Happy Sunday rockstars! After several requests, I decided to share with you the keynote speech I gave at As Told By Us. I’ve left this speech untouched so you can feel like you are sitting in that room full of some of the most passionate women I’ve ever met. Grab a glass of wine and enjoy this read.
“When the world tells you no, find your yes.”
I want to take some time this morning to tell you why you’re here, to tell you why I wanted to create a space like this. Over the last few years, I’ve spent time developing stories for brands and for me personally. Storytelling is as old as time, it’s what’s helped our world preserve the past and grow into the future. Our stories create a sense of connection that doesn’t exist unless we share them. Sharing our experiences from trials to tribulations helps us relate to one another in a way that doesn’t exist without telling the world who we are. Understanding what your story is helps you clearly define the voice behind your personal brand and often times, the messaging behind your business.
Today, I want to invite you to be a part of my story because I want you to learn from my journey of obstacles, resistance, and fear of failure.
Throughout life, we have defining moments where we have to choose between several paths. My first defining moment that has paved a path for my adult life and my personal brand happened in July 2010. My dad owned a tool and die business that filed bankruptcy that summer, just before my senior year of high school. Our only source of family income was gone along with savings, 401Ks, and college money. At the time, I was too busy worrying about applying to college and spending my last year in high school to fully understand how this would impact me until one cold winter night at the dinner table.
Growing up in the Wolfred house, we had family meals with beautiful table settings and delicious food as a family at least once a week. We would sit around and talk about our days and what was going on in our life. In the months that followed the closing of the business, conversations at the table seemed tense, but as a bit of an optimist, I was talking about college visits and sharing dreams of going to Butler because I’d fallen in love the atmosphere and knew that’s where I was intended to get my education. I’d been accepted at the beginning of January in 2011 and had recently received my financial aid package. It was roughly $2000 per month that wouldn’t be covered, pennies I thought. I had about zero concept of money as an 18-year-old that’d had most things handed to me up until that point. We were talking about it as a family when my mom looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “I just don’t know how we will make this work and you may need to look at other options.” You should know that my parents are the kind of people who wanted to give us the world. They gave us so opportunities growing up and we had the most loving home, as long as I wasn’t being a defiant teenager. But with Butler, there were no other options and I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I looked at my mom that night at dinner and said, “I’m going to make this happen.”
In June 2011, I had a meeting with my financial advisor, Jackie, who I’d later come to realize as one of the reasons I got to go to my dream school. With a tearful meeting in her office, we tried to piece together the puzzles of what I needed to do to pay for tuition. We left, feeling uneasy and a bit defeated, but I wasn’t giving up. I’d already committed and by the grace of God, I was going to get my degree as a Bulldog. Later that afternoon, Jackie emailed me with an opportunity for a student worker position in the Office of Financial Aid. I’d make money and receive some scholarship for being a student worker. A few weeks later, I interviewed and accepted the position in the same day.
I moved into my dorm with no air conditioning in August 2011. I remember being in the car with my brother, ready to pee my pants and turn around. Had I made the right choice? Was this going to work? Throughout my freshman year and the rest of my college career, I worked two to three jobs at any given time to make ends meet. When I wanted to study abroad in 2013 for three months, I fundraised, sending letters to everyone I knew who might be able to support this cultural experience I so desperately wanted to have as part of my education. I worked while I was abroad, writing blogs for RaeLynn’s, my employer at the time. Don’t get me wrong, balancing a long-distance boyfriend, friendships, a position in my sorority house, two-three jobs, and being a full-time student wasn’t ever easy and most of the time I felt like I was losing my mind. I probably didn’t make the healthiest choices and I certainly didn’t get to go to every social outing, but on May 9th, 2015, all of the late nights, stress, and tears seemed worth it. I walked into Hinkle Fieldhouse in my cap and gown and found cords on my chair. I graduated Cum Laude, in the top 20% of my class.
