Podcast

Episode 33 – Widen Your Circle with Melissa Butler

As CEO of the groundbreaking and wildly successful beauty brand, The Lip Bar, Melissa Butler knows what it means to courageous. From quitting her lucrative Wall Street career to mixing lipstick shades in her kitchen – Mellissa has created a place where all women can embrace their beauty. This week, Jessica and Melissa talk about the importance of widening your circle outside of the traditional norms and embracing the beauty that’s inherent in all people. Also, this week continues a special series of shows where Jessica takes us through the themes of her brand new book, Imperfect Courage, one chapter at a time!

TRANSCRIPT

Jessica: Hey, there. It’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially-conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection, and this is The Going Scared Podcast, where we cover all things impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. Today’s guest embodies all three of the aspects of our Going Scared Podcast. This is Melissa Butler.

Melissa Butler is the founder and CEO of The Lip Bar. The Lip Bar is challenging the beauty standards through products, inclusive imagery and pricing, as well as offering vegan and cruelty-free ingredients. She was featured on the Shark Tank and her journey is so much fun because she goes from Wall Street to being the CEO of a lipstick company. And you guys, she embodies so many of the values that I am wanting us to promote as Going Scared listeners.

This week continues a special series of shows where we are walking through my new book, Imperfect Courage, one chapter at a time. If you don’t have my book yet, you can head on over to Amazon. It is 15 bucks right now. Put it in your cart. This week is all about Chapter 9: “Widening Your Circle.” And we really talk about how we can widen our circle, both in our lives and in how we celebrate beauty.

I love your story so much. The opening quote from my newest book, it says, "The path to success is straight and the experience of walking it is marked by both confidence and clarity” said no one ever.

Melissa: Exactly.

Jessica: And I’ve done everything from to midwifery to real estate, and now I run one of the fastest growing fair-trade fashion brands in the world. And you went from Wall Street to the beauty industry, and I am just dying to hear. Tell me the story around that. Take us on this very windy path from Wall Street to now owning The Lip Bar.

Melissa: Right. So it’s insane because it’s like, you grow up and you have all these ideals of what you wanna do. Some of it is based on your interests. Some of it is based on what your parents want you to do. Some of it is just societal pressures. And so, I’m working on Wall Street, not because I love numbers. Who loves Wall Street, first of all?

Jessica: It’s a rare few. It’s a rare few.

 

Heart, Soul, and The Lip Bar

Melissa: So it’s like, I’m in financial services largely because my goal was to make money. My goal was to live out that American dream that the world was saying…that was path we should follow. So, it’s like, oh, you go to school, you get good grades, you get a great job, you get married, you have kids, white picket fence, the whole nine, right? And so, I’m on that journey and I’m working on Wall Street, but very quickly, I learned that I hated it, that it wasn’t fulfilling, and that there was really no purpose in it. And so, what I’m understanding, the more mature I get, the more I understand that everyone really just wants to have a purpose. Everyone really just wants to understand their why. And so, while working on Wall Street, I had no why. I was kinda just doing it. I was going through the motions.

And I also learned that I was passionate, not just about beauty products because I always tell people that I’m not passionate about makeup at all, but I am passionate about the way people think about themselves and how they see themselves in the world. And so I noticed this trend of the world essentially telling women that they needed to look like a certain thing in order to be beautiful, or you even needed to act a certain way to be a woman, or you needed to dress a certain way. It’s like this idea of this is ladylike, or this is feminine, or this is attractive.

We were always being shuttered in one direction to say like, "This is what it means to be a woman, now stay in it." And, well, that’s B.S. Why are we following someone else’s playbook? Certainly a playbook that we didn’t create as women. Like, we didn’t band together and say, "Hey, we need to be shaped exactly like this in order to be considered beautiful." And it’s like, unfortunately, we started accepting the world’s perception of what it meant to be a woman, what it meant to beautiful. And so, I started taking a more holistic approach to my own lifestyle while also really just honoring who I was as a person and accepting who I was as a person, regardless of what the world said. And I noticed a huge gap within the beauty industry that was consistently telling women, "Get this and this in order to be beautiful." Like, A plus B equals beauty. And it’s like, "No. But what about that woman who is completely comfortable in her own skin? Is she not beautiful?"

