Meet The Risk Takers

There is a reason it’s called a brand new idea - their ideas should inspire you to brand yours…

They sign pinky promises, spill their gutsy and share how they continue to speak follow and fulfill business dreams. Sitting on The Couch, they take us along for the journey and reflect on their initial risk-taking moment, re-discovering their love, passion and vision - and then fall in love all over again. Remembering the thrill of the risk, the highs, the lows and the rewards, they refocus and find themselves walking away with renewed purpose.

They are the Risk-Takers, and this is The Green Couch Project

Tony Williams

Beacon House

Jess Diehl

Zestt Organics

Alex Sincevich

Dapper DJs

Kim Dow

Sass Magazine

Julie Gaver

Business Coach

Francine Shaw

Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell us who you are and what you do.

My name is Francine Shaw and I am the owner of Food Safety Training Solutions. We do food safety consulting and training in the food service industry.

Q: What fires you up?

I get to help people understand that whether they are a dishwasher or a business owner, they impact lives on a daily basis. One out of every three people don’t wash their hands when they use the restroom. People don’t understand the impact that it can have when you’re preparing food. Whether the food is cooked or not, bacteria can be passed on to people with weak immune systems, or maybe people that have good immune systems, that could get sick and die. It’s a big deal.

Q: What was your defining Green Couch moment?

I’ve always wanted to own my own business, but never had a specific direction. I was working as a trainer for a company and worked very quickly up to vice president of training. In 7 years, the company grew from a $1 million to a $10 million business. One day I decided there’s no reason I can’t do this for myself, and I quit a six-figure job to start my own company. At that moment I wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to start my own business.” I just knew I was finished there, and that I had no plan. When I hung up I thought, OMG what have I done? Did I really just do that? Now I gotta tell my husband! Oh no.

Q: What are some of the dust bunny fear factors lurking under your couch?

A fear of failure. I don’t fail well. On the other hand, I have more guts than brains. However, the fear of failure drives me to succeed.

Q: How do you embrace that fear of failure and handle obstacles just in general?

Any obstacle is unique. If the obstacle is people, you need to understand the person, how they would react, and what is important to them. Use that feedback to address the problem. Personalities are unique, so I would address them differently even if it is the same situation.

Q: How do you spell success? What does that mean for you?

Does anybody ever feel they are successful? In certain aspects I’ve been very successful in a short period of time. Happiness is probably the biggest success an individual can have. Just because you own a business and make things look different doesn’t mean you’re happy.

It’s okay to fail. Just because you fail this time doesn’t mean you’ll fail the next time.

Q: How do your customers see you? What makes your brand different?

What I do can be very boring and when we are working with people -consulting or training- we find a way to make very mundane (but important) material exciting, entertaining, and relatable. I spent a number of years in food service and I know what it is like when the health inspector shows up. I’m realistic about their work and the obstacles that they face. I’m educated in my field, fun to work with, and get the job done. A great day at work is when you don’t feel like you’ve been working. You can spend the entire day there, get a lot done, but you don’t feel like you’ve done any work. That’s a good day.

Q: Do the actions of your company match your company image?

Yes, they do.  The image we’ve created is very upbeat, and when we go into a classroom we’re very upbeat. From the music that we play to the way we present the materials throughout the course of the day.

Q: How do you know when an idea is an idea you want to act on?

When it keeps me up at night. I have a lot of random, spontaneous thoughts. Sometimes I’ll think about something, it’ll go through my head and if I don’t think about it again it wasn’t a big deal. But if it keeps me awake at night or keeps coming back, then it’s something that I need to act on.

Q: Does it ever get easier? Or is it a graduation from one obstacle to the next?

Some days we’re graduating from one obstacle to the next. I think our obstacles become different obstacles. My obstacles today aren’t the same ones I had a year ago, two years ago or even six months ago. Through mistakes and growth we’ve learned how to deal with them, and what was once a huge obstacle suddenly becomes easy.

Q: Don’t worry, be crappy. Mistakes help us grow. What is one of the biggest best mistakes you’ve ever made?

I did too much too fast. I tried a marketing strategy because someone didn’t think I was doing enough in their area. My instinct was not to do it, I did it to pacify them, and I should have been firmer. I knew as I was doing it I probably should not have done it. I should’ve listened to my gut…and my gut is usually always right.

Q: Looking forward, how has the good, the bad and that initial risk taking moment experience changed your life?

I’m a person who makes a decision and lives with it. I’ve always been that way.  Everything I’ve done has been for a reason. Would I have done things differently? Probably. I don’t typically make blank decisions, but it doesn’t take me a long time to make up my mind. I’ve very decisive. You have to move forward with the decisions you’ve made –right or wrong- live with it and make the best of them.

Q: Through it all, what’s the biggest thing you fear losing the most?

The best thing I’ve ever done was being a mother. I have the most amazing kids in the world, if something were to ever happen to one of them or my husband I don’t what I would do. The business can be replaced, every material possession I have can be replaced. You can’t replace people. So many people take that for granted and can be gone at any second. Take the opportunity to stop and realize that tomorrow may never come.

Q: What are some of the sacrifices of business ownership? What does that feel like?

You constantly worry about whether or not you are making the right decisions. Just like you would with your children, you want to do what’s best and right for the business. You put a lot of time and energy into a business, especially in the beginning. Balancing work and personal time is important. You need to have fun in order to be the best you can be during the workday.

The amount of space it takes up in my brain can sometimes be deemed a huge sacrifice. We sacrifice sleep because you know you’re worried about something that’s going on the next day. When you have a hundred people and a hundred other things that that need to be done, you have to force yourself to just say, “No. Enough’s enough. This can wait until tomorrow.”

Q: What would you say to somebody sitting on the fence of business ownership or working their way up?

Go for it. If you don’t you’re always gonna wonder what if, and you regret not making the effort. It’s okay to fail. Although it is my biggest fear...just because you fail this time doesn’t mean you’ll fail the next time. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. You have to put some effort into making it happen. It doesn’t just fall in your lap, If it’s something worth having, it’s worth waiting for. Do it.

Q: What is one of your blushing business stories?

Oh my!  I need to preface this by explaining what we were talking about. I was teaching a private class for a corporation and explaining that in kitchens they have three base sinks that are set out to wash, rinse and sanitize. Many of the [corporation] sinks have companies come in and put in automatic dispensers -one for soap, one for sanitizer- which hang on the wall and have hoses that run down into the sink. When the sink is filled with water the hose can’t be submerged, because it can contaminate the tube.

I ordered pizza delivery for lunch, and a delivery guy walks in on the conversation. I thought he heard what we were talking about, so I looked at him and asked, “How long is your hose?” He just looked at me and his mouth fell open. Everybody in the class was silent and I just wanted to run out the door. I tried to explain which made it worse. It was so bad.

Jason Rappaport

Innovative, Inc.

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell us who you are and what you do.

I am Jason Rappaport and I own Innovative Inc.

Q: What are some of the dust bunny fear factors lurking under your couch?

In a general sense, it’s constantly proving yourself as a person and also inspiring others, so at the core it’s probably that.

Q: How do you embrace that fear of failure and handle obstacles just in general?

I save as much money as possible and I try to live within my means. The only thing that I’ve been able to find to address those concerns, that specific financial concern, is always making sure you have money in the bank. You try to balance risk, being aggressive and not being overly aggressive, so you know that you’re not overspending yourself. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned recently.

The larger you get, the harder it is to maintain that, because instead of trying to convince two or three people or get one or two or three like-minded people together, now you’re getting 5, 10, 15, 20 people together and it’s harder to communicate. It’s a growing struggle but we haven’t found it impossible.

Q: As a leader, what are some of the biggest things you’ve learned for your company, for your family or for you?

I think two things. As a leader or CEO, the sooner you can learn to let go of the details, the better you’ll be. You just have to fight that urge.

Q: When everyone else zigs, you zag. How do you know when something is a good idea?

Usually it’s gut. Honestly a lot of stuff; it’s gut. I start to see the reasons to do something pile up, start thinking about the idea, and run out of reasons not to do it. Does that make sense? For example, residential computing is not a big part of our business. The reason we started residential computing is because we started counting how many times we said that we don’t. Some of that stuff: serious indicators. I don’t think I have paralysis analysis, but I analyze and analyze and think and sleep on it. I don’t make a lot of rash decisions, so I just let things simmer and if I still think the same way then I act the next day. And I get a lot of good advisors.

Q: Do you think having a mentor has played a role in your success?

It is absolutely huge. Even since the beginning of my career I can point to a couple of mentors that have made a huge difference in I am today. I really believe strongly in that.

Be curious. Don’t stop learning. Be open to any possibility even if the first thought is the opposite of what you think you want.

Q: So a younger version of Jason plops on the couch next to you, what do you tell him?

Be curious. Don’t stop learning. Be open to any possibility even if you know the first thought of it is the opposite of what you think you want to do. Have an open mind and be humble. Try to be as humble as possible. And surround yourself with as many smart people as you can, especially outside of your areas of expertise.

Q: Don’t worry, be crappy. Mistakes make us better. What is one of the biggest best mistakes you’ve ever made?

I tried to buy a computer company about 15 years ago and it backfired on me. I ended up unemployed and even though it was devastating and it nearly ruined me financially, at the time it was just mind blowing. I’m glad I didn’t do that. Is that a good answer? I think that’s probably one of the top ones.

Q: Does it ever get easier? Or is it a graduation from one obstacle to the next?

Honestly I don’t think it really gets easier. Reporting helps, and I’ll expand on that. So we’re usually slow in January, and I’m of course, 'Chicken Little, sky’s falling, oh my gosh what are we gonna do?' If you have good data or a good memory-and I do not have a good memory- you have to remember that the same thing happened last year, and the same thing happened the year before, but you have to balance that with being cocky. You can’t always have your eye in the rear view mirror; that's what makes you NOT an entrepreneur. One of my sayings is that the first day of being comfortable as an entrepreneur is the first day of going out of business. I see a lot of people who get comfortable. No, it’s been very frustrating over the last couple of years to see, oh now we’re a four million dollar company and oh gosh, the company should run itself. No. No, we’re just writing bigger checks.

Q: What mattered ten years ago that doesn’t matter anymore today? Or what did you think mattered?

Ego has definitely changed for me a lot over the last ten years. Who I am and what I accomplish means far less to me than what my children and wife think of me. I probably, ten years ago, had more of a ‘takeover the world, I want to be as big as I can be,’ scenario. Now a lot of that is a means to an end, to a family and retirement and making sure that my children actually respect me, like me, [that they] become successful and all those good things.

Q: Let’s look forward a little bit. How has the good, the bad and that initial risk taking experience changed your life?

I cannot imagine working for somebody else. Ever. The freedom outweighs the negative. I have a significantly higher tolerance of risk than I ever had. The decisions that I would sweat ten years ago on a monthly basis, I probably tear through on a daily basis. I made a commitment this morning to an expense that probably would have had me terrified ten years ago, but now it’s just, oh hey it’ll be fine.

Q: Through it all, what is the one thing you fear losing the most?

My family. Life.

Q: Is it the time with them? The experience with them?

Yeah. Those things can’t be bought.

Q: What’s next? What’s on the horizon for Jason?

Continuing. Diversification is on the horizon. Growing the company is definitely on the horizon.

Q: Let’s talk about some of your blushing business stories. One of those embarrassing tidbits?

Oh gosh. This is a good one. Well, it’s good to me. I had a customer that I was working with; a repeat customer, on a computer. They were buying a new computer for their son, who was ready to go away to college, and it was a repeat customer, so I gave them a little extra attention. I went on-site to their house and met with them. We were trying to figure out the computer that the son wanted. Halfway into the conversation as I’m talking to the son about the computer, I’m being told that it was a surprise gift. So that was a biggie. Yeah, that was not cool.

Q: What would you say to inspiring entrepreneurs, somebody that knows that they’ve got so much more to give than what they are being used for? What would tell them?

Rip off the band-aid. Do it. The only difference between those who do and those who don’t is a decision. It’s just a decision. To not want to take the risk? Just do it. Human beings are very resilient. Survival’s built into our DNA and even though plenty of people fail, a lot of people succeed.

Kate Rader

Ridgerunner Publishing

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell us who you are and what you do.

I started out as a designer before I got into the magazine business. I am interested in other people’s stories and helping people bring to light what they’re passionate about.

Q: What fires you up?

As a child, I had this thing for magazines. I had this excitement about how they made everything look larger than life, and as a designer I always tried to do that with my clients. I would find out what they were interested in and develop an identity or a plan to help them magnify that and what service they could provide. I felt like I had the ability to listen to people and see what magic they had in them. To bring that out in a bigger way is the creation process.

Q: What are some dust bunny fear factors lurking under your couch?

I had so much less fear when I started than I do now. When I started, I had nothing to lose; it was me, a computer and my dreams. If I could just make this successful, great. If I wasn’t, nothing was lost. Now I have employees, their families, and a community that respects and relies on the magazine. I have advertisers' investments; having that responsibility is scarier than creating. I have faith that we can create [content] for a magazine but can we make it work? Financially does it support itself and my employees? That’s always been important to me in the stories that we do, where our mission is to enlighten educate and inspire. It can be easy to lose of that if you aren’t careful.

Q: How do you spell success? What does that mean for you?

I’m driven from within. That’s what continues to push me all the time. If I felt successful, maybe that would end. There’s always the next thing to reach, and that’s what keeps me moving. At the same time, a nice little tiki bar on the beach in Florida somewhere one day? When I want to do something less demanding. 

Q: How do your customers see you? What makes your brand different?

People think that I am the magazine. I’m trying to make it bigger than just me. I’ve always tried to do that. It’s aligning your staff’s vision with yours. Remove yourself from some of the processes and still have them go to the quality and level that you expect. And, as you grow, you can’t do everything and be in the middle of everything. I hope that my personal brand can facilitate the magazine’s brand so it can function without me. I want it to continue to beyond my timespan. We try to provide a high level of interaction. Our audience expects innovation. My favorite feedback is, “I love this issue, and I think it was better than the last one!” They’re not better every time; we keep them excited and there’s something new and unexpected to make it feel comfortable. They know what the relationship with the magazine is going to be: It keeps them on their toes.

Q: Do the actions of your company match your company image?

There’s always room for improvement. I sent a letter out to all of our new advertisers and the ones who renewed their contracts, personally thanking them for their investment in the magazine and their faith in what we do. We reinforce that we want to provide them with good customer service and that we’re available if they need anything. Little things like that matter to people.

When everybody is working in harmony, it’s bigger than just you and your vision, then it can become reality.

Q: Your brand experience is not just from what they read. It’s also the letter they get in the mail, and the whole brand experience is in the actions of your brand.

The identity of the company is changing, so the brand is changing. We are trying to think bigger, outside of the immediate community. How can we expand to an east coast company?  It changes the way that my staff interacts with all of our customers because it gets them on board with what we’re trying to accomplish. It took me a really long time to understand that your staff doesn’t necessarily understand what you see in your head. When you have a vision, you think that everyone understands it like they all have the same vision. I’m like, ‘God, people are stupid they don’t get it,’ but it’s not that, it’s just that it’s mine. I have to own it, share it. I think that’s what leadership is about: it’s about being able to express something and get buy-in from people. When everybody is working in harmony, everybody’s working in tandem, then you know it becomes a beautiful thing, it’s bigger than just you and your vision, then it can become reality.

Q: A younger version of Kate plops down on the couch next to you right now. What 20/20 hindsight do you have for her?

Oh my gosh! She was so much more stubborn. I have always believed in the good in people and that people have good intentions. Because of being burned -I never expected that- I learned that your business and your personal life, while you can have some overlap, have boundaries. Sometimes you have to make decisions for the greater good, even though it might hurt one or two people. I think that if I were sitting next to me I would tell me to be more patient, listen more and not to lose my passion, because that is always what has kept me going. I would tell her to be more cautious and think things through more than I did when I was younger.

Q: So in this whole business adventure, does it ever get easier or is just an evolution?

For some it does get easier, and that could be a good thing. But for me, the minute that it starts to get easy or boring, I’ll do something to make it interesting again.

Q: For a true entrepreneurial spirit there’s no proof of that finish line. You don’t go off to the right to find a different one.

It’s not about finishing. It’s about pushing myself to do something that I haven’t done, getting through something that I haven’t accomplished yet, or doing it better than I did it before.

Q: What mattered a decade ago that doesn’t matter now?

I used to get hung up on the details. I would push something ten times because I didn’t feel like it was good enough. Did I have people in place that were capable of what I was looking for? Was it reasonable to do within the amount of time and budget? I don’t think that I weighed all of that very well. I pushed for perfection, and it doesn’t exist. There is a limit that you have to think about. I have to compromise for the sake of the project, the staff or the client.

Q: Don’t worry. Be crappy. Mistakes help us grow. Now let’s hear about one of your best worst mistakes.

Mistakes are painful for me. They’re personal. That is one of the reasons that I’ve finally learned that you need to separate a little bit. The biggest mistake I made when I started the magazine was taking on a partner. I didn’t have enough information; I didn’t do my homework. I put my faith in that person. The magazine was my dream and when that started to go bad my dream was at risk, and I was devastated. I learned there are people out there who will take advantage of you, your dreams and passion because your heart is in it. I spent a lot of money and time recovering from it. I had to start the magazine over; start a new company, and get money together. I was terrified at that point, “How am I going to do this?” I was lucky to be surrounded by good people, and we made it work. Here I am ten years later. I’ve made a lot of other mistakes since, but to a lesser degree, so I guess I’m fated to repeat my mistakes until I really learn them because I’m very hard-headed (laughs).

Q: What got you through now that you are celebrating?

Some of it was anger and some of it was determination because I felt like I had accomplished something. I wasn’t going to let it die; I wasn’t going to let someone else eat it alive. I was in a position to make a difference with the magazine, and I was so close to making that stick that I couldn’t walk away from it. It was just that stubbornness. My mom always says, “You’re the only person I know who can fall in a pile of shit and come out smelling like Christmas.” I don’t believe that it’s a pile of shit. I see it as an opportunity. This was a challenge to me, and I needed to prove to myself and to everybody that I could do it. So if you put an obstacle in front of me…

Q: So let’s look forward a little bit. How has the good, bad and that initial risk taking moment affected your life?

I’m a stronger person for sure. I see things a little more clearly, and am protective of my company and people. I’ve met so many cool people. I know so many people everywhere I go and I like that. I wanted to do something that mattered, and this was an opportunity to bring something to this town that would matter to people. I think that’s why they appreciate it so much; they see people they know in the magazine and their individual stories. That’s probably the best satisfaction that I’ve got: I could look back at all of the things we’ve done and seen that they’ve mattered in some way.

Q: Through it all what’s the one thing you fear of losing?

My puppy dogs. My karma. The place that my mind is in now; it’s growing. We’ve done a good thing. My goal is to get running as smoothly as possible, so we can start offering more services.

Q: It seems like you’ve read my next question, which is, what’s next? What’s next for RidgeRunner?

We have started a publishing division. There are a lot of independent authors in this community that want to have their books published, so that’s definitely a service we can offer. My goal is to provide writing services for any company: copy to get their website started or ongoing maintenance. We are in a good position to help people put their brand in place because words are very important. We tell their story in combination with the visuals. On a regular basis we’ve talked to people about what is meaningful to them, who they are, what they’ve accomplished. We translate that into words and content development is a big part of it.

Q: Piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Identify what they feel passionate about, that’s a good place to start. My piece of advice is to do your homework. Take everyone out to lunch that will go with you, and pick their brain. There are so many successful people who are happy to mentor a young person or someone who is getting started, even if it’s just for lunch. Come prepared, know what you want to know and ask them how it fits into the big picture for you. Don’t be afraid to talk to different people and get different perspectives. You will always be surprised by what people think.

Koran Dunbar

Rags2Riches Productions

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell us who you are and what you do.

My name is Koran Dunbar, and I am a blue-collar film maker.
Laura: Blue-collar film maker. I like that.
Koran: Yes, I coined the phrase in the past two years.

Q: What fires you up?

Being inspired by different things, seeing different things. I  try things that make you want to live. Not the mundane routine or what everyone else has told you to live. Seeing what other people are doing, seeing art. I’ll hear a song, or see a movie. I’ll be in New York. I’ll be driving on a country road in Pennsylvania and see something that motivates me to imitate what they’re doing.

Q: What was your defining Green Couch moment?

It was very difficult to express myself growing up, on so many different levels. Film was a way for me to express myself. It was an outlet to communicate to the world how I feel. I’m not a very open person; I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve. Film has allowed me to embrace my beliefs, ideas and insecurities. I feel comfortable when I’m working in anything film or art related.

Q: What are some of the dust bunny fear factors lurking under your couch?

When you’re buying my artwork, you’re not just buying a drawing or a movie. You’re buying years of rejection and self-doubt. People talk about overnight success, and there’s no such thing as that. I call myself a blue-collar filmmaker because I embrace the fact that I was working full time while I was filming Greencastle. Growing up, parents can be the number one dream killers. They don’t do it on purpose, but if you tell your parents ‘I want to be a filmmaker’ no one believes that. I’m never really satisfied by what I produce. If someone sees my work and they’re excited at my emotion, I get a little splash of their excitement. You wonder how you are going to raise your kids off of this dream, this vision you have. I’m sure those are real issues that have plagued artists since B.C. That artsy caveman is wondering ‘How am I, if I’m not out hunting or fishing, going to eat? How am I gonna provide for my family?’ Yet if it works, the mural on the wall is there for thousands of years.

Q: How do you embrace that fear of failure and handle obstacles just in general?

People are quick to put their insecurities and negative situations on other people. I was sitting in a ’92 Saturn, it was snowing, it was probably around 4:00 a.m. and I was thinking that in about 3 hours it’ll be daylight. Will we make it through tonight? We’ll see what happens. Close friends of mine allowed me to move in when I was going through that rough time. They always said, “Hey, one day you are going to do this.” Get your hands dirty and don’t be afraid of failure or making a fool out of yourself, because it’s gonna happen. Shakespeare said “Our doubts are our biggest traitors.’ The catch phrase in Greencastle the film is, “If you never take chances you never have opportunities.” If you’re not willing to take a chance you can’t feel sorry for yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have victory.

Our doubts are our biggest traitors...
If you’re not willing to take a chance you can’t feel sorry for yourself.

Q: How do you spell success? What does that mean for you?

Doing what you love. Not to sound the least bit arrogant, but I got to taste what it is like to make a lot of money. I was still miserable. Don’t get me wrong, money allowed me to finance and help start up that film. But I’d rather be upset by failure working for myself, then working for somebody else and seeing all my sweat and labor going into a corporate company. You’re investing in another person’s success. To do what I love and go after the goals I had as a child and having them come to fruition.

Q: How do your customers see you? What makes your brand different?

I always keep it simple.  I think of every artist as coming from nothing and making it. There’s a lot to be said about that. I remembered the first commercial I directed and produced years ago. They had a lot of offers, and one thing I don’t believe in is selling yourself short. You’ll get 110% of what we do because we’re very passionate. You’re not just a client, you’re part of the family. You’re not getting a two-minute commercial, you’re getting five years of stress, trial and error. When someone else likes it, that’s the jackpot. We’re not divas; we’re the factory workers of film. We don’t wanna put something out there if our client or if the audience is not gonna be appreciative of it.

Q: If a younger version of Koran plopped down on the couch next to you right now, what would you tell him?

That’s a really good question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question before. I would tell him that his ambition and not caring of what other people thought got him here. Keep your confidence, boldness, and bravery. Pick and choose your battles in life. Say yes to an idea when everyone says no. Continue to work.  There’s so much I would say. Understand there’s a line between being bold and being arrogant because when I was younger I was very arrogant. I would tell the old Koran to be consistent. Don't do twenty things; don’t be scatterbrained. Life is about cries and smiles. Sometimes you have to learn how to hide your cries sometimes you have to learn how to smile.

Q: Don’t worry, be crappy. Mistakes help us grow. What is one of the biggest best mistakes you’ve ever made?

I think ambition, fearlessness and ignorance is my best worst mistake. Some of the greatest moments came by saying yes to the wrong idea. They came from Conan O’Brien and working with MTV. If you have all this hype, am I going to be able to come through? It happened with the Washington Wizards. I wasn’t ready for that. I was young, naïve and blew a great opportunity. That was the most financial compensation I’ve ever made. I ended up losing the job and I was devastated. I did that with MTV. I jumped into something overwhelming. We have to prepare ourselves, look in the mirror and pick at flaws. It comes down to understanding and realizing that you don’t know all the answers.

Q: Through all of this, what is the one of things you fear losing the most?

Losing that dream. To wake up one day and say you know what I’m done. It was all a big lie. I’ve lied to myself the past 15 years. You don’t want to question whether to continue to create; settle, or give up.  Losing that edge, drive and ambition. If I stop dreaming and creating, I will die emotionally. Since I was four, I remember entertaining my mom when she was alive and just like making her laugh and stuff. The moment I lose that passion for entertaining other people to inspire other people.

Q: What’s next. What’ on the horizon? What great things are you shooting for right now?

When we met in New York, Spike Lee said, “Be naive. Stay naive.” I asked him, “What do you mean by that?” He said, “All the stuff you went through. All the hard work. You know what to expect now. You know the feeling. You know what’s going to happen, when people will say no. You know how much money you’ve spent, you’ve lost. If you know that, it hinders you from doing the next project.” I want to do a documentary. I don’t want to stop learning. I want to step outside my comfort zone. I want to do a documentary this year, stay in a forward progression, create more and make good products. I want to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Liza Hawkins

(A)Musing Foodie

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell us who you are and what you do.

I’m Liza Hawkins, and I do a bunch of things. I have a food blog called Amusing Foodie. I didn’t major in journalism, but I enjoyed reading and loved writing. I didn’t do anything with it until about three years ago. I listened to a lot of talk radio about food. My husband would get tired of me yapping on about things he wasn’t interested in. I thought; I’m going to create a blog. It has been successful. I manage many of the social aspects that go along with it, so it’s like having a third child. I am involved in other opportunities. I went through Leadership Frederick County a couple of years ago - now I'm the VP of that – with the editor of Frederick Magazine together, and through that I began writing their dining article six issues out of the year. I have written for a website in Baltimore called, and have created idea books for My ideas are based around anything food, kitchen and dining related.  I’m currently working with Stonyfield, writing content for their website. Ultimately what started out as a small way for me to create conversation has continued to grow. These opportunities find me, aside from originally creating the blog.

Q: What are some fears that you have of putting yourself out there?

Most fears were years ago. I boxed myself in as an introvert, and I wouldn’t say I was scared to try new things, but I really enjoyed the comfort of knowing what I was doing and understanding a process. Saying yes, even if I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen, that’s gone. I would say the hardest is to just not settle and be comfortable. Being okay with trying new things even if I mess up. It’s not as scary anymore.

Q: You’re putting yourself out there as a personal brand in your writing, it’s an expression of who you are. How do you want your readers/viewers to see and experience your brand?

I view myself as an educator and a connector. I like my readers to think of me as a source of information. They come to the blog and leave with the thought of, hey you know what? I thought that was hard, but now I see that it’s just not that difficult. Maybe I’m going to try cooking a whole chicken, visiting my farmer's market, or eating fresh kale. So that’s my brand; my point of view supports those things. I have been enticed to try something I was afraid to or didn’t think I’d like before.

Q: When everyone zigs, you’re one of those people that zags. So when do you an idea is something you want to act on?

So that’s a good question. If it’s an idea of mine and I can’t get it out of my head, that’s usually when I know that I want to move forward and keep working with it. When other people have ideas and want to pull me in, I’ve tried to do a better job of vetting the idea, and being okay with saying no and sticking tighter to my point of view. I have said no to brands that have approached me if it doesn’t fit in with what I write or the direction I want to go in. I have to find the things that inspire me.

Q: If a younger version of Liza sat on the couch next to you, what would you tell her?

Stretch to the creative part of me earlier. I started as a photography major but went to a school that didn’t have a great program, so I bailed on that. If I had the younger me sitting here, I would tell me to learn how to refine those tools at a younger age. I enjoy my day job but if I had a little more guidance I would have used my creative skills to go another direction. I enjoy what I’m into now. It’s a cool path that I’ve gone down, but I wonder where I would be now if I had to refine those earlier.

If it doesn’t fit in with what I write about and the direction I want to go in, I’ll say no. I have to find the things that inspire me.

Q: What is one of the biggest, best mistakes that you’ve made?

I had heard in the beginning that you should blog often. So I spent the first 6 months writing every day. I had Mia, who was at the time 4 or 5 and Jack, who was just about 2; so kids also. The first year I got this thing going I was writing every day. I don’t know if that’s a huge mistake but I learned from it.

Q: How has the good, the bad and that initial risk taking moment changed your life?

Being open to learning and enjoying new things, and putting myself out there more. Talking in front of a crowd, acting as a mentor, or being okay with going to New York for a casting call at Food Network. They sought me out, but that was still a big thing. It seems like it would be an easy yes. For a lot of people, I think they would have said you know, am I good enough, am I what they’re looking for? I just pushed all that aside and said okay, I’m good. So that's where I am today. The past, the good, and the bad made me the person I am today. Things still frighten me, but I’m able to realize when things are truly scary and when it’s just in your mind.

Q: What is one of the things you often fear losing?

I often fear losing a sense of control. I get so many things going at once with deadlines and writing projects, and all of it is done outside of my normal business day. One of the things I struggle with the most is keeping a good editorial calendar. I’ve not made any huge mistakes with that, but that is one of the things that is always in the back of my mind is, what are you forgetting, what are you missing, could you have done a better job if you had been a little more organized with things?

Q: So what is one of the most embarrassing moments you’ve had?

I don’t embarrass easily; I tend to laugh at myself pretty well. It was embarrassing –although, not my fault, so it’s okay. When I was in New York for the Food Network casting call, it was very chaotic. You had to bring your meal, not put together on a plate, but all made. They brought us in 12 at a time, and we were all at separate tables. So you answered a quiz, plated your food and the judges came in to critique everything. I put my plate together and was one of the first people finished. The judge looked at my plate and went, “That looks great. But I can’t try any of it because I’m allergic to shellfish and I’ll die if I eat this. (And I had cooked shrimp.) ”

That was pretty embarrassing; I didn't know. They didn’t say, okay you can cook anything but don’t cook shrimp. Still nobody else had that same issue. There was another judge; it wasn’t a big deal and I don’t think that was the reason I didn’t end up getting picked, but it was one of those moments like, wow! Again, not horribly embarrassing but an awkward moment that I couldn’t have prevented but stuck out like a sore thumb.

Melanie Anderson

Anderson Photographs

Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Sum up yourself in a few sentences. Tell me who you are and what you do.

Compassionate, dedicated, motivated. On a path feeling like I have this amazing vision of where I want to go: not only professionally, but personally and in my faith. Where do I want to be in a couple of years? Making sure that I’ve been where I’ve needed to be, taught what I’ve needed to teach.

Q: What fires you up? What makes you do what you do?

Ideas. I’ll get an idea and I’m like, Oh my gosh! I have to go with it now! I’m very spontaneous. I’m very energetic. When something comes into my path I’m constantly, how can we do it? When are we going to do it? Because I’m a problem-solver, I’m not always thinking about the obstacles, I look at those as just challenges. Ok! Now what? Ideas motivate me. The people in my life motivate me.

Q: What prompted the concept in your business? What was that moment when you were like, you know what, this is me? This is what I’m doing.

I went into this business more looking for something to do, to stay busy. It truly was like my destiny to do this. And not necessarily photography as an outlet, but being in a role and a position in the community, to be able to share. When you think about family portraiture: Maybe those people have moved on and have passed away, and what those images means to those people. I don’t take that lightly. Two or three years ago, I changed my business format, where it wasn’t a hobby. I’m in this for the long haul. This is going to provide fruitfulness for my family, staff and community. It feeds my ADD big time. It suits my personality so much that I can have that creative outlet. Owning a photography business is more 70-80% business than it is the art and creative side. You need to know how to run a studio, how to manage stuff, how to handle clients and how to interact with people… it just comes naturally.

Q: Some of the things that lurk under your couch, what are they? And how do you address or face them?

I always refer to balance; it can be a good or a bad thing. When you don’t have enough family time, your family suffers. When you don’t have enough business time, your business suffers. Sleepless nights: awake hours upon hours thinking about it, about the things that need done, that I haven’t done, or that I could’ve done better. But all that comes with age and experience of making years and years of the wrong decisions and saying the wrong things. Dealing with a lot of personalities. I don’t want anybody to fail. So if that means I have to move them around a little bit, or maybe that means I’ve got to change what their role is in the studio. When you have a retail business that has seasons, making sure that you’ve set aside what you need to set aside to take care throughout the year, are we going to make it? Can I make that payment? All of a sudden a commercial client will come through or people that have been on their payment plan will pay it off. Knowing when to hire somebody else, to expand further. Luckily, I’m a risk taker. We’ll try it, and if it doesn’t work out, maybe that idea was a failure, but that doesn’t mean that I was a failure.

Q: So we are going to talk about little bit about building a strong foundation. How do your customers see you and how does your brand experience different?

I think customers see us as very approachable. They find that when they come talk to me or talk to my staff and they are in the studio, that they feel very welcomed and at home. And it’s not a very sterile environment. I want them to walk in and they are greeted. See my studio as definitely forward thinking. We create a product that is different. What we’ve done with our sports images, it’s like no other in this community. And I hear time and time again, about how people can look at our photography and know that’s an Anderson image. The way we do our head shots, or the way we do our sports photos. They see a quality difference.  Going to reflect back in a moment in time when your children were involved in something, hopefully that brings back pleasant memories and smiles. It’s always about the experience. Bringing them in, invest in what we are trying to create. To have a good time sometimes I really have to sit back and look and appreciate what we’ve already done. But, that’s very difficult for somebody that is adventurous, a risk taker and always looking for that next big idea. But I think that as an entrepreneur that that’s a pretty typical thing.

Laura: It’s a disease. I hear you. We just put in part of our strategy, part of our process, is to at the end of a project. Stop. Look at what worked, what didn’t work.

Melanie: I like to surround myself with not only visionaries but detail oriented people as well. I need people around me to implement my vision. It takes both of those people to get those ideas out of there because if we were all visionaries, holy cow, nothing would get done! We would be living in utter chaos. Detail oriented people, such as my husband, ground me and bring me back to reality: Ok, slow down!

Q: When everyone zigs, you zag. How do you know when an idea is one to act on?

Definitely gut. There are moments when you are an intuitive person-which I definitely am, you can sense things. You can’t always put into words. I’ll say, wait, it’s not right.  Sometimes that means that maybe one piece of that isn’t right. I usually am really good about knowing when to trust my instincts. There are ideas that I will put into fruition now, other ideas that I’m like, ok I need to let it brew for a little bit. It’s got to set. It has to just sink in. I always say that it can take us 100 ideas to get 1 amazing idea. That all of a sudden that light-bulb is going to flicker and you’re going to be like, holy cow! That’s the one! Because those ideas will spark new ideas from each one of us, that will eventually lead to the brilliant idea that happens.

That inner voice that eats at you, I think that drives and pushes me. It's a quality trait needed for an entrepreneur.

Q: Let’s reflect a little bit. A younger version of Melanie sat down next to you, what do you tell her?”

I’m not a huge fan of the younger version of Melanie. I think that the younger version of Melanie was very stubborn. The younger version of Melanie spoke before she thought. I would say, to younger me, breathe. Reflect before you respond. Be a better person, diffuse. My younger Melanie was very anxious. Worrying about what other people thought. I would tell myself, be true to yourself and stay true to the path that you’re on. Probably share my faith more. Be content. In my younger years, maybe a friendship wasn’t working out and now I’m like I’m really sorry you feel that way, and I’ll make my amends and whatever I need to do, but I need to move on. Because me being upset over something somebody says to me, doesn’t affect them, it only affects me. The older you get, the more you realize that. I’m so appreciative to have that wisdom now. I wish I could be 41, back in my 20’s to have that ability to understand.

Q: Ok, I’m going to add onto that. How do you handle all of that noise in your head, and how do you silence it or use it to your benefit?

I struggle with that daily and I would say that’s through prayer. On my way to work, I have about a 10-12 minute commute from my house to my studio; the radio is off. So the way I stop those voices is through prayer. Constantly saying a prayer everyday. But I have these conversations, Heavenly Father just help to get me through this day, provide me with creativity and wisdom and the ability to provide fruitfulness for all of those around me. Ease my anxiety, relieve my stress, I cast all of my fears to you. Because there are moments when you wake up and you’re like, I can’t do this today. That’s when my husband picks me up. And he’s that cheerleader. My kids, whatever it may be, they are very intuitive and I have taught them to be very empathetic to that. That’s why it’s so important to have that strong bond with your family. If I don’t feel spiritually fulfilled there’s no way I’m going to be able to feed any of you. That feeding can be just in a smile. A look, a moment, a hello. An embrace. To stay focused on one thing for 12 minutes for someone with ADD, there’s just now way. 30 seconds alone isn’t possible: But we have that ability to re-group, we’re forgiven.

Laura: that inner voice

Melanie: That inner voice, that you know eats at you and gnaws at you, I think that drives me and that pushes me. That’s the quality trait that you need for an entrepreneur. That’s why I give so much, because I get so much.  

Q: Don’t worry, we can all be crappy. Mistakes help us grow. What has impacted you to get to where you are in your business? Kind of like a slingshot: You have to pull it back before it can go forward.

How do you say it’s a mistake if it impacted you in a positive way? There’s a specific relationship I’m thinking about that caused me the most anxiety, most stress, but had the hugest impact on me spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally and business-sense. It provided me the most growth in me, as woman. As opposed to me making decisions, “just because”, she would constantly question, why did you do that, say that, but that brand of vacuum? I don’t think I would be where I’m at today without that relationship, So my mistake would be allowing words to hurt. Not clearing the air earlier. How I handled certain situations with this person, that I could’ve handled differently. She’s a dear friend, even to this day.

Q: Business, entrepreneurship, does it ever get easier or is it just a constant state of change?

That’s funny because I was feeling like it was getting easier last year! The minute I start getting comfortable, I see the effects in my business. The phone doesn’t ring as much, I see conflict in the studio. All of a sudden things slip. Why is this vision not coming into fruition? It’s easier in the sense that I know where I’m going I know what I want to do. Where years ago I didn’t know how to manage a staff, I didn’t really know how to do payroll, and how to do your income and your expenses and really understanding the business aspect of it. But now, obviously, I know you have to have more money coming in and less money going out. Duh. The bigger you get and the more successful you become, the more challenges you face daily. It doesn’t get any easier it’s just different challenges. Because once I get one area in order, all of a sudden you’re being called to something new

Q: What mattered 10 years ago that doesn’t matter today?

What other people thought, for sure. It’s important to always have awareness and to be liked, but I don’t need to put such emphasis on it because maybe I have different values and different view points and I’m a little more open minded than other people. I want to express that. I want to cherish that. I want to celebrate that. I want to celebrate who I am, in the sense that I am fully messed up in all areas, but I can appreciate that and I can accept that. Where other people may have a harder time accepting that I’m not organized, I own that I’m not going to change who I am. I can do better: I can try harder. My intentions are always pure. But, I’m not going to dwell on the things that I’m failing at.

Q: Moving forward, how has the good, the bad and that initial risk taking of starting a business, how has that impacted your life?

Provided new relationships, new opportunities, traveling. One of the things that is on my bathroom mirror, is my vision plan. Every morning I can see it, what it says on there, it talks about financial freedom, I don’t want to be embarrassed, or ashamed to say that. I want to travel, have a stronger marriage, deeper faith.  Parenting goals. I think it has allowed me to trust who I am. Something inside of me said, do it! You can do this! I believe in you. I attribute a lot of that to my dad. He gave me that inner voice. Because no matter what, he’ll pick me up and take care of me. I got your back. Trusting that ability of my gut and knowing and really believing this has allowed me to trust I’m valuable and provides confidence. Develop my character. But it’s always thinking about teachable moments.  So even in my life, what could I do to raise children that are going to be self sufficient, that they are going to be wise in the decisions or even going to contribute effectively? I don’t want them just grazing by. I want them to be impactful. I want them to make a mark and make a stand within their friendships, within their relationships, within their school, within their sports.

Q: Through all of this, what is the one thing that you feared losing most?

Probably going back to myself, I have to be careful to protect me. And I’m going to also bring my husband into this because I have to be careful to make sure that I protect my marriage. It’s really easy to lose sight of your relationship. Bill and I have been together 25 years and married 20 years, this year. And 4 kids, 5 including a foreign exchange student.  So I’m a mom to 5 right now, and I have a staff of 6. A busy business. Friends, parents, sister, brother, nieces and nephews.

Corinna Nelson

Studio 6 Fitness

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell me, who you are and what you do?

Corinna Nelson, owner of Studio 6 fitness. I am a personal trainer who, I feel, does more than training; I feel like I build people up from the inside out.

Q: What prompted you to start your business?

Seeing broken people everywhere and knowing the strong connection between the mind and the body and feeling that God has given me a gift to help put people back together.

Q:What fear factors made you question your decision?

Constant roadblocks. Fighting against the competition when I’m just not like anyone else. None of us are, but I’m just really different in my approach. I’m really focused on whole-ness, and I do care about my clients. And that’s tough because the industry claims that, but they don’t act on it. So I seemed weird when we started. It’s in my soul!

Q: So, you do things differently, and people recognize that you do things differently but maybe not in the most positive aspect at first. So, how did you deal with the naysayers?

I was the one that needed to stop and then when I saw some changes in my clients - there was no other answer, God showed me what I was doing was right. And so, I’m humbled that I have the most amazing clients ever and they are the ones that make me want to keep fighting.

Q: Did you ever act on no being your way, Did you ever act on the other way, the standard way, and how did that feel?

It felt foreign. It felt like a lie. I didn’t steer away from myself too much, because I’ve fought so hard to get where I’m at personally. Unless it’s a defense mechanism, I try not to lie to myself and change, because that’s what people want out of me or that’s what they appear to want out of me or that’s what will make me fit in but yeah, just a few short times. Now I just kind of dance to the beat of my drum; it works better that way. I’m happier that way.

Q: So what does success mean to you? What does that word mean to you?

Ultimately doing what God wants me to do, which is being able to stand back and see my clients become whole again. Seeing that what I’m doing is making a difference.

Q: How do you know when an idea is a good one? How do you know when you’re going to act on something? You wake up, and your ideas come to you, you’re running, and an idea pops in your head, what makes you say, yeah let’s move forward with that. Or let’s not.

I just do a little more problem-solving. Fear stops me, so I’ve been trying to work on not letting that happen. So just having that debate with myself and know that, what is the worst that could happen? I mean hasn’t it already happened in the business sense? What is there to be afraid of?

Laura: What have you got to lose?

Corinna: Nothing more at this point.

Q: So this is always a part of business, and that’s stress. How do you handle it?

When it all comes down at the end there’s nothing to be stressed over. If you’re being logical, what really is the worst that could happen, what you are stressed about. Take the worst-case scenario and what is the worst thing that could happen with what you’re being stressed about. When it all boils down, you still have the people you love, you’re still doing what you love, and you never really fail, it’s just a building block. So when one door closes, another more grand door opens. So, it’s not so scary anymore.

Laura: It’s amazing when you’ve been through so much, things don’t seem to be as such big things anymore.

Q: At what point do you think things became not so grand? Problems, in the big scheme of things, when did you feel that started rolling on your shoulders.

Just that ah-ha! moment. When you realize that God has it -sorry to go there. But that’s when it was. He said, I have this, did you hear me? I have it. And the chess pieces went into place, and I’m like wow! He really had it. We all know I’m a little controlling. Just a little bit. So that’s when it all just made sense.

I didn’t fall flat on my face. I just got a lot of mud on my nose.

Q: So, I’m going to dig a little deep, going to reflect on the past. A younger version of Corinna, sits down next to you right now, what do you tell her?

Corinna: Stop being so afraid.

Laura: Afraid of what?

Corinna: Everything.

Laura: So what that the old Corinna afraid of, that the today Corinna is no longer afraid of?

Corinna: Rejection, not fitting in, failure, losing the ones you love, things like that. Kind of everything. She was afraid of everything. I honestly couldn’t say one thing she wasn’t afraid of. Literally. Not one thing.

Laura: And you know that being an innovator and business owner and risk taker, that’s the ultimate, you put yourself in a place of ultimate fear. And you overcame that and now you’re helping other people.

Corinna: I never wanted to be self-employed, it was the industry being so broken; my favorite industry being so broken. I either had to be in it, or make a difference in my corner of the world, or leave it. What did I do? I came to clean up my corner of the world or so I thought. Kind of crazy.

Q: Tell me about your best worst mistake.

I would say taking the leap the first time. Opening that first location.

Q: What were some of the emotions that came along with that?

The fear was engulfing. I don’t know how we made it. We shouldn’t have made it. But we did! And here we are. We’re on the other side of that. It’s so horrible because of all the stress and what had to happen, but cool because here we are.

I would’ve never thought that I’m just such a fighter; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But, nothing’s taken me down.

Laura: Your passion, for your clients and industry, and fulfilling your duty that you have been called upon.

Corinna: Yeah because the different times that I did feel like quitting, when I got into that little “Maybe you should just quit.” No, I would look at different client’s faces and realize that I couldn’t do that to them. That it wasn’t about me, it was about them.

Q: So business: does it ever get easier?

Nope! I think you just learn, but as you learn, some struggles become less intense. New struggles come up, and so I think it’s all a big learning process. I think if anybody tells you being self-employed is easy, they are either full of crap or somebody else is running it for them. I don’t think anybody that’s in the trenches of their company says it’s easy.

Q: So what would you tell an aspiring new business owner, or someone that’s thinking, they are right on the edge, where they’re like thinking about doing this, I don’t know I’m just scared.

Just do it, what do you have to lose? A little bit of money? We waste money on things all the time. But if you fail, you’ve invested money in your being. You’re fine, and you come out the other end stronger; it’s just expensive therapy. Right?

Q: When they hit those walls, when they’re sitting there thinking I can’t possibly do this one more day, what do you tell them?

Just get back up and try it again the next day. So if you’re on a road trip, and there’s a T in the road, do you just stop and not go any further? No, you decide if you’re going to go left or right. Maybe you turn around and take a whole different road, but you don’t just stop. Maybe there’s ice cream around the next bend, I’m just saying!

Q: What mattered to you 10 years ago that doesn’t matter now? Life or business?

So much what people think of you. It’s more about being real to yourself and not letting the people around you skew the real you. And that the people around you can help you define the real you and help you grow. But they shouldn’t stifle the real you.

Q: I’m interested in yourself in the past and where you were in that point in your life that guided you to your calling today.

People need to know that I’m just as real as they are.

Q: And that’s what I’m getting at, I think people will be able to relate to you.

So, I was always skinny in high school. The typical cheerleader: Kind of cute. Then you get a birth control shot and balloon up 50 pounds in 6 months. Stretch marks everywhere. What the heck’s going on? I can’t even wear a 14 anymore. There’s stuff hanging out of everywhere; I have to lie down to get the 14’s zipped. I’m working out. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m getting bigger and bigger. I feel worse and worse. The asthma is through the roof. I can’t breathe. Help me. And then I went to my doctor, who looked at me and said I was a fat kid too. Professionals don’t say that. People who care don’t say that. Even if she was a fat kid when she was young, too, we look at resources, and that did something to me. That was pretty tough. Especially for somebody that was young and had no idea really what life had in store. You know that’s pretty raw. Ok, so I’ve lived this somewhat sheltered life, I’ve been abused by a boyfriend, now here I am, large, unhealthy, and worked out in different gyms over the years trying to figure out what was up. Didn’t know what was up. And then I went to a nutritionist who taught me how to eat that was like the Holy Grail moment. Who would’ve known!? It is a science, but it’s not about, hey eat these Atkins bars or eat this Jenny Craig stuff. It’s a healthy relationship with food. And then I met a trainer who changed my life and showed me that fitness yeah was a lifestyle, but that you didn’t have to fit your life into fitness that you could fit your fitness into your life. And he helped shape all this weight off of me. And teach me just exactly what your body is made to do. It was the most amazing thing ever! I was like Oh! That’s what that is; that’s what that body part is supposed to do. So he completely changed my life and shaped a lot of weight off with a healthy eating and his training helped a lot. And then he just inspired me so much. That you know then I started to understand that connection between me being a therapist and working out and how they collide so strongly and that if your mind’s not ok, your body is never ok. Ever. As much as we know and lie to ourselves. And we know this because I’ve struggled for 5 years, wondering what’s wrong with my body and it was my mind being so stressed that it was blocking everything else out. And so I just realized that I understood so much about the mental health part and I understood so much about the body, and the body being centered and whole with the mind. And that’s when I realized that Listen, God’s given you this level of understanding, he’s allowed you to fall on your face a couple dozen times or more, whatever, so that all these things that may have seen like failures or road blocks weren’t, so that you can help somebody in the future.

Q: So looking forward, how has that initial risk taking moment, that day you said I’m going to do this, how has that changed your life?

It makes me nauseous, you know when you are thinking about it. If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger? That saying is so valid and so in your face true. And it’s just showed me what I’m made of. I think just the tip of that, you know I would’ve never thought that either. I thought I was weak and that fear really did cripple me more than I thought. It’s kind of weird that I persevered like I didn’t think I would.

Q: So through all of it, what’s the one thing you feared losing the most?

My well being again. That’s the biggest thing that I worry about losing, because I did lose that. I’m just thankful that I got it back.

Q: Tell me one of your blushing business stories. What’s one thing where you’re like, Oh Corinna, how did I do that?!

Probably just not understanding our business enough and letting other people come in and take advantage. You know what I mean, of my ignorance of being on that end of the industry. So that was the “What in the world were you thinking.” But, I did it.

Q: How do you know now that, I’m sure you have your antennas up now for people like that, how do you know when, how do you make the decision to let somebody help guide you on your path vs. setting you.

That’s really tough, because each person presents so differently. I try to get to know people a little bit before I would let them in. I don’t like that that’s the case because I’m, this is what you get, so it’s hard for me to realize that not everybody’s like that. The answer to that’s a per case basis. I need to learn that one. Another thing I’m still learning.

Q: So what’s next? What can I expect to see from Corinna?

If I can get past this fear of videos, cameras, we could do some video stuff. Yeah! But that’s going to sound ridiculous but right now I’m just enjoying getting my feet planted, and I need to take some serious looks after I get this year under my belt. Right now I feel like I’m just breathing for the first time in 5 ? years, I really do. I Feel like THIS is year one.

Q: So you’ve started it, gone down in the trenches, now you’re coming out of the other side. Tell me what that feels like.

It can still be scary because it’s still raw. But on the other side of that, it just feels like such a gift. And you realize that if you made it through all that, that you really are where you’re supposed to be, and the right clients come, and it’s as perfect as an imperfect business can be.

Q: Tell me the moment you almost quit and why didn’t you.

When the specialist told me why I was so sick, and that I was dying, and that it was the stress. That’s when I threw my hands up and was going to quit.

Laura: Because if you didn’t change things?

Corinna: That my body would continue to shut down. And that it was dangerous.

Laura: Instead of quitting, you did something drastically opposite, what did you do?

Corinna: I prayed. Hard. And realized that I could no longer fight the landlords that I had. That I had to dissolve that one business and move locations. And, everybody on board knew what we had to do to save our business. The attorney, the new landlord, the bank, everybody knew. All the contractors. And that was so embarrassing. But when they all came together and said they had faith in us, I knew that that’s what I needed to do, was to keep pushing forward and that when God closed that one door, that the one that he opened ahead of that was grand. And that was one of my biggest fears, was financial failure, and that happened. But I didn’t fall flat on my face. I just got a lot of mud on my nose. But, it will be ok. And I’m where I need to be, and I know that.

Laura: Now you’re in a space that feels your own.

Corinna: It does. The energy in that space is amazing. It’s amazing. It’s a gift, and blessing. And I’m not stressed out when I walk in the door and so as we dissolve the other business, I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and God said, this storm’s not over, but I’m here. And I knew that as everything crashed down around, as I tried to push forward to get the new place going and the waves were everywhere I had faith that was going to be ok and that it was worth it.

Q: What made it all worth it? What makes you sit back and say, I’m glad that we did that, as hard as it was, I’m so glad we did that.

Yeah because it’s still hard, and you know that one situation. Not that the situation now is anywhere near the beast scenario but just when a new client walks in and a woman that’s over 300 lbs and broken on the inside and the outside and has physical pain and mental pain. That’s typically why we get that large and so, as I start explaining to her what her body is doing, and why it’s doing what it’s doing, and how we need to chip away at these things to make a grand impact of the course of time she just looks at me in awe. I’ve been working with her a month and a half, and she’s just one of many, and they are just so thankful. She said, why didn’t somebody tell me this before? Why didn’t they tell me why my feet hurt. Why didn’t somebody tell me why knees and my back hurts? Why didn’t somebody tell me that I have to eat this way when I could eat that way? There’s so many whys, and when I can just explain it, and they get it, because it’s not that complicated, I’m like, that’s exactly why I’m here. So if I make one person whole again, it’s worth it. That’s what I’m supposed to do.

Kenny Hauk

Hauk Designs
River Raider

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me who you are and what you do.

Such a blank canvas. My name is Kenny Hauk, owner of Hauk Designs and River Raider Off Road in Chambersburg, PA.