I tell you this because as an entrepreneur, a side hustler, a human being with a passion, we let obstacles stand in our way of chasing our goals. When the world tells you no, you have to find your yes. Butler was my yes and it was the first step in the journey I’m on today.
If we can get past the obstacles of doing the damn thing, the next thing we battle is resistance of our greatness which usually manifests through comparison. Oh the draining, soul-sucking comparison game. When I first started Trendy in Indy, influencer marketing was more commonly referred to as “blogging.” Through RaeLynn’s, we were working with bloggers to help promote the boutique side of the business. I thought to myself, I like to write and I enjoy fashion, I think I’ll create a blog. It was much more of a hobby at first and I just wanted to share what I loved. A sorority sister had a camera and took photos to build her portfolio so it worked for a while.
In January 2017, nearly a year after launching this thing, I made my first dollar. WOW, brands want to freaking pay me to talk about them... HECK YEAH MAN, I’m in. Except that the game changed that year and brands didn’t want to pay anyone and everyone. Brands wanted to pay people with a “significant following” whatever that meant. So, I made $50 here or there, spread myself too thin, started following and unfollowing people just to gain new followers (which you SHOULD NOT DO) and eventually, I felt like I wasn’t good at anything. So naturally, I’d get on Instagram and scroll into the abyss to see the awesomeness of everyone else’s life… Good idea right? Can anyone else relate to this? Friends, Instagram is the last place you should go to make yourself feel better.
For the first half of 2018, I spent most of time comparing myself to other influencers. I was trying to replicate what they were doing by buying their clothes, shooting at the same spots, pitching to the same brands. I was more concerned about the number under my name than my content. Why wasn’t I growing or being asked to travel for social media trips? Why wasn’t I cool enough to go to lunch with the group? What was wrong with me? Clearly there was no room for me in this space. No one cared and creating content seemed pointless. I can’t tell you the number of times I had to shoot for a brand and Collin practically had to force me to smile because I just wasn’t happy in my negative headspace.
During NYFW, I realized that solely being an influencer was not what I was destined to do. I’d spent nearly 8 months trying to fit into this world in a way that didn’t make sense. I wanted to promote brands that I genuinely loved and I wanted to create for the sake of creating. I wanted to serve my audience in a bigger way than encouraging them to buy a t-shirt because it was on sale. I started dreaming about the value I could offer my tribe and thus, Trendy Branding was born. I’ll offer consulting services to teach people how to build their brand and develop social strategies.
Shortly after NYFW, I started doing some research to develop Trendy Branding. I felt like I was back in the same space as being an influencer. Do you know how many freaking brand consultants there are just here in Indy? “It already exists so clearly, I’m not needed,” I thought. How many of you have felt like this?
In October, Erinn Bridgman, who you’ll hear from later today, saved the day again. About a month earlier, she told me I needed to niche down. I cried after that session, but gave up my styling services that were really just holding me back and it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. But during this session in October, I expressed my concerns about not being relevant on any level, there were just too many people in this space. She looked at me like she was going to come across the room and shake the bullshit out of my head, “Steph, there is room at the table,” she said. “What you offer matters because it’s your creation.”
You see rockstars, no one else can offer the world exactly what you can. No one else can serve your tribe like you. Whether you’re selling juices or creating fitness programs, you hold value because YOU ARE YOU and you dreamed this big thing. But if you don’t believe in it, how can you expect your tribe to take action? You have to stop resisting your greatness and start living it. Share it with your tribe over and over again because there is room at the table and your story matters because you are a rockstar.
Okay so I’m overcoming obstacles, I’m getting past resistance by staying in my lane… But what if, what if I FAIL? OMG everyone is going to know. Everyone will think I suck. What will they think of me? What will I think of myself? Well shoot, forget it. I’m not doing this. Sound familiar?
NEWS FLASH friends, failing is part of life. Failing allows us grow and restructure. Failing allows us to experience new opportunities that we may have overlooked in the past.
I want to take you back to the time where I first understood what failing looked like and I think most of you will be able to relate to this. I was 7 and trying to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. My mom and dad would run along behind me, holding the seat, and then they’d let go. I’d coast for a minute until I realized no one was holding on, I glanced back and they were filming the thing and cheering me on and then CRASH. Skinned knees, bruised elbows, and a feisty child are what resulted from me trying to do this for several Sunday’s in a row. Finally, I threw my helmet down and said those five letters… “ I QUIT.”
Later that summer on Father’s Day, I decided I was going to try again, but without help. I rolled my bike out of the garage and down to the cul-de-sac. After a few minutes of deciding how to get on the bike and maintain my balance, I kicked up the only thing holding me steady between the bike and the ground and started pedalling. I was doing, I was really doing it. What I didn’t know was that mom and dad were inside watching me the whole time, probably crying because that’s what Wolfred’s do.
I failed again in high school, several times actually, but this dance competition is one I’ll never forget. I was a sophomore and it was the first competition of the season. This was also my first time doing a turn section on stage and I was not prepared or at least that’s what I told myself. This is when I learned that failing is also a mental game. I hopped around the stage like a bunny during that turn section and knew it was going to be bad news bears when I got backstage. The silent treatment from Deb, the studio owner, was always worse than being scolded. She’s also the one that taught me the word “can’t” wasn’t allowed to exist in my vocabulary and every time I slipped, 20 push ups followed. The judges at that competition either really liked us or thought we crushed it because that dance where I hopped around like a bunny during the turn section, yeah it won the entire competition with the highest score and first place overall.
I failed again last year when I spread myself too thin and didn’t make an action plan for my business. I started too many things without a solid reason as to why and then Erinn called me out on it because I needed to niche down or Trendy in Indy was going to combust. I gave up the personal styling services I’d created and that felt like such a loss at first. Until I realized that I just made room for other areas in my business that add more value for my tribe.
I’ve failed over and over in small ways and big ways. Failing is frustrating, hard, stressful, annoying, and challenging… but guess what? YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS. And you can get back up on the horse, or whatever other cliche you want to use, but you can get past your failures.
Rockstars, I know a secret about you… If you truly were so afraid of failing, you wouldn’t be sitting in this room today. You came here with a purpose because you believe in what you’re doing. You believe in it so much that you wanted to learn how to do it better and that’s why you showed up today.
Obstacles, resistance, and fear of failing. To even do the thing you're passionate about, to interview for a new job, to start a new business endeavor, to decide to get married or have a family, to determine our path for these defining moments in life, we MUST overcome obstacles, break the barriers of resistance, and walk through failures.
Each of the stories I shared with you today are a part of my identity and therefore have become part of my personal brand. They have helped me shape Trendy in Indy into this thing that I’m proud of and as my life pivots and my passions evolve, my brand is able to change with me. Friends if you walk out of this room today and take one thing with you, know this… Your story matters and the world needs to hear it. Your story is part of your brand and your audience, your loyal tribe craves connection to you. Today I hope you learn how to shout your story from the mountain tops of whatever platform you do business, how to create content that really captivates your audience, and how to take care of yourself because you deserve it.
To help you think about your own story, I want to do a group activity and yes, this does involve your participation. I have a few questions I’m going to ask and hand the mic over to you.
What do you celebrate?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
What is one thing you do that helps you feel energized?
Who is a role model for you and why?
What is a value in your company that you hold because of something in your story?
Many of us start companies because of our stories- I’d love to hear about how your personal story led you into the work you currently do.
What do you struggle with? Why is that a pain point?
Can you identify a defining moment in your life that you are confident has lead you to this seat today?
I bet by hearing these responses, you already feel more connected to the incredible women in this room. At the end of day, we crave that connection. Now it’s your job to break barriers and share your story with your tribe. My challenge to you today is to take 15 seconds, jump on your Instagram story and share something about yourself with your tribe. It can be a fun fact, a quote you love, something you’ve learned today. Share something that allows them to relate to you. Cheers to you rockstars.