“It’s ok, people have taken one look and underestimated me all my life,” said Jessica Paradis Stoddard “Come on in, I’ll tell you a story.” She was a slight woman, standing in her huge doorway no taller than 5’5″ with a baby in her arm, and a bit of spit-up decorating her shoulder. She smiled brightly, and it all became clear, her genuineness shined so brightly. This was the region’s newest local multimillionaire, and she looked just like an every day mom.

I asked Stoddard about her start. “I didn’t come from much,” she replied. “A really poor single-parent family. My mother worked three jobs to keep a roof over our heads most of the time, leaving me to tend to my younger brothers. That’s where I learned both my work ethic, and my share of responsibility.  We had periods of homelessness, couch surfing, and long drives to the “next” fresh start. That’s where I learned what could be.” She seemed really strong, and not bitter while speaking about this tougher era in life. I looked around at framed happy portraits and candid shots lining the walls in her Family Room. It didn’t seem like that was the life she grew up in. Asking her about what made that change for her, she spoke candidly, “I made choices from an early age, checking out the seemingly successful people around my life, friends and families I admired, and observing the differences in their happy homes.  It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the things we did have, for they were all I really knew! I did want more for myself and for my life. I wanted happiness, I learned that happiness IS success. So, following the path to be the first high school graduate in my family, the first and only college graduate, the first Masters graduate, and the first to head into a professional career. I thought that was the answer! It really could have made for a pleasant life, but that wasn’t something that drove me, or challenged me. That wasn’t going to work.” she chuckled. She is a woman of fierce proportions, even at her size. I could sense the tiger within. “So what did you do?” I asked her. She went on to her career as a teacher, her travels, and seeing more of what the world had to offer, even on a smaller scale. “Then, I challenged myself. Dug deep. Went for MORE in my life. I worked on the things that held me back.” She added. “I had some serious cleaning up to do, many attributes that were keeping me in my past. I had BAGGAGE, you know?” I did know. I nodded, and she kept sharing. “I had to shed the things that held me back, one by one, peeling back to the core of me so I could become who this world, this town, this family needed me to be. First it was the weight. Physically. We grew up in poverty, so obesity just tends to go hand in hand. I had a lot of weight to lose, and DID. That sparked a new healthy life for me. That was my step one. It brought this amazing company called Herbalife into my life, it brought me the concept of Personal Development, and it brought me to challenge myself in so many ways I didn’t know existed.” She had a glimmer in her eyes while sharing this growing chapter of her life. “Herbalife, and my amazing mentors taught me that there is always a reason to keep growing, and that aligned perfectly with the life I’d been slowly leading. This just catapulted my vision. If I could master my body, I could master my life. Efficiently, I tackled the finances. They were a poor person’s finances! They were a MESS! It wasn’t long before they were in order, and I was earning more than enough income to cover the life I wanted, instead of the life I was settling for throughout the years. Next came the other baggage items, grief, lack, fear, regret, shame, blame, walls, selfishness, mistrust, expectations, perfectionism, one by one, a little at a time. Taking ownership of these and clearing their heavy emotional weight made room for so much more life.

I reached a little deeper into the financial side here, because it was the newfound money that brought me to this story, but learning that it wasn’t so newfound was new to me, so I asked, “What was this process for you?” Stoddard answered, “It was a vision, and a plan. I’ll elaborate.” she said, as she pulled out a piece of poster board with magazine clipped pictures and headlines plastered across it, like a grade school book report visual. “I grew up with a vision to get through the day. Maybe the week. Pay Day Friday was the goal for anything we needed, like school lunch money, or a new pair of shoes as our feet dragged across pavement, or our toes greeted the outdoor air. On better eras, when my mother had a decent paying job, we would even go out to eat, or get take-out on Pay Day Friday. We didn’t once in my entire youth take a vacation. That would require a bigger vision than day to day, or week to week. We did however, learn to dream.” She looked across the room, seemingly enchanted. “We played the Million Dollar Game every time the news announced a huge lottery jackpot. We would take out some paper and pencils and get to work on our list of things we’ll buy and do once we win that jackpot. It was there that I learned how to dream, and also that dreams can fizzle and die! We would make our lists of indoor, in-ground swimming pools, complete with water slides, and full indoor arcades, and paying off debts, and buying new cars, and beach houses, and vacations to places we barely could find on a map, plans to share with friends, and people we loved, and Disney, DEFINITELY Disney… and sadly crumple those dreams when the winning numbers were announces and weren’t on our ticket. Those dreams were sparked, and then put out. We did it often though, re writing and revising. So here,” She pointed out on her poster, “you see my grown-up dreams. I tapped into that kid I used to be, and you can see my dreams haven’t changed all that much, but they are indeed focused a little bit differently. This is no longer a dream board as much as it is a plan board. A plan connects that dream to reality. It has to be put into action from the most basic levels, of what will it take to make it happen – and seeing those steps through to the actualization. That transition happened for me when I pulled my new car into the driveway of my new house, and realized those were both directly from my board. I look back at this ratty poster board often, because I need to have unrealized plans to be working for. That drives me. VISION.” It was perfectly clear. Amazing how much the home I was sitting in resembled so many of the pictures on her project board. I wanted to know HOW those came to be, and WHAT she has accomplished in this run to millionaire status. The list is quite extensive. She was very modest in her descriptions about these accomplishments, so I had to do some digging.