“[Women] were always being shuttered in one direction to say like, ‘This is what it means to be a woman, now stay in it.’ And, well, that’s B.S. Why are we following someone else’s playbook? Certainly a playbook that we didn’t create as women.” Melissa Butler

And so, I started the Lip Bar with the goal to challenge the beauty standard, not because again, I’m not passionate about makeup, but really because I understood that this is a very big and powerful industry and if you wanna transform it, you have to transform from within in. And my goal was always to transform the mindset about beauty instead of transforming the face. And so, I started with lip color because I truly believe that one stroke of lip color, number one, it will brighten your face, but also, it’ll give you enough confidence to take on that room. It’s like, red is truly a power color. And one of our bestsellers or our bestseller in the whole company is called Bawse Lady and it’s this power red. And when you put it on…

“My goal was always to transform the mindset about beauty instead of transforming the face.” Melissa Butler

Jessica: I love that.

Melissa: Yeah, you put it on, and it’s like, "Wait. I can do anything. I can really take on the day with this extended amount of confidence," or, "I can take on the day knowing that I can handle whatever adversity comes my way." And so, it was my way of really trying to challenge what women and men think about beauty because largely, we also get this idea of what beauty is based on what men think beauty is. So yeah, all of these things just really got me going and kept me up at night, and I’m like, "I can make lipstick in my kitchen," knowing I had no idea how to make lipstick in the kitchen.

Jessica: I didn’t know you could actually make lipstick in your kitchen. This is blowing my mind right now.

Melissa: Yes. I had no idea. I’m working on Wall Street, like 55 hours a week, coming home, literally going on YouTube, figuring out how to make lip balm, reading books on cosmetic chemistry, carrier oils, essential oils, reaching out to cosmetic chemists, really dissecting everything that I saw on the backs of labels of other lipsticks that I had been buying like, "Well, what’s this ingredient and what does it do? What’s the value proposition and what’s the property?" and really just taking a super deep dive into the chemistry of makeup.

And I literally, I bought molds, like just very expensive aluminum molds and all these ingredients, and I just started experimenting and literally putting crazy colors on everyone from my mom, my sister, my little cousins, my best friends. And let’s be clear, my first, let’s say, 500 batches of lipstick were horrible because I didn’t know how to make lipstick, but it got better every time. It got better every time and it’s like, really understanding that I had a really strong why. I really wanted girls to grow up understanding that they didn’t have to do anything in order to be accepted. They didn’t have to do anything in order to be beautiful. They didn’t have to do anything to be enough. It was already within them. And I knew that creating…becoming a part of the beauty industry and creating this diverse imagery or creating these vegan and cruelty-free products and offering them at an affordable price point, that was all really speaking to this idea that you don’t have to compromise in anything.

“I really wanted girls to grow up understanding that they didn’t have to do anything in order to be accepted. They didn’t have to do anything in order to be beautiful. They didn’t have to do anything to be enough. It was already within them.” Melissa Butler

 

Making Beauty Our Own

So it’s like, I’m 32 right now and I’m not married. I don’t have any kids yet, and I’ve spent a lot of my time focusing on growing this business. And because I am focused on my business, a lot of people assume that I don’t want kids or I don’t want to get married. And it’s like, but that’s this idea of black that we’ve allowed the world to put on us that we can only have one or the other. And it’s mind boggling. And so we do that with everything. And so just like when I first started The Lip Bar, it’s like everything is vegan and cruelty-free and we try to use natural and organic oils as often as possible. And in 2012 when I was telling this story, a lot of people were kinda like, "Well, if it hasn’t good ingredients, is it gonna work?"

Jessica: Right, right.

Melissa: And it’s like, why do we think that? Why do we think we can only have one thing? Why can’t we have everything?

Jessica: Oh my gosh. I love that you’re talking about this. That’s a huge topic of my book is paradox, and that if we can’t accept paradox, we’ll remain in paralysis. But when we can break out of these categories that we think are in Sharpie and instead write them in pencil, we can embrace this "And" mindset. And that’s what I just love about your brand and what you’re doing.

Melissa: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Jessica: OK. So I also have had to break out of some of my own definitions of beauty that I put on myself. And a lot of that did come up from growing in a bit of a cookie-cutter culture, where it was like if you come from this background, then you need to look like this and size two is really what’s beautiful. And I definitely had some circumstances in my own life where I was called fat, and I just began to define my worth around how I looked. And it launched me into about 25 years of pretty compulsive dieting, thinking if I could just look this way, then I would be able to live this pain-free life.

