NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED
How to bounce back when life throws you a curveball
At the age of 25, Donielle Brooke was winning. A hairdresser at top New Zealand salon Stephen Marr and the owner of two jewellery brands, she was turning every creative talent she had into viable work. Life was heading squarely in the right direction until a routine mole check-up resulted in the dreaded words, “It’s cancer”.
The initial prognosis was good; a minor surgery was scheduled. But then Donielle discovered the cancer had spread to her thyroid and around the lymph nodes. Following thyroid removal surgery and a punishing round of radiation therapy, Donielle faced a six month wait to find out if the treatments had worked. With the bills stacking up, she set up a Facebook page to sell some of her beloved clothing, and Designer Wardrobe (DW) — now an online marketplace with more than 90,000 members — was born. Four years on from her diagnosis and cancer-free for three years, Donielle explains how a bump in the road put her on the path to success.
What inspired you to start Designer Wardrobe? Although my treatments were covered by health insurance, I didn't have an income to pay my living expenses or finance the extra support I needed. After thinking through my options, I decided to sell most of my designer clothing, but there wasn't a marketplace in New Zealand tailored to second-hand designer items. I started Designer Wardrobe on Facebook to fill the gap. It seems cray to start a business when you’re sick… Designer Wardrobe was actually a great way to keep my mind busy — I would spend hours growing the page by messaging my friends and people in the fashion industry inviting them to join. I also managed to sell enough of my clothes to pay my debts off which meant less stress! How did you grow it to where it is now? When I was eventually well enough to return to work a few hours a week, I felt really flat. By this time I had 15,000 members on the DW Facebook page, so I created a proper website. It was soon obvious I should make the business my priority. Running it is now my full-time job. What helped you stay strong during your treatment? I did a lot to help support my health and mind. Counselling, naturopathy (so I had supplements to support my thyroid coming out), walks, yin yoga — and I learnt about the powers of everything from crystals to relaxing teas. My friend Libby Matthews is a nutritionist and she gave me recipes for smoothies, juices and easy meals which was invaluable. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere, but I had patience and love for myself. Has your outlook on life changed? Over the past four years, my life has changed in ways that I never could’ve imagined; health challenges are just a part of it. The biggest difference is that I used to try to be perfect on the outside, now I focus on the inside as that is what counts. I’ve learnt that when life seems unfair, you have to keep going. Look at the positives, take small steps to better yourself and in time you will become stronger than ever. I have never felt happier, healthier and stronger in mind and body than I do today. What advice do you have for others facing hard times? Even if it feels like you can't and won't bounce back, believe me you can! Start by adding some ‘feel goods’ to your day: lavender oil on your pillow at night or a Himalayan salt lamp next to your bed. Speak to friends about how you feel or find an outlet to keep your mind on something positive. That’s what DW was for me, after all. What are your words to live by? Never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.
When life takes a rogue turn, the courage and determination required to get back on track can be immense. No one knows this better than Jess Quinn — who at nine years old lost her right leg to bone cancer, and with it, the future she’d imagined for herself. But with a never-give-up attitude, 24-year-old Jess is now living a limitless life as a fitness influencer and inspirational speaker. A shining example of true grit, we asked Jess to interview three other fearless females who’ve experienced major life hurdles, and have bounced back better and stronger than ever.
As an eight-year-old, Deanna Yang wrote a bucket-list with ‘open a cookie shop’ at the top — inspired by the homebaked treats her mum put in her school lunch. Eleven years later, Deanna found this list and flooded with nostalgia, decided to fulfil her childhood dream. With no family in the country to support her and against the advice of everyone she knew, Deanna gave herself two years to make it happen. She worked up to four jobs — communications advisor, bar tender, juice-stall operator, retail assistant — all while studying a Bachelor of Communications degree full time. It was a grind, but in 2012, Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar opened for business on Auckland’s Wellesley Street to instant acclaim. On day one, eager customers were camped outside the store in their sleeping bags, and the shop sold out of cookies 10 hours early. Within two years, however, Deanna’s landlord raised the shop rent by almost 40 percent, forcing Deanna into the heartbreaking decision to close. Down, but not out, Deanna crowd-funded almost $100,000 for a Moustache Milk and Cookie Bus which she drove around the country, and today Moustache is not only back in the city, on Auckland’s Karangahape Road, it also has a second outlet at the University of Auckland. More resilient than ever, Deanna shares her story of perseverance.
