Danisha Hoston Wrighster had a seemingly perfect life. She was expecting her first baby, a girl, with her college sweetheart boyfriend and working at a job she enjoyed. But things quickly changed when her longtime beau died from intestinal cancer as their newborn turned just 10 weeks old. Two months after returning to work from maternity leave, Hoston Wrighster was laid off.
She’d become an unemployed single mother. She had no other options but to file for WIC, a federal subsidy, to feed her baby, and unemployment “just to survive.” But she didn’t intend to rely on either program for long.
“Being such a young mom, I was already overwhelmed with the responsibility of parenting and grieving over her father’s death; the financial strain from being laid off just felt like it was too much,” Hoston Wrighster, who was 24 at the time, tells Yahoo Parenting. But accepting government benefits made her feel “humiliated and irresponsible. My daughter was only a few months old and I was already failing as a mother.”
Still, “as horrible as I felt, I became determined to not become a sad, broke, single mom statistic. I didn’t have anything left to lose so I decided [to put forth] everything I had left,” she says. “I know now that a huge part of my determination and ambition came from going through such a dark time.”
The mom, who has a degree from UCLA in communications and business administration, recalled her most recent job as a corporate accountant, when “the big checks went to guys that are not the brightest bulbs. I work harder than them, and if I could make even half [the money], that would be great.”
While working at that job as an accountant, she’d obtained her real estate broker’s license, and she had passed her exam while on maternity leave. So she decided to go into business as a commercial real estate agent, and soon landed a job at commercial real estate company Marcus & Millichap.
Her first year was a disaster. “I couldn’t pay rent. I was eating Cup Noodles and apple juice. I couldn’t go to my mailbox for almost six months, because I couldn’t pay a bill,” says Hoston Wrighster.
After seven months of not making a dime, a few of the deals she’d been working on closed back to back. Suddenly, she’d earned $216,000 in just five months.
But it wasn’t easy juggling her growing business and raising her daughter, who had just turned 1 year old. “I took her with me. She went to client meetings, property tours, trips to escrow, Saturday morning photo [shoots], evening trips to the office. We did everything together,” says Hoston Wrighster, who also relied on family support. “We may not have been playing at the park or baking cookies like other mothers and daughters, but we were together and we built our own little empire. And that’s special to me.”
Hoston Wrighster’s hard work paid off. After 15 years as a commercial real estate agent, she’s now worth more than $2 million. “If you really set your mind to it and pay the price of hard work and persistence every time you get kicked in the teeth,” she says, “at some point you’ll succeed.”
A casting agent contacted her out of the blue in 2015, and she became a real estate judge on the show Home Free on Fox. She’s also appeared as a TV personality on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, and founded her own company, Hoston & Associates.
She never could have accomplished as much without serious setbacks, she says — and now she appreciates what she’s built even more.
“I don’t think that there’s a real story of success that doesn’t come from adversity,” says Hoston Wrighster. “I think that when you have been through a lot, you appreciate success more.”
But she admits she’s still fearful of becoming a “WIC mom” again, knowing how quickly she lost everything before. “I still struggle with not wanting to go back to being broke. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. I’m still a little panicked about going there.”
But she’s not letting that fear stop her from living her life. Hoston Wrighster wed former NFL tight end George Wrighster, and now they’re focusing on their blended family, which includes her 15-year-old and her husband’s kids, ages 4, 5, and 9.
They’re focusing on making sure their kids are smart with money from the get-go. “Even if we run into a store and we’re picking which bread to buy, I’ll ask them to look at the price and compare and how many bread slices are in each pack,” Hoston Wrighster says. “I think that by not talking about money, it creates kids who grow into adults that don’t know how to manage it.”
She also doesn’t pay her kids allowance and expects them do the dishes and take out the trash as part of their expected household chores. As a result, the kids have become entrepreneurs themselves. Her daughter, Devan, built a website to launch her own pet-sitting business.
“Many moms let fear, guilt, and the responsibility of being a mother hold them back from … pursuing their dreams, but that is the opposite of what we are supposed to do,” she says. Her kids have seen her fail, make mistakes, bounce back, and win, “so they know that, whatever it is they want and no matter how hard it may seem, they can do it too.”