Four years ago, Gian Durand seemed to have it all. A successful entrepreneur, she had built a diverse businesses portfolio since receiving her JD from Loyola College of Law in 2004. Beginning with Loving Hearts of Louisiana, a behavioral health and personal care assistance resource for the underserved in Orleans and Lafayette parishes, she expanded into the food service and utilities sector. She was the mother to healthy, infant twins Gian and Jonathan, and had just moved into her dream home. Yet, Durand soon came to understand she was paying too high a price for her success.
The outdoor living area and swimming pool that was so appealing when she purchased the property was rarely used. She didn’t entertain friends and family as she had expected. She didn’t get in the pool with her children. One day she decided that she no longer wanted a life where her outdoor oasis was more than something she glanced at through the window while she was on the phone conducting business. She realized she wanted to jump in the pool.
She reassessed her life and her businesses. She reflected on her career: the decisions, opportunities and mistakes she made along the way. And, in refocusing her attention on the things that mattered most to her, she understood the detours along her journey were not meant to distract her from her path. They were meant to guide her back to where she began—in behavioral health management and childhood advocacy.
“One of the most important things I learned is that I am a connector,” Durand said. “I am not only able to draw from my diverse experience to create successful programs, but I am also able to leverage the relationships I’ve built with businesspeople across a variety of industries. I have the connections to pull people and resources together to help the underserved in our community.”
Durand refocused on Loving Hearts of Louisiana by expanding its service area. She chose to work within one segment of the population first to avoid the distractions and frenetic pace that had previously defined her life. “While the need is great in every segment, I decided to start where I could make the most substantial impact—school-age children.”
Together with healthcare providers and several charter schools in New Orleans, Durand developed a holistic program for elementary school students that encompasses physical, academic and medical support services. The PAM (Physical, Academic and Medical) program will be launched as a pilot program in eight select charter schools this fall. “I am fortunate to be in the position to speak for the less fortunate and to have my voice heard. Whether through specialized programs like PAM or through larger advocacy efforts, I have the determination and tenacity to get things done,” Durand said.
In fact, it is that tenacity that has provided Durand with a national platform upon which to spread her message. She was chosen and appeared on the BRAVO network’s reality series, Southern Charm New Orleans this past season. Having taped on only six separate occasions, she was surprised to discover how prominent her appearances were in the storyline during the eight-week series. “The experience was not what I expected, but I have no regrets,” she said. “I stayed true to myself and my principles and that came across on the screen. I had no idea that I would have so many people reach out to me as a result of the show.”
Durand wants to use this expanded following to speak to the many women struggling to balance their career and family, while still taking care of themselves. “I want to be a resource and source of support for businesswomen. There is no road map to success. But there are shared experiences we can use to help each other navigate through our personal journeys,” she said. “We don’t have to feel isolated from one another, and we should not be afraid to ask for help. There is a psychological price of entrepreneurship, especially for women. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to mental health. Yet, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.”
Noting that it is almost impossible to make effective decisions in times of crises, Durand stresses the importance of self-care. “All too often, women sacrifice their physical and emotional needs in their effort to try to do it all. Not only do we tend to neglect our own wellbeing, we can also play a part in eroding it,” she said. “We need to accept failure as part of the learning process and not be so hard on ourselves when it happens. Some of us know fire just by seeing the flames. Others need to touch it to be sure. We need to forgive ourselves if we get burned.”
Durand is a firm believer in destiny. She said giving things over to a higher power has freed her from impatience and fear—two elements that inhibit growth. “It is important to be open to new experiences. Not everything in life is going to happen according to our own plan or timeline. I have learned to enjoy the gift of life that God has given me, to let the unknown be beautiful. The life I thought I would have when I started my career 15 years ago is not the life I have. My life is so much more fun.”
For more information about Loving Hearts of Louisiana, please visit lovingheartsofla.com.