Photos by Brooke Clark of Studio B Portraits
Instead of allowing memories of her painful childhood to haunt her, Genoveva Mercado is learning to let go and to love and celebrate herself.
In her dimly lit apartment, Genoveva Mercado splays out old, printed photographs of her mom. She’s beautiful. Her hair is wild with big frizzy curls, and she has a smile that feels genuine in every picture.
Mercado remembers being so proud of her mom. She couldn’t wait for class field trips, so she could show her off. Her mom was loud and funny, and everyone was drawn to her. Mercado and her mom are alike in that way. Mercado is the kind of person you want to be friends with. She has this infectious personality and self-confidence that draw you in.
But it’s taken years of hard work for Mercado to get to this place. The early childhood she looks back on with fond memories was brief; the rest of her childhood was plagued with difficult times.
As we sit on her couch and look back at old memories, this handful of old photos are the only evidence Mercado has of the mom she says she used to know — before life got messy. Mercado’s mom and biological dad divorced when Mercado was a baby, and after that, her mom remarried, divorced, dated a bit, and then married again. Looking back, Mercado realizes now her mom had a hard life, and it was probably a decades-long struggle that led to her mom fading away from Mercado’s everyday life.
By the time Mercado was in sixth or seventh grade, the mom she said she once knew was gone, and in her place was a person who barely left her bedroom.
Even after this drastic change, Mercado said she thinks she and her two sisters were still in denial about it.
“You just turn a blind eye,” she said. “ … I did musical theater, and I did cheer, so I had lots of performances and choir concerts and all these things. Somtimes I didn’t tell my mom about them, because I didn’t want her to come. She wasn’t the mom I used to prize, and as a teenager you’re so concerned about what everyone thinks.”
When Mercado graduated high school, she took a gap year to save money for community college; and she worked four jobs, starting her day at 5 a.m. and finishing at 11 p.m. She was still living at home, so she spent every hour she could outside of the house — trying to build her own life.
It wasn’t until Mercado was 24 that she started working at Slalom, the Seattle-based business management consulting firm. She worked odd hours in the operations department between her other full-time job and, a year later, she was hired full-time as an office manager. In the first few years of Mercado working there, Slalom was rapidly growing, opening more offices in the U.S. and beyond, and Mercado was recruited to help coordinate the moving process. At that point, Slalom was outsourcing the design of its office spaces, and Mercado felt like she had found her niche, helping with the selection of the furnishings.
Mercado became more involved in the design aspect of the Slalom offices, pushing a little more each time for an idea she wanted, and she started learning more about the business side of interior design. In her off time, she attended color theory classes and visited other office spaces to consume as much knowledge as she could within the design industry.
“The more I did, the more I fell in love,” she said. “This wasn’t a temporary passion. This is what I’ve been meaning to do. I just didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t finish my college degree. I don’t have a history in design, but I used to lock myself in my room and play Sims. I’m playing real-life Sims now, and people say I have a made-up job, but it’s so true. I made this job up, and it’s working.”
In 2017, Mercado’s title officially changed to design specialist. She oversees the design of all of Slalom’s 30-plus offices in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. Mercado is at a high point in her career, and she beams as she talks about how grateful she is to Slalom for this opportunity.
“Slalom’s culture and values is all about their people,” she said. “I now have this opportunity to take everything that everyone has taught me and given me in life, and I get to give it back to the company that matters most to me.”
But it took another major life shift to get to this place of joy that she’s in now. She decided that in order to find greater stability in her life, she needed to step away from her mom. It’s been a few years now since they’ve spoken, and it’s given Mercado the freedom to discover who she wants to be as an adult.
The last year has been a year of learning to let go — to let go of the anger, feelings of worthlessness, and shame. Imposter syndrome was a side effect of her fractured childhood, but her teenage years also are what has made her so resilient.
In Japan, there’s a centuries-old tradition of fixing broken pottery with gold, making it more beautiful than it was before. That’s what Mercado has done with the memories of her childhood — she filled them in with the strength she inherited from her family and is using it to be a confident person who is learning to love herself.
“What I learned from my mom in the really early years helps me handle how she made me feel in those middle years,” Mercado said. “She was strong, and she did teach us that if someone knocks you down, you get up.”
An autoimmune disease led Kari Gran down a rabbit hole into the beauty industry, and now she’s using her skincare line to educate and lift up other women.
When Kari Gran left her roughly 20-year career selling real estate in 2010, she thought she’d just take a couple months off, do some yoga, and refresh from the burnout she was feeling.