Q: So, what fires you up? What made you decide to start a business?

Well I was employed, I had several different jobs as I was growing up, and I enjoyed working hard. I was trained that way from my parents, who were hard workers, so I followed their example, but I was tired of working hard to make other people money. They didn’t care about me; I just did whatever they asked. But I had more potential than that; I felt I could do more. I didn’t like the way I was being treated at most places. I guess that’s how most people feel.

Q: And that prompted you to say, you know what, I can do this on my own. I can make my living.

I had some ideas for some different things, but not enough motivation to jump out on my own and do that so, getting laid off enabled me to take that step.

Q: So that was kind of your initial risk-taking moment when you were put in a situation.

Well I was working on some things behind the scenes but I had no real long-term plan with it, just a little side project, but then that side project became my main focus as soon as I no longer had a day-to-day job to go to.

Q: Did you always know that you wanted to work in your industry, like with Jeeps? How did that fall into your path?

No, not at all, very random. I never really had a thing for 4x4 Jeeps, I was just driving one back and forth to work, and I wanted parts, I wanted money to buy parts, and I realized how quickly those are the most accessorized vehicles in the world. So, there was so much you could do. The options were limitless. As long as you had the money to buy all of those parts. It was a fresh perspective; I looked at things through a fresh set of eyes. I had no background in it; I didn’t know anything about but it looked like to me it was kind of cheap and sloppy. The way things were kind of just thrown together and I was thinking I could do that myself, I could make it better and I started doing research as to where the parts were made. The United States was the number one consumer of off-road parts and accessories, but they were the last in production. Everything was being made over-seas. So I thought I can do better than this.

Q: And you just went into teaching yourself? You have a lot of self-taught skills, right?

I watched YouTube videos. I went to a couple local fabrication shops, and nobody just wanted to do anything. If you’re a fabrication shop, you should want to fabricate things, right? Nobody wanted to help me; nobody wanted to work with me and help me get my proto-type together. So my original idea was I’ll just get somebody to build me a proto-type, I’ll market it, get someone else to manufacture it and I’ll just run it from behind the scenes kind of thing. One little product would be the start. But I realized there was nobody that wanted to do that. Nobody wanted to help me make a proto-type, so I finally was able to watch YouTube videos on how to weld, made my own proto-type, had my parent's garage and just started fooling around.

Laura: I love that you had a road block and found a way around it. You very well could’ve said, well it’s not meant to be.

Kenny: Well I didn’t know it then, but that is exactly what being an entrepreneur is, it’s that 1000x a week. Because all it is, is roadblock after roadblock. People tell me what you can’t do, and if you like that kind of thing, some people feed off of that. Some people are like, oh you can’t do that, and then it’s like a heat rise through your neck and fuel to be like like, oh yeah? I can do that. Watch me. Usually if you take pride in that then it’s perfect. If it’s crushing then it’s not for you.

Q: So how do you define success? What does that mean to you?

Just being happy. Some people would be happy working for someone else. There’s a million different ways to be happy. For people who are creative, and want to be their own boss or build something, then success would be building that and still loving it years later.

Q: So how do you know when an idea is innovative? How do you know when that thing pops in your head, how do you know when to act on it?

Well you know I think I’ve made mistakes. Things that I thought were going to be really good, and I was passionate about, I was excited about, and they were a thumb down. We hardly sell any. Then other things I’m like, that’s dumb, but people wanted it. I was trying to get as much feedback from people online. Read through the forums, what are people looking for, what’s out there, what’s not out there? So, listening to what people want, filling a void, finding a niche, and finding something that you can be better at than anyone else. Within your realm, you know that’s different for everyone. So if you’re a pizza maker, and there’s ten pizza shops in your town, be the best at something, don’t just be another pizza shop, have the world’s largest slice of pizza, have something that’s uniquely your own, that sets you apart. So that’s what we did. I kept trying to find areas where there was nothing. There was nobody there, and be the best. For snorkels, there’s already a bunch of companies that make snorkels, well we’ll just make the best snorkels. I don’t even care if we don’t sell very many of them. I’ll just have the best one, and then I’ll have some lower end models that will fill the void, and we’ll sell the most of those. But when people think of the best, they’ll think of us.

Q: So, running a business is stressful, how do you handle that?

Sometimes not very well. There're days when you’re just want just to sell it, get rid of it, and be done. The pressure is always there; it doesn’t shut off. Sometimes it just feels like an icy cold rain in the face - a blowing driving rain that’s just horrible. You can’t always see your way out or where you’re going to go. But if you can push through, in the first couple years, if you push through a couple of them, you start building an endurance to that kind of stuff. And then it’s almost like a joke. People try to shut you down. We’ve had township come in and say that we need to spend $25,000 to blacktop our driveway. I don’t have $25,000. If you don’t do that we’re going to shut you down. I mean all the business within a 30 mile radius all have stone driveways; you just have to find a way around. Otherwise you’re just going to be constantly bombarded with that, you’re going to be crushed all the time.

You’re starting to see all these pieces and parts come together and form something that you’re passionate about.

Q: It’s painful at times, what makes you keep tractions to keep moving forward?

Well a couple things, I would say, when you see people’s response to your stuff online or in person, you go to a show, oh this is the best stuff I’ve ever seen, and they get all excited. You guys build the sickest stuff! That gets you pumped, gets you motivated. So that’s a positive. Then there’s a negative, where you have competitors that are making leaps and bounds and making progress in the area, and you’re like, I just can’t wait to show what I’ve got compared to what they’re doing. You kind of use those negative things, either problem you’re dealing with or advancements from other companies as a fuel for your fire. I would always struggle because we would try to go spread ourselves too thin. We would try to take too big of a leap in the course of one physical year. Bring all of the manufacturing in house, we try to do all of these shows and the budget is super tight and thin, and you don’t have the funding. Once you do it and you see the results of it and you just barely scrape by the skin of your teeth. Next time you’re ready to take that leap again, ready to try again.

Q: Who do you surround yourself with to help push you forward? To help make you a better person.

Well I think my wife is amazing. She levels me out, keeps me even keel. So when I’m worked up, she never gets worked up, I admire that. Super impressed what that. Very hard worker, diligent. So many things I cannot do. I am a very strong believer in the Shekle Theory; where we all are given so many coins, we’re given our allotment and we each have our personality, our ability to public speak, our ability to handle problems, our physical attributes, just all these different attributes to make up a human being. So I’m extremely unbalanced. Yeah, she balances it out. But other than that I’ve got some good employees, but I’ve learned not to really rely on that. I don’t have a lot, my parents, and my wife. I don’t have a lot of close friends or anything like that. I stay pretty focused.

Q: You find that you get to a level of business or level of success and people that you thought were friends really aren’t?

To call anyone in the business world your friend is could honestly be a mistake. You know they’re always going to be a business associate. Not necessarily a bad thing, some people may be able to do that different, I try to treat people the way I want to be treated but you cannot ever expect that in return. There’s a pretty good chance that they’re going to turn their back on you or use something that you’ve done to forward themselves as opposed to helping you.

Laura: Lessons learned in business.

Kenny: Not necessarily anything bad, just not let it affect you. You have got to be like a steamroller mentality. When you’re with your family and your close friends, ok, shut the business off, shut that side of your brain off. But when it’s go time, it doesn’t matter what it is, you just have to push through, don’t let anything stand in your way and just buckle down. Don’t let anybody else lack of cooperation stop you. You have all of these other companies you deal with to run a business. If they’re not getting the job done, you have to move on. You can’t make 10 phone calls a day or make all these emails to try to get do their job. It’s not going to; you’re going to spend all of your time and all of your energy trying to get other people.

Q: So how do you handle naysayers? You mentioned that sometimes people have bad comments, or they didn’t work out, or someone was like, Why are you doing that Kenny? How do you hand that?

In the first year or two, it hurt me so much. I was hurt to the core when somebody would make a negative comment about one of our products; I took it so personally. I wanted to speak out, make a rebuttal online or in person or call this person up because it’s so new; it’s sensitive, it’s you, you’ve put yourself out on the line.

Laura: You’ve dumped your heart and soul into it.

Kenny: Yeah! I actually have been on the other side of that, and there was another guy who had a product, and it was bad; there were problems with it. He wanted me to put it on customer’s vehicles. He developed this product, and I had to tell him, he knew it, but he did not want to hear it. He was so hurt by it. Wouldn’t talk to me for a couple years. We work together now because he straightened his product out, and got things figured out. That sounds kind of goofy, but you cannot let your emotions and your ties to what you’re doing keep you from recognizing when there is something wrong.

Q: So we’re going to reflect on the past a little bit. If a younger version of you plopped down next to you today, what would you tell him?

You know I guess the biggest thing would have to be when you’re in the middle of a difficult situation; which is pretty much all the time when you own your own business, every day. You may not always be as nice as you want to be, everything seems like such a big deal, but then when it’s done, when things work themselves out - whatever it is - you look back and you’re like, it wasn’t that big of a deal. You lost sleep over it, stressed over it, you were just so distraught. Just chill out; take it one day at a time and don’t get yourself so worked up over those things. That’s what I’d like to tell myself. I don’t think I’ve ever lashed out against family members or anything or hurt anybody, but I would probably want to be even more careful with that.

Laura: sometimes that stress rides on you so hard, and you are just quick to snap or answer, shut down, and most people are wondering what’s going on.

Kenny: Most of those times when you’re worked up or worried and stressed, it really didn’t solve the problem, just a bunch of wasted energy. But you couldn’t help it because it was just right there, on your mind; you couldn’t get rid of it. That’s what I would try to encourage myself to do. I can’t say I would handle it perfectly even knowing that information.

Q: So we all make mistakes in business, it’s inevitable, what was your best worst mistake? Something that was a mistake that happened or a decision you made that seemed terrible at the time but actually turned out to be in your benefit.

I think there were projects that I did early on, some vehicles that I built as a partnership and then in retrospect it worked out, but at the time it was horrible because I didn’t have the funding that I needed to do them on my own. So, I made a deal with an end user or another company to collaborate on it together. I didn’t feel like I made anything off of those vehicles, but that messed me up because I was counting a decent payday when the vehicle was eventually sold. I thought I could cover my bases with contracts and that sort of thing. And when the time came for it to be sold I got the short end of the stick, barely covered my expenses. In retrospect, those vehicles that we built are still being shared today, still being used today, still being viewed online as ours. I would say that has given us a lot of business. I’m glad we put forth the effort then, even though we didn’t get the funds. The capital was tight; I was hoping that I could use that. That’s probably one of those.

Laura: I like that perspective because you were anticipating something large here, but you realized it’s been spread out. Hopefully more beneficial than in one lump.

Kenny: I think so. There’s a ton of different ways we could have done things. You could second-guess almost every move, but I kind of just followed my gut on building some extreme stuff as opposed to putting my money in more traditional advertising. I think that has paid off. I’m not saying that would pay off in every business but, I think that for us it did. It put us on the map as opposed to it taking a much longer time. I don’t know if we would’ve ever gotten to the level that we’re at without doing those more extreme things.

Q: Does it ever get easier, or is it just a graduation to the next?

I’m going to retire before I’m 40. That sounds terrible. I’m not money driven; I like working, and I like what I do, but I’m ready. I grew up doing some volunteer work, I really like doing that, it was probably the best time of my life because I didn’t care about money at all, didn’t really have anything but I was happy with what I was doing. Very carefree, very stress-free. That’s the one thing I miss. I have more toys now and a dream shop to build stuff in I never thought I’d have. But, my goal is to grow the business and sell it. I think I’m getting close to that. I’m trying to put everything into position that it’s a turnkey company for somebody to come in and take things over. I don’t mind staying on as a part time employee or advisor or something like that, but that’s my goal. I’ve got 3 or 4 other business ideas that I’d love to tear into. Maybe a little bit smaller, not quite a full-blown or this big. What was the question again?

Laura: Does it ever get easier?

Kenny: It can remain just as hard, if you just keep pushing. We probably all know different business owners that just keep pushing and that’s their goal is to just keep growing and keep amassing, and that’s what they want. They can do that their whole life, and the kids are the only ones who see the profit of it. Then they sell Daddy’s company or squander it, or maybe they didn’t put the work into it. For me it’s, if I get to build some of the things I like, and not have the stress about money, that’s what that’s all about. Lack of funds kills creativity, and it kills your joy. That’s all you think about then. You’re so stressed, and you’re so worked up and worried if you can make payroll, is everything getting paid for. I don’t want to get shut down. But when you have a little money in the account, you’re like, “you know what would be really cool? We can do this…” and then that’s a good feeling, because you can be creative, and you can design something new or and that’s really what you should have to keep it growing. I’m just rambling…

Laura: You’re fine.

Kenny: It doesn’t get any easier, if you’re constantly trying to grow it. If people get stagnant or a little lackadaisical or lazy a little complacent, they’re going to start drifting backwards, and there’s going to be problems. You could say it would get easier; that’s why business fail. You see so many, they just get lazy, they’re just following the herd of what everybody’s doing. Labor Day Sale, let’s have a Labor Day Sale. You put up signs that they bought online for the sale, nothing creative, nothing new, but if you’re a naturally creative person, and you don’t mind that, then I guess it would be easy.

Q: So how has that initial risk-taking moment impacted your life? That day when you were like, you know what, I’m going to do this myself.

It has changed it completely. It’s completely different; I can’t even imagine a life not doing what I’m doing. Which is a little scary, because now it’s like an engrained habit and if I’m going to retire, what am I going to do, I’ve got to fill that with something and change your mental outlook a little bit. I’ve had people look at me and say, I don’t even see you anymore. That’s terrible. I just see River Raider. That’s a little hard to take.

Laura: You become your brand.

Kenny: You become your brand. Your mind is always there even if you don’t want it to be there. Remember Frank Lloyd Wright? So, he’s got a family on the way to look at a house that he’s designing for them. He’s got nothing on the paper - it's in his brain- he sits down and starts to draw, and it wasn’t that he just made it up on the spot, it’s just that he has been working on the problem, and figuring out the layout for the last 6 months and now it’s just time to put it down on paper. I don’t think I’m at that level, but it’s the same deal. If you’re an entrepreneur, and into the design thing, when you’re sleeping or you should be doing other things it’s just working. Just constantly working out all of the little details. Filing things away, looking at all the options.

Q: Through it all, what’s the one thing that you fear losing the most?

I don’t have any fear. Not in an egotistical way; I’m just, stuff comes and goes, anything that we have and we possess now, physically, it can be taken from us. Our lives can be taken from us, all of our possessions, it comes and goes and so you just enjoy what you have, have hope for the future and that’s it. Just enjoy what you’re doing and know that it isn’t you. Just because you did something doesn’t mean that they can take it away from you, your accomplishment. They can take all of your stuff, but that’s just stuff.

Q: A new entrepreneur sits down in front of you, and they say “Alright, I think I want to do this.” What would you tell them?

Don’t do it. I would want to know what their idea is. What’s their plan? You can probably tell within the first 5 minutes of talking to them, whether or not they’re going to make it or not. You would probably be able to tell.

Q: What do you think some of those characteristics are? What do you think makes a good entrepreneur?

They’re going to have to be able to handle criticism. If you tell them, I know where you’re coming from, but it’s not going to work because of this, this, this, and this. That they can really listen to it and reason on it, and make the right decision. That sounds terrible. They really have to be realistic. If they think it’s going to be all perfect and they think that this idea, that this little segmented idea that they really would love to have, that nobody else on the planet is that interested in, and this is going to be awesome... It has to have an appeal to some demographic, some group. They’d have to be willing to forgo their passion and be realistic. I think that’s what it would take and be extremely diligent. Thrifty. Very money-savvy. Be willing to, ok I have to get this new piece of equipment, let's eat ramen noodles for a couple of months; to be willing to make that sacrifice to make that happen. If anything is handed to them or given to them it’s just it’s not usually appreciated, the value of it. Not willing to make a sacrifice to save it. So many businesses are like, oh, I see it here, they start a business, the open the store and say, well if it doesn’t work out, might as well just burn it.

Laura: Why even start?

Kenny: That’s a super mentality that’s so prevalent that I can just file bankruptcy and start a new one. There’s a whole fleet of people out there that are just starting up business, failing them, starting up businesses, failing them; they see people like Donald Trump. He started and failed like 30 businesses. “He’s a success story!” But he failed 30 separate times and probably took a lot of people’s money with him. All those times. Now if you start and fail 30 different times to develop a certain chemical, that’s different. If you’re just throwing money against the wall until something sticks - most people don’t have those resources to do that - I wouldn’t call that a success story. I would call it somebody that’s really diligent and somebody that works hard to make it survive.

Q: So what’s next for Hauk Designs & River Raider?

There’s probably about ten different directions that I have slated for expansion. I have plans to make an entire aluminum body jeep where you would use all these old jeep frames that are in the junkyard from ’07-2014 and we’d make new bodies for them. That’s one division under Hauk Designs. The diesel division is still doing really well: 35 miles to the gallon out of a vehicle that was getting 19 off the lot. There’s tons of room for expansion to make DIY kits. There’s a new product line that is going to be starting in 2015 because the 2016 wrangler is coming out, so it will be all over again. If there’s one thing I learned from the first time through, was that hit it hard and heavy, catch that wave. 2007 when the new wrangler came out, we were poised right at the perfect spot to catch that wave and ride, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do in 2015 except much a much more extreme level. The first couple of months I’m going to have every single product available for that, so that when you search for parts for that vehicle, we’re going to be the only thing that comes up. At least for the first six months.

Laura: Staying ahead of the curve.

Kenny: Oh absolutely, I think we took a 15-20% market segment this past time because of where we were poised, this time I think we could take 30-40%, because of where we’re at. We’re just getting everything in place so we can manufacture everything in-house and carry everything in-house. We won’t have to rely on any outsourcing of anything. Everything is right there. Something’s wrong, it’s our fault, and we can fix it quickly.

Q: What was the moment that you almost quit and why didn’t you?

I would say that quitting was never really an option. It would either just drive into the ground until there was nothing left, as long as I was still alive; I don’t think quitting was an option. There were times when resources got tight, but as long as I’m still alive and my hands are still working I’ll produce something.

Q: What makes it all worth it?

There’s been times that you feel really proud when you’re at an event, and you see people’s reactions to the vehicles we build. They want to get their pictures taken with it, and just recently this year I started autographing the dashes in the vehicles we’ve been building. It’s kind of cool; it’s kind of neat, it felt goofy doing that. Those things made me feel good, but honestly, it’s more when you’re by yourself in the shop and you’re working by yourself, and you’re getting to stand back and see the raw metal be transformed into something that you had in your mind for months. That’s when it’s worth it. Nobody else is around, and you just start seeing it take shape and seeing it form. I still, to this day, like that stage when it’s all just bare metal and a mess better than the finished product. Because you’re starting to see all these pieces and parts come together and form something that you’re passionate about.

Jason & Lauren

Solid Ground SHelters

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell me your relationship together: marriage, boyfriend/girlfriend, friends, brother & sister.

Jason: Yeah actually we’re close friends and business partners. We met just about, probably a little bit over 3 years ago. We were both travel guides. So, we would do a lot of camping and leading trips all across North America. So we both had that mutual experience, and then that was really the experience that we built this concept upon. That really brought us together and then we lived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for about a year before moving out here to start the business.

Lauren: I think we balance each other well, too. I think it’s nice to have another person to bounce ideas off of and even when we disagree usually a really good outcome comes from that. So, having another person to rely when you need someone is awesome from owning a business standpoint. Especially if you bring different characteristics.

Q: So, tell me who you guys are and what you do.

Lauren: So we are Lauren and Jason and we decided that we would start a crazy luxury camping company. And decided to stop what we’re doing and move to do so. To go ahead and start on a trend that was just starting over in Europe but we wanted to bring it to the US and there’s a market for this, so let’s just take the leap and go for it.

Q: So what was that initial risk taking conversation, that moment when you decided that you were going to shut down and move across the country and start this business?

Jason: There was a lot of unknown. It was a definite leap, to actually starting it. We had talked about it for awhile, just talking about different directions we could take the company, so we had actually covered a lot of different bases. But actually hadn’t said, ok let’s do this. Or let’s take this seed money and spend it this way. So, that decision - probably the first couple big purchases for the tents and stuff - was a little scary but ultimately I think we were both really confident in each other. Like we said, the way we balance each other out and things have been working out pretty well since then so…

Q: How often have you found your business partnership, what characteristics do you find strong that help balance you guys out?

Lauren: I think that Jason’s really good at managing people. He’s such a strong manager, managing personalities and customers and situations. Whereas when chaos hits, I tend to have a little bit more anxiet. I think that we balance each other with interacting with clients and balancing workloads. So when someone is tired, it’s nice to have that other person that picks up the slack. When you’re having a down moment or someone to pick you up, when you’re having a bad day or something really tough and puts it into perspective that might be one small blip on this whole huge thing starting a business and that roller coaster ride.

Q: So what fires you guys up, what makes you want to get up and do this every day?

Jason: It is a lot of work. But, I think really what I enjoy the most is the actual implementation of the event. So, when we’re at the event a lot of planning goes into it, and a lot of that is pretty strenuous and meticulous and making sure each detail is in order before we show up. But then I like showing up to the event and I actually enjoy it when little things not, go wrong but little unexpected things or little issues pop up and you have to go and put out little fires and just kind of problem solve on the go. I really like that, and I think that really fuels me during the event and just the 24 hours a day for a week at a time sometimes with these music festivals. So, I think that’s the amount of work and the type of work that has been addicting for me.

Lauren: It’s making people happy too, it’s fun. Our job is fun for the most part and seeing all the planning come into the event, and it just go flawlessly, execution wise and having people write us emails afterwards on how awesome their experience is or how it’s a once in a lifetime thing for them. That’s awesome I think for us to make someone’s day or make someone’s trip or make someone happy during that day.

Jason: And finding that little ways to do it as well. That’s been something really cool like in this upcoming music festival we’re putting power and everybody has their own Kuerig machine in their tents. It’s just a lot of little ideas that we bounce back and forth. Most of them never come to fruition but just finding little ways to make that customer show up and say wow, you guys thought of this or you guys have this hand-written welcome card with my name in it.

Q: How do you know when those ideas are ones to act on?

Jason: A lot of it’s just trial and error. And then whatever sticks we’ll just continue it or improve. A lot of it does come from past experiences when we were travel guides or we have a lot of different experience in the hospitality industry and I think especially when I was a manager on a steamboat and it was for higher end clients and we were essentially vacation bubblers. A lot of the same things ran true for that and at the end of the day, people just want to have a good time in this. So if they come and at the end of the day they have a good time, that’s what really all that matters. So a lot of the little problems kind of just smooth them out and just make sure they’re having a good time. So a lot of the little things like putting yourself in their shoes and wondering what would I think to be special if I were having this experience if I paid this much for an experience. What are the little things that personal connections that I would leave with and say, you know what, they did a really good job, and they did things that you wouldn’t expect.

Lauren: I think something even as little as remembering someone’s name, they can see that there might be 120 people in our area but if we remember people’s names, that means that we’ve taken time to commit to remembering their names and I think that makes a difference with their whole experience. And so we’re not just there to set up camping equipment and manage that we’re there to also form relationships with people and make sure they’re having a good time because most likely we’ll see them next year too, so it’s fun! It’s forming friendships with clients too.

Q: What fear factors have popped up that have maybe questioned your decision?

Jason: I think that we came into this knowing inevitably there would be that moment where you start to question if this is the right path I think with anything difficult that will happen. So far it has been a lot of little things, zoning issues or regulatory things or even just getting all of these separate moving pieces together to create this one cohesive event. A lot of different challenges and there are definitely a lot of peaks and valleys moving forward with this idea. But ultimately, we always come out of it finding some sort of solution. It may not always be the perfect solution, but we also move forward and are always open to new ideas. So I think our ability to stay open-minded, to everything and able to innovate and just say this works, let’s keep this going, this doesn’t work, throw it away, just keeping that fluidity to our company. It really helps.

Lauren: I think another thing is initially starting was difficult because people kind of thought our idea was crazy. To most people, saying you’re going to start a luxury camping company, you get some interesting looks. So, knowing and having some sort of inner confidence to say, no, I know this is going to work sometimes can be tough. I think that it’s difficult to sometimes believe in yourself when you have people who are doubting your idea or something you’ve been working towards.

To most people, saying you’re going to start a luxury camping company, you get some interesting looks.

Q: How do you deal with naysayers? How do you deal with those people, those voices that are saying, come on guys… a tent really?

Lauren: I think that each success just gives us more confidence. Every event that we do just builds more confidence. What we’re doing and with our happiness and that we are going to be successful business, every time somebody wants to do a PR piece on us it’s just like wow! they think our ideas are good. So if they want to write about it, that’s exciting. And having our most recent event, a really large client say what a fantastic job we did and that person was a major player in the music festival scene, and it was our first real event and they had no idea. In their minds we had done a lot of events, but we had done a few and this was our first really big one, and to see that they were excited to work with us I think that’s when all the naysayer voices kind of leave because you’re like, this is awesome, and we’re having fun doing it. There is a market for it.

Jason: I think we expected that to happen as well going into it with that expectation. I mean we talked about it, this is what people are going to say, this is what people are going to say. On the internet, in the comment section, it’s always entertaining to read but, it’s just dealing with it with a positive attitude from our end as well and again having that confidence in knowing what direction we’re headed. We know we’re going in the right direction and as long as we keep that open mind and new ways of doing this and different paths we could take our business, I think we are going to be successful and continue this idea through.

Q: What kind of people to you surround yourself with to help elevate you to the next level?

Lauren: Fun people! We get to hang around with people that want to have a good time. So, for us it’s really hard to have a negative attitude when you’re surrounded by people having fun. If I can help make their event less stressful, that’s awesome. But they’re all out to have a good time time too, we’re lucky enough to be a part of just a general industry with hospitality and vacations where people are excited to see us. So, we not only with our friends and family but surrounding ourselves with people who are just positive in general and happy and I think that fuels our needs too.

Jason: I think it’s a customer service job largely. There is a lot of manual labor; putting up the tents, moving all the things around. But when it comes down to it, it’s interacting with people, and if you enjoy the company of people and you want to make them happy, those are the kind of people we seek out to help us at events. You don’t necessarily need a certain set of skills, but if you have the drive to be a people pleaser I think we can work with that and definitely build a foundation for successful employees. So that’s what we mainly look for.

Q: Stress - it’s the top of the hour, when things are just falling into place, or you were talking about how at the last minute things might go wrong. How do you guys handle that, especially as a team?

Jason: I think we handle it a little bit differently.

Lauren: Yeah! Jason has to manage my stress level, I think I’m the super stressed out anxiety one. Jason is good at calming that down, and he has a very level head when things go wrong, he has a clear picture of what needs to get done whereas I might be thinking about all the things that go wrong. I think vice-versa it happens too, I think sometimes Jason gets stressed out and I can help with the situation as well. So, being able to take a step back when there’s a stressful situation, we had tornado warnings at our last event and that kind of gives you a slight attack. With all of your equipment sitting in front of you and there’s people involved and so, it’s just getting things done.

Jason: I think kind of piggy-backing on that; Lauren is more meticulous and more planning than I am, so it’s really good that you get stressed out weeks/months before the event, and she’s got everything in line when we actually show up. And then I generally am a very laid back person so when things go wrong; I don’t worry so much, I just kind of figure out, what’s the best way to solve this? Let’s just do that. So, Lauren is very good at planning and very good at being stressed when she needs to be stressed. In a lot of ways I do have a lot of crazy ideas I guess I have too many ideas, and I’m just like, “What if we did this?!” Or like, “What if we did this?!”

Lauren: I think that can switch too, sometimes I might want to go down a strict path and Jason will open my eyes to what if we do this? And you’re like, that’s a great idea! I think the balance male to female is very interesting too. So being partners and being able to see things from a women’s perspective and a guy’s perspective also just helps our experience become better because we can appeal to mass audience. So, when I’m picking out décor and Jason’s like, look, that’s a little much! Dial back my vision … get a little crazy here so, I think it’s good to have that dichotomy.

Q: As far as your partnership, I’d love to know what advice you would give to other business partners. I know sometimes that can be a blessing and a challenge all at the same time. You guys seem to have a very strong knit business partnership. I’m curious what’s the secret behind that?

Jason: I think a lot of people are drawn to people who kind of in an egotistical way exemplify the characteristics that they already have, the strong points that they already have and say this is what I’m good at, I need someone else who is also good at these things. Whereas if you look out for someone who fills your gaps, you know, has strong points where you have weak points that’s in your best interest. I think it’s hard to look at yourself in an objective manner and say, “What am I good at, what am I not so good at? Who do I need to help me to get better at what I’m not good at or just come in and take that over?” Really just putting your ego in check. When you’re looking for a partner or when you’ve found that partner, and you’re developing that relationship. For the greater good for the greater good of the company.

Lauren: And I think it’s also believing in someone when you don’t believe in yourself. So having someone there. I think it’s fantastic for us, I think that if I was doing this by myself, it’s isolating, so to have a partner in it with me, in the trenches with me every day, it’s someone to just talk to who can understand. I think that it’s hard to go to friends and family who don’t have similar experience and understand what it’s like some days when you feel like the whole business is going to explode. Or implode maybe sometimes. But on those great days having someone to be like, you know what, we did this together and look how awesome this is! Like at the end of a good event, knowing that we did it. It’s having another person to share in the joy and the hard times of business which is good because everyone needs a pick-me-up and sometimes you just want to give someone a high five because it’s awesome!

Q: So younger versions of yourselves plop down on the couch next to you right now. What are you going to tell those people.

Lauren: Hold on to your hat, it’s going to be crazy!

Jason: Yeah. Just, keep doing what you’re doing because I think everybody is on a path, and it’s hard to see what that path is at the time. And in hindsight, it’s easier to see, but I think everybody goes through dark times or questionable times, when they’re looking at where they are. And saying like, I don’t know, am I doing the right thing? Am I where I should be? But I think generally people are moving along as they should be, as long as you keep a positive attitude and keep pushing forward, you’ll get to where you’re meant to be.

Lauren: I think I’d tell a younger me to quit worrying that you’re doing the right thing, because you’re doing it. So, I think that every decision seems like it’s life or death when you’re younger, then just which job you’re going to take and which path you’re going to go down. But you know the path I chose and almost that someone chooses is that’s pushing forward and making you become the person you’re supposed to be. And I’d say to a younger me; keep taking risks. Because a lot of times I was doing things differently than my friend’s group and that was hard; the constant fear of missing out all the time. So, I think that going and taking those risks that allowed me to start a business at a pretty young age and be confident in doing so and that we can build something that is going to be great, and that would be really successful and a way that we can grow.

Jason: Yeah I think finding your comfort zone, and then throwing it out the window, and staying completely away from it when you’re young. That’s the only way you improve as a person.

Q: So we all make mistakes in business, it’s inevitable, tell me about one of your best worst mistakes.

Jason: Most recently for a large music festival we had everything in line except for one factor. That was the event tent that we had promised. We had ordered these all and because of an error on the manufacturers part, they were late in shipping. We got them a week before the event. At this point, we were all just rushing around. Just getting everything ready for this event to set up 35 tents. So, we have to know how to set these up, and we have to set up at least one of these before we go to the event. So, we got three separate tents also not what we ordered, but this is what they had to give us so, in actuality we wanted one large tent but instead we had to have three separate tents. We said we would take one of these, we’ll set it up and we’ll break it down and pack it away just so we know what we’re doing, so when we show up we don’t look like fools. Luckily we chose the defective one to set up. So we set it up and right as we set it up and we’re looking at and, “this is ok.” We took the last pole, and we were tightening things up and straps snapped, and it wasn’t along the seam or anything. It just snapped.

Lauren: And the whole tent just collapses on us! And we’re like…

Jason: 20 lb poles are flying around us. And then at that point we’re like, so…what do we do? We need to find an upholstery shop, so we rushed out into Charlottesville, found this guy and he double stitched it with seat-belt upholstery.

Lauren: This is the cure! We’re set!

Jason: This isn’t going to break. Alright, we’ll go back and test it out again. And we set it up again, same strap, not where he stitched it, but… It snapped. So it’s something to do with the nylon. At that point, we went into damage control mode and just kind of rushing everywhere to figure out a solution. We ended up having to scrap the event tents. We ended up having another company come up and set up another large event tent. The way it worked out made the event, because the layout of the tents was perfect and the event tent we ended up ordering was a 30’x60’ tent with tons of open space, no center poles coming down in the middle and it had plenty of room for cornhole and we had hammocks in there and lounge chairs. So without that happening, we wouldn’t have had enough room for the hammocks to come in, so it was good bad luck.

Lauren: And a case of biting off more than we could chew. We decided we were going to do event tents. We had just zero idea of what we were getting ourselves into and then when you see them come in and professionally set it up, you’re like, oh… we would’ve looked like amateur hour. This would’ve been bad news for us. So yeah it would’ve been case of good bad luck. We have a lot of good bad luck. So, something might go wrong, but it leads to something better. And actually someone at our event kind of had a good saying to us, and he said, “Does it feel like you’re swimming downstream now?” And I said, “yeah.” He said, “Do doors seem to be opening, and things are going right? You’re swimming down stream. Quit fighting the current and do what you’re supposed to be doing. So, if it wasn’t supposed to work, stop fighting it. Quit trying to make it happen.”

Jason: I think the way that that had happened, if that hadn’t happened, it would’ve changed the whole event. A lot of people who were very influential and had lot of contracts we got from there. And if we can move forward and take that as a lesson and say every time something bad happens that could be a blessing in disguise and just keeping that attitude that this happened, let’s figure out a solution, it might save us down the line. And be 10x better than what we had already planned.

Q: So how has that initial risk-taking moment impacted your lives today Whenever you said, you know what, we’ll pack it up, and we’re moving, we’re starting a glamping business?

Lauren: I think I’m proud of us. We’re making it happen. We might work a whole lot more than I think I’ve ever worked in my life, but I don’t feel like I’m working, I enjoy it, and I think that’s what makes me happy. I like doing what I’m doing, and I get to choose what I’m doing. And having choices is great, and I think just being proud that we’ve made it happen.

Jason: I’d say so as well, mostly proud. I didn’t imagine that I’d be starting my own business especially something in the glamping industry. A lot of it was just letting go of fear and expectations. Having that confidence that we can do this if glamping doesn’t work out in 5 years or we want to this company in another direction, then that’s fine. That’s the fate of the company. I think ultimately it was scary taking that first leap but then I decided that no, we’re both fully capable people, and we have a lot to bring to the table. And we’ll be successful no matter what happens with this company, it will be good in the end.

Q: What is the one thing that you often fear losing the most?

Lauren: Everything. I think everything when you’re a business owner. You put everything on the line. So, you just risk, I feel like I’m risking everything. I guess not in a sense too when you think about it I know that no matter what happens to the business I personally gained so much experience that even if the business failed, I would be able to go do whatever I wanted after this. I’m confident in my abilities. But I think that when you start a company you kind of just have to throw yourself into, so you lose time with family and friends and you are your business, at least right now. We eat, sleep and breathe business. It might be working till 4am then sleep for an hour and go to an event.

Jason: Yeah a lot of not necessarily losing, but things that we might miss out on initially we have to make a lot of sacrifices to be here in the formative stages of the business. So, yeah weddings, etc. we’re building labor equity and down the line in 5 or 10 years we’ll have that flexibility, and we’ll have that comfort to say hey, my brother’s having a baby, I’m going to go and be there for a week if I wanted to or what not. I think ultimately the things we are missing out on and the things that we are sacrificing right now will pay off for us ten fold in the future and it’s not really about making a ton of money for either of us. I think it’s more about having control over our lifestyle and being able to make people happy.

Q: A new business owner sits down in front of you, or getting ready to make that move, what would you tell them?

Lauren: Go for it! It’s awesome! You’re going to have a blast; you’re going to learn a ton. Everything you do will be worth it in the end. But doubting yourself will just do it. I think people doubt themselves more than others doubt them. I think your inner doubts, and your inner thoughts are what stops you from going for something you really want to do, I think if people just listened to what they really wanted to do, they would go for it. Just say do it!

Jason: I think, yeah, a lot of people put a lot of pressure on formal education, and they worry about if they know enough about what they are doing and I think I would just re-assure them that nobody knows what they’re doing. If you can find that courage, which might be the most difficult is just finding that courage, to make that leap. But once you do, you’ll be in with the rest of us who have no idea what we’re doing, and they’re just figuring it out day by day and just getting by. Don’t feel like you have to know everything when you’re starting but be open to any suggestions, wherever it may come from. If it comes from a contract labors that they hire, they have a better way of telling you how to do something, then, put your ego aside, say, “That’s a good idea, that’s worth doing, we’re going to do it.” It’s tough. But it’s definitely worth it.

Q: Sometimes is often the hardest part. So what’s next? What’s on the radar?

Jason: Actually we have a corporate event Thursday, and so that’s going to be really exciting for us. We’re setting up 24 tents; it’s for a security firm that is based out of Greene county in Virginia. We’re doing a luxury s’more bar for them. So we’ve sourced some specialty marshmallows from a company.

Lauren: It’s a thing! So somebody decided to have a specialty marshmallow company, and they’re doing awesome, bourbon marshmallows, honey, mimosa, strawberry. So that’s kind of the fun part of our job. Like, “Today I have to put together a bourbon s’more bar for a birthday. Today I have to go taste chocolates.”

Jason: So Thursday morning we’re going to do that, and that’s for an event on Saturday. So, it takes awhile to set up everything and get it just right but if we’re getting more efficient as long as we move forward.

Lauren: I think we’ve got some really exciting stuff going on with possibly working with a national park, state parks, and it’s nice to have people coming to us instead of us constantly looking for business to finally have people reaching out to you. It’s like the coolest thing. It’s like how did you even find out about us? I’m always stunned when I find out that people know about us. When we’ll be going out in Charlottesville and people are like, “Oh we’ve heard about you guys!” That’s so cool for us. All the work for a year and finally people are kind of getting the idea of what we’re doing.

Q: What is the moment that you almost quit and why didn’t you?

Jason: There are always difficult moments and probably the closest I have been to questioning the company and everything we were doing was somewhat expected, I think I expected it on the first event, the first large scale event that we did. Because we would have so many un-knowns and so many problems with scale I think when we were setting up and it was getting late, and there were quite a few in-efficiencies we had had we’ve addressed since then. But putting up the tents until midnight with the threat of rain and Georgia thunderstorms on the way and getting these 20 mattresses in and linens, it was the question of, man are we doing this right? What are we doing wrong? Are we going to be able to do this sustainably for the whole summer? That was the first time I had really questioned things and at the end of the event, everything was perfect. It was as if nothing went wrong from our end, from our perspective we knew we were running around, and we were working 16-hour days to get everything right. But, it’s kind of like a reality show, everyone is running around, but it always gets done, so, I think ultimately having those moments before in my life, being through difficult situations before and other ventures and saying, “I’m going into this knowing there is going to be that moment when I question it, and I know it’s just like that wall you have to break through, so that’s what we did. It definitely as hard of a wall as I expected it to be, so that’s good.

Lauren: For me I think it was probably seeing my bank account slowly go down to absolutely nothing.

Jason: In the red…

Lauren: Yeah! Red for a while, I think that’s scary. But I think it’s also a great challenge because when you have nothing, you really don’t have anything to lose, so at that point, it’s all about becoming more successful. But seeing that is scary and sometimes you question, why am I doing this? It’s like, I could go get a corporate job tomorrow and make a ton of money and go do all these other things, but at the end of the day, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having flexibility and making people happy and growing a business that’s going to be sustainable long term. And having freedom. But when you get to that point it’s scary.

Q: What makes it all worth it? What makes you get up everyday and say, you know what, we’re going to keep doing this?

Jason: I think when we’re at the event and one of the nicest things is to see how appreciative people are when they show up. I think now a days you don’t know what you’re paying for a lot of the time, and you show up and it’s so impersonal a lot of the time. Every interaction that you have; we’re trying to be a business that will bring that customer service back, over-the-top customer service and just people pleasing, personal interactions, handwriting letters. Just anything like that, because people are so appreciative of it. And, the best part is when people show that appreciation. We had somebody do an interview for a local paper, and all he talked about was how helpful we had been, and without us their stay would’ve been sub-par. So, changing people’s experiences for the better and creating memories that people hold on to for awhile.

Lauren: I think that we are lucky enough that we are in the position to make people really happy. Maybe you don’t know what circumstance they’re under, and that they might plan this as like their huge trip of the year to come to a music festival or to come glamping. We might be it for them. So making them happy and giving them just a chance to take a breather and re-connect with nature or have a great time listening to the electronic dance music, whatever that may be, allowing people to have fun. It’s awesome and because of that, we get to have fun with them and develop relationships with our customers that are pretty unique. It’s rare that you would stay 5 days with a customer. We do that. So we’re in a tent right next to them, you know sometimes partying into the wee-hours and waking up and making sure that things are very well taken care of behind the scenes everything runs, it might be a little crazy, but for the customer it’s smooth, they just get to have a good time and not have to worry about things.

Brandon & Leslie

College 2 Success Inc.

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Just tell me who you guys are and what you do. What your mission is.

Brandon: My name is Brandon Lampton, founder and CEO of College2Success and our mission is to help college students finance their education without the burden of overwhelming student debt at the end of it. Hopefully we can, if not change the student debt crisis, at least affect a few students in the process.

Leslie: I’m Leslie Lampton, co-founder/president. College2Success is our passion to help students because we went through the burden of having student loans and not being informed back in high school.

Q: Great! Tell me about that initial risk taking moment. That moment that you decided you’re going to take this thought and turn it into something real.

Brandon: Actually a year ago almost, just sitting, talking with our father and Leslie in the backyard of our parent’s house; we were just talking about student loans about to start coming in and how we are actually going to pay for this when they actually come out, what are we going to do. We had no clue. To this day, they’re still flowing in and we’re still trying to figure out an exact solution and we really didn’t want anyone to have to go through that and especially the struggle that we had to go through and still going through. So, college2 Success is based on that basic principle just helping others so they don’t have to go through what we went through.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your experience and the struggle that you’ve gone through and how that has fueled you to want to help other people.

Leslie: Well, definitely under-grad, I had nothing but private loans. No federal, just private, and then after I graduated undergrad I went and got my master’s and that was just private as well. Looking back and seeing the debt piled up and the bills come in for us to pay back the money is just overwhelming. I needed to help myself and I wanted to help individuals be able to not suffer. You know you go to work, your money comes in, but then it’s going straight to loans. You’re not able to live, and who wants to live a life like that?

Q: You guys really want to serve as that source to walk through people through that process. So what fear factors are there? What makes you say, I don’t know guys…?

Brandon: Well, that’s an everyday question. Just reaching out, when we reach out to different organizations or reach out to news companies just to spread the word and getting no answer back or we push things out on social media and get followers, then lose followers it’s just a struggle everyday to get people to grasp, get their heads wrapped around the concept of what we’re trying to do. I guess they’re fearful because we’re new or they just don’t understand what we’re trying to do. It’s a struggle everyday just to get that concept out.

Leslie: Yeah, putting our name out there, just people become familiar with us and also just receive donations because that’s basically how our company is going to run. Through donations and for us to give back, we’re going to need people to support us and give to us so we can give back. So, that’s the fear of not receiving, how can we prosper?

Q: What drives you through those fears? What makes you say, you know what, everything is unknown but we’re going to do this anyways.

Leslie: Prayer!

Brandon: Definitely, it’s just I just have this feeling inside, I can’t explain it but it’s just something that continuously pushes you to wonder, to succeed, to see this dream actually come true and I get up everyday with that thought in my head saying, it’s going to be ok, it’s going to make it regardless if I have the answers to those questions or not, just keep trying.

Leslie: I would also say having a strong family support. Like having your family behind you to tell you that this is going to work. We’re going to support you no matter what. That’s another way to wipe out that fear, like you know what, you’re right, this is going to work.

Q: What does success mean to you? How do you define that?

Brandon: Success to me doesn’t necessarily have to be anything of glitz and glamour, it’s being able to see the dream come true of being able to have money in the bank to be able to help students, or just making a student aware of what the problem is or what the issue is and how can they avoid that issue? Just seeing someone not have to go through what we have to deal with today with paying back student loans which is, like Leslie said, a headache of just trying to find a solution to it.

Leslie: I think, as an organization, our success would be being able to give that first student that scholarship or that loan just to help them pay for school.

Q: How do you handle the stress of business?

Brandon: I really don’t know. Just go about it everyday, continue to live life the best that we can and, be happy. Just because we see it grow, our organization grow everyday, it’s enough to keep you going. So you don’t really think about the hardships or the negativity of what comes with starting up a business or anything like that. It just happens to see it start to form itself.

Q: Great. You know there’s always those people around you that are questioning what you’re doing, naysayers. How do you handle those people?

Leslie: Brush them off. It’s hard, it’s easier said than done, but you just have to stay focused on that narrow path and it doesn’t matter what comes, in any direction, you just brush it off and keep moving forward. No matter what.

Q: So what kind of people or surroundings do you keep close to you to help push you through to be even better moving forward?

Brandon: Family. Our families definitely have been our backbone for the most part. I’ve found a lot of friends, that I thought were friends that I reached out for support, will you help us? Will you like us on Facebook, at least? But those are the ones I’ve never heard anything back from. So, just to have that family support around us to say, don’t worry about it’s going to be ok. It means a lot. Because, like I said, your friends are supposed to be the ones that are there to help you through a situation like this, but sometimes they’re not, but there are a few close friends that have been there for us; shows how they really feel about us, their support and their donations and all that has been great.

Leslie: Yeah, just keeping that positive support system, positive people around you, positive mind and positive thoughts.

Make sure whatever you’re doing, you’re passionate about it.

Q: Let’s look a little bit at the past, where you’ve come from. Let’s say that younger versions of yourselves plopped down on the couch next to you. What would you tell those people?

Brandon: Don’t get private student [loans]. Try a little bit harder to go for scholarships or something of that nature. Do better in school. I would definitely tell the younger Brandon to not do some of the things I’ve done in the past.

Leslie: Know exactly what you’re going to go to school for. Because I know me, I started off with one major, went to another major, then I switched, and flip-flopped and I transferred schools. That’s a lot and all of that adds up; money, time, energy. Focus on one thing and try to feel it out before you actually step foot on a campus. Because that is money and time.

Q: As business owners, we all make mistakes, it’s inevitable. Tell me about one of your best worst mistakes.

Brandon: Wow. The biggest mistake I would say was jumping a little too fast on trying to push stuff out without actually having an idea or concept really solidified. I know I came to you guys earlier last year saying I wanted a website, but we didn’t have a lot of the basis for that to put into the website. And I just felt bad for wasting your guy’s time on that.

Leslie: Yeah, piggy-backing off of what he said. Definitely have a solid foundation, know what we stood for in the beginning. Because like I said I was reaching out to schools and not having the proper information to give to them or directing them to a certain place or being able to say this is College2Success and this is what we do.

Q: And how do you think that has shaped who you guys are today? As individuals and a company?

Leslie: Well I think it allows us to think more and be more organized and more thoughtful and set the standards for ourselves. I think we didn’t have that before, we didn’t know this is all new for us so, Oh, we can do it! How else are you going to do it?

Q: Right; that’s invaluable. So, does it get any easier or is it just a graduation from one obstacle to the other?

Leslie: I think it is a graduation; we take one step at a time just because we are learning. All you can do is hope for it to get easier.

Brandon: I would like to think so, I think as we continue to learn from our mistakes and grow as individuals, not just the organization just on a personal level I think being able to handle certain situation and approach problems will come easier.

Q: What are some of the emotions that have come with year one? We’re sharing your story with a lot of people that are getting ready to start a business but what are some of the emotions that come along with that?

Brandon: I think it was pretty much every emotion. We have gone through happy phases where we’re like, oh wow we have followers no. We have gone through disappointments where we have reached out and we’re expecting this great welcome party, and we didn’t get bologna. So, it’s been definitely every emotion possible, we had our disagreements on certain things, and it’s been a struggle, it’s been hard, but like I said when it’s bad it’s bad, but when it’s good, it’s awesome! We enjoy that little piece of awesomeness every day!

Leslie: I also think with year one, even though we are brother and sister, when you’re starting a business with family, that can be tough in itself so, I had my mind set on things, he had his mind set on things, and that can be a collision at times, or it can be OH! That’s a great idea! Let’s move forward with that. So, we definitely learned a lot more about each other as well.

Q: That leads me right into the next question with starting a business with your brother or your sister, what advice would you give? Working very closely with family, you have your business family but you have your personal family as well. What advice would you give with working with family?

Leslie: Compromise! Definitely compromise. And I would say hear each other out, instead of bashing each other’s thoughts. If you don’t like the whole idea, maybe there’s bits and pieces you can take from the idea and then roll it into one, and boom! You have the best idea ever. It’s family, you’re going to argue, you’re going to fight, but at the end you’re always going to be there for each other no matter what.

Brandon: For me I would say, keep it business at some level, and then keep it family on another level. So, me and Leslie would talk business, but then we also have a time and go out and hang out and get back to family. So, it’s not ever that clash all the time of family and business mixing up together. We have our time for when we talk about College 2 Success, then we have our time when we’re just joking and having family time. I would definitely say keep a balance because you don’t ever want to ruin either relationship.

Q: What mattered when you first started the business that doesn’t necessarily matter now? Meaning, maybe a realization moment that you’ve had.

Brandon: I guess the thing that I realized was that it’s a lot harder than what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be this wonderful business that everyone is going to run to; everyone is going to like, they’re going to support it, some new fresh ideas, and it was just going to explode. But there comes a point where it’s not going to make it to that point anytime soon. But, it’s still something inside you that you want to continue doing because it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s something that you like doing. You get up every morning and you think about it. It doesn’t matter if it’s not that big.

Leslie: I would say time and money. Time for the fact that you set so many deadlines for yourself in the beginning but in actuality you either reach those deadlines early, or you don’t reach them at all. Realization you don’t really need them, you just have to keep moving forward and just keep pushing yourself. I would also say money, because with a non-profit, that’s all you’re doing is bringing in money but it doesn’t matter because it’s going for a good cause.

Q: So, looking forward, how has that initial risk-taking moment impacted your lives today?

Brandon: I would say it’s definitely helped me grow as an individual. Just getting to see what I was capable of doing. I would have never thought 5 years ago that I would be trying to start a non-profit and be able to overcome some of the obstacles that we’ve done over this past year alone. It has definitely been a journey to see that growth inside of me and what I’m capable of doing.

Leslie: Yeah, definitely taking me out of my comfort zone. Putting me in a place where I’m scared and terrified - all the adjectives you can think of. It’s helping me overcome fears that I had with that.

Q: Good, finding your own internal strengths, that’s wonderful! What’s the one thing you often fear losing?

Brandon: Sometimes I fear losing my sister. Like, I hope it never gets to a point where we’re so caught up in the things that we’re doing that we push away from each other. Even though I said that we had our family time and business, I fear sometimes that maybe our disagreements might get to a point where, will we want to spend time together outside of work? And that’s one of my biggest fears because I never want that to happen.

Leslie: My biggest fear would be losing the organization. Like, not being able to financially support what we’re standing up for, and reaching out to people, to give to people. If we don’t receive donations or we don’t receive help in any kind of way, we’re going to lose everything that we’re trying to do.

Q: Sometimes we do silly things in business, so tell me one of your blushing business stories. A time when you embarrassed yourself and you were like, I can’t believe I just did that.

Leslie: There’s a lot! I think it would be when I’m reaching out to people to get support, and I get tongue tied, and I say something so much, and your words just keep twisting, I think that would be my most embarrassing moment right there. I know what I’m talking about but…

Laura: It happens, we’re all human.

Brandon: Same for me as well, it’s just getting up in front of people and explaining to them what we’re trying to do and fumbling up on my words or it seems like I don’t know what I’m talking about at all. “How do you not know, you’re the owner.” Yes, I know…

Laura: I’m just nervous, alright! That’s what I do, I just call myself out on it. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just like, Look, I’m going to tell you right now, I’m nervous. So I’m fumbling, my mouth is dry.

Q: So a new entrepreneur sits down in front of you right now, they are getting ready to take that leap of faith, I’m going to start a business, what would you tell that person?

Brandon: Make sure whatever you’re doing, you’re passionate about it. Because that’s the only thing that’s going to get you up every morning to want to keep going. Because without that, you’re never going to want to continue once you hit an obstacle or a roadblock or any of those things, you’re going to want to give up. So, if you’re passionate about there’s nothing that you would not overcome at least attempt to overcome just because you want to see it succeed.

Leslie: And I would say just realize it’s going to take longer than a day, or a week a month to reach your goal. It could take years and years to reach the goal that you’re trying to reach. Just have the patience. Patience is a virtue.

Q: What is the point you almost quit and why didn’t you?

Brandon: Wow. I guess for me it would have been when we got the organization Incorporated and we jumped too early and we got to a point where we it was like, we don’t know what we’re about to do now. We have no content for the website, we have no way of reach out to donors, we have no real concept of what we stand by at this point, and I figured that was the point where we weren’t going to ever go any further. I thought that was the end of College 2 Success. I thought this dream that I had was gone, and it was never coming back. But, there was a time when we got with our family and they were like, it’s going to be ok. Just take some time, breath, think about it, pray about it, and that was the turning point in which we took a different direction. To have a definitive answer to all those questions we once had is definitely a point where I thought things were going “poof.”

