to raise a joyful Black boy in today’s America, and how to overcome deep betrayal. Enjoy!
MB: We left off Part I of our interview with you sharing a bit more about your work in pharmaceutical sales. You found yourself in a completely new role. How did you adjust?
MS: I was very intimidated by my lack of experience. They wanted you to have experience working for Xerox, selling copiers or selling printers, that sales mentality. I didn’t have that but what I did have was the ability to conduct a consultative sale. That’s what pharmaceuticals is about. As consumers—and I consider myself a consumer—I’m very particular about how people approach me as a salesperson. Sometimes I’m turned completely off, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t turn people off.
I was able to do that at Merck. I eventually became Vice President two times during my career, which meant I was in the top 5% of the company.
MB: You didn’t just forge a new career, you excelled at that career.
MS: Yeah, then they laid me off, girl. I excelled and they laid me off. That was in 2010, and they had a couple significant layoffs before that. For example, my manager got laid off, and my partner got laid off. Their reason for laying me off was the fact that I lived thirty miles from the center of my territory. I’m like, “So it doesn’t matter to you that I’m number 8 out of 380 people?” It hurt. I was crushed. I was devastated. I had just won the most coveted award. I had to put up this front that it was all okay.
I didn’t see it at the time because I felt like I’d been betrayed, but I realize now, in retrospect, that it actually was truly the best thing to happen for me. I just had to have faith as I was going through that process. The first four months were kind of difficult because in pharmaceutical you can’t get a job unless you currently have a job. What I mean by that is if you’re laid off, you’re not going to get a job. They look at you as if there’s something wrong with you.
MB: So where did you go after your layoff?
MS: As I mentioned, I felt dejected. I felt like I was not successful. I started second-guessing, like is this career for me? It was that experience that prompted me to step away from the pharmaceutical industry. I joined a nonprofit called Heart of a Warrior. This organization provides summer educational programs to kids in underserved areas. I was brought on to be an interim executive director, and ultimately, was hired as a permanent Executive Director for them.
MB: Did it feel like a better fit on a soul level?
MS: It was a great fit, but here’s what I liked and didn’t like. I liked the fact I was able to impact lives and influence children. I loved that it was extremely rewarding. I did not like the fact that it was a little bit too demanding. So much so that I was neglecting my very own son because I wasn’t as available for his events and activities.
The money was decent actually, surprisingly so, but it wasn’t as good as pharmaceutical sales. I gave it my all for close to two years. About that time I got recruited by GlaxoSmithKline. I worked for them for a little bit and then I got recruited by another pharmaceutical company. After what happened with Merck, I had no love for the rest of those companies. I was like, whoever can bring it, whoever has the best offer, I am open and will hop around.
My current employer is Kroger, and I actually feel more fulfilled with them than any other company. I get to know the lives of people I’m working with now. I get to really help them out, and I’m still in the health care arena which is where I think I fit the best. Well, I’m motivated by money. I won’t deny that. But I’m more motivated by making a difference. To make a difference and to get compensated is the best of both worlds. So yes, I’m in a good space right now. The company culture is great and it’s just a great experience. I’m very happy.
MB: Speaking of company culture, how have you seen a difference with that? That can be a difference for someone of what makes them stay in one particular place over another.
MS: You are spot on. I was talking to a friend just yesterday about working. I said, “Most people work because they have to. We have to work, we’ve got to provide for our families. Out of those people that work, a big percentage of them cannot stand their jobs. They are so unhappy.” I said, “It’s rare to find someone who’s truly happy about their job.” I not only like my job, but I absolutely love it.
The main reason I love it is because they allow me to be entrepreneurial, and of course, I need creativity to be successful. When they see how I deliver on those results that makes them take a hands-off approach and let me do what I do. I’ve been the top salesperson at my current company back to back, so 2016 and 2015, which is a huge honor.
MS: My goal is to always do more, go further, and exceed even greater expectations, year after year. As long as they give me that freedom to just do what I need to do, then they have a loyal employee out of me.
Getting laid off was a blessing because it allowed me to discover my true worth.
MB: Things often make a lot of sense in retrospect, even if we can’t see it at the time. I’m so happy it worked out this well for you! I want to go back to your family a little bit. When did you meet your son’s father? You mentioned not being able to have kids after your appendicitis, so how did that happen and play out?
MS: I met him in 2000. I met him at a restaurant in Deep Ellum. He and I were both very good friends with the owner of this restaurant. It was kind of like the TV show Cheers.
This was a fine dining restaurant, but everybody would always hang out every day or every week at this restaurant, just like Cheers. I was always there, and the owner allowed me to have my birthday party there. The week before my party, I met my ex-husband. As a courtesy, I invited him and that’s where the sparks started to fly. We eventually got married and then we had Myles the following year.
Our relationship was interesting. As I mentioned, our courtship was great. It was amazing, but I promise you the day we said our “I dos,” I realized he was someone different. I had this awful feeling in my stomach like, “This is not going to work out.” Out of my family and my extended family, my parents were the ones whose marriage didn’t last. I wanted to make sure that mine lasted, because I saw positive examples of a lasting marriage and knew that it existed.
What put me over the edge is that my son Myles was a happy baby. I loved that joy in him, but when my ex-husband started showing signs of anger and showing signs that I believe would have stolen that joy from my child, that’s when I made the decision to step away. I felt like that would not serve my son well in life. I never want to steal his joy.
I did it for me, too. I was tired of him being angry with me about stupid stuff, but I also did not want my son to grow up thinking that this is the way a relationship should be between a man and a woman.
MB: Does Myles have a relationship with his father now?
MS: Not really. Sad to say, after our divorce was final in 2007 Myles’s father decided to move to Seattle, Washington. Myles may have seen him once since then. It’s sad, and that’s his own doing. I’m certainly not trying to stop that relationship.
But, the guy that I’m dating now, Nick, is a real blessing.
MB: What’s Nick like?
MS: I’ve been with Nick for seven years, and he’s an incredible male figure for Myles. Nick is a contractor, has his own general construction company, and he does an amazing job remodeling homes. We decided to go into business together flipping houses.
So that’s what gets me excited. My true passion right now, for the past five years or so anyway, has been this whole flipping houses thing. Watching how the Dallas market has evolved so much with so many major companies coming to town, it’s exciting. It’s challenging to find properties, but it’s so much fun when you do find a property and you’re able to make it shine.
So we’re working on a project right now where we’re building a home. Oh, my gosh. We’re building a house. Just like that. Nick and I…neither one of us has ever done it before. It’s crazy. He’s done a lot of remodels, but this is from the ground up.
Every single emotion that we have as human beings is being displayed through this project. You know what I mean? From the excitement of getting this house and the excitement of the location because it’s literally one exit from Myles’s school!
They’ve poured the foundation. It takes forever to get to that point because the city has to go through so many different phases of approval. We’re at that point, so once we get the framing up, that will be Nick’s true area of expertise. I have to hold my breath because I feel like I can’t freaking trust anybody except him. You know?
MB: Whenever you talked about your ex-husband, you said you felt like he didn’t show himself and you didn’t see all of him. Now, you’ve been with Nick for seven years and you’re building this house together, do you feel like you’ve seen a lot more of Nick than you did of your ex-husband? Are you purposefully taking longer to get to know him?
MS: I would say yes to both. Just like the situation with the house, your eyes are wide open to everything. You’re very aware and alert and you’re in tune and you question a lot of stuff. I did that with Nick, but we’re beyond that point now. There was a period of angst and not knowing, but I always wanted to keep going and see how things turned out.
I did carry the emotions from my past, but Nick’s been great and he’s been very, very patient and we’re just kind of riding the wave, but we do think ultimately that it’s to be expected for the union to be as one. I tell him all the time, “Before we get into this house now, you better come with it. We are not going to live in this house unless we are official.”
MB: Are you like, “Look at my face, I’m serious.”
MS: Yes. Dead serious. Luckily, he feels the exact same way.
MB: Do you think it’s different when you already have a child and you’re a little bit older? Perhaps your priorities are a little different now?
MS: Some of the priorities are different, but I also think about the institution of marriage and I want my son to see examples of a happy relationship. I mean, a normal one, but a happy one too. I want him to also see that in relationships a marriage is a normal course of action when two people love each other and want to be together.
MB: It’s amazing how much kids take in and how it stays with them. I totally understand that desire to set a good example. So, I guess I want to touch on a couple more things.
First, whenever you were talking about watching your ex-husband becoming angrier toward you, you specifically mentioned raising an African American son. A lot of times Black men are portrayed as aggressive or angry and it’s a stereotype that people are trying to break. Was that sort of running in your head too or it was more just about your son in particular?
MS: At the time, it was because he’s my responsibility, and if I don’t raise him a certain way anything can happen. There’s so many people that do raise their child the right way and still things happen. We have no control over the outcome, but all I can do is the very, very, very best that I possibly can in showing him right from wrong and what goodness and what love looks like. I had to, again, put my own feelings aside because I did not want to be a divorcée. I really didn’t.
As much as I thought that I should fight for a marriage, I had to accept the fact that this man was just that way, and I couldn’t change him. That was his core. All I could do was make the decision to remove myself from it for Myles’s sake, and of course, my peace of mind.
To this day, I’m always thinking, not necessarily about the relationship, but about some of the challenges that a lot of the youth are faced with, and that’s just youth in general, but of course I look at the fact that society does judge Black boys. People are fearful and they’re just fearful because of what they see. That’s why I want to try to help dispel that stigma. My son specifically is a big boy, but he’s incredibly brilliant, so talented and so gentle. He’s a loving, respectful, sweet-hearted child. And everyone says that, and I mean everyone.
MB: That’s beautiful, and from the love I hear in your voice, it sounds like you’re doing a really good job.
MS: Thank you. It’s the greatest, most rewarding job that I’ve ever had that paid me absolutely no income.
MB: In fact, it takes money away from you.
MS: All the time. Constantly. He’s so worth it, though. Gosh, he’s so worth it.
MB: Okay, I just have one final question. It ties into your decision to get a divorce even though that’s something you really didn’t want to do. What advice do you have for other women who might be facing a similar sort of difficult like decision?
MS: First of all, I didn’t want to disappoint my family, right? That weighed very heavily on me, and I felt like I had to get permission to pursue my own happiness. Sometimes when women are at the crossroads, they will confide in other individuals and seek that approval.
At the end of the day, it is your life. I’ve always believed in sticking with your gut instinct. I felt it. We all feel it. You know what’s best for you, and you have to do it. Sometimes it’s probably best to not even confide in others because that might not be what you need for you. It’s your decision. That’s what you may not see at the time, but it’s your decision so it is going to be right.
Thank you so much to Misha for sharing her true heart with us. Tune in next week when we share a Day in the Life of Misha Sturns!