So tell me a little bit about, if you would be willing to, I’m asking you to be vulnerable. I don’t even know you and we’re going here. Usually, we teach what we need to learn, and I’m assuming that you’ve had some hard things growing up where you… What do you think did influence this narrow definition of beauty? And then I wanna hear about the courage it’s taken for you to just bust through that?

Melissa: Yeah. And to be clear, I’m still busting through it.

Jessica: Everyday.

Melissa: Yeah, every day. So I grew up in Detroit and I’m a black woman, and we, in the black community, oftentimes we deal with colorism. It’s like, the more fair-skinned woman will get that prominence. And so, I’m medium toned for a black woman, and so it’s like the standard of beauty was lighter then. And so I had to think about what it meant for me to be beautiful, or to remind myself that I was beautiful.

And my mother is lighter complected than me, and I think a lot of times, our beauty standards come from our parents first. And so, knowing that I looked a little bit different from my mom, that was my first thing. It was like, "Oh, OK. Well, why don’t I look like her? Why can’t I look like her, especially if the world is saying that she’s beautiful?" And so I had to break out of that, and my mom actually helped me with that because my mom would always compliment me or say that she loved the richness of my complexion and things of that nature. But that was something that I had to come to terms with in high school or in middle school where it almost like, "Oh, the boys like this girl and not me." And so that’s something where it’s like, you have to pick your battles that you’re gonna fight, and then you’re gonna have to fight them with everything in your body.

And so now, I’m very comfortable with my complexion, but moving onto my thighs. I’ve always hated my legs. As a little girl, I didn’t wear shorts. I literally didn’t wear shorts. And it’s like, summertime will roll around and everyone will be so excited to put on their daisy dukes or put on their bikinis, and I would kinda be like in the corner like, "No, but I have big legs." And it’s such a silly thing because I’ve had tons of people compliment me on my legs like, "Oh, I have chicken legs," and what they would say, "And you have these full legs." But I only looked at myself from this position of wanting something that I didn’t have. And I think a lot of our challenges with beauty is really just seeing what someone else has and seeing beauty in that and our inability to see beauty in ourselves, even though the rest of the world is saying like, "Oh, what you have is awesome." It’s like, we’re never satisfied for some reason. Where do we get that from?

“I only looked at myself from this position of wanting something that I didn’t have. And I think a lot of our challenges with beauty is really just seeing what someone else has and seeing beauty in that and our inability to see beauty in ourselves.” Melissa Butler on Body Image

Jessica: Right. Well, I think we have gotten it, I mean, in part to not having images that are real. And I love what’s on your website right now.

Melissa: Thank you.

Jessica: It made me feel known because you have woman showing stretch marks on her breasts. And I’m like, "Yep. That’s a familiar image to me."

Melissa: Yeah, yeah. So that’s me.

Jessica: That’s you?

Melissa: That is me.

Jessica: I didn’t know that was you.

Melissa: That’s me. And it’s so crazy because…

Jessica: No. That’s brave. I love it. You’re giving me some courage right now.

Melissa: Here’s the thing. The Lip Bar is six years old and I’ve never been at the forefront of the brand, largely because I didn’t want people to… I’m an attractive woman. I know that I’m an attractive woman, and I’m not saying that to be cocky, but it’s like…

Jessica: No. I love it. Yes.

Melissa: …I understand that being a founder of a business is aspirational, right?

Jessica: Right.

Melissa: And so when you think about that, it’s like, I never started The Lip Bar because I wanted people to want to be me or want to be like me or to admire me in a certain way. I started it because I really wanted them to look at themselves and see that beauty within.

And so, I’m consistently talking to women about accepting themselves and loving themselves, every part of themselves and not really looking at these things as flaws, like these imperfections as flaws. It’s like, you’re imperfectly perfect, actually. Everything is as it should be.

And so I’m constantly talking about this while also dealing with these issues on my own. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had stretch marks on my breasts. It’s not from breastfeeding. It’s not from anything. They’re just been there, I think, since I was like, 13 or 14 years old, whenever I got boobs.

Jessica: Yeah. You probably just grew fast. I mean, I’ve had stretch marks too since I was a teenager.