Leaving her job at Windermere Real Estate was scary, especially because she was in her 40s at the time, and the thought of starting from scratch was nerve-wrecking — however, the thought of continuing in the real estate industry was, too.
“I wasn’t a doctor, but it was a serious 24/7 job, and it’s highly emotional,” she said. “Everyone thinks you just show up and write the contract, but that’s the easy part. It got to where I had this income I never thought in a million years I would make, and it was that situation where I was miserable. I had to figure out a Plan B.”
Gran had no second act laid out for herself, and the economy was still recovering from the recession, so she spent her time reconnecting with herself, and she started experimenting with skincare.
Gran was 29 when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease, which she thinks, based on her symptoms, had gone undiagnosed since she was a teenager. Her autoimmune disease is a little unusual in that she had full-on Graves’ disease (high thyroid) and Hashimoto’s disease (hypo, or low, thyroid), which means that her hormones were in a constant tug-of-war. For much of her young adult life, she would get mind-numbing headaches, and it felt like she was slugging through mud up to her chest. Even blinking her eyes felt like it was draining her energy.
“How it presents itself can be debilitating fatigue,” she said. “You don’t generally look unwell. People who have a specific illness sometimes have a telltale sign. Someone who’s going through chemotherapy often loses their hair. But I didn’t have an ill look about me. People would say, ‘You don’t look sick.’ I would get that a lot.”
For the last 21 years, Gran has been trying to find an equilibrium with her hormones through medication, and she initially turned to a healthy diet as a way to calm her symptoms. It wasn’t until years later that she started to look deeper into the beauty industry and began exploring how her skincare was affecting her internal balance.
Around 2006, she watched Gorgeously Green author Sophie Uliano talk on Oprah with Julia Roberts about how personal care can have detrimental effects on a person’s health. Parabens are a staple in many beauty products — especially in lotions, which are often water-based — and they’re used as a preservative to keep products from getting moldy. But studies have also shown that parabens can disrupt your hormonal system, Gran said.
“It was like: Ok; this is news to me. No one told me about this,” she said. “The beauty industry didn’t make me sick, but I do think that anything that I consume or put onto my body that’s disruptive, that’s a red flag for me. So, I decided I can make a better choice.”
Keep in mind, this is the mid-2000s, several years before eco-friendly and natural products were mainstream, and Gran was relegated to the bottom shelf of grocery stores to find the skincare she wanted. For years, she had made homemade lip balms — which later became her popular Lip Whips — but it was just a fun thing she did for Christmas gifts.
During her year off, she decided to start formulating her own skincare products. She sat down in her front entryway with a handful of oils and started studying them. Her homemade skincare started with a hydrating tonic and an essential oil serum, and she gifted it to her longtime friend Lisa Strain.
Gran and Strain experienced beauty from different ends of the spectrum. Gran was a total make-up and skincare junky, and she had dragged Strain on many trips to Sephora to try out new products. So, when Strain reported back that this facial regime was incredible, the two decided to run with it.
In 2011, Kari Gran skincare was born.
“It may have my name on it, but she’s the instigator,” Gran said, and over the last eight years, the two have been trying to reframe the conversation around beauty. All of the products — the famous Lip Whips, Cleansing Oil, Essential Serum, Hydrating Tonic, Three Sixty Five SPF 28 sunscreen — are handmade in Seattle and, along with the mineral makeup, are made from organic, wild-harvested, naturally-derived and non-GMO ingredients that are formulated without parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, chemical additives, known toxins, and synthetic fragrances.
The products, as Gran said, are the essentials, and it’s a pretty edited list. The skincare arm of the brand is centered around cleansing, hydration, and protection. Sunscreen isn’t sexy, Gran said, but it’s how the brand talks about anti-aging. Gran has made it her mission to teach women about protection against sun damage, which is why she released a carefully crafted sunscreen in 2015 as part of the daily Kari Gran regime.
This new experience, starting a beauty company, has made Gran more vocal about health and wellness and has given her a platform to teach women how to be kind to themselves and their skin.
“You’re fine as you are,” Gran said. “We don’t want to beat people up. Our message is never that something is wrong, and we’re here to fix it.”
Kari Gran is about skincare for everyone at any stage of life. As the anti-beauty beauty company, the Kari Gran motto is “be kind to your skin,” with a focus on health and well-being over the attainment of youth and perfection.
“Starting a second (career) can be a bit scary and overwhelming, but it’s an opportunity to find a career that you’re passionate about and works for you in that time of your life,” Gran said. “Whatever you do and whatever your message is, you need to be authentic and not purely motivated by the potential financial gains.”
