I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag: A Memoir of a Life Through Events-the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don’t, is the new book by Jennifer Gilbert. Her story is one of personal and professional triumph well worth the read…
Jennifer Gilbert was raised in affluent Westchester County, New York. Her father worked in the import business and her mother often accompanied him on his international buying trips. Playing field hockey and lacrosse in school, boating off of Nantucket, and skiing in Vermont were normal activities.
In late May 1991, Gilbert rode the subway for the first time; venturing into New York City to visit a friend. Unaware of her surroundings, a man had followed her from the subway station to her friend’s apartment building door. In surreal time, he repeatedly stabbed her with a screwdriver as she pleaded for her friend’s help.
Left for dead, at 22, Gilbert lost her innocence and direction in life. Initially after the attack she required a walker as she healed from over 40 stitches to various parts of her body.
Police interviews, suspect line-ups, protection by her parents, and escapism to Boston, all signaled three months later, that it was time to transcend her ordeal or the perpetrator had won. “You can’t move forward if you’re staring in the rearview mirror,” became her lifelong mantra.
Gilbert defiantly traversed New York City daily, via subway, pursuing a career in event planning. Her first job was primarily commission-based; and she seized the opportunity to reignite her entrepreneurial talents she developed in her youth. In high school, while her parents traveled, she meticulously orchestrated house parties, charging classmates admission. Her profits allowed her to pay for her prom dress and related costs.
Entrepreneurship summoned Gilbert and she started her own event planning business. Immersed in building her Manhattan-based company, she landed exclusive, lucrative clients; which helped distance her from her attack. She became, what she calls, a “type A plus plus” personality.
Early business practices found Gilbert a benevolent dictator, and less than appreciative of her all-female staff. Over time, she realized the importance of complimenting her employees on jobs well done. She also learned that some clients, no matter how hard you try, will never be satisfied, “Outsource everything but your soul,” she says. “Identify the “soul” of your business (which most of the time is the thing that makes you supremely happy), and hire everyone else to do the rest.”
For years, Gilbert designed picturesque weddings. She often stood on the sidelines basking in couples’ bliss, but never experienced the same kind of happiness personally. Slowly and cautiously she began dating after her ordeal but remained unlucky in love.
She met Bennett in the Hamptons and they became best friends, still dating other people. He loved her; and for six years he patiently waited and watched as Gilbert continued to falter romantically. She was taken aback by his revelation; and he invested another two years convincing her of their mutual destiny, sending love letters always signed, “I love you millions, billions, trillions.” ” I finally realized that love wasn’t about me trying to be perfect for someone else; it was about understanding who felt perfect for me, ” she says.
The couple now has three children, including twin boys, but Gilbert’s road to pregnancy was turbulent, enduring several miscarriages (including a six-month old baby boy).
Grey, one of Gilbert’s twin sons, developed alopecia universalitis around his first birthday. It’s an immune system disorder that causes hair loss, which can be partial or total. For Grey, it’s total. Gilbert describes her metamorphosis from feeling angry about Grey’s condition to one of acceptance. Grey himself is a healthy, rambunctious toddler, comfortable in his own skin.
Gilbert has confronted near-death, faced her assailant in court three years after her attack to bring justice; and endured financial losses in business after 9/11, among other challenges. She knows that “everyone’s got their something.” It may be sickness, poverty, divorce or some other adversity. She says, “You can’t control what may happen to you in this life, but you can control what you want to be after it happens.”
Read Gilbert’s memoir and you’ll receive your own goodie bag; replete with stories sure to enrich you both personally and professionally.
Jennifer Gilbert supports Women for Women, an organization that works in war-ravaged countries-Rwanda, Afghanistan, the Congo, among others. It offers local women training and support in the launch of their own businesses. Visit the site at: http://www.womenforwomen.org.