Introduction: There is nothing more inspirational or powerful than watching a woman transform her life to create new opportunities and possibilities for herself. As we approach July 4 and the celebration of our nation’s Independence, join with us in celebrating some of these women as they share their stories – in their own words – of how they transformed their lives and put themselves on the path to greater financial freedom and independence.
Meet Libby Barrett, Founder/Chef of Splendid Eats, a personal chef service in Boca Raton, Florida. Splendid Eats offers healthy home dining and customized meal plans to families and individuals in South Florida.
Tell us about your journey. I had a successful career up north in management with major orchestras and museums, but gave it up when I married in my forties. I moved to South Florida where my then-husband had a business, and I stayed home to raise my son. I always expected to go back to work, but I found that after several years out of the workforce, there were few opportunities for me in my former profession. I retrained for a career in teaching, but my timing was off, and schools were laying off instead of hiring. At the same time, my marriage was unraveling, and I ended up divorcing in my late 50s.
What prompted you to start a totally new career at that point? After the divorce, it was clear that I needed to go back to work to supplement my income, support and educate my son, and be able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. But by then, I had been out of the formal job market for almost 18 years. I applied for jobs with local cultural organizations, which is where I had substantial prior experience, but it’s not easy to relaunch your career in your 50s or 60s, and I couldn’t find a position. When I was married, I always did a lot of cooking and entertaining, and enjoyed being in the kitchen. Large family gatherings were always held at my house. So when someone made an offhand comment to me that I should start a business as a personal chef, the light bulb went off above my head. The more I researched what a personal chef does, the more I realized I could absolutely do it. It was all about repackaging the talents and skills I already had, except charging for what I formerly did for free.
So what did it take after that “a-ha” moment to get the business up and running? I joined the U.S. Personal Chef Association and learned everything I could about how the business works. Through the association, I made contact with an experienced personal chef in another major metropolitan area, who offers coaching to new chefs. She was a treasure trove of information, and taught me about marketing, menu design, managing clients, creating a website, really everything. I launched my website, worked on developing a customer base, and officially started over as an entrepreneur in a totally new career after age 60.
What makes your approach special? Many of our clients have no time to cook, and enjoy having healthy menus prepared for them with quality ingredients. We also really enjoy partnering with people who have special dietary needs like vegan, keto, low- sodium, or special medical conditions, and are happy to tailor menus to their requirements. One client who is undergoing cancer treatments counts on us to prepare densely nutritious foods to boost her recovery. We feel like we’re playing an important role helping her on the road back to wellness.
What makes this a good career fit for you? I value the autonomy and the ability to control my own time and chose my own clientele. I can work as much or as little as I want, and wanted to avoid sitting at a desk looking at a computer screen all day. Normally, I’ll put in about 20 hours per week. It’s all about building strong relationships with clients. Before I started this business, it never really occurred to me I could make money of my own, on my own terms, without working for someone else, in a way that gives me so much satisfaction helping other people enjoy a better quality of life.
Besides starting the business, what else did you do after your divorce to jumpstart your new life? I downsized my home and bought a new place that is easier and less expensive to maintain.
What’s your advice to other women? Consider the years ahead of you and think about how you want to live them. Pick something you truly enjoy doing, that really suits your abilities and desires. Don’t sit around waiting for things to happen. Decide sooner rather than later what changes you want to make, what you want to accomplish, and get started. If you’re thinking about starting your own business, ask yourself whether you have the discipline to be self-employed. Do your research before taking the plunge, and know what you want to get out of it.
What’s the unexpected bonus of starting a new career and business in your 60s? My son is both inspired and impressed by the choices I made after the divorce. He’s seen me do it all on my own, and I’m proud to show him what it means to be resourceful and self-reliant.
Thank you, Libby, for sharing your story with us!
Read more profiles in our series of inspirational women who transformed their lives in search of financial independence: