Meet four locals who are living the dream in Cincinnati

“I’m going to Hollywood!” squeals the teen hopeful, as she jumps up and down holding a yellow ticket.

“New York … where dreams are made of,” croons Alicia Keys as she pounds out notes on a piano in the middle of Times Square. 

According to popular culture, living a dream seems to require celebrity status and close proximity to an ocean. But several Cincinnatians are following their passions right here in the Queen City. Each day, they wake up excited to get to work doing what they love. “On a scale of one to 10, with hating every minute of your job being a one and loving every second being a 10, I would say I’m at a nine or 10 almost all the time,” says local software developer, Tarek Kamil. Here, Kamil and three other local residents share lessons that can help all of us go from punching the clock to pursuing our calling. 

Rachel DesRochers

What do you do when you have two kids to support and lose the corporate job you’ve held for seven years? For Linwood resident Rachel DesRochers, the answer was simple: bake. 

As the granddaughter of restaurateurs, cooking is in her blood. So while trying to figure out her next step, she invited a friend to join her for some holiday baking. Before that day, DesRochers had never tasted a graham cracker that didn’t come from a box and was floored by how delicious it was. 

This sparked an idea for her—Grateful Grahams. In 2010, DesRochers started her business selling healthy, delicious snacks, while spreading the message of gratitude at the same time. Since then, she has gone from rolling out dough on her kitchen counter with a five-month-old strapped to her back, to producing vegan treats in her 5,000-square-foot Covington facility and distributing them to 40 wholesale retailers from California to Washington D.C., plus an additional 27 Whole Foods markets. 

DesRochers believes that the key to the company’s success has been not only creating a great product, but also the focus on gratitude, which is at the core of how DesRochers lives her life and runs her business. “People aren’t just buying a cookie,” she says. “They are buying the message. If you stop, you can always find something to be grateful for.” Customers aren’t the only ones taking notice. Grateful Grahams has been featured in VegNews and as a nominee for Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards.

DesRochers says she is living her dream because she has the opportunity to work hard, be a mom, be active in the community, and make a really great product … and she gets to do it all in her beloved hometown. “I have traveled all over,”she says, “but there is no place I’d rather be [than Cincinnati].”   

To others who are thinking of following their passion, she says, “Do it! Don’t wait for a perfect moment. Jump in. You are able to create the biggest, most amazing life you want to create.”

Sam Hills

Maybe you’ve heard of High Five Salon in O’Bryonville. It was recently featured in Elle magazine as one of the top 100 salons in the country and on InStyle magazine’s list for the “Top 50 Haircuts Under $50." But according to owner Sam Hills, the salon's success is about much more than a good haircut.

Hills was the punk rock kid who dressed weird and had green hair; the kid who dropped out of college (Cincinnati Christian University) to go on tour as the drummer in a band. But something kept calling him back to Cincinnati. He loved the city and admits that it helped that his “smokin’ hot” girlfriend (now wife) lived here.

Upon returning, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, but after the third person suggested hair, he knew it was more than a coincidence. He had found his calling. “I can’t think of one day I’ve ever woken up and thought, ‘I don’t want to go to work,” he says. “There’s an unquenchable hunger in me for the joy I experience when I connect with a client and make them feel beautiful. That is so addicting.”

Hills credits his success to the salon’s mission: “I think what has drawn people to High Five is that we are passionate about treating people as friends in a real, authentic way," he says. "We don’t believe in transaction. We are unearthing beauty from the inside out. Sometimes it is just hair, and sometimes it is getting past insecurities and helping people see what they like about themselves.”

Hills has two pieces of advice for anyone pursuing their calling:
  1. Expose your dream to people you know will be honest with you, and take feedback to heart.
  2. Anything worth being passionate about is worth failing for. So many dreams come out of a place of brokenness. Keep trying. The fall isn’t as far the second and third time.
Jennifer Wilkey

Jennifer Wilkey started her career following in the footsteps of Indiana Jones. With a master’s degree from University of Cincinnati in classical archeology, she planned to be a professor and delighted in the idea of unearthing artifacts and shaping young minds. But her plans changed when she met her now husband, Justin, and found that an even greater adventure was in store for her.

Wilkey’s new journey started in Ethiopia, where she and Justin adopted their daughter, Samara, four years ago. Wilkey knew even before bringing Samara back home to Pleasant Ridge that she was meant to be a stay-at-home mom. She wanted the primary focus of her life to be her family and, for her, the way to do that was to make it her full-time job.

“Teaching will always be a part of my life,” Wilkey says, ”but now my students are my kids.” When the Wilkeys’ second daughter, Eva, joined the family last spring, frequent feedings made it hard to take Samara out for many activities. So, instead, Jennifer started reading her the Laura Ingalls Wilder books every afternoon. “These books started my love of history, and now I was passing my love for something that changed my life on to my little girl, she says. "Those moments were so sweet and priceless.” She wouldn’t want to miss a single one.

Wilkey recommends that people trying to find their true path think about what they want their lives to be like and then find the occupation that meets that—not the other way around. She believes that being a stay-at-home mom is what she was meant to do because it is helping her become a better person. Her best advice: “Contentment comes from appreciating that life is not all about you. It’s about the bigger picture—community, taking care of others.”

Tarek Kamil

Tarek Kamil’s parents expected him to be a doctor from the time he was born. Their dream, however, was not his. So after three years of pre-med, he began pursuing the passion he had since he was 12: technology. “I love utilizing technology to innovate and solve problems. It’s almost artistic. You start with a blank canvas and create,” Kamil says. “I love rolling things out and having people say, ‘Wow that’s making my life easier and adding value to my life.’”

Kamil created WhatifSports.com, which he eventually sold to FOX, and products for InfoMotion Sports, which are sold in Apple stores across the country. Now, he is pairing his love for technology with a passion for problem-solving through the creation of Cerkl.com—an online platform that helps connect schools and nonprofits in need of expertise with individuals interested in sharing their knowledge.

Kamil is absolutely sure he is living his dream. “I love it when work doesn’t feel like work," he gushes. "When I’m being paid to do something I love. When I feel as though I’m providing value to others. Just as importantly, I love helping others find their passion and pursue their dreams.”

To that end, he suggests taking the time to really know what makes you tick. "Only when you know that answer can you move on to the next step—actually doing it,” he says. And while it’s scary to move away from security and safety, it is much better than living a life of regrets, he advises.

“This doesn’t mean quitting your job and moving to Tahiti,” Kamil adds. “Take one step. It doesn’t have to be world-changing and disruptive to your life. But are you one step closer today than you were yesterday? If you answer 'yes,' you are on the right path. Once you’ve tasted passion, everything else tastes like crackers.”

Read more articles by Holly End.

Holly End is a freelance writer and published author from Pleasant Ridge.
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