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Talent, intelligence, experience, coupled with kindness, empathy, encouragement, and service to others is just the tip of what sets a Woman With Vision apart from the rest.


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IN THIS ISSUE from the Editor in Chief

It is with great pleasure I announce Colleen Wietmarschen has been promoted to the position of Managing Editor for both The Vision and the Women With Vision Magazine. Colleen, who joined the publishing team as senior editor not long after the inaugural issues were published, today manages the editorial team, provides liaison with contributors, as well as writes, edits, and oversees the publication of each issue. Colleen’s warmth, humor, and dedication as a leader are central to the success of 20/20 publications and we are thrilled to celebrate her continued success within our firm. Well done, Colleen! And thank you.

We hope you enjoy getting to know every person presented on these pages, learning the lessons shared, and simply enjoy reading our magazine. Please share and subscribe. This magazine continues to be offered at no charge to ensure the message addresses the desires and needs of our advertisers and readers, both men and women.


Candy Zulkosky

IN THIS ISSUE from the Publisher

It’s hard to believe it’s already time for back to school. The summer flew by. As enjoyable as a summer schedule is, I find it incredibly satisfying returning to a routine. This year has been anything but routine for our industry. Working hard and the back-to-basics work which has been required this year has been refreshing for many of us. We remain keenly aware of the industry’s challenges and the distress mortgage companies are going through to consolidate in this time of reduced volume. Planning is more necessary than ever. This edition of the Women With Vision Magazine is dedicated to you, our readers. We’ve filled this issue with even more applicable, helpful content, and direction especially needed in this time.

I am thrilled to see my good friend and three-time Women with Vision Award Winner, Kiran Shah, on the cover. Kiran is a special person, a hard-working leader, and someone to watch. She has shown up to develop professionally and through the years has led her team with courage and considerable commitment. I applaud her and tip my hat to this wonderful moment she receives as our September Cover story! Way to go, Kiran! Keep it up!

Remember to work hard and to work smart. Grab a seat with us if you are not already subscribed; we know the way, and we come bearing decades of industry experience to help firms navigate the tumultuous waters of this current market. We are happy to help and guide you. It is our honor.

20/20 Vision for Success Coaching

Our Differences are Our Strength

Written by: CaZ

“It’s not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

~ Aude Lorde in Wise Words from Influential Women by Kimothy Joy.

This quote resonates with Kiran Shah, Area President of First Option Mortgage (FOM) leading ten branches located in Georgia and Texas. During a growth period for FOM, Kiran decided to look for individuals who were different, not the typical leaders of the mortgage industry and has created a team consisting of multi-lingual professionals servicing different communities.

Kiran comes naturally by this ability to understand diverse cultures and dreams. Born in Karachi, Pakistan and raised in Dubai before emigrating to the US with her family as an 8-year-old youth, Kiran started in the mortgage business in 2004 right after college.

“I fell into the industry. After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Georgia Tech and could not find a job in the market, my then friend, Alvin Shah, introduced me to a mortgage broker. When I went for the interview, it was to design web pages for a user interface. Once I was hired and before I started designing a user interface, my new boss suggested that I should learn about the business. So, I became a mortgage processor. The rest is history. From that position, I went into quality control, to sales as a wholesale rep, and then a trainer with Wachovia. In 2007, the day before my wedding to Alvin, my manager told me once I returned from my honeymoon, I would no longer be employed and would receive a severance package!

That was when I took a break, like many in 2007. I started an independent insurance agency and then sold it in 2014 when I rejoined the mortgage industry with First Option Mortgage.”  

Along the way, as Kiran learned the business she loves, her family was never far away. Today, she lives in Georgia with her husband Alvin, their sons Kyle and Ayden, and Alvin’s mother. She has always lived with an extended family and proudly proclaims the advantages of raising her children with grandparents and uncles. Her parents and siblings also live in the same town, a happenstance Kiran considers a blessing.

“My greatest success in life is my children. My boys are kind, respectful, and understanding. I say understanding because, in our business, family support is key to success. My husband and I are in the same industry and work together constantly. Our children understand and respect this. They know when Mom and Dad come home and we are at the dinner table, there will be talk about work. They join in the conversations; now they are in their teen years and ask questions.

My sons participate in the events we host and honestly, we have built our team today to involve all our families. It’s beautiful because cousins and coworkers and friends and being part of an extended family is important. We could have a huge party with only immediate family now that my siblings are married with kids. At any one point, there’s likely to be four generations in our house. It’s a blast to see my children hang out with their grandmother.

Our tag has been FOM FAM for many years. We’ve changed this a bit to be TEAM FOM because even a family has to have team spirit.”

It will not surprise any reader to find Kiran has a vision for the future and a strong definition of what success means. She describes it by repurposing a phrase from the Austin Powers movies. In her vision, she grows more leaders by creating a Mini Me, one person at a time advising the key is to always replace yourself.

“I am not looking for leaders who are identical to me, who look like me or act like me. Rather, I am searching and developing those who think what I think. My first manager in this industry is a mentor whose guidance I follow to this day. She is the role model I emulated and the model I hold up to my leaders. I want to succeed, to make money. And I want to have 15 other Mini Mes doing the same thing!

My goals have changed several times in my life already. Now, I want to live a full life. To me, this means: enjoying my time with my boys and my family, continuing to grow my teams, and helping them become the future of our industry. There can be a work-life balance. It’s just different for everyone.

I do not hold any one experience as a disappointment or failure. They are all lessons I have learned from. I have lost teams and rebuilt my branch from scratch three times. I have had to split teams and lost branches. Every time, I have learned. There are certain personalities and traits which will not be a good match for my team. There are certain procedures that work in one area but not in another. We have rerouted training programs and interview questions. I am proud to acknowledge all my experiences have allowed me to become a better leader.” 

Leadership and developing leaders are at the heart of the business for Kiran. She is a three-time winner of the Women With Vision Award, the curated industry award sponsored by this magazine. From the inception of the award, Kiran and First Option have taken a strong supporting position and embraced the award across their branches.

Kiran reports she has upped the ante to be nominated for the WWV Award. FOM’s nominees this year are women with a strong vision who are actively working toward making their vision real by moving to the next level. As a company, FOM honors the achievement of all its women leaders. But to be nominated for the WWV Award, a woman demonstrates following her vision to reach point A and is moving forward to lead her team to reach point B, C, and beyond.

“When we first began nominating our women leaders for the award, we highlighted women who were motivated, compassionate, and passionate. We wanted to see growth and to develop in them the fire and motivation to get to the next level. A good example is Ashley Filitor. She was shy and unsure but fearless about growing her business network and becoming a face in her community. And on top of becoming a top producer, she used all the resources we gave her like taking classes with 2020 Vision and going out talking to managers and other high producers to figure out what they’re doing right. Ashley was my nomination because I believe this is the behavior of a woman with vision.”

Kiran is a leader who brings compassion and passion in equal measure to educate, grow, and develop future leaders. She is dedicated to the success of her team and understands equally the struggles of someone new in the business and the hardships being experienced by veterans in this changing business climate. As an innovator, she looks for new opportunities and procedures to help her team navigate the pathways to success.

“I want to remind everyone change is ok. The only constant in our industry is change.

Realizing you may not be headed where you thought you wanted to be is part of life and growth. What I thought and who I was going to be in college is far from who I am today. Even in the last few years, my goals have changed. I think differently now, and I embrace this new me with all my changes and challenges.

I love how we adapt, innovate, learn, and grow in life and in our industry.  I love how far we have come from the time I joined the industry. For my part, I want to contribute to the continuous evolution of the industry and introduce the next generation to the world of mortgages. My goal is to merge generational thoughts. There is magic, beauty, and new strength when we draw both from the experience of 20-year veterans and the enthusiastically different way of thinking and working the next generation brings.  

Our business is changing. Again. It is important to expect change and plan for anything. Using technology to streamline daily tasks and to market ourselves and our product is now critical to growth and exposure. This is an area that only a few years ago was groundbreaking and now is a standard we cannot do without. We must venture into the unknowns while keeping an open mind to change.” 


  1. Be passionate, about your goals and your work. Believe in yourself.
  2. Work hard, but more importantly, work smart. Work on your business and not in your business. And push limits.
  3. Replace yourself. Remember someone has helped you learn what you know today. Pass it forward. Teach, educate, and learn.

“This quote by Adena Frriedman, Nasdaq CEO, reminds me of Kiran Shah: ‘Empowering those around you to be heard and valued makes the difference between a leader who simply instructs and one who inspires.’

