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SheCAN! shares professional, personal power of women in WNY

Peggy Sullivan had the blessing – as well as the curse – of holding top jobs in the development and health insurance fields for nearly four decades.

Good pay, professional respect (mostly), great challenges. Long hours, overwhelming demands at work at home (too often), and way too much business travel.

“It would not be unusual for me to leave at 7 in the morning and to come home at 7:30 at night,” she said. “Then I’d want to exercise. There’d be no time left for relationships or hobbies or for enjoying my personal life. It was just work, work, work, work, work, work.”

Sullivan, of Amherst, found out along the way what it felt like to get laid off from a job, end a marriage, and find support in friends, family and, 10 years ago, a new husband, Tom Sullivan, a foreman with the West Seneca Highway Department.

She turned 60 last month.  She lost her father, Titan Tool Supply founder Ted Kahn, last year. Her desire to keep his memory alive, and share his philosophy about the importance of learning something new each day, prompted her to turn her attention toward sharing with other women the lessons she’s learned. She did so by creating a new venture: SheCAN!

The membership-based nonprofit gives women tools to succeed professionally and personally. Several regional businesswomen serve on the executive team and board of directors.

SheCAN! dinner seminars, which take place at least once a month, provide women a chance to mingle, support and learn from one another. (Photo courtesy of SheCAN!)

The organization hosts a live webinar each month. This month features the second part of “Managing Work & Life Balance,” at noon Wednesday.

It also hosts at least one monthly dinner seminar. The next one – “Job Search Strategies & Interview Queens” – will be led by APA Solutions from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 25 at Russell’s Steaks, Chops & More.

Prospective members can get a taste of the educational presentations for $40 and members are free. Register and learn more at

Sullivan, who went back to school at age 45 to get her MBA, believes men and women continue to learn as they grow older. She said she’s found over time that women, however, don’t have the same access to a professional support structure as men, citing golf and country clubs as examples.

“I’ve gone to a bunch of women conferences,” she said, “and women would really enjoy them and walk out of them and be so invigorated. Then it would be like, ‘Well, what’s next? Oh, well, there’s another one next year.’ ”

SheCAN! hosts gatherings more regularly, offers an online library of resources and assessment tools, and provides one-on-one coaching. The organization takes a holistic approach that focuses on a healthy mindset and balanced lifestyle, as well as career growth.

More than 200 women of all ages have become part of the organization. The hunger for life of the younger members becomes infectious, Sullivan said, and does the growing desire of older women to find more space for health and comfort in their lives.

“A number of women have given themselves permission to be happy, or permission for me-time,” she said. “Cupcakes don’t have to be homemade and perfect for your kids. A third grade party from Wegmans is just fine. You have to prioritize. ... We don’t recharge our batteries. We don’t play enough.”

As part of her personal coaching, Sullivan asks members to make a list of five things they love and are good at, then five things they do to meet their needs.

“We look at those lists, and all of a sudden they realize sometimes they’re so far away from what they love and what they’re good at, and they’re way exceeding their needs.

“I like to sit down with women and help them find that aha moment. It took me 60 years to find this nirvana, this state where I’m happy almost all the time, and I would like to see other women get to it a lot faster, with a lot less elbow grease.”

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