Dena Garvin-Smart

Time for Reinvention

Dena Garvin-Smartby Dena-Garvin Smart, Director of New Opportunities

It was like one day I just woke up and said, “Let’s turn our lives upside down.”

I had enjoyed a really wonderful and long-term career in the banking industry. 33 years to be exact. I worked hard, advanced through a culmination of promotions to an executive level, I even helped start a community bank and saw it through a series of mergers that ultimately resulted in my complete disenchantment. While I hardly knew any other world, the game just wasn’t for me anymore and I was out.

Time to reinvent.

I was fortunate to grow up in Glendora, California, which is a beautiful suburb of Los Angeles. I was a third generation Glendoran who graduated from high school with all of the same kids I had started preschool with. Our parents all knew one another, and are mostly all still friends today. I married a Glendora guy and we settled into our Glendora home where we lived for over 25 years. My husband had sold his family’s business a few years prior to my banking finale, so without the career ties to the community we didn’t feel bound to our roots and decided to take a swing at our dreams!

Time to reinvent.

I have always had a passion for health and fitness and enjoyed owning a small fitness franchise where I taught classes nearly every day. My small business was over 20 years old but could not withstand the toll of the pandemic. Despite my best efforts to offer virtual classes, and the dedication of so many loyal friends and participants, my fitness business…like many others…was forced to close. It was one of the saddest days of my life when I locked the doors behind me for the last time. Not one to look back, I decided I would continue to keep my license in the name of self-discipline to stay in shape.

Time to reinvent.

During times of extreme difficulty, loss or change, I have always advised my friends to not make any rash decisions, like changing a hairstyle or adopting a puppy. Yet, here I was faced with, what felt to like to me, a fairly extreme set of circumstances. I was not just about to make one life-altering decision, I was looking at several…and all at the same time. As I have “matured,” I’ve learned to follow my gut and I just instinctively knew it was…


I fearlessly tackled my career goals. I knew I was done with banking.  “How did I know?” you may wonder. Despite being contacted by a handful of recruiters and taking a few interviews, I just didn’t like anyone. It was that simple because liking the people that I work with is important to me. So, I literally took out a pen and a piece of paper and made two lists. (I’m a fairly well-networked person so this was a logical exercise for me.) The first list was a row of professionals that I knew, liked and respected. The second list was comprised of successful, well-established companies in industries that my banking skills would transition well to. A few of those lines cross-referenced so I reached out to those contacts first. Southland Data Processing happened to be top on my list. I knew the Directors and Leadership Team. I reached out to Michael Reis, VP of Sales, which led to some really inspiring conversations and a job offer a few weeks later. It was the most excited I had been about…well, anything in a very long time! I joined the SDP team in January 2022 as the Director of New Opportunities to oversee the development of a new division, manage marketing, and new strategic developments.

Career reinvention achieved.

Transitioning into the payroll industry from the banking industry was relatively easy for me. I went from being one of the youngest people in my company to (probably) the oldest. I love being surrounded by really smart people who know how to work hard, be nice and have fun. The company has a certain buzz about it. We are a very dynamic company that is constantly pursuing the best for clients. It’s an exciting place to be and we do work that I am proud of. I’ve gained more in the past 12 months than in the past 12 years and, because it’s such a positive environment and I love what I’m doing, the ability to reinvent has been a very organic process.

Lesson learned; reinvention is easy when you like it.

The Leadership team, particularly Renita Bess, our President, CEO & “Head Cheerleader,” was very supportive of my dreams to relocate. My husband and I had a plan and a vision. None of it really worked out the way we thought, but at least we tried. We listed our Glendora home with plans to temporarily relocate to a family weekend home in Palm Desert, California. We chose the “Rockstar of Realtors” who sold our house in, what seemed to be, two minutes. Just for fun, we decided to list the weekend home for sale too…and there it went in a flash! After the turmoil of moving out of a home of 25 years, we ultimately pursued our dream of moving to La Quinta, California. With three escrows in less than two months and a new job my head was spinning. It really was a thrilling time despite the pains of moving.

Residence reinvention achieved!

Luckily for me the fitness franchise that I owned was part of a world-wide brand who offered many opportunities to interact with other instructors and owners. I had come to know the instructors of my fellow Palm Desert franchise and would, occasionally, take classes with them or teach if they needed a substitute. Shortly before our move, I reached out to let them know about my plans and interest to continue teaching. Fitness instructors tend to be inherently positive people, so I was greeted with a warm and loving welcome and immediately made part of the teaching rotation. Thanks to my friend and fellow instructor Patti, she introduced me to friendships and social outlets while I established myself in a new community. I’m happy to share that I have met some really amazing people. While it won’t ever replace the 20 years I spent owning my business and the relationships made there, I am enjoying the relief of responsibility, being part of an enthusiastic team whom I respect, and I am rediscovering the pleasure of teaching classes. Truth be told…the skills of this instructor group are very strong and they have inspired me to be better than, perhaps, I have ever been.

Fitness reinvention achieved!

Seeking to create adversity or challenges is never on my agenda. Life has a way of throwing curveballs anyway, so it’s a strange undertaking to go looking for the commotion. For me, going through this process of reinvention felt like the only option, in a good way!

There’s something to be learned from my experience.

Complacency is not happiness.

Settling is not gratifying.

Strength is essential.

As I summarize my thoughts on the power of reinvention, I’d like to share this one last bit. Despite all the strife and the changes, this past year was exciting! I have more confidence in myself. I know how to trust my instincts. I know that I am a person who has the ability to make others’ lives better. I learned that I am capable of change and that I love progress. This is powerful stuff and I was only able to gain these realizations because I reinvented.

If you’re feeling inspired to do the same just know, for me, it was worth it!

Thank you for reading the tale of my reinvention journey.

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*Southland Data Processing, Inc. (“SDP”) is not a law firm. This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other SDP materials does not create an attorney-client relationship. SDP is not responsible for any inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process.

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