Kiran is a leader who understands what it means to act with purpose. She coaches, listens, provides support, and is focused on growing our team to effectively achieve this vision. Kiran cares with compassion. She cares about our growth, our opinions and our challenges at work. When faced with a problem she works with her team and supports them to find the best solution. Kiran lives to adapt. The mortgage industry is always changing; Kiran has an innovative mindset and is always open to new ideas. She is also focused on providing us with the best resources to serve our diverse community.”   ~ Paola Colina

“Kiran Shah is the kind of leader every executive coach hopes to support. She’s honest with herself and others. She listens and takes responsibility for the results she’s seeing and the results she’s pursuing. She goes first in responding to challenges, needs, and opportunities. And she inspires by demonstrating personal growth in her own professional journey. Kiran is not the same woman I met when she began her coaching journey. I expect to see Kiran climbing to greater and greater heights as she continues to build her career in the mortgage-banking industry.” ~ Ray Befus

“Kiran embodies the true spirit of servant leadership, bringing it into focus like no one else I’ve met. In my observation of her professional interactions, she works tirelessly to empower her team to set and achieve ambitious goals while ensuring they receive the support and resources needed to be successful. As a result, she is able to unlock each team member’s potential and lead them forward in driving their organization’s exponential growth.”   ~ Mahnaz R. Charania

About the Author: Candy Zulkosky (CaZ)

CaZ, the Writer Success Coach, wears many professional hats all earned through experience as a professional writer, editor, coach, marketer, educator, and entrepreneur. Aside from her nom de plume when writing, she’s known as Candy Zulkosky and is the editor in chief of this publication.

As the Writer Success Coach, CaZ specializes in supporting writers. She finds joy in helping others to write and experience the joys of being published. CaZ coaches writers whose skills and experience range from the novice to the multi-published author. She tailors the coaching experience to best fit the needs of each writer and business professional she works with. On the publishing side, CaZ is a multi-book published author and has edited or assisted in bringing dozens of authors to both print and to the best seller lists!

CaZ is pronounced KayZee in case you were wondering.


It is never too early or too late to believe in yourself!

Written by: Leora Ruzin

Michelle Dugan – Broker Owner – MS Lending, LLC

Michelle’s Tips for Success

  • We are the sum of the people we spend the most time with. Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you up and be positive influences in your life.
  • You must take care of yourself first in order to take care of others around you. By filling up your own vase first you will begin to overflow which can, in turn, fill up those around you. Self-love and self-care are vital to success!
  • Don’t compare someone’s middle or even their end to your beginning. Everyone starts somewhere. Maybe you aren’t where you want to be in your career yet. Comparison is the thief of joy. Enjoy every step of the journey and one day you too, can be the person others are looking up to as they get started on their own journeys.

M ichelle Dugan is not your ordinary mortgage loan officer and business owner. In a male-dominated industry, anyone who spends any amount of time with her knows there is more to her than what can be seen on the surface; more than just a pretty blonde. What most people don’t know about Michelle is her dream since she was a little girl was to become an attorney, but once she started working in real estate, everything changed.

“During undergrad, I worked as a real estate paralegal for a local closing attorney. I formed a close working relationship with a local mortgage broker and sent my friends to him for their home financing needs. In 2006, he convinced me to go after my mortgage license while waiting to start law school. I thought it could be a fun way to make extra money as a side gig. Little did I know I would fall in love with the lending side of real estate transactions.”

What started as a short break before law school ended with Michelle fully immersed in mortgage lending. In 2019, Michelle went into business on her own and opened MS Lending, LLC.

Michelle understands and appreciates the significance of being a woman-owned business and has leaned into it with all she has. More importantly, she is keenly aware of the precedence she sets being a woman in a Man’s World, yet she is hopeful for the future. “The tables are finally beginning to turn and more women are rising to the top of the mortgage world now than ever before historically. Being able to help influence women who may not feel their voices are heard is one of the highlights of my career. Women wear many hats every single day and it is possible to find balance to be able to live a fulfilled life not only personally but professionally as well.”

At the core of her business is love, compassion, and a true calling to help others. While being profitable is important, Michelle understands the importance of being a leader who can connect with her team, her borrowers, and the community at large. She considers herself fortunate to be running her business from the town she grew up in, in Madison, MS, and wants to give back to her community as much as possible. “I believe in leading with love, compassion, and grace. Everyone will make mistakes but how you overcome and recover from them says more about you than the mistake you have made. I try to always stay positive to everyone around me. Negativity is contagious and it is difficult to thrive in a negative environment. I believe givers gain so I give as much as possible to everyone around me. I’m a true local lender and am forever thankful to my local community for the support they continue to show me.”

It should come as no surprise that colleagues in the industry see Michelle as a beacon of light and hope for the future women of mortgage lending and hold her in incredibly high regard. As GTG Financial, Business Development Director, Ashley Miller, states, “Michelle encourages women to find their strength, use their voice, and stand up for what they believe. It takes visionary leaders like Michelle to create a solid platform for women in mortgage leadership roles, a career field that has historically been unavailable to females. Michelle is committed to continuing to change the landscape and setting up more seats at the table to allow for more women in leadership positions, which allows the population of homebuyers and homeowners to be better served.”

As most leaders are aware, running a successful business does not always come easy, and Michelle is no stranger to setbacks and failures. When asked about what she considers her biggest failure, she shares advice likely to resonate with many leaders. My greatest failure would be not believing in myself early enough in life. I wasted many years worried about failing or questioning if I was good enough or if I would be accepted. Little did I know that I was my biggest critic. The voices in our own heads are powerful. Once I started believing in myself my life truly began to flourish. Now, I encourage women in every stage of life to not be so hard on themselves and to love themselves through every step of their journey.” In fact, Michelle wishes she could go back in time to her younger self and give that teenage version of her this sage wisdom, “Girl, stop being insecure. You are in the best years of your life. Enjoy them. Have fun. Don’t worry about what others think of you because none of it will matter one day. Believe in yourself. Love yourself. Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”

Because Michelle understands the importance of learning from failure and moving on, she always looks for opportunities to share her experiences with other women, in hopes it will encourage them to open their own companies in the future. As a mother of three beautiful children (boys, Bodie and Dylan, and daughter, Harper), her main goal in business is to continue to build a company that can be passed down from generation to generation. Of course, that is if her children decide to follow in her footsteps and become involved in the mortgage world someday! Her main goal in life also centers around her children, “my main goal in life is to raise my children to be responsible, kind, and caring adults. I want them to be ready for the world and to be able to seize any opportunity presented to them.”

What drives Michelle to run her brokerage with authenticity, compassion, and love? What is her favorite facet of working in the mortgage industry? The borrowers, of course! As Michelle explains, “I love helping borrowers in every phase of life, whether they are buying their first home or financing their retirement home. To be able to assist in such a major life decision means the world to me.” The finest loan originators truly care about putting their borrowers in the best financial situation possible, about serving people, not a race to close as many loans as possible. Nobody understands this more than Michelle. Her favorite quote from Theodore Roosevelt perfectly encapsulates this thought:

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” As Michelle further explains, “We can possess all of the knowledge in the world but at the end of the day the borrower truly wants to know that you care about them and their transaction.”

Michelle is caring and compassionate, is extremely knowledgeable, and is always looking to learn and grow as a leader in the mortgage industry. She is keeping her finger on the pulse of potential changes and advancements in technology and sees the possibility for major disruption in the origination process. As she explains, “I believe that blockchain technology will eventually reduce the amount of information needed from borrowers so that one loan can essentially build upon their existing information. I do not feel like the role of the loan originator can ever be completely replaced by technology, however. Computers can’t build relationships and relationships are definitely the backbone of our industry.”

Perhaps the most endearing feature of Michelle personality is her unwavering devotion to her family and the legacy she is building for them. When most people think of what their greatest success is, they speak about a professional milestone or monetary achievement, but not Michelle. When we asked Michelle what her greatest success is, she unequivocally proclaimed, “I have an incredible husband and three amazing children. I am married to my soul mate, Nick Dugan. He’s my biggest cheerleader. I’m thankful every day for the love that we share. In 2022 we will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. I’m forever grateful to have chosen a career that, while incredibly demanding, affords me the flexibility to be present and experience every moment of their lives.”

As Michelle continues to carve her own path in this industry, she knows there is still much work to be done, and she is ready to take on the challenges set before her. Being able to identify her strengths and weaknesses is what will continue to lead to her success in the future. She also understands she would not be where she is today if it were not for the help she has received from others along the way. “As we get older and we can pinpoint these strengths and weaknesses, we can begin to surround ourselves with people who can contribute in areas where we are weak and we can offer our strengths to others who may need them for their own success. Givers truly do gain. No one gets to the top of the mountain alone. By working together with others while knowing our strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the table, success will come sooner and be much more rewarding when it does.”

Michelle is a truly special woman and a force to be reckoned with in the mortgage industry. The level of respect she garners from her colleagues is nothing short of inspiring, and anyone who if fortunate enough to spend time with her will walk away with a deeper admiration for her and the work she is doing. As Jamie Cavanaugh, COO of Amerifund Home Loans, states, “Michelle Dugan exemplifies what it means to be a true mortgage professional. She has a wealth of knowledge and she cares for her clients and referral partners by taking the time to guide them through the loan process. Michelle is incredibly generous with her time and is always cheering on her colleagues and lifting others up. She is amazing!”

In closing, Michelle had these nuggets of wisdom she wanted to share, and it really does sum up how amazing she is and how the future is hers to gain. Of course, she just had to sprinkle in a bit of that Southern charm we all love!

