After retiring from a 30-year career as a secretary at a community college in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, Mary Brown had just divorced her third husband and moved home to care for her aging parents. Needless to say, it was not the easiest time. “I’m good at keeping everything shoved down and not really dealing with anything. The problem is you can run, but you can’t hide. No matter how far you think you’ve shoved it down, at some point in your life, it manifests,” she says.

Luckily, she also connected with a neighbor who worked as a life coach around that time. “She was the very first person who I told absolutely everything; my darkest fears and insecurities. Everything. Before that, I didn’t care about life anymore,” says Mary, getting teary. Together they began coaching others, which eventually led Mary to the coaching curriculum she lives by now, called core alignment.

She later became acquainted with Helping Hand Me Downs through a friend and began coaching parents who came through the program—which she still does to this day, helping them build self-esteem with simple tools and affirmations. As she puts it, the results have been extraordinary to watch.

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

What kinds of issues do you work on with the women you coach through Helping Hand Me Downs?

As you can imagine, many of them have experienced many difficulties: divorce, abuse, toxic relationships, the trials of being a single mother, and so much more. The coaching really starts with making a connection to them. Then they learn skills and tools that help cultivate strength, confidence and positive thinking, which really brings about significant change in their lives. That’s how we increase our self-worth, which is what I’m all about.

When you know who you are and can stand in who you are—not who you think you should be to everyone else—you’re able to navigate life much better. You can hold a job, provide for your family through a meaningful career—those externals really start to straighten out once you address what’s going on inside.

How do you cultivate those tools and help your clients operate from higher levels of self-esteem?

The most important thing is to help the women feel really safe and comfortable, so they can share and really open up. Once that connection is made, we start to set intentions. I’ll ask, “What are you emphasizing with intent? What would you like to work on and see come into your life? What is important to you?” We take it step by step from there. It’s not just about dealing with what they’ve been through in the past, but what’s triggering them in the present.

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That’s such a powerful sentimentbrings to mind that age-old quote about how life is really an inside job.

Exactly. That’s been true in my own experience as well. I had all this emotional turmoil after I retired from my first career, and made a lot of poor choices based on lies and old beliefs. If I’d been able to get a grip on that, I could have made decisions that resulted in fulfillment. When we connect our mind, body, heart and spirit, amazing things happen. That’s what we mean by core alignment. For me, among other things, my faith and my relationship with God have grown exponentially.

To get there, we help the women shift what they’re focusing on. When we first start working with them, much of their energy and attention is almost all focused on the negative. When we completely dwell on the negative, that’s where you’re going to stay. Focusing instead of what you’re grateful for is such a powerful tool. We look to change the language of how they speak to themselves, which is so important and can really affect outcomes.

Monica Wade, who now runs the Helping Hand Me Downs Pagedale location, is a great example. I coached her at the beginning, and she’s done so beautifully. We started a group coaching session together with some other moms going through the program, which is always a really powerful experience. We share what we’ve been through and strategies that have worked for us, and we give them time to share as well. A lot of those women don’t get that anywhere else.

What have you learned over the years as you’ve continued doing this work?

We all want that instant gratification, but the damage that has transpired in us didn’t get there overnight. It takes time to undo all of that, and it also requires a lot of self-care. That could mean meditation, journaling, taking a bath—something you do that is only for you. Most of the women we work with have young children, which, as any mother knows, sometimes means it’s hard just to go to the bathroom in peace. But even if you can carve out five or ten minutes to find your quiet place, it makes such a difference.

The women we work with start to like themselves more, which is an amazing transformation to watch. They’re able to address what they aren’t getting and take care of themselves emotionally. They recognize the light inside of them that they have, and learn that they’re inspiring others when they don’t even know it.