Melissa: Yeah. And so it’s always been something that I’ve been self-conscious of. But in the last couple of years, I was just like, "No. It’s fine. This is a part of being a woman or being a human, not even just a woman. It’s like, this is human nature." And so instead of just telling this story or encouraging other people, like I want to show people that I can also do this, like I can also be vulnerable. So I did this photo shoot. I’m showing my stretch marks. That picture is not retouched. It’s not photo-shopped. And so I’m just like, "Look, this is me. I have on makeup. It’s not retouched. Yes, I have stretch marks on my breasts, and all of that is OK."

Jessica: I love it. Your beautiful lips with your bright lipstick are OK.

Melissa: Thank you.

Jessica: And your stretch marks are OK. You know what I mean?

Melissa: Yeah, everything.

Jessica: Like either or it’s all the above, which is what is so powerful. I talk about in my book that I often, because I couldn’t accept myself… Brené Brown did research that said, "We can only accept others to the degree that we’ve accepted ourselves." And that was so convicting to me because what I realized is, that when I wasn’t accepting my curves, I was keeping curvy girls at bay. I was actually not wanting to necessarily associate with curvy girls because of my own lack of self-acceptance. And we just put a plus-sized model on our look book for the very first time, and I think I was able to do that because I had finally accepted my curves. Now, I’m not saying I wake up every day just like, "Woo. My thighs are slacking at the knee and I’m so glad about that."

 

Finding Courage in Purpose

And I think that’s also what I’d love for listeners to understand is that just because we are trying to create change in the industry of beauty and fashion doesn’t mean that we’re 100% confident, but it’s really this journey of being afraid, being imperfect, and just going forward anyway. So talk to me a little bit about that, about what’s your journey of going scared, both in putting forth your imperfections and also in how you really then eventually quit Wall Street and made this your full-time gig.

“Just because we are trying to create change in the industry of beauty and fashion doesn’t mean that we’re 100% confident, but it’s really this journey of being afraid, being imperfect, and just going forward anyway.” Jessica Honegger

Melissa: So the reality is I’m scared all the time because I’m trying to conquer these big hairy goals every other day. It’s like, I don’t celebrate the highs too much, but I also don’t mourn the losses. I understand that being afraid and really deciding to conquer that fear is really just gonna end up with growth on the other side, whether I win or learn. It’s like, something good is gonna come out of that experience.

So as it relates to either being at the forefront of my business, as it relates to starting my business, as it relates to facing rejection within my business, everything has largely been a matter of just keep going. Just believe that you can achieve everything that you truly set out to do. Because you can. Everything is really just a mindset. It’s a matter of deciding what you’re gonna do, deciding why it matters to you, and then going after it. Because you can give yourself a million reasons why you shouldn’t.

“Just believe that you can achieve everything that you truly set out to do. Because you can. Everything is really just a mindset. It’s a matter of deciding what you’re gonna do, deciding why it matters to you, and then going after it.” Melissa Butler

Jessica: Oh my gosh, for you to go into the beauty industry, that is such a competitive marketplace.

Melissa: Yeah. And people tell me that all the time like, "Why would you start a cosmetic company?" We went on Shark Tank and they told us that we would never get market share and they would crush us like the colorful cockroaches that we were.

Jessica: Oh my gosh.

Melissa: Yeah. It was such a cruel moment. And in that moment, it’s like, we totally could’ve quit in the face of this super public rejection or this public defeat. But it’s like, why would I give someone else the power over my dreams or the power over my why? Why would I allow someone else to define my capability? It’s a saturated market, but so what? I believe in segmentation, not saturation.

Jessica: That’s great.

Melissa: So it’s like, the reality is there’s a consumer who is still not being served, whether that’s in the beauty industry, whether that’s in the fitness industry. It doesn’t matter. There’s always someone who’s willing to hear your story. And so when you think about the emergence of social media and influencers, influencers are on the rise because people are consistently looking for someone to resonate with, someone who they feel like will relate with their journey or what they’ve been going through.

So it’s like, you have to just understand that, no, it’s probably not gonna be a walk in the park. It’s not gonna be this cakewalk, but it will be worth it and you have to just decide to take that courage, put it in your back pocket, and just start going for it. And every now and again, you may have to take a couple steps back, but that’s OK.

 

Real Purpose with Real Impact

Jessica: And instead of trying to outshine, just shine. And you are shining. I mean, you guys have differentiated yourself in the marketplace. Your lipstick is vegan and cruelty-free. The colors are bold and unique. It’s an approachable price point, and you’re making products for women who are underrepresented. And I love this idea that you say that beauty isn’t linear. So I feel like you really have differentiated yourself in the marketplace. And I’ve had really redemptive stories in my life that have to do with lipstick. So that’s why I just love that you’re a founder of a lipstick brand.

The first time I went to Uganda to actually meet the artisans that had been creating the goods I’d been selling for a year, and all of those goods that I’d been selling the first year of company with Noonday, it was actually to raise money for me to adopt a little boy named Jack, who’s my son now, from Rwanda.

And so I was gonna go meet these artisans that had really enabled my dream to happen. And I was putting on lipstick, Jalia is her name, and we were about to get our photos taken for the first time. And she kind of looked at me with a little bit of an insecure look in her eyes and she’s like, "Oh gosh. I haven’t put on lipstick in years."

And poverty had really set her down and was wanting to keep her down. Poverty is where she was drawing a lot of her negative self-worth from. And she said, "Can I borrow some of your makeup?" And so she borrowed my lipstick. I did not have the right color foundation, but we put on some lipstick and we put on some on mascara, and it was as if she just stood proud. She stood so proud, and it’s not because the lipstick made her beautiful, but it’s because it recognized that inner girl boss, like I love the name of your top-selling, what is again, Bawse Lady?

Melissa: Yeah. It’s Bawse Lady.

Jessica: It was this moment where she just stood proud. And eight years later, she now has 100 full-time employees.

Melissa: Wow.

Jessica: Most of them are women, and the last time we went, it was last summer. And we said, "Jalia, is there anything we can bring?" She goes, "Bring red lipstick," because all of her employees now want to wear lipstick like she does.

Melissa: I love that.

Jessica: It was so awesome. I wish you could’ve been there. It was last August and we pulled out all this lipstick. I wish it would’ve been Lip Bar lipstick. Now I know. And we pulled it out and we all had this lipstick party, this giant celebration. It was white women, it was black women, it was all different shades coming together, putting on lipstick, and it was one of these most powerful moments in my life of women just coming together.

And I can imagine you have seen that too, now that you’ve started this brand and you are becoming an influencer yourself. Obviously, you are an influencer. And even though I totally get this tension between being the founder and kinda building that part of your brand and then also just the hustle of being behind the scenes actually running your brand, but I can only imagine that you have heard some stories through the years of what it’s meant to other girls, to other teens where they now are owning their worth and their beauty. Does anything come to mind as you’ve been out and about, or any stories that you hear via Instagram or any of your social media about what your brand has meant to others?

Melissa: Well, I have a personal account, and we do a lot of trade shows. And if you’ve seen any of our imagery, it’s very diverse, and our goal is really to transform the mindset. And so, I understand that in order to do that, you can’t use your typical run-of-the-mill imagery, so hence me showing my stretch marks. We’ve had a photo shoot with a Muslim woman in full Hijab and it’s like, those are things that you typically don’t see in a beauty campaign. You rarely see plus-sized women in beauty campaigns. You rarely see Asian women or Indian women in beauty campaigns. And it’s like, those are all markets that are completely underserved, but yet still, those are women who wear makeup, who wear lipstick, who want to enhance their beauty and it’s like, they don’t have that representation.

So one day we’re at a trade show, and the banner that we had up at this particular trade show was of a very deep-complected woman. She’s probably the complexion of Lupita, and she had on the boldest orange lip color in this campaign that we did. And it was so interesting because we had two customers at our booth at that very time. It was an older woman and she was more mature, and I wanna say, I think she said she was from Russia. And she ended up asking, she said, "Why did you use this model?" And I said, "Because this model actually never gets representation. And when people see this model, they typically don’t see beauty. And I want to challenge the way people think about beauty because it doesn’t look like just one thing. It doesn’t just include one person or one body type."

And so, while I’m saying that, the customer right next to her ended up saying, "Oh no. I could never wear that color." Now, this woman is a black woman who is a bit lighter than the model that we were using. And so, she’s like, "I could never wear that color." And I said, "Why do you think you could never wear that color?" And her response to me was that, "My grandma said that only fair-skinned women could wear colors like that." And it just further proved the point. It was like, this is exactly why we have to have this imagery because when you don’t have representation, when you don’t have plus-sized women or deeper-complected black women or Indian women or Asian women or whatever variety of women that is not within that traditional beauty standard, it leaves out such a large part of population, and they feel like they have to operate in the parameters of what the world says is OK.