“We don’t have a single defining moment in life that makes or breaks us. We are the sum of all of our days, good and bad. When you’re having a bad day, acknowledge it. But don’t let it keep you down and stay there. Acknowledge the low times because it will make you appreciate the good times even more. If you don’t like where you are, change it. We all hold the power within ourselves to be and become whoever we want to be. So, take a pause, take a breath, reflect, and get back to it. Give yourself grace when you need it. Live a life full of gratitude; appreciate it all, big and small. Life ain’t always beautiful but it truly is a short, sweet, beautiful ride. Enjoy every single step of it!”

About the Author: Leora Ruzin

Leora Ruzin, CMB is the senior vice president of lending at Coloramo Federal Credit Union. Leora is also the managing editor of two magazines, The Vision and the Women with Vision Magazine and is currently serving on industry boards including Folds of Honor. A 14-year veteran in the mortgage industry, Leora is passionate about spreading awareness on helping everyone achieve the American Dream of homeownership. She is a fierce advocate for housing finance reform and common-sense credit policy. Leora is the winner of prestigious industry awards, including HousingWire’s 2020 Women of Influence, National Mortgage Professional Magazine’s 2020 Women of Inspiration, and is a two-time winner of the Women With Vision Award, given by 20/20 Vision for Success Coaching.

As a veteran of the United States Army, she understands the importance of ensuring no one is left behind and truly feels anything can be achieved through perseverance and teamwork. Her experience with trauma, both as a cancer survivor and a survivor of sexual and physical abuse, has given her the drive and passion to help other women find hope and strength during similar circumstances. When Leora is not spending her time advocating for homeownership and spreading the word about the importance of investing in personal goals, she continues to expand her own knowledge through reading and attending industry workshops.

Leora holds degrees in Associate of Accounting and Bachelor of Business Management. She currently resides in Palisade, Colorado with her husband and daughter.


Written by: Suha Zehl

As Q3 wraps up and we look ahead to Q4 and 2023 (gasp!), it’s a great time to reflect, especially given the tumultuous year financial services, and specifically, the mortgage lending space, have experienced so far in 2022: continued pandemic, rising interest rates, record low inventory, recession, inflation, layoffs, and the list continues. In response, I have switched up this column. Instead of interviewing and highlighting one rising star, which I love to do, I thought our readers would appreciate hearing several amazing leaders in our industry share their reflections and insights during these challenging times.

It’s no surprise each of these incredible leaders have a different perspective and lens; but the common theme heard was about empathy, grace, gratitude, and kindness in the face of the reverberating chaos all around us. Focus on what you can control, keep challenging yourself, pay it forward, practice mindfulness, and be present! Sound advice if you ask me!

Please excuse any discrepancy in the career status. We do our best to keep up with changes, however, any of these amazing leaders may have changed course or are transitioning to a different role – not surprising, given where our industry is right now!

Audra Agen, Agile Services, West Coast Sales Leader, Accenture

 As I reflect on what a challenging six months it’s been, I turn to a vision board I created back in January; the first one I’ve done since I was seventeen years old. While things don’t look exactly

as I had envisioned, I’m stunned to see that 70 percent of what I had planned for has either already been achieved or is in the process of doing so. In spite of the roadblocks, false starts, and lessons learned (because you know I don’t believe in failure), staying true to the goal has been key to arriving here. Here is the real secret I will take into Q4, 2023, and beyond: There are many paths to reach your goal. Sometimes you must try them all until you find the right one.

Meg Bennet, VP of Partnerships, Insellerate

As we reflect on our goals, I personally want to shout out to my coach Bronwyn Morrissey. Over the past two years, her mentorship continues to help me grow both personally and professionally,

and while 2022 has been a rollercoaster ride, I landed my dream job and successfully co-created my role. I was a panelist on innovation vs disruption at the CMB, I was the recipient of the 2021 Women with Vision award, and I completed my AMP designation through the MBA. As the mortgage lending space continues to grapple with the current market conditions, I am paying it forward by helping to advocate for younger professionals and by continuing to serve our industry. I hope to speak at three industry events and complete my CMB designation. Finally, on a personal note, I am looking forward to coaching my son’s soccer team.

Chrissy Brown, Chief Operations Officer, Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group

I was asked in Q4 of 2021 to give my projections for 2022. My answer probably didn’t provide any profound insight or clarity, but it was the honest truth, “I’m done trying to project out in this market. There are many variables and moving parts. It is nearly impossible to get it right. Even the top economists cannot agree. I have changed my outlook from trying to project to preparing and pivoting. We have gone all in on creating a scalable operation to allow for the instability in this market. I truly feel this is a more effective plan in this market, as well as being ready and willing to pivot on the drop of a dime.”

Reflecting back on 2022’s goals, much like everyone else, we overshot our goals in January. This has caused us to pivot in many areas to account for the decrease in volume, but luckily, we were prepared to do so. I am hoping 2023 brings us more stability and hoping in 2023 we are able to gain clarity on what the ‘new normal’ will look like. I think a lot of the struggle right now is in the unknown. I believe regardless of where we end up from an interest rate perspective, we will all be in a better place once this market stabilizes.

Molly Dowdy, Co-Founder, NEXT Mortgage News & Events

In 2022 and 2023, NEXT is focused on shining a light on the achievements of women executives in the mortgage industry. The NEXT community is growing every day and the members are seeing the many benefits of working together for successful business outcomes and career growth. At a time when the number of available executive positions in mortgage lending is decreasing, NEXT sees a great opportunity to positively shift the demographics of housing leadership in 2023.

Laura Escobar, President, Lennar Mortgage

For me, the rest of this year and looking into 2023 is all about resetting expectations. Our focus has to be on resetting our mindset, focusing on improving our soft skills, and bringing our passion and empathy every day. Customer service has come to be something we do from behind the computer, and we can’t do that anymore. We need to reset the new look of working remotely and giving great customer service. And it all starts with me. I have to set the new expectations, walk the walk, and then hold everyone, including, myself accountable.

Casey Hughes-Wade, Strategic Partnerships Director, Clever Real Estate

I can’t believe the year is more than halfway over. The mortgage industry is always a wild ride, and each new year has exciting challenges and obstacles. Goals are meant to be a roadmap for the year ahead, a north star we can shoot for, and the number one thing when evaluating and reflecting is to ask ourselves, ‘how well did I pivot?’. For me personally, I have mastered the art of pivoting gracefully and not being attached to the original roadmap. Staying on course and focusing on my ‘WHY’ keeps me fulfilled and passionate about my career and the people I am helping.

  • Do I have a job I love?
  • Do I enjoy the people I work with?
  • Am I making a difference in people’s lives?
  • Am I inspiring others and lifting them up?

Staying in alignment with my core values always produces positive results I couldn’t have predicted or planned for, and having said all this, Q4 is undoubtedly the final push! I strive for 150 percent and inspire my team to match my efforts. As a leader, we set the tone and the pace for our teams. My goals for Q4 are not set from a place of fear and urgency, but instead out of fun and playfulness. How awesome can we be this quarter? How much can we accomplish together as a team? How well can we end this year and set ourselves up for success next year? Yes, we all work hard but let’s inspire those around us and have fun while doing so!

Cecilia Janson, Partner & Chief Delivery Officer, BlackFin Group

I began a new journey in my mortgage career in late 2021 entering into the consulting space while at the same time starting a family business with my husband and moving from our home of over 20 years. Twenty-twenty-two has been a crazy busy year starting up two different ventures: the next journey in my professional career and the journey of establishing a whole new life and family business. We entered 2022 with a clear plan, set attainable goals, and gave ourselves the ability to accept failures and missteps as we knew curveballs would come our way. As I reflect on the first half of the year, I can confidently say I am still here, standing up, surviving, smiling, and still motivated to navigate the challenges. I can also say it has been a hard start; some days were more difficult than expected and some days I felt like I could just throw in the towel. With the support system of friends, family, and co-workers, I am constantly reminded to keep pushing, keep challenging myself, and quite simply, keep going!

I track my goals monthly; I reflect on what I accomplished compared to what I thought I could accomplish, and I adjust, as necessary. I hold myself accountable to sit down to reflect and adjust as needed. I am on track and excited about what is on the horizon. I imagine 2023 will be a good year and I am wide open to entering the second full year of my new life and explorations. For year two, I plan to assess my goals carefully, allowing for risks while bracing for possibilities; there is much more unknown, and I will need to adjust for what’s to come.

Kay Johnson, Senior Sales Director, Wipro

Twenty-twenty-one and twenty-two, what a ride! Twenty-twenty-two and twenty-twenty-three, time to retool. A changing market is scary and exciting. I believe there is opportunity on the backside of any change, but we need to create it. It is hard to pause and re-evaluate when you are sprinting a marathon. We are now back to a pace where we can exhale, take inventory, prioritize, and retool.

What do we want our business to look like in one year, five years? I believe technology can help smooth some of these highs and lows we will inevitably experience again. Understanding the changing needs of our borrowers as well as creating internal efficiencies will keep us prepared for the dynamic nature of the lending process. Goals change so now is the time to assess and act!

As I am training and planning for my goal of the longest race I have ever attempted, I am thinking about our industry and the run we have been on for a few years. We are an industry built by “scrappy” people with grit, and we’ve got this!