You share a quote on your blog, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life”. How does this relate to your experience? When the rent for the original Moustache location was increased, my options were to pay it — which as a new business was not sustainable — or to not cry over spilt milk and get creative. It was a really hard decision as that store held a lot of sentiment and love in it. But I believed the soul of the business was not locked inside the four walls of that shop — and ultimately its closure inspired so many more projects and gave me the drive to expand and improve. Was starting the business in the first place hard? I had a lot of factors against me starting Moustache. Not only was I young but I was also female and Asian. The simplest things such as going to the bank or seeing real estate agents were so much harder than they needed to be. They’d take one look at me and deem me, and my business, to be a waste of time. Have these attitudes changed? To this day a question I constantly get is whether my parents paid for the business, not knowing that I come from a very humble, solo-mother background. They don't believe that a young female Asian girl could have done this on her own. But the glass ceiling doesn't necessarily bother me — if anything it increases my determination to be successful. I took my mum to see Oprah when she came to Auckland, and something she said that really stuck with me was that excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism. So instead of being shoved in this box that society expects you to fit inside, do yo' thing and smash outside of it. Where do you get your motivation? I keep fighting for my mother, I keep fighting for my staff who are like family to me, and I keep fighting for the heartbeat of this little business that I truly believe in. What’s your advice for someone wanting to chase their dreams and start a business? Think less, do more. We live in an era where we have so much choice it’s often difficult to focus on one thing. It's important, obviously, to think through your ideas and formulate a plan, but don’t dwell on it so long that you get analysis paralysis. You're better off giving something a go and adapting to how people react to it. And don’t be afraid to fail. I went into Moustache knowing there was a high possibility that I would fail, but I'd come from so little that I knew that if I lost everything, I would still be okay. That life would go on and I could pick myself up and the world would keep moving. Did you make any mistakes? Plenty, some ginormous, but it all resulted in the Moustache we see today. You can't have a rainbow without the rain. So to deny the rainy parts of our journey would also be to deny the beautiful rainbows we've experienced. Business is all about taking the good with the bad... and there's definitely lots of both!
“To deny the rainy parts of our journey would also be to deny the beautiful rainbows we’ve experienced”
journeyto he a mone_ lt si an h @ d c . e o r s o n
In 2014, alone in the office of the jewellery factory where she worked, Simone Anderson climbed onto a pair of commercial scales and felt her entire world shatter around her as 169kg came up on the display. For three years, she’d lived in denial of her size — bathroom scales being unable to weigh her — so the reality check was devastating. But it was also exactly what she needed to do something about her health, once and for all.
Knowing that the more people she told the more chance she’d have of achieving her goals, Simone spent four sleepless nights and tearful days before making the brave choice to embark on a public ‘Journey to Health’. She started a Facebook page, posted a photo of herself in her underwear, and announced to the world that she was changing her lifestyle. Two and a half years later, Simone is 92kg lighter, obsessed with healthy eating and fitness and a source of inspiration to more than half a million followers. It hasn’t been easy — her journey has included a gastricsleeve surgery and she’s faced self-doubt and online critics — but she’s come out firmly on top. She tells us how.
How has your Journey to Health changed your attitude towards yourself? I have undergone some serious mental changes. I was always a bright, bubbly and outgoing person, but with the weight loss I have gained a sense of achievement and knowledge that whatever I set my mind to, I can do. It has empowered me and I am now constantly pushing myself to achieve more as I know the only limit I have is myself. How have you stayed motivated to continue? I try not to let my journey ever rely on “motivation” as humans were just not built to have motivation 24/7. So instead I rely on setting in place good routines and habits that become second nature. This is my new lifestyle — not some crazy, quick-fix diet. You turned an inspiring journey into a lucrative personal brand. Did you expect this? When I first started my journey there was only one, incredibly selfish reason for it — it was purely for me! As time went on, however, I found I was receiving countless messages from men and women around the world who had decided to change their lifestyles because of me. This pushed me to create more content around my journey in the hopes of encouraging others in theirs. That I have been approached by amazing companies to work alongside me is a total bonus — I feel honoured every single day to be making a living out of my passion for helping others achieve their goals. What advice do you have for those wanting to make a change in their lives? Create a support network around you of people you know will have your back 100 percent, and set yourself small, achievable weekly goals. If you are constantly focusing on the end goal then this can become overwhelming and may hinder your performance. Switch dinner and wine dates with friends for morning walks and smoothies. These small changes will make more of a difference in the long run than you realise. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since your journey began? The fact that the online community can bring out the best and the worst in people. I have met some of the most amazing inspiring people over the past couple of years who have impacted my life forever. But alongside this I have also met some of the most cowardly, faceless keyboard warriors whose words have hurt me beyond belief. What has been the biggest lesson? Be kind to everyone — you never know what they themselves are fighting on a daily basis and your words have a long-lasting affect. Also, let go of friendships that no longer serve you. I am a people pleaser and I want everyone to like me, so letting go of a friend who no longer had my best interests at heart was incredibly hard. But when I actually did it, I realised that instead of losing something, I gained so much! If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would it say? Those hard days won’t be forever, there is a part of you that is stronger than you realise and you will find the strength to change your ways. Stay true to yourself and remember that weight is only a number and will never define who you are as a person. Beauty comes from within and this shines so bright. Work hard, but more importantly stop to enjoy those small special moments in life as time passes quickly. Every day holds something truly beautiful — you just need to be open to it.
“Create a support network around you of people you know will have your back 100 percent”