You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you're in your 30s, what do you do when you've, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you're now ready to commit to something you're passionate about, whether it's a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we're debuting a new series, . Each week, we'll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Prior to founding her eponymous skincare brand, , Marie-Veronique Nadeau was teaching chemistry to high school students. The chemist's scientifically backed non-toxic beauty brand, which she launched in 2002, has developed something of a cult following among the natural skincare set, including notable celebs such as .
The chemist's light bulb moment sparked from a personal need—the way many of the best businesses begin. Plagued with rosacea, Nadeau couldn't find a sunscreen on the market that didn't make her skin break out in a rash. "I was forced to come up with a zinc oxide–only sunscreen, and in the process, a skincare business was formed," she told MyDomaine. "In skincare, challenges are an everyday affair, but what keeps you going is that sometimes you surmount the challenges. Which means, at the end of the day, you get to help a few people—and that is very rewarding."
In this installment of Second Life, Marie-Veronique Nadeau tells us all about making the transition from teaching high school chemistry to breaking ground in the skincare industry, including the Einstein quote that motivates her to embrace everyday challenges, the scientific reason change isn't something to be feared, and the satisfying feeling of standing in front of a hushed crowd.
Tell us about your first career path.
I taught math and chemistry in a private high school. It was very challenging, but the rewards were sometimes (not always) commensurate with the challenges.
How did you make the transition from teaching chemistry to high schoolers to breaking ground in the skincare industry?
It was actually kind of an easy transition, at least in terms of having the requisite educational background for tackling chemistry-related and formulation issues. The carryover from how I taught chemistry proved to be very useful.
I believe the best way to teach a subject like chemistry is to make it as hands-on as possible. The idea is to sharpen the students' observational and problem-solving skills—you don't force-feed the answers, but rather encourage them to learn by doing.
And that approach works very well when you are trying to do something new in skincare rather than just treading a path already well-worn by others.
Tell us about your current career path/business.
I've always tried to be a leader in the field. Fortunately, there is so much groundbreaking research being done with respect to skin function, new studies regarding the skin microbiome for example, that it's a fantastic time for formulators in the field of skincare. Currently, I am on heavy on the R&D side of things, simply because research is turning up so many fascinating possibilities. So leading the field is one thing, but staying ahead really makes it exciting.
What triggered your need for change?
I still love teaching, and I still teach via blog posts I write and so on. But teaching high school is difficult, and much as I admire career teachers, I found I was just not cut from that same bolt of cloth.
What have been the biggest challenges in your career and why?
One of Einstein's quotes that I love is, "You can approach every day as it were a miracle, or you can approach every day as if it weren't a miracle." Words to live by, and I think challenges can be approached in the same way—as in What a stroke of luck to be faced with this challenge right now because I am so ready to meet it and wrestle it to the ground.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
Well, doing away with the assumption that change is to be feared is probably the first step. If you think of yourself as a molecular system that is in constant motion, then regarding change as a welcome state becomes easier to accept. And you might as well accept it because change is inevitable. Some of your molecules are heading toward life—the rest are headed toward death. As we age, the ratios start to shift—so fun.
But here's what I've discovered: Though systems tend toward equilibrium, people really don't like it there—it's very boring! Take the classic example of thermal equilibrium: start with a glass of water filled with ice and place it in a warm room. Gradually energy transfer causes the colder object (the ice) to heat up while warmer objects, the warm room, glass, and water, cool down. The final overall temperature will be somewhere between the two initial temperatures. So here we are, a compendium of biochemical systems that tend toward equilibrium, and we think we want equilibrium, but for the most part, we reject the state of being in a coolish room drinking tepid water. It's just not that exciting.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
Well, the biggest mistake I made was in getting involved with a person who turned out to be untrustworthy. It seems like every small business owner has her one-to-two sociopaths on the way to her success story. As long as the sociopath doesn't ruin you first (and we all know people to whom that has happened), you can actually learn a thing or two from them.
The primary lesson I learned from my encounter was never to give up. My mentor in sociopathy taught me to imitate the dogged determination of a Gila monster—you know, the creature who once it latches onto your arm, the only way to get rid of it is to… Oh, never mind, I'll leave it to your imagination. Anyway, as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
The vast wealth, the round-the-clock adulation from my hordes of fans.… But seriously, folks, I could say things like personal satisfaction, etc., but you know, one of the things I really love is that now, when I get in front of a room, everyone quiets down and listens to me.
Unlike high school kids, where you're lucky if one word in 10 gets past the pubertal storm that has every one of them in its grip, even the quiet nerds at the back of the room. I realize the second law of thermodynamics can't compete with their struggles in real time, though most of them really do try, bless their hearts. Even so, it's nice to go in front of a group of people and feel hushed expectancy fall upon the room.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
Sometimes, I regret the decent money, the fame, the respect, sure, who wouldn't? Of course, I am being sarcastic here. In most countries, teaching is a highly respected profession. In the United States, it isn't. Our kids deserve the best, but the unfortunate reality is that the best teachers do not last.
What advice do you have for other women who want to take a leap but fear the change?
See answer number six. Since change is inevitable, you might as well initiate the change, the operating premise being that you're much more likely to get the outcome you want when you take charge. This means making decisions that move the change in the direction of desirable outcomes, rather than just letting stuff happen. The more informed your decisions are, the more likely it is you will get the outcome you want—so do your research. I am a big believer in research.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Do what you love—it gets you out of bed in the morning. Of course, you can always get a cat. She will do that too.
For more inspiring stories from successful women who've made major career changes, tune into MyDomaine's podcast.