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If You Can't Beat 'Em, Leave 'Em
CNBC.com | October 10, 2011 | 11:32 AM EDT

Career consultant Maggie Mistal is a big believer in a well thought-out transition, whether it’s for her own life or the lives of her clients. Because she created her own strategic plan when she left the corporate world, her clients know they can trust her to guide them through this new world.

“Transition is critical,” said Mistal, who hosts her own show on Martha Stewart Living Radio Sirius XM. “Sometimes clients ask, ‘Should I take a job just to pay the bills?’ I say, ‘If it’s part of a strategic plan, then yes.’”

With so many women redefining success by leaving corporate America, often to start their own companies, their stories have some similar themes. They are looking for freedom — not from hard work but to be in charge of their schedule and work location. The decision is often sparked by a major life shift like a layoff or a baby. They are working toward not only creating an acceptable work-life balance, but building a successful business.

Mistal's own push from the corporate world came when she was laid off from Arthur Andersen when it became ensnared in legal issues over its auditing of Enron . An accountant who switched to consulting and who wanted to do it on her own, she put in motion her strategic plan to break away from corporate. She moved to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, working as a senior trainer instead of a manager.

“I took a 35 percent pay cut in the transition,” Mistal said. “I spent four years at the [MSLO] day job. People think that’s a long time, but opportunities came up along the way, like radio.”

For Melissa Wildstein, president of The Matchstick Group , the pivotal moment came when her daughter was born. A senior vice president for an advertising agency in New York, her commute from her home in Hartsdale, N.Y., to New York City took 90 minutes each way.

After a three-month maternity leave in 2010, she went back to working long, demanding hours. Late one night in the office, with the lights being turned off around her, she realized that her daughter had been in bed for three hours and she was still working.

“I said, ‘This is not the life I want,’” Wildstein recalls.

The one she did want was actually something she had been preparing for for years. Knowing that some day she might want to open her own shop, in 2006 she had created an LLC. Never quite ready to make the break, the company lay dormant for several years. But the reality of her family life brought the idea to the fore. Now, she's running an advertising/consulting agency that specializes in the positioning, branding, and strategic development for medical device companies.

“It’s definitely harder than I thought it would be,” Wildstein said. “You find a different skill set as an entrepreneur. You’re the one who’s hustling and calling the shots.”

That’s one of the things CEO Danielle Dobin likes about running active wear company Apifeni (pronounced “epiphany”): It calls for using “every part of your brain.”

A lawyer who worked at Skadden, Arps for two years, Dobin earned a master’s degree in real estate development/investment at New York University then started Monarch Real Estate. More than eight years after she started the company, the real estate downturn, combined with the birth of Dobin’s youngest son, prompted her to consider other business opportunities.

With no prior fashion experience, she founded Apifeni . Because of the nature of her products, activities like going to the latest yoga or barre classes are part of the job, not just for her but for her nationwide workforce.

“They are 100 percent in control of their own schedule,” Dobin said. “It’s great for the body, the spirit and for business.”

The flexibility piece is life-changing for Wildstein as well.

“Portability is so crucial,” she said. “I like to say, ‘Have laptop, will travel.’ I work whenever and wherever I want to. I can Skype with clients in Switzerland and they don’t know I‘m talking to them while I'm on my bed with the dog locked in the basement.”

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