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VOL. 125 | NO. 188 | Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Donohue Shares Inspiring Life Story

By Sarah Baker

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It wasn’t long ago that Lynn Donohue was desperate and homeless.

She vividly remembers walking into a building under construction and pulling back the top, “laying there for probably the longest night you can imagine.”

Little did Donohue know, her involvement in construction later on would ultimately lead to ownership of her own multimillion dollar company before age 40.

“It’s truly been quite a journey,” Donohue said in her keynote speech at the Lipscomb and Pitts Breakfast Club meeting last Friday. “We all want to be able to say, ‘I wrote that book,’ ‘I painted that picture,’ ‘I made a difference with my children,’ ‘I made a difference in my community,’” Donohue said. “When I was a kid, I thought the only difference I was going to make was to break my mother’s heart.”

Donohue started running away from home at age 11, dropped out of junior high school at 15 and was living out of her car with a lack of self-worth, life skills and plan for the future.

Money-motivated, she fled to Florida for a few years, “drifting into the crowds with substance abuse.”

Eventually, Donohue hitchhiked back up to her hometown of New Bedford, Mass.

Earning minimum wage at her father’s bar, she came across an article in The Boston Globe about a new training program for women interested in the nontraditional construction trades. The pay rate stood out to Donohue, who was making $3.10 an hour at the time.

Feeling she was going nowhere with her current income, she eventually quit the bar and began taking a three-month Woman In Construction training class, striving to become a professional mason.

Donohue started with the books, and by the time she got out into the field a few days later, she was sold.

“I started tapping my fingers and laying that brick and jointing it off – it really took me – I was in love with the trade of bricklaying,” she said.

But there was one thing the union didn’t tell Donohue before graduation – there were no women.

After two years of persistence, Donohue landed a job for a government-funded contracting job in New Bedford, Mass.

Donohue went from job to job, enduring daily struggles as a woman in the male-dominated industry, including being “locked in a port-a-john” and having her tools hidden from her.

“That was my initiation into the union,” Donohue said.

“What ultimately happened in my life has been because of that.”

In 1981, Donohue entered the Massachusetts state masonry competition. She was the first female apprentice bricklayer to win – and holds the title to this day.

“For me, that was one of the biggest thrills in my life,” Donohue said. “But the real amazing thing was that it didn’t make a difference.”

In fact, she remembers working on a site where a man looked at her and said, “The next thing you know, they’ll have monkeys doing this.”

Donohue then said to herself, “You’re going to work for me someday.”

She began reading and committing to paper how long it would take her to make her goal income. At age 27, she opened her own construction company. By 40, Donohue was a millionaire entrepreneur.

And she’s been setting five-year goals ever since, one of which was to go back to college.

Needless to say, Donohue now holds a master’s degree.

“Every time I set a goal I am petrified, and every time I reach a goal I am elated,” she said.

In July 2000, Donohue decided to give up her business and founded Brick by Brick, a nonprofit organization that helps teens and adults foster creativity and develop self-confidence and motivation.

The same year, Donohue achieved another personal goal she had previously deemed impossible – writing a book.

Her memoir, “Brick by Brick: A Woman’s Journey,” was a 2001 Ben Franklin Award finalist for best autobiography.

“Brick by brick is a wonderful metaphor,” Donohue said.

“It was a step-by-step process that happened to me – a process that anybody could learn.”

Donohue now spends her time as a speaker and trainer, traveling to various corporations, conferences and academic institutions across the country, focusing on goal-setting and reaching one’s full potential.

Her advice to real estate professionals is similar: Be unstoppable.

“We’re in a recession, and real estate is one of the tough places to be,” Donohue said.

“It’s just more pound to the pavement and working harder than ever for as long as it takes for us to get through this.”

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