And so while one woman was saying she didn’t understand the imagery, another woman who you would think would understand it was saying like, "Oh no. I also can’t do this because I was taught and I was conditioned to feel like I can’t step outside of this box." So it was such a powerful moment for me, and it was like “aha” moment like, you know what? First of all, it’s sad. It’s sad that you don’t believe that you can do anything.

Jessica: Pull this off.

Melissa: But also, it just reaffirmed my work.

Jessica: It’s validating.

Melissa: I look at it as work, not just as like, I’m selling makeup. I look at it as I’m empowering women to live their best lives.

Jessica: Yes. Absolutely. So I know you guys recently landed in select Target stores as well as being on target.com. Congratulations.

Melissa: Thank you.

Jessica: That is awesome.

Melissa: Thank you.

 

The Beauty Evolution and Saying Goodbye to Labels  

Jessica: So do you take that as a sign that people are responding to this message of widening our circles and being more inclusive? Like how have you seen in the last, I think you said six years is when you started it, how have you seen the narrative changed in the industry?

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, just with the emergence of like, Fenty Beauty, like Fenty Beauty broke records by really embracing that everyday woman or this woman who doesn’t look like one particular thing. And so I think overall, as a society, we’re all moving to this phase of, we wanna know that the product that we’re supporting aren’t just good for us, but they’re good for the world, they’re good for the society. We wanna know the meaning behind brand. We wanna know what the founder stands for. So it’s like, when you think of something like Tom’s and it’s like, you buy one and you give one. It’s like, that makes people feel good. And also when you shop at Whole Foods, it’s like, when you shop at Whole Foods, you think that you’re doing something good for your body.

And so I think in so many facets, we’re really embracing what it means to be a woman. I think there’s no better time to be a woman, to be completely honest. I think everywhere we are, we’re looking at what it means to be a woman, how we act as women, and really how we take back our power. So I think there’s just a cultural shift and beauty is one of those industries that’s being impacted in a positive way that’s gonna say, "You know what? We’re not gonna stand for any of these rules that we didn’t write previously. We’re gonna create our own rules as women in makeup." You can wear makeup. You can decide not to wear makeup. You can shave your legs. You can decide not to shave your legs. And all of that is OK. So I’m just excited to see the world for my children when I have them.

“We’re really embracing what it means to be a woman. I think there’s no better time to be a woman, to be completely honest. I think everywhere we are, we’re looking at what it means to be a woman, how we act as women, and really how we take back our power.” Melissa Butler

Jessica: Yes. Yeah. I heard today that U.S. studies indicate that over the past 10 years, all businesses grew by 12% while women-owned businesses surged at a 58% growth rate. And I was surprised to hear that in some ways, but then I also was really excited about that, that the landscape really is changing. And my question is, are we ready for it, like what are some areas where you think we need to saddle up and kind of shore in, so those areas where we haven’t really had that seat at the table and so we really haven’t had what we need to be at the table? Or maybe that’s a really bad question.

Melissa: No. But I get where you’re going with it. So I do think we’re ready for it, but one of the things I would love to see us change is, we’re so into labeling. And it drives me crazy. It drives me absolutely crazy because, even with the progress, we still feel the need to segment ourselves when we’re all just one people.

“One of the things I would love to see us change is, we’re so into labeling. And it drives me crazy. It drives me absolutely crazy because, even with the progress, we still feel the need to segment ourselves when we’re all just one people.” Melissa Butler

Jessica: So what are some of examples of that for you? Are you primarily targeting African American women through your brand and is that the label that you’re talking about?

Melissa: I’m talking about all labels. So for instance, it’s like, when we think about growth and progress as women, right, and this will be women-specific. It’s like, are you a feminist or are you not a feminist?

Jessica: Oh, right. Right. Yeah.

Melissa: And it’s like, well, I want to be a person who is 100% believing in women’s rights. But first of all, I have to learn what a feminist is because everything is within these very strict parameters.

Jessica: And then you think if you are using that, then you have to subscribe to…

Melissa: To all these feminist ideals and the posts…

Jessica: And it’s like they’re just creating all these rules that we’re trying to get out of the rules, but then we’re just stepping into more rules.