Stoddard was a very giving volunteer from her early years. “I’m an active member with the local Chamber of Commerce, and our local Natural Foods Co-Op. I lead a program that teaches our local kids and parents how to nourish healthfully to help prevent obesity by helping foster love for an active lifestyle. I empower women and girls to be what they were meant to be in this life, find their greatness, and build stability. When I give of myself in these ways, I am paying forward the immense gratitude that I feel for those who empowered me. I am growing a stronger, healthier community for the future, and developing the environment I want my children to grow up in. It feels like living MY purpose.” She is right, that she’s been active in these organizations. Her work with the Co-Op has helped it to raise enough funds to move from a 900 sq ft space where she and her husband helped a small group of people get it off the ground, into a full 5000+ sq ft space, loaded with healthy options in a town with an otherwise very poor selection to rely on. Stoddard still volunteers her time and efforts in this cause, along with her husband and their two children. The programs she speaks of, she offers through her business storefront, TiNY Wellness Center. She runs a program in conjunction with the local youth program and the central school district to help teach children to prepare healthy after-school snacks, and start their day with a healthy breakfast. She has also created a program with the after school program to teach children fun, active games to play in small and in large groups. She leads Family Fun Night as well, inviting parents and grandparents to join in the activity, to keep that a cherished part of their lives. Her Women’s Empowerment program has helped hundreds of local women and girls to come up in their lives. She offers them local resources to complete schooling and helps them with resources to find the path to where they want to go in life, shares her time and efforts. She uses her business opportunity as a means to help teach leadership roles, and grow the lives of their dreams as well. She shares on this topic. “It’s a passion for me to show people that where they are right now does not dictate where they have to stay.  It’s a moment, not a life sentence. So often people are stuck in the only cycle they know and see, I feel it’s been a blessing for me to see more, and therefore share more.” It’s clear that Stoddard has used her life as a lesson to share with others, really paying it forward. Her autonomy today has allowed her many freedoms that she believes she would not have otherwise seen. She credits Herbalife as her reason for those freedoms, both financially and mentally. She has an immense gratitude for all that she has. Of her liberties, she shares, “Our daughter chooses her schooling, attends enrichment programs in the summer, earns her wants but her needs are provided. We can pay for the things we want, and don’t know that we want yet. We have a beautiful house on the lake, which we paid for out of our earnings, and we vacation regularly to recharge our minds and bodies. We have a paid in full life of experience and adventure. We eat our way around the world, experience culture, people and learn the ways of the land. We see all the wonders the world has, the natural beauty and the variety of landscape. We try activities we have not yet experienced, make new lists as a family, and check them off one at a time! I make this mission possible for our family while being true to myself in carrying out our mission to change people’s lives. I love to be that support system for others, and help them transform their lives through nutrition and opportunity! It’s a fulfilling destiny. I feel complete now that I have found that balance in my life, the harmony of doing what I love and maintaining a very high quality of life!” She is clearly pleased about the adventures, and opportunities she has made available to her family, and yet, at the same time, remains very level about how she has grown into this life, one piece of baggage at a time. It was a very pleasant interview, and I walk away now, with a lot of insight into the mind of an ordinary woman who chose one day to work at being just a little more extraordinary.