Leslie: I definitely would say it was a point where I was truly overwhelmed with working a full time job and then starting the organization, that’s another full time job, and all the things and logistics you have to get together with that. It’s just like, Ah! I can’t take it. So, that would’ve probably been my breaking point where I’m, I don’t know if I can really handle this. I just put too much on my plate at the time. But I just had to sit and reflect and realize I’m doing this for a good cause so it doesn’t matter all the stress and everything that I’m going through, because at the end it’s going to help somebody else out in the future.

Q: That’s a good characteristic of a good entrepreneur; in it for helping other people not for yourself. I applaud you both for that. What is the moment that made it all worth it?

Brandon: That’s a good question too, for me it was being able to start to see the dream actually take form. To see the website come up, getting followers, people are talking about it, to succeed, to have support starting to flow in, people to say yeah, I‘ve heard of College2Success or I’ve seen that down in DC Metro. That’s great what you guys are doing, I applaud you guys, I want to be a part of that. To see those things become a reality, that was definitely one of the best feelings I have ever felt. Because it was all a concept, it was a dream, an idea in a backyard, so to see it actually take form, definitely love it.

Leslie: I would definitely say, seeing followers on twitter, and people liking us on Facebook, that made it real, our name is out there, people are starting to learn who we are. That’s cool! Having those 2 aspects right there made it worthwhile. This is real. So real.

Speed & Skoot


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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Take us back to that original risk taking moment. Where you were like, “we’re going to do this; we’re really going to go forward with this.”

I don’t think that moment stops; it’s always there. Because you reach your goal, and then you look at the next rung on the ladder. But, it just doesn’t happen, you have to re-invent. So when you make your goal, maybe you meet the right person or get the right phone number that’s just another step. You re-invest that time, you re-invest that money. Then when you do that, maybe it’s a bigger connection or a bigger chunk of money. It’s all re-invested, it never stops so I think everyday, business wise, when we’re not on stage having fun, it’s 24/7 business. it’s always a risk because you could throw money; you lose it. Start from scratch, and go again. Art is business. Any art. If you want to make it a career, it’s a business. There’s a lot of college kids, students out there that in one form of art or the other: Business. That would be my advice. It’s important. It’s the entertainment business. The talent level is probably not as important. There’s a lot of talented people out there. But are you talented to get the product, you got to sell a product.

And are you strong enough to get through the hard times? Because there is it’s a lot of hard times, and there’s days like last night, we’re not going to spend our money to sleep in a nice hotel room when we can sleep in the van and just get up and shower the next day at a truck stop, and it’s fine. We’re ok with that. We take care of ourselves, and we eat as healthy as we can, we work out every day. But you have to take the entertainment business extremely serious off stage. On stage, you have a great time, and you entertain everyone. That’s why you’re called an entertainer.

And it’s rewarding. I mean if you’re sculptor or painter as well, any art, it’s rewarding. You can look at your product. We can look at the songs that we write, and we can be proud of it. But it doesn’t stop there, because if nobody hears the music, what good is it? If nobody sees your painting, what good is it? That’s the business part.

Q: Would you say that you learned the business, and the art fell hand in hand early on or did you faze through in the beginning?

Oh, we’re learning new stuff every day. We’re not art majors or business majors. We’re just a couple clowns with a truck and some guitars. But we pay attention. We try to make educated guesses. You win some; you lose some; the ones you lose really you learn more from.

Yeah, I think the thing is we’re smart enough not to fall into that false advertisement of sex drugs and rock and roll. That whole thing with sex, drugs, rock and roll? That’s such a myth. If you’re going to do it seriously, there’ s a good time that you have with the fans. That’s what you want your fans to see. Your fans don’t have to see your struggle and what you do on an everyday basis. And that’s ok, we’re ok with that. We’ll do the hard work; you guys just enjoy it. But all the sex, drugs and rock and roll, sorry that’s not true.

If you think of every big, major rock and roll band out there now, none of them do it. That was a myth created by the media. You can’t be a drug addict and be a good businessperson. You can’t be a top 10 rock and roll band and be a bad business person. You have to book and tour. You got to deal with money and contracts I mean it doesn’t stop.

Writing good songs and being on drugs - it just doesn’t happen. You write a couple of really good songs and somebody takes it for you and they do the business side of it and you go out and you can do the drugs and all, if you chose to. People struggle through hard times, but that’s why we have a band. We pick each other up every day. We know it’s hard, and that’s ok.

Q: So what fires you up? Why do you do this?

A lot of different things actually. I love creating music and having it make a connection with someone. We get messages from fans all of the time saying what this song does for them and how this song has gotten them through a hard time in their life. I’m not going to lie, I’m a ham, and I have an ego. I just want to get out in front of everybody and feed off their energy. But when it comes down to it, my main purpose is that connection. I like making a connection with stuff I can create.

Q: What’s a story maybe that somebody told you that really kind of hit home?

Skoot: There’s a lot! We’ve had a private message that explained somebody’s marital situation. They were headed for divorce, and our song made them try one more time. And they got counseling, and they are still together. We have had numerous private messages that have said you’ve got me through the night, because I was going to kill myself. And I’m here today. You want to talk about raising the hair on the back of your neck? On a song that we wrote together, that’s bigger than we deserve. We just write because we like it. We have to; we’re artists. We would write if nobody listened to it. But that’s big.

Q: What fear factors do you have? What worries you?

I have stage freight.

Laura: Do you really?

Skoot: Yup.

Laura: Every night when you go out?

Skoot: Yeah, but he helps me. All the guys do. Dan-O and Zak couldn’t be here today, but we get together in a little circle while the intro is playing, and I’m like… errrr… and they’re like c’mon ra ra ra ra ra. Go team! Ra ra ra ra ra Yeah, I’m ok! It gets me through 30 seconds of panic so I don’t freeze, and then I’m good. You know? But that’s my thing.

Speed: I think my biggest fear is doing an interview on a green couch.

Skoot: I told him to wear his superman underwear; it’ll make him feel better.

Speed: I think my biggest fear would be to lose control of what we have. Because we work every day at it. If you lose control of something that you’re so passionate about, it’s not worth it anymore. That would be my biggest fear. You have to wear your heart on your sleeve you have to wear your heart on your shoelaces. It all has to be out there.

Skoot: Sometimes. Then you have to hide everything other times. There’s a fine line there. Between brutal honest and lie your butt off and hide it. You can’t be scared, you can’t go act scared when you need to be somebody. And then there’s times when you have to admit that you’re scared. We know everything about everyone. We’re business partners. I can’t lie to him - because then he can’t help me.
Laura: That’s true. Balancing life, work, jobs that pay the bills and working towards that ultimate goal of yours; tell me how that feels on a regular basis.

Speed: Tiring.

Skoot: Sucks.

Q: Does everyone in the band have day jobs? And then you guys are working towards this in the evenings?

Speed: Some have day jobs. Some are teachers. But you keep focus of what you’re doing. I think some of the hardest parts of us, is when you’re out during the week, if you’re schedule works, you can do it as close to home as possible. You’re out 2 hours, you’re leaving 2 in the morning, you go home, take a shower, you go right to work.

Skoot: We get support too. I feel like if something big comes along, my guys at my work will cover me a little bit. But then you have to reciprocate. To where you have to pay them back when you’re not busy. It’s all about time. Time. Time. Time. Don’t worry about not sleeping. Keep a full tank of gas because you’re going to go a long way, and it’s tough. That’s why we look so old; because we don’t sleep.

Q: What have you guys sacrificed to pursue your dreams?

Speed: I think family time. We all have family: moms and dads, aunts and uncles.

Skoot: We’re not great sons. We would make terrible boyfriends. We would just be like the worst. You can’t have a dog.

Laura: Dog on the road?

Skoot: NO… It’s tough, but it’s a decision. There’s time to retire. I don’t get to go ride my motorcycle any more. So what? It’ll be there.

Speed: Sacrifice is part of any business. Any business is like that. You could open up your own restaurant. If you think you can open up your own restaurant and you and your wife are going to have your lovely house. You’re living a dream. That’s not reality. Reality is you’re going to work for it.

Skoot: You’re going to work 18-20 hour days and be in debt up to here. That’s any business. And art, anything in art. Same thing. That’s where a lot of people that we talk to in the industry are trying to grow in the industry. Like, how do you guys get to where you’re going? Well, do this this this, this and this. Oh, well I don’t have time for that. Well then, don’t. It’s a business. It’s long days, and you invest everything. Your relationships, time, money; everything. You can’t start any business and not do that, right?

There’s no better education than doing it.

Q: What is success? It means a lot of different things to different people, what does that mean to you?

Skoot: I’d go back to what I said earlier. It’s little things; it’s the next rung of the ladder. It’s the next step. I don’t know who’s at the top, because I can’t see that high up, and I might never get that far. But I enjoy the progression. I can look back six months and see where we’ve grown. As long as we’re doing that, I’m happy.

Speed: Success is a journey. And it’s not just the individual’s journey either. It’s between us and our fans. They get to go with us. A lot of people don’t get to see the backside of some of this. Some people do. Your success is built on the journey that you make each and every day. Success can be the fact that we were trying to get into this one venue for two years. Well, we just got into it! Well, now you’re successful at that! Just like our last release, Devil’s In The Details. It took us four years because we did it on a very un-normal situation. We did it to the fact of we write a song, we let the fans judge it. They buy the album, don’t they have the right to say what goes on the album? That’s why it took us four years to create that album. Now we know what the fans want, we can do that this time.

Skoot: The first time around, they helped us write it, it was cool. Our fans are more important than we are. We love them more than they love us. Guaranteed. Because what’s a band without anybody? Right? And we tell them that every day, every time we’re on stage. Every time we’re on Facebook. No matter what - big, small, regional band, national band, go all over the world, it doesn’t matter. The Tung nation that’s our fans called themselves; they named themselves, They did! It wasn’t our choice. They’re it. They’re everything. And that’s what makes it worth taking off on a Friday to drive to Michigan to do a show. Because I know who’s there. I want to just thank them; I want to see them I want to talk to them. I want to get them off stage so I can go see how the kids are doing. You know? That’s what’s fun to me.

Q: Ok, so we’re going to reflect on the past a little bit. Younger versions of yourselves plop down next to you on The Couch right now. What do you tell younger versions of Silvertung?

Skoot: It wasn’t that long ago, and we are kind of telling ourselves the same things that we talked about. When me and him really sat down and we met each other and you keep that personal space a little bit. Until we started talking about it and figured out that we both had the drive to do it. We thought we knew how hard it was going to be and we both agreed to do it. And we tell ourselves the exact same thing. We need to get this done, we need to get that done, it’s going to be hard but we’ve got to do it. And we pump each other up. I wouldn’t, no way no how do this without him. I need somebody to pump me up. And when he’s down he calls me and I pump him up. And we just lie to each other and say this is great, it’s going to be ok. I couldn’t do it with anybody else.

Speed: A lot of trials and tribulations of vocals but I mean, a younger version of myself wasn’t that long ago really. Six years ago so, it was I don’t’ think I’d really say anything. Because I’ve learned more doing what we do. Steve Whiteman from Kix, he’s my vocal teacher. I sat with him, and I said, what advice would you give? He said I don’t think you need advice. I think you’re doing exactly what you need to do. You’re going to learn, and your experiences are different than mine. So you’re going to learn different ways than I did. So setting someone up to give advice, I don’t know if I’d really agree with that. You gotta let someone get on their own path, and if it’s the wrong path, they’ll figure it out. They’ll fall on their face so many times, it’s going to hurt.

Skoot: Our worst mistakes have been trusting other people as much as we trust each other. We’ve gotten burnt on band membership. We’ve had to make a few changes. But I don’t know that I would even change that because we’ve learned a lesson from it. So, we know who’s who. Who is the band, and who’s the guitar player. Big difference. We had to learn. The hard way.

Q: What are some of your best worst mistakes.

Speed: I don’t think they have all happened yet. We’re going to make a lot more mistakes.

Skoot: If you aren’t screwing up, you’re not trying hard enough. It’s a risk.

Speed: Everything is a risk. Calculate a risk; you use your best guess and best judgment. You talk about it, discuss it, make a plan, and it all goes to shit anyways. But you tried it. You pick up the pieces that worked, and you move on. There’s no better education than doing it. There’s no book or college out there that tells you this is how you succeed in the music business or in the entertainment business. What exists is your trials and your tribulations.

Skoot: Nobody goes out and intentionally screws up. But nobody has a crystal ball and can avoid every single obstacle either. So, you just live. You learn to ride a bike by crashing it a lot. And then when you learn to ride, you still crash but you want to go faster. You never stop crashing.

Q: So I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this, but does it ever get easier? Or is it just a graduation of one obstacle to the next?

Speed: Some things get easier. Because once you learn not to go down that wrong path, it makes it easier to go down that wrong path.

Skoot: You choose more dangerous and wild paths. So that part doesn’t get easier. I think for me, what got easier is you get used to it. The first time you screw up, you go, “Oh my God, I’m a failure. This is not going to work, and I’m not good enough for this I’m not cut out for this.” Six years later, you go, no biggie.

Speed: Yeah it wasn’t really that big of a deal. At the time, it does feel like a big deal.

Skoot: My stress level, even though we’re doing more, we’re traveling more, the stakes are a little higher, there’s more fans there’s bigger crowds, and I have stage freight. My stress level is way lower than it used to be. Because I know that not everything is going to go right. And I know that a lot of it is out of my hands, and I can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you have to let it go, so that’s what I’ve learned.

Speed: There’s a huge positive side of this. When you get to meet fans and they do things for you… like last night, there was a lady that comes to the shows all of the time. She’ll bring a bag of candies and you get to know your fans on a personal level. There’s a lady out in Michigan, and we go out there and she pays for our hotel room. She buys dinners and breakfasts, and there’s a ton of people that are like that in the industry. We use to be just a local band, and you kind of knew everybody and you were friends with some. And then you make new friends, and you start stretching out and you find new people they just open up to you and they’re like, "We want to help."

Skoot: Or we’re going to load your trailer, or we’re going to drive your truck for you. It’s still freaks me out.

Laura: It’s just amazing that support team that you’ve built without building it.

Skoot: Absolutely we did not build it. We resisted it. When our stage manager Dale started working with us, we’re like dude, you don’t have to do that, let me get that it’s heavy. He’s like No! No! He pushes us out of the way. We’re like, should we even let him do that? That doesn’t seem fair at all. He would say, you need to go to the merch table, go sign autographs, go talk to people. Ok, I really feel weird about it, I still do.

Speed: There’s a point in time we wouldn’t call fans, fans. Family. Family and friends of ours. We still feel that way. We are family and friends but we made a mistake of saying it to where we went out on tour and we didn’t really know these people and I kept saying like, friends and family and no, I’m a fan. Fan sounds degrading to me. And he stopped and he sat back and said, do you know what fan really means? I was like, uh, maybe not. What does it mean? He said because we’re FAN-tastic people. I said you know what, I agree. So you’re a fan then! He said you guys have to stop looking at it as a tight-knit family and give everybody the respect of who they want to be. Your fans have a role; they play a role in your career. They play a role in your show. Especially nowadays they do, because they sing more than I do. They know the songs that well that I just stop and they just take over. And sound better!

Skoot: M-hmmm!

Q: How has that initial moment or those graduation moments, how has that impacted your life in such a positive manner?

Speed: It gives you more drive.

Skoot: Yeah, I think we assume more responsibility. I do, and I know you do because we talk all of the time. The more feedback we get the more our fan base grows the more responsible we feel to do the best we can. Be at a show on stage or off stage or spending time or keeping in contact with people. I had a misconception well if you’re a great big rock star you live on the hill like a king and just send people to take care of stuff. I feel the exact opposite. Because people don’t have to come to our shows, they don’t have to like our music. But they do! And to me that makes me feel really humble, a little freaked out but responsible to them. I owe them. That’s the way I look at it.

Speed: Which is why we take care of ourselves. I don’t care if you paid $5, or $25 or $50 to come to see the show. You deserve 120% from us. You can be going out to dinner with your wife or your girlfriend or friends or go see another band. You don’t have to come and see Silvertung, but when you do that’s our responsibility to make sure you have a good time and to make you want to come back.

Skoot: Some bands are great at that even big bands that we open up for. Some are just phenomenal; they’re giving back, you can see it. They’re so big they don’t even have to do it, but they want to. And then you see some really big bands, and I won’t mention any names but we play with a few and it’s pathetic.. And that’s why I enjoy bands like Godsmack and Shinedown and Pop Eagle. And we played with Super Bob last night; 110% every single time. And we learn from them; we look up to them.

Speed: On tour or even in a little club, you can learn something no matter where you go. Even from a local band, somebody that’s in a graduating state lower than you, they haven’t gotten to the point that you’re at yet. You can learn from them as well. You have to stay focused and keep your eyes open no matter where you’re at because you can learn something from anyone. The more you do that, the easier this becomes. Like with Pop Eagle, the first time we met them four years ago, we take them a bottle of Jagermeister, and all because we did that, we were looked at differently than a local band. Because we show respect, where most local bands don’t. “OH, this is my show.” No, it’s not your show. You’re part of the show; they’re the big show. You show your support for them, you warm these people up for them. And they saw that in us, and ever since then we’ve been really good friends.

Q: What do you love most about all of this?

Speed: The fans, it comes back to the fans, every time. I mean, here’s the thing. Say you did an interview with someone. And someone that’s a fan of your show sends you an email and says, “Wow you touched me because of what you asked that person. And the response that you got out of someone.” How would that make you feel?

Laura: Gives me goosebumps. Makes me want to do it more. Tells you that you’re on the right path.

Speed: Everything we do comes back to the fans. They can hold us up and let us drop. That depends on us. But it still comes back to them.

Q: What advice would you give to some aspiring musicians or artists or…

Skoot: Anybody in any art, in any genre of art, if you want to do it as a hobby, knock yourself out and have fun. Enjoy it, love it, don’t sweat it just do it. If you want to do it as a business. Study business.

Speed: Yeah, definitely study business.

Skoot: As well as honing your craft; study business. Computer, tax law, whatever you need to do. Local government if you want to start up an art shop and you need a storefront, you better know your town council, you better get in with them, you better know your permits, you better know all of that stuff. There’s a lot to it. It’s really easy to do it as a hobby; it’s a lot of more fun and a lot less stress. But you’ll never make it big if you do it as a hobby. But you’re probably not going to make it big if you do it as a profession because one out of a billion artists hit that pinnacle 1% super star level.

Speed: Don’t get lost in the glitz and the glam of what it is.

Skoot: There is no glitz and glam.

Speed: That’s great to live through vicariously, and there’s nothing wrong with it and I’m happy for the media to do that because it makes our reality look a lot different for other people. We’re not here to bring anybody down. If music is what you want to do, do it. The thing is, don’t stop. Keep going, just because you hit a wall, you’ll get over it eventually. It will all fall into place, and your focus will all come together and then that’s where your crossroads are going to be. You’re going to go, “Ok, is this really what I want to do? Or do I just want to go rock a 9-5 job?” I couldn’t work just a 9-5 job. I’d be miserable.

Skoot: So would your fellow employees.

Speed: Yeah. I feel too creative to just do the same thing every day. We do the same thing every day, but I get to write new songs I get to clean new gear I get to play in front of new people, bigger crowds, smaller crowds. And to me, you know a lot of people think, Oh! Money and nice cars. Trust me, money is not everything. It’s not. I’ve had jobs to where I was banking some serious money and I had nice cars and a nice house and I was belligerent. It’s not always about the money. It’s about the satisfaction for myself. And writing is my outlet for a lot of things. I’ve gone through some bad things in life. There’s a song called, Never Too Late. It was probably six years ago; it was probably the worst time of my life. I had lost my mom; I was getting a divorce. Where else was I going? I was done. And I sat down for 4 hours one night, had lost my house, the cars were going to go, my mom’s gone, and I’m living in an apartment by myself. For four hours, I sat down and wrote lyrics after lyrics. And that’s where the song Never Too Late came from. That song has helped; I couldn’t even tell you how many people that we have talked to.

Q: At what point did you almost quit, and why didn’t you?

Skoot: I know yours too. I never almost quit, because when I met him, he was going to quit. He was going to sell all of his music stuff and be done with it because he was in a couple of other bands prior and people problems, and he was just like screw this… there’s no way. It’s impossible. We sat down and talked, and I said, let's do this one more time. We’ll prop each other up and help each other this time. Because he had no help, nobody can do it by themselves. Not in a band. You can do it yourself, but you can’t do it with three people on your back carrying them up a hill. It’s impossible; you need support. So I twisted his arm and talked him into it. One more time. And that was six years ago.

Speed: There’s going to be the time when we’re 70 years old and say, “Ok, we can’t be the stones.”

Speed: We have a long time to go. We are still young. Ways to go! We’re still, we’re a ball of fire. We’re still ready to go. I know we’re still tied right. Don’t want to seem like a ball of fire, but…

Q: So what was the moment that made it all worth it?

Skoot: I think there’s a lot of them for me. I mean… it never stops. It’s either, getting that personal message from somebody that your song saved my life last night! That’s pretty big. Or, any kind of fan response. Hey, I love your new song, or hey I just bought your CD; I’ve never heard you guys before. I heard you guys on the radio in California. It’s just little teeny things, constantly, and fuels us enough to re-invest that energy to go forward again to do more stuff, to keep the ball rolling.

Speed: I don’t think in any career there’s one thing that makes the difference. It’s all the successes that you have. If you think about it, if it was just one thing that made it all worthwhile, when it’s over, you’re done. You’re done what you had to do. Now where do I go? Never reach that. It’s always there. I don’t think it’s one moment; it’s a whole bunch of different moments. Like today, it took us a while to get this meeting together. We did it, and this has been really cool, so this is just one more thing that makes us go, “Hey!”

Skoot: I just look at it all as a re-investment. Energy in and energy out. You got to invest your energy and your time and your money to build any business. So, you’re helping us have something cool to go talk about this afternoon, I don’t know, it’s a constant evolution, revolution re-investment.

Maria Higgins

Unique Optique

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Tell me who you are, where you’re from, and a little bit about your business.

My name is Maria Higgins. I’m originally from Pennsylvania in the Poconos region, and my business is Unique Optique. It’s an optometry office because I’m an optometrist. So we do eye exams, and contact lenses and everything that’s related to medical eye care. We also have the optical part that is focused more on funkiness and clever marketing and fun.

Q: So tell me a little bit about how that idea came to life.

The first inkling of it that I can remember is I owned a practice in Pittsburgh and the business there was very medical. We wore white coats; it was very traditional, and I had a shirt that I had purchased in Key West that said “Art Slut” on it and it was about just that I loved art. I ran into a patient from my very white coat practice, and she was just really taken back by my shirt. I kind of realized I felt like an imposter in my own practice. Like I was pretending to be this white coat person, and I really wasn’t. I was someone more free and so at that moment I realized I just didn’t feel at home in my own practice that I owned. It wasn’t the right place for me anymore; so, I felt that I needed to start it from scratch in order for its personality to be what I wanted it to be. Then I also had an experience where we tried to make the white coat practice funkier, and we ran an ad that says guys make passes at guys who wear our glasses. In an attempt to get a little “cooler” and people thought it was a typo. So those two things kind of happened simultaneously and made me realized I should start my own.

Q: So, when you realized that, what happened then? Because where your practice is now, is not where it was then.

If I’m going to start new, why not figure where I want to live. And while I absolutely love Pittsburg, and I miss it, even now. But, it wasn’t my ideal place to live. So, I set out each weekend I would go to a town and kind of interview it and stay there a weekend and see how it felt and try it on for. It took a long time. I went to probably 10 or 12 different towns and then a random 16-year old kid in a bike store asked me what I was doing. I was fairly dejected and said, “I can’t find the town I’m looking for.” I told him what I’m looking for, and he says, “That sounds like Frederick.” The next weekend I came to Frederick and just loved it. It was instantaneous, and I just decided that that was where it needed to be.

Q: Wow, so you just picked up your life, moved to Frederick and started a new practice?

Yes, I did. It’s easy, it’s just me. So, it’s easy to make those kinds of decisions. It took a while to sell my practice in Pittsburgh, to find a buyer for it, but again once that happened, it happened so easily and quickly. They contacted me the beginning of December, can we have it done by the end of the year? Absolutely! How long do you want me to stay? They said February. I’m like, perfect! Within 3 months, everything was sold, and I moved here.

Q: So, what does success look like to you?

I think overall, I used to think success meant financial comfort, but I realize that is part of it. But just the basic financial comfort is fine. To me success is being comfortable in myself and just feeling like what I’m doing is true to who I am. That’s success to me.

Q: How has your environment change impacted the way you do business? How you interact with your clients?

I think it makes a huge difference actually. Just even the environment of the office be it the tin ceilings and the hardwood floors. Have a feeling similar to your space here and the karma of that. I think it all just permeates everything you do. Just even burning candles that smell like lavender, it just changes everything. We are in the space that used to be Colonial Jewelers, so I have a lot of patients come in, men especially that say, I bought my engagement ring here. I think the surroundings have such good karma to them that it really makes a difference in how people feel when they walk in the door.

Q: How does that translate down into the staff and your company and the culture that you have?

Right now I have one staff, and I’m looking to hire another person. I think for her as well it’s nice to come to a space that is relaxing and she doesn’t feel there’s a certain tension that comes with a medical, white coat, sterile environment and I think she doesn’t feel that. I think she really enjoys that.

Q: You went through a situation where there was some opinions and atmosphere that did not fit your personality. How do you deal with naysayers or people that just say, “Why would you do that?” or “Why?”

When I first came to Frederick there was an older 60-ish-year-old gentleman. He was just trying to get my story. He was like, “So… you moved here from Pittsburg, just because?” and I said, “yeah…” He said, “Oh, is your husband the doctor? I said, “No, I’m the doctor.” He said, “So your husband owns the practice?” I said, “I’m not married, and I own the practice.” And he was just kind of flabbergasted. He had all of these questions about how I could possibly be the woman standing before him as the doctor and as the owner. But in the end, we ended up really enjoying each other’s company and it was a fun conversation. But initially, he had a lot to overcome in his mind. But, I just try to answer their questions and try to do it in a loving, kind way.

Q: How about stress? Everyday stress of running a business: Tell me about that.

Yeah… It’s better now. It’s been open 3 ½ years, so the stress level has decreased as I’ve become more comfortable in the process. I really didn’t understand the nuts and bolts of owning a practice, I just kind of came to work, signed the checks, saw the patients, nothing about the day-to-day operations and here I had to learn it all from the start. Now I have a staff person that does a lot of that for me. But initially it was just a lot of walks in the woods. Taking my dog for a million of walks around Baker Park. That’s really my stress release is just walking with my dog and walking in the woods.

Q: How have you transitioned from working with a group of people to working individually?

Partially, when I first bought the business in Pittsburg, I hired a consulting group to help me understand the business part of it. Because in optometry school you don’t really get very much of that at all. I hired them again to help with the transition from Pittsburg to Frederick. But they’re not there to help you with the day-to-day stuff in Frederick. So, I would like to say that I just did it smoothly. But I didn’t. As each conflict or thing arose, I just tried to deal with it in the best way that I could. Some things I handled appropriately, and some things I didn’t, and some things I changed later as I was realizing this isn’t going work. Whatever I thought was going to work in the beginning isn’t’ going to work now. So, it was really just trial and error and trying to just be ok with my mistakes. The theme that Unique Optique is really built on is being yourself. Being who you are and just being REALLY ok with that. So I was just trying to embrace that with all of my mistakes as well.

Q: Let’s look at the past a little bit. If a younger version of Dr. Maria plopped down next to you today, what would you tell her?

I think I would tell her that it’s really ok to not do what people expect you to do. It’s really ok to figure out what is ok for you and not to do just what people think you should. Do what you want to do. Because in the end it all works out fine. You might as well be comfortable with what your choices are.

Q: Tell me about your best, worst mistake.

I think it would be soon after I decided that I wanted to move to Frederick, there was a really large conglomerate optometry company that wanted to buy my [Pittsburg] practice. Because I was kind of blinded by the fact that I just wanted to get on with my new choices I went through the whole process with them to sell, until it was 2 days before closing and I just didn’t feel right. It just felt wrong. So, I called them, and I was like, this isn’t going to happen. I’m sorry, I know it’s 2 days before closing, but I’m pulling out. At the time, I was like, what are you doing? You have the out; you’re practically free and ready to go. I think in the end I would have felt just almost like I sold out. The people that I ended up selling it to are just good people and really have done well by the practice and by the patience and I’m really glad that I turned down the corporate deal to eventually unknowingly wait for the really cool who bought it.

Q: Does it ever get easier? Or is it just a transition from one obstacle to the next?

I think it does get easier. Because for the first time I really feel like my desk is manageable, I have one pile of stuff rather than 20, and when I started the practice I had a big thick notebook full of my notes of what I needed to do. Now it all fits on a page of my to-do list. I do think it gets easier, but you really have to hang in there. It took me 3 ½ years to make me feel like I had a handle on things. Not an easy time or easy task.

Q: What would you say has made it easier? Or what practices or habits have you gotten into that has made it easier?

One of the biggest things honestly, is finding the right staff person. So having Jaquay has made my life so much easier. Because she was experienced, she’s of the same mindset, and the same personality and just such a good fit and she has helped me immensely. So that’s the biggest factor. The help.

Q: What mattered 10 years ago that doesn’t necessarily matter today?

What mattered 10 years ago to me was people’s impression of who I was. I can’t even begin to say that doesn’t matter to me now, because it does. But, much less than it was 10 years ago. 10 years ago I was concerned about if I was married, getting divorced, do I have kids? Don’t have kids? All of those were important to me 10 years ago, and now, because I’m being true to who I am. People’s impressions of me still matter, but not nearly as much.

Q: Looking forward, how has that initial risk-taking moment; that day that you packed up and brought everything to Frederick, crafted and changed your life and outlook?

I think it was one of the most riskiest things I had done in my life, I’m the first born and always did well in school and went to Optometry school and became a doctor. I did the steps that were, I don’t want to say expected because I wanted to do those things too, but that large risk that I took and ended up being ok, it didn’t ruin me or end me. It made me realize that I could do, that I just didn’t ever dream big enough. I could think of whatever it is that I wanted to do. If I decided I wanted to travel the world and make money that way, I could do that if I wanted to. If I decided to open other Unique Optiques, I could do that as well. It made me less afraid to do other things.

Q: So I have to know, is Frederick the right city? Did you find the right one?

It is! Frederick really is the right city. It has done so well by Unique Optique, and the people have been so supportive and the small business aspect of Frederick and the independent owners has been phenomenal. I still look for Fredericks, I still go and visit towns in hopes of finding something better than Frederick, but I never do. There’s always something that’s not Frederick. Frederick really was the best place.

Q: So would you recommend for risk takers, people that are starting a business or in a business, to find or form a community of like-minded people to help support them?

Absolutely! Because the karma of it, the goodwill of having other people in your same situation is extremely helpful, and it really boosts you when you need it.

Q: What’s one thing that you often fear losing in just owning a business - something that’s just always kind of in the back of your mind?

I think it’s not exactly the answer to your question, but kind of. Medicine, in general, can tend to be very… monotonous isn’t the right word, but very vanilla. Everybody is the same, like lemons almost. I most fear being kind of grouped into the cold medical type of business. I wouldn’t want to lose the individuality of it, and that’s not exactly the right answer.

Q: What’s next? What’s next in your world of business?

I’ve been trying to figure that out myself, honestly. I have thought about opening other Unique Optiques. But I don’t think that is what I want to do. I don’t want to have more brick and mortar places. I have been asked a number of times for people to come in and talk with me and look at Unique Optique and tell them about our branding and marketing and what we do on Facebook. That’s happened enough times that I should be like, I should be charging for this. Really my next step is I’ve started a business called the Unique Technique, and it’s for that reason. If people want to come in and we can talk to you about how we’ve done what we do, what mistakes we’ve made, and what’s worked in social media and just putting out the face of your business in general, so that’s kind of still in the works. It hasn’t been totally solidified. So, I’m working on that. I’m working on a book about the techniques we’ve used and the process of getting where I am.

Q: What advice would you give an inspiring entrepreneur? Somebody that’s thinking I’m just not comfortable where I am, I’ve got this itch to go out, but I’m horrified.

It’s funny how if you just take one step, it all just snowballs downhill. If you just decide the name of your business, or if you just decide what your first day of business looks like or you like cowboy boots and you want to start a cowboy boots store just the first step is the first step in getting everything to happen. I would say that. Make a decision and move forward and you’ll be surprised 6 months from now you’ll be surprised on how much has happened on that path.

Q: What is the moment you almost quit and why didn’t you?

I would say there were moments when the practice opened only a couple months, and I sat there with a week without anyone coming in and feeling like, “What was I thinking?” How am I going to get people to come and understand what it is that we do and how they feel about themselves from the inside? Then something would happen, and someone would walk in and they would buy a pair of glasses or 2 or 3. And I would be like, oh thank you, the universe sent me a little message, keep going it will be ok. I think those were the moments.

Q: What makes it all worth it?

It makes it worth it if I decide that I just want to do a road trip up the California coast. And I’m going to plan it for next week. And I can! I can just go. Not that there is no risk in that. It means that there’s a week of no income, but I have that power. I have that control over my destiny of what I want to do. Whether it’s vacation or business or whatever.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your promise form.

I find that I try to overcome limiting thoughts of my own. But it’s not easy. It’s a constant easy, to think, no, you CAN do this; it’s fine. You can start another business about social media and if someone asks you a question you don’t know, just find the answer. It’s ok. You don’t have to know everything about it. So I find that I’m constantly trying to talk to myself in a kind way or in a way I would talk to someone else that I was trying to encourage, so, when I am not doing that, I feel like it limits my abilities to go further. That’s why I try to keep positive self-thought in my mind.

Spencer Jackson

High Cal Productions

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me, who you are and what you do.

Alright well, I’m Spence. Spencer Jackson born. So I grew up hearing spence and I also heard growing up “Spencer for Hire.” Growing up my first passion is in hip-hop music since 4th grade I wanted to perform it, I wanted to write my own. I had to think, cousins and older cousins that were around me at the time that brought hip-hop into our household and I caught onto it early, I liked it, I was fascinated by it and for whatever reason I don’t know. I knew when I had my first opportunity to try to put something together and show people; I did it. Ever since then it’s just been something that I’ve always wanted to do. I went through a lot of identities as you’ll see, track through hip-hop artists especially, there’s a lot of identity names and stuff they picked. I’m glad that I came full circle and decided to be my name, because in hip-hop you pick something that’s catchy or that goes along with the culture or something that’s just as flashy as your chain is. I went through those stages, but I’m glad that I’ve rested upon, me. Literally and figuratively, my own name. That’s Spence.

Q: What fires you up? Tell me what about music that makes that inner flame in you burn.

I want people to be entertained. I want them to be engaged at wherever they’re at. Whatever venue that might be, whether it would be a concert or gathering or even formal event it doesn’t matter. My fire is definitely when I know I have the opportunity to be the one who gets their attention. Which may be the thing I love the most, but, it’s helped me to make better music, perform better, to just be in front of people. Period. And do whatever I got to do to get their attention.

Q: I want to dig a little bit deeper on that one. We talked a lot of about how other people feel, what does Spence feel. Walk me through how you feel when you’re up on that stage. What makes you say, you know what, I want to do this again, and again, and again?

What I feel holding the microphone is that I’m exactly where I need to be. You go through times finding out what it is that you love the most by questioning it. I’ve definitely been there. Challenged right away first of all by where you are at. Specifically for me in hip-hop, where I’m from was already a big challenge. Because if you want to make it anywhere in music business period or any line of entertainment, you have got to be coming from somewhere or be somewhere, that those lines of market are heavy. You need to be somewhere - NY, somewhere in LA, or as far south as Miami. And you’ll question, you’ll ask yourself, should I really be doing this? Maybe I should just head to my nearest community college and just find what program will pay me the most, whatever afterwards. But every time I’m on a stage anywhere, and I have eyes in my direction, ears in my direction, I have a microphone, I don’t care at all what I do for a 9-5. I will make it possible for me to still do what it is I want to do with a microphone outside of that so that I can keep doing it. When I’m doing that I feel it’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to use it the best that I can for as long as I can. But I feel empowered, and I feel successful the most success just pouring out whatever, anything from a corny joke, witty punch line, because I’ve got them all. Unfortunately, corny jokes come with it. I have them. I feel like I’m supposed to use them to grab somebody’s attention. Anytime.

Q: How do you handle the stress or just the balancing act of supporting your creative career while supporting what you have to do until that moment comes?

Well I try to put first things first. We all, we’re talking about me as a performer, but we all of us have a stage. All of us have an area where we perform. If you’re a teacher, you have an audience everyday. If you’re a mom, you have an audience. Even if the kids are gone, you have an audience. We all have a stage, and I try to make sure my primary stages are inline first. I have children, I have a wife, and they need to get my best performance everyday. My kids deserve to hear the same jokes that I would crack on a stage. My wife deserves to hear me drop her a smooth line just like I would on a song. When I’m thinking that way, I let that filter into anything else that I’m doing. I work with middle school kids and I feel like, especially hip-hop is already one of their teachers, and I know that I’m working with kids and that I need to plug in my entity as a performer somehow the best that I can so that they can see the balance of that lifestyle, music and entertainment. I try to fuse my music or my vision and creativity things that I put together for people. I honestly feel like if I’m using the same creative aspects or performance aspects that I would use on stage and use that in my 9-5 or my second or third job, then I’m still doing the same thing all the time. So then I don’t feel like I’m balancing it. I try to find a way to put who I am into everything that I’m doing, and you’ll feel like that there’s not much of a balancing act required. It’s the practice, every athlete practices for a week counting down days to Sunday since we’re in football season. That can be taken grueling if they want, the same over and over again if they wanted to, but if they look at it like I’m already placing myself on my stage, I’m already placing myself on the field, this is going to be what happens. If you visualize what is coming up, you’ll feel like you’re doing it all the time. So, I try to do that, I try to place myself on the stage all the time in what I’m doing and pour out the same energy. Because anybody’s attention is a privilege.

Q: What kind of people or what do you do on a daily basis what do you surround yourself with that helps to fuel, and say I can do this?

Well I definitely, intentionally try to place myself around leaders, because I do feel that if you do if you’re out ahead, you’re a leader no matter what. If you’re the one that stands up, you’re a leader. Even if what they do isn’t what I do, there’s something they apply that I can be applying to what I do, that’s going to make it a whole lot better, that’s going to make a whole lot more effective. I’ve tried to make sure that I make sure to keep in contact with them, whether that would be through networking and working in close proximity to them, and you’re allowed to pick up techniques, you’re allowed to pick up ideas, charisma, and solicited information from them that you want to use, and I have a growing network and I’m glad for that. I have business owners, I have ministry leaders, I have youth workers, anything that I feel encompasses, what my primary goal in my heart is which is to serve. I try to keep close to kids, I work with kids, and I try to listen to them. I want to make sure that they feel relevant and that they feel important and that their voice is heard. But be genuinely engaged in what they feel and they look forward to and what they’re interested in helps me to create an overall vision of everybody I will have in my path and what can I offer for them?

Q: What would you say that you learn from the kids? Because I hear that hey are a huge inspiration to you.

I think I learn to stay a kid. When you have adult responsibilities, and that’s all you’re consumed with, and then you find yourself on a practice field with some kids, you find yourself in a class or in a discussion, and you’re talking to them, I pause and listen with kid ears. I think I’ve learned mostly to be a kid, meaning, keep your youthful optimism and I kind of take over the world kind of things kids don’t have a lot of fear. Adults, I’m afraid of a lot more things now than when I was a kid. I’m afraid to say what I’m afraid of. They don’t have that. And they don’t anticipate no. As an adult, you have to anticipate a no, productively. But they don’t anticipate a no as far as letting it stop them from doing something they are about to do. I can shape a song or production or a video around a kids mentality and still give them because kids look forward to being grown. They know they’re kids, but they feel like they’re adults, especially teenagers, they’re looking forward to being grown. A teenager wants to get a car, that’s a very adult thing, but once they get the car, they want a pink fuzzy steering wheel around it. That’s kid! I want to be an adult but I want to stay a kid. I think if you can keep that balance, you can keep kids as an audience, and kids still need to be our audience no matter what we’re doing. They need to see us succeed and believe and fail and keep trying because they’re about to face all of that.

Q: Let’s look at the past a little bit. A younger version of Spence plops down on the couch next to you right now, what do you tell him?

I’d tell him be himself because I know what he’s thinking is he has strong convictions about what it is that he wants to do, and lines that he won’t cross. But as he gets closer to his goal, they get challenged. He’s not necessarily going to see that what he’s about to do probably could be called a compromise. It’s been given a different name or a justification. He’s going to continually have to look in the mirror and see the perspective him, see the potential him, see the him that he is and he’s going to have to contest all three of them to one another to really find who he is and what he wants to say. That he’s still going to have to be smart about being crafty and being intentional, about keeping current and relevant. Because if you want to be in a market, any market, your product has to be relevant. But he is never to put that before his heartbeat. Don’t let anything or anyone or any pressure allow you to create anything other than what your heart totally believes in. Then I will tell him to be intentional about who you have around you. You’re a friend to them, don’t put business before hearts. It’s difficult sometimes, work with friends. I know the rules, no friends, no family, no business together. I know all of that. I just believe that relationships outweigh everything. There’s no reason that people who enjoy one another for who they are shouldn’t be able to share a successful project. Maybe it needs to be limited; I get that. Keep who you are, because ultimately if you’re an artist like myself who really wants to pour yourself into what you’re dong, you can only really pour in who you are and if that’s tainted or if that’s defective at that time, it’s going to show. It won’t grow. At least for me it didn’t.

Q: I’m going to be somebody from your past right now: Spencer, being a musician is ridiculous, you can’t make music, you can’t make money doing it, why on earth are you going to do this? How do you take that energy and dismiss it so that you can stay focused on your goals?

Well, I tell them, and after telling myself too, because I am a listener, and I am impressionable. I do appreciate the support and I do appreciate the outside voice, but I’ve learned that mine ultimately is the gavel. I make the decision. What I would say to them is that music doesn’t have to be what I’m paid for. It doesn’t have to be how I make my living. I would look them back in the eye and tell them, “You know, it is what I wanted, and it is what I want. If all I did was create music, and it totally paid for my family. Not an X amount of dollars, just pay for my family. We’re living, we’re fine. If that was all I did, I could finally say that famous quote, “Do what you love, you don’t work a day in your life.” But I would tell them, and happily tell them and wholeheartedly tell them that I don’t have to do it at that capacity for me to love it and that’s the whole reason why I do what I do. And if I love it that much, I will work at it to find a spot, a level where it does bring a financial opportunity, And I have had to say that to people and I am happy to say I put my words into action and music has brought me opportunities that have brought me financial situations. Am I living off of a 9-5, no I’m not. But I’m happy about it. I am a lot further with it than I was where young Spence was sitting at. I have had opportunities come to me with it. Money and not, that have just blown my mind, that I have been able to be the one that was doing it. And I don’t think anybody’s cashing a paycheck bigger than that. You know, and I could care less without being true or cool. I’m going to say to them; you don’t get it. When you are someone who is creative or expressive or performing, your paycheck is that somebody has asked you to be right there for all of them to see. I can’t even fathom that I have had that opportunity. When I’m there, I’m not even thinking about money, I might be afterward. But then when I go home and me and my wife are going through the pictures and were just like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I was there, I can’t believe so and so was there and saw that!” “How did I do? Did I do okay?” You did great! My bills will get paid, I don’t worry about any of that. So thank you for your criticism and thank you for your doubt. Thank you very much for you know, letting me know that what I am doing is impossible.. because I’m doing it!

Q: So, that decision to just follow your passion, to be Spence, how has that entire situation impacted your life?

When you love doing something you will find a way to incorporate it in everything that you’re doing, on some level. For me, for the longest time, I did feel like I had to separate being Spence the artist, from Spence the 9-5’er, like the phone booth kind of thing. Like when I get off work then take these glasses off, and step in the phone booth and have an ‘S’ on my chest. But you know, if you could wear your ‘S’ on your chest all the time… How many more lives would you save, (speaking in a Superman scenario)? How many more bullets would you outrun? How many more buildings would you leap over? If you were wearing that all the time… I know Superman couldn’t do that all the time, but we can. We can choose to be who we are all the time. That’s what I do. Here recently, I’ve really thought about what I do and how I want to do it all the time. And that you have that platform no matter where you go, you just have to make the decision to want to find a way. You can find a way. Another quote: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can find a way to do what is you’re doing or incorporate it. And it may not be in every day or every aspect. But when that opportunity comes where you can show what it is you really want to do at the place you’re at all the time. It feels so good. It compels you whatever it is that you’re at to maintain and keep doing a good job and do your best. And then that also spills over into your passion. You just have to choose to let nothing hold you back.

Q: What is the point that you almost quit? And why didn’t you?

So, I don’t really know that I had a point where I almost quit, but I know when the point came that those questions were there. And it’s almost like your passion is your love, and you’re afraid to admit, there was that time when, I was about to call it quits, I don’t want to admit to it. But, it was there, and I felt like I had gotten my first big opportunity in this area to be noticed as an artist, and I was on cloud 9. I was loving it. I’ll just be specific, I got to be part of “The Hub City State of Mind” video. That is what put me on the map here in Hagerstown. And I was just tickled, this is all an artist wants, is just to be seen and heard, just for a little bit. Have some kind of audience. So when that happened, I was just floating, and I was pretty sure big things were coming after that. And so I started school because I have been privileged to be able to produce not only just write but produce my own music and I love that. I work with other producers, but I love from start to finish, like an artist with a canvas, I like to lay all of it, and give it what it needs because I made the music. So I wanted to get better at that, so I went to school and during school I learned just how much time it takes to do both. I had to put time into my school so I could get better at it. And I didn’t want to take that time out, I really had to learn patience. I had to take a time out and feel like I was just fading out of the scene. I just panicked. And I just told myself, “You’re not going after this” You’re gonna finish school, maybe. I started to think about that…I could make every excuse in the world. I could quit, and I could go back to music. And I began to realize that something was wrong with me when it became hard to be happy for other people. And that was tough because that was real convicting. And this is embarrassing, because you know, when you can’t be happy for other people doing the same thing as you, people in general, doing the same thing as you, you have to stop everything! Because that’s a real sickening, I’ll call it, spiritual disease. And when I realized that about myself, I had to stop and be okay with just pausing music. Stop being a childish little kid, fighting over a toy, and you need to just leave it alone for a minute and concentrate at what’s on your plate because it is still the same thing. But you know, it was during that time when I just needed to take a break, share the light. Everybody gets a chance, everybody has their chance, everybody deserves a chance to succeed and I had to tell myself that. And just be patient. And wait for it to be my turn again, As long as you stay in the game, the ball comes back around. And I needed to just do that and it was shortly after my highest of highs is when I was contested as to do you want to stay in this – or- do you just want a little one time 15 minutes? I didn’t want just the 15 minutes I want a lifetime. I want a lifetime of impacting whatever my size world is with music. I’m glad I chose this.

Q: What makes it all worth it? If you could give me one statement that says, What makes it all worth it?

Just being asked to do it- sums it up, because I try to stay humble, and it’s easy if you’re the one with the microphone to get a big head. I fought with that, and I still fight with that. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that compliments and encouragement, they fuel me. I love hearing that. It’s really not about me. You know it’s just about what I’ve been given, and I chose to do the best with that. Don’t get me wrong, If I don’t get a compliment, I’m like you don’t like that song. Stir the logs up a bit get that fire going. But when somebody asks you to come perform at something, or you get that inbox message, “Hey we’re having a…” or “It’d be great if you could just come…” That makes it worth it because they always come at a good time for me. They always come at a time where I’m probably not feeling like I’m doing much. And then somebody asks me to do something, and I light up like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m there.” And that’s paid, not paid, doesn’t matter to me. My check is just, you know, we recognize you like to share, you have something, we’d love for you to come do it. You got it!

Q: Last thing; tell me about your promise form and what that means? What is your promise to yourself?

So I promised myself that I won’t allow doubt, to stop me from being me, and I actually filled this out before. And I put doubt, and I put from being creative. Because when you are about to go to the next level, and by next level I just mean it’s further than you’ve been. There’s really no way to gauge it from one person to the next. You know, it’s from you’re at point A, you’re not a point C or D. You feel that good pressure; it’s a good pressure. It’s a good stress. To perform at the next level, you gotta impress. You want a thumbs-up, or at least a sideways one that says we’ll you’ll get there. You want something. I was at a point where I was trying something new; something that really kind of felt out of my range, my skill range. But in the meantime while I’m going through all that, I really was going through a, probably the biggest fight or flight time I was ever in my life and didn’t think I should be where I was at, and I bit off more than I could chew. And this smaller version [promise form] came across my work area and how timely. And I originally said I won’t let doubt to stop me from being creative, Because I knew I could create what it is I wanted to do, I knew it. I just needed to… It wasn’t a dream…it wasn’t a genie... I know I needed to put the work into it. But I wouldn’t have even done that, if there is something you’re not looking at here and said you are clouded with this, that you don’t even see this, you won’t even give it a try. As an artist, I’ve gone back and forth so much about who I want to reach, who my audience is, the sound. I know in my faith this isn’t who I’m supposed to be. It’s alright to be rocked around on the boat, but it doesn’t mean you have to be hanging over it throwing your guts up. You can’t allow the storm to make you sick. And my storm of doubt shouldn’t be this. It was turning into doubt for me, and I made a promise, and I’m getting ready to put out more music than I have in my entire life and I know that. I just want to serve. I want people to be edified or motivated or convicted whatever they need. And I want to put that in music and not weight it to whatever else is out there as if mine fits in or not Spence specifically. I will take wisdom and advice because that’s me. I want that; I will take guidance; I will ask for it, I will take it when it is unsolicited. I need all that. I will do homework, I will do research. None of that is me, but I need that to be able to pull that into my world so I can expand the world that I have. And I’m going take all that but I’m going funnel it down to the core of what I really am, and if I can’t speak it 100%. If I can’t stand before one audience and say it with 100% conviction, I quit. Then I will be done. And I’m not going back to that, I’m going keep doing what I’m doing, and I have no doubt that its going be who I am.

Nathan Miller

Nathan Miller Chocolate

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me, who you are and what you do:

I am Nathan Miller Chocolate, and I am a chocolate maker, and I have a pastry company along with that too.

Q: That must be an incredibly fun job.

Yeah, it’s really bad… it smells like sweets and pastries and then on the other side it smells like chocolate.

Q: So bring me back to the moment when you decided that chocolate making was your calling.

I think I’ve always wanted to do it - for a really long time. It just took me a really long time to get there.

Q: Okay, tell me a little bit about that.

As a kid I would always mess around with stuff in the cabinets and things. I was always trying to make the best chocolate sauce, or milkshakes. I was like 20 minutes from Hershey’s, so that kind of helped things out. I was always just going, we had season passes, so at one point I realized that you can get free candy if you go through the ride. So I would continuously go through the ride and get handfuls of candy until they got upset with me.

So I think maybe that was the beginning of wanting to make chocolate. And then throughout working and stuff I’ve always wanted to do pastries and food in different things too. It just took a while to learn different things till I was comfortable taking the big plunge into owning your own business; that I think is kind of scary for anyone.

Laura: It is scary. It can definitely be scary. And that leads me right into my next question.

Q: What are some of the fear factors in starting your business?

I think, growing up you think that you should support yourself. And I think that’s the biggest fear of wanting to start your own business, like, can I eat? Can I pay rent? You know, am I going to live in a tent? How am I going to survive, if I start the business? It’s easy to collect a paycheck and have someone else worry about all the other problems. But I think the biggest fear is, can I do this? And then when you jump in the deep end, you fight a little bit harder. So I think that’s kind of where I’m at: This year we’re #1 being on the east coast so, it’s kind of cool.

Q: Tell me about your adventure, you said it’s your first year on the east coast.

I started this in 2010. My boss was like it’s time for you to do something, you know you could stay here for a long time and be comfortable, or you could go and do something totally different. So I owe him a lot for giving the push to do that, which is pretty awesome and throughout time kept giving me the push. Through that time, I got a part time job at Whole Foods, and I was like, “Alright, I at least need a part-time job so I have some money coming in.” And then in the middle of that, I was at a party, and someone handed me a card and then I started a food truck, which is totally opposite of the chocolate business. So I had this food truck and chocolate business at the same time, and all along like my old boss, and still a good friend, would be like, “What are you doing? You should just do the chocolate like that’s what you want to do in the long run.” So it took me a long while to finally commit to jump in full force. And now, I’m realizing it’s okay. You can survive. We are surviving. It’s pretty awesome.

Q: What pumps you up about chocolate/pastries? Tell me what goes on in your head when you’re in that zone and chocolate is just rolling?

I feel like a kid. I come in and I could be working a long, long day or a couple of long weeks. I will get the one day off and I’ll come back in and  have the smells going on, the smell of chocolate. The look of the space, something you created yourself, you have like an adjustment, a chance to breathe a little bit and then come back to it. You’re like “I’m back.” To be honest, to keep going is hard but overall you get excited. You’re only human, so you’re going have bad days too.

