We all reinvent ourselves many times over during our lifetimes – sometimes consciously and by choice, and other times, like so many changes, reinvention is out of our control and forced upon us. The Her Mind Reinvention Series focuses on women who have forged entirely new paths in their personal and professional lives and are now living life in new and unexpected ways.
SPONSORED BY MELISSA CURTIN COACHING + CONSULTING
Beth Ditman, Co-Founder of Custom Media Options and Her Mind Magazine, has worked in sales and marketing, media, and publishing since she started her career over thirty years ago. Beth started out working for small to mid-sized businesses and community newspapers. She worked her way up in the corporate world of Patuxent Publishing and the Baltimore Sun Media Group to the Acquisition Team where she found herself in an executive role as a Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and then as General Manager where she expanded the company’s magazine footprint and developed community partnerships with state and local government and the tourism industry. As it goes, Patuxent was acquired by the Times Mirror then again by The Tribune which significantly changed the company culture and Beth’s daily satisfaction in her job. At age 45, Beth had prepared herself well for the first major pivot in her career.
Beth and Dotty Doub were colleagues at Patuxent Publishing for 20 years. In 2008, the Tribune the corporate owner of the Baltimore Sun/PPC was in bankruptcy making it a very challenging time to be in the newspaper business. However, in the midst of the challenge, Beth and Dotty were managing a profitable new business division of niche publications and magazines and were often asked to present to executive staff and beyond about how they were developing these profitable niche publications. They both knew they were on to something.
One day at lunch, the two were lamenting about the change in leadership and how things were no longer as they once were, and they looked at each other and said, “We can do this! Let’s go out on our own and build a business together!” Custom Media Options was born on August 26, 2009.
The two went on to build a well-respected women-owned publishing business that successfully spanned the past 11 years and continues today. Custom Media Options (CMO) specializes in creating one-of-a-kind, audience targeted, end-to-end communications solutions. CMO has mastered the art of custom publishing and strategic marketing. Publications include Her Mind Magazine for women in Howard County, Maryland Sip and Savor for Maryland’s breweries and wineries and distilleries, and countless directories for parents, county tourism boards, hospitals, department of aging, and more.
Beth believes in the power of partnerships. The one consistent in all of her roles since she began her career has been in cultivating and maintaining partnerships for mutual benefit. “At least 50% of business partnerships fail. I am so proud of my partnership with Dotty and all that we have accomplished together. We’ve contributed a lot in Howard County and throughout Maryland,” Beth said of her business partner, Dotty Doub.
We can never know for sure what lies ahead for any of us, but who would have guessed that 2020 was going to usher in a global health pandemic? “Last March, we held one of the last in-person events in Howard County. Her Mind Live was an exciting tribute to Her Mind Magazine and the women of Howard County.” Just days later, the two would learn that the COVID-19 virus would change the trajectory of their business. Once again, Beth and Dotty sat down to discuss what was next for their partnership and their business. And as they did over 11 years ago over lunch, they looked at each other and said, “It’s time to pivot.”
There are always many layers to these types of decisions. In addition to the pandemic, Beth and her husband Chris were caregivers to his and her parents for eight years. Beth’s mom moved to five different care facilities because of her complex disease. Chris’ father lived with the couple for over a year until his dementia progressed to the point they had to move him into a local care facility. Then, Beth’s father started to decline, and they eventually moved him into a nursing care facility.
During this trying time, Beth’s brother, Rod Barshook, moved back home to Maryland to help and to be closer to family after living in California for the past 27 years as a real estate agent focusing on commercial, investment property, and rentals as well as being a licensed appraiser. As Beth listened to Rod talk about the booming housing market and the skills it takes to sell real estate, combined with her personal family experience, Beth saw her next business opportunity. After spending her entire career in sales, marketing, and relationship management, real estate looked like the perfect fit for her.