Bronwyn Morrissey, Enterprise Client Executive, Notarize

My focus for the rest of 2022 and into 2023 is healing through what I call a season of wintering reflection and also serving from inner inspiration. Yup, you are right. There is not a number to hit or a promotion to achieve, or a ladder to climb because this is more significant and has a more profound impact. If I achieve 1 percent ‘improvement,’ I have met my target.

Amy Moses, Vice President, Marketing & Communications, EscrowTab

My 2022 word of the year was reinvention. I chose it because I was prepared to reinvent myself in an executive position for a company where we were establishing the brand and educating the industry on a concept most have been unfamiliar with: In-Person Electronic Notarization (IPEN). Looking ahead to the rest of this year and next, reinvention is a critical concept for individuals and organizations as we navigate the vicissitudes in the industry while continuing to innovate, collaborate, learn, and shift.

Lifelong learning is always a goal of mine, but this year it was critical, as I began partnering with title companies and notaries for the first time in my career. In 2023, I look forward to continued collaboration with these two vital segments of the industry as we create efficiencies to help their businesses thrive while at the same time, delighting the borrowers.

Wendy Peel, Partner & Managing Director, BlackFin Group

My 2022 goals are coming to fruition. The two main projects of focus for the industry I serve were (1) a high-level report for executives evaluating the reverse mortgage industry and (2) the launch of the Age in Place Coalition (AIPC). I am thrilled to say both were launched and moved the needle in the education of how to leverage reverse mortgage programs at both the consumer and the lender level.

My guidepost is looking ahead, patience, focus, personal growth, and discipline. Some people view the changing economy as a hardship, but I choose to see it as an opportunity. In all recessions, new thinking, products, and possibilities are born. Twenty-twenty-three will bring more change, and I cannot control it. What I can control is my focus, my patience, my education and my growth. Thus, discipline in thought and action is my mantra.

Lynn Tarantino, Senior Vice President, Chief Control Officer, Cenlar FSB

Initially, I think we all thought fully remote positions were the direction we wanted to pursue, offering employees flexibility and better work-life balance. However, through this, I have learned true relationships, built on trust and integrity, still need face-to-face interaction. So, the movement back to a more hybrid, in-the-office environment is critical for my team, and I will need to determine how to navigate this in the competitive hiring and retention environment we are currently experiencing.

Stephanie Treusein, VP of Recruiting and Strategic Growth, Luminate Home Loans

As a sales-focused recruiter, I speak to hundreds of loan officers and branch managers across the country every month, and for some, the struggle is real right now. As for others, I am incredibly inspired by their positivity. Just a few weeks ago I made the decision to make a transition to another company aligned with an abundant mindset. Transition almost always means a loss in productivity, thus making it harder to reach one’s goals for the year. However, together with the support of my new work home and the strong leaders, I’m having conversations with, I passionately agree in an environment of margin compression, rising interest rates, lack of inventory, historically high home prices, and other factors, there’s no time like the present to dig deep and double down on your business. I truly believe those who choose this mindset will most certainly reach and even exceed their goals in 2022 and 2023. I know I will.

Sam Verma, Chief Executive Officer, PrivoCorp

Twenty-twenty-two was expected to be a tough year. With half the year already behind us, the goal for the rest of the year is to make sure we are strapping in for a possible rough ride ahead. Q4 will be a determining factor on which way the pendulum swings in 2023. We have decided to de-risk our business by focusing on areas of the industry that will get busy in the event of a recession/downturn in the economy. Our core strength remains in contract processing, and the downturn will be a good time to hire strategically. We plan to continue to invest in technology to help us through 2023.

About the Author: Suha Zehl

Suha brings over 30 years of global, information technology, and business experience in various industries, and most recently in mortgage. Suha started her career as a programmer analyst; she has taught at the university level and ran her own successful consulting company before returning to the mortgage industry as an award-winning technology executive, writer, and speaker. Suha is the Chief Innovation Officer at BlackFin Group.


Written by: Ashlee Cragun

Have you ever seen fireflies up close and personal?

Growing up as a little girl watching movies, I would notice kids depicted running through the forest or fields catching fireflies in a glass jar. The glow was pronounced and brought a smile to everyone’s face. Throughout my childhood, I was jealous of those kids I saw on TV and wished I could find fireflies for my jar. I wanted to run through the night and fill a jar with beautiful glowing bugs to light my way! Little did I know it would take until the ripe old age of 34 to see my first firefly in person, and they did not disappoint.

Recently, I was away at a yoga retreat with my high school best friend. One night we were swinging in a hammock after class talking and reminiscing about the past when I looked up through the trees into the starry night, out of the corner of my eye I saw small flashing lights. I quickly turned my head to see little bright lights flying all around us flashing and sparkling in the darkness. As I motioned over towards the trees, I heard both of us shriek with excitement. I will never forget the words I said, “REAL LIVE FIREFLIES! I have always wanted to see them in person. It was on my bucket list and I didn’t even know it.” I want you to think about those words I said.

“It was on my bucket list and I didn’t even know it.”

Twenty-twenty-three is quickly coming, and each of us will begin to hear the question, “What are your goals for the New Year?” You’ll be asked this question by friends, family members, and coworkers. Since you will be hearing this question often over the next several months, I am going to ask you a different question: What will be on your bucket list for the next 12 months? Bucket lists are often associated with dreams, aspirations, and excitement. The items you would list on a bucket list are things that excite you, make you happy, and fill you full of life; they are items you want to strive to achieve at all costs.

This year don’t think of it as you are just setting goals. You are setting up a bucket list to help you become the person you want to be and express who you are. Bucket lists don’t just have to be about destinations or hobbies; they should be all-encompassing. Think about your relationships, financials, physical health, mental well-being, and professional growth, and let’s walk through different steps to take and ways to make 2023 the PRIME time to become 1 percent better every day!

  1. Be specific. One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking too big and too broad and they aren’t able to dig in and accomplish what they have set out to do. They become overwhelmed and do not know where to start. When you are specific you know exactly where you are headed and the destination is clear.
  2. Develop a plan. Take a look at what specific steps you need to take. Start small and work your way up. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Set small milestones and break them down so you remain encouraged by achieving small markers that will lead you down the right path.
  3. Take Action. Stop thinking too much; not everything has to be perfect. When you start overthinking everything you never start. Things don’t have to be done exactly how you imagine; just do it.
  4. Write goals down and make them visible! When you take the action of writing them down it makes them real and not just thoughts and dreams. It has been said that if you physically write something down not only are you able to remember it better but it becomes a reality. Once you write down what you want to accomplish, make sure you put it somewhere visible, so you are reminded every day of the items on your bucket list. When you see something regularly you become encouraged and excited to cross it off your list!
  5. Be honest with yourself. Keep your perspective focused. When you evaluate your progress, make sure you aren’t exaggerating. Be sure you know exactly where you stand in your plan or goals. This will eliminate disappointment and help you develop efficient plans to make your dreams a reality.
  6. Plan for obstacles. Unexpected challenges or changes will occur and cause you to have to adapt and adjust. Don’t be discouraged; this is normal. Take the time to re-evaluate your progress and switch up the milestones you are trying to achieve. Don’t beat yourself up; these moments teach you lessons and help you grow.
  7. Don’t be afraid to reward yourself. It has been shown that celebrating successes, no matter how large or small, and practicing positive reinforcements release different chemicals such as dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin in the brain. These hormones regulate focus, motivation, and the feel-good neurotransmitter, which takes negative stress and turns it into positive stress and increases the feelings of joy and self-confidence.

There you have it, seven (7) simple tips to accomplish your bucket list items. By knowing what we want to accomplish as we go through life, we decide our destiny.

Twenty-twenty-three is going to be a special year. It is the PRIME time to decide the next step in your journey. Remember, your journey is your decision and no one else’s. Don’t let anyone else tell you who you want to be. Be intentional in finding a good support system. Find your tribe, the people who will be there for you, join you, understand you, support you, and cheer for you.

Now is the time to write up your bucket list. Why wait one more day when you can start today?

Don’t think only about the simple or obvious things in life. Think outside the box and visualize the fireflies waiting to fill your jar. What is going to light your path to a successful 2023?

Live Your Best Life Now

Written by: Ray Befus

Transitions in the economy and industry always require astute businesswomen and men to pivot in multiple ways. In this season within the world of mortgage banking, individuals who moved into the industry just a few years ago to work at fast-paced, high-paying jobs are having to pivot by slowing down and shifting their focus from doing a job to building a career. This transition in perspective requires a significant transformation in one’s daily mindset.

As an executive coach, I often describe this shift as getting up every day to live your best life now—both personally and professionally. Career building is a long-term endeavor and requires strategy, discipline, balance, and patience. It invites us into a focused lifestyle that is significantly different than furiously processing refi loans in an unending blur of stressful days. If you’re deciding to make the shift from working a job to building a career, then my own journey to building a career in executive coaching may provide a helpful road map for you. The process of career-building is similar, no matter what industry you may be in.

