The Cookie Connoisseur: The Early Years of Debbi Fields

“I was really happy being a housewife,” says Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies. “I was proud to be there for my husband, but it did not necessarily make me feel great.” Longing for something more out of life than being just a mother and a wife, Fields turned her lifelong passion for baking into a multimillion dollar enterprise that has continued to attract a loyal following throughout the U.S. She did not have a business degree or the support from her family, but what Fields did have was a dream.

That dream began on September 18, 1957 when Debra Jane Sivyer was born in Oakland, California. With four older sisters, Fields was born to a welder father and a housewife mother. An average student, Fields found her attention being diverted away from school and into the kitchen. She loved baking cookies and seeing the positive reaction from her family and friends who ate them.

When Fields was 13 years old, she began working odd jobs and used the money she had saved to buy ingredients for her cookies. From vanilla to butter to chocolate chips, Fields could see no better use for her money than putting it towards her cookies – the one thing she found she was both good at and enjoyed doing.

After graduating from high school, Fields met and fell in love with Randy Fields, a graduate from Stanford University. The two were married when Fields was just 19 years old. From thereon out, Fields took on the role of housewife. But, while she loved her husband, it was a position she never grew accustomed to.

Fields found the most challenging part of the experience to be when the couple would attend social gatherings. People would ask the usual question of what she was doing for a living. When she had nothing to answer except housewife, Fields felt a room full of patronizing looks glaring down on her. It was a life she was not altogether happy with.

One night, however, that all changed. “I had an opportunity for a big breakthrough,” says Fields. A friend of her husband had invited the pair over to his house for dinner. Fields was instantly impressed. “We arrived and instantly I knew how important this gentleman is because at the entrance to his home is this massive iron gate,” she recalls. “And in front of our little house there is a small hedge.”

After entering the house, Fields got separated from her husband and wound up in the library with the other man. Out of the blue, he asked, “Debbie, what are you trying to do exactly with your life?” After thinking about an appropriate answer, Fields replied, “I’m trying to get orientated.” The man instantly stood up, walked over to the bookshelf to grab a dictionary and threw it at Fields. “Listen, if you cannot speak the English language, then just don’t,” he said. “The word is not orientated. It’s oriented.”

The man left the room as Fields burst into tears. “And then, I sat there and I thought, ‘You know, never again. Never again do I want to feel the way I feel right now,’” says Fields. “Because what nobody ever understood is that I, too, wanted to be a somebody. But how do you go through life wanting to be a someone and not knowing how?”

It was an eye opening experience for Fields, and one that would forever change her life.

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