Rod and Beth have always been close siblings. Rod made consistent trips home to be with the family and to share in the joy of watching Beth’s boys grow up. While different in many ways, the two have always had a lot in common. And through it all, they’ve maintained an open and honest relationship that has carried them through the trials and tribulations of family. Even so, going into business with family can be a risky proposition, but the truth is, any business partnership is a risk and Beth had successfully done it before. She and Rod talked about what it would look like to go into the real estate business together and they decided they would give it a go. “As experienced caregivers of our own parents, we understand the challenges of the caregiving role. We know firsthand how to support people in that phase of their life and we both have a passion to make buying, selling, and moving an easier process for others, so it made perfect sense for us.” Rod said. “Plus, I think she’s a brilliant woman and I know that I will learn a lot from her along the way.”
Beth took advantage of being quarantined and dove headfirst into studying for the Real Estate Sales Person Exam. All classes were conducted over Zoom, which was new for the Maryland Real Estate Commission (MREC) as they had required in-person training in the past. “I hadn’t studied like that since college,” said Beth. “Some days I didn’t think my brain could take anymore but I kept pushing myself forward.”
After she finished all of the required courses to sit for the exam, she drove to Hagerstown where MREC had opened up a test center (masks required of course). She walked in and found that she would be taking the test on a “big, old-fashioned computer” where at one point during the exam, she unintentionally pressed “end” and kicked herself out of the test! Beth passed the law portion of the exam, but then, to add insult to injury after kicking herself out, she didn’t pass the next portion. While Beth learned later that it is common not to pass that portion, Beth had never failed a test in her life. This caused her to double-down on her study efforts, which she says in hindsight served to make her even better prepared to do her new job. “For those who think real estate is easy…think again!” remarked Beth.
On the fast track to her new career, Beth passed the course in June 2020 and while driving home from the test center she received the phone call for her first real estate listing.
“It has been a humbling experience to start a new career,” Beth said. While many of Beth’s friends are retired or retiring, Beth and her husband, Chris, have one son, Adam, a Mechanical Engineer who graduated from Virginia Tech and works for Anheuser-Busch, and another son, Josh, a Senior at Penn State University, also studying to be an engineer. “Some of my friends have said to me, ‘Beth! I can’t believe you are starting over again at 55!?” And, as if taking on a new career wasn’t enough, Beth and Chris, now empty-nesters, decided it was time to move out of their family home into a new neighborhood and phase of their lives.
Beth credits her girlfriends, yoga, meditation, and long walks for keeping her sanity. “I am so proud of Beth! She has a heart of gold and is the most persistent woman I know. She provides quality real estate services beyond a business transaction. Anyone who is fortunate enough to have she and Rod as their real estate agents will also be lucky enough to call them friends for life when it’s all said and done,” says long-time friend Deborah Adler.
Beth’s Custom Media Options business partner, Dotty Doub, believes they excelled together because, “We both knew our strengths and weakness and we wrapped the business around each of our strengths. As Beth continues with Custom Media Options and dives into her new business venture, I know she will be successful once again because she is following her passion.”
When asked what advice she would give other women considering taking on a reinvention, Beth shared that, “It’s scary and it’s hard and I’ve asked myself a million times, ‘Can I really do this?”, but it’s very rewarding. I’ve found new strengths in myself that I didn’t know were there. I’m really grateful I’ve made this shift and that I am reinventing myself. I’ve found a new spark in life. I’m looking at things with fresh eyes and feeling so rejuvenated. I am already saying, ‘I wish I’d done this years ago!’ So, my advice is, don’t wait.”
Contact Beth at DitmanBarshook of Long & Foster Real Estate at email@example.com or 410-599-7118
Melissa Curtin, MSW, is a Certified Transformational Coach who believes that we reinvent ourselves many times over in our lifetimes and that ideally, reinvention is a healthy and invigorating experience. She coaches women to embrace and strengthen their unique skills and talents to live more fulfilled and energetic lives. Melissa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.