My first step, and the one step that energized every other step in my journey, was to take my personal discipline levels to the highest point they had ever been in any chapter in my life. In the words of Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, in their book Extreme Ownership, I began taking extreme ownership of every part of my day. I refused to think like a victim by blaming any circumstance or person for any of my weaknesses or breakdowns. I began with the decision to start waking up at 4:00 am seven days a week. Why not go after my own success like a Navy Seal going into battle? Day by day, I was advancing before dawn while most of my competitors were still sleeping. My next decision was to fill my entire day with meaningful activity, either to strengthen myself, body and mind, or to build my business.

One dimension of my decision was to limit my eating to healthy foods and take the intensity of my daily exercise up a couple of notches. I wanted to feel my best, have all the energy I needed to work long days, and look the part of a disciplined and sharp executive when I walked into any room. Building on physical and mental development came down to scheduling time every day to read recommended books, watch podcasts, and attend seminars and conferences. But it wasn’t the listening making a difference; it was the doing. If I read a book or listened to a speaker who stirred my thinking, I wrote down the action steps they recommended and followed through to deepen my self-awareness and develop new skills. I envisioned myself as a part-time college student, taking courses on the side while I built my career.

Another dimension of my investment in professional development was to initiate meetings with other professional coaches whom I’ve come to describe as “co-petitors,” women and men who lived and worked from an abundance mindset and were ready to invest in a new coach as generously as their own mentors had invested in them. I bought breakfasts and lunches and drank bottomless cups of coffee, asking questions, listening to stories, asking for every resource they were willing to share, and once again, implementing each new tool or process these coaches recommended. No exaggeration, some of the perspectives and tools they shared with me transformed my evolving career, and I shared some of my resources with them. Several of these “co-petitors” have become solid friends.

My first investment each morning was a deliberate centering routine. I had already begun planning my months, weeks, and days before they began. So, each morning, I reviewed my plan for the week and the day. I made adjustments based on my guiding question: though I can’t control immediate outcomes, what can I do to make this day the best day possible? My next step was to begin with marketing on social media, primarily LinkedIn. I regularly revised and polished my LinkedIn page, taking recommendations wherever I could find them. On average, I spent two hours before 7:00 am posting so most of my prospective clients had an opportunity to see my posts first thing in their morning routines. I wrote scripts and sent them out to businesspeople celebrating birthdays, changing companies, receiving promotions, and engaging in new projects. Together with scripted encouragements, I offered free resources, a complimentary coaching conversation to one, an executive summary of a popular book to another, or a worksheet speaking to a challenge they might be experiencing. I was adding value wherever I could to whomever I thought might desire it. And my LinkedIn contacts took note. One young executive in the United Arab Emirates wrote back to ask if I was serious about a pro-bono coaching conversation. After a complimentary consultation, he filled in a coaching contract and wired the money.

And then I invested heavily in face-to-face networking. This required me to step out of my comfort zone. When I started building my career, I showed up as an introvert on personality tests. Today, personality assessments identify me as an extrovert. This is the transforming power of deciding, day after day, to live outside one’s comfort zone. As I continued my career-building journey, I decided that at least two to three times a week, I would intentionally step outside of my comfort zone. I would look at what I was doing that was not producing the results I hoped to achieve, and then reflect on what I was not doing and was even afraid to do. Over time, I discovered the success I was eager to experience was often waiting for me behind the door marked, “Afraid to Do . . . Until Now!” Fully one-half of every day in those early years of career-building was given to marketing, networking, and selling with the most effective tools I could find and were often outside my comfort zone.

Let me end this reverie with several principles that guided my journey into a successful career. First, don’t measure your success daily or even weekly. You’re playing a long game. The best metaphor for career-building might be farming. Farmers generally don’t see meaningful changes in their fields on a daily or even weekly basis. Monthly measures are more realistic. The seeds planted today may not even break through the ground for weeks and the harvest will require an extended season before it’s ready to bring into the barn. Measure your progress, for sure, but do it monthly.

Second, add value wherever you can to everyone who might have an interest. Communicate that you actually are an authentic expert, at least in a few things that matter a great deal to your prospective customers’ success.

Third, keep sharpening every tool you have and refining every system you use as you move forward. Don’t keep chopping with a dull ax. Get a chain saw! Don’t allow last month’s successes to become a temptation to coast through this month. Embrace struggle as a mentor and even failure as a teacher. Keep stretching and growing.

Fourth, get together regularly with one or two professional friends or co-petitors who are successful, positive, constructive, and generous. Drop your guard and be honest with them. Ask them what they think you might not be seeing. Ask them what they think you might not want to hear. Ask them what they might do if they were in your shoes. Listen. Don’t rationalize or become defensive. Just listen.

In my own career-building years, most days there few results I could celebrate. So, I just worked my plan like a farmer. I was rich in time, but money was sometimes uncomfortably tight. Over dinner, my wife would often ask me about my day. Sometimes the truth was that no checks had come in the mail, but when I looked her in the eyes, I was able to say, “I’ve done everything I know to do today to build this career.” She would smile, look me in the eye, and reply, “I respect that and, I believe in you. I know you’re going to make it.” 

And I did. So can you. It’s time to pivot.

If you’re interested in joining me in this career-building conversation, please do sign up for my 20/20 symposium this fall—Live Your Best Life Today. We’ll make the journey together.


What It Takes To Hit The Mark In Marketing

Do you know what it takes to hit the mark in marketing?
It takes YOU.
Unapologetically, authentically, Honest, and Raw, YOU.
You indeed have to date your audience before they marry you, but it is also true that not everyone is going to want to marry you, and that is OKAY.

At VisionMark, we hit the mark for you with digital strategy, editorial strategy, and story-telling abilities to tell your audience exactly who you are and what problem you solve.

Go to today to find out your next marketing plan.
Listen in, and we will see you for coffee on the Marketing side!


Beckwith Unplugged and Uncensored is a video podcast designed for Christine Beckwith, a long-time business executive turned executive coach in the banking, mortgage, and real estate industry. In this totally transparent and sometimes raw monologue, Beckwith tells it like it is…publicly. Emotion is the driving force behind all human intellect, accomplishment, and success. If you cannot feel where you are going, you cannot SEE it either. As the visionary behind 20 / 20 Vision for Success, Christine brings her personal and professional philosophy to the mic. Listen in because these are lessons you will want to learn here instead of anywhere else.

Money is a bonus of doing right by others as you work through life and career.

A Laura Brandao interview with Semah Kirmizikaya Rodriguez

Written by: Laura Brandao

“Shine your light and make a positive impact on the world; there is nothing so honorable as helping improve the lives of others.”

 Roy T. Bennett

This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Semah Kirmizikaya Rodriguez who is a mortgage loan originator with First Option Mortgage. Semah was a winner of the prestigious Women With Vision award in 2021!

Semah and her sister grew up in Germany when her parents left Turkey to escape the government policies persecuting their ethnic group, and they built a successful life there. As a young woman, 26-year-old Semah emigrated to the United States from Germany with her infant daughter. She settled in Arkansas and found her way into the mortgage business. Today, she is raising her young daughter, loves her work, and revels in the natural beauty of her chosen state.

I asked Semah how she happened to start working in the mortgage industry and she replied, I always knew I wanted a job helping people. I accepted a job as a financial advisor at a credit union and during the onboarding process, I was approached by a woman who was a trainer in the mortgage department.

The woman told Semah the mortgage department manager asked her to keep her eyes open for someone with great sales skills. If they seemed a good fit, she was to talk to them about joining the department and she reached out to Semah.

I did finish my onboarding for the financial advisor position and started there, but within a couple of months, I transferred to the mortgage department. I loved it from the beginning!

Wondering what being a woman with vision meant to Semah, I asked. A woman with vision is one who can find her own path. She can look into the future, decide where she wants to go, and head in that direction with confidence and determination.

Having vision means being able to assess situations and people. She can make good decisions about how to approach both with a clear idea of the outcome she wants and the one that will benefit everyone involved.

Semah is a connector with a passion for supporting the people around her and her clients. Always cognizant of her own goals, she strives to make decisions knowing what she does can affect others around her. I want that to be a positive outcome.

Having vision means seeing the path before me illuminated and recognizing the obstacles I need to push past to reach the destination I have chosen for myself.

Cindy Beckowitz, a professional in the mortgage industry, has been an inspiration and also made a significant impact on Semah’s career. She was my first mortgage sales manager. She is someone who inspired me with her courage and tenacity. She created a successful career for herself in a time when not many women rose to higher positions in the mortgage industry.

Cindy was always able to keep on top of the ever-changing regulations in our industry, leading our department with grace and foresight. Cindy is a woman with vision! She hired me specifically because she wanted women with sales acumen in her department. She saw the direction the business was headed and built a team that was geared for success.

I will always be grateful to Cindy for giving me the opportunity to join her team and would tell her today how much I admire her trailblazing for those of us she has invited along for the ride.

As far as her professional superpower, Semah considers herself the heart and glue in every transaction she completes. She said she leads with her heart and never allows herself to forget how it feels to sign a mortgage. Those feelings of elation plus some anxiousness are experienced by every client she sees, but she makes certain to keep herself mindful of more than just the paperwork when she works with people.

