Growing up as an only child in Dolton, Illinois, Ann Marie Bryant remembers leading a charmed life.
"I went to an outstanding high school prep school then a private college," she recalls. "I remember wearing $200 shoes in the 1980s."
Earning a college degree in Spanish education, Bryant seemed destined for a bright future. But then she made some very poor choices after a hasty marriage, she quickly became pregnant, had a child and then, way too soon, was pregnant again. A lump in her throat during that pregnancy led to a diagnosis of thyroid cancer and, after she gave birth, a grueling treatment of radioactive iodine therapy. Unable to find a teaching job, Bryant also faced serious money issues ("even when you're on welfare you don't lose the taste for quality," she said).
"I remember my mom, who is from Ecuador, saying I did not come to this country for you to live this way," said Bryant, who now lives in Valparaiso.
Struggling, she was on welfare and raising two children when one day she had an epiphany.
"I was sitting on sitting on a $1 sofa that I had just purchased at an auction, looking at my children and wondered how I had gotten to this point," said Bryant.
With that came a realization as well.
"I realized I didn't have to wait to be rescued," she said. "Sometimes I believe that's the biggest mistake women make‹waiting around for something to happen. It may never happen but you can get yourself out of the mess one baby step at a time."
For Bryant those steps meant going back to school and eventually earning two master's degrees, one in library science and the other in clinical mental health counseling. Along the way, she divorced and remarried, has remained cancer free for 17 years and works as a learning resource director at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
"Looking back at my life, I know what it was to be in despair," she said. "I was fighting for my life, going through a divorce, I had financial problems."
Bryant's success compelled her to share her experiences and help others learn to take control of her life led her to write "Releasing Your Story: A Path to Rediscovery" (Outskirts Press 2013; $24.99) which she describes as an action guide work book.
"In it, I guide the reader through finding things that may be holding them back," she said. "Each chapter contains an exercise to help you go back and pinpoint where you store your negativity and the stories that may hold you back from pursuing your goals. It helps people break away and to be really free to claim happiness for themselves. That's why I like the book so much, this helps women address to their responsibilities and take time for themselves."
Bryant, who on her Website passionisthekey.com, describes herself as a life resuscitator, also trained under Janet Atwood, who with her husband Chris are authors of the New York Times best seller "The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose", to become certified as a Passion Test Facilitator. In that role, through workshops, she takes others through the process of finding out what is most important to them and how to achieve it.
"Some days I almost have to pinch myself," said Bryant who is at work on her next book, "Look What I Got on Sale", a shopping guide for the best deals. "Back in the day I never thought I'd be financially secure, working a job I love—it's surreal."