Laura: So it’s that time off in between putting so much effort into what you love that refuels you to go back in there and relive it

Nathan: Yeah, just looking back in a different way or even if you do get overwhelmed, if you can take a step back and say, “Okay, what can I do to re-approach what’s going on?” and then spark that up again, which is kind of fun. Interesting too.

Laura: Right. How do you feel when you are in the presence of somebody that’s experiencing something that you’ve created? Somebody tastes your chocolate for the first time… or walks in and smells your bakery. What does that do for you?

Nathan: It’s exciting. When you get good compliments, it still can be stressful if you have instant feedback when people don’t necessarily like what you’re producing. Which is normal in any business. Some people like things- some people don’t; there are different personalities. Different days they’re having. It’s more of an instant gratification, than if you’re doing a long process and don’t get anything back until like, the finale.

Q: How do you know when an idea, something new that you want to develop, or a new flavor or taste, how do you know when you want to act on that?

You always want to act on it immediately. But you have to take a step back. And then see if it makes sense. A lot of times I’ll have gut feeling. I’ll be like, “Alright, I know this is something I should do.” And I try to rely on that. Normally, I have a pretty good sense of that, but you’ll have some flops from time to time. You know, and then you learn from that.

Q: What kind of people or surroundings do you kind of keep yourself with or surround yourself with to help fuel your passion? Keep it going…

We like people that are passionate about what they do in general. It’s just like, even if you’re making coffee or something, I like to let them know that it’s a ritual. So that’s how you can bring the passion into what you’re doing. Like, doing a sun salutation or something. If you bring that into walking or anything, it can bring some passion into it. I try to surround myself with people that share the same vision if I can. And you normally attract that too- if you send out that kind of vibe, in what you’re doing.

Q: I’m sure there have been some people along the way that have been like, “Nathan, Really? Chocolate? You’re going to make a living off of making chocolate? How are you going to do that?” What do you say to those people? Or how do you react to that?

I think if anyone met me, they knew that I would be okay with chocolate. Because that’s how excited I was about it, I’m sure there’s conservatives, but I don’t pay attention to them. I was just like, “That’s what I wanna do.” So I’ll take your feedback but I’ll just take that as something that helps me be better at what I do. You can’t disregard that kind of information.

Q: How do you handle just the day-to-day stress of owning a business? Because we all know it’s not easy.

I try to work out, I try to eat properly, I try to get enough rest if I can. That rest part is hard, whenever you have demands…but sometimes I feel like you just have to shut down and start in a new day because it’s going to be there tomorrow. So I try to look at it that way if I can. There’ll be weeks where you’re like, “Oh man, am I doing the right thing?” And that’s totally normal. You just have to be able to embrace that, I think.

Q: And how do you embrace that? What’s kind of the internal dialog that happens?

Give it a big bear hug and say, “Well you’re here, so we might as well get to know each other.” So that’s the way I look at it in a sense. Meditation helps too.

Q: How about if a younger version of Nathan hopped out on The Couch next to you right now. What would you say to him?

What would I say to him? Hi! We’d have a good time. I’ve always wanted to have a twin so… I think we’d have a good time.

Laura: Is there any advice you’d give him? Knowing what you know now versus maybe some fears…

Nathan: Just work hard. Create a foundation in what you’re doing so you can master your craft. Because if you can become a master, it’s easy to translate over into other areas too, because to become a master in something you have to have a lot of dedication and kind of structure, in some sense. And save some money! That might be the other thing. I don’t think I saved enough. But, you know, you only live once.

Q: Do you think it ever gets easier, this whole owning a business thing? Or is kind of just a graduation from one level to the next?

I think it gets easier in what you’re doing now today, maybe a year from now. But then you have other challenges you actually walk into. Because if you’re an entrepreneur, you want more of a challenge and that’s probably why you’ve taken the risk in the first place. So I don’t think it’s ever going to get easier because you want more challenges. You just get better at managing them, I think. Or if you’re being more successful you can afford to pass off some of those duties that were really strenuous to someone that has better knowledge about it. Or you can learn from them, or you can hire someone that can coach you.

Q: So how has that initial risk-taking moment, when you decided, “I’m going to do chocolate, this is what I’m called to do.” How has that impacted your life today?

It’s awesome. It’s been a lot of work, but we’re starting to see some return, so that’s good. But we just can’t lose focus from where we started. And I think that’s what we need to keep in our business motto. It’s easy to lose sight of where you came from.

Q: What’s something that you often fear losing?

Well I think you often fear like losing your business. You know, or a control of quality is the one thing I fear losing. Whether or not I’ll keep that quality the way I want it to be as I grow or if I run out of ideas. That’s a pretty legitimate fear.

Q: Where do you get inspiration?

It can come from a run, I’m out running and I see something that’s interesting. I taste something new and something connects for me from something else I’ve tasted before, and it just kind of clicks in my head. Or I could be in a grocery store or something looking at some products or see a new product. Or a friend could just send me an email of something new, or give me a new idea.

Laura: Right. Inspiration is everywhere. Especially when you are artistic; your senses are constantly reaching for inspiration no matter what you’re doing or where you’re at.

Nathan: Yeah, a long time ago I used to dream about things I would do, which is kind of strange. So when I come up with an idea, I try to refer to the times I’ve tasted things, and I try to visualize it in my head what it looks like. And then from there I try to go and replicate the taste that I can taste in my mind. Then visually try to create it the way it looks in my mind, in a sense.

Q: What’s next in your world? What’s next in Nathan Miller Chocolate World?

Well we’re trying to get into the direct trade. We’re starting to work with some bigger companies. We are buying Cocoa from Taza, which is exciting because it takes me into another world of bigger buyers that kind of know more than me. That's fine because they should know more than me because they’re a lot bigger company, and I can learn from them. We just want to be creative and make tasty things, you know?

Q: What would you tell an entrepreneur, someone who’s interested in starting a business or maybe is just kind of looking for some inspiration? What advice would you give them?

Read a lot of books, or audio books are good too because you always continue to grow and understand and be willing to fight if you take the risk. That is what it’s going to take to keep going.

Q: What is the point that you almost quit and why didn’t you?

I don’t think I ever wanted to quit. Growing up we were taught not to quit. It sounds weird, but it was a family motto, “Millers don’t quit. We just adapt and change.” So I just tried to stick to that. I mean it’s hard to be able to take the resistance and the pain of what’s going on, but you learn so much from it. It changes you.

Q: And what is the moment that made it all worth it?

Whenever I taste chocolate, get to taste the final product. Or this year we were finalists in Good Food Awards, which was exciting. We tried to see what the process was like, and we got further than we imagined, so it helps… it boosts energy when you are working a lot.  It makes you want to fight a little bit harder. So yeah, I listened to something this morning, podcast: He was saying, “Surround yourself by people that are better than you, so that you can reach the next level that you want to be.” Which I thought was cool like he was… but it was in reference to a workout…it's like a guy thing. Like, I’ve always wanted to have a six-pack, he’s like, I went to all these trainers and there was no results. So he went to this one trainer and he was super ripped. Well this guy must know what he’s talking about, and then he looked around on the wall and there were all these different builders so it helped him pick a trainer, because he felt like it was credible. And I realized at that moment I’ve been trying to do that with my business too, which was I thought, kind of cool. It overlaps into so many other things. Which was interesting.

Q: Last but not least, tell me a little bit about your promise form and your promise to yourself and what that means.

Uh, I work a lot and then I think sometimes I don’t have as much fun as I should or get out and see things. But I feel like if I have some dedication, you know like 1 or 2 years or 3 years, however, much it takes, then that sets up everything for the rest of what’s going on. So it’s kind of training from there, and I can ease back and let go of the reigns and try to teach myself to be a little bit more reliant on others. But in the same process trying to implement those things too, which is hard when you have a vision; to let go of things.

Sherie Lake

Lake Insurance

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me who you are and what your business is all about.

My name is Sherie Lake, and I am from McConnellsburg, PA., and I started my company in 1995. August 1st to be exact. I’m the first female and youngest commercial producer for a large independent agency in Chambersburg, PA. I remember being scared to death and being asked to look older, can you imagine? And so, I was taken aside by the owner of the agency and he told me, “You are the youngest, and you’re a girl, so make sure I didn’t make a mistake on you.” See, that was back in the '80s, so back then, there weren’t as many women in business. There were few, in my industry, which is insurance. So when he said that, I had something to prove. That gave me my power. I wanted to exceed, of course, part of that’s my personality. I was told that if I had “x” number of new sales opportunities each week, that the numbers will work themselves out, and I would do very well, So I stuck to that. And I beat the tar out of all the other producers at the table, and they hated me. Some of them were 60-somethings. Some of them were 40-somethings, and I was a ripe age of like, 23. So it was kind of fun!

Q: Tell me about the transition in starting your own company

The journey of having the agency has truly been a journey. I was trying to think on my way here what two things I have learned. And the one is having an extremely high belief in one’s self, that’s the first thing. And the second really big “Aha!” thing for me is giving myself permission to fail. And not just once; but I fail a lot. And I was thinking about that as I was making my coffee this morning. I was like, you know, yeah that fail thing... I’m actually okay with it. In fact, I search for the failures because if you search for the failures you are going to hit some really good things. And then since I don’t care if I fail I just brush that one aside and move on. So I guess those would be the two big things that are important to me.

Q: So what fires you up? What makes you do what you do every day?

I enjoy the game of business. I look at it as a chess game and all I’m doing is moving my pieces. So, I try… if the industry is zigging, I try to zag. Because I found that flowing down the stream in the boat is not where it’s at. It’s trying to make yourself a speck or a big difference, and making yourself stand out. To me, that has been very, very important to me. So I pay attention to my industry, and I try to figure out what it needs, and then I try to patch it with what we have. Meaning emotional connection.

And it isn’t all about that, because with insurance we make a promise to our consumer and when the rubber hits the road and something bad happens, if our promises don’t come true and they don’t come true in a very quick and professional and sufficient or fair way, then that’s when it matters. So I decided… I’ve made a couple rules for my company: I don’t care how big we get, I will never have an automated teller system, ever. I want my people never to have to press a button to talk to so-and-so. Something that I just believe in, in my heart and soul. And again I don’t care if I’m in New York City, which I won’t be. But if I were, I will have real people answer the phone. I also believe in personal connection. So we do not ask for policy numbers when our clients call, just give me your name; that’s all I need. And they’ll [clients] start with their policy number, whoop! we don’t do it that way, you’re a person here…we have you listed. So, they’re like “hmmm” (a little spark). So, that’s important to me.

Q: Tell me about your values and just how you run your business and why that human interaction is so important. And how that’s made a difference in your business.

First of all, somebody loses their house, that’s a crazy, scary, traumatic, thing, for many, many reasons. A person has a lot of emotional ties to their home. So, all of the little things that they saved throughout your life is there, pictures, Grandma’s armoire, whatever, firearms, jewelry, things that have an emotional connection. And when someone has to go through a fire, it’s a huge devastation. So, thankfully, we’ve only had three house fires in my career; a few building fires; commercial building fires, thankfully. But the one that I believe I shared with you earlier was in the winter, and I had only ever seen my client in her best light, she and her husband. And we got the call that they had a house fire. So it was a Saturday, I think the fire occurred on a Friday night. My children were young at the time, so we had them in the car and then I got a cooler with some water and things in it. Now, the Red Cross comes running in with those types of things. But I didn’t think they did that as readily back then. So we wanted to make sure they had some of those things on hand, I think we had some snacks too. So I showed up at the site and I see a Fire Marshall vehicle, a contractor vehicle and half a house or a third of a house, and lots of black and horrible smelling smoke. So I can’t find my client, but I didn’t realize I would be searching for this woman who had like a tear-stained face, with smoke. And she had this ratty looking coat on because she told me later that she was in such a rush to run out, she just grabbed whatever her hand hit in the rack. You don’t think about it, but you didn’t get to pick your favorite coat that day or the one you normally wear. You just grab the one your hand hits on the way out the door. Because she insisted she was still in shock that I walk up these rickety steps to observe the devastation upstairs. And I probably should have told her no. But the Christmas tree was still sitting there singed with presents under it. All charred, and they had lost their cat, and it was a really bad thing. And she needed to cry, then you know, of course, I feel like I should cry. And so I tell her at that time that today is one of the worst days in your life, but I promise you a year from now you’ll feel different. And I was right. But she needed to be reminded that. Anyway, so that was the horrible, horrible story. As far as delivering checks: my delivery of checks would be more in the life insurance side. I remember one particularly that was emotional. One was intended to pay for the continuation of the business. And this guy was healthy and in his 40’s and poof he was gone. I delivered that check and his partner was in tears and said he didn’t even want to touch it. He’s like, “I’m being paid for his death.” And I said, “ No, you’re not.” I talked to this man, and it was intended for you, cause that’s how we set it up.” And so that had a lot of impact as well. We’ve done other small things, but those were the two big impact of things. So when people say about insurance… You know I have to change a hated thing to something that is tolerable. Everybody hates insurance. And so my goal was to try and figure out how to do that.

Q: How did you find the concept of your business? You know, there are insurance companies all over the United States, but Lake Insurance is different in the way you do things, the way you communicate with people

Well, I truly believe in karma. I think there is a life force circling around us, and if you do the nastys, you’re going to get the nastys. And I have trained my team to do that as well. We try to help our clients understand. I found insurance was also hated because it was misunderstood. So if you can dissect it and help people understand their policies, even if they only understand at that moment, you are chatting with them and more than likely they’re not going to remember next year, that’s okay; because at that moment they did. So I trained my people to slow down, not use our terminology, explain things down to 101, every time you speak to someone because it’s not their trade. So then if I have a client who, let’s say would be a graphic designer, try to apologize for not understanding their policy, I would say, “well, I don’t know how to design, I don’t know how to do photography, I don’t know how to weld… work on a car…so don’t apologize.” It’s what we do. So I always explain to my team to explain that to the client. It puts them at ease, so they don’t feel stupid. Cause people feel…some people feel silly asking questions.

Q: What fear factors make you question your decision of being a business owner?

You see that’s changed for me throughout the years. Fear factors at the beginning were, “OMG, How am I going to pay my people this week?” and “I have to sell more policies because I’m running rather lean financially.” But today, the fear factor would be, “I just, I’ve got to, even though I love the game of business- the chess game of business- I have to concentrate on finding me.” Because when you’re in business, I don’t want to be one of these people that- I died on the way to the office. I don’t want to be one of those people. I’m trying to build my company, and I want to kind of head towards more passionate things in my last stage of my career. Things that I don’t have to be paid for, but they feel good, and they feel right. That’s what I’m seeking. So, that fear would be just not to let it consume me. And I do have to carve time away because it does consume. And I step away, nature always does it for me, so whether it’s a walk around Cowan’s Gap Lake or sitting in my backyard with the glow of the courthouse and the stars above me, whatever it is for that moment, that’s where I seek.

Q: Who do you surround yourself with to fuel your passion?

Definitely not complainers or people who are negative. I want upbeat people. I want people who get who I am; so usually hard-working women, or even hard-working men, but see women have challenges. We need to empower women to do more of that because I think the men just have it down, because they have years and years of like having cigars and bourbon. And sorting things out while the women were doing what women do. But because most business is run by men but now as women are entering to the business world, we need to figure out how to support each other as well. Because I think guys do a good job at that, it's just women have to figure it out. I did sacrifice some time with my children. There was no way around it. Now when I was home in the evening, I tried to be super mom and give them every ounce of me that I had, and also on the weekends. But I missed a lot. So I think that’s probably another reason why I’m trying to discover me, because I was a mom and an insurance agent and so now I have to figure out what I believe and what I’m passionate about, what I want to do with the rest of my life, as you will.

Q: A younger version of Sherie pops down on The Couch next to you, what do you say to her?

Don’t change a thing. Just fight and dig and be ethical. I actually had a very respected man in my life; he told me once, “Sherie, if you shoot a very straight arrow you will never have to look over your shoulder.” So isn’t that a powerful piece of advice? And I’ve tried to live by that. So I would tell her that. I would tell her not to be afraid to fail, because she will. Many times. And to just get up, brush the dust off and start over. Also to do what’s right for the customer because it will come around, you know, just keep doing what’s right. And I probably would tell her how to figure out how to balance a little sooner because I really had to for survival, for financial survival, I had to, but it’s easy for me to say that now when things are a little different, when I’m actually making some money and have good people trained and that kind of thing. Back then, I was just waking up with the sweaty pajamas wondering how to sort things out.

Q: What was that like? Going from sweaty pajamas to having stability?

Well some of the things are depending on your employees, so there are many times where they actually do things better than you. That was very amazing to me when I thought I could do everything better than anybody. So delegation is very, very important. And the big thing for me is working on my company, not in it. Then I also have a dry erase board outside my office, and I also have my email. I let my team know what I’m doing, not everything, but my big projects. So you know, if I’m not answering the phone and helping so and so switch an auto, they probably think well, “what does she do with her day?” Because the realization is we all have the same number of hours in the day, like the President of the United States has the same number as we do, the same as the janitor of the building to the person who owns the pizza shop, we all have the same number of hours. So it’s how you use those hours is the key. And I used to feel guilty delegating, but then once you start it, and you’ve delegated about 100 things, it’s just so empowering. And it also empowers your team because they see that you’re relying on them and giving them feedback so that they are like, “Oh ok, she trusts me.” I gave up my QuickBooks Management to a key person. First time I ever let anybody look inside my finances; that’s a pretty private place.

Q: This game of business, does the game ever get easier or do the rules change and you adapt to it?

Sometimes it gets harder. Well if you are a forerunner or you are doing something a certain way and others see that, now everybody’s the same again. And remember, everybody can’t be the same. So then you have to observe that and you have to shift. So a lot of the companies, I feel who fall on their head are the ones who refuse to see that things are done a little differently today. Example: Social Media. We ever even heard of such a thing years ago, so to embrace that and figure it out. Or how about this…SEO? Nobody knew anything about that. Or do I really need a website? Maybe I just need a website because it will be my electronic billboard. No. So that was my thing, but now I have to make it a little more interactive. Or even preferably a lot more interactive. So I think just if you delegate properly and you surround yourself with good people, you have that time, because remember we all have the same number of hours to really observe what’s really going on in your industry or even your own company. I actually explained it this way: so you have an engine that’s running… but if you never bother to stick the screw driver in and tweak it, it just isn’t going to keep running. So it always needs tweaked, every day. So, it’s my job; I’m the tweaker.

Q: How has that initial risk taking moment changed your life?

Within reason I have financial independence. That’s huge. I can do pretty much what I want to do with my day, now I am my own worst boss. What’s interesting with that is when it happens is that my wants shrunk. My house is actually very small and very easy to maintain, and my passion is travel and other things, so it gives me time to and financial relief to go do those things or investigate other opportunities. So I think learning that less is more is a huge lesson. It’s a huge lesson. In fact, the next stage of my life will be heading into some of that.

Laura: I love what you said about how you thought you wanted more things and then when you got to the level where you could do those things you realized that those weren’t things that you wanted or needed anymore.

Sherie: No, and I think a lot of people get into this if you can, the choice not to is empowering. It’s really weird how that works. When I was younger, the younger Sherie wanted the really big house, the Mercedes-Benz, I had several of them… I don’t want them anymore. I would rather do empowering things and save my money for that. So that shifted, and that was a big, big shift. Plus, in my community a Mercedes-Benz was not anything admirable. In fact, nobody would park beside me at the soccer games because I appeared to be unapproachable. But in my 2007 FJ Cruiser, people like to talk to Sherrie. Then corporate America changed and relaxed a little bit and then I like to work with my hands, I garden, and I paint and I do this and I do that. But I think that people just want to see people who are real. You know, if you observe the greats like Oprah Winfrey she’s not afraid to let people know her real side like she fights her weight. I know she cried on TV many times, so she’s the most powerful woman in our country. She’s on to something. So I allow myself to be real to my customers now. At the beginning, I didn’t.

Q: What would you tell somebody that’s getting ready to take that leap and follow their passion?

Well today, I know there’s a lot of help for new businesses, financial help, so there would be some investigation there. I would encourage them to check with the small business administration first. Make sure that whatever they are ready to dive into, they’re passionate about, so remember I was passionate about teaching people about the hated insurance. So that’s important, because if you have to go to work every day and you’re not passionate about what you do - Oh my gosh, you need to just stop, and just figure something else out. Don’t be afraid to fail. I know I’ve said that a couple times, but that’s true. It’s not going to be easy, you’re going to get knocked off a couple times, but you just got to brush yourself off and get back on, and to really pay attention to what’s needed in whatever are you’re in. If you’re in the food industry and there’s a certain kind of food needed or a certain experience, then you need to figure that out, but just figure out how to zag when your industry is zigging. And I would say go for it; it’s been a great ride.

Q: Would you do it all over again?

I would. I’m trying to think if I’d change anything. Well I wish I was loaded and I didn’t have to finance the agency or second mortgage my house, with my furniture. I remember going to the bank and they said, “Now you do know that you’re mortgaging everything. This means your contents, if you fail, we’re just coming in.” And then I remember the office manager of the firm I worked before I bought my agency, at the very last day when I was doing my exit interview as I was signing the “I’m gonna say good-bye now” papers, she was actually a friend of mine and she put her pen down and she said, “Aren’t you afraid?” Well see I hadn’t even thought of that. Maybe I should be afraid at that moment, but I didn’t even think of being fearful, so I guess just not having any fear. Fearless.

Q: What is the point that you almost quit and why didn’t you?

Well that would have been around year three. When I just didn’t have any money. My payments were huge to the previous owner and I had a couple credit cards and an unsupported line of credit and if I could wear a t-shirt with one word that describes me it would probably be creative. Because I had to constantly shift and I didn’t want my team to know it because they most likely would have bailed; it was looking really ugly.

Q: What makes it all worth it?

Well I’m kind of self-absorbed sometimes. And I really don’t want to answer to anyone else, so the independence to just be my own person. Like I said, a bit earlier, just to do pretty much what I want, when I want, within reason. And today’s passion is part of it, is my parents are aging. And so I really schedule time for them. So I call my mom every morning, I call my dad every day. I go out to see them; they are 15 minutes from where I live. I spend a day a week with my mom; she enjoys Hagerstown. We leave the village and look at shops and have lunch, and she really likes that and she still has her health to walk around. My dad enjoys nature, which I am sure I get that from him. So if I want to do something fun with him, I might ask him if he wants to take a walk. And then if my son has an event at school, I’m there. I talk to the Driver’s Ed kids about safety; I have time to give to the community now. I was so focused at my desk but I can… You know we do coat drives, we’ve done shoe drives and food drives. If I can’t afford to give a lot, I just give a little, because I figure you know, hey if I pop ‘em a 20, then it’s something.

Q: Tell me what that says and what that means to you.

Well at this stage of my life, I’m really figuring out how to carve more and more time away where the agency runs strong and I can find more of me, because of the sacrifices made at the beginning of my career. So I am very passionate about yoga and natural essential oils and aromatherapy and massage. Any type of wellness, I’m all into it; maybe because I’m getting old. I don’t know. But I’m into… I don’t like prescriptions. And I’m trying to figure out how I can mend my body and the body of others without using medicine. And some of that is controlling stress, so that’s that exercise and yoga that I do. I’m actually this close to purchasing a property that I want to make a wellness center. So my wellness center will, how I envision it, is going to have some yoga to introduce people to it where they can actually enjoy it for stress relief and meditation. I envision just lodging for weekend get-a-ways and somebody to come in and cook healthy and show us how to prepare things at home so we can get rid of all the yuckos in our food and what else? I’m going to have a yurt because I’m all about yurts. So I would set it up as a non-profit I would just do an outreach on the internet to anyone who would want to partake in such a thing, and I could see like team-building things held there. I can see a lot of things, but I am very excited about that next stage. And so what I would need to do then…I’ve hired some younger people at my agency and if things work out according to my plan…hopefully they would find interest in the agency or my children would ‘cause they’re still young enough, they haven’t said an exact “no,” I would be able to teach them and perpetuate. And then go and sing Kumbaya under the oak tree. BUT I have a strong, strong loyalty to my company and to my customers, and so I want to make sure that that’s all in place and nothing dings at all there. And I’m probably working…I probably have myself down to 25-30 hours a week. And then I can use that extra 10 hours for doing the little things that I enjoy. I’m all fired up now.

Jenny Rhodes

Encanto BKT

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me who you are and what you do.

My name is Jenny, and I currently own and operate a Keratin business. So, Keratin treatment is a relatively new treatment that has been around for the last 5-10 years in the hair industry. And basically it promises to straighten, de-frizz and gloss your hair for up to 3 months.

Q: Take me back to that initial risk-taking moment when you decided you know what, I’m going to start a business. What prompted that?

I was in college, and I got to the point in my college career where I was broke, like most college students, I didn’t have a direction. I was majoring in English, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with that. Everybody was like, “You’re going to be a teacher,” and I’m like I don’t want to do teach. So I had this panic moment; I didn’t know what to do. What I did know however was the 9-5 grind scared me. Just because the drain of it all, the predictability of it all, it intimidated me. I didn’t want the predictable life. I’ve always known that. I received an opportunity to start manufacturing my own keratin. I lived in Brazil for years throughout my early 20’s. And I acquired a formula and I thought, “Why can’t I do something with that? Why can’t I take this somewhere?” nd I started doing my market research, and I started looking online and I was like, “How hard could this be?” And then it started making me think and delve into what it makes to be a company. Who does it take to form a company? And I realized that anybody can do this. You have to have the desire. You have to have the willingness to do your own research to take your own jump. And so I started doing more research, and I was like you know what I’m going to start buying bottles. I’m going to start buying labels. Not everybody has $100,000.00 that they can plunk into a booming business. Unfortunately, we just don’t. So we have to start with what we have. In my case, that was $800. I was 21 years old, and I had $800 that I received on loan from my mother. And I was like, I’m going to roll with it. So I took that leap, I got my supplies. And I realized that the number one thing that I needed to succeed, to even start on the path of success was to create a brand: The Branding Experience. And that’s what I started from the very beginning, and that’s when I created Encanto. And I flew with it! It was born out of a need of, “Hey I gotta pay my bills, I’m not a little kid anymore, I’ve got to do something with my life” And a curiosity of what can I do with this? What are my abilities? Where can I take this? Because along the way there are going to be your friends and your family and your well wishers that are going pat you on the back and say that’s cute. That’s nice. Good Luck We wish you the best. But there is only one person that’s truly going believe in you - and that’s yourself.

Q: What pumps you up? What fires you up?

Coffee. For one. Honestly what it comes down being able to live the life that I want to live. So at the end of the day, I put in a full day of work, and I’m tired, I’m exhausted. Or I’m procuring orders, or I’m talking to wholesalers and there’s not a price tag that you can put on anything. Because it doesn’t matter if you make $20,000 or $100,000/year. If you don’t have a quality of life, it means nothing. So I realized that a long time ago what pushed me forward and what pumps me up the most is knowing that I am creating the life that I want to live. So that means, time with my family, time with my friends, good food, good rest, making memories. That’s important to me. So that’s what pushes me forward.

Q: What fear factors make you question the initial decision to start a business?

The initial decision. I would have to say, the lack of support and that’s not a negative thing, because the people around you aren’t always going to hold your hand and say, “I believe in you.” Initially, you do feel very isolated in your decisions. And you do feel very alone. And I think the hardest thing was feeling like people were just smiling and nodding after they asked me what I’ve been up to or what I was working on. And knowing that, they were like… so when is she going to be that teacher? That probably is the hardest thing for me and don’t expect it to ever come around. Don’t expect your friends and family to ever be like “Wow! I never thought you’d make it.” Because that day and probably will never happen. It’s just the true hard facts of running a business. But, it’s worth it.

Q: How do you handle just the day-to-day stress of owning and running a business?

I don’t know if I could say I handle it because the stress is always there. I expect the stress; living in a perpetual state of stress. I try to you know suppress it as much as possible. But owning a business is different between a 9-5-er that goes to work. You know they do what they need to do, and they go home and they have dinner with their family and they pray for 6am to come as late as possible. The difference is someone that owns their own business, they think about it non-stop to the defeat of themselves because we’ll be on vacation thinking about what we got to do when we get back home. So part of that is a balance of learning when to let things go and when to really work on things. And part of my biggest stressor of the business is knowing how to compartmentalize my stress. And say ok, this belongs at work, this belongs in the office, so, I’m going to keep it there until I go back. And I’m going to enjoy my peace, my time, my family: right now.

Q: Who do you surround yourself with to help push you and project you forward?

That’s a hard question; I would say I have a very strong sense of self. I have a very strong spirituality, and I think every morning and every evening we need to kind of hone back into ourselves and we need to go over our values. But then my family, I adore my family and my family is one that they are super proud of me and because they have to be. But that’s ok, I’ll take it! And I know that they have my best interests at heart and that they are there if I need a sounding board or if I just need someone to applaud me - they’re there. And of course, you know my friends, my girlfriends, you know I can’t ask for better girlfriends that are willing to listen to be drone on and on about you know, my stressors, or this or that. And um… then my dog.

Q: A younger version of you plops down on the couch, next to you. What do you say to her?

Girl, your hair needs help! Not joking. Pretty sure my hair was like super curly and if I could have given that younger version of myself some Keratin… I would have jumped on that opportunity; because she needed it. But I think I would tell her, to slow down. I think in life we tend to get really caught up, and we tend to over think things and we tend to always look for the next thing or the next milestone in life or we try to create our own journey when really I think the older I get, the more I realize that we have to let things go and we have to let things come as they may. So we can’t keep controlling our so-called destiny because it doesn’t work that way. So I think we have to the best that we can do, and make the best decisions that we know how but ultimately we have to know that whatever is meant to happen is meant to happen. And be at peace with that. So I think I would tell my younger self, like hey girl, cut it out. Stop being so dramatic. You know, just let life happen. You know, do the best you can do today, don’t think about tomorrow and trust me for me that’s like one of the hardest things that I could ever tell myself because I’m a huge stressor, and I’m always like “I don’t know what’s going to happen…” So I try to remind myself at every stage of life that I’m in, Hey! Sometimes, I will even stop myself and say “Hey! Just stop. Where you’re at right now is amazing. And in 5 years you are going to wish to have the opportunity to come back to this moment.” So that’s what I would tell her. I would be like, “Girl, just hold up!”

Q: This game of business: Do you think it ever gets easier?

Yes and no. I think that it’s a business, and it’s run by you, so you are always going to have your doubts and you’re always going to come across your failures. And frankly there are going to be mistakes. You know, I can’t tell you how many mistakes that I’ve made in just five years of having Encanto. If I could go back and erase all those mistakes, I would. But at the same time, I’ve learned from those mistakes. I have paid a very heavy price for those mistakes, but nonetheless I’ve learned. So does it get any easier? Yes. Because I do think that as time goes on we start to make different decisions and say- “Uh I’m going to do it a little differently,” or you become smarter. I came into owning a business now knowing anything about owning a business, so I do think initially; I was like going through a cobweb.

You know, so there definitely were a lot of gray areas, and confusion and like do I really need to care about that? What taxes? You know. So there’s a lot of stuff. And it’s ok if you don’t understand everything or if you don’t know everything. It’s ok. I think a huge struggle with me was not wanting to come off as “not knowing.” Because once people know that you have your own business, they think you’re like a guru of business. Like, “Oh she knows.” No. I had no clue. So I did come into it very blindly. So in 5 years, I’d like to think that I’ve learned a lot and I’ve come a long way. And I have learned from my mistakes and do things differently, and so I do think in some ways it gets easier.

Q: How has that initial risk-taking moment impacted your life?

It’s been the greatest opportunity of my life. And it’s been the greatest struggle of my life, for sure. I’ve been told that Encanto has been my life. And told that I don’t have anything outside of Encanto. And it hurts to hear that because I’d like to think that I still have some pretty awesome things happening in my life. But I realize that when you do own your own business it tends to consume you. Um, So it’s afforded me things that I would have never been able to do otherwise. So, I will be infinitely grateful for the opportunity to have created Encanto. But along the way, it has definitely brought me pain and it’s brought me grief; whether that be from me pulling back from individuals- from people, saying “oh I can’t, because I have Encanto” or it being I don’t have time to work or focus on myself or my personal relationships. Or maybe it’s just me being alone a lot. I think entrepreneurship, it’s…um… it sounds glamorous. You know, it has a great ring to it, and a boldness to it that everybody kind of says, “Oh, that’s… that’s cool!” But I think on the flipside there is a solitude to entrepreneurship. And I have definitely felt that over the years. I have felt very alone. I don’t, you know have a ton of co-workers, I don’t have that Christmas party. You know, I don’t have co-workers to grab a drink with in the evening. You know, so I think there is a level of um… you’re kind of alone with this. You don’t have to be, but often you are.

Q: We all do crazy things in business… hahaha…  So what is one of maybe your blushing stories or maybe a mistake that you made that actually turned out to be really awesome?

Mistakes suck... you know because we make mistakes whether it be from a financial aspect or dealing with other business partners or other businesses. Or maybe sharing too much with a friend or something like that. I’ve tended to kind of be really hard on myself, so I think the real thing that I’m trying to focus on, even today, as I sit here is forgiving myself, for those mistakes. Allowing myself to say I had no clue. I didn’t know what I was doing. And saying it’s ok. You’re allowed to make mistakes in this life/in this business. You know, you’re allowed to be human. And so, at the end of the day I think we need to realize that we are only one person, and we can do the best we can do, but we’re only going to fail. We are going to fail ourselves; we are going to fail those around us we are going to fail our customers or our clients. That will happen-it’s inevitable.  I think it comes to owning where we are falling short. Owning our mistakes, saying I messed up. Or they always say in school, “No question is a stupid one.” And we’re like, “But I don’t want to raise my hand... it’s a stupid question.” At the end of the day, you’re not going to make everybody happy. You know, not everybody is going to say, “Oh that business or that person/individual treated me so well, I just want to sing their praises all day long!” It’s not going to happen, you’re going to fall short, you’re going to disappoint. We need to do our best; we need to own our short comings.

Q: So in five years in the business - learned a lot, done a lot, seen a lot… What’s next?

I’m always thinking... I joke that my favorite place to think is in the car, and it’s true because I’m usually by myself, in the car, driving and I’m like, that’s a good idea… So I think the secret is you always have to dream. Never be okay with where you’re at. So even if my business was making millions of dollars every year, I don’t think I’d be okay because it honestly, isn’t about the money. It’s about, at least for me, a creative aspect. What now can I do? Because when you start your first business, you’re just kind of blown away when it goes somewhere. Then you start thinking now what? And all of sudden you get this boost of confidence, and you’re like you realize you can do anything. So then it becomes almost a fun challenge for yourself to think of…well, what can I do next? Oh, that would be cool…  So, I have a lot of those moments, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next, but hopefully something with a lot less stress. But I’d like to build on Encanto. I’d like to see where it goes. Maybe go into different aspects of hair care. And again, like I said in the beginning… it’s all about creating a brand. So once, you have a brand, you start with something. You move out and push out to something else. As long as you have that brand, you have that name, you have that recognition; you can do anything, the sky is the limit. So, for me… I don’t know… it’s hard to say where Encanto’s going to be in the next five-to-ten years. Might not exist. I don’t know. But, it’s all about waking up the next day, every morning knowing that I’m going to be doing something and I’m always going to be working in my brain into some sort of new project. That’s the exciting part!

Q: What is the point is the point that you almost quit and why didn’t you?

I don’t know if I ever wanted to quit, but I questioned a lot. I questioned, is this worth it?  There was a time in my life when I was living in Brazil, and I was going back and forth a lot and that was very difficult for me, I had a business down in Brazil and I had Encanto in the States. I was thinking that I was Wonder Woman, and I was being totally okay with doing these two businesses. And I like hit my breaking point. And I can’t do this. And a lot of personal fiascos were happening, and I just… I fled, and I just can’t do anymore and I just backed away. So I think at that point I questioned, you know what do I do with Encanto? Is it a multi-billion dollar business? Could I sell it? No. But it’s something. It has grown. It’s like my little Bambusa. And it’s like shot up, and it’s like I have to see where it’s going to go. Even if in five years it’s dead in the water. I have to see where it’s going to go within those next five years.  Because if I walk away now, I’ll never know. If in five years it’s dead. There’s nothing to write home about; I haven’t lost anything. So, I think I owed it to myself to see where it was going to take me. But yeah, there are times where I questioned my own happiness over this business. Is the financial gain from this business worth my grief? Worth my pain? And it’s hard. Because it isn’t all about the money. Your sense of self, are you staying true to yourself? Are you living the life you want to live? Are you inspiring people? Are you happy? Are you a fun person to be around? Because quite frankly, there are times where people would say I wasn’t much fun, you know, there are times when I would be in a room full of people and I would just be in myself thinking, like “I’m so miserable or I’m so upset about this or I’m stressed about that” I don’t know about this, but I can’t really discuss these things to people, because it’s none of their business.  It’s my business. It has nothing to do with them and quite frankly they don’t want to hear about me.  So yeah, there was probably a lot a make it or break it. But there were definitely things along the way that made me think is this worth it? You know, am I happy? Cause ultimately if I’m not happy, it’s pointless. So…

Q: What makes it all worth it?

I’ll probably reiterate what I’ve probably said in the last few minutes. And that is, from a selfish standpoint, I don’t have a boss, so nobody is telling me what to do or when to do it or how to do it, or I didn’t do something enough. There is a real pleasure in the autonomy of having your own business. Knowing that you call the shots. That, of course, comes with a lot of self-doubts. And a lot of, “Where are those hands that want to hold me?” They’re not there. But, I do think there’s a definite joy of knowing that if I wake up in the morning and frankly I don’t feel like doing anything, I don’t have to. I want to take my dog for a walk, I want to go shopping, I want to do whatever I want for that day. In most cases, I can. And then I think there also comes a pleasure in knowing that you did this. You created this. If it weren’t for you, willing to take a chance or putting in time and effort and energy into something, it wouldn’t exist. And then a huge pleasure of Encanto comes from. It sounds silly, but you know, I touch I’d say 80% of the product that I sell. And like I physically hold the bottles whether it be looking making sure they’re ok or after they’re filled or whatever. Packaging them. And I think where is this one going to go? And I think, you know, this one is going to go to Russia or this one is going to go to Iraq or this one is going to go to France. And it’s kind of exciting in my own head to play into what country is this one going to go to? And who is this helping because I’d say 50% of my business is wholesale. So I do have wholesalers set up throughout Europe. And it’s really cool to know that something that I’ve created is now creating an income for them. So, it gives me a real sense of pleasure and joy to know that in an altruistic way, I’ve helped out other people to provide for their families. And to provide for salons who are now doing the treatments on their clients and they are providing for their families. So there’s a huge ripple effect. I will never probably see firsthand, but I know it’s there and every time I see a box going out, or I see a pallet shipment leaving the warehouse, I think, “That’s really cool,” because I don’t know where it’s going, exactly. I know the location but then of course it all spreads off from there. But it’s going to hit so many people’s lives, in a positive way. So that, that’s what gives me a lot of joy and satisfaction.

Q: Your promise form, if you can read that to us and tell us what that means…

So it says “I won’t allow tiny failures to stop me from huge accomplishments.” And I kind of feel like that sums me up. I’m not perfect. I don’t have all the answers. I make a lot of mistakes as a business owner, and I think allowing ourselves to learn and allowing ourselves to say it’s okay. You know, we can do this. It allows us to stop preventing us from our huge accomplishments. I have to re-read it. Keep going back and forth. But, because I do think anybody can accomplish anything with the right amount of energy, with the right amount of drive. But often times, we’re our own worst critics. And we say, “Oh no, I made a mistake there, or I feel dumb about that.” We tend to pull ourselves down. So I think my promise is not to allow those failures, which even in the moment they don’t feel tiny, looking back, they weren’t that big of a deal. So, I’m not going to allow those failures to prevent me from realizing my ultimate goals.

Shetal Datta

Datta Endocrine & Wellness Center

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me your name and a little bit about your company.

Okay, my name is Shetal Datta. I run a medical practice and a health and wellness center with my husband, Dr. Vishal Datta, here in Hagerstown. He is an Endocrinologist. Um, so my husband has been practicing in Hagerstown for the last – it will be eight years, this October 1st, 2015. But… and he grew up in Hagerstown, himself, so he has been a part of this community since, I think about 3 or 4 years old. He went to study and did his fellowship at NYU. Given the obesity rate in Hagerstown and the health issues that goes along with obesity, he decided he would want to give back to his community. My background is in public health. I’ve been working as an international health policy advisor and health economist for the last 15 years or so. So you know, we both have a passion about serving communities. We both are very passionate about improving health. Except I was doing it overseas, and he was doing it locally. However, after having three children, As you know, as a mother that changes a lot.

We had set of twins two years ago, and I wasn’t able to travel like I was before. And it’s also not satisfying for me to manage a project here, to devise it, design it, fund it, get funding and then have someone else go overseas to implement it. And not to see… it feels kind of… broken. You don’t feel complete when you don’t see the result. So, about two years ago, I started helping him out and we decided to actually combine our efforts. I started to work with the patients and learn about the community a little more. And I said, “Wait a second, I don’t need to go to Africa, the Middle East, India or to China to actually have a health impact.” There’s so much to do right here in Hagerstown. So we’ve taken Vishal’s vision maybe in a little bit of a different direction. I started to do a little bit of research and realized that Hagerstown, at that point, was tied with Martinsburg, WV- actually Washington County was tied with Martinsburg, WV as the 5th most obese county in the nation. So that was in 2012. And then in 2014, we found out that Hagerstown itself is the 3rd most obese city in the nation.

Yeah. So that’s what really kind of spurred us to go in a different direction.  And you know, you’ll see there are so many medical practices in this community, and yet you wonder what’s going on? And what’s going on is there is a huge burden of disease. There’s a huge burden of morbidity and mortality in this county, and in this city and the physicians can only do so much. We decided to take a different tactic. We decided to make a wellness center affiliated with the medical practice so that not only does a patient come in, but they have access to other resources.  He became very frustrated, and I started watching his frustration and I was like you know what, “I can help you! Let’s do this! Let’s move together!” And create this wellness piece. So through that we’ve decided to educate the community to provide yoga, to provide medically supervised weight loss program and nutrition counseling. We want to do a lot more, you know, but we can’t put the cart before the horse, just yet. We’re still figuring out our way and figuring out what works before we kind of spread ourselves too thin, as you know. So, now we every two weeks we have a health education program. It’s usually on metabolic syndrome – which stems from a hyper insulin anemia. So when we are eating too many carbs, we’re eating too much sugar, we’re eating too many processed foods, what happens is our pancreas is secreting too much insulin. And this happens over a period of a lifetime, it’s not just something that occurs. You know, they say America’s actually the most, one of the most malnourished countries in the world.

Not malnourished like we see children in Ethiopia starving on those commercials but malnourished from the sense of we’re actually not giving our bodies the proper nutrients that it needs. So, one –my, one of the things that I’m most interested in is micro-nutrient deficiencies. And I’ve been studying this for quite some time, it was part of my Masters Thesis. So let’s take it from the basic level.  You know a lot of times we assume that people will know everything. That people will know the most basic knowledge but, maybe they do or they’ve heard it over and over again but let’s try to make it in a way that it’s simplified or that it actually touches them or reaches their heart and their mind.

Q: So you made a pretty big transition. Not traveling anymore. Staying here in Hagerstown, raising your three little ones: what were some of the thoughts and fears behind making that huge transition in your life? From something that you really love doing and going into something that was a little bit new territory for you?

Number 1: it was scary to enter my kind of husband’s workspace. I had no idea about the medical arena. I mean, I had worked with plenty of doctors, I’ve worked with bunches of public health, with community leaders, but I’ve never worked in a physician’s office. Also being perceived as the Doctor’s wife. It was very important to me too, not just come in and say not just say you need to do this, this, this and this, but to actually do the work. But to actually get in there, get involved. I was a medical assistant, I helped check in people at the reception, I helped check people out. I did every single job as our staff was doing in order to get a better understanding of what it means to run a medical office first and foremost. What it also means to relate to the patients, right? You also have that misperception of you’re different, you come from a different education strata, you come from a different community and it goes both ways. We all have these kind of different lenses, and we have these perceptions of people…and for me it’s very important to actually relate to people on a one-on-one level and to earn their respect.

Q: The husband-wife dynamic. I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you balance being co-workers during the day and husband and wife during the evening.

Well in the old office, because it was such a tight space, we shared a desk, we shared everything you know…and we would be sitting in the middle of the night across the desk from one another. It’s exciting to be able to build something together. It’s exciting to meet someone who is on the same wavelength as you. You know, from a physician’s perspective. Because it’s nice, I tend to go off the deep end sometimes… and I’m like, “Hey, what if we did this? What if we did that?” And Vishal will just sort of reign me back in, like…maybe, not. Or! He’ll be like, “No, no, no that’s not going to work. And I’m like, “No c’mon let’s take a risk!” We balance each other out really nicely in that sense. He’s kind of like this very calm person, and I shake him up a little bit. During the day, we hardly see each other, unless I’m like, “Hey this person’s blood sugar is really dropped! I need you to adjust they’re meds, come on.” Then, that’s fun; it’s a nice advantage from being able to bug him in between. And then when we’re home, it’s all about our family and our kids. And we really try to not discuss work outside of the office but it’s really hard sometimes. We’re like, “Oh what are we going to do about that? Did you see that e-mail? Oh, okay. I think we should do this other checking system for this, this and this…” And both of us are like, okay, we need to stop. You kind of get ahead of yourself. But right now, we are at that place where you are trying to grow your business, you’re trying to be with your kids, you’re trying to balance it all and it’s not easy. Sometimes you’re just exhausted, you’re tired, you feel like you’re being pulled in 5 different directions. But at the end of the day, we do this… I think what makes us move forward and get out of bed everyday is the fact that we’re doing something to create a better community, not only for people of Hagerstown but for our kids and for the generations to come.

Q: So, when the industry is going one way, and you guys are going another way, tell me about some of the thoughts and feelings behind trying something new or bringing something to an area that. You know, that the area may not be used to.

So this area, the physician community, tends to be a little bit more conservative. I know that Vishal has to walk the balance, he has to walk a very fine line in terms of, being perceived as a “medical doctor” vs. a progressive Physician, as they call him. So for him- he kind of sticks to his mold. This is how we have decided to play it. He’s going to be the doctor. And one of his prescriptions is going to be to send them to me. And then I can be the crazy one who mixes in all this other stuff, and tells people to try different diets and different things like that. It’s worked well in certain… we have tried to get physician buy-in. We’ve gotten to the point where now other physicians are starting to refer just for the wellness aspect, just for the as an obesity consult or a health consult. But then you know we get a few now and again, that are like, “ This is bogus! Blah, blah, blah, this isn’t going to work, you should do this.” And that’s fine. That’s fine, you know, there’s plenty of room. I think there’s so much room to progress in this community that if there are people who are quite not on the same train of thought that we are or then that’s fine. They are entitled to their thoughts. And you know, we will respect that and move forward in our own way.

Q: So, tell me about a mistake that maybe happened but you learned something from that mistake.

One of the biggest mistakes that I made was I’m too trustworthy or gullible when it comes to people. In terms of our staff: We have a wonderful staff right now, and as you know, it’s a family. We like to keep it like a family environment and as new members come in you’re kind of wary in the beginning- or I am now. Before I used to just kind of be like, openhearted. You told me people lean in, and you give a hug first, that’s the type of person that I am. Once I accept you as a member of my family, I will give you that trust and respect as long as you give it back to me. A little bit too trustworthy, so now I’ve definitely developed a thicker skin, especially when it comes to your business. When it’s your business, that's your baby. And you want to make sure your baby grows up and is a functional human being. So, I want to make sure, you know, I check in more, I am very task oriented. I just don’t assume that people… this is your job; you know what you’re doing. That’s fine. Or I just don’t assume that you know, you tell me that you’re sick for the 6th time, that you know, you really are sick.

Q: All right, so, a younger version of you sits down next to you. What would you tell her? What have you learned throughout life that you would advise her on?

Learn more statistics! Honestly, a younger version of me- that would be probably the wanderlust version of me. The Peace Corps volunteer that thinks that she can just save the whole world. I would tell her to sit a little bit more quietly. To listen a little bit more. And she just might found out that she’s learning more from others than I guess you learn more than you give.

Q: Awesome. This whole business thing, does it ever get easier? Or is it a graduation from one level to the next?

I don’t know. I think it kind of goes in phases and stages. You’re constantly figuring things out. You’re constantly learning, and that’s what I love. I do love the part that when it’s not stagnant. But sometimes I wish it were. Sometimes I just wish that I knew what I was getting into when I woke up out of bed. Uh... But you know, I find that if things were getting easier all the time, I would personally get bored. And one of the challenges for me, I’m sure you face them too, are little admin things that you never knew would come up. And these are things that I was not used to at all. And now, you find yourself wearing 20 million hats! And you’re like, “Ahh this software’s not working… Oh, this server’s down!” How did I become the IT person? I have no idea. But sometimes you just figure it out, and you do it. There are days; I’m not going to lie, where we feel like should we just quit? Should we just join another practice and call it a day instead of working on the weekends? And taking time from our kids and our lives… and doing all this stuff…

Q: What keeps you from giving into that?

It’s your baby. That’s your baby, You know, you have birthed it, and you are teaching it to talk and walk and feed itself and clothe itself. I guess we’re still in the toddler phase right now.

Q: So how do you care for yourself?

So every Wednesday or Thursday night, we usually have something going on, every few weeks. Thursdays we have Yoga and Wednesday nights we have a health education night about the diet. And if we end early, we like to go out on a little date night. We try not to talk about work if work happens to come up that’s fine. But we really try to just not talk about the kids. And just focus on some other things. Now what that is at this point, we don’t know. So my husband and I both love music. We love to read. I can’t read anymore because I find that like after three pages, I’m fast asleep. So I’ve discovered

Yeah, so my 30-minute commute, I am listening to books and he is doing the same things. So we will often listen to the same books. We’ll talk about things about the books. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Mindless things. I do love that. But you know so, and movies… we love movies. Um, so usually Saturday nights, if we aren’t at somewhere with family, we are watching something and just kind of relaxing after the kids go to sleep. And we have family, we are very, very lucky to have family support, and my husband’s parents that live here in Hagerstown. We have aunts and uncles that are nearby. My parents coming down to help out. We have cousins. It’s very nice to have that family support and to kind of reconnect with one another. And what’s great is that there’s other children too. Grandchildren and cousins and things like that that are around the same ages as our kids, so they get to grow up with each other as well

Q: What makes you excited about the future? It sounds like you’re just getting started. You’re just getting your feet wet.

Oh yeah! I’m ready! If I could, I would have another five providers and I want to do another Master’s or a Ph.D. in nutrition actually. About micro-nutrition and integrative nutrition, not just medical nutrition but holistic nutrition; I want to introduce a whole other spectrum to the Hagerstown community here. I think that I found my niche in here. I was really scared. I was really scared if I was going to like this. There are times where I get frustrated. A lot of times I get frustrated with ignorance. Then there are other days where I’m like I can’t believe I’m doing this, I just want to go back to my old world and work with really well-educated people. But then there are clients and patients that you have that, it’s like working, I’m really interested in this, and I love what I do and I think that I just need to further. I think for me I need to also be educating myself constantly right now so that I feel like I’m nourishing that energy back inside of me instead of just giving it out all the time.

Laura: Absolutely. Refueling. Refilling your tank along the way is something I know that I’m still learning.

Shetal: I’m still learning! I think we are going to be learning for the rest of our lives, Laura.

Q: I agree with you! So what advice would you give an aspiring risk-taker? Somebody that wants to be innovative and go against the grain and just take a risk.

Take your risk. Dream big. But do the work. Always have somebody like a business coach or somebody that’s going to give you kind of, a structural outline of what to work within. Make a business plan. Know your community. Do the statistics. Do your budgets. These are all boring, boring, boring things, but they are necessary. That was one of the first things that I did when my husband and I decided to work together. You know, as a physician, he was like, “A business coach? What do I need this for?” And I was like, “I need this because I don’t know what I’m doing.” And also because you and I come from totally different plains, and we have a fantastic business coach we work with. He gives us homework assignments. We can sit there, we can work it out, and you know, it gives us kind of a path to follow. Dream big: we’ve achieved a lot of goals, and now we’re moving on to the next set and always keep them going. Don’t stop and see if it’s within the constraints of that path. It may not fit right now, but maybe five years from now, ten years from now it’ll be there.

Laura: That’s good advice. I’d like to learn a little bit more about your promise form. If you can tell me what that means to you, can you read it?

Okay. I won’t allow the lack of information and knowledge to stop me from having a positive health impact in our community. So, the lack of information and knowledge is all the way from the community level right of our patients to other physicians in the community. Not being aware of how other programs can have a beneficial impact outside medicine and outside of the pharmaceutical industry. We all have to change tact at one time or another. And hopefully, that growing and change will have a positive impact and, in this case, a positive health impact on our community.

Q: What is the point that you almost quit and why did you choose not to?

