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Leadership Inside Out

Michelle Pallas has led a remarkable journey, overcoming a dysfunctional family, a dead-end marriage, and the rampant sexism of a bygone era. She ended up laying her story in a book for all of us to learn from.

Pack an Extra Pair of Underpants is part self-help book, part memoir, a motivational story about overcoming adversity – both in life and in business. It’s about taking ownership of your choices and developing a leadership style of your own. Here, Pallas chronicles her career of finding paths and blazing trails. Of taking charge and taking names. Of her relentless and remarkable reinvention. Then, in the face of a life-threating illness, she finds the courage she so desperately needs to embrace her role in business – and in life – as a trailblazer.

I met Michelle at the 2016 election recount. We’d showed up at Macomb Community College and shortly afterward, discovered that the recount was cancelled. During our so-called “break”, we chitchatted and learned we had two things in common; we were both authors and we both strongly believed in supporting other women, especially in leadership. 

What I enjoyed most about that day was meeting Michelle and having the opportunity to talk to people of different political views. Listening to others’ perspectives is healthy, educational, even inspiring. And it’s essential for a writer’s life. Good listeners make exceptional writers, and more importantly, compassionate human beings.   

As for Michelle’s book, I really enjoyed the parts where she searches for meaning and inner power by looking into her heritage. On page 29, she writes, “As my vision for a new life came into focus, I started to wonder about my grandparents. Why was Pa so angry about life? What made Ma so complacent when her mother was so independent?” She and her sister Mary decided to make a project of documenting the family tree, seeking to uncover some hidden truths. They started by interviewing Ma.

“We delighted in stories about [Ma’s] childhood and learned more about what happened when her father died during the Great Depressing, leaving my grandmother to manage his rental properties and raise two girls on her own.”  

Ma’s paternal uncles were inventors and entrepreneurs who came from Boston, previous generations having left Ireland during the potato famine. Her mom’s ancestors came from Germany in the 1800s and settled in Michigan as landscapers and florists. She claimed her great-grandfather even invented the long-stemmed rose. Her great uncle, Philip Breitmeyer, was a florist and one of the founders of the Florists’ Telegraph Delivery (FTD). And from 1909-10, he was mayor of Detroit.

When they asked Pa about his family history, his response was, “It’s none of your business.”

His response piqued their curiosity, both wanting to know how they “fit” into this world. It wasn’t until years later that they discovered their father’s rich ancestry that can be traced to France. As I continued to read Michelle’s story, I was intrigued by her and her family’s journey.

Anyone who digs deep enough into their heritage will find countless treasures of strength and beauty. They’ll also likely find stubborn not-so-pleasant patterns which are generations old. These discoveries can be incredibly healing. Once we learn about our roots, we can decide which parts to embrace and continue passing on to the next generation and which to release so that our children and grandchildren don’t have to repeat them. 

These countless treasures and patterns are not only exciting to find, but they usually make for great books. 

Check out Michelle’s book on Amazon!