9 trailblazing women discuss the most stressful situation they've ever faced — and how they got through it

  • Dreamers & Doers is a networking community of female entrepreneurs, creatives, and change-makers.
  • Many of its members have experienced , unavoidable situations in their journeys as startup creators and small business founders.
  • Still, these women say that every difficulty or setback gave them an opportunity to grow stronger, and move forward with a valuable lesson learned.
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While stress is probably not anyone's preferred emotion, the dreaded emotional strain from demanding circumstances is unavoidable throughout our lives. But though the initial causes of stress may be out of our control, we have all the power to choose the next steps to take from the situation. 

For these nine female founders and CEOs, letting stress get the best of them was not an option. They had companies to build, goals to achieve, and values to adhere to. The situations they were faced with were intensely stressful, but they didn't resign to defeat. Instead, they turned these moments of hardship into opportunities to move forward with strength and renewed intentions. 

Their accounts of the most stressful situations they've ever faced are a beautiful representation of the comeback always being stronger than the setback — and the resilience of the women behind those pivotal moments.

1. Michele Heyward

Founder and CEO of PositiveHire, which recruits and retains experienced Latina, Black, and indigenous women STEM professionals into management positions.

The most stressful situation I've faced: It was in 2013, I was working a construction project in rural Texas when a manager me our employer would not let him get rid of me because I was a woman and I was Black. He assigned me a rear wheel drive construction truck and would not provide a full-time team to support my part of the project. To add insult to injury, this manager refused to dedicate one of the three restrooms as a women's only restroom in the construction trailer. Yet, I was expected to deliver at the same level as my white male counterparts. 

How I overcame the situation: Every day, Black people in corporate America take on trauma and are forced to tuck it away to protect white people who are ignorant to the fact they have privilege. With fewer resources than my counterparts, I was able to deliver to our customer my portion of the project on schedule and within budget. For others in similar situations, I'd advise to document all microaggressions and inequities in their workplaces. Make requests for what you need to do your job verbally and in writing, then file complaints to your HR department.

2. Cecilia Chapiro

Founder and executive director at YUNUS&YOUTH (Y&Y) which connects social entrepreneurs with corporate professionals to build successful and financially sustainable solutions.

The most stressful situation I've faced: In January 2014, I traveled to Bangladesh amidst a state of national emergency driven by election riots, with ongoing strikes, looting, vandalism, and bombings in the streets. I knew that was the reality just before traveling, but I had a dream to pursue by way of Dhaka. I had decided to start a global organization to support the rising generation of young social entrepreneurs — and I thought it would be key to get the endorsement of the biggest advocate in the field: Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Despite the turmoil and social unrest, I went forth with my trip and pursued the endorsement.

How I overcame the situation: I got through it with my network, who also happened to be close friends. I asked friends, some of whom had experience traveling to that part of the world, for any contacts in Bangladesh and I ultimately got connected with a local and a foreigner living there. They gave me the support I needed to understand the situation, know where and how to move, and most importantly, calm the anxiety from the situation. Looking back, I'd highlight the importance of developing relationships — you never know how your mere location and experience may help someone or vice versa.

3. Nathalie Molina Niño

CEO of , which invests and advocates for women and the planet and author of Leapfrog, The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs

The most stressful situation I've faced: Early in my career in tech, a project went so badly the client was threatening to sue us. I was brought into salvage the situation and, in response, led a recovery effort that worked the team to the bone for weeks on end, until one member of my staff nearly died.

How I overcame the situation: I realized then that I'd become a true monster boss and had lost sight of my own humanity. We completed the project and the customer was happy, but that led me to embark on a lifelong journey of ensuring I never go to that dark place again. Ambition is great, but there's a way to have it and still retain a spirit of kindness and generosity.

4. Kristen Carbone

Founder of Brilliantly, which supports women who've confronted breast cancer to embrace their life through innovative products, relevant services, and thoughtful content.

The most stressful situation I've faced: In November of 2018 we had to leave the first house that felt like home in many years without any of our things because of an airborne, toxic mold. It wasn't the nicest, the cleanest, or the most well-appointed house. But it was a special place, full of love and a pit stop for wayward friends who needed respite, travelers from states and countries far away, and people who took the best care of me and my kids. One by one, I had to toss our things into a dumpster.

How I overcame the situation: What I came to realize was that our things did not have meaning. It was the people I associated with the things that gave them value. Those people live inside my heart and I get to take the memories with me everywhere I go. My home is not a house, my home is all that's alive inside me.

5. Allison Monaghan McGuire

Founder of The McGuire Method, a presentation coaching business that empowers innovators with big ideas to get their stories to the world.