Child cooking star Amber Kelley found success at a young age, and now she wants to reframe how we talk about future careers with kids.
It can take years to carve out a career path that’s filled with passion and success, but 16-year-old Amber Kelley from Woodinville managed to lay the foundation for a potential cooking career when she was in elementary school.
The now-sophomore at Eastside Preparatory School in Kirkland first started making cooking videos for YouTube when she was just 9 years old, and that eventually led to her meeting Michelle Obama, competing on two Food Network TV shows — including Food Network Star Kids, which she won in 2016 at age 13 — and publishing her own cookbook in 2018, Cook with Amber.
Kelley has been cooking with her mom for as long as she can remember. She’d hoist a little step stool up to the counter where her mom was working and cut bananas with a butter knife or dump flour into a bowl.
“The food my family cooks is fresh, wholesome, homecooked meals, and I used to bring that to school for my lunches,” Kelley said. “Around second grade, I started getting teased because my friends didn’t think my food was very cool, because it didn’t have crazy cartoon characters or colorful packaging. No matter what, I feel like bullying sucks, but what was so hard about that was I knew the food was really delicious.”
In order to prove her friends wrong, she started sharing family recipes on YouTube. Looking back, Kelley is slightly mortified by the videos, she said with a laugh. She didn’t smile, and it was dark in the kitchen, but her channel started gaining traction, and eventually she landed a regular segment on Q13 Fox, sharing easy snacks and weeknight dinners.
From then on, something major happened just about every year that empowered Kelley to continue sharing wholesome, healthy recipes. In 2013, her zucchini noodle lasagna landed her a seat at the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids “State Dinner” at the White House after it was selected as part of the fifth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. Kelley was the winner selected from Washington state, and she and her mom were seated right next to Mrs. Obama for the “State Dinner” luncheon. She met her biggest food industry icon, Jamie Oliver, who has a similar message. And in 2014, she competed on her first TV show, Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off, where she honed her cooking skills and learned what it takes to host a cooking show.
“People don’t believe me when I say I was shy, but being on camera and doing interviews has brought me out of my shell and helped me find my voice,” Kelley said. “Not just in cooking but also in school. Class presentations are the easiest thing for me. It’s not just teaching me how to cook food; it’s also teaching me how to be a more outgoing person, which is something I think is really important.”
For the last six years, Kelley has created a career for herself — one that could take her into adulthood. She’s known as “the cooking girl” at school, and it’s become a big part of her identity and shaped the way people perceive her. Some approach her with really narrow questions now in regard to what she wants to do for her career. Does she want to be a chef? Does she want to have her own cooking show? And that’s fair, Kelley said, but it’s also really limiting, and she still doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up.
“I remember I used to get really nervous if my passions changed,” she said. “What if all of a sudden I wanted to be a neurosurgeon? That would never happen. But what if all of a sudden cooking falls off the radar, then I lost my identity. I’m (supposed) to be the cooking girl. I don’t think anyone should feel like that. You don’t have to be restrained to one career or one hobby.”
A lot of people don’t know that aside from cooking, Kelley also has been playing competitive volleyball since she was in seventh grade. She’s also really passionate about interior design, and natural skin care, and is probably one of the fiercest and most protective older sisters you’ll meet.
Kelley wants to challenge adults to start asking young people what they’re passionate about, and she’s betting it’ll initiate a much richer conversation. Maybe we should check in with ourselves and ask the same questions — throughout life.
“You don’t have to choose one specific thing, and if you do, that one thing should not define you completely,” she said. “One person can have so many passions and hobbies. I want to encourage people to ask a different question, because that opens up so many more opportunities.”
Lindsay Angelo found herself in a dream career with Lululemon, but it wasn’t until she struck out on her own that she began to see the world in technicolor.
That iconic scene in The Matrix where Neo has to decide between taking the blue pill — and staying in the fictional world — or the red pill — and journeying into the real world — is a classic story arch for The Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a storyline used by a plethora of filmmakers in which the protagonist answers a call from the universe and leaves the ordinary world to go on a journey to a new world. They face setbacks, and there’s usually some intense battle (maybe with a fire-breathing dragon) but, in the end, they come out victorious with lessons they use to make the ordinary world a better place.
It may sound a little dramatic, but The Hero’s Journey is exactly how it feels to branch out as an entrepreneur and start your own business, said Lindsay Angelo, a growth strategist and public speaker who launched her own consulting company two years ago after leaving Lululemon.