Melissa: Exactly. So it’s like, some people would say as a feminist, you shouldn’t wear makeup. And it’s like, but why? Why can’t I also like makeup? Or as a person of color, maybe you should… I don’t know. It’s so many labels. We get so caught up in, OK, what it means to be a Democrat or a Republican or a black woman or a woman or a feminist or a business owner. It’s like, there are so many things and so many rules that we have to follow when we create labels around things. So I would love for us to not label ourselves and really to just embrace who we are as humans or as women.

Jessica: It’s like, listen instead of label, because I feel like labels set us up to not listen, but to more stand on platforms to talk at people. Whereas listening is creating a space for a human to be exactly as he or she is meant to be without attaching labels to it.

“Listen instead of label, because I feel like labels set us up to not listen, but to more stand on platforms to talk at people. Whereas listening is creating a space for a human to be exactly as he or she is meant to be without attaching labels to it.” Jessica Honegger

Melissa: Yeah. And really, labeling creates a new language, a new language that you have to first understand, and then follow, and then use.

Jessica: Then you’re either an outsider or an insider.

Melissa: Exactly. And what happens is either you know the language of the land or you don’t. Even with something as simple as fundraising, like we just closed our first round of fundraising. And in that, it’s like, "Hey, I have a business. We have traction. We’re growing. We need money." But it’s never that simple. It’s like, you have to learn the language of the land, which is Silicon Valley. And it’s like, you can’t just be a business owner, you have to be a tech business owner.

So everything has become so fragmented as we look or as we progress as a society. And I really want us to be a little bit more open-minded with how we welcome people into our world.

Jessica: I love that. Widen our circle of compassion. That’s how I talk about it in our book.

Melissa: I love that. I love that.

 

Widening Our Circles through Vulnerability

Jessica: So as you look back on your story, what have been some of the defining experiences that helped you get out of your comfort zone and widen that circle?

Melissa: So I’m gonna be really honest. I actually hate networking. I’m so bad at it. You would think as a business owner who used to work on Wall Street that I would be that person just working the room. I am horrible at networking because I’m a bit introverted.

Jessica: Yeah. Well, and it sounds like you really value authenticity and it probably feels not authentic to you.

Melissa: That’s exactly what it is. I feel like it’s forced conversation. And so you obviously wanna find common ground with people and relationship building is huge. Relationship building is actually the only thing that we have. I truly believe that the only thing that we truly have in this world is our reputation. So it’s like, OK, well, with that, it’s like, how do you get this stranger to understand the values of you as a person? It’s like, OK, well, Melissa, what do you want this person to know about you within this experience? And so oftentimes, it seems a little forced for me, but some of the best relationships come out of those peer to peer introductions or those really awkward moments where it’s just like, "Hey, I’m Melissa and this is what I’m interested in or this is what I’m working on," and really getting to know other people.

And so that’s one of those things where I’ve truly had to step out of my comfort zone and be vulnerable. Like being vulnerable is a huge part of it. Even while building my team, it’s like, one of the characteristics, I think, of a great leader is one person who understands that you have to be that person to create a safe space for your team, but also allow them to understand that you can also be vulnerable and you can also make mistakes so that everyone can work towards the same goal while understanding the opportunities that you may have as a person or as a business owner to get better. And so that goes hand in hand with networking because the goal of networking is to really build up this community around you so that when you need to plug into those opportunities or weaknesses that you may have, you have this community of people who are behind you to support you.

Jessica: Which is such a way to re-frame it, you know what I mean, like I just think that word, networking, I mean, I don’t really know who just loves networking. But you just re-framed it as building a community of support, and that sounds a lot more enticing.

Melissa: Yeah. And that’s exactly what it is because it’s like, no, and let’s be honest, you get a business card, you don’t even us it. You throw it away, but it’s like, in real life, you need to build this community, whether that’s friends and family or other business owners or it doesn’t really matter who that community is, but what’s important is that you have that community.

And for the longest time, I would meet amazing people and not follow up with them or not know what to say with them or not know how to approach them when I think it really came from this idea that I wasn’t enough, like oh, I don’t know what to say to them. Or like, why would they find what I have to say interesting? Or I’m gonna be awkward. And it’s like, no, it’s fine. Everybody is awkward and everyone has their little quirks and it’s fine to just say like, "Hey, this is who I am," and I had to get over that. It took me a couple years to actually get over that.

