Earlier this past year I hosted an intimate soirée in my hometown for a few dozen fabulous females. I’d called all of us together for “Women, Wine, Wisdom – The Solstice Edition” in order to celebrate and recognize the most recent Rise by Design graduates, as well as to co-create some inspired connection and insightful conversation.
With the latter in mind, I extended an invitation to Jess Tetu to join us for the evening as my special guest. In addition to being an exceptionally stunning human being (inside and out!), Jess is a serial entrepreneur and successful business owner who’s amassed an impressive collection of accolades and accomplishments in record time. In the last year alone, she celebrated 10 years in business, launched a new non-profit, took home a Women of Distinction award for entrepreneurship, had a number of high-profile speaking engagements, and opened a fourth location of her day spa chain, Just for You.
However, Jess also happens to be an unapologetic truth-teller, a relentless philanthropist, and a no-nonsense lady boss with a heart of gold. And it was really for these reasons that I was totally thrilled to sit down with her for a rich and revealing chat about her life and business path.
There were so many brilliant gems from our conversation that evening and through it all, I was poignantly reminded of a few crucial leadership lessons that have been so invaluable to my own journey over the years:
- Assumptions are potently dangerous things
- You’ll always be too much or not enough
- The hurt you heal is the medicine you give to the world
ASSUMPTIONS ARE HARMFUL AND HURTFUL
What many people know about Jess is that she is owns a number of successful businesses, including her spa chain, a cosmetic company, and business consultancy.
What most people don’t know is that she’s built and grown every single one of these businesses on her own from the ground up. And she did so after leaving home at 15 to rise above a family situation riddled with poverty and addiction, in spite of becoming a single mom, and because she knew that she alone possessed the intrinsic power to write a very different story for herself and her young son.
Jess is now happily married to a man who is very successful in his own right, but she said it’s often shocking (as well as occasionally insulting), how many people automatically assume that he’s been the primary driver and/or provider of her success. Another insinuation that she’s heard over the years is that her companies have been handed to her on a silver platter from her family. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
YOU’LL ALWAYS BE TOO MUCH OR NOT ENOUGH FOR SOMEONE
In the course of telling her story, Jess shared that when she was growing up, she was constantly judged on her appearance, car, and home. As a child, with her wild mane of curls, wearing hand-me-downs and being shuffled from shelter to shelter, she was routinely subjected to varying degrees of ridicule and pity. And yet ironically, now that she’s a grown woman who’s achieved personal and financial success in life and business, she’s still being judged on her appearance, car, and her home – just from the other side.
As Jess spoke, I couldn’t help but marvel at how “Oh, that poor thing!” can be so quickly and easily transformed into something along the lines of, “Who does she think she is?” I immediately called to mind this raw and real truth that I’ve shared more than once:
It doesn’t matter who you be or what you achieve, you’re always going to be too much or not enough for someone somewhere.
Too loud, too proud, too shy, too hard, too soft, too glam, too drab, too clingy, or too standoff-ish.
And no matter what you do, in someone’s eyes you’re never going to be as smart, savvy, humble, holy, frugal, fearless, giving or grateful as you could be.
I’ll never say that you shouldn’t care what other people think because I don’t believe that’s either possible or practical. It’s vitally important that we’re open to feedback, but we always need to receive other people’s opinions as emotionally neutral information and definitely consider the source. With an open, yet discerning heart, we gotta learn to take what’s best and totally leave the rest.
On the one hand, negative commentary from others is all too often more of an expression of the person offering it than it is an accurate or helpful assessment of our work, goals, appearance, or any of our other choices.
Sometimes one person’s success serves as a mirror to others of what they so desperately long to do, be, or have – but they don't, can't or won't. And then instead of choosing a more audacious or courageous life for themselves, they opt to sit on the sidelines hurling all kinds of spectator opinions and judgement.
And then on the other side of things, while it feels wonderful to be on the receiving end of a generous and genuine compliment, we need to be super conscious about becoming over-reliant on external sources for our validation. When we’re constantly hustling for the approval and praise of others, we're putting our worthiness in a very precarious position and undermining our personal power.
We simply can’t let our self-worth get all wrapped up in the perspectives of other people – good or bad. Otherwise we're signing up for a perpetual emotional rollercoaster ride of fear and exhilaration, constantly getting knocked around and feeling entirely out of control.
BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE DON’T JUST HAPPEN
While I’m reasonably certain that Jess was simply blessed with a bright and brave heart from the very outset, she’ll be the first to tell you that her hardships and heartbreaks have propelled her life and business forward in ways she could’ve never imagined. In her infinitely powerful words: “We must be able to recalibrate our shame and use it as fuel.”
As Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
So while it may seem counter-intuitive, here’s what I know for sure: the most successful women I've ever met have either been abused, addicted, abandoned, overlooked, overwhelmed, betrayed, belittled, traumatized, terrified, unseen, unheard, unwelcomed, unwanted or unloved at one time or another.
Because pain is most often the wisest of all teachers.
Because the hurt that you heal is the medicine you can offer to the world.
Because the dark you walk through amplifies the light on the other side.
Because a broken heart can be the most powerful, catalyzing force in the universe.
Said differently, and as the ever-articulate and wise Elizabeth Gilbert so frankly puts it, “The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”
You are definitely one of my superheroes, Jess.