“There’s this scene from the Wizard of Oz where the house is flying, and the picture is in black and white, and then the house crashes down, and Dorothy opens the door, and she enters this new world of technicolor,” Angelo said. “I make that analogy because that’s been the world of entrepreneurship for me. It’s allowed me to (see) this new and beautiful world of technicolor.”
Angelo started getting glimpses of this when she was 14 years old in Vancouver, British Columbia. One day her aunt brought over microwave mitts, and Angelo thought, “I could make those.” With help from her business-minded mom, Angelo started churning out microwave mitts, and the two shopped them around to local stores and sold them to friends. Then, as the year 2000 approached, she bought rolls of silky fabric with “2000” printed in glittery script and started making millennium scarves.
“I remember being totally enthralled by entrepreneurship,” Angelo said. “It just completely lit me up, and it was at that point that I realized I love being an entrepreneur.”
After graduating from George Mason University in Virginia, she got a job working for an angel investing firm, assessing start-ups, and helping start-ups refine their business concepts and ready themselves to pitch to investors. From there, she onboarded with a financial tech start-up and helped grow the company over two years before leaving to get her MBA.
Looking back, Angelo realized that her sweet spot was working with small, scrappy companies, but after getting her MBA at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, she went on to work as a strategist for BC Hydro, one of the largest energy suppliers in Canada, and eventually landed a place on the strategy team at Lululemon.
When she started at Lululemon in 2012, e-commerce was just starting to pick up steam, and the company was doing $1 billion in annual revenue. Her team focused on growing the company overall — from geographies to product concepts — and as a strategist, she was essentially helping draw the blueprints for the future of Lululemon.
“Part of strategy is deciding where to place your bets on the different ways you can grow the company and why that makes sense based on the context you’re operating within and the environment you’re operating within,” she said.
On paper, being a strategist at Lululemon is a dream job for an MBA graduate, but Angelo started to feel that entrepreneurial itch again and she wanted to explore her career options outside of the typical 9-to-5 corporate path.
It took six months for Angelo to really build up the courage to break out on her own, but by the time she left Lululemon in 2017, she had been doing some public speaking on the future of consumerism and strategy, and she was seeing demand for speakers offering insight. Plus, several professionals from her network were leaving their own corporate nests, so she decided to dive into this brave new world along with them. However, Angelo said, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a little terrifying.
“I think I’d lived a life of achievement up to that point,” she said. “My dad has achieved so much in his life, and I’d lived a life as an achiever in a lot of different ways. So, the fear of not achieving, for me, was really big.”
In the scheme of The Hero’s Journey, Angelo was answering her call. She was venturing away from the safety of the world she knew and was entering into undiscovered territory. The first year was a hustle, and she spent most of that time reconnecting with people in her network. Lululemon rehired her right away to do some strategy work and she started building up a client base. Currently, about 60 percent of her business is centered around advising — helping companies from start-ups to major corporations with innovation, growth, and story-telling. The other 40 percent of her time is spent in the speaking realm, sharing insights at business conferences.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself. Entrepreneurship tests you in ways that nothing else does,” she said. “Everyone’s purpose is different, but you have to find what makes you see the world in technicolor. In the Wizard of Oz, there’s still trials and tribulations and there’s the wicked witch. There’s still really hard stuff you come across — similar to being in the black-and-white world — but your lens has shifted.”
She added: “I think we’re all creators at heart, and I needed the freedom to create new things. I think a big part of my purpose is to bring new concepts and ventures to the world that leave it a little better than it was before. … I didn’t always have the space to do that. In the corporate world, your brain is packed with other things.”
Angelo likens finding that perfect-fit career to finding your inner lion heart. When Angelo was a little kid, she had what she calls her lion heart sweatshirt. It wasn’t actually a lion. In fact, it was a bear sliding down a rainbow. But anytime she wore it, she felt the most like herself. And that what this career shift has been: rediscovering her inner lion heart.
“Having experienced that shift from black and white to this,” she pauses. “At this point in my career, I wouldn’t go back.”
So here’s our charge for you: Reflect on your career. Does it light you up? Are you seeing the world in technicolor? If not, it might be time to take the leap. Choose the red pill. It’ll change your world.
Some look back at the worst years of their life as a stain on their past, but Danielle Kartes and her husband used those years to learn a lesson that has launched their Rustic Joyful Brand to success — that life is good right now.
If you haven’t visited Danielle Kartes’ Instagram account (@rusticjoyfulfood), this is a good opportunity to take a break and scroll through it. It’s OK; we’ll wait.