The most stressful situation I've faced: I'm a serial entrepreneur but the first company I started went viral — not in a good way. People across the world knew who I was and hated me for something I'd built that the media completely misconstrued. I got death threats and rape threats, stopped eating from anxiety, and lost 10 pounds in two weeks.

How I overcame the situation: I can't describe what it's like to go viral, but I will say it feels like the thing you care most about in your life has gone completely out of your control. I would pull back and ask myself: how will this affect my life in five years? At the time, I would've said my career was over, but if I kept asking myself that, I'd see how it would build my resilience and ultimately, inspire other women to quit their jobs and pursue their big dreams.

6. Katie Webb

Founder and CEO of Aila, a fitness lifestyle brand for active women, specializing in nutrition and fitness supplements.

The most stressful situation I've faced: I decided to quit my full-time job to pursue fundraising for Aila and work on the company full time, and then -19 hit, making fundraising and traction a bit more challenging.

How I overcame the situation: I decided to pivot to community building and helping to motivate women to stay moving in a sometimes not so motivating environment like your apartment, living room, backyard, etc. I've been able to take this time to really get to know our customer base, and potential customer base better, community build, and make tweaks to our brand.

7. Kate Abdelmalek

Founder of Canary + Co, the only bag company that focuses on cross-functionality and provides unique and thoughtful features that truly help women get through their day. 

The most stressful situation I've faced: We are designers turned cofounders and spent our nights and weekends over the past few years building our brand. So when our time came to finally purchase inventory, out went our bank account. waiting through the two to three months of bag production, quality control tests, packing, shipping — the day before we shipped out all of our goods to travel to Los Angeles, the new tariffs imposed on our product came into effect. Talk about a setback! This means another $9,000 on top of what we spent to just get our bags here! Then, the bags finally arrive at the port in Long Beach, and we get a call that our bags will be taken to an off site facility to be inspected by customs. Our hearts sank — because according to the internet, this could mean weeks to months of inspections, thousands of dollars extra, and pushing our launch date back. 

How I overcame the situation: Unfortunately when the government has your product in customs inspection, there is nothing you can do, except wait it out and hope for the best! Luckily, we only pushed back our launch a week and a half, and were down another decent sum of cash, but at least our bags were released! Our advice for others would be to always buffer your timelines — you never know what roadblocks you might come across, so if you account for a few bumps in the road, you won't be so devastated when things don't go perfectly according to plan. This goes for a buffer with money too — when you are bootstrapping, every dollar counts, but make sure you have a little extra to cover unforeseen circumstances!

8. Rosario B. Casas

Cofounder and CEO of XR Americas, which uses spatial computing systems to sharpen organizations' competitive edge, performance, and long term sustainability.

The most stressful situation I've faced: I was managing a project, and we were ready to participate at a public tender as vendors. Because of conversations with our team members, I discovered that there was "somebody" trying to interfere in the tender results with bribery. That contract would make the next year for the project, but I wasn't able to wait and see the illegal management, no matter the origin of the problem.

How I overcame the situation: I decided to ask the authorities for special monitoring and auditing for the tender. It took two months to keep pushing for supervision as the process kept advancing. It was very stressful because I decided to confront the public institution and not to know who was involved, also generating a disruption for every stakeholder. In the end, the day before the award of the tender, it was proved that dark interests were playing behind, and thanks to my pushing, the public institution declared the contract postponed and ready for redefinition. The funds were not lost, nobody won the tender, there were no damages, but in the end, I felt very well because we stopped a corruption act. My advice is to always choose the general benefit, the higher good, the protection of resources, rather than the particular interest. If I had pretended not to see or had sought to influence, the consequences would have been disastrous. 

9. Kori Estrada

Cofounder of RiseWell, an oral care brand with safe-enough-to-eat products that are scientifically proven to be effective.

The most stressful situation I've faced: It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I had always wanted to have a child and hearing this news, part of me broke. The doctor told me it was very possible that I could never have kids. Those who have been through IVF understand the extreme highs and lows you can experience. Your hormones are all over the place, and it's usually not covered by insurance with no guarantee of the process working.

How I overcame the situation: I did everything I could do to make the process successful.. My husband John and I started with cleaning out all toxins in our daily routine and products because they had the possibility of disrupting my hormones. This is how my company was founded. We are a non-toxic oral care company founded on the belief that your products can be clean but also effective by using hydroxyapatite instead of fluoride. I would encourage other women going through a similar situation to educate themselves on the best tactics and lean on not only your friends and family, but the IVF community. You can learn a lot from one another's experiences. It is easy to feel discouraged but you are stronger than you think you are!

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