Honestly, I think it was about two weeks ago. We came back from vacation and everything, it just felt like everything kind of just imploded. It was software glitches, and the staff being frustrated with that and then we’re constantly on the phone trying to fix that. Kids being sick, having to cart everybody around, still be a mom, be an office manager, be a health coach, make sure that the yoga class goes off on time, go to the health fair, do everything. I think it’s spreading yourself too thin. I’ve learned that I need to organize myself. So that was the point where I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” I cannot do this anymore. And you can ask… I cried. I broke down; I cried. I’m not ashamed to say it. But then I realized you know, it’s my own fault. I let it get that far. We feel like, as women, you wear… not as women, as people, in general, we can wear 20 million hats. I can do it, I can do it.  Yes, yes, yes, yes. The power of no is amazing!

And I am learning, I am learning. You taught me that. You did. You taught me that at the panel discussion, when I met you in Frederick. That was one of the things that you said that really resonated with me. Was that the power of no, and I don’t need to make everybody happy. I can piss people off sometimes, and that’s fine.

Laura: It’s going to be all right, because at the end of the day, the world will still revolve.

Shetal: The world will still revolve, and we’ll still move forward. I have to get better at it. It’s not to say that I have mastered it yet, but I am learning the power of no. You know, defining my space, defining my limits, I can only go this far without behaving like a lunatic. And you know, with my kids or my husband or my staff, or wherever; because it impacts everybody.

Q: And what makes it all worth it? What makes you get up every morning and do this?

My family, my kids, knowing that I am helping to develop a better community for them and our patients. I love them. You know, I’ve noticed, I thought it was going to be so hard to get in here and to have that connection with people. But people are people; we’re all the same. We all have the same thoughts, the same feelings, the same emotions; everything tugs at the same heartstrings. Whether I’m in a different country speaking a different language or working with pregnant women who have HIV or people who have diabetes, we all have sympathy and empathy for the same things and we all – in the end- want a better life. So, you know, if I can help someone, achieve that within this lifetime and also help the future generation, that’s what keeps me going.

Sarah Martucci

Psychic / Medium / Artist

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me, who you are and a little bit about what you do.

My name is Sarah Martucci, and I am a psychic medium. I also make jewelry; I do a ton of different things. Mainly what I do is I do readings for people. So, I help them connect with those that they’ve lost on the other side. And let them know that they’ve always been there with them through evidence. Haha. I do the readings, I also help people that have gifts and abilities and help them to develop those and feel comfortable in them- because that was such a big deal for me, going through this process. So it’s become really important for me to help others with gifts and abilities so that they’re not alone.

Laura: And the jewelry- how does that interject into what you do?

Sarah: I just became a certified crystal healer, so I wanted to have another way that I could help do like a healing modality. So I use the crystals in the jewelry that I make. So I can make a personalized pendant or just any of the other funky, fun pieces that I have. They each have healing powers and abilities so whenever you wear them it helps to entrain you with those healing properties and abilities. And to get you back in alignment and get you feeling better.

Q: So what fires you up? What makes you do what you do?

I think it’s when I see the relief on someone’s face when I either give them, like say a pendant or I’m doing a reading. They either understand, that yes, I’m understood or that oh my God, this person’s been with me the whole time or thank you for this piece of jewelry it’s really going to help me feel x, x and x. I think it’s that relief that I see on people’s faces. I think that’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me passionate. That’s what keeps me feeling good about what I do.

Q: So I’m intrigued by your story and how you knew you had these abilities and how growing up was with these talents that not many people possess?

I think I was five years old the first time that I physically saw a spirit. That terrified me. I didn’t understand it. I knew that something wasn’t right… something was off. But I didn’t understand- I was 5. So growing up, my parents did the best they could with that, and they’re like, “Hey shut it down. That’s weird. You know, you’re scaring your brother and sisters.” So, eventually I think when I was around 10 or 12 years old, I found a Sylvia Brown book and my whole world was like, “Yeah!” someone understands me.

I think that’s a part of it for me, there’s a connection there too with me is that I want to do that for other people. And Sylvia Brown did with her books. I just felt like somebody knew what was going on inside. After a while, though, when you start speaking out, and you start saying things, people start calling you weird and like all kinds of stuff and I kind of shut things down for a long time. When I was about 27 or 28 my neck literally gave out on me. I had to go get surgery; they replaced 3 of my discs with titanium screws, so I was in a hard neck collar for three months. I had a lot of time to think.

So I started coming to terms with the fact that something was going on. I didn’t understand the process but I needed to, and it was important for my own story because I was miserable. I was miserable at my job, I was miserable with my life, I wasn’t happy where I was going. And I didn’t feel fulfilled in any way, shape or form.

So I started kind of researching and looking stuff up, and I saw a guy named, Hoyt Robinette. And I went to the reading, and he’s another medium. And he said out loud in front of a group of people; you’re a medium, what’s your problem? And I started crying, and I think I just needed that validation, because, in my head, that sounds crazy! How do you tell people, “Oh yeah, I talk to dead people… How are you today?”

People were seeing me. And that’s something I’m still working on. Are they going to like me? I feel like that’s the same thing I’ve been asking since I was two years old… Are they going to like me? At my new job- Are they going to like me?

Like, What does that matter? So, it’s shutting that down or working through that or talking myself through it- and just saying like, “Hey it’s not what this is about. You are here to help other people.” So yes, that fear is very real, and I very much feel that, in like, my everyday life still. But, I’m still working through it. I’m feeling the fear and doing it anyways.

Q: What are some ways that you work through the fear?

Talking to myself. Like, “Hey buddy, we got this. It’s going to be okay. Remember what you’re here for.” And stopping myself mid-crazy and being like uh-uh- we need that shift. Stop this right now because you are not doing that. You are making this about you, and this is not about you. I mean it is in a way because it is my life- but what I do is about other people and that’s what I need to focus on, so that’s what I shift my focus to. I stop, and I shift. Every day. Every day, multiple times a day.

So it’s like stopping, being consciously aware and saying, “No, I have control over this, because I do.” That’s my choice. That’s the beauty on the choices- is that I get to choose the thoughts and the feelings that I have in my body. And that’s what I need to do. And so that’s what I’m choosing to do- every single day.

Q: What does success look like for you?

People coming up and saying thank you. Because you changed my life or you helped me remember something about myself or you helped me get in touch with someone or you made me feel better. Because then I feel like I’m being effective, I’m doing the right thing. I’m allowing this energy to work through me because that’s all I am. I’m just a conduit. That is it. I’m nothing special. I’m nobody magical. I’m just saying- there’s nothing crazy about this. Because it’s my everyday life.

Q: You touched on a subject that I wanted to talk about, and that is the mysticism that’s kind of wrapped around your world, your industry. So, how do you overcome some of that, “Oh you’re weird… you’re different.” Or “Oh, I don’t believe in what you do.”

I tell them if you don’t believe in what I do, you have every right to and you should. Be skeptical- why not? Like, what are you losing by…? Then sit down and talk with me and be open, though. There’s a difference between kind of being like skeptical about something and being totally closed down. Be skeptical. Like, don’t give away too much information, let me do my thing, let me show you what I do.

And so I say, be yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that. Being called weird- I had a very hard time with that for a very long time. But a friend of mine, her name is Alley, and she is like a wordsmith. She said, “Do you even know what weird means?” I was like, “Well, I thought it was like, you’re freakish, you’re weird…” There're all these connotations, with it and when I actually looked it up… It means fantastic and supernatural. Well… call me that any day. 

So when people call me weird now, I’m like, “Thank you.” That is a compliment. So I took it and made it my word. Embrace your weird.

Q: How do you want people to perceive you? What you do?

You know, I’ve been thinking about this lately. I think I want to honestly, I think to be seen as a teacher. I never thought I would say that in my life. I never thought I would be like, “Oh, I want to be a teacher.” The mentor or somebody that somebody goes to for help with things. But I think, um, I want to be seen as the supporter, the one that’s loving you and pushing you and letting you know it’s going to be okay, because honestly… it is, or it will be.

Q: How do you refill Sarah?

Meditate- Every. Single. Day. Twice a day, if I can. On top of that, I also walk… I exercise. That is like, in place of a crazy pill. Do you know what I mean? Like getting out and exercising. Breathing the fresh air, seeing life outside. I’m also very connected with trees. So I’ll go and meditate under a tree, or I’ll sit in like plants and trees. It just makes me feel reenergized, and I feel like I get everything back that I need. It just gives me that energy back again. So yeah, those are the two main things that I do. And I’m trying to like really start eating better. Like, choosing the food that I put in my body and the things that I put in my body and on my body. Like, I’m obsessed with coconut oil.

Q: So, when everybody is going one direction, and you are choosing to go another direction… How do you know when something is innovative. When it’s time to act on something?

You know, honestly, and anybody can do this, I call up my spirit guides, and my loved ones help me. But I ask them to kind of give me a sign or a signal. So for me, I usually either get a gut instinct, like I feel something in my gut, or they show me the sign of the hearts. And the hearts will show up randomly when I’m on the right path.

I just pay attention to my signs and my symbols. I think it’s important that we are all very tuned into our life. I heard that a lot as a kid, I didn’t pay attention, other people around me didn’t think I was paying attention because I would run into things or I would be a little distracted. But I was on a very different level. I was tuning into other stuff that was going on. And I’ve kind of carried that with me throughout my whole life. And I think that it’s helped me and supported me along this path because I paid attention. I was given the choice- you could not pay attention and do your own thing and feel totally lost, or ask for the help and be open to the signs and signals. So that’s what I do- that’s the skinny of it.

Q: How do you feel about being named as a risk-taker?

You know when you asked me to do this I was like, “Are you sure you want me?” But the more I thought about it, I was like, every day I am taking a risk. Every time I go into a reading, I’m taking a risk. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea. Nothing could come through. And that is an actual thing. So there’s this terrifying aspect every time I do a reading. Every time I go into a meeting with somebody I am literally jumping off a cliff and I am hoping and praying that they will catch me and help me and remind me to allow things to work through me. So whenever you said that to me, at first I was like, “No.” But then I was like, “ This chick’s on to something.”

I am a risk-taker. And that felt so good to say and I felt empowered. Like whenever I aligned myself with it, it made me feel really good. So thank you for that. Thank you for that gift and helping me to realize that as well.

Q: So we all make mistakes. Tell me about a mistake that happened in your life but ended up bettering your life.

This may sound really corny. But, I actually broke up with my husband when we first started dating. I was nervous. I was scared. I came from a really tremulous childhood, and I was dealing with a lot of things at the time, and I broke up with him, he scared me. And I was sick for like three days. After that, I paid attention to what my body was telling me, and everything in my body and my soul told me “you’re making the wrong choices. What are you doing right now? You made a choice out of fear. What are you doing?” So when I kind of paid attention to that, that triggered me for the rest of my life. I know that sounds like a weird root there, but I mean my husband changed my life. He reminded me that I’m worthy of love. That it’s okay to be loved, and it’s okay to be amazing. You know, it’s okay to be yourself and be out there and be fantastic. He’s done so many incredible things for me and if I had followed through with my fear based thinking- I don’t know where I’d be, honestly. So yeah, that was a time I made a stupid mistake, and I went back and we got back together and I paid attention to my gut instinct and it taught me something so vitally important, that I’ve taken with me. Do not listen to that fear. Fear is going to take you somewhere else that you don’t want to be. You must always be aligning yourself with joy and your highest good. That’s what I took with me.

Q: How does the dynamic of one with abilities and one maybe not with work?

What I find is a lot of people with abilities seem to stick together or flock together. So, he says he doesn’t but I know that he does like he knows when somebody… who’s calling on the phone before it even shows up. Like, he knows these certain things, and sometimes he’ll have these moments of inspiration where he just says something, and I’m like, that’s exactly what I needed to hear. So, I mean, I feel like he’s very much psychically in tune. But he doesn’t want to hear it. So for a while it was very difficult for me to be like, Hey babe, I got something to tell you… I talk to dead people. He was like, “Baaa I don’t know about that friend!”

It was difficult trying to come to terms both for myself and wanting him so badly to be okay with it too. And realizing that’s his own journey- I just have to take care of myself. I told my truth. He allowed me to do that. And from there this is my journey too. It was a little bumpy at first, but I think as he started seeing that I was helping people and people were coming up to him and saying like, “Your wife changed my life.” He was like okay, something is happening here. He asked me to never read for him. But one night, I accidentally did. I pulled through his grandmother, and he was like, “That’s crazy…” So he was like, that was weird, I think I believe. And I was like, “Okay. Good, I’m glad we’re here.” He was always on my team, but to feel like he was a solid part of it felt amazing. You know?

Q: Well that’s amazing.  So a younger version of Sarah sits down next to you… What advice would you give her?

I would tell her: everything’s going to be okay. And she has no idea how beautiful it’s going to be. To hold on. I’m about to get real emotional.. But to hold on and it’s going to be okay. And that unimaginable love is coming her way.

Q: What mattered back then that has changed in your life now?

Feels like everything. I feel like I felt everything around me, you know? What was most important to me was family. At that time… and it still is. But it’s shifted in terms of that’s not who, or what my identity is, that’s a part of my tribe. My soul tribe, you know what I’m saying? And also family isn’t who you are necessarily born with or stuck with in this life, but who you choose to bring and to be a part of that for you. So, I think family, and it just kind of changed prospective. Because if anything happens you can go right back to those people and be like, “I need help. I need love. Hold me. Feed me and tell me I’m pretty.” I need those things. So having a good base and a good foundation. So what was most supportive to me then was family. And it’s only changed in how I understand what family is now.

Q: And what would you say is kind of the fuel on your fire now? What really is powerful and meaningful for you now?

Giving myself permission to be amazing. I think that’s something I had a difficult time connecting with. And being like, “Who am I?” Giving myself permission to be amazing. This is what I do, this is who I am, I have no idea where this is going to take me, but I’m open to it. And I’m ready for it. That’s why I’m here; that’s why I’m talking to you. For me, in my life like, giving myself permission to be myself, because I am amazing.

Q: Do you think that this ever gets easier?

Yes and no. Anytime before I go into a reading with somebody, I’m still nervous. I’m so nervous. I’m feeling their nervousness sometimes. Sometimes I’m feeling spirits, and there’s a lot of activity. Trying to focus is a little difficult on that one but then some days I feel like weirdly calm. And I’m good to go in, and I’m like – let’s do this! So I feel that with time. Long story short it has gotten easier. I still feel that fear excitement mingle. Something big is about to happen. This is where I belong. This is where I am.

Q: How has that moment when your neck was broken- and that moment when you made the conscious decision to move forward with what you were given with - changed your life?

In so many ways, that was literally a crossroads for me, I feel. I almost don’t recognize who I was at that point. I was so angry; I was so bitter. I was going to the hospital ever other week for heart issues; my anxiety was so bad because I wasn’t paying attention and I wasn’t tuned in into doing what was right for my life. And I was so unhappy. So, that was such a pitiful time, when I made that choice to do what my soul was calling me to do, it changed my entire world. And I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs identify with that, “If I don’t do this- I’m going to die.”

Q: What’s the one thing that you fear losing? Through all of this…

My free time. Because I have like none now. Because it’s so sacred to me. I need alone time to recharge and feel myself again. And to get all my energy back, because I do… I put off a lot of energy. I know that I do. I’m honestly surprised that the lights and everything are working correctly today. It’s a weird thing with me. I think my free time- that’s been my biggest fear. A lot of that feeling held me back too like my free time’s going to be gone, I can’t really book too many things because people just take up my time. You get to say yes or no. And you can schedule somebody else. So, it’s that perspective.

Q: What’s next? What’s next in your life?

I hope big things! I hope I get to meet Oprah, and we become best friends. I mean I’m kidding, but I’m also serious.

Laura: No, we’ll just go together because it’s on my bucket list.

Sarah: Yes! You and I can go together. I hope that I get to reach more people, and I hope that I get to help them. I hope what’s next for me is that I come to terms totally and completely with who I am, again. On another level. And I just keep evolving. And that I allow this evolution, this transformation, to continue to keep happening. And let it take me wherever it’s supposed to go. And that I’m good with that, you know, that I’m really in it and I’m meeting people, networking and loving life, and giving and receiving love. I think that’s the biggest thing for me, that’s my payment. Giving and receiving love.

Q: I’d like to learn a little bit more about your promise form. Your pinky promise. So, if you can read that to me and then tell me what that means to you.

I won’t allow fear to stop me from being successful. So, I think that goes back to being seen. And this fear of being seen. If people see me…will they like me? Will they like what I do? And really just saying that it’s no longer about that. This is about meeting other people and helping them in their lives. So shifting, and going towards that instead of the fear. I’ve become more and more successful, and these opportunities keep presenting themselves to me to keep reaching more and more people. I think self-acceptance is the vital key there. Self-acceptance and success are hand in hand.

Q: What is the moment that you almost quit? And why did you choose not to?

I had a reading with this lady, I don’t know why she came to me honestly.  She didn’t want to hear a thing I had to say. Not one word I had to say. She said no to every single thing I said. And I was like, Alright love, well, this obviously isn’t for you, like I know I am bringing something through but if this isn’t for you, I want this to be good for you, too. So maybe I can suggest somebody else or… She didn’t want it, and I was like, am I totally done? Did something shut off? What happened? I flipped out, and I was really upset and I was trying to come to terms with it and she came back to me three years later. And she told me everything I told her that day was correct and true but she didn’t want to hear it.

It was like this whole turn around. And I needed it, I needed it so bad at that point it wasn’t even funny. Like I needed to hear that. And it was just like validation, she was actually one of the very first readings I ever did. So it was like I made all the wrong choices. You do all the dumb stuff that entrepreneurs do in the very, very beginning of whatever they’re doing. But she came back and was like, everything you said was right and I am really sorry, I just wasn’t ready to listen to it that day. Let’s have another reading, cause I need help again. And it was like, this is insane. What I thought was the worst reading I had ever done in my entire life, turned to actually one of the most beautiful and transformational for the person that was sitting across from me.

And now she is living her life, and I can’t wait to see what she does. It’s amazing. So, it’s like, a journey for both her and I.

Q: What makes it all worth it?

Oh god, I think the love again. I think the love that I get from people. Just like, the excitement you said, of meeting me. I’m like, “I’m excited to meet you too!” I’m nobody special. I don’t feel that way. But it’s like, I feel amazing. But, I don’t see myself as you know, whatever. I think it’s the love from people. Like coming up and giving me a hug and letting me know how it touched their lives, how it helped them in some way. Like, that’s what I do this for and I will keep doing it until the wheels fall off. I’m going to keep going until, even if that stops, as long as I’m helping somebody, even if I don’t get that verbal recognition. Even though I’m very much words of affirmation. So, that’s why it’s like the verbal love; the verbal feedback is amazing for me. I’m going to keep doing this, forever.

Andrew Murdock

Natural Artistry

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So just tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Andrew Murdoch, from Natural Artistry photography. I mainly specialize in commercial and editorial work. Typically with businesses, advertising and really telling stories through images. And trying to dig in and capture an emotion behind a person and for me to connect with a subject obviously. Hopefully, the images connect with other people. The important thing for me and the biggest thing is, I get to meet a range of people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet. I get to move within all levels of society, and it’s kind of cool. It’s very subversive.

Q: What made you want to get into photography? Or what was the leading moment that got you into this path?

I’ve been in the IT industry for 26 years and I left my last company and at that point it was really, what do I want to do now? After having been there, I needed a change and it was either that or be a personal trainer and at the time I was doing a lot of triathlons and I was looking at the personal trainers who weren’t terribly motivated and I just couldn’t quite face that. And then it’s just been a serious of mistakes in business that have lead me to where I am today.

Q: Have you always had an artistic point of view? Coming from IT into a very artistic company seems like an interesting transition.

As a teenager, my father was a photographer. He was in the military and he was a helicopter pilot for many years and he always had the camera. So I grew up with lots of Kodachrome 45 millimeter slides floating around the house. So there was always that love of photography, but even when I was in IT, I was in sales. So I was always trying to be creative with clients, trying to find something that satisfies the client. And I kept with the photography until, I guess probably late ‘90s around 2000. That really there was just MotoPhoto and Ritz developing and printing and I just didn’t like the colors. I didn’t like the developing, and I just fell out of love with it. When I got my first digital camera in the mid 2000s, it was finding that again.

Q: So what was the defining moment that made you say yes; this is what I want to do?

I think doing a couple of years with Thompson Writers, and that was for their CPA email newsletter business. You know, trying to shoot 10…20 foreman, in different ways that are creative. I would get an assignment, it might take me 20 days out of the month to do, and the other 10 I’d be hanging off a mountaintop or a waterfall, somewhere within 4 hours of Frederick. So, I was fat and happy doing it, I never really photographed people. Then around 2012, I’d volunteered for Alive @ 5, out of the comfort zone, as I’m taking 60-70 portraits out of every week all summer. That gave me an opportunity to look at portraits and look at how I take them to try and find that connection. And the original idea behind Natural Artistry was to photograph people in waterfalls or on mountaintops, somewhere they’ve never been, so it was to take them out into nature and to put them into that environment as a piece of fine art. Of course one of those mistakes is launching that business as you come into winter, is a tough sell.

Q: What types of fears come along with being a risk-taker?

To paraphrase, or to use an old chestnut… is it fear or fear itself? Fear can stand for False Evidence Appearing Real. And that’s certainly true in my case, is… I just don’t know what I want to be yet. I’m developing it. I’m developing the vision of the direction I want to go in. Usually it’s the fear of getting started. Is taking that first step. You know, the, “Yes, I want to shoot Men’s Fashion.” So what do I need to do? Well I need to find some models, I need to find a clothing store that wants to work with me, I’ve got to find a stylist, I’ve got to find hair and make up, you know, who’s going to be part of that team? And it’s that fear of entering into a place where I don’t know what the answers are, so it’s really overcoming that fear and taking the first step. Go out, find somebody, shoot it, learn from those mistakes, learn from the failure. And not being afraid of failure. Fail can stand for First Attempt In Learning. I accept; I’m going to make a lot of first attempts. But then I’m going to figure it out.

Q: Do you use that power to overcome your fear or what else do you do to snap out of allowing fear to drive you versus allowing the potential to drive you?

I think I can put the pro in procrastinate. And you know, I’ll step back from it and I’ll just analyze what do I need to do, and I will sit there and struggle. I can really struggle with it. Then I’ll look at other photographers who I admire and that’s almost a mental illness in itself, because I start comparing myself to them. Then I have to snap out of it and realize, “Hey, once upon a time they sucked too.” Except maybe Eric Almas, because I believe he was born taking amazing images.  But you know, people like Joey L., modern day, Joey L., Benjamin Von Wong, who’s just taking insane pictures. The masters- Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, who’s done Rolling Stone, and he did The Vanity Fair after-party this year

Laura: Right. I think, a lot of hearing you say, a quote that I love, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Q: So I’m curious where that inspiration comes form and just where that source is from.

I think you know, it’s taking a whole bunch of influences, and one of those things I have always loved is, Eddie Van Halen said that his biggest influence, as a guitarist is Eric Clapton. You don’t hear it, I hear more of Brian May in him. He says Eric Clapton is his biggest influence but he doesn’t sound like him. For BB King, it was Django Reinhardt, and it’s taking influences from a whole bunch of different areas and just going, “Hey, I’ve got this idea.” I did that as a self-portrait because I couldn’t find anybody that I wanted to do it with. And Bobbi was always away doing one of those beaches, so I was free to go and play and not tell her about it till after, so she’s not panicking. And I’m off setting myself on fire. But it is also 2 images. The first image is I put out one of my frequent odd calls on Facebook, “Hey, anybody got an old umbrella?” And one of the local restaurant owners said she had some in Lost and Found, and I went down and it was huge and it was broken, so we turned it inside-out and it was perfect. That’s the one. And a whole thing of BBQ Fluid and the camera was on a tripod, there’s a speed light with a soft box next to it. And if you look closely the remote is actually in my left hand. So then I photographed myself jumping off the wall with the umbrella. And then ducktaped the umbrella to the stand and matched the camera angle of to the actual shot that I actually liked. Filled it with BBQ fluid and set light to it. What I didn’t realize was, umbrellas actually melt. So if you see, there is one of my light stands that has duct tape that is permanently melted to the stand. It’s never quite worked right since. It’s also the process of learning. Actually by photographing myself with the umbrella I made life a lot more difficult because I had to take that umbrella out of the picture before I could then start to composite the other one in. It’s going out and doing those personal projects and taking those ideas, self-portraits, on my own and make the mistakes and try to learn what is it that I really want to do.

Q: What do you think is important about finding your own path versus traveling someone else’s?

I think it feeds the soul. The creative industry is hard; we have to constantly come up with new ways to define ourselves of thinking about things. If you’re passionate about what, you do and it’s your own vision, it’s easier to sustain that. If you’re constantly copying other people, it’s very difficult to sustain and it means that you’re constantly going to have to change with the fashions, with the fads and keep going. There’s something very unsatisfying about copying other people’s work.
I’ll take influences from it and every so often I will, just to figure out, how did they do it, and I’ll do it, but the far more important, interesting thing to me is, why? And you know, it was brake the mold. Have a bit of fun with it and force myself to become uncomfortable.

Q: What’s a mistake that you have made, that has actually turned out to make a positive impact on your life?

Every time I think I’ve made all the mistakes I’m going to, I find new and interesting ways to do it. I think one of the biggest ones, it was a time a couple of years ago that I was new to the partnership of a couple of other people and when it actually came down to talk about it, it became very apparent in that discussion that the passion wasn’t shared and it was going to be me driving it. And the other two really, were just going to be helping out, but wanted to be an equal partnership. And it was a very difficult decision to not pursue that. You know, there was a lot tied into it, there was space, there was a studio, I felt that I could grow much quicker doing that. The reality of it is, stepping back and looking at the last two years, it slowed my growth a little bit, and it forced me to really develop hard as a business person, to go through the struggles and a lot of times it’s been a big financial struggle. Certainly the last year, what I’ve found is the more work I do of my own, that’s genuine, the more it seems to attract. And you notice the less actual client work that I post, so I think what’s happened there is it’s actually allowed me to develop the vision of what Natural Artistry needs to be. And you know, we’re looking now at opening a studio in the next couple of months, downtown. We’re looking at expanding with other people. And I don’t think I’d have been at that place if we continued back then. I think it would be a very different company and it wouldn’t be what I wanted it to be. And I think the other biggest business mistake I made was I sold myself cheap too much. There’s a quote: “You work full price or you work for free. You never work for cheap.” And it hit me at the time when I heard it and the more I’ve thought of it in time, if I work full price and I’m committed to the client, I’m passionate about, it and I’m committed to the job. If I’m doing it free, it’s something I believe in again, it’s something I’m committed to. But when I work for cheap, I end up resenting it. I end up feeling I’m taken advantage of, even though it was me agreed to it, so I’ve got the only person I’ve got to blame looks back at me in a mirror. But there is that always, the works never quite at the level it is in the other two. Then you turn it in and it’s always very disappointing. So it was making that decision, No, we need to go out and do it the right way.

And I was literally check-to-check and as soon as the check came in, it was already gone. And I kinda kept that on, and I think 2013, I ended up spending 67 days working for free, for events, for whatever. So there’s no benefit to me in shooting the event because I’m shooting myself in the foot. You think that’s what my work looks like and it’s not. But it’s very important to us to support the community, so it’s finding new ways to do that and this year it will be working with the Homeless Coalition and build stories of the homeless. So right now we are shooting the basic library of the characters we’re gonna follow throughout the course of the next year. They want to see where Paul is… who’s currently living in a tent outside town, you know, where he is today. And did he get the job? People want to come back and see that and it increases the impact. And that’s really, you know, giving something to the community. You have to give to receive. But also I have to give the right stuff. I have to give my heart. Oh but, I’ve learned it by making the mistakes. And I learn it from listening to other people’s wisdom. The longer I do this, the dumber I think I am. I have to rely on other people’s wisdom all the time and all daylong. And having Bobbi, as my partner in the business, which is why if you look at my logo, there’s two acorns on there, not one. Having Bobbi as a partner, who is also my life partner, and her input a lot of the times is so valid. Reigning in some of my wilder ideas. Um, it was really this year, we started talking about the studio and it was the right time. I wanted to try working out of other studios and partnerships, and she never really supported them, but this year it’s the right time for us to do it. And that’s why I keep saying we and us.

Q: So do you think that this gets easier as time goes by or do you think it gets more complicated? Or something completely different than that?

The more I learn the more I realize there is much to learn. You know, two years ago, I thought, I really thought, I was the dog’s bollocks, and I was taking Frederick by storm. And, “I’m making everybody else…” It was ridiculous. It was ego. Absolutely ego. I had people whispering in my ear, “you work so much better than this person.” I was comparing myself and competing with almost every photographer in Frederick. I was just spread so thin. And I don’t think I was working for myself. You know, by competing with the other people and closely watching other people’s work, who are they working for and “oh this is good, this is crap.” I really slowed myself. In particular the last year has been sitting back and seeing what’s developed. The more I do it, the more there is to learn, not just the photography and delving deeper into people’s personalities, delving deeper into their moods. Having bravery to take those shots and that’s the beauty of being in the position where I can do personal projects. Where I do have the time to set aside every couple of weeks, here’s a half day, let’s just rack up some people and go figure some stuff out. In the post, in Photoshop, in Colorgrading, in Color Toning, we’re working on a lot of composite work right now, and there’s been a lot of composite work I’ve posted. And it’s great, because nobody is noticing. Means I did it right.

Q: I love how intentional you are about everything you do.

Sounds like it, doesn’t it? But the reality is, spending a lot of the winter in a very dark place, not knowing what I wanted to be, not knowing what I wanted to do. I did a test shoot for a modeling agency in DC and they gave me carte blanche and I took that carte blanche and we went out there and did the images and they didn’t like them. And I haven’t worked with them since. Kind of sucks. You know, they’re like, “No, we wanted kind of what you do and the head shots and that’s what we thought you’d do.” And I was like, “No, I went out and did a fashion shoot.” You know we set her up as 1940’s and very contoured and very flapper and that was the whole image we were going for and no. Oops. That really hurt to be taken back like that, and to get the real don’t call us- we’ll call you. It was painful. You know, there was some very dark times, you really had to step back and give the heart more, but the more you think about it the less sure you are of the direction. And then it’s just taking that first step, you know, in the 5-minute project was to get out of that funk. It was to get out, create something new. I can take headshots all day long, and I love taking headshots cause it’s that short interaction with the person. It’s up-close. It’s personal. It’s creating an image that represents them in their industry. But I know how to do that. And getting up-close and personal, and getting inside somebody’s space was a revelation. It’s like, yeah, that’s got some intensity. Shooting headshots for people where it’s not a conventional headshot.

Q: Why is it so important to you to dig that deep into each individual?

I think there’s the undeveloped curiosity in myself, to figure out what people are and what makes them tick. What is it they want to show me? Every time you’re working with somebody in front of a camera, it’s a dance. There’s: how the person sees themselves; the image they want to project. Those quite often are two different things. There’s how I see them, and there’s try to figure out there’s something in between all of that where you have the perfect image of that person on that day at that time. And it’s somewhere between how I see them, how I want to picture them, how they see themselves, how they want to be pictures. And we do that dance when we’re going through a photo shoot. And that dance is cool.

Q: What’s that emotion like, when you know that you have that One? That you’ve captured that One Thing that was in your head and now it is real.

You know it when the shutter clicks. You know it. Most shoots I do in the studio, most shoots I do commercially I do tethered to a laptop. Sometimes I’ll turn the laptop towards the client so they can see them, most times I don’t. It’ll be towards me. I’ll shoot a whole batch and I’ll be like, “We’re kinda going towards it, but I just…” Yeah. I don’t want to be the photographer that just goes and does this for money. Which was another beauty of do it full price or do it free. It was almost like night and day when we made that decision, when we started pushing, when we started doing the personal projects. I have enough work coming in; I don’t have enough to take those free jobs. I don’t have to take those small jobs. To not do them… because they are soul sucking. You end up doing a lot of them in a month, you have all that editing time, all the time working on them and you’re resenting it, you’re resenting your life, you’re resenting what you’re doing and that’s a horrible place to be. I’m second shooting quite a lot of wedding this year. I don’t shoot weddings. But the main objection I have is that you know if I’m shooting a wedding, I’m looking at 6-8 weeks of editing. And I just don’t have that kind of focus to work 6-8 weeks on editing one job, doing the same kind of pictures in the same style every day. I want a change. I want to evolve. I want to learn. I have the attention span of a rabid Rat Terrier.

I’ll go insane. Um, but I’m happy to second shoot it, it’s great because people I’m second shootings weddings for are incredible photographers in their own right. So you have that creative interplay between the two of you but at the end of the job, I’m like, “There’s the memory cards, great working with ya!” And it still keeps that humility that on that shoot, I’m not the boss. I’m there for a reason: to capture the personalities, “hey, can you go shoot these details?” “Great. Got it!” “Can you hold this light?” “Yep! How high?”
I think the greatest fear is becoming isolated. I was isolated for a long time, now you know, I have Bobbi’s support. Working together with other creative people, both as clients and also partnering together on work. As my team around me begins to build, it’s that creative spark among each of us. So I think the thing I fear loosing is that sense of community, that team and becoming isolated again. I think I had to do the isolation, you know, because that forced the personal growth to choose not to be there anymore.

Q: I’d love for you to read your pinky promise and tell me what that means to you.

I won’t allow fear of taking the first step to stop me from finding my vision. And I think we touched on it earlier, and what it’s really about is too many times, I’ve had, ideas. Things I want to do. And I never did them. I’ve had more ideas I’ve left in notepads or on the floor I’d forgotten, than I’ve ever taken. And I don’t want to be there. You know, I want to be able to have the freedom artistically to make time, that if I have an idea to be able to call some people up and say, “Hey, I got this crazy idea, kind of wacky. Might look really goofy and stupid, but it could be cool!” “And can I set fire to ya?!” Hahaha.

Q: When is the moment that you almost quit and why did you choose not to?

Too many. Way too many times. I think there’s been times I’ve wanted to quit cause I’ve lost the passion for it. I think there’s been times I have just lost my way entirely. Where I’d felt that I’ve lost any creative vision. You know, so stuck in a rut and I wasn’t growing and I’m like, “But look at these images, they’re awful and everybody in town is taking better pictures than me and oh my god there’s six new photographers this week and have you seen their work?! I’m never going to make it and I’m never going to be able to support myself.” And you know a lot of it is cognitive distortion. You know, it’s that black and white, negative thinking. I was projecting outside; it’s not trusting my own vision. Those were all the times I wanted to quit. It’s when I stopped trusting myself. When I stopped trusting… it becomes genuine. When I take what I want to take, when I, within reason, obviously when I’m working with a client, the client is also looking for my input. Even if it’s a creative person, even if it’s an art director, they don’t take the number of pictures I take and the number of different situations. So we start to work as a team. And it’s bringing those ideas to the table and actually executing them and saying, “Yep, we can shoot this room, but we got a really dark spot in that corner so lets’ put a light in it or let’s shoot it here and I’ll shoot several shots in different parts of the room with the light and then we’ll join em together and merge em down.

Q: What makes all of this worth it?

Growth. It really comes down to that. It’s growth across the board. You know, growth as a person, as a relationship and Bobbie and I have both been through hell in previous relationships. And suddenly we’re together and we struggle with growth together. But, we put that together and we overcome it and we learn from it. There’s growth in photography, it’s seeing Natural Artistry begin to grow into a brand that’s recognized. You know, the next step is grow it out of the area. So it is about moving forward. You know, keeping on taking that first step. Even where I don’t know where it’s going and that’s awesome too. It’s a great… this is about the journey, not the destination. There’s no finite. Staying true to myself, staying true to my relationship with Bobbi, staying true to my relationship with other colleagues, partners and clients and the people I shoot.

Laura: I think your story today will fuel a lot of people to get back to the core of who they are, because you are living proof that when you follow your passion, life seems to be just that much sweeter.

Sam Tressler

Archai Media

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So, tell me who you are and what you do.

My name is Sam Tressler, and I’m a filmmaker of sorts I guess. I also run a rental house and a production house in Frederick as well as a studio, that I manage. And that’s all kind of my background job while I’m working on my first feature film.

Q: So what fires you up about film?

I feel like, someone stumbling upon film and then I went to school for it and I just kind of found like that calling more or less.  It was just kind of a medium that speaks to me as far as expressing myself and at the same time, I feel like I can kind of give back to the medium and help it blossom more as a medium because it’s kind of a young art form, I’d say. And a lot of ways I feel like, it’s kind of gotten halted as far as experimentation and growing as it was in the first 30 years of being founded. And so I feel like it’s not really done justice to it and I feel like it’s kind of the greatest medium ever. Cause it’s a combination of visuals and it’s got a time element to it and it’s got audio and it’s based on photography kind of, but then you can make it completely dreamlike. So I feel like for me it’s a way for me to express almost like when I’m dreaming, and I wake up and try to interpret it. I feel like having that expression to an audience, and there’s ways that you can kind of influence the audience subliminally with film.

I’m just super lucky ‘cause I just know so many people that it seems like their biggest struggle in life is they don’t know what they want to do, and they don’t have that thing. And so sometimes that gets pushed on to other things that take up their time but I just feel like, the fact that I have that passion forces me or makes me feel obligated to make that my priority because a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to have found that just yet.

Q: What about it made you pursue your entire life around it?

I guess, it was kind of strange because I kind of just fell into it. After getting out of school, I did this and that and kind of got distracted by life for a long time. I was more focused on relationships and trying to make money to get by, I guess. And I was just scrapping by for a while but working 9-5 and wasn’t really moving me on as much. But finally a lot of things, a lot of negative things kind of had to happen in a way and I pretty much had to hit the point where I was like, 5 years later and I’m still doing the same thing and I’m not really moving anywhere and, “When is this going to end up being 15 years? Or when am I going to have a mid-life crisis because I’m not like, scratching the itch that I have inside?” And so I basically just dropped everything and had no plans and went to the South Pacific for a month and just to chill and try to find myself and then after that happened it was kind of weird. Because as soon as I opened myself up to like, any possibilities without any security blanket really, is when things started flowing in. So I just stumbled upon my new place, which has top-of-the-line cinema equipment. I also started writing and everything. And now I’m 2 ½ years into that, and I feel like I’m finally on the path to fulfilling my goals or seizing the dream.

Laura: I love what you said about when you put yourself out there the way that you are is when things start happening.

Sam: Yeah it’s crazy because I mean, I feel like that’s another thing that people are like afraid to really take that leap of faith. Because to an extent I feel like you have to let go of the security of having your day job or whatever. I see so many people that are stuck here and are just not happy because they are not doing what they want to do but, it seems like once you open yourself up to the opportunity or the possibility of opportunity, that’s when things just start happening. That’s all the time for me now, it’s almost not even surprising, ‘cause it’s just some sort of energy is going on and just working, so it’s just awesome! What you’re available for is what you receive I guess.

Q: What fears and obstacles have you faced during your journey of finding your place?

My biggest obstacle is probably myself. And there’s a lot of doubt, especially for like an artistic field. You know, what can I do… when you have these masters of cinema, that have gone before and you watch some of their stuff or you stumble upon a new director and it’s just like, “uhhh that’s exactly what I want to do…” Like, “What’s the point even?” But then there’s just so much bad stuff, it’s like, “I might as well.” If that’s what you really want to do, then you just have to do it. It’s all subjective. Then also, I feel like the hardest thing for a lot of people doing these creative things, is that need for perfection and getting stuck in a rut, because you can’t get it to where you want it to be in your mind. And that just will stall you, and that’s kind of what I run into a lot.

Q: How do you overcome those things?

I mean, I just think in the end if you let yourself wait for the perfect outcome, then you are never going to do anything. And so it’s just like, well, putting out something, that’s something better than not having anything. I mean you just have to produce or else you’re just kidding yourself, and if I never make this film then I’m not really a filmmaker, I guess.

Q: What does success look like for you?

I think it’s my schedule defined by my passions rather than my schedule defining when I can fit my passions in. If I can make a living doing the things I want to do, then that’s amazing for me. Once money stops being like, the obstacle that I need to overcome, that’d be good. But I’m not a big money guy or anything. It’s just more or less on the inconvenience. It just keeps me from having all my time to be able to do what I want. I never realized how patient it was going to require me to be with such a big project. I mean we are 2 ½ years in and then we haven’t even started shooting yet, but uh, I just have faith that it is going to be an amazing project completely worthwhile, and for more people than just me. So I’m constantly excited about it.

Q: I’d like to hear a little bit about just your core inspiration. I’m just curious where that really deep like, out of the box, inspiration, creativity comes from and why that is so important to you.

I think that’s kind of a fight against what I think film has become. Of course, I’m inspired by the early masters, it was kind of the early people in the frontier film when people still didn’t know what this was all about. They had just figured out making feature length films and such and they were still exploring the theory of editing, and putting this shot next to this shot, the effect that that has on the viewer. Without the viewer even necessarily knowing. You know? And stuff like that, I feel like there is almost this scientific effect that it has on the viewer. And like I said, I feel like a film should be more like a dream. Like it’s familiar but not necessarily real. And it hopefully has some deeper meaning and then I just like cool weird stuff I guess. I just feel like film can be so interpretive or expressive, and so I just try to explore that as much as possible.

Q: Yeah, How do you know when one of those ideas is something you want to act on or is something that you need to bank or file away or put in the no that’s too much?

That’s kind of tough because, I mean a lot of these ideas you get are so grandiose. And then you get to the point, where you’re like well this isn’t something I could just shoot in an afternoon in my studio, so. The things that I don’t act on are the things that I can’t do fiscally, immediately pretty much. And then some of the other things like the little self-portraits and such I can bang those out immediately, so I act on them immediately. And the others basically right now with LEDA being my lead project, I was just like, alright I need to lock myself down and I can’t accept anymore giant projects of my own, and I can’t allow myself to move anywhere or take any big job opportunities or anything until I finish this. Because I was waiting for so long to find that like, spark of an idea that actually got me excited. And I found it!

Q: How do you want people to portray you as a film artist?

I would like people to just see me, as someone that’s just trying to do more than just create cheap entertainment in a way. Do more than just make money with a blockbuster. I mean so much of the industry is unfortunately so money driven that I feel like artistry gets completely dismissed or people back off and don’t want to support it because they feel like, “well, that’s a shot in the dark and we haven’t proven that concept as a money-maker.” And I feel like it does such an injustice to like, my passion for film. I don’t just want people to be like, “He’s weird.” I’d like people to be like, “He’s pushing the medium in a way that, hopefully, is respected.” I would like to be able to innovate in film. It’s just you never know what comes next.

Q: What’s a mistake that you made that actually ended up turning out to be something positive in your life?

Oh man. I probably shouldn’t say marriage and divorce, but things like that. I think my life’s going in this direction, and that’s going to be great, you know? And then it comes down into like this crushing blow, but out of that is kind of like, ok well, done this and that was really shitty, but now I can pretty much do anything because I don’t have anything to lose. I think that somehow it’s necessary to get to that part where you really have nothing to lose. I mean, death’s going to come at some point, the main thing is what do I do with the time that I have. It’s just; I don’t want to be just trying to make a living for my life. I feel like it’s more valuable than that.

Laura: Yeah, of course, it is. When there’s break down, there’s break through. That quote comes to mind so sometimes you have to hit those spots to realize that you know, there is so much more beyond what you are allowing yourself to do.

Q: Do you think that it gets easier as you continue on this path or is it just a constant switch off?

I think, I’d say it has to get easier. With the route that I’m going just because I’m not following any necessary, certain path, I’ll probably constantly be just clawing my way through, but I mean you learn how to do this a little bit better each step. I mean after I get this feature done I’ll learn how, or I’ll know how to do proposals and find investors, etc., etc., etc. So there're the skills that you gain along the way that make the journey easier but I feel like it’s still going to be inch by every inch. By bloody inch. And it’s horribly frustrating if you’re doing your own thing, you end up having to do most of everything that surrounds that. And that’s one of the most frustrating parts about this big project. Most of my time is spent doing all the bullshit that makes it necessary to actually do the real thing. I think that’s with any real project; there are all the little supporting things that go unseen. And those are the things you hope to learn and have are second nature.

Q: So how do you embrace those things without being angry that you have to do them? Or just frustrated that you have to do them? But knowing that they’re part of the process.

I’m pretty bad at embracing those things. I ignore them a lot and make things longer for myself because I’m just not a marketing guy. I’m not a business man; I’m not a money man, and so all those things are just really tough for me to sit down at a computer and just write out a proposal or an excel spreadsheet. But those are kind of the grueling moments for me. Like, all the hysteria and the fear that comes when you are actually shooting and you don’t know if you’re going to actually be able to express yourself from page to screen, that’s like the best part for me. So hopefully after at least this project or something, I’ll be successful enough to at least have interns do it.

Laura: Wow I was going to say… surrounding yourself with people that are good at things that you are not.

Sam: One of my goals is to prove that film doesn’t take tons of money and doesn’t take tons of people. But it does take people. And finding a good team and a good vibe, like that relationship where you harmonize with people and they kind of have second nature relations is super important and I’ve found that on this shoot that’s the only way that you can really pull something off in my mind.

Laura: Right, I think adding onto that if I may, accepting that there are other people that are better at things than you are.

Sam: Sure! Yeah and that’s another thing because coming out of school I was sort of used to micromanaging all my projects, and even still I’m pretty possessive about my ideas. Which has kind of held me up in certain regards because it kind of has a negative effect when people don’t see you as a collaborator as much. And I’ve kind of been forcing myself like, no I’m not going to act in it, I’m not going to be a camera man. All I’m going to do is step back and be like the vision of it. The director. And just get people that are super talented and it’s only going to be better because of that. I mean, more heads, it’s not like too many cooks in the kitchen. As long as they trust you, and you trust them for their skills, and you can have a working relationship, I think it’s only going to make it that much more amazing.

Q: What mattered from the beginning of your film career to where you are now?

I guess earlier I wanted to do more that was just like, I wanted to be on a big set, I wanted to help shoot big movies and kind of be in that rat race that is Hollywood filmmaking. And all the glitz and glamor that comes with that. You kind of come out of film school, and you’re like, “I’m going to move to Hollywood, and do this or that.” But now I’m just like, “No, I don’t want to go run that rat race, I’d rather just be able to…” Cause if I go there, it’s going to be at least five years of me trying to get my foot in the door, just to be an assistant something on a big movie set. When here I can spend those five years just trying desperately to make my own movie. And if at the end of those five years I have a movie, or I am like an assistant director on a set, then I feel like this is a lot more valuable. And I guess I was more worried about making it in the industry and popularity and trying to make good movies. But now it’s like, if I feel like I’ve done something that is artistically legitimate, that actually kind of something that I would watch and be like, “Damn that’s awesome!” like, “Bravo!” Then I’ll be… That’s success for me.

Q: So how has that initial risk-taking moment changed your life? Impacted your life?

I feel like it took a while to get there cause it’s terrifying, like, who wants to just take that step off that cliff or whatever… but it was completely necessary. Ever since I took that risk, left my job, which was a great job, and kind of just saw what was out there I have been to like six different countries in the past two years, and I’m traveling all over the place. I get to work cool jobs, and I’m meeting new people that are super talented and it’s just kind of made all the difference. I mean, I just am excited! You know? And I feel like it’s only going to get better which is so awesome, it’s like, “Yeah I’m struggling right now trying to get this film down but I wake up, and it’s like, today is mine.” There are always distractions, but it’s more or less I have that responsibility still. I get to spend a lot of my time working on what I want to do and every time I feel like I’m going to complain about something, I just… 100 guys would tell me they are jealous of me and want to trade positions. But the funny things is, they don’t have to trade positions, they can just do it themselves as well. It’s just a matter of getting to that jumping point.

Q: Your pinky promise form to yourself, could you read that to me and tell me what that means to you.

Yeah, I couldn’t really figure this out. I said I wouldn’t let imperfections stop me from production/completion. I think it’s mainly the completion one, though. I feel like, so many times I just get stalled out because it’s not just right. And that’s where I just fall into these big ruts, and so I feel like it’s not about making it perfect, it’s about making it. And that’s what I have to do.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring artist? Someone that knows that they have something, they have just not made that decision yet.

I would say just dive! Just do it! If you really think you have something the worst that’s going to happen is that if you do it, and you find out you don’t. I mean, the worst thing would be just having that seeded passion and never acting on it. Cause then you’re a failure. And if you act on it regardless, you’ll know. I think that’s the main thing I would say. You have to do what you have to do. It’s so annoying with my project it’s a silent, black and white, 3D film, and all I hear is shit from everyone in the industry. Like the other filmmakers, that’s who I get the most flack from. They’re just like, “Why would you do that?” “What’s your audience for that?” Blah, blah, blah. I’m like, if there was an audience for this, then it means it has been done before. So, take people’s advice and wisdom but don’t let it stop you from doing what it is you feel you need to do.

Q: What is the moment that you almost quit and why did you choose not to?

I think almost accidentally quit before I even started, kind of. Cause it just became more about needing to pay the bills. And so I kind of spent six months figuring out how to not have any bills.

So it’s not like I’m making a lot of money, but I’m not spending a lot so I can actually spend it on what I want to do. I don’t know there’s a lot of days where it’s just like, “Does any of this even matter?” Well, regardless, it makes me smile so I might as well do it, I don’t know. I haven’t really gotten to the point of quitting yet, but every day, not everyday but every now and then there’s something that’s just like, “Why am I spending all this time?” and then there will be something else that’s like, “This is why.” You have to spend time doing something. You might as well do it doing something awesome.

Q: So what makes it all worth it then?

Not feeling like a slave and feeling like I get to the chance to express myself and try to say something, I guess. Being able to make stuff. There’s something about it, just expressing yourself through a medium, it’s like, any artist in any medium.

Bobbi Duffy

Found Souls Studio

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me a little bit more about who you are and what you do.

So, the core of who I am, with all of my activities, as far as profession is concerned, I’m a psychiatric nurse practitioner. In fact, I’m dual certified as what’s sort of clinical nurse specialist, making me a psychotherapist also. So in a nutshell, I practice psychiatry. And do it in several different settings, always gotten the privilege of learning something new wherever I am. So, when I say psychiatry, sometimes people are confused, they often think I’m a therapist; and I am a therapist, but the majority of my work is with that dirty word, medication. I do manage patient’s medications; treat them as needed, with medication. But we bring in a lot of other stuff, you know, trying to make sure that it’s not just a 6-minute psychiatry appointment that we’re really looking at the big picture. That we’re thinking about wellness, that we’re talking about if you’re not taking your medications, do you know it’s ok to come tell me you’re not taking them? I didn’t make the medications. I don’t take it personally if you have bad side effects. What is it that we can do to make it better? So that’s in a nutshell what I do. I mean it usually brings about a lot of questions.

Q: So what is it about that that makes you tick? That makes you dedicate your life to it?

People. Many people walk into psychiatry unwillingly. They come from hard spots and it might be as hard of a spot as a full life of trauma, currently homeless, time in prison, to somebody who’s just truly struggling with day-to-day emotions and getting along with their spouse or their kids or their parents. Even the transitional age teen that’s kind of trying to figure out how to be on my own or not be dependent on my parents. So, people come from all walks of life, and all their challenges are real. And they’re scared and have often been invalidated. And for me, seeing the light go on in someone, that there is always another way. And I may not be able to take away your time in prison, I may not be able to take away your six divorces, but there’s another way and it doesn’t matter what happened in the past. So we’re really able to change things. Everything can change. And to see that light go on for them and say, “wow! Someone is finally listening to me, believes in me.” That really makes a difference for me, and I feel like it’s a privilege.  People come in and tell you some seriously intimate stuff, and that is really a privilege for someone to open up to you.

Q: How did you feel like you were the one to be able to do this? Because I’m sure that comes with a very heavy responsibility.

So, I knew it was what I was supposed to do by accident. I became a nurse 20 years ago, by accident. I registered for classes late; I was trying to figure out what I had done, after I had gotten my associates degree in applied art and design, basically paste stuff, in those days. And trying to figure out what I did and somebody just said, “Why don’t you be a nurse?” “Oh, okay, good idea.” I was a volunteer firefighter and looking for something to do. So I went ahead and started nursing and fell in love with it. I love the science of it, I loved the interaction with people, but during the initial nursing degree, the four years where I became an R.N.  We did a psych rotation. I never in my life dreamt I would do psychiatry. Never. It scared me. People scared me. But as my life went on, and as I continued to do different things in nursing, I didn’t practice a lot of bedside nursing. Some time in ICU, some time in home care, but a lot of my time was spent in administration and management and the overseeing of patient care, and I really began to realize that everybody ticks. Some people function well but everybody ticks. I’m trying to think, “What am I going to do my Masters in?” “What am I going to do my Post Masters in?” I applied actually to law school and psychiatric NP school at the same time, got into both, and just said ok, I’ll go be a psych NP. And I can’t imagine doing anything else. It was just in my life; I believe things play out how they’re supposed to. I don’t always understand it; I just can’t imagine doing anything else. Now from day-to-day do I think I’m the one? No. I question all the time, Every decision you make you’re wondering, “Did I hurt somebody?” “Did I say the right things?” “Was that the right drug for them?” You think about it afterward, it is a heavy burden and anybody doing this kind of care, they should be afraid. Afraid is not the right word, but they should be very conscientious with people’s lives in our hands. I don’t always feel like I’m the one; there're days where I feel like, “Oh my gosh, this patient is so complex! Why did I take them into private practice? I’m going to be a solo provider.” And there're days when I feel the same way when I’m working my full-time job, which is my turning point, “Oh thank gosh I have a team to help me with this complex patient.”

Q: So you recently took a pretty big risk. Tell me about that.

