When she was younger, she wanted to own her own business – she said she always knew it’s what she would end up doing. Despite big dreams, at 14 years old, Mattea Schmitz got caught up in drugs and alcohol, saying she immediately became addicted. What followed were years of heavy drug and alcohol use, and during this experience she got kicked out of high school. But even in her addiction, Mattea was driven. She ended up figuring out a way to get her high school diploma despite getting kicked out, and went to college to study business.
When in college, she says the drinking and drug use continued to escalate and she started using meth. “I thought I was enjoying life, but it was just a disaster,” Schmitz says. After a few rough years from ages 19-24, on August 2, 2007 she said to herself “This is not who I am, this is not who I can be for the rest of my life. I don’t want to die being an addict – I want to live.” Mattea recounts thinking those statements as she sat in jail, but says that she’s been sober ever since that moment. Following the arrest, she went to treatment at Common Ground in Rochester. After completing treatment successfully, she got serious in recovery and started working. And then a couple of years after going to Common Ground for treatment, she went back to the same company, but this time for a job interview.
Although the then-treatment center owners were skeptical, Mattea proved herself through her impressive resume and experience she’d gained in her recovery. She got a job as an assistant, but quickly worked her way up – she was promoted from an assistant to an office manager, then to a business manager, then to the director of operations, and in January 2015, Mattea purchased the company. She is now the CEO of Common Ground, the same facility she attended for treatment 9 years earlier.
Mattea describes the feeling as surreal – she says that without her recovery she wouldn’t have any of the experiences she has today. Since taking over Common Ground just over a year ago, she has expanded the facility to two outpatient sites and is opening a halfway house in Winona, MN this summer.
We sat down to ask Mattea a few questions about her experience as an entrepreneur in recovery, and here’s what she had to say:
Q: Were there any lessons that you learned from your using days that have helped you as an entrepreneur today?
A: “The hustle. I sold drugs to do drugs. I could find money anywhere – I knew who to call, I knew how to make money, I knew who to trust. Translating that to being an entrepreneur, I’m doing the same thing, just on the right side of the law – I’m finding the clientele, doing my research, finding who I trust in hiring the right employees – the people I trust the most to carry out the mission of Common Ground.”
Q: How has your recovery benefitted you as an entrepreneur?
A: “I couldn’t do anything I’m doing today without my recovery. I wouldn’t be alive right now – I knew if I didn’t get sober, I would die. My recovery also makes me a better leader – I’m compassionate with the staff and I understand the clients – I’ve been in their shoes.”
Q: What would you say to people in recovery who are thinking about going back to school, joining the workforce, or starting a business?
A: “Don’t settle. I know that you might think people are looking at you differently – and maybe they are looking at you in a different way. But there will be people who understand your situation, and the right doors will open. Don’t think that because you have a felony or a past that you can’t make a difference in your life or in other people’s lives. You have too much potential to just settle.”
Schmitz and her staff are continuing their work at Common Ground, the outpatient treatment center that Schmitz attended 9 years ago. At Common Ground, the group conducts assessments, education, and outpatient treatment programming in both Rochester and Winona, Minnesota. By this summer, the organization will also be opening a halfway house for men who are recovering from substance use disorder. Schmitz is managing a growing enterprise with nearly 15 staff members and counting, and she is not slowing down any time soon.
Take it from Mattea – don’t settle. Lessons learned in addiction – the hustle – when translated to recovery, fuel the drive to become a great entrepreneur. The leadership and vision that she has harnessed are saving lives, and recovery has transformed her past to a tangible, meaningful impact on her community today.
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