One of the things I am most careful about is connecting the right people with my clients and being certain all parties in the transaction are a good fit for each other. I spend the time to make sure I review my client’s overall financial health and not just as it pertains to one specific issue.

I believe my professional superpower is my willingness and ability to experience the emotion of the transaction along with my clients. I can use that feeling to make sure every facet of their experience is as comfortable and beneficial to them as possible. I think that, as a woman, I have an advantage in that area of being able to nurture my clients emotionally as well as guide them financially.

I asked Semah if there was a pivotal moment in her career she can contribute to her success and achievements in the mortgage industry.

I think having to keep up with the rapid changes in the current market has made me more motivated to keep learning. Having an in-depth understanding of the market forces and how they are impacting our clientele is a great inspiration to keep up to date with industry knowledge.

I firmly believe continuous learning leads to exponential growth both professionally and personally. The tumultuous changes over the past couple of years, combined with the incredible challenges of having to learn new ways to work and live, have provided me with an opportunity to move forward in my career path.

In our profession, we have a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of communities, not just individuals. Keeping that in mind, particularly considering the effects of COVID influencing the rollercoaster market forces in the past few years, it has proven difficult but essential to being the best at what we do and making the experience for our clients as seamless and rewarding as possible.

Semah’s advice for women starting a career during this time is straightforward, Do you. Don’t let others make decisions for you in your life and career. She believes women sometimes lack the confidence to step up and out so their beautiful light shines.

I want to tell young women out there in the beginning of their careers to be courageous and bold. A career in finance can be stressful and daunting but keep pushing through those first couple of years and you will find doors open and things get easier.

If you are meticulous with your process and actively listen to your client’s needs, you will be successful and enjoy the work immensely.

Success means something different for everyone. For Semah, success means being able to handle several things at once and do so with grace and strength.

She knows there are always things happening which cannot be controlled but having a firm grip on the things which can be controlled gives people the confidence to achieve more. I have worked hard to get my professional processes to a point where they are seamless and provide my clients with a less stressful experience.

For Semah, success also means being a present mother to her young daughter and being able to practice self-care. Self-care is like oil for an engine. The engine cannot run unless it is cared for properly. I think many women need to learn that caring for themselves is vital to being able to care for the others in their lives, whether it be clients or their own family and loved ones.

 When she’s not working, Semah has several interests and hobbies. She’s obsessed with being outdoors and caring for her home. She loves spending time in her garden, being barefoot, and drinking in God’s beautiful creations.

I am a connector in my personal life as well and enjoy getting friends together for meals or just spending time together. I love to host brunches and talk with good people about important things in our lives.

My majors in college were history and anthropology. I love learning about other places, people, and cultures. I am passionate about travel and experiencing the amazing things the world has to offer.

I am proud of being able to communicate in several different languages because of my love of learning and travel. Discovering how other people live is fascinating and exhilarating for me.

When asked how she recommended navigating change in an industry that is always changing and growing, Semah said,

The only consistent thing in life is change. I believe that learning to cope with changes and navigate them with a level head is essential.

The challenges of the last few years that continue today, are large and can easily become overwhelming if you allow them to be. My philosophy is to embrace the challenge and keep moving ahead with your own plan. There will be pivots and adjustments but those are to be expected and should be met with positive determination instead of panic and fear.

Keep working on your business processes and keep up to date with industry regulations and standards. If you are current and organized, the changes should not be so disruptive to you or, by extension, your clients.

Semah believes it is vitally important to have a mentor in your career. Even as a child, she listened to her elders talk about their experiences and it helped her navigate the stages in her life.

As a professional person, having a mentor means having a trusted confidante who can give you objective advice when you are facing a tough decision or obstacle. Experience is the greatest teacher and learning to listen to those who have been through tough times can smooth your path in ways you could never have imagined.

For myself, having a female mentor was even more important. Women face unique challenges in the business world. Having someone who can let me see myself reflected in her experience is a crucial benefit. It gives me hope, strength, and an even greater motivation to be successful in my chosen career.

Semah looks forward to passing the benefit of mentorship on to women who come behind her. She wants to pay the debt of gratitude forward. When Semah’s having a tough day, she leans on the wisdom and advice of her mentors to help push her through any potential problems.

Asked what she wanted to be remembered for when she leaves the industry, Semah replied, I want to be remembered for taking the path of opportunity and being able to envision things others could not. I want people to remember that I helped them in one of the most important financial decisions they had to make and was a steady, trusted guide through that process.

I want to leave a legacy of staying true to myself, no matter the odds or the situation I was navigating. I hope people will recognize they were always dealing with the authentic me and I gave my best effort to ensure they achieved their goals in all areas of their lives.

I hope they also remember me as having worked to give obtaining a mortgage a little more spice and fun!

As women, it can be difficult to find our voice; however, Semah reveals her view. The best way to find and use your voice is to be true to yourself. Learn and discover the strength you have within and use that to project your voice to the very back of the boardroom!

My father always says there is God in every person. I think of that and channel that energy through meditation, remembering my Mesopotamian roots. Those roots are where I find my inner strength allowing me to lean on them when I need to speak up and be heard.

Building a forest of good people around you is essential to being able to speak up when it is called for. The stronger the roots and branches of your support system are, the better your voice can impact the world.

Semah revealed her thoughts about podcasts and the types she leans toward. I don’t have a particular favorite. But I do recommend listening to podcasts that help keep me updated with market trends and reports. As I have mentioned before, honing your processes, and keeping current is vital to your success. Hearing about how others do business, including their successes and failures provide me with valuable information about how I can refine what I do daily.

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of podcasts about wholesaling. I am a voracious learner and the hustle and drive in that area of business inspires me to work harder and smarter.

When I read or listen to podcasts, I want to learn and experience something new. My advice is to find material that challenges you to learn something you have no prior experience with. The learning process is extremely healthy for your mind and spirit.

How do we propel more women into leadership roles in our industry?

To ensure there are an increasing number of women shifting into leadership roles in the mortgage business, we need to keep reminding them and ourselves it is possible to get there by supporting them every step of the way.

Women are, by nature, nurturing and supportive. We need to share those qualities with each other and let women know they have earned the right to sit at the boardroom table.

By lifting each other up and providing a strong base to stand on, we can all benefit from having more women in positions of leadership at all levels of our business. Women have a unique perspective and should be heard and considered in the decision-making processes affecting everyone from the management offices through to our clientele.

Only by giving women the opportunities they have earned to sit at the table and provide their wisdom and experience from that platform, can we truly all enjoy the successes we work toward every day.

Looking towards the future, Semah said she has a clear vision of seeing herself standing on the porch of a house, surrounded by 20 acres of land, calling her horse from the field to take her for a ride in the sun and the wind.

I see myself providing food for me and my family off the land I live on, dividing my time between work, travel, and spending time with the people I love.

I want to be healthy, glowing, and still learning and listening and helping others in any way I am able.

In closing, Semah shared she grew up in a close and loving family. Her parents faced great adversity in their home country of Turkey and left for a better life for their family.

Growing up, Semah and her sister were taught that hard work, service to others, and working toward financial independence are the keys to a happy, successful life.

Her parents taught her the value of owning property. I came to understand the pride and sense of accomplishment and security that comes with having something of your own.

I have worked hard to own my home and I am grateful for it every day. I bring the same effort and strength of feeling to the work I do with my clients. For me, treating each client as if they were myself, purchasing property, and experiencing all the joy and trepidation that goes with such a large transaction, means that I give them my best each time.

Doing this is a source of pride and satisfaction for Semah. She mentioned if she could give everyone in the industry one piece of advice it would be to, Treat every transaction and every client as you would treat yourself and you will always be able to say that no matter the outcome, you have done your very best.

I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

About the Author: Laura Brandao

Laura is the driving force that has catapulted AFR Wholesale to the top of Manufactured Home and Renovation lending in the USA. She has seamlessly rolled out new products based on market demand, including VA renovation, USDA repair escrow, and One-Time Close Construction to Permanent Loans for the FHA, VA, and USDA. Laura’s hands-on approach also propels AFR to remain on the cutting edge of technology with mobile-friendly applications that cohesively integrate the borrower, realtor, broker, and AFR.

This year, Laura has already been featured as one of The 10 Most Influential Businesswomen to Follow in 2020 and among The 20 Most Successful Businesswomen to Watch, 2020 by Insights Success magazine. Laura was among the 50 Best Women in Business named by NJBIZ in 2019, has been recognized as a HousingWire Women of Influence for the last three years, and named one of Mortgage Banking’s Most Powerful Women by National Mortgage Professional. Laura has also been one of Mortgage Professional America’s Hot 100 Mortgage Professionals in 2017, and an Elite Women of Mortgage in 2014, 2016 and again in 2017.

Laura is also actively engaged with several organizations and initiatives including the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts and is one of the founders of AIME’s Women’s Mortgage Network (WMN).


Semah’s advice for women starting a career during this time is straightforward, Do you. Don’t let others make decisions for you in your life and career. She believes women sometimes lack the confidence to step up and out so their beautiful light shines.