So, the big risk, was moving out of my own, I’ve had a private practice for 4 years. But I was a part of another private practice; I was the only prescriber in that practice, but we had about 10 other therapists, acupuncturists. So I rented space in that area. Another situation in my life where things play out, we were walking down the street one day and my partner, and I had kind of talked about, my life partner and I, had kind of talked about finding a space that would work for both of us. Well, that’s kind of impossible when you really think about it.

We saw this handwritten sign on Market Street for rent and we happened to walk around back and see the floor plan, and we’re like, “Woah, this is like, designed for us.” So it was a big risk to step out and to take my own space. And I’m learning a whole lot of different little teeny tweaks that have to happen on my side of the space, like noise. How to prevent noise I didn’t think of. People talk on Starbucks’ patio. I had a noisemaker so he couldn’t hear us, but I forgot I don’t want to hear them. So it’s slowly growing there. So that was a big risk, and it was important to me to step out and be on my own. To do it for myself, to have the space reflect who I am. To have that comfort level for my patients as they come in and be less clinical than the setting I was in before that. That was important to me.

Q: How has the dynamic been different going from having a surrounding of people/support team, to having your own space with your life partner?

The little things I’m so used to walking in and doing clinical care. I’m doing clinical care right now, walk-in, put my bag down, where are my patients, pull my charts. That simple. And now I’m thinking, about things like is the kitchen floor clean on the way to the bathroom? How are we presenting ourselves to the patient? And that’s not something that I’ve actually thought about, and I didn’t even expect to have to think about that. That’s a big thing that has changed, is the responsibility for the environment; the environment that my patients are in. I actually have a had a couple patients, one patient, in particular, “Why’d you choose this space?” Because it was such a change, and my space is kind of hard to find. You can come off Market Street, and you’ll walk right through a photography studio and you’re like, “What the heck?” But it’s easy to come back, and that’s kind of been a fun saying I’ve been able to say to my patients. I’ve opened up more hours and have a lot of inquires and have probably added another 20 patients over the last 2 months. We opened Sept 1st officially, but I was increasing hours at the other place to bring them with me. But I would say to my patients as they get there for the first time, “It’s kind of hard to get here the first time, but it’s easy to come back.” And that’s such an awesome statement because it’s so true for that big decision to start to work on your mental wellness.

Laura: Absolutely. That statement also really struck me because it reminds me of an entrepreneur’s as well. It might be hard to get there at first, but it’s easy to come back to it. That gave me goose bumps just thinking about how that can apply in so many different levels of running a business. And being a patient, but also running a practice.

Bobbi: Being a patient is life. It’s just a moment where you actually sit there and actually reflect on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and commit to making changes for it. So I don’t see time with me, whether I’m doing a 30 min psychiatric med check or a 50 minute/hour of therapy, which includes wellness coaching, and all that. I don’t see it all that different in life. I want people to get the ideas on the work they have to do while they’re with me and then go out there and do the work. Because that’s what changes people lives.

Q:  [Do you feel] you empower them to give them the confidence to change their life.

I hope to. I think it’s a partnership, I believe it’s a partnership. You don’t empower all patients. Some patients come and say my mom said I have to come. I’m like, “Ok, cool. What do you want to talk about?” And truly that’s the story. And in that and itself can be therapy. You slowly develop rapport, but every patient is different. I do use the term patient although that’s a little controversial in my industry. When I’m working with therapists, they’re very… clients. And I use the word patient because I do come from that medical background and perspective. But I would say it’s an absolute partnership. Nothing that I can do to help somebody who isn’t open to it. And my true goal is to help people find their questions. Not their answers, but their questions that they need to ask themselves.

Q: How have you embraced all of those unique new things like, accounting and the kitchen floor and having to balance all of those things that you wouldn’t once think about?

I know, so accounting is not so new, I’ve managed that piece of it, having had my own practice for several years and actually having held positions in companies of leadership where I was managing the whole budget for a state. So the accounting is not as challenging, but it’s the day-to-day details that get me. I don’t hide the fact that I’m ADHD and truly ADHD, treated ADHD. And so those little details are easy to do in the beginning but for me just to sustain that to make sure that every time I come in, I am making sure the floor is swept, I am doing those things. That’s hard for me. That’s truly hard for me. It’s not as hard for me because it’s not important, it’s not as hard for me because it’s very easy to get caught up in that moment of your time with a patient is all that’s important. And that’s not true.

Q: How did you know that it was time to step out? What inside you said, “You know what, this is my time right now.”

I think I hit a point where I had helped a lot of other people to get their stuff started, and I said you know what, this is my time. It was that simple; I was just like I can’t put this off forever. I want quality of life. And in the practice of healthcare that often goes by the wayside. You would think we know all this stuff; we should know what to do for ourselves. You put it on the side because there is never enough of us and the need to provide more care. Somebody has what feels like a critical need, and you prioritize that over yourself. And so for me it became quality of life. And really being able to manage the time with a patient. When you’re working in any corporation, profit, non-profit, and practicing psychiatry, the schedule is at least every 15 minutes you’re seeing a patient. And often times that’s a double or a triple booked hour. And so you will walk out to a patient, and I’m nerdy about it and I don’t want to run late, I think it’s disrespectful, my patient’s time is as valuable as mine, even if they’re on disability and can’t work. But in some settings, in some practices, they walk out to patients 2 hours late. And they’re like come on back, it’s your time. But what about that patient’s 2 hours? That’s not very validating. And that’s defeating. So I wanted to be able to spend time with my patients, and I could not do that if I did not work for myself because that’s not the traditional set-up. The rationale for wanting to spend time with my patients is that it’s for me too. I want to feel good about the work I do. I want to know people. I want to know what makes them tick and make a difference because of that. In 15 minutes or 8 minutes, depending on how your day has been, you really can’t talk to somebody about how they are sleeping, how they are eating. It becomes basically an, “Are you taking your meds? Are you doing drugs? And it’s good, see ya in a month, here’s your scripts.” And for me that’s a failure. Because if they say, “I’m depressed.” And I increase their anti-depressant because of that, and I haven’t said, “Are you sleeping?” and truly they’re not sleeping. It’s not because they’re depressed. It’s because they have been playing on their phone all night and exposing themselves to blue light, and we haven’t addressed that, then I’m chasing the wrong problem completely with meds. So the value to me was truly the ability to spend time with patients.

Q: How do you decompress? Because I’m sure you absorb a lot of information on a daily basis. How do you release that so that you’re not absorbing that into your own life?

You know, it’s difficult, and it’s a conscious effort. And I don’t do it all the time. I work hard on it, but not all the time. You know, I would say that probably one of the kind of trendier new words in talk is mindfulness, but mindfulness in itself covers everything. With how to change how you’re feeling. So for me, it’s making sure that I’m doing something that’s mindful. And that can really be something as simple as sitting on my porch and listening to the birds. I don’t have to go to an hour yoga class, I don’t have to meditate an hour a day, it’s moments for me. Because sitting still for me, for an hour, is hard. So I have to find the moments and remind myself. I do my best to when I’m commuting to Hagerstown, to listen to books that interest me on tape and they can be really helpful. So that’s where I find some time for myself.

Laura: I love that. I love that mindfulness doesn’t always have to be an orchestrated event.

Bobbi: No, it’s any moment and it’s where you live without judgment, and you know for this moment, I am going to be exactly where I am. I’m going to sit here and I’m going be present, and I’m not going to worry about what I have to do in the future or in the past because I can’t cause this pain. And because you have anxiety or shame or guilt or whatever comes up with that. So you can be in the moment for just a minute, you decrease your own suffering. I have times where I’m talking to my patients, and they’re talking to me about their practices and I’m like, you are so far ahead of me. I just feel so proud of them. I’m like, ok, I better go home and catch up on my own self-care here. So there’s always something to learn, from everyone.

Q: So what kind of fears are you struggling with now? Or what are the things that keep you up at night that maybe you’re working on?

The things that do weigh on me are things like staying current in my profession. You’re so busy doing the front line patient care and then seeing the patient and dealing with this issue, that there’s very little time to stay current. And so you’re pressured to do that, so if you’re working 8 hours a day, you’re probably working a 10-hour day at least, with looking at journals. With reading what alerts have come through, with staying on top of anything new. Because I’m accountable for that. So those are the things that stress me out. Is, did something come out this morning while I was seeing a patient? Did somebody not tell me that this is going on in their life? Did this spike? Patients don’t tell you everything. And in fact, that’s one of my rules, I share that. I hate to use the word rules, I’m anti-rule, but that’s one of the things that I really try to share with my patients, is look: If I ask you a question, and you don’t want to answer it, you don’t have to. You owe me nothing. So am I getting all the information? That does worry me. Am I making a difference? Is the patient who walked out of my office struggling last week? Will they be there today? Will they be feeling better? Because they are really struggling. So those kinds of things. I think that’s what weighs on me more than anything.

Q: How do you overcome some of those fears? Are there certain things that you do?

I just do the right things and try to stay current. And I also have some acceptance. I know that I am not the only one in a lot of cases touching the patients. In many of my patient situations, if they’re willing to see a therapist outside of me, that’s my preference, because always 2 points of view are good. Some come to me for meds; we’ll still do some, you know, solution focus therapy. We’re still going to talk about stuff, we’re still spending a half an hour together, but working with somebody else and knowing that there’s a team, that’s what helped for me. Helping a patient to identify their own team. That’s one of the first things I do when I start working with a patient is I say, “Who is there for you?” A lot of times you hear, nobody’s there for you. And we begin to look and say how do we develop those relationships? What can we do? Are you able to develop those relationships?

Q: And as a sole proprietor, do you have a team to support you in that aspect?

Yeah, I do. I am really blessed. I have incredible friends. The community was very excited when I opened up hours. Because I will see patients longer and I have a story that a lot of patients do hear, or a lot of therapists in the area do hear is, well they didn’t even see me, they didn’t even ask me any questions, they had their scripts written before I walked in the door. So I do get a lot of positive feedback especially from the community of therapists that I work with. In my personal life, I have some awesome best friends, I really do. 

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Everywhere! Everywhere inspiration comes, it surprises you. Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker, and I was like that is awesome! And I’m going to misquote it, it said: Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” And I love that because that is what I do. It’s a fine mix of comforting someone at the same time as saying you know, “You really want your life to continue that way?” How am I going to motivate you? In mental health, in general, we use a technique called motivational interviewing. And what that means is we are looking for what excites the patient or what motivates them. What motivates the patient, not what motivates us, because that doesn’t do anything. I don’t want you to do drugs because they are illegal, and they are bad for your kidneys and liver. Well, that doesn’t get you far. Now, why do you think you might not want to do drugs? You know at some point, and so we are looking for what excites the patient. So I do have to sometimes create a little bit of discomfort to motivate change. That’s where I get inspiration.
And finding your creativity is so critical, and so part of that is finding what makes you excited and how you can change lives and it doesn’t mean fine art. Fine art- awesome, if you’ve got that skill and that time and that’s your life, beautiful. You got it at your fingertips. But how do I help other people bring out that part of themselves that’s not robotic. How do I teach people to take their own risks? Everybody’s different I can’t tell you that there’s a secret formula.

Laura: Right. How bout those people who say, “I don’t have an ounce of creativity in my body. I have no creativity.”

Bobbi: We can find it. We can absolutely find it. I mean we just start talking about situations of how they have interacted with people, they work at Wal-Mart and how did they interact when this person couldn’t find it, what did they do? How did they come up with a solution that was not on their procedure book? And then they’ll go, “Wow, you’re right. You’re right.” “What did you do when you ran out of flour, the other day when you were making a cake? What did you do?”

Laura: That’s creativity. Creativity is not always the movement of the hand but how you evolve through a situation.

Bobbi: Yes, right, the flexibility of mind.

Q: What excited you about what you’re doing right now and the future you’re creating in this moment?

We all talk about the stigma of mental health, and I think that that’s cool that we don’t have a stigma around mental illness. The stigma of mental illness. But I think it’s deficient, that statement. I’m trying  to get rid of the stigma. If I asked you what you did at the gym, you’d tell me, in fact if we were talking and someone said, “Oh I work out.” Somebody else would probably volunteer information about what they do to keep their body healthy. But we don’t talk about what we do to keep our brain and our emotion and our spirit and our psyche healthy. And we should. It should be common place. So truly, I feel that by being real, by being authentic, absolutely one of my favorite words: Authentic and genuine. By being that, by telling people, hey I struggle too. You open up the world for people to become more comfortable with talking about this. The more we talk about it, the better we’ll become. Take the shame out but add the pride. Yeah, I do. I do go to a therapist. Or you know what, I do make sure that I sit and practice mindfulness for a period of time. Or I have this person in my life that I can really share my truth with, I can tell this person when my behavior’s not perfect because all of us have moments where we are imperfect. You keep struggling with the same thing, like that hamster. It’s the same thing over and over, but if it’s ok, to say you know what I really want to be able to bench press 150lbs. at the happy hour or with your friends in the library you’re going to get people to say, “Yeah. This is how I did it….” You’re creating a world or an environment where people want to talk about how they stay healthy.

Laura: Absolutely. And how do you think that plays into, specifically talking to entrepreneurs and risk-takers, taking care of their mental wellness. I love that word. Why is that so important for specifically entrepreneurs?

Bobbi: So I’m going to say selfishly, well I don’t know if I want to say selfishly, but for them to be selfish. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, if you’re going to take these risks, know why. Know why. And in my experience when you boil it down, most entrepreneurs don’t become entrepreneurs for dollars. That may be a piece of it, but there’s a lot more to it and if you’re not aware of what you are thinking and feeling. If you don’t take the time to check in with yourself and say, “Ok, I’m feeling anxious. Not good, not bad. It is what it is.” Or “Ok, I’m feeling joy.” Take this time to know that you are going to miss half the reward of being an entrepreneur. Finding the time, the awareness, that mindfulness, that being real, is where there are so many rewards that get missed. And specifically talking about entrepreneurs, because if you think about that one e-mail that set you off, that’s eating away at you. But 99% of your day was absolutely amazing but that 1%... Yeah, you feel it, you recognize it, you don’t judge it. When it comes back, you go there it is again, feeling shame, what’s next?

Q: Tell me about your promise form, you can read that to me and tell me what that means to you.

Yes! So, I won’t allow fear to stop me from living out loud. I had a crisis in, probably in May when Facebook said: you aren’t Living Out Loud, you’re Bobbi Duffy. And because I had been Living Out Loud on Facebook for so many years, I really had even identified with that. I even have the paperwork; I almost legally changed my name. That was a little bit of an emotional dis-regulation. It doesn’t really make sense to me, the pay off on that is pretty difficult to maintain my DEA License, my CES License, all my insurance, it would have been insane!

So Living Out Loud for me, and I do things backward, so forgive me for starting with that. But it is what it is. Ya know. So living out loud for me feels like a mission. It feels like a mission for me. I tell my truth, and that’s not because you’re stuck with it, that’s because my truth and my story are not what I look like on the outside, you know? I could tell you I’m a high-school dropout, but really I’m a high-school kick-out. I got kicked out of highschool in 9th grade, I have a GED, you know? I tell this story because that was traumatic for me and painful for me at that time and now it’s a joy for me because I can say to someone who’s like, “I can’t do anything.” “Are you kidding? I ran away to Hammer Jacks when I was 16. Are you kidding?” And so you are able to create a comfortable environment for people to share their humanness also. So that’s what living out loud to me means. This is what I am, and it’s ok. Fear for me can be so many things. The fears that plague me are the fears of not meeting somebody else’s needs. I struggled with choosing the word fear versus guilt. But I think fear really encompassed it more. During my day I try to live, and I didn’t create this, somebody else created this, but I have been practicing it without recognizing it for probably my whole work career and it’s what makes me so attractive to corporations is I do this 5-minute rule. If it takes less than 5 minutes, I’m doing it now, get it off my plate. That’s awesome. But you know what’s not awesome about that? In a 10-12 hour workday, I have the currency of about 155 minutes.

Q: What makes you a risk-taker?

Oh I don’t think I have a choice. I just don’t think I have a choice; I don’t think I think of them as risks. You know? I have a very low fear level beyond meeting someone else’s needs. So that’s where my fear lays. But other than that, I don’t feel afraid of things. My life has played out differently than some other’s and has always worked out beautifully. And I have an innate belief that when we do the right thing, it works out. I just believe that. You know, I ran a very big, the largest brand of the biggest mental health facility in the country for about 3 years and I would not step off of my statement of if we do the right thing, and we give patient care, the money will follow, and it does. I still believe that. So I don’t think that we’re taking risks when you’re doing something that feels good to your soul. I think it’s a risk not to do it. I think it’s a risk not to do it, and then we start to die, and we wither and we might become shells of who we are. Yeah like you often see life begins at the end of your comfort zone. There is some truth to that. I like being in my comfort zone some of the time, I don’t want to be uncomfortable all the time… But you know, sometimes challenging myself, coming here was… even this morning. I was like, I have a sore throat. I could get out of it but the reality was, I make my patients come and do this, you know share with someone they don’t know vulnerable. I don’t make them, but I offer them that opportunity, and if they can do it, I can do it.

I was coming here to expose myself. There was reason. If I go back and look at it like that then I’m creating a bad feeling associated with that. But now, I’m going wow look at that nervousness, let me create this pattern in my mind that nervousness can play out well. You know, so I will probably walk out of here feeling a little bouncy. A little bounce in my step because I have faced a fear. So you reframe the negative experiences you have or emotions you have by the actual experiences you do, so that you have them to look back on. Nervousness isn’t bad; it’s part of the process of life. And I am imperfect, and I mess up and I talk about the stuff and I do some of the stuff some of the time. But that’s just because we’re all human. I mean, you will hear me say, Human is as good as it gets. And that’s the truth. We are human.

Q: So what advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?

So I would probably give the same advice that I give to people when I teach about dementia or when I teach about dealing with some of the more chronic mental illnesses. Redefine success. Know why you’re going into and know what’s going to make you feel good. And redefine it constantly. Look for those opportunities to feel good, cause they’re there. They’re always there if you’re looking for them. And they’re still there if you miss them, but that’s really sad if you miss them. So it’s the little connections that make a difference. So re-define success, I would say be curious. Ask another question. I think that the most successful people we know, the people that we look up to are the ones that have said, “Hey, Why am I feeling this way?” or “Why do you want that?” Or if a client comes back to you, not even in psychiatry, in any business, and says, “Well I don’t like it this way.” Instead of saying, “Well that’s the way we have to do it.” Or “That’s what you said you wanted.” How about we find out why because that’s sometimes the solution, it’s so simple. But right there we do this work around, waste all this time and just learning about how someone feels. People might be surprised by that. So be curious. Invest your time wisely. Invest your time in what matters. Not in the things that you’re going to hit your head against the wall about all the time. Invest it in the things that make change. Those are the things that really stand out to me.

Liz King

Coaching HER

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me a little bit more about Liz and what you do.

So I am a wellness coach in Frederick, which basically combines life coaching with personal training. I started doing both separately and very quickly found that they completely go hand-in-hand. While I would be sort of working out with my clients and putting them through different personal training programs, we would start talking, and I would see there’s really some deeper issues going on here, and we would begin to strategize together on how to start addressing some of those other issues, outside of just the physical. I was completing my counseling degree at the time and started learning about this thing called life coaching and decided I was going to go through the certification process at the same time and found this totally goes together and just sort of created something out of it. I hadn’t really seen it done; it was not- there wasn’t really a model for it, I just have been creating a model as I go.

Laura: That’s pretty awesome. If no one else is doing it why not be the spearhead right?

Liz: Yeah, exactly. So I work with just women of all ages. I have clients from about 18 to about 72. Those are the ranges at the moment that I am currently working with. And a typical session can really go anywhere from come into my gym and let’s work out to let’s sit down and strategize some life transitions that they’re going through and how do we make steps towards these goals. It’s very goal focused, very oriented towards the future and how do we reach the things that we want to get to? So we come in, we talk through sort of their 3 initial goals and then hone it down into specific, measurable smart goals. And then start working towards that and it all surrounds wellness because I’m very much about mind, body and spiritual wellness. Let's bring this all together because it’s not just one.

Q: What is it about that that makes you tick? That makes you say you know what, I want to dedicate my life to this.

You know, great question. I just was seeing so many, women, in particular, that I was coming in contact with whether it was friends or co-workers or clients at the gym, just not feeling very empowered and very confident in who they were and just going through the motions and being ok with that. Just on the surface being ok, and then as we would dig deeper realizing they were not happy. And I found that as they would improve their physical health, they would start feeling better about themselves and then that would sort of charge them to go after some of their other dreams. Some of their bigger things, because they kind of got that little success under them, and it was more manageable for them. I can go to the gym, or I can eat right for a little while, and now I’m seeing the effects of that and as they built on that success, they would be a little bit more courageous to go after something else. And I loved it, and it made me so excited to see people creating tangible goals and being able to achieve it and to be able to be a part of the empowerment process just spurs me on. It challenges me, you know, as I’m seeing some of these women go and get these things, I am like… what am I doing? What do I need to be going after? So I feel like we build on each other, and it’s said because so often as we grow up we become competitive with one another. So that was something I specifically felt impassioned about is as a woman I want to not be a competitor, I want to be an encourager and a cheerleader and an ally to other women so that they can see, what we can become, when we work together when we encourage each other.

Q: So how did your business get started? What was kind of that initial risk-taking moment?

Yeah, you know, so I was living in an apartment complex years ago, and I had always worked with women, and especially youth and that was kind of how it started. I was working at a school as a residential program as a house parent, and so I had 12 teenage girls in my home, and my husband I would live in a little apartment next to that and we did everything to sort of raise them and send them to school. I started creating a wellness program within that home for these girls because a lot of them came out of a life of poverty or hardship and didn’t have these life skills. They didn’t really know a lot about how to develop healthy patterns, so I started just teaching to that naturally through life skills, meal preparation. We would work out together every day after school; we would do some sort of exercise program. I have been a runner for most of my life, so I kind of started them on a running program, and it developed out of that, and when we left that school I kind of wanted to keep with this, I really liked where this was going. I liked developing wellness programs. So we moved into this apartment complex, and I just started putting up flyers around the complex of – “Hey any women who want to work out in their own backyard, let’s meet in the fitness room, contact me.” And so I had a number of bites, and I would meet them down in the apartment gym/fitness room, and we would start working out and then I would kind of create this program based on what they needed specifically. And they are always tailored to the client, so I don’t really have one size fits all, it’s very much what is this woman need right now and how do we get it. I then contacted a woman’s gym that was in the area we had found and just sort of strolled in there one day and said, “Hey, what kind of wellness program do you guys have? This is what I do.” And she said well let’s talk, so we ended up creating a program for the women, they had a few women who were kind of doing personal training but it wasn’t really going beyond that, I said let’s bring a nutrition piece into it. Let’s bring an empowerment piece into it, and we kind of created this program. We brought in some other trainers that we were able to train and set up in that. And I was doing that for a while, and that was really safe and easy and I enjoyed it. I loved my clients, but as time went on I realized ok I’m kind of complacent here, and this is pretty easy and I feel like maybe, I need to be doing a little bit more.

My husband had gotten a new job, and we were considering Frederick, as a place to more as sort of a middle ground. We found this great location and I thought you know, this could work, I could sort of do my own thing and not be under the protection of a gym and not go meet at people’s houses, I could actually do this. It was so scary, and we went back and forth for months, and he’s like, you can do it, you know you can, and I was like but what if it fails? We were sitting outside on the deck on Easter, and I remember we were playing cards and I said ok if I flip down a 5 then we’ll just move to Frederick and do it. And I flipped down a 5 and I throw the whole deck! I was like Oh My Gosh! And he said what do you think about that? I said I think that we need to just do it then.

So we made plans and like two months later we had moved into Frederick, and I had set up my studio there right on East and Patrick, right by Shabro. I just started hitting the streets and meeting a lot of the entrepreneurs. It’s incredible, and honestly, I think that sometimes, I really am not doing anything, this is just happening.

Q: So what kind of unexpected things have popped up along the way?

You know, because I didn’t really have a formula for this and didn’t go in with a plan, we had sort of tried other businesses in the past, my husband and I, this is was sort of, I’m just going to go in and sort of see what happens. I know what I’m doing, I know where I want to go, and let’s just see. So obviously with that, it’s all unexpected really. I had basically taken a home that was sort of business offices for a while and turned it into a studio/ a sitting area and sort of a mini gym. And I had so many thoughts of are people going to walk in and be like what is this? This is weird, this is a home, you know? And so far that hasn’t happened, which is great. So that unexpected and just doubting, are they going to get any value out of this, you know, because it’s a small area and wanting to sort of incorporate group work into it, I haven’t really been able to get there yet. I tried to reach out and network a little bit with some other organizations and communities, and that just wasn’t really happening so, just those few things along the way of like, Oh… I feel like each time that happens it’s because I’m trying to force something or push something and it keeps bringing me back to like, “no this is really where I need to be right now.” And what I’m doing is enough, and it’s often times that thought of maybe I need to be doing more, or maybe I need to be branching out there? And I just keep coming back to that no, this is really enough right now, these women’s lives that I’m impacting and working with, and one on one is good. It should not be minimized, and I feel like as I’ve been sort of looking out elsewhere that’s sort of what I’m doing. And so that has been sort of a new realization with me as it doesn’t always have to be bigger and better and everywhere right now, this is good. What I’m doing each person’s life, and each individual matters. If I can be a positive impact just there, then that’s amazing. It doesn’t have to be these big things and big productions. I guess that was kind of the positive unexpected, you know, I’m trying to push something, and it’s right there already.

Laura: I think what you’re saying is really, really, important to follow that intuition when you’re trying to do something, and it’s just not working.

Liz: Timing is everything. It’s a tough thing to figure out sometimes. And a lot of that is just by pushing, pushing, ok this door is not opening… I guess I’m going to go this way. And I’m all about big dreams and going for big things but I also as I often say to many clients, you know, that success does not happen in one huge leap, it happens in 1000 tiny little steps. And that’s kind of how this is. Sometimes we want to make that one big leap because maybe it’s even a little bit easier than taking those small little steps and learning through the process. And this whole thing is a process; it’s a journey.

Q: So what characteristics do you think that you portray that help define your success?

That’s a good point, because sometimes it feels like that to me too, “Wow, why is this so easy, this should be harder.” And it’s not, because when you stop and realize every single day the things that I have been doing to get to this point… whether it’s pounding the pavement to get my name out there and presenting it and seeing, will people think that this is ridiculous or will they actually accept me? I spent the first 3 months we were in Frederick, almost daily, doing that, just going around town and trying to figure out this community and what’s it like. And it was scary because there are so many signs out there, like no soliciting, don’t bother us and I’m like oh boy are they going to kick me out? Are they going to be like what are you doing? So there’s those fears and just thinking like, I just got to do it, because you’re not meeting anybody until you actually get out there. And then trying to figure out the marketing piece and how do I market this? How do I use social media because I’m bot a big social media person and thank god my husband is, and so he’s really so helpful in that piece. And I think that goes a little bit with this too, is having that cheerleader, having that person, who stands behind you when you are starting to doubt and fear who’s saying, “No you can totally do this.” And that was big time because I don’t know if I would have left so early to come and do this Frederick thing if I didn’t feel like he fully believed and supported me. [He was] like, you know what, if you fall on your face, you’ll just pick yourself up, and we’ll pick something else.

And I think having that support is really big and whatever it is. Like a coach, like me, or a spouse or a friend or a partner. It feels easy because I love it so much, and I enjoy it. But it’s not, I have to work really hard to maintain these relationships with these clients and to provide an excellent service and to actually help them reach their goals. I mean, I wouldn’t be in business if that wasn’t happening and so that’s where the hard work comes in, the actual job and in the relationship development and providing the correct strategies that they need. And meeting that client where they’re at and finding that balance between giving them what they need but also doing what I need for my business, as well. Sometimes I need to block out this hour because I actually need to put a Facebook post up, or whatever, that is, I still need to be out there and I feel like with my personal experience that the hard work comes in the day-to-day and the sort of providing that value to the clients. I have this feeling that I need to provide value far beyond what I charge.

Q: In all the interviews that we’ve done, one of the characteristics that carries across the board is, “I’m not in this for money.” But the goal is behind helping people and being a positive impact on somebody’s life.

That is key right there. I agree. Because as soon as you start trying to chase down the money, then the other things that really are of importance just sort of fall. And that’s where it becomes that sort of feeling of the rat race or the treadmill, or I’m just sort of spinning my wheels, not getting anywhere. I think the focus is just on the wrong thing. And yeah you’re right, it’s never really been about that. That’s probably also why it doesn’t feel as challenging and as hard work. I just feel like I get to do this every day. And it’s still tiring, it’s still hard sometimes. But you know it’s just amazing!

I try to remind myself sometimes when I wake up, because I start at 5:30 in the morning with my first client and I’m tired, you know, I’m tired when that alarm goes off and don’t always want to get up. But I think of myself like, I get to hang out with 8 friends today. It’s how I kind of see it, I have 8 women coming in and we get to hang out for the hour and figure out where they’re at and what they’re struggling with and how do they leave feeling more empowered and ready to take on whatever they walked in carrying. And that’s awesome!

Q: So you put a lot of energy out, how to fill your tank back up?

That is a great question. Something I am learning every day. Again I mention, my husband I think that’s a big one. I have to put boundaries in place because I will happily just go, go, go. And yeah you want to come at 8:30 tonight, sure, I understand you can’t fit it in any other time. And I’ve had to put those boundaries in place. I’ve had to stop seeing clients at this certain time. Barring any unforeseen emergencies or circumstances I really hold to that, because I need my evenings free to have that time with my family or to take some down time. I think it’s the hardest thing because it doesn’t stop in just my appointment; I’m emailing with these clients, sometimes texting, corresponding. I’m sending follow-up homework for them. And that was sort of the part that I’ve had to learn. I stop my appointments at 7 but now I’m texting and emailing until 9, and I’m still working. I’ve started carving out an hour here or an hour there during the day to do that so that when I’m done with my last client, I’m truly done for the night. And again that took a little bit of positive pressure from my husband of “you’re on your phone still, texting, and it’s 9 o’clock at night.” I always recommend my clients to be proactive because we don’t realize we’re burnt out and exhausted until it’s too late, and then we’re trying to catch up. So by being proactive and setting those structures in place ahead of time, prevents that from happening. And it’s not easy but it’s necessary.

The weekends are big for me as well. I used to meet with clients on Saturdays occasionally, and I stopped completely. I don’t do Saturday or Sunday now. That was a big. That was hard. Because you know Saturdays are an open day for a lot of people if they really want to. But I really found that if I sort of hold to that, they make the adjustments; they’ll find time that will work within their schedule. It may not be as convenient as a Saturday but if they are really wanting to work together, then they will make time. And I just learned you know what, I got to hold to it. And even if that means, I may lose this client, or I may lose this opportunity, this is more important, and it’s worked out. And I spend it with my family, then you know I have 2 step-daughters, and so we have them every other weekend and that is our time and you know, I’ve just committed to that, and I won’t see clients unless absolutely necessary but… You’re right it’s very easy to burn, and it is because you love it and you see the need and there’s need always. There will always be a need. Every corner, there’s always a good cause but, you have to make sure like you said, that your tank is full as well. And it’s funny people assume that I’m an extrovert because I have a lot of energy, and I’m fairly outgoing, but I recharge as an introvert. I really need that alone time because I’m with people all the time so getting that time on Friday evening or Sunday afternoon, just to be on my own and do whatever it is I want, I need that.

Q: Tell me about a time when you almost decided that it was, “I’m done.”

Probably once a month. I don’t know if I’ve necessarily thought, “I’m done.” But it has definitely been, “Am I doing this the right way?” It’s really interesting how this has happened; there’s twice now in the last couple of years, where I’ve thought, “Am I even making a difference? Am I just wasting people’s and my time?” Because it’s hard, this is a long journey and it’s a process. I mean anytime somebody comes and wants to make these changes, it’s not going to happen overnight, and we’re going to go up, down, forwards and backward. And it’s hard, I get invested, obviously. And that’s something I’ve had to learn as well, speaking of how do I refuel. But there was a couple of times where I wasn’t seeing as much progress as I had hoped I would be seeing. I was questioning myself and thinking maybe it’s me; I’m not providing the right strategies or the right support, and I thought maybe I just need to take a break for a while and do something else. Just go to a 9-5 job to not think for a while. And both times, it’s incredible, both times I woke up and had 4 new contacts through my website of women wanting to meet and set up appointments.

So the first time it happened I’m like that’s interesting. Ok, I guess it’s not today. And then again the next time, probably 5 months later, it was exactly the same thing, and so it just keeps you going. I think I’ve learned that it’s not really me. Like, I’m not providing any special strategy or recipe where they’re just going to be a success. As soon as I started realizing that, I stopped tying the success for the client into my abilities and into what I can do and realizing you know, I’m here to support them, and they’re going to do this at their pace and at their ability. Then it became much less pressure. You know when you care about somebody, anybody in your life, you want them to just be nothing but successful, and you want everything to be easy. But in my own life you have to step back and realize it’s the struggles that make you better and that make you stronger. It’s the same thing in this. It’s like with your children, you know sometimes you have to sort of let them just struggle, and not step in as much as you want to. It’s the same thing, not to compare my clients to children, but you know it’s with anybody... you have to, cause that’s where the growth is going to come and that’s where that new awareness and Aha! is going to come from -  is when they’re fighting for it. You know, that’s not always an easy thing to sort of sit and allow and watch when you’re objective, “If you just do this…”

Q: And how would you apply that to yourself as an entrepreneur? Not just in your clients but in your own personal journey?

I have to have these little conversations all the time, what would you say to a client? I really do that, and it’s the same things, these struggles are what have made me who I am, I’ve gone through a lot in my life. And really would not have seen me here 6 years ago. And sometimes, I’ve thought those struggles were what kind of made me who I am and were preventing me from doing this. And who am I? I struggled through all of that, but that’s actually what’s equipped me and made me able to do this and experience some very difficult circumstances. Because of that I feel like I’m on the other side of that. I mean we do it every day, we struggle every day, and those big things, being on the other side and finding success in that and finding strength and growth through that, I find this actually does equip me. Rather than hinder me, which is what I maybe would have initially thought.

I was just telling a client this morning that gold is refined through fire, and it does not become pure unless it’s put through that extreme heat and that’s the same with us. We go through these extreme heats, these extreme trials, and we come out better refined, more purified on the other side through that. Our character, that’s how it’s developed.

Q: So if a younger version of Liz sat down next to you today, what would you tell her?

Oh my goodness, hang in there. You know, I would honestly say, you’re going to come up against a lot of things that you never would have thought you would, in your early years, in your 20’s, you’re going to hit 30 and be shocked at what you’ve lived through. But, through that you’re going to change your life and hopefully impact others. And so just keep pushing through and trusting and having faith that it will really all work out and that it will be for yours and other’s good. Because it’s hard to know that when you’re in the midst.

You know we go to college with these dreams and plans and desires, and you think, you have it all figured out. And it’s interesting to look back 15-20 years later and see where you’re at and where you thought you were going. I was thinking oh, I’m going to be a hospitality & tourism major. I’ve always had that pull, but then I started working overseas with humanitarian aid organizations and missions organizations for like 6 years.  It’s like wow I’m traveling but in a totally different way than I ever thought I would have. Then I think, I’m going to open an orphanage in Africa, and then I come back and end up working in a home for impoverished and underprivileged kids and again totally did not expect it to be that way. But we have these ideas, that sort of stay with us. They just take shape and form in such different ways than you could ever imagine until you’re on the other side looking back, and you’re like, so that’s what that really meant, that’s what that desire was, or that pull.

Q: Tell me about your promise form. What that says and what that means to you.

I won’t allow my doubts and fears to stop me from chasing down my dreams. I think what happens is we look at these people, these risk-takers, which is amazing how you interview all these people and empower others through that, which I love by the way. And you look at them and you assume they just don’t have fear, or they’re fearless, or I can’t do that, I don’t have that kind of courage or bravery. But I don’t know about others, but I play daily with doubts and fears. I guess that’s the essence of being a risk-taker, right? You see the risk, you understand that it’s scary, and then you choose to go after it anyway. But that’s not to say that fear is absent. And I’ve always said that it’s not the absence of fear; it’s recognizing the fear and being willing to face it. You know the whole thing with fear is that big acronym False Evidence Appearing Real, and I often remind myself of that. The best way to counter fear is with truth because fear is often times not true it’s false, or it’s our own idea of what we think. So by just speaking truth to that - that’s what I have to do all the time, which I think a lot of people probably do more than we talk about, so yeah I just think that that’s especially important to me. The fear more than anything, the doubts are just little versions of that and become bigger when you let them. When you don’t, put them in their place. A big thing with me is replacing toxic negative thoughts with positive thoughts, and sometimes that happens once or twice a day and sometimes that happens 30 times a day depending on what that is, but, being willing to change that internal self-talk. That talk that we tell ourselves, that’s like you’re not good enough, don’t do it, you have nothing to offer. Then you turn it around and say, I do, I love this person, I want the best for them, I’m a support to them, I’m willing to be there for them when nobody else is. You just have to start taking those negative thoughts and replacing them with truth. With positive. And sometimes they don’t always feel genuine, sometimes you have to force it a little but it does take shape.

Q: What advice would you give an entrepreneur that’s just starting out or is just ready to take that leap?

It’s funny because I don’t often think of myself as an entrepreneur. And I know, I have started my business... but I have said for many years, oh I’m not an entrepreneur, I just sort of do what I love and it might just be a business and make money on my own, but I don’t know… I’ve always thought of entrepreneurs as sort of like, these big business people and who take on these huge endeavors and create this massive thing out of nothing and that’s probably one thing I would say to somebody who has a dream and isn’t really sure of what’s to come of it. It’s ok to start small. It’s ok to not feel like you have to be the next Rockefeller. Just begin there and let it go when you’ve done that- check it off- and move on to your next thing. Just trust your heart and your gut, go with it. Go with what you think, even if it seems a little crazy- go with it. If it’s something you’re passionate about and excited about, then there’s a reason for that. It’s in you, there’s a calling in you for something and follow that because we again said earlier, it’s not about the money; it’s about doing what you’ve been created to do. Fulfilling that thing that you specifically can do that nobody else can. It’s funny because my husband and I are very different in the way we think, he’s very big picture, and go all the way, go. And I’m like well let’s break down the small steps, and maybe that’s why I feel like I’ve built something far beyond what I thought just by doing those little things at a time and letting it build naturally.

Loren Martin


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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me a little bit about you.

I have three kids, an awesome wife and I run a shoe store in Greencastle, Pennsylvania. I am 4th generation in the family business. So it’s been an interesting dynamic starting out with family, and now I’m on my own. So that’s my business end. I love water sports, I love to snow ski, so I’m outdoorsy in that area. But I’m not necessarily a team sports person. I’m not a football fan or anything like that but just an outside person.

Q: So tell me about the evolution of coming through the family business. How did you know that that was something you wanted to do versus something that you felt like you had to do?

That’s an interesting question because honestly, my father very much promoted that this is the path I should take. Didn’t necessarily have all the strong pulling away from it. Seasons of my life I felt like, “Why did I choose this?” And probably the biggest time period of this is when my father retired out of the business, and it was just my brother and I, I guess, for about five years. It was a 50/50, and I would never promote a 50/50 partnership ever. They were not real great years, and it basically got to a point where I needed to say you or me. So, that happened in 2012, and that was probably one of my biggest, biggest risks I ever took, really.

Laura: Taking on the business?

Loren: Well just, we had a buy/sell and so it was if I offered him, this is what I will pay you for your share, if he said no, I had to accept that. So it was either I get it all or I lose it all.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with what helped you come to the conclusion that it was best to separate [from your business partnership]?

Probably the biggest thing there was, we weren’t equal on our goals and our dreams for the shoe business. He had other interests and he was pursuing them, and so I felt like we I was doing the majority of the labor, the mental labor as well as wanting to build it, he was just coming along for the nice ride. So that was probably, you know, there’s security in partnerships of having that extra person, but when they’re not pulling the same direction, it’s just a big mental drain. And emotional.

Q: After that transition happened, how do you feel like you were able to evolve as a business person?

I would say probably more than anything it was… well from the business end of it, I was able to put my stamp on it, so to speak. My look to the product. I would say it made me step up to the plate as a business person, not only with staff, make me increase my leadership in the business. Because that was it. It’s me or no one.

Q: What kind of habits do you have on a daily basis that help play into your success?

Good or bad? I would say I’m a very focused individual. So when I am at work, I’m focused whole-heartedly on what is there to do. Probably a habit is, I never stop thinking about it. It’s always, what can I do, what can I change, how can I improve? And that is also a bad habit too.

Laura: I was going to touch on that too! So on the flip side of that, how do you turn that off, because when you are running things that’s a common trait of a risk-taker; not shutting off.

Loren: I will say I have developed, when I leave the store, I do tend to shut it off. Even if I bring work home, it’s not all consuming.

Laura: Do you feel like that was something you had to train yourself in to? Or do you feel like that was just natural for you?

Loren: I would say I don’t know that I had to train, I think it was almost a natural instinct, I’m not sure how it came about. Maybe it was self-survival. I can’t think about it anymore.

Q: Because your family works very closely with you in your business, how do you separate and balance work-life and home-life and keep those waters from crossing?

We talk some about the business at home and maybe goals and dreams for it but not a whole lot.

Laura: So how would you recommend to other entrepreneurs who are maybe struggling with that to be able to let go, to be able to not let it consume you?

Loren: I think two things: I think a separate location helps. You know there’s the physical separation of I’m no longer here, that’s where all my stuff is. And not taking all that stuff with you all the time, that helps. I don’t have all my family involved in the business, and my oldest son was involved for a while, and now my youngest son is. We’re not always thinking about the shoe store because we have different interests, and I think just keeping that, this is more important than the business end. Keeping that alive and just the inner workings of the relationships that you have there outside of the business. And keep talking about their lives and that helps keep that balance.

Q: What types of unexpected things have popped up along the way?

Well we decided to buy a restaurant, a few years back. That was not in the plans. That didn’t end well. That was the biggest, wow where did that come from? Another partnership that wasn’t really a great idea there…

Laura: Okay, moral of the story is: just go solo.

Loren: Just go solo. Yeah for me anyhow… I realize that could be different in different people but if your dream’s big enough and you’re the one behind the dream, it should be, it needs to be, you should go solo. I think some of that was probably my own disillusionment with my partnership at the shoe store. And not seeing like an out, of being able to make something my own, so the opportunity came up for Carissa to get involved in a restaurant and then the opportunity was there to be ownership and probably the biggest mistake there was thinking that personal involvement was the answer. Sometimes business ideas just need to die.

Q: How do you know when it’s time to work through something, when you are having an obstacle or it’s time to dissolve something?

I don’t know that you can pinpoint that without being in it and then the hard part is when you’re in it, is letting go. And saying you know what, this –no matter how much money we throw at it- it’s not going to make it. Or the answer is: I don’t have enough money to throw at it.

Q: What about company culture? What does company culture mean to you?

It means a lot. Probably the biggest thing is it’s almost like a second family. Probably to an err of maybe too relaxed in some cases. We sort of have the joke that even if you quit, you’ll be back. I’ve rehired probably 5-6 people. So they leave or move away, and they actually end up coming back. It’s been interesting. I mean, it is a great working atmosphere and I would say most of my staff would answer that same way.

Q: What types of sacrifices have you made to be a business owner?

I would say probably the biggest thing is the amount of time invested. There is a huge sacrifice on the time end. Probably have missed out on some things with my kids and opportunities there because of what I invested, time-wise.

Laura: And do you feel like that’s been worth it? Has that reciprocated to come back around full circle? I mean time away from kids is never replaceable, but…

Loren: Yeah, I would say it’s just maybe created different seasons where they were going through things, and I might not have been as much involved because of business. I won’t say that I have any bad relationships now, but things are very good, and then you look back and say they could have been good all along, and I maybe missed a 2 or 3-year window in there that I wasn’t involved as much.

Q: How has running a business blossomed your family? How has it made a positive impact on your life?

I think, being that I grew up in a business, there is life principles that having young kids involved in a business and the life lessons learned, whether it’s the ability to earn money at a young age, and then how they spend their money, that to me is priceless. And when I hear my kids talk about their peers and say, “Dad, you’ve taught me so much.” About money and how to handle money and just life in general, that I would say, that opportunity of being a business owner and being able to provide them a way to be involved is just priceless. And I think that’s missed a lot in our culture.

Q: So a younger version of Loren plops down beside you, what advice would you give him?

Don’t wait so long. Be a little more aggressive, at an even younger age. I think I look back a different seasons and I just kind of coasted along, thinking ok, my time will come, my time will come, instead of maybe making things happen a little bit sooner.

Q: Absolutely, So what’s next? What are you pumped up about?

We have dreams of additional locations for our business, whether they look exactly like ELM Shoes or something different. That’s what’s on the horizon. I mean right now we are in the middle of a huge remodeling project, that’s totally revamping the store, and that’s been really cool. Just being able to put, again, my mark on the business. And this is what I want it to look like. So that’s what’s happening now. But in the future, I do see additional locations and that’s always been a dream. Always been something that I’ve wanted to work towards.

Q: Talk to me a little about evolving a business because I’m sure it’s not the same today as it was in 2012 when you took things over.

No, I mean we have definitely evolved. We were always known as the Grandma’s store or the old people’s store. We’ve definitely continued to bring in different influences of products and attract a younger consumer. Probably one of the coolest things is when three and four generations come in the store, and you are able to actually reach each of the generations and they are happy. Probably the most recent one was like, about 3 weeks ago. There was 4 generations and they all bought shoes. And they were four ladies and they were all excited about the product that they were buying and that was a cool experience. Because it’s something that we have been working towards for a long time. Yes we have carried more mature because they were more comfortable shoes, and that’s always been our niche, but you know, comfortable shoes don’t have to look like grandma shoes. So getting to that point, where we have something for multiple generations has been a big goal.

Laura: Okay. So what I’m hearing from that, though, is you didn’t just flip that overnight because that could be a risk, that could fall flat, it’s been a slow graduation, so change isn’t always immediate.

Loren: And that’s always the hard part, you know, because it isn’t immediate, you’re thinking okay, am I really going where I want to go? Maybe we’re bringing in a product, and it’s maybe not selling as quickly as you want it to. But it’s finally happening, so it’s exciting! But it has been a long process. Patience is a characteristic to embrace.

Q: Tell me about your promise form and what that says and what that means to you.

It says I will not allow the what ifs to stop me from pursuing my dreams. I think a lot, so you know I roll around what if this happens, and what if that happens… And it can paralyze me or just slow me down so I will say I don’t want to take that risk. Maybe I just need to be a little more conservative. I think that’s probably the biggest what if for me is, and it’s kind of the negatives of a sole proprietor. When there is a partner you have someone there, he or she can pick up the slack. When you’re the one, it’s all or nothing, and the what ifs and the what if I can’t get it all accomplished, what if all my key employees decide to walk out the door, or not because they were leaving but because they had a better offer or whatever, so that’s probably the biggest things of, what if I can’t pull this off? This may be my dream but what if I just can’t do it all.

Laura: Right. And how do you combat yourself?

Loren: Just keep pushing. I was always taught, you know, no one can do it quite as good as you can. So that’s a continual releasing for me. Just keep pushing myself to let this go, let someone else do this. So

Q: What makes you a risk-taker?

I probably would have never really saw myself as a risk-taker. You know, growing up in a business you always had the previous generations’ safety net. I would say when we stepped out and got involved in the restaurant, was probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken personally. I think even though it didn’t end well and it cost us a lot of money, that probably pushed me more to be a risk-taker, I don’t know if I would have went through that failure whether I would have actually made the – took the risk to say with my business partner, “It’s either you or I.” You know, go forward with ELM Shoes.

Laura: It’s an interesting cycle that actually gave you more power. I think maybe part of that showed you that even if something falls down, it doesn’t mean you have to stop completely.

Loren: That’s correct. I would say you’re right there. And probably just because I didn’t have to start ELM Shoes, it was already up and running. It’s much easier to continue to tweak an existing business versus starting it and so I think I never really had that big risk to step out there, which probably changed, I mean it effects you as a person when you go through something that you thought was going to happen, and then it goes poof. Implodes. And I think what you said, just going through hardship does really fuel you to keep pushing on. Or you can let it conquer you. It is a choice.

Q: So what advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur? Somebody that’s kind of on the fence of something or maybe going through a difficult time…

I would say probably when you start it doesn’t have to look like the finished product. I think too often people have this huge grand scheme that they want their idea to look like and realize that it’s going to start over here, and it’s going to get over here. Don’t get disillusioned; don’t get discouraged, you’ll get to there. But it can’t start there all the time.

Paul Pfau

The Voice Season 8

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me a little bit about yourself.

As far as the music thing goes, I started playing guitar when I was 14. And I tried doing like trumpet and piano and things like that, and it just didn’t click. But when I started playing guitar when I was 14 some family friends of ours had some kids playing guitars and kind of showed me how to read tabs and things like that so, I started with that and through high school I was in a rock band and just a guitar player. I didn’t really start singing until my senior year of high school, and that was chronicled on The Voice. They showed my first time singing in front of people. I forgot the words, you know, but there’s just something about being on stage and having that connection with people that really stuck with me, even though I screwed it up. And so I just kept doing it, I started writing songs when I got into college and started performing a little bit to pay the bills. I initially did a lot of cover gigs and things. I ended up blowing my voice out, singing like 5 nights a week and doing like 4-hour gigs and just realized that that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. And I guess that’s kind of like where the risk-taking began. Because I decided once I came back from that, to start doing just original stuff and doing that you’re trying to be an artist rather than just a cover musician. You have to work a lot harder to bring people out to your shows because there’s a cover now at the door. Do people like what you’re doing? And so that was kind of almost a step back. Like taking a step back just to reset everything. But right after that happened is when The Voice came around. And it kind of helped take that to a more comfortable level. Now I’m here. So, that was kind of an abridged version.

Q: So, I love what you were saying about kind of the step back before moving forward. We were talking about being an artist and when someone is critiquing your personal art how that can be really detrimental or when someone is praising you.

Detrimental too! Like I think it’s almost more detrimental to get praise all the time because you get comfortable. You get like, “Oh ok, I’m doing alright.” So you kind of relax a little bit. I mean, that was a big part of the reason why I moved to Nashville a few months ago. I was feeling a little bit too comfortable here. I feel like I had done everything in this area that I wanted to do, like the Blues Festival, Western Maryland Blues Festival. And like some of the bigger venues, like I set those goals for myself and achieved those and it’s like ok, now what do I do? So I had to re-align and think of a more sustainable model rather than just getting a gig at one club in one city. And so that was kind of why I went down there. Just the industry there, there’s a lot of songwriters there and that’s kind of where the path has been taking me I guess; more into a songwriting thing. Obviously I still perform all the time, but I’m trying to build that side of things too and writing for other people and writing stuff for myself and so that was a big reason. Especially after being on a show like The Voice in a small town like Myersville and stuff, it’s just like, everyone you see is just like, “You’re doing great! You’re doing great!” I’ve always been fueled by people telling me that I was not doing great. You know, when I first started playing, my family was like, “Hey stop playing! Stop singing!” (Mostly my brothers and sisters.) My parents were always supportive even though they probably thought the same thing. But no, I think that’s what fuels me. I feel like there is probably a lot of other people that feel the same. Because when someone tells you you can’t do something, if you really believe that you can, then it just kind of gives you something to prove.

I felt like that for a while, here. And I felt like I needed to hop into another place. Being in Nashville, you just shake a tree and 100 guitar players fall down that are better than you. And so it just gives you something to aspire to.

Laura: I love what you said about how when you’re comfortable, when everyone is giving you that praise, it’s not really a time where you’re necessarily growing.

Paul: I mean, we’re talking about there’s a selfishness to art. I feel like that’s like an ego fueled thing and I feel like when people are praising you it’s just feeding that ego and you’re like, “Alright, I’m doing the right thing, I don’t have to work as hard.” And I hate feeling like that. It’s nice to get that praise but I feel like, I think most creative people are always two or three steps ahead of themselves in their mind. So what they’re putting out now, is not something that they are necessarily happy with, they might have been happy with it a month ago, but it’s kind of like on to the next. I think that’s kind of an important feature/trait, in a creative person.

Q: The Voice? Huge part of your life. How did that transition you or mold you or shape you into where you are now?

Totally random too. Well you know it gave me a bigger audience, which was kind of what I needed. I mean, obviously everybody needs an audience that’s doing what I’m doing. But like I said, I was doing these cover gigs and things. I got this nodule; I couldn’t sing for 6 months, I had to like refocus everything. And right when I came back to singing, I got a phone call from them to come out for a private audition. I never saw myself as one of those kind of singers, that would be on a TV show, cause I don’t think I have any kind of crazy acrobatic range or anything; I stick to kind of one style of singing. So the whole time, it was kind of cool for me because I was just like, well they called me, so I’m just going to be myself and do my thing. Because I feel like a lot of people are really trying to get on those shows or like, so should I sing like this person, or should I sing like this person? So I just kind of stuck to what I do and on those shows you kind of have to pick a path and I kind of did random stuff. I did Sinatra, Beatles, John Mayer. And it was hard I guess for Pharrell to figure out which lane I was going to be in. But I got out of it what I wanted to since I started the transformation to being more of an artist and focusing more on creating original songs and things like that. I had already had an album out before that show, so once that show had gone up there it kind of opened more people’s eyes to that creative side of me, and I’m glad it happened at that time, just because if it would have happened before I don’t know what I would have done. But it just helped the solo artist in me. It gave me a new sort of confidence, that like somebody like Pharrell believed in what I’m doing. So in that way it kind of made me, like, “ Alright, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” I feel like there’s crippling self-doubt that every artist has, and that kind of pushed it away for a while just enough so that I could be like, ok, this is what I need to do. But it always comes back.

