The process of “reclaiming” herself was not easy. Melissa went through a divorce, and ultimately decided to go back to school to pursue a secondary education.
A conversation with a close friend prompted her to go into a social work education program, and she soon realized she’d found her calling. A short while after earning her Bachelor’s Degree, she took a job as a psycho-social rehab worker in a day treatment facility operated by a new startup company. The facility offered a higher level of care for people with severe mental illness, including intensive rehabilitative behavioral modification.
The work was extraordinarily intense and challenging, yet rewarding. As a single parent with a 10 year old daughter and 7 year old son at home, Melissa had to learn to separate her work life from her home life. With a 30 minute commute down into a valley to work each day and 30 minutes to drive back up, she’d tell herself, “at the top of this hill, I’m leaving all of that there.” This mental exercise allowed her children to have a mom who was mentally present and emotionally available.
Melissa soon moved her way up to become the Program Manager. Then tragedy struck. The company’s owner committed suicide, leaving the employees’ futures up in the air.
Given her talents and work ethic, friends and colleagues had long urged Melissa to start her own company. Despite the uncertainty of the situation, she jumped at the chance for a new challenge, and started an outpatient mental health clinic with another social worker colleague. Soon, their business grew to five offices serving eight Idaho counties.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. She sometimes sensed friction while managing and supervising her social workers who’d obtained Master’s degrees, given that she only held a Bachelor’s degree. She thus felt compelled to further her education credentials while still running her company.
Ten months later, she completed her Master’s degree through an accelerated program at Boise State University. A year of being a mom, business owner, and student was a feat that necessitated completing a near super-human daily workload.
As her business’s stellar reputation grew, Melissa Paller was approached by Drug Court representatives in two counties, asking if her company would become their drug court treatment provider.
“I do mental health very well, but I have zero experience in substance abuse,” she answered. “We don’t care; we’ll wait for you to do it,” the courts responded.
Thus began a new journey. Melissa started a new company and hired an expert to help her develop its substance use disorder (SUD) program. She also went back to school for the necessary education, and soon became the Drug Court treatment provider for both counties.
Growing a successful business takes hard work. 15 hour days became the norm and even during “off hours,” Melissa’s mind was still engaged in work: what can we do better or differently to improve patient outcomes, how can I manage a particular employee better? The benefits of success and making a positive impact on one hand had to be weighed against the downsides of enormous stress and loss of family time on the other.
Then Melissa got life-changing news: she was diagnosed with cancer. Going through treatment reinforced the realization that life isn’t just about working and she needed to make major lifestyle changes. She wanted to use her talents and experiences to make a difference, but she didn’t want the added stress that came with being a business owner.
In 2010, after many successful years operating her own businesses, Melissa decided to sell. (Both companies are still operating today.)
What to do next?
Never one to sit still or avoid a new adventure, Melissa decided to move from Idaho to Las Vegas in 2011—not just for professional reasons, but for personal ones.