I want to tell young women out there in the beginning of their careers to be courageous and bold. A career in finance can be stressful and daunting but keep pushing through those first couple of years and you will find doors open and things get easier.

If you are meticulous with your process and actively listen to your client’s needs, you will be successful and enjoy the work immensely.


Looking Ahead in the Housing Market

Written by: Megan Anderson

There is a lot of debate going on in the media about whether we are currently in a recession or heading for one. In this month’s article, we will discuss the various recession indicators we have seen and how a recession could impact the future of housing.

What is a Recession?

Let us first discuss what a recession is and why it matters to the housing market.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the referee for calling recessions, defines a recession as a “significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and lasts more than a few months.” There are three main criteria: depth, diffusion, and duration. While each needs to be met individually to some degree, extreme conditions seen in one criterion could outweigh weaker signals from another.

Recession indicators are very important, especially when it comes to the housing market. When recessions happen, historically, interest rates drop. And if you know a recession is coming, you can be a much better adviser to your clients and help them find the right strategy for their situation.

Now, let’s discuss four recessionary indicators we’re currently seeing.

Negative GDP

Gross Domestic Product or GDP is a measure of economic activity in the United States and changes in this activity are a great way to measure the health of the economy. The final reading of GDP for the first quarter of 2022 came in at -1.6% and the second reading for the second quarter was -0.6%. While it’s possible that the final reading for the second quarter may be revised when it is reported on September 29, as of now we do have two consecutive quarters of negative GDP.

While two consecutive quarters of negative GDP is not the official NBER definition of recession, it became a Wall Street rule of thumb because we have never had successive quarterly declines in real GDP without the NBER officially announcing one eventually. The NBER will ultimately make the call regarding whether we’re in a recession and they may wait to see some increases in the unemployment rate before doing so.

Recession or not, growth has slowed notably this year and is continuing to do so in the third quarter as well.

Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is a fantastic recessionary indicator, although a lagging one, and it is usually the last to show up in the data. This report is the main reason for the debate about whether or not we’re in a recession.

Contrary to what many people may think, recessions happen when the unemployment rate is low, rather than high. In fact, a key recession indicator occurs when unemployment reaches its lowest level and starts to tick higher.

Looking at the graph below, the dark blue bars represent past recessions. The white line is the unemployment rate, and you’ll notice that every time the unemployment rate hits the low and begins to tick higher, we have a recession.

So, why do recessions occur after the unemployment rate reaches its lowest level?

Businesses grow when they’re doing well. As they grow, they hire more people and as they hire more people, the unemployment rate declines. But the second a company’s business begins to slow down, it stops hiring, and if business slows down enough, it begins to let employees go. Those individuals then join the unemployment ranks and we see the unemployment rate begin to tick higher.

What’s more, when people lose their job, their spending patterns change. They are less likely to go out to dinner, buy a new car, or take a vacation.

As this happens those businesses, restaurants, car dealerships, and airlines begin to feel a slowdown in their business, and they may also stop hiring or begin to lay off more employees. The cycle keeps perpetuating itself and this is what leads us into a recession.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Jobs Report for August was released on September 2, where the unemployment rate rose from 3.5% to 3.7%. This marks the first increase in the unemployment rate since earlier in the year, making this data especially crucial to watch heading into the fall.

Fed Rate Hikes

This year we’ve experienced widespread inflation, in everything from gas prices to our weekly grocery run, with inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index reaching 40-year highs.

The Fed can help fight inflation by raising its benchmark Fed Funds Rate. This is the overnight borrowing rate for banks and it is different from mortgage rates. History has shown us that nearly every time the Fed has raised the Fed Funds Rate, a recession follows.

So far this year the Fed has raised the Fed Funds Rate by 25, 50, 75, and 75 basis points at their meetings in March, May, June, and July, respectively. With the unemployment rate remaining at low levels, this gives the Fed the green light to hike again at their next meeting on September 21.

Inverted Yield Curve

An inverted yield curve is important to understand because almost every time it has happened in the past it has led to a recession.

The best way to understand this is to imagine you’re going to invest some money. You have the option of putting your money away for 10 years or 2 years. Typically, you would expect to receive a higher rate of return if you put your money away for 10 years when compared to lesser timeframes. But when there is an economic slowdown and fear in the markets, the yield curve can go inverted – meaning 2-year yields are higher than 10-year yields, which are backwards or upside down.

This summer, we have seen inversions on the yield curve, including both 1-year and 2-year yields moving higher than 10-year yields, so it’s crucial to keep an eye on this moving forward.

While we have discussed a few recessionary indicators we’re seeing, it’s important to understand all these indicators if we’re going to help our clients pick the best strategy for their situation. You can learn more about recession indicators by taking our Certified Mortgage Advisor course.

Future of Housing

While a recession can cause a lot of heartburn and pain, it often ends up presenting a wonderful opportunity in the housing market because mortgage rates typically decline during recessionary periods.

This helps us in a few ways. For clients who are super focused on rate, change the conversation. Maybe the strategy should be to take the higher rate to decrease out-of-pocket expenses and cover closing costs, knowing the future will present an opportunity to refinance to a lower rate.


Also, note that the purchase applications you’re doing today could become your refinance clients in the future. You can create a strategy for staying top of mind with your clients so when rates drop, you are the one receiving the refinance business.

One great way to stay top of mind is through social media. I encourage you to friend request all your clients and then be sure to post consistently while also engaging with their feeds. When the time comes, they are more likely to see the latest market video you post and reach out to you. MBS Highway’s social studio tool can help you with this. We have created video scripts and the tool turns into a teleprompter, making it quick and easy to record videos and stay consistent with posting on social media.

Take a free 14-day trial of MBS Highway and see for yourself how we can help you grow your business and benefit from the opportunities this recession will create.

About the Author: Megan Anderson

Megan Anderson is a well-known professional speaker, teacher, and winner of HousingWire’s 2020 Women of Influence award. She is also the winner of the 2019 40 under 40 award and 2019 Women with Vision award. She has introduced systems and platforms that effectively create content and increase engagement.

She is vice president of Marketing at MBS Highway, the industry’s leading platform for mortgage sales professionals. Megan has helped eliminate the fears and obstacles mortgage and real estate salespeople have in creating video content. Her innovative pieces of training have transformed salespeople into local celebrity advisors.

Megan is a highly sought-after speaker and coach who is passionate about helping others grow their business and gain more confidence in themselves. She is also the host of the podcast Behind the Breakthrough, a podcast telling the untold stories of success.


Colleen Wietmarschen

Don’t get so busy making a living you forget to make a life. ~Dolly Parton
Whatever You're Experiencing, It's Your Choice Where You Land

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

~ Jimmy Dean

Life and business are a journey. Everyone experiences wonderful and not-so-wonderful times; it’s the game of life! Whether we’re trudging through the muck or celebrating the wins, our reaction can move us forward or keep us stagnant.

Consider what’s worked well for your life (and business) and what hasn’t, especially over the past nine months. Are there times when your body felt so weighed down by loss, sadness, and anxiety you thought you were drowning in quicksand? Or has 2022 been good to you? If we’re still living and breathing, it’s been good to us. You know what I’m saying!

Wherever you are mentally, emotionally, and physically in this time and place, take time to realign, reclaim, restart, and reignite. Does it take work? Absolutely? Do you have a choice? Absolutely? What’s important to remember is to take the time when we need it and move forward one step at a time if it’s all we can accomplish now.

I lost my father in 2000, and the stress and sadness I experienced led me to six months of twice-weekly physical therapy to relieve the knots I developed in my neck and back and a herniated cervical disc. I had numbness shooting down my arm. During this time, my medical transcription company was rocking; I had clients coming to me! But instead of depending on my team, I allowed my anxiety to take over, and I dumped two of my best clients. I felt I couldn’t manage the workload; my group was holding the day-to-day work and doing a phenomenal job, but I couldn’t see through the blinders to trust and let go. I swore at the time I would never let stress take hold of my body as it had.

Fast forward to 2021; I lost my mother, my friend, and my heart. Have I experienced sadness, anxiety, and loss? Yes, but I’ve learned to keep moving forward over the years. Has it been easy? No. Are there days I have wanted to check out and not walk, exercise, or eat healthily? Are there days when I wish I could hide from work commitments? Yes, but I continue to delve into a healthy work-life balance and always, in the back of my mind, remember mom and dad want me to be happy and live my best life.

However, as far as taking care of myself, mentally and physically, I’ve waivered back and forth this year: not walking as much as I could, not sleeping, and for a while, my eating habits were starting to go off track again (after I had lost a 20-plus pounds during the last few years). Oh, my body again took the stress; I held onto my sadness which turns to depression and anger. Have you been there?

Twenty-twenty-two also brought celebrations, and I have accomplished several goals. I was honored to be a 2021 Women With Vision Award Winner, which was a humbling experience. I’ve stretched myself beyond what I ever imagined. I’m coaching clients, writing articles, proofing books, and editing; I’m doing what I love. My friends lovingly call me their creative nit-picky proofreader/editor (but I’m a nice one!). Being part of the 20/20 Vision for Success family for the past two and a half years has been an exciting whirlwind. I’ve found a virtual work family.