Q: Tell me about the moment of just being on stage, whether it’s The Voice stage or a stage in a place in DC or just in your backyard around a campfire with your family.

How deep can I get here? I’m into energy, I guess. And I think that when you’re on stage, and everyone’s always searching for this specific moment where you kind of lose control of yourself, you’re kind of not responsible for what’s happening. And you’re connecting with the crowd, that’s connecting with you, it’s like this feedback loop that’s just happening. And it doesn’t happen all the time, you know? And I think that’s why so many artists chase that feeling because every once in a while it’s like, “That was is! I got it!” and then it’s like a drug, I need it again.

And that can happen anywhere. I’ve played shows for 4 people that that feeling has happened and played shows for thousands of people where that has happened. And so it’s the same feeling regardless like you were saying a campfire or whatever. But it’s a two-way street. And that was what I wasn’t getting from what I was doing, like those cover gigs and things, was you’re just background music to people, playing other people’s songs and maybe one or two people might come up to you later and be like, “Oh that was great!” But I feel like you have to have an audience that’s putting their guard down and allowing you to kind of enter into their space for a little bit and vice versa because that’s where it’s made, is between the audience member and the artist, I feel like anyway. There’s got to be a connection.

So there’s people that are like, oh the audience wasn’t clapping so I couldn’t get into it. You kind of have to create that for them because what I’ve noticed is a lot of times people in massive groups like that, can be a little uncomfortable with oh should I clap now? We’re always worried about what other people are thinking of us and so I feel like you have to allow the audience to be comfortable and sometimes that means taking a few on the chin. Like throwing a few bad jokes out there and embarrassing yourself for a minute, just so they know, ok, this is cool, this is comfortable. But I think the artist is in some ways, in most ways responsible for at least igniting the spark.

Q: How do you get influenced but then stay true to yourself?

Well, when I first started playing, I 100% would just copy. Like not creatively; I wouldn’t make something that was somebody else’s. I would just be in my room practicing - I came up as a blues guitar player - so I would listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton and literally just copy their licks note for note. And just try to get an idea of what was going on, on the guitar and what I could do with it. And eventually you start developing your own sound. I don’t think it’s like a conscious thing, necessarily, I think it’s something that just sort of happens over time. You start figuring out what parts of that you like and eventually it comes together in a way that is you. And once I feel like you cross that threshold, after that even if you try to copy somebody else, it still comes out in your own voice, in your own way. I’ve noticed, I’ve still been talking about just focusing on being an original artist, but I mean every once in a while you’ll still throw a cover out there just because maybe that song means something to you, maybe it’s a song that you think maybe someone else will connect with. I just feel like no matter what, at this point, when I play Fly Me To The Moon by Sinatra, I still feel like I’m doing it in my own way, even though when I learned it I was totally trying to copy what he was doing. But there is obviously things I can’t do that he can do, and so it ends up just coming out like... just do what feels right to you, I guess.

Q: What’s it feel like to venture out? Leaving the safety net, of everything you have always known?

Like nervousness, anxiety, terrifying. There’s a book called, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and he talks about resistance and how most people shy away from resistance but that should be your North Star, so I have always tried to look at stuff like that. So the most terrified I think I have ever been, for many factors, was I think during the battle rounds of The Voice. I decided not to use the guitar, and I’ve always performed with a guitar. A big part of it was the song we were doing. Me and Megan Lindsay were doing, “Don’t Let Me Down.” It’s a Beatles song; it was really emotional, and I just felt like it wouldn’t have fit if I was just playing the guitar, singing the song and just looking at her. I really felt like we had to get into it. Lionel Richie was our adviser, and he’s like the king of stage presence. But at the same time it was like learning how to be on stage for the first time ever. And like I didn’t know what to do with my other hand. Even just walking around, because when you play the guitar, you just stand in one spot. That was like the most scared I think I have ever been. I think if you watch the video of it, you can definitely tell how nervous I was, I think it affected my performance too. If you listen to the iTunes recording of it, it sounds great, obviously because no one was watching so you could just sing. Now a lot of times when I’m touring with other or sit in with other artists [and they ask] hey you want to come up and sing a song. So now I feel like I can just get up there with the microphone and just sing and be a little bit more comfortable. But I think that stuff is so important, you should make yourself feel like that often. You should because like we were talking about earlier, you get too comfy and just feel like you don’t produce as much, you don’t produce the same quality of stuff if you’re comfortable like that.

That’s the only way you can grow. There’s a lot of people I feel like get stuck doing something that they feel comfortable with and other people enjoy. I mean, there’s something to be said for that. Look at, ACDC, you know? They made the same music, non-stop their whole career, and they are legendary. But there’s people, somebody I like a lot, like John Mayer and I like how every album is something new, he’s always sort of challenging himself. I mean even like Ray LaMontagne did this like his last record was almost a pop record when he had been doing this like folky acoustic stuff, so I feel a lot of people when they like an artist, if they try to do something new, they get mad at them for doing something new. It’s like, I can’t remember who said it, but somebody said I don’t listen to the same music all the time, I’m constantly finding new stuff so why should I have to make the same music all the time? I feel like you got to stretch. Even if you’re afraid people aren’t going to like it, there’s always going to be somebody who’s like, oh that’s kind of cool.

Q: So tell me about a time that you were told “No.” And how that made you fight harder.

I have been told “No” a lot, but I’m trying to think of something like specific because to be honest with you it’s almost on a day-to-day basis. Like you get told no in some way or form or another. Recently I guess, I’ve been writing a bunch of new songs and submitting them for different publishing companies. As an artist, you try and get something in a like a movie or a commercial or something like that and almost every song you send in- is a no. It’s very hard to get like that one, and there’s thousands of people doing that but, no’s never turn me off. They never get me, “Oh I guess I’m not good at this.” Like having people on a level of Pharrell believing in me, in what I do. So that kind of stays within me. I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I may still make things that aren’t that good, but I still know this is what I’m supposed to be doing so I still have that- it’s almost like a foundation. So if I write a song and someone’s like oh the pedal steel isn’t syncable, we can’t sync that. Alright fine, I’ll do another one.

You need some yes’s! But the no’s are just as important, maybe even more important in their own way because it just makes you work harder. But I would say that recently, most of the no’s I’ve been getting are in that format: “This song isn’t that good.” And I’m like, “Cool, I’ll write another one.” Eventually, you put in the time; you know the whole 10 thousand hours thing?

Q: I love how you keep coming back to that person, that gives you any kind of confirmation. What kind of advice would you give someone that maybe needs that type of confirmation?

That’s right when I finished up that show thing, I was talking to a lot of younger kids and doing some school visits and things and the thing I would always tell them is to be yourself and to work as hard as you can. And it’s like the most obvious advice. It’s almost, you know; your parents tell you that, you want something profound. But really that’s the most profound thing I could think of. Being yourself is important because you’re the only person that’s like you. And there’s uniqueness to that, and there’s something special about that. So many people get lost in trying to act like someone else or be like someone else, and obviously you need mentors, and you need role models and people to look up to and people to aspire to be. But you need to do it in your own way, and a lot of that has to do with the working hard component. For example, when I first started playing guitar, I would play you know, every day but not that often, and I read this magazine article about Mark Tremonti, who’s a great guitar player; he’s in Creed. It’s funny to mention Creed in any capacity. But he’s an amazing guitar player, and he was one of my favorites at the time. He talked about how he practiced like 8 hours a day. So when I read that, I just put that on my wall and I practiced 8 hours a day, and just like I was talking about before, try copying other people when you first start, just to get an idea of how they approached the same thing you’re approaching. And if you do that with multiple people, you know, there are thousands of guitar players out there you could do that with, you kind of create your own basket of ideas and they kind of feed on each other and you create your own style through that. There’s no shame in that; there’s no shame in sounding different than anybody else. And that was my insecurity with doing the show, The Voice because I felt like I was not qualified to be there as a singer and that was what Pharrell kind of instilled in me. He was like, “No, man you got your own thing, you got your own lane, that’s awesome. Do that.” And so that’s like what I tell people: Don’t feel like you have to do something like someone else is doing, because it will get old. People are going to get tired of it. And people like new stuff. People are constantly craving new, new technology, new art, new music, new everything. So, and the other quote I guess that goes with that is, there’s always room for you- in whatever field it is- you just have to be good enough. And I think a lot of that just comes from working as hard as you can.

Q: Was there ever a moment when you were just like, “This isn’t for me. I’m not going to do this anymore.” ?

Yeah. I’d be lying to you if I said that still doesn’t happen day-to-day in some way or another. Usually, I’ll do these tours, I did a tour with my buddy Conner in July. And then after that was over I decided to take like 2 weeks off. And so, you finish up the tour, the tour’s great, you had some great shows, you traveled a lot, it was fun, you’re feeling on top of your game, and then you take 2 weeks off. And you’re like what am I doing? I should be out on the road, or I should be writing. So anytime I’m not doing anything, that’s when I get the crippling self-doubt, like should I even be doing this? But I feel like if you can keep creating, even if people are telling you it’s not good, as long as you’re throwing stuff out there- you’ll be happy with yourself. The most times that I wanted to quit was when I was doing the cover stuff. You know? Those gigs. I remember, I would host like open mics and things and just no one would show up so I would play the whole night. For like $100. For like 4 hours. Destroying my voice and I was like, this isn’t worth it. And I mean I have an economics degree, so I was like maybe I’ll get a job with that but every time I start to feel like that, there’s always, it’s like the night is darkest before the dawn. You know things always get so bad and then all of a sudden something happens where there’s like a little shimmer of light that you can follow and that’s happened a bunch of times. Again, it’s just another reason why I’ve continued to do it. It just like solidifies that this is what you need to be doing. Because anytime I think about doing something else, it’s almost like the universe is saying, “Hey! Over here! Go this way!”

And that happens all the time, and it’s back and forth. You’re always doubting yourself because I think that’s what makes great art anyways. You feel like you have to prove more, so you do more. You put more into it.

Q: How about staying humble through all of it, never getting too ahead of yourself or dwelling on the past too much? How about living in the moment that you’re given right now?

Again, that’s another reason why I had to leave this area, I feel I can go somewhere where everyone is better than you, you know? Because you get comfy in this and you’ll end up being that guy that stays in this area forever. That did that one thing and everyone adores you for doing that one thing. And then you don’t do anything else and I got a little scared maybe that that might happen, and so I was like, I need to go somewhere else. I mean I’m in Nashville now and even there, obviously everyone’s amazing. So many great songwriters, that’s kind of like where the magic happens, but I still don’t feel as challenged as I want to be there. And I also go out to Los Angeles every once in a while and do some writing out there. And that is probably the most competitive place that I’ve felt. First of all the population is out of control there; there’s too many people that live there. And it’s really expensive to live there but I feel like because of all those things, people are hungrier, people are fighting harder. And it’s funny; I just moved to Nashville in May, and I’m already thinking about going out there- just for that reason. Everyone’s like, “You’re crazy! Everyone’s out there trying to do that.” And I’m like, “That’s what I love about it.” You know? I feel like that will push me harder, I feel like even if I don’t break through and do something like Kanye level, who I’m not a big fan of by the way. But even if that never happened I feel like I would be the best that I could be, and I feel like when I’m done with doing it when I come home, if I move back to the East Coast, I feel like I would be much happier with myself than if I just stayed here and tried to do it from here. Your world could change drastically by doing that, and that would be great too, but at least in 20 years you won’t say what would have happened had I gone?

Put yourself in those situations where you’re just got to fly by the seat of your pants, and just go with your gut and you don’t know what’s going to happen, when I’ve done that, I have met the coolest people I have ever met. Being on that show, you know when you first get out there, there’s like 100 of you, only 48 get on teams and stuff but almost every single one of the people that were part of that experience, I still talk to and stuff, in some way, shape or form. When I’m on the road, if I’m going through their towns, we’ll do shows together, it’s almost like you never left when you meet each other again. You’re just like, you got random friends all over the country, and you just get to see them. That’s one of the coolest things for me - is the relationships that you get doing it. And I think if you just focus on the art and being competitive and trying to be the best, I feel like you lose sight of a lot of that stuff. And it’s not as enjoyable because then you have all these people that hate you for being being an asshole.

And like I think the most important thing is to remain a kind person, give back where you can give back, and make as many friends as you can along the way. I don’t know, you’ll live a fuller life doing that than trying to be the best and get the most money and the coolest cars and all that stuff.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your promise form. What that says and what that means to you.

It says I won’t allow fear to stop me from progress. And that’s kind of like pretty much what we’ve been talking about this whole time, you get that self-doubt, like that fear of trying something new, you’ve done something already, and people liked it. Should you keep doing that same thing forever? Like ACDC? Or should you do something new and I’m one of those people that is always trying to do something new. Like if you’re friends with me on Facebook, and you go back through the years, I look different every year, just I’m constantly changing, I’m constantly trying new things. Because that’s, to me, what living is about. Letting fear stop you from progress, I feel like that’s a sad thing. That’s like getting too comfortable, like yeah you’re probably still going to have a happy life, you’ll still do fun things, but to me, I get so bored with the same old same old. I constantly have to be doing new things. I started as a Blues guitar player and things and I ended up joining this funk rock band called “Dime Store,”  when I was in college, and a lot of those people didn’t like that, they were like “Do the blues.” And then from there I did my own original stuff that was kind of a mix of both. But it’s just important to me to keep doing something different and keep challenging myself, and just that’s- it keeps you young, it keeps you alive, It keeps you happy. You know? Even though there’s that doubt, there’s always the doubt. But you know, like I’ve said before, like that quote from Steven Pressfield about resistance. You got to keep following that. You got to keep following what makes you uncomfortable. And eventually you get comfortable being uncomfortable. And then being comfortable makes you uncomfortable.

And so that’s why I wrote that, don’t let fear scare you from doing something new. Don’t let what other people think about it scare you from making something new. Because that could be the thing that everybody does like. That could be the thing you know, makes you the happiest. You never know.

But the bonus to that, is when someone is like, “Oh, that song really speaks to me.” Or “Hey, we played this song at my wedding.”

Q: What advice would you give a musician or artist or somebody that’s thinking this might be my path, but it just scares me?

I think when you know that you have to do it. If you’re like, I want to do this but it scares me, that is perfect. If it doesn’t scare, you- you shouldn’t do it. Because the fear the doubt all that stuff is what makes for good art. The sadness, any negative emotion really is what makes for good art in my opinion. You know, happiness is good too.

But I just really feel like my personality is like the scarier, the better and the bigger, the better because then it feels better in the end. If you are really scared, and you start getting the hang of it, and people start liking what you’re doing, and you’re making a career doing it. That’s when you are like; you get the most value out of it I think. The most satisfaction. But you don’t want to stay in that place for too long. You don’t want to be too happy with yourself.

Always put yourself in situations where people are better than you. That’s another advice I would give because you never- and this is something I think everybody knows and has probably heard it, probably been in 3 Disney movies before, but like, I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people that are better than you. And also not to look at it as a competition because all this stuff is subjective. There’s going to be people that like it, and there’s going to be people that don’t like it. There’s going to be people that think that this person’s better than you and vice versa, but with art you just need to understand that that is an opinion. Some of the most stupid things in art have been like, Duchamp, he just like put a toilet in an art gallery. He didn’t even do anything, and it’s like a huge thing. Anything can be art and just don’t let people tell you that it sucks. Or let them tell you, but do it anyway.

Valerie Mace

Garden Girls of PA, LLC

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: So tell me a little bit about yourself.

Well, I’m a mom of 3 boys, and I am currently living in York. I started this company 3 years ago; 4th summer. I started out just doing lawn care and then I got into land design and property management and all the other good stuff that comes with that. I’ve pretty outgoing my whole life. I’ve done everything from marketing to modeling to bartending now to this. And this collides everything that I know into one. As growing up on a farm, I learned quite a few things in life so, it just gives me passion with everything I do especially helping people. Employing people and then helping people with their projects and then the community and giving back.

Q: What is it about Garden Girls that was, this is the one I want to pursue?

It’s just so unique, and I feel like we’re not doing anything wrong. As far as morally, like even being a bartender I would feel bad because I would make a ton of money but I was sending people home drunk and you don’t know what they're doing. This is good in all aspects of it. We have projects we start to finish. We see them, we hear what people are saying about us. You know, even though we come home tired and sweaty, it’s a good feeling. When I thought of this idea, I was like what am I going to do that nobody else is? And I think just having an all women’s landscaping team was a #1 hit. We do a couple charities here and there, every couple of months. We’ve been featured in the paper; we’ve been in magazines, so I think what we’re doing is on the right track.

Q: So I want to touch back into that, how did this idea come about? Where did that stem from?

It was a 2011-2012, I was bartending only. And from that time I had found out that I could work 70 hours a week, not see my kids and just make it with ends meeting. So I got back into bartending. I was working a few nights a week, Thursday-Saturday and I was making good money but just going down the wrong path. Hearing everybody else’s stories, it felt pointless to work an $8/hr. job when you have to give most of your money to a daycare. So I think the winter of 2012, I made about $300 bartending, and I was choosing between my rent and Christmas gifts. And I was just over it. I got a notepad, and I started going through Craigslist on what I could do to make some side money. And I saw the landscaping thing, and I just kept thinking, what can I do to get other people involved? And the more people that I talked to about the idea just keeping an all-girls team was really there.

So that January, after struggling that December, I knew I was going to be getting my income tax together, and I knew I was going to make an investment that was going to last a lifetime. And I bought a 1996 F-150 for $1,000. I bought 3 used mowers and a weed wacker, painted everything pink and from there I just started picking up a couple girls, that were bartending too and they loved what we did during the day. The first year was the hardest year by far, because I lost my house over this. We didn’t get paid by Bank of America, so all my bartending money was going to my employees that I had at the time. I thought about giving it up, but I just couldn’t. Every day I wake up, and I think about it. Before I go to bed, I think about it. From Craigslist to AngiesList to just Facebook, I knew we had a lot of support, and we could make this happen. And it took a little bit longer than I wanted it to. I got pregnant that summer by accident. He’s great!

He actually gave me the drive to want to change the day-care stipulations. So at some point in the next 2-3 years I will have a daycare. I just got my license, and I’m getting the insurance and stuff like that. And I want to make it that no mom is handing over half her paycheck for one child just to go to daycare because you’re trying to do the right thing. It’s going to be very hard for the next 5-10 years. But at some point this will be able to run itself, and there is a position for everybody. Whether it’s one of my girls that are just garden girling for the next 3 years and they decide it’s too hard for them, they can go into the daycare, they can go into advertising, there is always another position opening up. With the lawn care, we have helped many people, through sickness and through widowhood. It’s just been a big part of my life every single day I’m in this. This year was our biggest year we just got a dump truck this year, so we’re able to do more work.

Faster, Quicker, able to hire more people. And we got with a really good property management group that is just throwing work at us left ad right. So this is the first year that we’ll actually be full-time in the winter, which feels really good, whether it’s from foreclosures, cleaning out winterizations.

Q: Losing your house for a business and continuing to move forward takes a tremendous amount of passion and resilience. What was that time like for you? What made you say I just have to keep going?

Just from everybody saying it’s ok to one of the friends I was staying with at the time, and she just kept me going and kept saying there’s always another way, there’s always another way. And when I go check in to a real job I’m just like, I can’t do this, I’m not going to come home happy, I’m not helping anybody. I’m making somebody else’s dream come true, not ours. It’s all just mentally been very challenging, but I’ve been strong about it. There’s been times where I can’t pay them for a week or two, not this year, but you know, that was hard. How are you going to be a real company without being able to pay your employees right away? But they all stuck with me.

Q: So that brings me into company culture, the though and standing strong to being Garden Girls. Having an all-woman team, what does that mean to you? And why is that so important?

We can be ourselves; we don’t have to hide ourselves. We can have trial and error without feeling stupid. So many challenges are thrown at us every day that we all just stick together and jut keep popping it out left and right. You know, just seeing our customers and the way they look at us and hearing all the things about us, that people say, it’s just empowering. And by that I will do so much more with this community and maybe sometime another state. You know there’s always that option of branching out, but I don’t want anyone else coming in to changing my company.

I’ve had a couple of investors look at me, but they want me to charge more. And that’s not fair, you got a single mom that doesn’t have time or the skills to go out and do their mulch bed, but they want their house to look pretty, it’s not fair that one company will charge $1500 when they can only afford $800. And in my mind, we can make that happen. This is a way to give back. So you’re helping people that may not have been able to do something with another company.

Q: It sounds like you started this business to be able to be with your children more often and be able to provide for them. And now you’re giving that to other women as well. What does that mean to you to be able to hire other women that want to work but may not have been able to balance things out prior?

It all works itself out, so even when I get a call off, that a baby is sick, I have a Facebook Group for the Garden Girls, and I’ll just say, “Who else can work?” Sometimes it requires that I actually do take our time a little bit more from home than we want it to, but then a couple days later, one of my kids is sick, and they got it. Besides a little frustration when I have a few jobs on the line, it feels good that I know that this girl is going to come back to me not fearing to lose her job because she was being a mom, which is her duty first.

You know some people have family issues, whether there’s a death in the family or just fighting, whatever it is, they just can’t be all there for work, I totally get that, and I understand. I don’t feel like any of my girls take advantage of it.

Q: What is it about the future that scares you?

A lot. Just having the business itself to not really having any funds to keep this running even for a couple weeks without a paycheck every single week. I’m not in debt at all. Everything I do goes right back into the business, everything that I bartend for goes right into my home. Next year’s hopefully a big year with colliding with another daycare. She’ll actually go with us and help the Garden Girls open their own daycare. The daycare will be for the girls to go to school, maybe even go shop an hour alone after work. Teaching their kids fundamentals the right way. Finding out this year after becoming an LLC company, having insurances and payroll, it’s like every time you do the right thing they just keep taking more.

So I even though I thought I would make out better this year, I’m really not. That’s scary. The bank account is the scariest thing. And being the sole proprietor of all of this, it’s all come down to me. You know.

Q: Do you have a team that you rely on?

Oh my gosh, yeah. Yeah, I have a team of 3, but they are always there.

People that I don’t even know, we go to Wal-Mart one day, and somebody’s like, “Are you the owner of Garden Girls?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “You Rock.” We’ll be in our work trucks, and they’ll just be like GARDEN GIRLS!! And I’m like I don’t even have any logos on my truck, I don’t know how you guys know me but… they know us. They know us. People that I don’t even think that would recognize us, they do. It’s becoming quite the trend.

Laura: Company culture is so amazing. And it sounds like your culture just vibrates into the world because people are noticing and feeling you and seeing what you’re doing. How does it make you feel to know that your team and the people around you are receptive and excited about what you chose to do?

Valerie: Giving me a lot more drive than I ever thought I had. There is no depression in my life anymore. There is no, I just want to lay on the couch and just blob out, I just have something to do and I got to do it. Even the couple of ladies that we have that we go weekly/monthly, these ladies are just by themselves, in their garden all the time, so they never wanted to hire an all men's landscaping team or a man’s landscaping team. They are drawn to us because they can come out to their gardens and work with us and tell us their whole story about this garden. They don’t feel like they are looked at awkward; they can give us direction, without feeling like they’re saying something wrong. You know, just all the help that we give back, and even though we’re making money off of it, it’s still priceless to the time. And it just means a lot to us that they can trust us to come on the property with or without them, work, and if they are there- great, we have lunch together, we talk. If not, we get our work done and roll out.

Q: Have you had any pushback, like “All girls doing landscaping? What are you trying to do?”

Yeah. Yeah, we’ve had quite a few nasty things said to us. But we’re going to do it better than you, it’s ok. I mean this year was our first year doing a lot of retaining walls. We’ve done more stonework than I could ever imagine. And just people left and right, “Oh your joint’s not right, or you’re using mortar. And it’s like, “we got this.” And we keep getting compliments on all these walls and these tree foundations, and that’s unbelievable that we did that. You know, this was like a high-dollar company came in and did it, and it’s just us girls, with our little pickup and little dump truck. Like, no Bob Cats, it’s all shovels and hands. And it’s just… it’s amazing.

We go there, and we work, we gripe about the kids and the husbands sometimes, or just life in general but we leave knowing we did something really, really good and unique.

Q: How has your life positively changed since you decided to go full on with Garden Girls?

Whew. Like, I said the depression’s not there. To where I was getting into trouble and just laying low from life, I have a lot more drive and passion than I ever did. I feel safer than I ever have with all the girls around me and all the love that we have from everybody else. I don’t think this will ever fail. I mean we have set backs here and there with things breaking down or money not being there to grow, but it comes when it should.

Q: How have you blended in with accepting help or noticing when you need to have some outside help in accounting or marketing or whatever the case is?

Well a lot of the case has been, I tried it myself, and I failed miserably. So... to really make this work I need a professional to do that. Even with my estimates, my girl Kayla she is just on it. Where I don’t have the heart to really charge the right price, so we all win, I’m just really soft-hearted to where she’s like, “Hey, we’re not going to have a business if we don’t make this work. This budget.” So I just got to look away sometimes and just trust that everyone’s got this in their own manner. I’ve never been so organized in my life ever. And now I have folders with labels… That’s crazy.

You know, even waking up an hour or two early to get my house stuff done to put me in the right set to go to work that day, that’s a change. It’s all a change. Never really had a schedule before I really needed to follow. It’s just kind of been on a whim. And my schedules are now at home to where, with my business I need to make it always change to blend into make this all work. Even today, I had a bunch of things planned out but to get here on time, kind of have to set something back and go back there this evening, and that’s okay.

Q: So how do you know when it’s time to adjust what you’re doing to help excel or propel into the next realm of business or life?

Just either a person trusts me enough to lend me a dump truck until I borrow it or just having a little extra money in the bank account to buy the extra tool we need that will make us get done faster to just putting us in the paper again and getting us a little business. That’s when I know. We were on the front cover 3 times in the past two years, so that’s pretty exciting and that’s how I know that we’re doing the right thing, and it’s time to keep expanding.

We’re also getting done twice as fast and next year things will really be in line to where we have someone to drive the dump truck with the trailer and can separate into two teams. Hopefully, the following year make another division in the Harrisburg or Lancaster. And find some more girls like us. Though, I have the girls I do, it is really hard to find the girls to do this.

Q: A younger version of you plops down next to you right now, what would you tell her?

Well… You’re doing the right thing. You’re doing exactly the right thing. As I felt bad doing all the bike shows that I did, and just living the life that I did, just making the money that I needed to quickly- if it weren’t for me being as free as I was, I would have never got to this point. I would have never believed but getting the confidence I needed, from the bike shows and even the America’s Next Top Model stuff, like, that just made this all come together the way it was needed. From promoting to marketing to actually doing the physical labor to you know, balancing things out the way they needed to be, if I didn’t have that- I wouldn’t have this. I mean, I probably would change my budget back then, but, that’s really about it.

Q: So, what would you say to another entrepreneur that’s going through the same experiences?

Yeah. Just follow your lines, follow your signs and just don’t quit trying. Even if you have to change your goals a couple times to get to your passion, just don’t give up. I never really knew I was this adamant about being on a farm or out in my work truck, but I am. If I’m not with it every single day, I kind of feel lost. Even Saturdays and Sundays on a down time, I need something to do with Garden Girls.

Whether that’s sending out an estimate for next week or sitting down thinking about more ideas for this lawn mower I want to come up with. It’s all there. I can’t sleep at night- it’s driving me nuts! I want it done!

Q: How would you say that there is a balance between work life and thinking about that on a regular basis, to family life and tending to your children and spending quality time with them?

This year is a lot better than last year. Last year I was getting home at 8-9 o’clock, and they were kind of left to sit by themselves or wit the nanny for a little bit to this year where I made it a point that we are going to be off at 5 pm on our Kid Days (because some of us do share custody). So some days we are allowed to stay out late, which we do. But it’s been treated just like an 8-5 job now. Which is good, I, however, don’t feel like I go to work. I feel like it’s just there. So that’s why I enjoy it so much. And coming back home to my kids, that’s just part of my life, and they ask how my day was, and I found out how their day was, got a little bit of homework to do and there we are resting on the couch, you know? It’s just the cycle.

Q: How does that differ? “Working” now versus before when you were working for somebody else?

Oh, any reason not to go in before to where I had a bad day, it just stuck with me all day. To now if I have a bad day it’s just another hump in the road

Q: What would you say makes you a risk-taker?

I put everything into this. Everything. To where I know I could have worked the last five years and been with a company, maybe had a little bit more in a 401K and retirement and a vacation by now, but left it all to have it all. I left all that behind. I don’t want anything to do with anybody else’s dream; this is ours. Putting every last dime out of my income tax and into this, not knowing what’s going to happen. To having all 3 of my mowers breaking in 2 days. To having a donation for a lawn mower, that just showed me that there are people that really do care, and they will do anything to keep us going.

Still not living large at all, I don’t care. It’ll be there when it’s needed. We get to do a lot more things than I ever thought we would because networking has brought us into with the people that we know now. And the learning abilities are just amazing. You know, where I think I learn one thing, the girls learn another. We just sit there and talk and realize you learn a little bit differently than I do; this is good. Keeping an open mind is definitely key here.

Q: What does success mean to you?

Success is going to be when I cut the ribbon to the daycare, and I know that we all have a nanny that we trust. I know that we’re all doing the right thing and not putting half the money back into another company. It’s for our company; it’s for our kids’ future. Success is going to be having an employee mark her 5 years and getting a nice little bonus. Success is going to be to where my kids are 16 and 18 and 21 and happy. You know, I’m not going to be into work where I can’t live anymore, I’m going to be able to grow with them and seeing my other girls do that. Success is going to be able to employee a lot more people. And they are also going to feel the same way that I do. Knowing that each and every one of them love their job, day in and day out that is going to be a success. I never thought in the 3rd year that it would come this far, I thought we’d get to number 5 before I saw any of this happening. So I feel with everything that we have overcome, yeah, I’m successful. 

Laura: Absolutely, I feel like, while the bank account may not be reflecting it right now, I feel like you are very, very rich. You’re very rich is spirit; you’re very rich in fulfillment. You are very rich in motivation, even when you have your own darkest times, you’re scooping everybody up, and it sounds like that is what fuels you to continue forward.

Q: So what advice would you give someone that’s looking to start a business or maybe is struggling with their own fears or difficulties?

If you want to do it, just do it. There’s going to be no better time than now. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. And somebody will probably get your idea a little quicker than you have, so get on it!

Q: How bout your Promise Form? Can you read that to me and tell me what that means to you?

Yeah, I won’t allow anyone to stop me from anything. So, I had a person just say this couldn’t happen, that I was very ignorant about life and kind of took things away from me that I needed to do my job. So I kept borrowing everybody else’s trucks and stuff to do what I needed to do. Now it’s in your face. Anybody’s comments and negativity and just lack of help didn’t stop me, and it’s not ever going to stop me. There are few and far between that do want to help and get involved, but there have been quite a few more that have been just very negative about it and looking at me like I’m crazy. And I’ve had a couple people come to me this year and say they’re sorry they ever doubted it because they do see now. Going into a club and saying I’m going to start a lawn mowing business and here she is, here’s my pink mower. They’re like, “What’s wrong with you?” And coming home sweaty the way I was, and going into a bartending shift just wasn’t anybody else’s dream but mine. Whew! Just all the people that came forward and stepped up to keep me positive, that’s what’s going to keep me going. So no one can stop me, only myself and I’m not.

Struggle is there. There is trial and error every day, but I’ll get it. All things, even digging an edge line with a mower… or, I’m sorry, with a shovel to actually now having an edge. You know, you just… you learn. There are quite a few things we didn’t know. The first set of hedges I ever trimmed I did it with a pair of little black clippers. I didn’t know what hedge trimmers were.

Yeah I mean, a few customer complaints here and there but really nothing we don’t fix and that we wouldn’t fix. Everybody else has been very positive, and they just can’t believe the work’s done all by us. You know, yet alone the lack of equipment. But a little bit of money is better than no money, so we’re going. Keep on going and keep buying stuff every couple weeks to get us there, to where we need to go and we’ll be able to do a job in 4 hours to where it took us 8 before.

Then we’ll start reacquiring money. Even the dump truck that was just a wonderful blessing, from a good friend, and has allowed me to make payments and that definitely allowed us to do a lot more than I ever thought this year. We’ve had how many thousands of scoops of mulch, that we weren’t able to do last year, I just looked at the papers for the invoice, and it’s like 4 times as high. That’s crazy. That is crazy.  

Chris Spear

Chef and Owner, Perfect Little Bites

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: Thanks so much for being here with us. We’re excited to talk to you about your business. So, Perfect Little Bites. Tell me about your business.

I’m a chef. So at its core, it’s an in-home kind of fine dining restaurant that I bring to you. For me, the challenge was always going out to eat. It’s kind of become a hassle, especially as you get older, now I have kids. So it’s like getting a babysitter and then driving somewhere and dealing with parking and waiting. I don’t know; I wanted to be able to bring an experience to you, because I think there are so many fun reasons. 1- I can customize to what you like. So if you want like a five-course vegan, tai, I can do that. If you want a three-course French, I can do that. I got into the hospitality industry, that’s what we call it, but you’re removed from that because you are in the kitchen. And it’s filtered through servers and everything. I really wanted to get back into kind of dealing with my customer one-on-one, because I like that interaction. So I get to talk to you beforehand, find out about who you are, what you like, build a customized menu around that and then I come in your house and do a fine dining plated dinner. I bring all my own china, all my own equipment; you just need to have a stove and oven. And I bring all the cool stuff I need, so if I need to bring a pasta maker or mixer ‘cause you don’t have it, I’ll bring it. And then everything is served to you in your home. I bring linens, I bring all the silverware, everything.

Q: Wow. So I’m curious what kind of sparked that idea because there’s a lot of traditional methods to go into, but what made you wake up one day and say, you know what maybe I should try this?

I started doing it as a side from a caterer I worked at. My wife’s a chef as well. And we worked for a caterer who did big functions, and they always had people call, “Can you come cater for my wife and I’s anniversary?” The caterer company didn’t really want to deal with it. But then they decided to outsource it to us. And said, “would you ever want to just go do a dinner for to in their house? That’s not our thing, but we’ll let you use the kitchen here.” I saw there was a market for that. That was about 10 years ago. So kind of building the idea on that and as time went on I just kept thinking I got to make that work. I know there’s a market and I started looking, and nobody was doing that. So I joined a personal chef’s association, but they’re geared towards coming into your house and making like five nights’ worth of meals and packing them and freezing them. But I think a lot is lost there as a chef, you know, you are losing the presentation. So I wanted to learn the logistics of going in and cooking in people’s homes as opposed to restaurants but then translate it to fine dining and restaurant style. So I kind of created a little hybrid there.

Q: What made you take that leap cause a lot of times when people aren’t doing things.

Well, I started doing it as a side job so I had that security net, you know. I was doing it for five plus years while I still had a full-time job running a kitchen professionally. So it was a lot of days or weeks of no days off because I was working five days a week running a kitchen and then on the nights and weekends and days I was off doing it. But I wanted to build up a clientele and make sure it was something that was going to work. I wasn’t ready to just one day decide to just go and do it, so I very methodically kind of built up to it.

Q: Okay. And then tell me about that moment when you know. Tell me about the mental process behind that.

I love it! I mean food is all I’ve ever done. Uh, my mom said I told her when I was four or something that I wanted to be a cook. I’ve never not worked in restaurants. So, for me it was a hobby, and I think that’s great! I think the best entrepreneurs take their passion and their hobbies and make it their job. And for me, even before I had my business, I still came home from work, read cookbooks, watch shows, talk to chefs, go out to eat. So it’s always been my life. My friends are mostly chefs, you know, my wife was in the culinary business, so it makes it easy. When you come home from work and then you’re planning a menu for a client, it’s easy and fun. And when your research and development is going to a fun Asian grocery store and then coming home and trying a bunch of new dishes, it doesn’t really seem like work. It’s still physically, mentally exhausting! But you know, it’s better than doing a job you really hate during the day; I loved my day job, still I was a chef.

Q: Right. What kind of advice would you give an entrepreneur that maybe is not surrounded by the things that they love?

I think figure out who you are, at your core. I think you really have to know yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses and be honest. I think a lot of people aren’t honest about whether or not they have the skills to do this or the guts or the whatever. Or the support system or can financially do it. I think it’s really scary. I know some people jump kind of without really thinking it through and it works out, that’s never been me. So it’s kind of really getting to know what I was looking to do and trying to find the path to get there and kind of build the skill sets that I needed to kind of take the leap.

Q: So I heard you mention that you’re a dad. So tell me a little bit about why it’s important to you to set this type of example for your kids.

I want them to see me enjoying my job and taking risks. I don’t want to be 80-years-old and what if? And say I wish I had… you know? My dad worked for a company for 40 years, so that was my role model, I mean he had a great work ethic, but he was not a risk-taker. And then I saw him really hate his job for the last 15 years but felt like he was trapped. I turned 40 this summer, and I’m like half way or so between my career and just feel like it’s the time. I’ve been doing this for 20+ years and I’ve got another 20+ years to go and I just want to get in and do it and show my kids you can enjoy life, do something you love, make a career out of it.

Q: You also mentioned that your wife from time to time steps in with the business and helps you, so how’s that dynamic with business partners, so to speak?

It’s good. We have to find the boundaries of work. Because you know it’s tough; I came from running a big kitchen where I had 120 employees and I was the boss; I was the final say. But my wife was a chef; she is now a dietitian, so she brings a lot of nutrition support. We have a lot of customers who actually want healthy eating. When she is my sous chef I probably talk to her a little differently than I would to my traditional sous chef in a restaurant but it’s great because she’s honest with me, I think the way other people in restaurants hadn’t been. She gives me that kind of gut check; keeps me in line a little bit sometimes.

Q: What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome some of those things?

I think the challenge is getting out there and just telling people what I do and networking. As I always saw myself as an introvert, I think that was the biggest thing. I was very quiet, reserved, growing up. Never rocked the boat, never asked people for things, I wanted to do it on my own. And as you get in your own business, you have to go out and do your pitch, your elevator pitch. Or deal with purveyors or clients, and I was never really comfortable talking. Like I wanted to just be in the kitchen cooking, head down. Do my thing. I’m running a bigger staff and as you go out on your own, dealing with more people like no one is going to give you anything. It’s especially harder on your own, like if I want a job, I really have to go and find my clients. Or if I want to be, and I’ve recently been in some magazines and newspapers, and nobody came to me, like I had to find editors and say, this is what I do, would you be interested in writing about it? And that’s… so out of my comfort zone.

Q: Tell me a little bit about what kind of spearheaded you to get out of that comfort zone and how you recognized that this is something that you really need to be in the forefront of.

I think you take the first couple leaps and they pay off, and hopefully they will pay off, then you get a little more comfortable. It’s always the first couple times that you need to do something that you’ve never done. Then you say, “Wow, that wasn’t so bad.” And I think for years it was always playing it safe and like I said not rock the boat or not ask for things and then once you do, it’s like oh, that was really easy. I just said to that person, can you do this? Or help me with that? And they said yeah. And I don’t know why for so many years in your head you built up that people are going to say no or they are going to make fun of you because they think your idea is dumb or something. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? It just took me a long time to get to that place where I felt comfortable that I could just go out and ask and do it.

Q: Is there anything that keeps you up at night? Is there something that’s keeping you from taking the next step in your business right now?

I don’t think so. I mean, it’s scary, it really is. I think just not knowing when you’re going to get paid again. Yeah that kind of stuff is probably the big barrier for a lot of entrepreneurs, especially if you are coming from a job, having a job for 20+ years where you have a steady paycheck, and benefits and all that, to just saying, I’m just going to rip the Band-Aid off and go do it. And I’ve got customers lined up, you know – four or five in the next couple weeks but I don’t know, how’s it going to be in January? How’s it going to be if the economy tanks? So looking at diversifying what I do, what else can I be doing to kind of stay ahead of the curve and be proactive instead of reactionary.

Q: Do you ever get tired of cooking?


Q: Do you ever just order a pizza and be like this is what we’re going to do.

Absolutely! I love food, so yes. I mean we went out for dinner last night because we like to eat out and there are some days I don’t feel like cooking. People always ask my wife, “Do you have great dinners at home?” Of course, her answers us going to be no because he’s always working and she works a full-time job so quite often it’s a very quick, easy meal or take-out from somewhere.

Q: Besides actually taking the initial risk of leaving your full-time job and taking this on full time, what has been one of the most important decisions that has contributed to your success?

I was actually seeing physical health issues from this, stress, and the things that stress can kind of do. I never wanted to believe that is was. I think health and wellness are huge and that’s been a big change for me in the past couple of years, just getting into routines for exercise, eating well, meditation, things to get myself better altogether. So it wasn’t just getting away and doing my own thing creatively or being fulfilled in that way, I felt like I couldn’t be physically and mentally healthy in the jobs that I was doing. For me it was those big things. Like I really feel that diet, exercise and meditation are life changing and just reading. I listen to a lot of entrepreneur podcasts and read a lot of books and the key thing that everyone is talking about. And it doesn’t have to be first thing, but can you do 30 minutes on the treadmill or the bike. And drinking lots of water and getting eight hours of sleep and spending 10 minutes a day meditating. Like, if I could just do that every day and get myself in that right place, so much better. And from there, the stress kind of like disappears. I mean it’s still there. But it’s definitely more controlled. I don’t want to get complacent and think everything is all well and good. You need that like behind you. But when the stress overtakes things and anxiety kicks in, that’s where it’s problematic.

Q: Yes. So if a younger version of yourself came and hung out with us on The Couch today, what advice or what would you change, what would you tell him?

Take more risks when you’re younger because it’s easier. I got out of college and jumped into a safe job, you know. Now it’s much harder that I have a wife and kids and a house and we’re kind of here. When you’re young, you can go anywhere in the world and do anything and take the job and you don’t like it, you can take another job. You know, your bills haven’t added up. It’s a lot easier, but like I said, coming from a family where you were told, you go to college, you get your degree and get your job, and just kind of run that way. I locked myself in, pretty early, into these, kind of stable jobs and I should have been riskier. But I know that wasn’t in my DNA at the time.

Q: So what’s up next on your list? What’s kind of getting you really excited right now?

Trying to find interesting partnerships. Besides doing the in-home fine dining, I also do cooking lessons and cooking demos. My wife and I are doing some nutritionally based cooking classes in the city of Frederick. I have been working with the library system, doing classes in the libraries as adult education. Finding some really cool entrepreneurs in the area who want to do things together. You know you might own a clothing shop and want to do a pop-up there. Working with wineries and breweries, so looking at people who are just really cool entrepreneurs/business owners who want to do something together that might not seem like a natural fit, but have that same kind of energy and outlook and how can we combine forces and cross-promote and do something really fun and create some buzz.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your pinky-promise sign, what that reads and what that means to you.

So, I won’t allow fear to stop me from achieving my dreams. The fear of what if it doesn’t work out. The fear of what if people think my idea is stupid. You know, all those things that have kept me from doing it before now. Whereas I probably could have gotten a jump 15 years ago, but no looking back. And now I’m going forward with it and… So for me, figuring out how to minimize the risk, because I’m not a super huge risk-taker, you know. Opening a restaurant where you need a million dollars and you have a lease and all this equipment. My business model is my equipment is pots and pans and plates, and I come in your house and if it doesn’t work out I can always go back to cooking somewhere. You know, I don’t have this crazy amount of money in capital investments, so that was how I kind of minimized the risk, so I started looking because I knew I always kind of played it safe. How can I have this really cool thing that I want to do but still have that little safety net there, because that’s what I needed? But I also needed to jump in and do it full-steam ahead, because I knew if I kept working my job I would have that too much of a safety net, I would never really take the leap that would get me where I wanted to go.

Q: What advice would you give an entrepreneur right now? Maybe somebody that’s thinking about taking that leap that you took, but it just kind of teetering on the fence a bit with it?

Find like-minded people. And people who will challenge you. I think networking has been huge. You know, the internet and social media is great because you can connect with your mentors, you can connect with your peers, you can see what people are doing. I found accountability partners online and mine was a guy who lived in California. Every couple days, you check in with each other and see what you’re doing and being able to do that I would say, just talk to everyone and put your idea out there. Keep working on it in your spare time, any little bit. Don’t sit down and watch three hours of TV every night. If you are really going to get it done, it takes a lot of work. And don’t sacrifice the big things, like time with your family, or going on vacation but those silly little things maybe.

Q: So if you have come to my home and you have prepared this incredible meal for my husband and I, what is the completion of your time with my family?

I’m there… I’m Perfect Little Bites. I’m at every event. I don’t outsource to anyone. So I’m there, and I want to have that experience with you. So I’m going to come in your home after we’ve talked about kind of what I’m going to do and I’ll still bring some surprises. And I’m going to make dinner for you and serve it like we’re at a restaurant. I’m also the front of the house guy, So I’m cooking, plating, bringing it out and you’re sitting there enjoying dinner; sometimes they want me to sit down with them and eat. Pour a glass of wine; that’s great. Because it’s a service thing, and it’s really cool because I’ve done this. For a long time in the food, we used to be the help. I worked in catering; you’d go to someone’s house, and you were the guy in the kitchen that the hostess didn’t want anyone to see. And now, it’s like, oh you’ve got a personal chef? And they are super excited about that. And that’s only been a shift in the past five years. So now getting to hang out with my customers sometimes. You know, you feel the vibe, sometimes they just want a romantic anniversary dinner and I do stay more in the back. But quite often, they want me to come out, talk about the dishes, the inspiration. You know, what I did. And get my background and that’s really fun. And then when we’re done, you know, I take all the dishes with me. Clean your kitchen, leave; you have nothing left to do. You can be in your pj's in five minutes after I’m out the door.

Q: Chris, how can people get in touch with you, because I’m certain there’s at least a half of a million people that want to know how you come to our home?

I’m Perfect Little Bites, My website is, you can find me at facebook/perfectlittlebites, google it, put in Perfect Little Bites on Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat/Everything, you’ll find me.

Jessica Feltz

Acupuncturist, The Turning Point: Frederick’s Community Acupuncture

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Q: So, tell me a little bit about the backstory, before you were with Turning Point Acupuncture.

Well I hail from Wisconsin. So shortly after I graduated from UW-Madison, I was working in the nursing home field, and I quickly elevated to the position where I was the administrator in the nursing home that I was running. I didn’t have any business background; I had graduated with a psychology degree. But I like challenges and opportunities, and this one presented itself. And so I learned hands-on how to run a multi-million-dollar healthcare facility, and I had maybe 60 employees that I was managing beneath me. Again, just kind of jumping in. So when I um, was getting ready to start my family, I was very clear that, that wasn’t a path that I wanted to continue. I was on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Holidays… It was not what I wanted as a young mother. So I kind of took a step back and was exploring what direction I wanted to head. I had really enjoyed the autonomy of running my own facility. One of the things that we had done in one of the facilities that I was at was, we used essential oils on the Alzheimer’s unit, and there was an 80% decrease in psychotropic drugs, just from diffusing lavender in the morning, and citrus in the afternoon. And so I was really curious about alternative medicine. I had grown up in a very small, conservative, mid-western town, so that wasn’t something that had ever been on my radar. And I was like, hmm what is that? And then also just exploring ways that I wanted to parent my new baby. I was really drawn to Eastern philosophies and traditions, and so there was kind of this trifecta of things that were happening and all of a sudden I discovered that there was an acupuncture school like 45 minutes from me. And I was like, Oh, Eureka! I can run my own business; it’s alternative medicine and it’s totally in this philosophy field that I’m really curious about. It was just a series of curiosities. Like I didn’t know any acupuncturists. I didn’t know anybody that had ever had acupuncture. I had never received acupuncture. I really had no idea what I was getting into. I thought that I would enroll in school and I would be given like this sort of cookbook of somebody has this diagnosis- and so you do these points and then they heal this way and that is just not at all what it was. I figured it out as I went along. So I went through acupuncture school, and it took me about five years, and you know in that process my marriage fell apart. And so at that point, I had two very young children, and had to figure out what – how I was going to make the next phase of my life work. So I fell in love and I moved here to Frederick, Maryland, where I knew really the only person that I was intending to marry. So I had no network with which to start a business. But there again, curiosity and challenges… I’ve just always been someone who when there’s that moment of, you can’t do this, this isn’t a possible thing for you, the odds are so stacked against you, this could never work… I’m like somebody is telling me that I can’t do something? Are you kidding me? I’m totally going to step up and prove that you’re wrong, that more than anything is what will motivate me. So here I am. Yeah. That was 14 years ago, that I went and started the journey with school and nine years ago that I moved here.

Q: I feel like there’s probably a couple of times in there where you could have said, you know what, this is just too much. So how did you overcome some of those stressors?

I think in part there were so many stressors that they kind of pile on and at some point they become familiar, like oh, I’ve dealt with this before, I know how to get through this. And the confidence in being able to get through those is cumulative. Like, as you tackle one problem and get through something that seems like an impossibility; I don’t know how this is going to turn out exactly but I know that I’ll figure it out. I know that I have people that I can turn to or resources. I know I can wing it. I mean after my first marriage ended, we were impoverished. We were on food stamps while I was going through school and so running up against that level of financial challenge, you know as I went through the stages of opening a business and again, you don’t hit the ground, and you don’t hang a shingle and people flock through the door. I think for most business owners there is a period of financial duress. But I was like, ok this is not real comfortable for me but I know that it’s not going to last forever. Nothing really lasts forever. So you’re in it for that little bit of time that you’re in it, and you just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get through to the other side.

Q: So, You’re often putting one foot in front of the other and learning as you go. And it sound like that was really key in keeping you moving forward.

So I run a community acupuncture clinic. Which is to say that I treat a high volume of people for a low cost. Now, ten years ago there was no such thing as community acupuncture. It’s very new. Ten years ago, there was what we call boutique acupuncture, so it was $100 for a treatment and you would get a private session that would last maybe and hour or so. And that’s the kind of thing that’s only financially accessible to a certain segment of the population, people who have more disposable income. And I read an article about this clinic out in Portland, Oregon; that was doing this high volume, low cost socially just model. And I was like, that is an interesting thing. Because I didn’t know anybody, I don’t have friends or family who would have been able to afford $100 treatments for long enough that they would benefit from acupuncture. But when I read about a business model that would allow me to treat people for $15 or $20 a treatment, I was like that is something that would fit. We were all sharing our stories on this online forum about what was working and what wasn’t working and teaching each other. Sharing lots of failure stories, lots of things that didn’t work out the way we had hoped that they would. But I think that’s a lot of being an entrepreneur or business owner too. Is recognizing that each one of those is a learning moment, it’s not really a failure. It’s an opportunity to step back and try to figure out maybe why things didn’t work out the way that you thought they would or planned on them to and just shift course a little bit. You just keep making these little course corrections as you go. Yeah.

Q: So, opening in a location is often a huge move; walk me through a little bit of deciding, you know I’m going to rent or lease, or purchase this space.

So, I knew that I needed a large space to accommodate a high volume of clients. I was looking for right around 1000 square feet and I knew that it had to be affordable because I knew I was not going to be making much money; particularly in the early years. And I knew that it needed to be like, ground-level because I would have people that would have walkers and you know, mobility issues. So I had a lot of specifics and it needed to be accessible in terms of being near a large town/city like Frederick was ideal, where I had moved to. I spent probably four months dragging realtors around to look at all the commercial leases. I was scouring the newspapers; I was all over the internet. And it some point I started expanding my search, I was like, I cannot find what I want. I cannot find something that’s affordable enough in this area that I’m looking at, so I started looking outward. And I feel like I might have looked at a couple places out here in Hagerstown but definitely out in Sykesville. I was starting to feel desperate. Like I have got to get this business launched, and I can’t do anything without a physical space. So it was about four months and I reached a point where I was like you know what, even if I can’t find the most perfect, permanent location, maybe I can do something temporarily. There are these Lafuma chairs; they’re sort of like lawn chairs that recline back. And I thought well if I had a bunch of those, I could pack them up in my car, I could move into a space for a couple of hours and tear it down when I’m done treating people, so maybe there’s like a church or a yoga studio or a physical therapy studio… some big open space that I could get into for a couple hours a week and just start. So I drafted this letter and I sent it out to everybody in the county that I could think of that might have some gym like that. And this one yoga teacher wrote back to me and she said, you know I don’t have what you’re looking for, but one of my students has this space and she doesn’t know what to do with it. It could be commercial; it could be residential. She had somebody who was renting it to live in it for a while; she had a business that was working out of it for a while. She was like why don’t you just give her a call and maybe you guys can figure it out. So, I called her up and she didn’t even have it listed anywhere because she had no idea what to do with it. It was such a weird little location. And as soon as I walked in the door I was like, this is it. Like, just such an instant clear moment. And then the bells in Baker Park went off, and we both went Ahhhhh. Like it was totally meant to be. But, one of the things… that was really my first lesson in learning to whether it’s trust my gut or use my intuition. But really just trust that there’s an ease. When things are fitting together the way that they are supposed to, it’s very clear to me that oh, this is the path that’s opening up, this is where I need to be right now. Um, and that’s been a really big part of this journey, is just learning to open to that and be trusting of it.

