Why My One Big Secret Will Absolutely Matter to You

Oct 31, 2016

“More than anything, NAWBO has given me wings.”

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Susan Dawson
President, NAWBO Chicago
Founding Partner of Waltz, Palmer & Dawson LLC


Why My One Big Secret Will Absolutely Matter to You

During the first half of my career, I carried a secret stuffed deep in the bottom of my back pocket. Once in awhile, the lawyer in me would consider the facts as I knew them. No one must know, I’d whisper under my breath. So, as quickly as Luke Skywalker disappeared on the heels of the Jedi Academy’s demise, I would make my secret vanish. 

Then I joined NAWBO in 2008. And the evolution of me began.

I went from leading a 100 percent woman-owned firm (unheard of in the male-dominated field of law) to realizing tremendous growth and earning NAWBO Member of the Year in 2014. In the weeks leading up to my acceptance speech, I realized it was the perfect stage to share my deepest, darkest secret. So on that beautiful May day just two years ago, I approached the podium, looked out over the crowd, breathed deep and said: I am actually a woman.

When I stopped hiding this fact in order to fit into a man’s world, I recognized – and valued – the different facets of me. I let them walk forward, take a seat at the table, be seen. I am mother, daughter, wife, business owner, homeowner, and PTA member. I am a hero to my sons who hold court, their friends encircling our kitchen island, as they proudly pit me against them in impromptu Star Wars trivia contests. I am the first to stand, clapping like a maniac, at my daughter’s dance recitals. I like four-inch heels and bling. I am as much a risk-taker in business as I am empathetic in life. I am sensitive to the sorrow of others. I am a woman. These are all parts of who I am. 

NAWBO gave me the confidence, clarity and freedom to see this. To say it. To embrace it. In a loud, generous voice, NAWBO says: Come, build your business and be yourself. 

My one big secret, and the defining moment that set it free, impacts you because we are all building our companies just as much as we are building ourselves. We cut the deals and fly around the world for meetings. We cut flowers for the table and taxi our kids to sports practices. We are business leaders. We are women.

My interactions with other NAWBO members liberated me because I realized it’s OK to prefer chatting about quick and easy recipes over lunch rather than being miserable on a golf course. My newfound wisdom revealed an inner strength I didn’t know existed. I started saying things like: “Thanks for the invite, but let’s be honest, you’ll have more fun on that golf course without me because I can’t keep up. I’ll catch you in the clubhouse. We’ll talk business after you’ve retired the eighteenth hole.” 

On the heels of being truthful with myself, my business exploded. Today, we are nine attorneys strong with a contingency of support people. More than anything, NAWBO has given me wings.

I’m lucky to be president in a year that so closely aligns with my path as a woman in business. Our theme this year is “The Year of You.” We’ll focus on all the different parts of you: as an entrepreneur, in your personal growth, and as a successful woman in business. 

Already, new programs have begun. CONNECTS is a regional offering for growth-focused companies between $500,000 and $1 million in annual revenues. This members-only benefit features four annual educational events and two pop-up social events in each of Chicago and four suburban locations: North, Northwest, West and South. It’s open to every member without any additional cost.

Other programs underway include programming targeted at companies with revenues over $1 million, a webinar library, expanded partnership offerings with corporate sponsors, more small group interaction, and speaker opportunities for NAWBO members. Whether you are just starting out, standing on the precipice of sudden growth or a veteran with an exit strategy, NAWBO continues to pave the path for Chicago women entrepreneurs like you. 

How do you want “The Year of You” to play out? What matters to you? How can NAWBO impact your life in tangible ways? 

We’re here. We’re listening. We’re ready for “The Year of You.”


NAWBO Chicago President Susan Dawson is a founding partner in Waltz, Palmer & Dawson LLC based in Rolling Meadows, IL. As one of the largest entirely female-owned law firms in the Chicago area, Waltz, Palmer & Dawson’s motto – “small firm, Big Results” – applies to a range of services, including business law, litigation, family law, and estate planning/probate. Among her many distinctions, Susan received the 2009 Influential Women in Business award by the Daily Herald Business Ledger, NAWBO’s 2014 Member of the Year award, and the 2015 Enterprising Women of the Year award by Enterprising Women Magazine. Susan lives with her husband, three children and a speckled white boxer in Arlington Heights. 

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