Did you do it? Are you full-on hyena laughing right now? We love Kartes because she is real. Her feed feels like you’re living life right alongside her, from her highs (Hello — she met Oprah Winfrey!) to her hilarious mom moments (walking around the grocery store with her son’s peanut butter sandwich stuck to her elbow).
Kartes has spent the last roughly 10 years in the food industry, as a regular 425 contributor; writing cookbooks; and sharing wholesome recipes on TV, including KING 5, the Rachael Ray Show, Hallmark’s Home & Family, and the Pickler and Ben show. She and her husband, Michael, built their Rustic Joyful Food brand on a simple and underrated concept — that life is good right now — and their careers as food stylists and recipe creators are soaring.
But Kartes will tell you it’s been a slow crescendo toward success, and the foundation of Rustic Joyful Food was built on the most difficult and devastating years of their lives.
In 2009, a year into their marriage, they opened a new American bistro called Minoela, and it was a huge success. She sourced vegetables from the farmers market and incorporated organic ingredients, and the community embraced it. But running the restaurant was draining from the get-go. Not only was she working 18-hour days, but their employees were stealing, and the stress of it all began to deteriorate their marriage. Two-and-half years into operating Mineola, they closed its doors in 2011 and then filed for bankruptcy.
“It took nine to 10 months for us to really lose everything,” she said of losing their home in Puyallup and having their cars repossessed. “It was a slow burn.”
But the one thing that kept them afloat was their newborn son, Noah. Kartes gave birth to him just before the restaurant closed, and having this beautiful baby gave them something else to focus on. It wasn’t about them anymore, she said. Everything became about taking care of their new baby. The five years that proceeded were hard, uncomfortable years. She went back to doing makeup, which was her career prior to opening the restaurant, and the two were barely making it.
But those were the years when they healed as a couple. “I know that some people might think those are your darkest times, and when you come out it is when you begin to heal, but during that time, I can look back, and I get teary-eyed thinking about it. God healed so much of our lives, and our hearts, and our family. Sometimes you have to be stripped of everything to begin to rebuild.”
Kartes started doing food styling, and her husband shot the photography for 425 magazine. In 2014, she self-published her first cookbook, Rustic Joyful Food, and it helped preserve the recipes from the restaurant. While doing makeup, she met an executive from Costco, and by sheer will power and her openness about her struggles, she earned Rustic Joyful Food a spot on the coveted Costco shelves in 2015.
As a brand, Rustic Joyful Food was really taking shape. The food she creates is beautiful, and the recipes are simple and divine, but that’s not the magic ingredient. During her years living in that little apartment in Issaquah, while enjoying a pot roast she made for friends, she learned life is good enough right now — and so is yours.
Kartes was born with this amazing gift of self-worth, so when people told her “no” along the way, it only made her more determined to knock down barriers and prove them wrong. Her belief in herself, her brand, and making her own way is how her books landed in Costco, and how she got on shows like Rachael Ray, Pickler and Ben, and more. Keep hustling, and you’ll make it, is what she tells herself and anyone else who needs a push.
Kartes remembers the first time she returned to New York to do the Rachael Ray show after being on bed rest with her second son, Milo, for about a year. She and Michael lost their luggage, and it felt like a devastating start to the trip. The two were on their way to buy a new outfit for the show when they stopped at Starbucks for a cup of coffee. In line in front of them was a homeless man who had only $1.14. He walked up to the front counter with a sandwich in his hand and put it forward. Without missing a beat, the two baristas rung him up for a sandwich and gave him a drip coffee, taking just his $1.14 as payment.
“I had to step out of line, because I was sobbing,” she said. “This is what our life is all about. Sometimes you may only have $1.14, but it’s so important for you to put it forward, and God will meet you there every single time. … He didn’t have enough for the sandwich, and I’ve never had enough qualifications. I’ve never been the front runner. I’ve never had the perfect body. I’ve never been the type of person that says the right things. I’m a mess. I’m a work in progress. But I’ve always put my $1.14 out there, and God has always met me.”
Life is continuing to meet Kartes where she’s at. In recent months, she received news that a publishing company wants to publish her third book and re-release her first two cookbooks. She also has her sights on her own cooking show. But for now, life is good, and she’s happy with where she is at today.
“There’s no pinnacle,” she said. “I think that’s very important, and I want women to know that when you tell yourself, ‘I’ll be happy if,’ or ‘If I can just get here, then I can relax and breathe a little bit.’ If you get rid of those mindsets, you can get back to a place of: Life is good right now.”
Put forward your $1.14 and conquer the world, Kartes said. We know you can do it.