Reclaiming happiness after tragedy
Joy is back in Therese Landefeld's life, and she's living her new personal motto: "Go to the love." To get here, she's walked an unexpected path.
"Everything changed," Landefeld said, summing up the cataclysm that hit her family in 2009 and ended her 18 years as a stay-at-home mom. "Our youngest was 10 when my husband died. I remember being reassuring to my children but then going to bed at night and crying — feeling, 'I don't know how I'm going to solve this.'"
I'm so excited for my kids to have seen me remain resilient and tenacious about 'There's going to be something better, and I'm going to go get it.'
Landefeld had two sons and two daughters with a bright, accomplished husband who suffered from the disease of alcoholism and died before his 49th birthday. "Addiction is a disease that causes a lot of collateral damage. I found myself without the marriage, stability and financial support I depended on. Having been a stay-at-home mom for almost two decades, I had to find a way back to a meaningful, well-paid professional life."
Setting out to find work despite the 18-year gap on her resume, Landefeld was fortunate to revive her former career in employee benefits with an insurance brokerage. "The reason I was able to do that is the industry hadn't evolved much," she said. Ultimately, as the years passed and she felt less swamped by the competing demands of a career and single parenthood, she started craving work outside of her comfort zone.
She got in touch with a former co-worker who was thriving in a new job as a recruiter at Amazon. "I didn't contact her thinking 'I want to work at Amazon.' I reached out to say I need to work somewhere I feel happy about going to work each day." The friend gave her advice on how she'd made the transition. Weeks later, Landefeld applied for an open position.
She interviewed, accepted a job offer, and joined a team that travels to top U.S. business schools and connects MBA students with internships and full-time roles at Amazon. More than 18 months in, she's loving her new career. "Having lived through what I did, I'm only going to go toward people, places, things and experiences that I love and that return love to me. There has to be reciprocity. The energy that I give to Amazon in my work comes back to me – through my colleagues, through how fun the work is, how smart everyone is around me, how interesting things are, how quickly things move. I'm so excited for my kids to have seen me remain resilient and tenacious about 'There's going to be something better, and I'm going to go get it.'"
Meanwhile, her children are experiencing successes of their own. Charlie is finishing his graduate degree in architecture and moving to Copenhagen to work for a global architecture firm, Sally is starting her PhD in chemical engineering after receiving a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation, Gus just graduated from college and is pursuing his dream of rock climbing and living out of a van and Elizabeth is off to college in the fall.
Looking back on what she and her children faced less than a decade ago, she said, "I was on the bank of a treacherous river with my four people, I tied them closely to me, and waded in. Recently, I realized we're now swirling in a quiet eddy on the opposite bank of the river. Everybody is OK, and I am grateful."