There’s an old adage that says a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but sometimes the starting line is fraught with so many challenges it is nearly impossible to get going.

Achieving personal goals is a reward in itself, but imagine not feeling like your family understands your goals and accomplishments.

McFarland resident Barbara J. Zabawa said it was somewhat lonely being a first generation college student in her family. Her father’s highest hope for her was that she would join the military to see the world.

She did see the world, but on a prestigious fellowship after graduating with honors from Lawrence University.

“I then went on to graduate school to get my Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan and my law degree from the University of Wisconsin,” Zabawa said.

“It was difficult being a high achiever in a blue collar family that had no knowledge or even much appreciation for a college education,” she added. “I know what it feels like to not be able to share one’s accomplishments with people who care about you but have no idea what it’s like to live in your world.”

Her interview with James Kademan on his program, “Authentic Business Adventures” will air on the Sun Prairie Media Center’s TV programming on KSUN (Spectrum channel 983 or TDS channels 13 or 1013) at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9; consult local online for an on-demand viewing of the program.

Grit, perseverance pay off

“No one’s definition of success matters but your own. Sometimes I think it is best to keep the blinders on and stop looking at benchmarks,” she said.

Three years ago, her younger brother died of an opioid overdose — leaving her parents destitute after going through what funds they had to support him.

All of these experiences played a part in propelling her to make a difference in her life.

Today, Zabawa takes care of her parents, her 16-year-old twins and holds three jobs. She’s thankful she has a very supportive husband.

She is also a Clinical Assistant Professor for the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee College of Health Sciences, Department of Health Services Administration where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in health law and compliance, US health care delivery and health professions career development.

As a visionary, she founded the Center for Health and Wellness Law LLC, a law firm dedicated to improving legal access and compliance for the health and wellness industries; learn more at

Besides being the lead author of the book Rule the Rules on Workplace Wellness Programs, published by the American Bar Association, she is a frequent writer and speaker on health and wellness law topics.

Her recently published book, The Tug: Finding Purpose and Joy through Entrepreneurship, was written to inspire others to who may need a little tug to move their ideas beyond the dream stage.

If have an idea for a business but have no idea how to make it happen, Zabawa’s book walks you through it.

“The Tug leads you through the very early stages of entrepreneurship through the eyes of someone going through it herself,” Zabawa said. “There is information on whether and how to form a legal entity, conduct market research, find funding, creating a prototype, hiring help, and selling your idea. By the end of the book you’ll find empowered to move forward.”

Pockets have deep meaning

A second endeavor is the clothing line, Pursesuitz Pocketwear (in development) which Zabawa established to rave reviews. The tank top she developed has unusual discreet, but deep, pockets.

The stylish tops can be worn as casual wear or paired with other sportswear. The high quality craftsmanship features deep pockets so you can move about hands-free without having to carry around a purse.

This past spring the line was signaled as a notable contender by the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. Zabawa’s Pursesuitz clothing company was a finalist in the category of Advance Manufacturing.

You might not realize it, but pockets have an interesting history in the evolution of women’s clothing. An article in The Atlantic magazine said when women’s clothing became more form fitting in the mid-1800s, fashion designers basically did away with pockets or made them so small that they basically lacked function.

That’s when women started carrying handbags. But carrying purses and external bags weigh women down (imagine the lightness of just carrying the basics in pockets). They can also cause shoulder pain and create safety issues like theft and assaults.

Zabawa said her Pursesuitz Pocketwear Tank Top has created a solution to the lack of deep pockets in women’s clothing.

“We still believe in style,” she said. “But the Pursesuitz Pocketwear Tank Top will hold your items securely, while still giving you easy access to them. So ditch your bag, free your hands and shoulders, and start pursuing life.”

Overcoming life’s lemons

Zabawa’s third business is all about lemons — not the lemon meringue pie variety, rather the life’s bitter lemons that hit you hard.

At one time or another most of come face-to-face with one of life’s lemons, a tough to get through challenge, hardship, loss or perhaps an unthinkable roadblock.

Just as often as lemons appear, many people are able to move beyond daunting problems that they may never have thought possible.

These types of inspirational of stories can be found on Lemonspark, a podcast founded by Zabawa. Listen to recent episodes at

The name refers to those who haven’t let life’s lemons define them and have the spark to overcome challenges.

“People love to tell stories and learn from them,” Zabawa observed. “It is inevitable that every successful person at one time experienced hardship in their life.

“Nevertheless,” she added, “sometimes success is created because of a hardship, such as loss of a job, a loved one, a home or one’s health. Regardless of the ‘lemon,’ people currently facing a challenging time in their life can benefit from inspirational stories told by the people who not only lived through them, but found a better path forward.”

Zabawa has come a long way from a youthful longing for learning and making a difference in the world. Her enthusiasm for her work and dedication to enlightening others only continues to grow.

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