And it was just like, "Melissa, this is something that you have to do and if you don’t, you’ll hate yourself for it. You won’t be able to sleep at night because this will be a missed opportunity for you." And so one day, I just decided to work up the courage and work past the fear of, I think it was shame. I think I was afraid to be embarrassed or I was afraid that I was gonna stumble over my words in one of those moments. And it was just like, "No, you are enough. It’s OK. Your words are valid. You’re an interesting person. You can talk to them."

Jessica: Yeah, right. Think about what you have to give. It’s so crazy because everything you just described is what I was feeling before getting on this call with you.

Melissa: No.

Jessica: I just was like, I’m so nervous. I know she really represents black empowerment, and I haven’t always done the best of doing that at Noonday, and I was scared. I was scared that I was gonna fumble over my words. I mean, I have fumbled a little bit.

Melissa: But I did too. Everyone does, and that’s the whole point. Everyone does. Everyone does. Yeah.

Jessica: And it’s about embracing the imperfection, which is one of the things that you have on your website right now is imperfectly perfect, which I just love, obviously. My book is called, Imperfect Courage. And I think we have this idea of perfection in our minds or that we need to wait until we have certain credentials or a certain level of success or we can talk without fumbling over our words before we, fill in the blank, before we reach out to that person that we really respect, before we have a conversation for that podcast, whatever it might be, instead of just saying, "You know what? This is just messy and the only way I’m gonna learn is by going scared and just doing it."

“I think we have this idea of perfection in our minds or that we need to wait until we have certain credentials or a certain level of success or we can talk without fumbling over our words before we, fill in the blank, before we reach out to that person that we really respect.” Jessica Honegger on Widening Our Circles

Melissa: Yeah. You just gotta do it. You have to understand… So one of the things that I’ve learned more recently is that it’s OK to invite the fear in. It’s OK to invite that scared feeling in because once you invite it in, that means you acknowledge it. And once you acknowledge that you’re afraid or that you’re scared, then that you’re that much more positioned to move past it.

“It’s OK to invite that scared feeling in because once you invite it in, that means you acknowledge it. And once you acknowledge that you’re afraid or that you’re scared, then that you’re that much more positioned to move past it.” Melissa Butler on going scared.

Jessica: Right, right. Instead of saying like, "Oh my gosh. This fear isn’t supposed to be here," just say, "Oh, hey. You’re welcome here. You don’t get to be the boss of me, but you’re here."

Melissa: Yeah. It’s like, "Hey. I’m nervous about this. And that’s OK, and I’m gonna do my best." And guess what? That best is gonna be enough because you are enough.

Jessica: Oh my gosh. I love it. I love it. That is the best way to wrap up. OK. So last question, although I feel like you just basically answered it, but we do like to ask our guests how they’re going scared right now. So would yours be networking? And, I mean, fundraising, I know that that can be a really scary thing to do. Congratulations on closing up your first round.

Going Scared by Being Willing to Grow

Melissa: Thank you so much. No. I’m actually going scared right now with scaling. We launched into Target. We’re growing. So we launched in Target at such a small amount of stores, and within nine months, it’s like, we’re going in 10 times the amount of stores that we were initially in. And so it’s like, OK, well, I was really good at being a small business owner. What does it look like being the founder and CEO of a business that’s scaling and growing? And am I hiring the right people? Am I making the right decisions?

So I went through a period, like a couple weeks ago, like very recently, where I was just kinda questioning and doubting everything. And that’s why I’m saying it never stops. You never stop challenging yourself, but also just knowing that it’s OK. So I dealt with it for about two weeks, really trying to dig deep on why I had this fear or why I felt like I wasn’t capable of going from this small business to this mid-sized business. And I was just like, it’s just something that you’ve never done before and of course that’s scary, and that’s fine. And goals should be scary. And so it’s like, it’s cool. You got this. You got this. And all you can do is your best.

Jessica: I loved the vulnerability of this conversation. Even how we wrapped up and Melissa really sharing how you don’t just make this one choice to go scared when you start something, but there are a million decisions after that where you decide, "Am I gonna let fear keep me seated? Or am I going to simply stand up and go scared." Melissa is doing that, so I hope that you go follow her and encourage her in journey. You can find her on Instagram, @melissarbutler and you can head on over to The Lip Bar. I know I’m filling my cart with her most popular red color.

And before we go, don’t forget to head on over and buy Imperfect Courage on Amazon, or you can listen to it on Audible as well. Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.