My main motto is, “You have to laugh!” Hard as it can sometimes be, finding humor is the best medicine, whether through laughter or tears! I always start each meeting with everyone giving gratitude or celebration (they love me!).It is interesting to note this request at the beginning of each meeting is not always greeted with a smile. It can be hard for some to think of something positive in their environment or a person who deserves recognition. By persevering and enticing those who are reluctant to share to emerge from their shell, we begin to laugh and the meeting becomes a fun place instead of a chore.

Realign your thoughts, feelings, and actions

 So how does one move forward and step out of the muck through tough times? And when times are great, how do you continue moving forward or learn to stay out of the quicksand when stress comes along?

The first step is working and becoming aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. You may laugh at the example I’m going to give you, but it is the honest truth. I grew up in a loving home, an Irish dysfunctional, and alcoholic home (is this an oxymoron or what?). My survival mode was to cuss. Yep, Catholic girl cursing up a storm whenever I wanted to be heard or “show them,” I would yell and swear with the best of them. Oh, the flavors of soap I tasted. Fast forward 50 years and I gave up cussing this past Lent.

What did this take? I became very aware of my thoughts, feelings, and actions. Whenever I had something to say, I stopped myself instead of trying to be funny and using the “f” word or other not-so-kind words. When I was anxious, upset, or stressed out, I’d take a deep breath and think about the words coming out of my mouth. Easter was April 17, and I can happily say, I haven’t cursed except for a few minor slips. I am aware of my thoughts (catch myself when my brain wants to say a bad word), my feelings (whether I’m sad or stressed, how I am going to react), and my actions (I stop myself before I act on the word).

What thoughts, feelings, or actions can you change to move forward and end 2022 positively?

Reclaim your purpose

We all know the importance of discovering our WHY. It inspires us to put our feet on the floor each morning, do our job, and understand why we choose to keep going after a rough day. Our WHY is more profound than “I want to make more money” or “I want to have more time with my family.” These statements are surface-level answers. How many of us dig deeper than why we’re working, why we want to lose weight, and why we want to finish the marathon? It’s more than making money or feeling better because we’re 20 pounds lighter or crossing the finish line.

Adding because at the end of your WHY statement helps you figure out the root.

  • I want to make more money because…
  • I want to be a happier person without the stress and anxiety of worrying every month because…
  • I’m trying to make ends meet because…

Going deep takes time and work, but the more you work on it, you’ll find you are most specific. Years ago, I worked on this task and discovered it was much more than quitting my job. “I want to quit my day job because I don’t want the hassle of figuring out daycare, having to make arrangements to be off work when Peter has surgeries, and I want to be involved in his school and not miss baseball games, concerts, or Boy Scout events. That simple exercise was an eye-opener for me. It wasn’t the job I wanted to quit as much as I wanted to be a mother to my son MORE.

Restart your focus and reignite your enthusiasm

 Something I love to do is race walk and be active. As noted above, my focus has been off this year, but I never quit walking, even on the darkest days. I locked my back in late July (I had never heard the term before), but before then, I walked at least four to five miles a day and was actively attending deep water aerobics classes. I ended up on the sidelines for about a month. I’m still not back to my four or five miles per day, and now the pool is closed, but I’ve started walking two or three miles every other day, no matter what.

What would you like to restart for Q4, so you’re ready for 2023?

How about journaling? Choose a colorful new journal or notepad and start writing about what’s going on in your life. Make it a diary for the last months of 2022; write your thoughts, feelings, dreams, and goals.

Plan weekend adventures. How about a cabin in the mountains? Take a hike with your family. Most cities have weekend events during the last part of the year: harvest festivals, pumpkin farms, Christmas displays, holiday races, and light shows. Take time to refresh your body, your soul, and your spirit.

Take a day and brainstorm with your team or your networking group. It doesn’t always have to be about business; go to an escape room or do a ropes course and find something everyone can participate in doing.

Where do you want your life to be on December 31? Will you still be in the muck or celebrating your wins and blasting off into 2023? The choice is yours.

 Tips for A Successful Year End and Beyond:

  1. Realign: Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions and what you do with them.
  2. Reclaim: Dig deep and find your true purpose.
  3. Restart: Discover what you’ll do in Q4 and blast off to 2023.
  4. Reignite: Focus on what makes you happy. Take the dance class, a painting class, hike in the snow, or go to the beach.
About the Author: Staff Editor
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A Peter Wietmarschen Book Review

First, let me say hello to all of our Women With Vision Magazine readers! Over the past year, I’ve been writing the book review column for our sister magazine, The Vision. Starting this month, I will highlight women authors and their stories as I write this magazine’s book review column. I know there are many great women authors with different stories affecting women in the workplace. I won’t pretend to be an expert on all these, but I promise to grow, read, and learn constantly.

I also welcome your book recommendations. For this inaugural issue (for me), I’ve chosen a strong leadership book which will appeal, I believe, to women of all stages of their career path. No matter how long you’ve been in the workforce, you know an example of truly great and horrible managers/bosses. If you’ve been in leadership within a company, you know all too well what makes or breaks a team. Radical candor is the approach created by author Kim Malone Scott for leaders to guide their teams better. Simply, radical candor is a leadership tactic in which you do two things: 1. Care Personally and 2. Challenge Directly.

Author Kim Scott has spent her career leading teams, mainly in the tech industry and most notably at Google and Apple. Her time and expertise within leadership give her a unique perspective on leaders’ best advice and approaches. No matter the size of your team, when you lead others, you have a duty to the company and your direct reports. A broken team helps no one and hurts everyone.

I want to take a quick moment to say I read the revised edition of the book. This edition starts with a preface from Kim, and she begins offering answers to her critics and advice to those who may have incorrectly implemented her strategies. While the entire book lays out her management philosophy (both the how and the why) and provides helpful advice, tools, and techniques, the preface distills the essence of Radical Candor in a few pages.

Not to spend too much time on the preface, but I believe the best advice in this book is within these few pages. Don’t take the Challenge Directly part of Radical Candor to the extremes. Challenge Directly is not your excuse as a boss to be blatantly mean to your coworkers, and it does not give you permission to take out your anger on those who work for you. Leaders do not have free rein to intimidate people who work for them. Radical candor is about having personal relationships with your staff, so when you need to push them, you are doing so in a way that is better for everyone involved.

What does it mean to have radical candor as a boss? First up, we have to care personally. For myself and many others, this is the easy part. We need to connect with our direct reports and have a personal relationship with them. This doesn’t mean we need to invite them all out to mandatory dinner each week or buy them pizza for lunch. It simply means knowing them. What are they like at work? What do they enjoy for fun? How is their family life? Radical Candor means Being genuine and learning about what makes them who they are.

The second part is about challenging directly. It’s where the hard conversations take place. You have conversations with your staff when their performance is not sufficient by directly challenging them. The key to challenging directly is being clear and specific about the issues at hand and how you expect them to make changes. In time, it could even mean taking the difficult but necessary step of moving the person to a new team or deciding to fire the individual. It’s also about making sure your team and staff have the opportunity to give you the feedback you need and deserve to make their jobs easier.

As mentioned above, too many people have taken this theory and used it as an excuse to treat their team members terribly. This is not what lies at the core of radical candor.

The importance of being radially candid lies in caring personally. Here are two reasons why it is   essential to know your staff on a personal level:

  1. Cultural differences play a part in who can be radically candid and to what level it is appropriate. Kim tells a story of collaborating with a team in Japan. When she initially asked her team what she could be doing better, there was no response. The respect for their boss was too high, and the team did not feel comfortable asking for what they needed or what could help make their job easier. At first, Kim’s only feedback was a suggestion for higher quality tea in their breakroom. Then, as the team felt increasingly comfortable with what she asked them, an increase in problems and solutions came to light. Kim worked with other teams, but the Japanese team was not as vocal as others.
  2. Not everyone is in the same place in their career. Challenging directly means different things to different people. One of Kim’s delineations is identifying rockstars vs. superstars. The superstars are those looking to move up and on to a bigger and better job. The rockstars are the team members who know their job and provide stability because they do not want to rise to the next level. Both rockstars and superstars are necessary for a solid team, and as a leader, you must know the role each team member plays.

One more point Radical Candor brings to light touches on current workforce reports. Remember, radical candor is about knowing your team, personally, caring about the team, and challenging them directly when performance does not meet expectations.

How often recently have you heard someone say, “No one wants to work anymore?” Kim’s career in Silicon Valley, a place filled with tech companies galore, would seem to reinforce that belief. Radical Candor was born out of the environment and a time when, if a company was not worthy to its employees, they could easily jump over to a new company. We are in a time where jobs are plentiful, and workers can easily go out and find a new, better job. It’s not about people not wanting to work; they don’t want to work for a bad company or a bad manager.

Are you providing your workers with an environment where they can thrive?

I am excited to talk more books with you every month! I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of Randal Candor. See you next month in The Vision!

I highly suggest this book to anyone in management or with management desires. I give this book a 4.5/5.


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