For Nancy Proffitt, growing up in poverty and facing abuse wasn’t easy, but she didn’t let that stop her from achieving her goals and starting her own business.
Proffitt was born in New York on Sept. 16, 1953. Her mom moved her and her four siblings to Lantana, Florida., shortly after escaping an abusive relationship.
There, her mother worked three jobs to take care of her family. To this day, that dedication and strength is what makes her Proffitt’s biggest inspiration.
“She was the person to say, ‘Keep going no matter how tough it gets. There’s nothing you can’t overcome, and while you’re doing it, don’t forget there’s someone who’s in a lot worse shape than you,’” Proffitt said, her suit jacket adorned with a turtle brooch that once belonged to her mother.
Despite her family being poor, Proffitt still enjoyed her childhood. She recalls spending time with her family outdoors at the park for picnics as well as skating on the lake in winter time.
Proffitt’s mother made sure to instill a sense of independence and responsibility in her children at a young age.
“We all learned how to do everything in the house. There wasn’t anything by the age of 10 that we couldn’t all do,” Proffitt said.
However, Proffitt’s bubbly childhood outlook on life was turned upside down at the age of 12 when her mom got remarried and her stepfather began sexually abusing her.
“When you’re in the moment, it’s the most horrible thing in the world, and you always think it’s you,” Proffitt said. “I got up everyday and went to school and somehow survived.”
Despite the trouble at home, she found the strength to believe in herself through school activities such as band and scouting. And by the age of 17, she was able to stand up to her stepfather.
“I said to him, ‘You are never going to do this to me again. It’s never going to happen again,’” Proffitt said with fire in her eyes. “I can survive this and I will make something happen.”
Proffitt wants girls to know that while the pain of abuse never goes away, it’s never the fault of the victim, and there are other people out there going through the same thing.
“Some people have terrible experiences, but it shapes who they are,” Proffitt said. “Every step of my career I think I learned how to be better because of that sexual abuse...I learned from it and it strengthened me, so for that I am thankful to him.”
Proffitt pushed on after graduating from Lake Worth High School, earning her degree from Florida State University in music with an instrumental emphasis in 1975. Music was one of the main things that kept her going through her hardships.
She says she understands music like a second language.
“I got it, I could hear it, I could say it, I could understand it,” Proffitt said. “Because of music, it just filled my heart and I was able to do what I got to do because I love it.”
After obtaining her degree, Proffitt decided to be a teacher. But after teaching at Jeff Davis Middle School in Palm Beach County and Lake Worth High School over the course of six years, she was struggling to earn a living.
“You can be passionate about something, but franks and beans only go so far,” Proffitt joked, her laugh followed by a snort.
Proffitt left the teaching field and married her husband, who was a pilot.
Together they sold private corporate airplanes to airlines from their own company called
Proffitt Aviation, which started in Ft. Lauderdale, but then moved to Newark, New Jersey.
Proffitt developed a passion for working with airplanes, so she decided to go into the air
traffic control program.
But after Proffitt’s husband died in a plane crash in 1998, she abandoned that dream and stopped working with Proffitt Aviation.
Proffitt left the airline business and started working at a FedEx in New Jersey where she worked for 25 years, eventually moving all the way up to the president executive level.
“When I got that job, it opened up everything for me,” Proffitt said. “FedEx allowed me to be successful, and they gave me the tools and resources so I could go up that ladder.”
Throughout her different jobs, she always felt that music played a key role in helping her succeed.
“I always felt like my whole career was music, it just took a different avenue,” Proffitt said.
“Majoring in music helped me figure out rhythms when it came to working in teams...everybody’s got their part to play.”
After being with FedEx long enough, Proffitt decided to take the skills she had learned and transition to start her own company called Proffitt Management Solutions.
“I teach people how to start a business, how to build a business, and how to sustain a business, Proffitt said. “Being a leader is nothing more then coaching, educating, and mentoring.”
Along the way, Proffitt learned that there was more to running a business then just earnings.
“The hardest part was figuring out that it wasn’t about all about me and my success,” Proffitt said with a knowing smile. “I had to work at it. I had to organize myself and remind myself that it’s about them [clients]. It’s never about me.”
Proffitt has been running her business for the past 15 years. The first thing she will ask someone who wants to start a business is “why?”
“Make it a passion, and make it somehow make some kind of difference, even if it’s just making someone else happy,” Proffitt said.
Proffitt not only runs her own business, but has also been a professor for the past 10 years at Florida Atlantic University.
There, she is teaching an executive leader class in which she hopes to instill the message that life, no matter how hard it is, is how you make it.
“It’s not what you have in life, it’s what you do in life,” Proffitt said. “Keep your bar of excellence high, don’t set a bar of mediocracy. When you get there it may not be what you thought it would be, but man, what did you learn along the way?”
By Morgan Therrien