MANATEE -- On the day the space shuttle Columbia exploded over Texas in 2003, Fawn Germer drove to Cape Canaveral.
A career newspaper journalist and former Bradenton resident, Germer was on assignment for U.S. News & World Report. She'd been away from newspapers for the previous three years to write inspirational, leadership and self-help books. The shuttle assignment was intended to push her out of her comfort zone, something she was writing about in her latest book.
She didn't make it past NASA's access control office and a gaggle of aggressive reporters before she'd decided this was her last foray into a career she began when she was 14. She'd gone out of her comfort zone and stumbled upon something even more important: She could choose to do only what makes her happy.
"After that I knew I would never write another news story as long as I lived," she said.
Germer, a 1978 Bayshore High School graduate who got her first shot at daily newspaper reporting at the Bradenton Herald when she was 16, will bring the theme of choice to this week's National Association of Commissions for Women National Conference and Business
Meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota.
Now a leadership speaker in addition to being the bestselling author of eight books, Germer will discuss "It's Not About Balance. It's About Choices" with an audience of women in business who may be looking for an alternative to the elusive "work-life balance."
In Germer's world, that balance doesn't exist in the conventional way. Trying to cram work, family, hobbies, fitness and a spectrum of other interests into the day-to-day isn't a road to happiness. She says getting everything out of life comes down to choosing what to do with it.
An avid kayaker, cyclist and lover of the Gulf Coast, Germer knew by the time she was 37 that the journalism career she loved was getting in the way of the happy life she wanted for herself. A reporter at a number of newspapers, including in Colorado and Jacksonville, the 80-plus-hour week was not an unusual occurrence for her. When a newspaper secretary looked at one of her timecards and remarked "Gee, Fawn, is it really worth it?" she knew she would not finish her working life in the news business.
"I was starting to get a little bit bored," she said. "I just knew there was going to be something else."
That something else has turned out to be writing books and running her leadership training business from her Dunedin home. Inspired to pen her first book "Hard Won Wisdom" by her inability to thrive as a strong woman in the male-dominated environment she'd worked in, Germer started a writing career that has had her interview Hillary Clinton, Margaret Cho, Cokie Roberts, Jane Goodall and dozens of other influential women.
It wasn't an easy transition. She had to quit her job as an editor at the Tampa Tribune to give book writing the time required. When she finished her first manuscript, it was rejected by every major publisher in the United States.
But after she reformatted it and put it back on the market, it sold well and even caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who called it "inspirational" on her talk show.
Speaking at the Sarasota event Saturday will be a homecoming for Germer. Her family moved from Michigan to Sarasota when she was 15, then to Bradenton a year later. Her father, Fred Germer, was a Holocaust survivor who went on to become a well-known local pharmacist who finished his career at age 84 with Vanguard Pharmacy Systems.
Her mother, Betty, was "the most brilliant, forceful person I've ever met," Germer says, and would have given Hillary Clinton "a run for her money" had she been born 20 years later. Both her parents passed away last year, blows from which Germer took months to recover.
Her brother, Jim Germer, still lives and works in Bradenton and contributes to the Bradenton Herald's investment column.
Germer said even though her speaking career grew out of her writing, it is her favorite professional activity. Her speaking clients include Frito-Lay, Boeing, Xerox, State Farm, Coke, Ford and Hallmark.
Bradenton physician Anila Jane invited Germer to speak at this week's conference, which starts Thursday. Jain, who attended Bayshore the same time as Germer, is the honorary chairwoman of the event. She knew her former schoolmate would be a good choice.
"When this conference came up, we thought about her right away," she said.
The National Association of Commissions for Women National Conference and Business Meeting runs through Saturday.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.