Q: So tell me a little bit about your brand. So tell me about what that means to you.

So again in creating a community acupuncture business I really wanted to find ways to distinguish what I was doing from what had been on the market for the 20 or 30 years prior to that. And most boutique acupuncture business/clinics, are either marketing themselves as like medical facilities or as sort of zen/spa, you know sort of airy fairy. And I was not interested in filling either of those areas. I really wanted to find a way that my business would be appealing to lower-income people. People of color, people… working class individuals. People who would not normally think acupuncture is for me. And so I was looking for something that was really out of the box and it took me a couple of years. I had one logo in the beginning that was functional; it worked. I wasn’t real excited about it. I knew it wasn’t going to be my forever logo but I, you know, it was a placeholder for the time. And Facebook is just such an amazing way to connect with people. There was somebody in my feed; a local artist who I had been watching develop his skills and he saw things, really uniquely and interestingly and I sent him a message one day. I said, “Would you just maybe play around a little bit with an acupuncture logo like I don’t want it to be anything that’s Asian/zen/spa/medical… But do like blood/guts/punk/out of the box/ like I just fired all of these adjectives at him and the first run back he nailed it. But he has a huge thing happening with all of his graphics, his paintings. So that is where I came up with the little punk guy and then similarly I knew that my website wasn’t right. I had just done a DIY, just get something on the internet. I just need a place that people can find information, my address, my phone number, what I do. And I didn’t love it, cause I’m not a graphic designer. And so it was what it was. But there came a point where I was like, ok, I’m in a position where I’m really ready to have somebody do this for me professionally. And again, Facebook. I knew this one web-designer who was kind of a smartass, thought out of the box; it was fun to watch his posts and so I shot him a message. I was like you know, I think I’d be interested in talking with you about this. And we had so much fun putting it together because I was like, let’s play around with things that haven’t been done before. And that gets me excited. And just getting my juices flowing, getting me excited, brings so much into the business too. So it was a really fun, creative process.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and what are some of your mechanisms for overcoming those?

Well, building volume was the biggest challenge in the beginning; I think I probably had five people walk through the door the first week that I was open. Because nobody knew who I was, nobody knew what I was doing. It was the first community acupuncture clinic in the state of Maryland. So there was so much education that had to go into the community with it. It’s not even just the financial piece of like, this is something that’s affordable, this is something you can try but also just getting past people’s fear of, “Oh! You’re going to stick needles in me?! Like, I already hurt, I don’t want that too.” And just so much of it had to be done by the people who walked through the door. But my clients. By the people who would see the acupuncture and who fell in love with it, because they were the ones who would go back into the world and tell their friends and their family and their neighbors. Like you know, try this thing with me. It’s not what you’re imagining. You’re going to love it. It’s great. And they were the ones who sold it for me. But getting to the point where I had enough people who could do that. So it was learning to talk about it with people, all over the place. Which is really incredibly uncomfortable, I would so much rather sit behind my computer and write Facebook posts that can go out there instead of me going into the world. But you know, having to force myself through some uncomfortable areas. I mean, gosh, lots of challenges. Then there came a point where the clinic had grown so much that I was faced with growth issues. Like I had like 20 people who were trying to walk into the clinic, at once for appointments and the reception room was full. I had people who were waiting outside, and I only had one restroom in the treatment area of this, you know starter space that I had moved into and I was like this is not working anymore. I mean I have got to figure out the next step, and it was the same thing of like, all of a sudden I was clear, it was time to move on to the next space. Again they didn’t have a lease in the window, there was nothing advertised online, it was just the right time and the seed was planted. And within a week I had signed a lease. I was like yes, this is exactly where I need to be. This is exactly what needs to happen. I can see how it’s all going to fit together. And it’s challenging and stressful, and it’s the next level. It’s uncomfortable, but again, I’ve been there and I’ve done that, and I know how to get through that space. And it doesn’t last forever. So…

Q: So, what’s kind of the mindset behind, now that you’re an established business, and some of those growing pains, how do you, what are some of the thoughts that you would tell another entrepreneur that might be going through something similar.

I feel like I talk a lot with new business owners about micro-trends versus macro trends. Just because you are having a slow week or slow month or even a slow season, it’s not going to last forever. And It’s so much easier to look back at that when you have some time and experience under your belt. It’s really hard to see that when you’re just starting something up. But I kept meticulous records of my numbers and when I would feel like I was in a slump and things weren’t where I wanted them to be I would pull those concrete numbers up and look at them because my imagination could really easily spin it into… my business has always been better than this; it’s never been this slow… and I would look back at it and I’d go, “Oh, this is actually, kind of exactly what I went through last year at this time. Or I went through this just a couple months ago and it lasted this long and then it shifted again.” Or “Oh I remember if I put a newsletter out, that really helps to turn things around. So not being so focused on the little moment that we’re in, but being able to step back and see the forest for the trees.

Q: What do you think are some of the top qualities of being an entrepreneur? What are some things that are always tucked away in your belt that help you be successful?

Curiosity. Always being curious. I feel like I’m often curious about, you know, what if I try this? What if I try that in my business? What would this look like? I like looking at what other businesses, not necessarily in the acupuncture or even the healthcare world, but just what they’re doing in terms of marketing or connecting with their clients. How they’re taking care of their people and how that might translate into things I could do with my business. So being perpetually curious, never really sitting back and um, coasting. I feel like my wheels are always spinning in my head. And not being afraid to be afraid. Like there’s …there’s kind of always this underlying fear of what happen if my business fails? What happens if people stop coming through the door? What happens if something, you know, shifts and changes? And I don’t have that anymore and learning to be comfortable with that. Learning like when it amps up for me, I… there’s a Tibetan practice called Chod, where you take like whatever difficulty it is, emotionally, that you’re dealing with and you just imagine like bringing it along. Like a little pet or a child and oh fear, I see you’re here with me today, why don’t you come along on this ride and it’s ok. Like not pushing it away, not distancing not trying to keep it at bay, but welcoming it in as part of the journey and as that reminder that I’m living in an uncomfortable spot and that’s me being ok thing and you know it’s part of the process. It’s ok to have that. I was talking with my son, my 17-year-old. I said I’m going to do this interview thing about entrepreneurs; I said I feel kind of like a fraud about it. Like, I don’t really feel like I’ve arrived at that place of being a successful entrepreneur and he just looked at me and laughed and said “You’ve been doing this for my whole life. Like, this is exactly where you are, you know.” And we just talked a little about feeling sometimes like you have to have it all figured out or it has to be easy. It has to be smooth or there has to be… I feel like there has to be, I can tell myself that there has to be this confident ending where I know where I’m going or exactly what’s going to happen next. And it’s just never like that. There’s always uncertainty and doubt and that’s the journey, that’s the risk piece. Learning to live with that.

Q: What is it about being an entrepreneur that has fulfilled you so much that you want to dedicate your life towards your business?

Um, gosh, I love the independence of it, I love the autonomy. I can’t imagine working for somebody else. I think I’m too strong-willed for anybody to really deal with me as an employee. But I like being able to make my own choices and if I get an idea, (snaps fingers), you know I can sign a lease in a week and shift that, I can pivot so quickly, I like being able to you know, go with my gut on things when they arise. And I like the challenges that it brings to me in my personal life. In terms of personal growth. It’s just working through, just working through fears and uncertainties, all of that. And then I love the connecting that I do with people in my clinic.

Q: So what advice would you give an entrepreneur, maybe somebody that’s in the middle of a growth spurt, that is just thinking, I just don’t know how I’m going to do this right now.

Listen to that voice and ask, what is it that is challenging right now? What are you being called to do, why… I guess I would explore that more, Try and figure out what the obstacle is there and, sometimes being patient is the most challenging thing- Patience is a virtue- learn it if you can, and sometimes in a woman, never in a man. But sometime you know, being aware of what that sticking point is and asking for help, whether that’s asking internally in meditation or prayer or whatever that looks like for you. Or asking externally in the world, like connecting with other people who have had similar experiences, asking for their stories. That’s probably a lot of it, is not being afraid to reach out for help. I think that there can be a tendency for people to put on this polished image, fakebook of I’ve got everything together. I’ve got it all figured out. My life is great; my business is perfect. And we forget that underneath that polished veneer, there are so many challenges and stories that are uncomfortable for people to tell. But finding somebody who you can connect with and you can hear their stories and relate in and learn how they got through it. That’s huge. Cause then you don’t feel so alone and isolated.

Q: I want to talk a little bit about your Promise Form.

So, I struggled a little bit. I won’t allow something to stop me from something. And I struggled with it because one of the lessons that I’ve learned through running my own business and just through my life is that if something doesn’t come, (not that it has to come easily) but if something is really challenging/difficult, that’s where I pause and I ask, you know, is this really the right path? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Is this where I belong? And so I don’t, I wouldn’t necessarily, barrel through something just because I want to be able to say that I’ve done it. But I won’t allow conventions/rules/people telling me this is the way it’s supposed to be done/this is how it’s always been done/this is what you’re supposed to look like/this is what your business should look like/this is what should happen next. I won’t allow any of that to stop me from exploring what things could look like or possibilities or paths that I might take or that I might consider. I won’t allow rules or boxes or conventions to keep me from finding a new path or finding something that fits for whatever problem/challenge/obstacle I’m working with.

Q: That’s such great inspiration for people to hear that you don’t have to do the way that the world tells you have to do it. So how can our audience, how can our entrepreneurs find you? And what’s the best way to reach out for you and your services?

My website: has a ton of information on it thanks to Mitch Dowell and Branding Experiences. I have online scheduling available too, so it’s really simple for somebody who’s thinking about the insomnia that they’re having at 3 o’clock in the morning, pop on the website, right then and schedule and appointment for the next day and work through that. The website’s probably the best. But you know, Facebook, telephone, we have a lot of people who just pop in the clinic too, to check things out.

Kellie Ketron

Owner.Maker.Mastermind, Dapper Geek USA

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Click on the questions to read the full interview./p>

Q: Well, Miss Kellie, Thanks so much for being with us today. We are excited to have you on the couch; we’ve been watching your story unfold and have read a lot about you. So, tell me before Dapper Geek started, tell me the bag story. Where did this all stem from?

Well, it kind of came from out of nowhere. So when I was a kid, I was six, my mom told me this story that I came out of my bedroom in my brother's suit with my hair slicked back and a briefcase full of drawings. My mom said, “Oh Kellie, what are you dressed up for today?” And she said that I said I was a fashion designer and she said okay. And I think it’s great that she didn’t take a picture of me and make a big deal about it but I wish I would have seen this photo. And she called my teacher, and she said, “Ok Kellie is a fashion designer, no big deal. This is just what it is.” And I never did anything with it; I went to school for music business. And was managing a bar, did stage lighting for eight years. And then I was managing a bar for four years; I got brutally assaulted one night by a customer on St. Patrick’s Day. He broke my collar bone, messed up my shoulder, tore a bunch of ligaments in my neck, and sprained some vertebrae in my neck, and I couldn’t do the job anymore. And while I was going through rehab and waiting for everything to kind of figure itself out, I wanted to wear a tie to a party. I had the sewing machine that my mom gave me that she made my baby clothes on, and a bag of fabric and decided to print out something that I found online, made a tie, and people loved it. We came up with the logo and started the company in the next couple weeks after that. Yeah so, full circle from six with slicked back hair to today.

Q: Yeah, wow, that’s incredible, I love how quickly you acted on that. A lot of times people have an idea and they kind of let it stew and simmer so what was that kind of driving force that made you say, “You know what, I’m gonna do this, like right now.”

I think I needed a reason to stay alive. I had PTSD really bad. I had an accident in 2000 and -sorry, I don’t know why that’s making me teary. I guess I haven’t really talked about it that much. So in 2004, I was in college. And I was driving, I was the captain of my rugby team, the team back and a man stepped in front of us and killed himself. And I essentially killed him. And so things have always been kind of hot or cold for me. My medium is hard for me to live in sometimes. And so after this assault, I needed a reason to continue, and I saw something that I really enjoyed, something that made myself happy and made other people happy. I was like, “I think I’m good at this, I think I can do this.” And I didn’t want to go back into the bar scene. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go back into lighting. I knew that those physical jobs weren’t something that I needed to do anymore and I couldn’t really do anymore. So I just needed to do something that made me feel alive and let me just be happy doing something.

Q: So, take me into kind of those beginning stages like, “I’m kind of flipping my whole working world upside down, and I’m starting a business.” Had you ever started a business prior to this or had any business experience?

Well I went to school for music business. So I had business knowledge. I moved to Tennessee to go to school for music business and then they also have music production side. So we were learning about copyrights and booking studio times, entrepreneurialism, all of those things. And I had a minor is small business management. But honestly, unfortunately, with my accident, I don’t remember the last year and a half of school. They just kind of let me pass, that’s how I feel. They let me graduate because I lived through that and still went to classes. And then just working in lighting and doing theatrical things I developed more of a rapport with people. I feel like internally l am a really shy person and I force myself to be more extrovert and to approach people and to pretend like, “Hey I’m here.” Even though inside I’m scared to death the whole time. So, I don’t know, it just happened. I felt confident in it, and I thought, what was the risk? I buy a little bit of fabric? I already have the sewing machine. I mean there’s nothing to loose. So I started an Etsy page, and it did pretty well. I am just learning. I am still trying to figure it all out. It’s hard being one person in the business. Trying to do the production, the talking to people, correspondence, trying to find shows to go to and follow ups with stores; because stores are really hard to get into unless you have a team working for you. I’ve fiscally financed the whole venture myself. And so that’s also a hardship because I probably haven’t paid myself in three years. But I’m still working, and I have a part-time day job, and so it’s like trying to find that balance of how to manage everything at once.

Q: What are some of your techniques in balancing because a lot of entrepreneurs are doing just that- they are working their day job while working their dream job.

Gosh, priorities… I have a wipe off board, where because I like to name everything, like all of my ties. Even if it’s one, has a name. So, I have a list going of pronouns and antonyms of different things that describe so that way when I use it I can pick one off of there, and I erase it. And I have what I have to make what has to be shipped out; I put them on wipe off boards and I put them in my phone… and then I have a paper calendar because if I don’t have all three of those things going… and my family has to remind me. But you have to figure out what makes you the happiest, but you also can’t burn out yourself financially.Which I almost did because I was just kind of caught up in Dapper Geek Land. And it was right, because all of the products I took the time to make, I have sold. But it’s not been a big enough market to support myself, so I think making sure that you take the time to pay your bills but make sure you do your passion. And the one thing that I’m still learning to do is to take the time to be Kellie and not just Dapper Geek. I’ve bene Dapper Geek for three years, and I am slowly trying to figure out where Kellie fits into that whole mix. You have to make sure that you take care of you. And I’m trying to learn that it’s new. Yeah and to have people who can help you realize that. I made a comment to my mom once, “Oh yeah, people know me as Dapper Geek.” She said you are more than just that. “Oh, I am. Yeah. It makes sense. Where is that person? We need to find that person.”

Q: One of biggest questions that a lot of people have is when they are getting ready to start a business is, what is the first thing that I do? So what’s the first thing that you did to start your business?

I made the ties, and I took a whole bunch of pictures of them, I put them on Facebook. And people started to buy them. And I started an Etsy page and I started Instagram; I had no idea what I was doing. That was before I knew how to use hashtags or anything else. And I would just post things and then somehow I was getting sales, and I just kept doing it, and I think making sure in this market- having a social media presence is incredibly important. And for my products Instagram is better than Facebook, but now for some reason Twitter is coming back, so it’s really hard, you just have to get your brand and just throw it in people’s faces over and over again and just incessantly talk about it. To anyone who will listen.

Laura: Well I like that you did a trial period.

K: Exactly! Yeah, I think a trial period because I don’t think people realize everything that goes behind the scenes to run a business. I mean there’s so many aspects and variables especially if it’s one person or two people or anybody really. There’s a lot on the table, and I started a business with a friend of mine and we were going to open our own social dance club, and it just didn’t work out and so you know, I let him buy me out of it. But we should have done more research before we just jumped in and spent money to do this.

Q: Makes sense. So on a lot of your social media and on your website you call yourself the Hawaiian shirt of ties.

I know I didn’t even bring a Hawaiian tie with me! I think that ties can become incredibly boring. But I also don’t like people being so casual all the time like there is a level that we should maintain and not everybody needs to wear slippers in public type thing. And I have always loved really gaudy shirts and clothes, and anything with a bold, bright, ugly pattern is the shirt that I want to wear. And when I was picking out my fabrics, I would pull out these bolts, and people would be like, oh that’s going make a terrible tie, and I would say just wait- when it’s two ¼ inches this thing is going to look rad. And it worked out, and I didn’t want to get lost in the mix. I’m not a boring person. I think I’m colorful. And I wanted to just express what I wanted to see, and so it just took on its own thing. It’s the tie that you want to wear not a tie you have to wear!

Q: I was also pretty interested that you moved from Nashville to Frederick. So, tell me about the decision to leave sort of a bigger area and come to a smaller, quaint town.

Well the assault did have something to do with that. I got burnt out on the city; the city has grown or grew exponentially overnight. I mean, everything changed. It’s the fastest growing city in the United States. They have a fashion association/alliance, the National Fashion Alliance. And it was really not welcoming to me, and I so would do shows, and I would try to sell things there, and it was never quite working. My family lived here in Frederick, and I would come up and do shows and I was selling in stores and people loved it and people were being super supportive, and I was making friends here. I would go back home and I just felt like my creativity was stifled because I didn’t have that kind of connection there. And so last summer, not this summer, but the summer before, I put all my things in storage and came up to my parent’s house for a month, and I sewed and sewed and sewed and sewed. And took my two dogs and a tent and a big rack full of stuff and spent two months camping and sewing across the US. I got accepted to Renegade Craft Fair in Portland, Seattle. So I drove to the Grand Canyon, then I drove to Portland, then I drove to Seattle, and then I drove to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado; just knocking on doors and talking to people and selling my wares. I came back, and I had thought about leaving, and I haven’t lived anywhere near my parents since I was 18. They were military, so when I graduated high school, they moved to Italy, and that is the last time we’ve even been in the same state. And I just really needed a connection, and I needed the support from them and I needed the safety of the city that was so supportive of me and has helped me. I mean my company has just BOOMED since I made the decision. So it was a mental health decision. It was the best decision I think I have ever made in my whole life. I have a great support system, but the community is so supportive. And everyone is so artistically minded, and there’s no cattiness. Everyone wants to help everyone else to succeed, and it’s fantastic!

Laura: Right. That’s awesome. I love that you went on like a Tie Tour.

K: I did. It was called the Ride or Tie. And I’m an avid camper, and I learned a lot and I was exhausted when I got back. But I needed to find myself again, and I needed to go out and have to chop wood and haul water and deal with bears and all this stuff for so many months just to kind of feel like I could stand on my own two feet again. And I had that confidence that I felt I was lacking, but I still had the strength – and I found it.

Q: So I’m curious, you start out with ties, you brought one of your awesome bags with you as well. I’m curious how you know when it’s a good idea to expand your line or when you should stay focused in on one thing that you’re really good at.

I wish I had a distinct answer for that. I have learned as I’ve gone. I had no formal training on anything; I took Home Ec. I’ve always wanted to do bags, but I didn’t have the knowledge or the know-how to even do the construction of it. And I don’t want to put out anything that I don’t think is great. Because I am really hard on myself when it comes to everything. And so I started seeing these fabrics and I was like those would make some really cool bags. And being a camper, I always think about like camping things and stuff about hauling stuff and I’ve always loved bags, and there are some fun things, but there really wasn’t anything that was kind of cartoony, but adult. And I think that we’ve all gotten really serious, especially in this climate with what’s happening in the US right now. And there’s just no reason to not have fun things in your life. You can still be an adult and have some things that are fun and whimsical.

Laura: Amen to that.

K: And so I’ve made a couple of them and I used one, and on a whim, I put it on Instagram. And it sold within 30 minutes. Then I put another one on the next day, and it was sold within 25-30 minutes SOLD. I thought, okay, I’m on to something, and so luckily, my friends had bought those and I sent them out and I said ok, give me some honest feedback about what you feel about this or what you think I could change, or what’s different. And I took that information, and I built this whole wall just to highlight them because I thought that I really had something. I want to stay current and keep my brand doing different things to keep it relevant. And the bags just – they just sold. And I just took a risk, and it’s working out. So I think you just have to test the waters with people you trust and ask for honest feedback. Ask for them to look at this from an outsiders point of view, tell me what I could change, what could I do differently and you know. Hopefully, you find something new that you could branch out into. I think now we’ve sold like 23 of them now, in the past two months. And I mean that doesn’t sound huge, but for me that’s a pretty good number.

Q: No, It’s amazing! Well, it’s nice too when you can tangibly say, “I’m going to take a risk, but it’s a small risk, but it’s a risk nonetheless.”

And even when I buy my fabrics, I buy small amounts of it, and call them limited because I don’t want an over-saturation of my product anywhere. I don’t want a lot of people to be like, “OH, that’s the same gym bag, I’ve got.” That’s not what I’m about. And so I buy a little, and I go, “Okay, well we’ve got two of them, and if three other people want them, then I know that in the next batch I will make more and I will expand into that a little bit.” But if they sit around then I’m like ok, I guess I just have another bag to put my stuff in. Start small and then see how that… that’s my best advice.

Q: How would you say that being an entrepreneur has changed your life?

I don’t know. I think that I have a better grasp on the person that I want to be. I think that I can see how I can become a productive adult and – which sounds weird at 34 but to be like an adult involved in the world and an active member of the community. More responsible, well I was always responsible, but different responsibilities, I feel a lot more in control of life.

Q: Would you say that being an entrepreneur has filled some of those previous gaps and has given you the inspiration and encouragement to keep doing things you love?

Yeah, because I’m also managing myself now, where I am looking at myself as my boss too. Which kind of was like, get off your ass and get to work. You know, as somebody who has depression and PTSD, sometimes we need somebody to kick our butts and being my own boss has made me kick my butt even harder. But not as harshly; I’m nicer but more inspirational.

Q: And I’ve heard quite a few times about how important your support system has been. What has having such an incredible support team with you meant for you and your success?

It’s the only way I’ve been able to do the business. It would never have happened. They encouraged me to put everything on- in the storage unit and go on the road for two months. What kind of parent says, “Yeah you can do that.” And you go oh, can I? That’s terrifying. “Yeah you got that.” I needed that; I need them to kick me out of the nest every once in a while.

Q: So if a younger version of yourself joined us today. What would you tell her?

Hmm. It’ll be alright. We’ll make it. Yeah. And to not grow that Mohawk. That I had for sooo long. I always say college Kellie would be really surprised about this Kellie, because I used to have a Mohawk, and the spikes and super punk rock.

Q: So what is firing you up right now? What’s got you pretty excited about whatever the next chapter of your life is?

Bags! I think about bag fabric, 23 hours a day probably. And it’s so bizarre; I am driven by prints. I am not a textiles designer by any means. And people always ask, “Are you going to make your own fabric?” I don’t have the time to make, and plus I don’t have the skills needed for that, but I like using other people’s and thinking about making something taking a picture and showing it to people because I just feel so proud of what I’m doing. Which is invigorating and it’s really nice. It’s like I’m thinking, “I’ve got all this fabric at home and it’s new, and I’m going launch it and I can’t wait for people to see it. I got to get home, and I got to make it.

Laura: There’s something really amazing about being a creative person and having somebody emotionally except what you create.

K: I don’t know what it is, about the bag and the differences. But I feel like my market is just expanded because a lot of people thing that ties are one gender or another. Where I see it as it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female or whatever, to wear a tie is your fashion statement. Not a gender. I had a lady buy one bag for her little boy, and I was like, oh that’s cool, and that kid's going to grow up using one of my bags to haul all his toys around. That’s pretty awesome!

Q: I want to talk to you a little bit about your promise form.

Yes! I said, I won’t allow self-doubt to stop me from success.” That’s always the big one. I am the biggest bully to my own self. And taking chances were difficult. I think I’m getting a lot better; I’m learning. But not being scared to doing that huge show that I did. I wanted to chicken out the second I signed up for it I said you know what - no. You can do this. You can; you’re in – yeah you can do this. You’re in this league; you’re alright. Just hang in there. We’ll see what happens and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll try something else. But, I know I’ve got something. I just have to figure out how to respect what I do and know that what I’m doing is being done well.

Q: What advice would you give to an inspiring entrepreneur? Somebody that’s maybe in that transitional point that you were.

Go for it! What do you have to lose? If you’re a potter and you’ve got all this clay, and you want to sell it, sell it. If it’s sitting around? That’s how I feel about my stuff and why I don’t make huge surplus of things because if it’s just sitting around, it’s just my time and money just sitting there not doing anything. So why not try to sell it? I mean, if that’s something that you love to do and it makes you happy, go for it. There’s no reason to not. And you don’t have to do it BIG, you don’t have to go HUGE, just do it on a small scale. As my dada always says, “They can’t take away your birthday!” So, if you fail – at least you’re still going to have your birthday.

Q: Kellie, how can our viewers/readers get in touch with you? How can they find out about you on all of your awesomeness?

Well they can follow me @DapperGeek on Instagram. And @DapperGeekUSA on Twitter. Or go to Or follow me on Facebook under Dapper Geek USA. You can find me on all those places. Oh, Pinterest! I’m also on Pinterest. I’ve got a thing; you can click buy. And also I have some stuff on Scoutmob, which is an American-made based retailer out of Atlanta and they just put a whole bunch of people together and promote us and sell us to markets that may not find us. And you can also buy my stuff downtown Frederick at the Muse: 19 North Market Street.

Eric Avey

Guitarist | Singer-song writer, Mountain Ride

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: We’re excited to have you and your musical journey with us on The Green Couch. So tell me a little bit about the backstory. Before who you are now, what kind of led you to this point?

Well, I worked in Hagerstown for about 13 years for The Arc of Washington County. I worked with kids with autism. And I did that for about 13 years, and I was playing music along that whole time as well. And I was bringing it home, and I just wasn’t quite as happy as I was, you know? And years passed and Kate, my wife, was like, “You know why don’t you do music? Why don’t you try to take it to the next level? We need to make this amount of money. So see if you can book as many shows as you know that you need to bring home that kind of money.” And so I put my two weeks in and got on the computer right away. Started a website. Facebook was there, and so I started utilizing Facebook and our website to get our name out there, and I just started booking shows. Four nights a week, five nights a week, sometimes six, sometimes five in three days. Whatever it took to make enough. And I went out, actually on my own. I was going to do it on my own and play as many solo shows as possible. And then I just realized it wasn’t for me, doing it by myself, so I came home and, “Kate, do you want to come do this with me?” You know, and her being a full-time teacher, you know so on the side she was coming out and helping me with shows. And she’s been there ever since, almost every show. But that’s how I’m here today, and this October is four years. Since I took the plunge, I haven’t looked back. And here I am on The Green Couch.

Q: Wow. Four years this month so, we’re in a celebratory month.

Yeah, beginning of this month. I put my two weeks in and I just started getting on the booking. I started hosting open-mics; those weekday shows are what really helps. So finding those weekday avenues, to make money and play music. It was a huge help, and I had a lot of help from other musicians, friends, offering shows and stuff like that for us to play or for me to play. And I kept putting ads out there because I play various instruments. I play drums, bass, guitar, mandolin and piano. So I was kind of jumping in with whomever I could play with at the time and really got it started.

Q: Tell me about that kind of timeframe when you started thinking about leaving your job and when you actually did. How long of a time span was there?

Well, the issues I guess I was having at work made that decision a lot faster. I tried thinking through it for a little while. I was dealing with it for a long time. And I kind of just hit a boiling point where I was bringing the issues home, and it wasn’t good for us, and our family and our kids. It wasn’t fair to the kids I was working with either because my heart wasn’t there. I think I was really good at what I was doing but I was working on the behavioral side with autism, so it was pretty intense. So whenever I guess I got the “go” from Kate, “Hey why don’t you try this?” Then it wasn’t very long at all. I literally like, the next day, I was like, you know what, I’m going to do this. And you know, we’ve been married now 16 years. And we’ve had ups and downs you know, like any couple or anyone, and we always worked through the financial things like that. That was the biggest thing, finding the financial end of it. So as soon as I knew I could make that happen and I had her blessing.

Laura: It’s really important to have a great support system.

E: Yes. I mean she really is the backbone of not just mother and wife, but also she plays bass in our band, Mountain Ride. So she’s like the heartbeat of it all for me and a lot of people. So… it’s really cool to share that with her.

Q: At any point have you thought; I can’t; I can’t do this.

Yes. Weekly. I wouldn’t say daily. I’m very self-critical on certain things; I contemplate it a lot. Being a musician it’s a full-time job alone, just booking the shows. That’s not even playing the shows; that’s not even preparing or practicing or anything. Just the booking and the organization alone. It's something you can’t really afford right at the beginning to pay someone to do so you have to do your own booking agent, your own promoter. So, that was definitely something that crossed my mind a lot. I’ve considered going back to work many times; going back even part-time I’ve considered. And but then I have a lot of people that remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing. Daily. And sometimes weekly and at shows and you have good shows, and you have bad shows. And you just wonder if people are getting it, you know? Are they listening, do they hear what we’re doing? But you know, just being a musician, we’re all self-critical of our abilities and if we’re doing the right thing and I question that with our kids too. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, are they going look back and say, Dad was just a musician, or my dad’s a musician kind of thing. But they’re super cool. Our kids. And they’re super supportive. And that reminds me you know, why I’m doing what I’m doing because I’m able to be there for a lot of things, that if I were working a full-time 9-5 job, I wouldn’t be able to do. Like field trips and all different kinds of things and I’m able to do because I live the life I do.

Q: What are some instances or scenarios that helps you turn the switch from “I can’t.” to “I can and I will.”?

Because of social media and stuff, I wouldn’t say the haters, but there’s a lot of people that I know early on said, “He’s not going to do it.” Or “He can’t do it.” And people’s ignorance fueled my fire sometimes. I do remember one person in particularly that was like, “He’s not going to do it. Or He thinks he’s going be--- whatever.” And I that day I think I booked like six shows. And one of my goals was to always book one show a day. And when I would meet that quota, the next day I would take off. And so if I could book three shows in one day, I would take the next three days off. And work on other things. But then when the next day came around and I needed to be booking I was on it.

Q: So, your wife, Kate, is very involved in the day-to-day operation and the music, home and family. What advice would you give other couples that are working closely together and how to separate or how to balance out work and home life?

Our biggest thing that I think with our success and our relationship, in music and life in general, is being ourselves. Trusting. Communication is the biggest thing. You know, our frustrations, our fears, our love, our concerns, all of that. Communication is what has kept us as strong I think. And going in the right direction. Plus we have fun! And I’m definitely a different person since I left that job - until now. Some people may remember me from those days you know, 3-4 years ago, and maybe I wasn’t as positive as I am now.

Q: You know, I would probably bet in the music industry it would be easy to sway towards what somebody else is doing. So, how do you carve out being Eric and Kate?

That’s a really great question. Well, when we got married, we kind of not laid down some things but some guidelines, but we laid down what we wanted out of our relationship in our life. And uh, when we met, we would have gotten married the first week had her mother approved of it. But we didn’t- we waited four months. So we waited four months, and we’ve been married 16 years. And three kids and we promised each other we would remain true to who we are. Even having kids, we weren’t going to follow certain things in society. We’re ourselves. We don’t hide anything from them, and uh, we expose them to all the good things. We take them to festivals, and it just didn’t stop us or prevent us from being ourselves. And we do that music too. And as parents and we encourage them to be themselves too, they’re happy kids.

Q: So, there’s always opportunities to do new things, add new things. How do you differentiate when an idea is a good one enough to pursue it?

Well, we definitely, I play a lot of shows outside of Mountain Ride, which Mountain Ride is our biggest focus right now. So like I said, I play other instruments, I play drums in a band on Wednesday nights with another group. I host an open mic, which is happening tonight. I play various instruments at that. Keeping my music fresh and my inspiration and my ideas fresh is important for me to keep our main focus, Mountain Ride, headed in the right direction. I just got a mandolin recently. And so I’ve been focusing a lot of time and absorbing a lot of information on the mandolin. But it’s also helping me get better as a musician and songwriter. We play six times a month maybe, four times a month with Mountian Ride. Sometimes more, sometimes less. And the main thing like with that band is we play a different set list every time we play. We keep everything fresh. We sometimes play songs we’ve never played before as a band. But everyone is competent enough to follow along. So, taking chances musically and not just doing one thing all the time.

Q: Tell me about a time where you actually did almost quit, you did almost go back to work, you did almost do this, and why you did not.

So this morning. Yeah, I mean I guess I haven’t gotten that close yet. Social media is like a double edge sword; it reminds me of where we’ve come and where we’ve gone and all this support. But there’s also that side of it where you’re watching other people succeed, and you’re like, why can’t we be there? Why can’t we be doing that? That’s one of my frustrations. One of my main frustrations is getting the band, the music, exposure. To that next step because you see other people out there doing it and you’re like how did they get there? How did they? Something clicked, or someone had helped them along the way. So, I can’t say I’ve gotten that close, because then again I’ll log on and I’m like ok, then I’m reminded that these hundred people that were just like, thank you for doing what you do. So, and that feels good, and you know bringing smiles and joy to other people. You know, financially there are times where shows are slow. Or I wasn’t really working hard this week. I may not have made the amount of money that I needed to. We’ve never been like, without. But there’s definitely stressful times like everyone has money issues at some point.

Q: Do you have a mechanism for turning it off? Do you ever just want to not think about it?

I have one weekend a year, we take off memorial day weekend, and that’s five days. We take a little vacation, just Kate and I, and we get a sitter for the kids, that’s about the only time, I turn off my phone for five days and I don’t look at it. But, I’m guilty as a lot of people, I’m on it all the time. I’ve kind of built it that way and I’ve struggled with that too. I used to write a blog, after every show. And I’ve written hundreds of them… I started slowing down with those and people loved them, they were like, oh, I love your blog. And I slowed down with that and I haven’t written one in forever. And I was just starting to realize, I’m sharing a lot- maybe I’m sharing too much of my personal stuff. Cause I would share my personal thoughts on how the show went and the crowd, and the songs and all that stuff. And then as soon as I start to say, I want to take a break or stop posting about shows, then I’m missing that potential fan or person. You never know who you might get at the last minute, you know people show up and they say, I saw your post and that’s why I’m here. I keep my personal life out of social media for the most part now. It’s just geared towards music and where we’ll be next. People are like, why don’t you post pictures of your kids? Because if you want to know my kids, you’ll know me, you’ll know us, and you’ll be around to know them. Otherwise, this is why I use Facebook the way I do.

Q: Where do you find the most inspiration?

In my bandmates, a lot. They’re incredible musicians. And I feel they’re all better than me. You know, and I think everyone just has their own self-critical opinions about themselves, you know musically. But I get inspired by them because I know I need to hang with them. I’m huge into songwriting, so I want them to like it, you know. So, it’s very important for me to bring quality songs to the table. Kate, she’s an incredible singer, so we’re honest with each other too. So if it stinks, we can “No, that doesn’t work.” Or “That doesn’t sound right.” That kind of thing. And then I guess mostly, is the crowd. The people that come out now, too. We’re seeing a lot more; we’re seeing a bigger picture with the fans. We played a show a couple of weeks ago up in Harrisburg on a weeknight, and I mean from the first song we had a dance floor to the last song. And they were very receptive after every song. And that’s when it means the most.

Laura: Well, as an artist, as a creative person, you know, you’re putting yourself out there whenever you create something, and music is just like that.

E: Yeah, and a lot of times I have looked at Kate in the middle of a show and said, “I’m done. I’m done with this.” Or like, I’ve gotten very frustrated on stage before because of the lack of interaction or it could even be the venue. But then again, I think back and I’m like wow, think back to what I was doing and how I felt and I use that as a reminder of why I’m still doing what I’m doing. I have an instrument in my hand, I’m having a drink, I’m playing music and it is fun.

Q: What’s next up on Mountain Ride’s- what’s kind of getting you guys excited right now?

Well, we’re getting ready to release our second album, 12 original songs. Fans and people are starting to come out more and we’re getting some more high-profile shows. Playing some theaters and some clubs now, we’re slowly leaving some of the bar scenes and hitting the rooms where people pay money to get in and they’re standing up. They’re there to see the band as opposed to a social gathering. Which is cool too. We have fun at those outlets as well too. But we’re releasing this album, as I explained kind of through some emails, we’re kind of phasing out some of the projects and things that I’ve done in the past. To allow more time for Mountain Ride, because what happened is, I would book all these shows in advance for the various bands' projects and then we’d get offers and not be able to completely fulfill those and so that was kind of hindering our availability. So we’re opening up our schedule next year completely for Mountain Ride and the booking aspect of it. And recently I’ve been doing a lot of Facebook Live stuff. That’s the new thing people are now grasping onto so at least twice a week in the morning I’ll be practicing and I’ll pick up my guitar and I’ll click it on and just set it there and just talk to people and play songs for them. Take requests and stuff like that. And Camp Mountain Ride – it’s like I said. We’re releasing this album, we just released a really awesome video, professionally made video.

Q: So what advice would you give an aspiring musician that wants to live that life but maybe feels like they can’t… for whatever reason?

I’ve helped a lot of musicians already get work and I’ve had a lot of feedback saying you’ve inspired me to do this. So I know of a handful of musicians, that’s already taken that plunge and they’re still doing it. I see some of their frustrations and you can’t always just jump in and tell them what to do. You can offer your advice or if they’re asking for that advice. I always told people don’t nail yourself down to one avenue. If you do play multiple instruments, try to get out there with some different people. Or create things, I’ve created a couple of open mics, to venues that don’t have music on Tuesday nights or Wednesday nights or random weeknights and give that a try or play by ear. Book, wherever you can book that, will pay you or where people will listen. But I wouldn’t just encourage anyone to not just lock themselves not just into one genre, even musicians. I play bluegrass, mainly. But I also play drums in a country band and then I also play various instruments in all different kinds of bands, covering different styles of music, so. You don’t know unless you try and I just wrote a song about this whole thing; it’s called “Try.” That song is about taking those risks and you’re not going know unless you try. And as long as you’re not jeopardizing your house, and your things and your life if you can get out. Just do it and see what happens. I didn’t think it was going to go the way it did and again, here I am four years later and there are no signs of slowing down.

Q: What is the best way for our audience to get in touch with you or find out where you’re playing next?

Well, is our main website at this point. And I, myself, live on Facebook, and I am pretty much friends with anyone who will accept a friend request, you know? Eric Avey on Facebook is where I post daily reminders of where we’ll be. Up until the minute that we’re playing sometimes. And then from there is all the links for Instagram, Twitter, you know they’re all tied into that.

Dallas White

Television & Film Actor | Model

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Click on the questions to read the full interview.

Q: We’re excited to have you with us, we’re excited to talk about you and your entrepreneurial journey as an actor, in hopes that your story will bring some inspiration to someone else that is thinking about doing what you’re doing. So tell me a little bit about the story. Give me the background before we got to where we are today.

I would say it started in Middle School. I had a hobby of doing magic tricks; that was kind of the performing aspect that got into me; I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor until after High School. I had a lot of focus more on theater, and once I got into theater, I still didn’t know I wanted to be an actor at that point. I wanted to be creative; I wanted to do magic. But I didn’t know I wanted to be a television and film actor. I was more intrigued of backstage and building the sets and painting the sets and magic was a hobby. I wanted to make a career out of it, but once I got out of High School and to College, something changed. I didn’t have much interest in it anymore. I started doing accounting and like, math classes because I wanted to be a business owner. I wanted to own my own magic and novelty shop. And that totally went down the drain. I had to get with a counselor and just tell them, I need to switch my major now. This is not what I want to do. It’s not the responsibility I want to have, in my life. I would rather go and do something much more fun and with a lot of freedom. I feel being an actor is a lot of freedom. I had a mentor in FCC (Frederick Community College), Jeff Kiholts, who helped me get into the mindset of method acting and that class alone just sort of sprouted me into this whole other life and journey and experience. So I got out of college, I wanted to do this for real. And it started out as just trying to find out where to go. I had no clue as to where to go. I would Google search like, TV Shows and castings and just see what I could do to audition for things. I did a lot of student films, just messing around with the local buds and doing just silly stuff, really. But it sort of has gotten to a point where I want to be serious about what I needed to put on my resume and to start this big journey of acting.

Q: You know that’s often a big question, “Where do I start?” What are some of the first things that you did to do that?

I definitely had to build connections. I had no connections, whatsoever. I had to be able to go to a set; I had to know what a set looked like and what was to offer. It wasn’t about the acting aspect yet; it was more about how does a set work, what different jobs people have on a film set or a TV set. And I had to get ahold of a casting company. Thankfully, I found a couple casting companies that hire extras. And that’s usually what you do as an actor, you kind of start out as an extra, just so you can kind of feel what a set looks like and what it does to the environment and how you can go into another world, really. I got on House of Cards; that was kind of like my first thing. It wasn’t that I wanted to get on camera or anything like that, I just wanted to learn. I wanted to know how the director interacts with the other people on set. The main actors, Kevin Spacey, just seeing him in front of me is a pretty crazy experience; to see him in his character as Francis Underwood. Listening in to what he was saying and his lines and you can see how he prepares, and it was just taking it all in really. But I wanted to know more. That wasn’t the stop from there it was in jumping. It was more of a gradual experience building. You know, that was a TV set, ok, what does a film set look like? Instead of it being in Baltimore, what does a film set look like in New York or Atlanta or New Orleans? I wanted to meet new people in different cities. I feel like in the industry you can’t really stay in one place, you have to brand city to city, whether it’s Richmond; Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; There are tons of places I visited. I had another job, obviously to pay for my bills. My car was not paid off. I was having a car payment so I couldn’t do this full-time. I had to figure out my finances, and as soon as my car was paid off, that was the moment where I was like, “Wow, I have more financial freedom, now I think I can do this full-time.”

Q: What are some of those moments when you think, I just can’t do this anymore? And one the flipside of that, how do you overcome some of those things?

I’ve had those feelings all the time. And, “Why am I doing this? Why am I here? And you have to answer those questions on your own. You get to a point where you have worked so hard in your career and why throw it all away? You’ve got to keep going. I was living in my car; I had no one to stay with. If I was in Atlanta or South Carolina, I had no people that lived there that I knew. So I would sleep in my car and shower at gyms for a while and go to the next set. My car was packed. It was like a closet – riding along with me. A lot of just anything I needed was right there. Being able to sleep in my car. I’ve had those moments where I’m in a gym parking lot, it’s raining, and here I am, just kind of like sleeping in the front seat and I’m like what in the world am I doing right here? But it pays off! I got two agents and three agents, and then I would get a manager and now I have this team behind me and a big supportive system. My family, my friends and they’re just rooting me on. There’s a lot of times where I leave the house and mom’s like, “See you when you come back!” I would say, “I’ll be gone for a week.” Then it turns into two weeks. It just all depends on what opportunities are thrown at me.

Q: What is something that gets you just really excited? What’s that moment when you’re just like, “YES! This is why I’m doing this!”

I would say, there are two aspects to it. There’s more, there’s a first stage where you get the role, that phone call, after an audition. But once you get that role, I get to tell a story; I get to express emotion into a character. You know, on the flipside of it, I love telling stories to you, to the people, to the viewers that watch Investigation Discovery. Those are shows I’ve done for a little while and being able to see their reactions to the shows and thinking to themselves… I want them to forget about seeing me. I want them to be intrigued by the story. And that’s the moment that really excites me. Is when someone is so intrigued by a story that I’m telling or I’m a part of goes out there to the world to see.

Q: So what’s it like, being out there on the road, doing what you do, and loving every – most every - part of it?

It can get really boring, honestly. It’s a struggle; you know traveling for hours. I don’t fly; it’s too expensive. I drive a lot. My four-door sedan is good on mileage. I keep going. I might have 6-7 hours to drive and I get down the road and I’m like dang I got 3 hours to go. It gets boring. A lot of SnapChat. Just giving people updates on where I am or what I’m doing and it’s definitely a journey. I get to see different cities. I get to see different people. I get to experience different sets and all those aspects coming together. It’s an overwhelming feeling eventually to have that experience.

Q: So I think that’s really important for the listeners to hear that even in the greatest moments, it’s ok to have those flex things that maybe aren’t your favorite.

Yeah. And I think that’s one thing that a lot of people that aren’t in the industry, they don’t understand how much work is put into this. They might see me through my social media feed and think, “Wow he is living the life. I wish I had his life.” But you know it’s a lot of work that people don’t know. It’s a lot of driving; just being able to book an audition is a 24/7 job. You’re always looking for work; you’re always looking for auditions and traveling to those auditions and you have to put money out for those auditions. It’s a lot of budgeting in this.

Q: So I’m sure that this naturally comes along with the gig: rejection. How have you handled hearing no or no thank you, or you’re not the one?

I would love for casting directors to tell me if I didn’t get the part. 99% of the time they don’t even call you. They don’t email you. If they have 200 people go in for an audition for a role, they’re not going to call 199 to say, “Oh you didn’t get the role.” They are just going to call that one person. And that was my difficult stage, starting out. I would drive all the way to New York, go to this audition and then it’s like embedded in my mind afterward. And I’m thinking about it over and over, “Did I get the part? Did I not get the part?” And people need to just forget about that. That’s what I had to teach myself, is to forget about the audition. Just look at it like an opportunity to meet a casting director, to perform. Don’t think about the things that aren’t guaranteed. I think that that is the best possible mindset to have in rejection, is to just move on. Because if you don’t, it’s just going to kill you.  And that’s another thing. I would audition for something and it’s not necessarily that the casting director was trying to book me for that role, they might call me six months down the road and say, “Hey we have another role, that you fit, but you don’t have to audition because you already auditioned.” I’ve gotten those random phone calls before, and it’s a good thing. People just should go and meet the casting directors, put on a good impression, you know, go perform. It’s fun. You might have to put out some gas money, some food money to get back and forth but it’s going help you in the long run.

Q: What would you say is one of the biggest decisions you’ve made that has contributed to the success that you have today?

I would say quitting my job, my full-time job that I had. Quitting a full-time job of making stable money and going into a journey where you don’t have stable money is a big deal. It definitely causes you to look at different things of, things you want versus things you need. You can’t always go out every weekend. You only have, one week you might make $100 bucks. Another week you might make $500. You know and that’s the hardest part. To quit that stabilization of I know I’m going to make $500 every two weeks. You know, that would probably be the biggest contribution. Just going for it.

Q: When you’re at that moment, you have that realization, I may not be able to eat next week. How do you overcome that, because that’s such a mental cycle and especially when you have six hours alone with yourself? What encouragement would you give other people when they are saying, I just don’t know if this is right for me because it’s just so unknown.

I feel like nothing is more rewarding than the journey you decide to face. That’s my tagline. I always tell people. If you go for it and you do the journey and you at least try; that’s rewarding in itself. I feel like if people are at that stage where they’re like, I don’t know if I can go anymore. You know, the way I get inspired and when I have those days, I put on Netflix and I just start watching The Office. I lived in Atlanta for a little while and that’s all I did. Because Atlanta was such a hard market to get into. I didn’t know, why am I here? Should I be somewhere else? I just put on The Office and to see those characters come to life and they look like they’re having so much fun and you know I feel like even though you might have your days where it’s not fun, you’re going to have those times where you just don’t want to move forward. But you just got to find inspiration, people out there- if you’re watching this. I tell you just to keep going, because if you quit, you’re at a point where you’ve done this for six months or a year or two years, and you quit, you’re throwing it all away, you know? I feel like, there are circumstances, people in this industry- it’s a struggle when you want to build a family. You know, it’s a struggle when you’re leaving your family or you’re leaving your friends and you kind of have to go with your instinct on what your heart wants.

Q: What’s kind of next on your list? What are you really excited about right not?

I’ve done a couple of modeling gigs.I molded for a company that has been featured on Ellen, featured in GQ magazine, so that’s kind of the next throw into the mix. I primarily want to be an actor, but there are those side things; you’ve got modeling things that you can get into. You’ve got voice stuff for commercials. I did a narration for the YMCA. You know if someone goes in to try to be a lifeguard for the YMCA, they’re going to hear me saying the instructions of how to be a lifeguard.

Q: Do you find peace in knowing that people may not ever know who you are, that it’s more that you’re getting the experience, or how do you bridge that gap?

Yeah that is a really good question, I have never been asked that question before. I definitely want to be known, because you have to build your fan base. I feel like fan base building up is definitely important as an actor, but you also have to focus on building your resume. Because if I go to a casting director and I show him my resume and I might have you know, 10k people that are fans of me but yet I have only been in one thing, it’s counteractive. You have to back it up. So at this point, I want to hit the stage where I’ve had an encounter. I have had one encounter where I’ve gone up to get a coffee and they go, “Are you Dallas White?” One encounter. That’s it.

Laura: And I’m sure that was enough to put you on Cloud 9.

D: And I was just like, uh this is so weird. “Where have you seen me from?” And they just happened to go to the same school as me. It’s a point where it’s I want to be known eventually. It’s just you have to not worry about that, you don’t want to jump into that ego, you know. Because there are people that have moved out to L.A. and they have no experience but they want to get out there and they’re like, I want to hit it big and it’s going to be awesome. But for me I don’t want to think like that, I don’t think I want to be this big shot. I want to start small. I want to start with the local community, and eventually all those small things are going to lead to one big thing. You just have to work your way up.

Q: So, how can people hear or see you? What are some things that you’ve been in, that we can go back and watch or listen to?

I do a lot of reenactments for Investigation Discovery.
There’s Nightmare Next Door; I was on last season and this season for a role. Evil Kin: I have an episode of Evil Kin coming out. I was also in Season 3 (the premiere episode). And that’s on Investigation Discovery. I did a couple shows on Reelz! Network. Copycat Killers. And it’s funny because I don’t know how I’ve gotten into all these dark shows. I don’t know how it happened. But it did. And so Copycat Killers is one of those shows each episode is a true story about people who were inspired by horror flicks, like SCREAM, or SAW and they’ve gone out and done it in real life. Definitely mature audiences. But that’s one show, I’ve done a show Deadly Shootouts, I was playing Corporal John Burke, back in the Vietnam. The episode was about Carlos Hathcock, as he was the original American Sniper. Chris Kyle was inspired by him, to become American Sniper. That was a cool episode to be a part of because it was so authentic, I mean we were wearing, 25lbs and having real sniper rifles. It was a pretty crazy day, out in the middle of the woods, because every time we walked through the woods, the art department would have to scrap back up the weeds and stuff because it had to look like nobody walked there before. And that was very exciting. Uh, I would say the most exciting thing in my career so far was, being on the set of Bad Moms. Bad Moms was shot in New Orleans, and I had auditioned for a role for that movie, it was a non-speaking featured role. And I was like, alright I’ll audition for the bus boy. And there were different featured roles; I just happened to pick the bus boy. I figured it would be the one that fit me best. So I auditioned for it. My audition was literally 20 seconds. It was a lot of fun and I thought nothing would happen; two weeks later, I get a phone call saying, “Hey the director really liked you and he wanted to book you for the role of the bus boy.” And I was like are you kidding me right now? That was a lot of fun because I got to go to New Orleans. On set for one day, got to work with Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn. And they are awesome people. Everybody there. This was directed by the writers of The Hangover movies. But in the movie, this is where the discouragement comes into play. Because I don’t want people to be discouraged when they do something and something’s cut or something doesn’t make it to the screen. You kind of have to deal with that because that happens in the industry all the time, you know there’s going be footage that you’ve done and it just gets thrown away. When Bad Moms went to theaters, I was definitely anxious as to what made the cut, cause we did a lot of different takes. And I was in the movie for two seconds. So you know I was kind of like, Dang, you know that scene was cut out, but you got to see a glimpse. But down the line, as soon as it came out on Digital HD, it made it to deleted scenes. 

Q: My last question for you is if you could read your promise form and tell us a little bit about what that means to you.
So, my promise form says: I won’t allow negativity to stop me from pursuing my dreams. And mainly I want to say that negativity shouldn’t be there. You’re going to have people that, you know you’re going to do well and there’s going to be those people that come into play that don’t want you to do well. And they always want to do good but they don’t want you to be better than them. I feel like, in this industry, everybody has to help each other out. You know, if there’s somebody that is telling you that you shouldn’t do something or you know you kind of have to go off pure instinct and what your opinion is. Do your research a lot. A lot of times I have had somebody say, you don’t want to go to that audition is not good for you, and I’m like, I don’t know, I feel like I should go to this audition. And I ended up going and come to find out they were right; it was a total bogus scam. So you have to watch out for it and you have to watch out for what opinions come from people and share your opinions as well but you don’t want to let anybody down. That’s one thing I don’t think people understand. If you help somebody, it’s going to help you out in the long run. It’s a two-way street. If you have an African-American girl that wants to get into the industry, you know I’m giving her everything. I am telling her to go for it, go for it! But I would never say for somebody to not try it. Never. If someone wants to be an actor, go for it! You know, do your research and just do what you can.