Borzou Azabdaftari is a design genius. He’s transformed his family’s business from an ‘80’s printing place into the modern marketing agency - The Falcon Lab, It’s a creative and digital print agency with the motto of “Make cool sh!t”.
This week, we dive into his recent lab move, how the “Make cool sh!t” tagline grew on him, and how his spouse uses crazy competition to drive ambition. We also get to hear about the new location, how he updated his family business, learned how to run a business from scratch , and what he would tell his 18-year-old self. Also, why he got married over Thanksgiving weekend.
Because of his recent office move, we even get the inside scoop from Borzou as he passes on some straightforward advice about construction projects, contracts, and leases. He learned a lot over the course of moving The Falcon Lab to its new home near Tyson’s Corner, fortunately for you..
At the end of the episode, we even get to listen in on his philosophy on how to live - AND figuring out how to find what you love. Because the secret is there are no secrets.
“I have a newfound passion for curiosity.” - KiKi L’Italien
KiKi L’Italian is a powerhouse. If you couldn’t tell by her amazing presence and bold lipstick, then you’d definitely understand who she is when she calls herself the “Oprah of the Association industry” and the curator of the curious. KiKi is CEO of the digital marketing agency, Amplified Growth, and founder/owner of Association Chat, which is a community for association members.
This week, we discuss how she turned her hobby into a business, why weird is better, and reframing what generosity means. We also talk about the tactics KiKi used to exercise her curiosity and you get to hear her seriously gush about her daughter, Margot, at the end.
We even find KiKi’s personal brand during this episode - and in case you didn’t already know: KiKi is larger than life. She loves music, is a runner, likes to cook, is curious, generous, and a very thoughtful human.
“When you get out of your comfort zone, that’s when great things happen.” - Ati Williams
There are so many great things I could say about my dear friend, Ati. The last time I saw her, she had just shown us The Poopy Dance in front of a live audience on the Rock Your Talk stage, which is absolutely as impactful as it sounds (scroll down for a piece of the action.) Ati is a mother and entrepreneur. She attributes a lot of the innovative solutions she has used to build her real estate company, DC HomeBuzz, with her Kenyan upbringing.
In this episode, we discuss rocking your personal brand, what motherhood has taught Ati about being a leader, and how to properly answer the dreaded: “So tell me about yourself.”
THEN, the tables turn and Ati surprises me with a few questions. Listen to this episode of Adventures in Branding to find out how I found my personal brand, what are some of hiring tactics, and what really happened in Bali.
Meet my neighbor, Michelle Lim Warner. Michelle owns DCanter Wine Boutique on Barracks Row here in DC with her husband. Together they are creating a powerhouse in the wine lifestyle market.
We hadn’t seen each other in awhile so it was great to do some catchup here on the podcast. She and her business have been undergoing some serious growth! Michelle has been branding her business like a branding pro - so much so that all of her new hires are so excited about the culture they have created together at DCanter - and the crazy part?! They were all customers FIRST!
This week, we talk about growing your team, using your growing team’s talent to help catapult your business, manifesting a work/life balance, and the commitment it takes to own a business with your spouse. First tip: take walking meetings! Listen in to find out why.
“I stopped waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel and lit that bitch on fire.”
It’s my birthday today and I have to admit that I am enjoying the heck out of getting older. One year ago today I was preparing for a year of change. I was working out how to end a relationship, blow up my business, and unbeknownst to me, getting ready to dig deep into why I’m on this earth.
In celebration of this last year of blowing things up, here’s my birthday wish for you: I want YOU to light a huge blaze. I want you to make a decision to SHOW UP every day - beginning today.
My birthday wish is for you - the person who feels lost and empty, the human struggling to find out who you really are, the one who’s really trying to show up and show off. It’s time to light that shit on fire. My wish for you is to start showing up and showing off.
So, what are you waiting for? All it takes is one decision and one step.
“I want to build relationships and foster community - and I want to use stories to do that.” - Stuart Jones
This week, I’m talking to my good friend Stuart - a people person, videographer and photographer from Raleigh, North Carolina, and the current producer of this podcast. In this episode, we take some interesting turns - creating your own opportunities, being unconventional in the way we apply for jobs (and the way we post for them too) #noresumes, roadtrips to see Rob Bell, and the importance of sharing your story.
Each of us has a story. A lot of us just think that our story is insignificant. I’m here to let you know you couldn’t be more wrong. Whether you’ve been through the big things or the small things, it doesn’t matter. Someone else has gone through them as well. And some of us are going through them. And some things are still yet to come for some us. But you would never know who needed to hear exactly what you have to say until you say it.
It’s no secret - I’m a BIG fan of stories. I love sharing them and I love receiving them even more. The last couple of weeks have been amazing with 6 sets of women on HERadventures. Storytelling is one of the biggest drivers for why I do a lot of what I do, and the biggest inspiration for Rock Your Talk.
I can think of fewer things in life than helping someone organize their story and helping them get the hint of courage they need to be able to get on stage and tell it to the world! In honor of stories, being back to Adventures in Branding, and the launch of the second Rock Your Talk, I made a whole episode all about stories and the impact your story can have on someone else.
“The oral storytelling of our family is very rich.” - Louise
The bond between a mother and a daughter is a powerful bond. Especially in a big family filled with men.
In our final episode of this HERadventures series, Mary & I got a chance to sit in Baltimore with powerful mother-daughter duo, Louise and Paula. Louise is a mother of five children, is an attorney mediator, and the co-author of Being Relational: The Seven Ways to Quality Interaction and Lasting Change with her husband, William Senft. Her daughter, Paula grew up listening to her grandma sharing stories and is currently Associate Director of Admission at Friends School of Baltimore.
The stories of how the previous generations have influenced both women is astounding. Growing up in a sea of men has brought Louise and Paula closer - and allowed them to create a girl-gang within their own family - and made them stronger women together. It’s beautiful to listen to the emphasis they place on making sure their grandparents’ stories make it to the next generation and the work they do to keep their family’s history alive. Listen in to get inspired to start collecting your own family’s stories.
“Just do something every day.” - Caprece
How many of us have had friendships lasting more than 30 years?! Goodness, I hope to find that kind of bond. Hanging at Mary’s studio in Baltimore, Mary & I chatted with two icons of Baltimore’s artists scene: Caprece & Sehar.
Upon meeting, I told Caprece I wanted hair like hers - I had to stop her from taking it off and giving it to me. These women were creative forces and were wearing it - literally. Caprece shares stories of her world travels, ambitions for her family, and how she keeps herself motivated. Sehar is a designer who has been molding and creating textiles for years as founder of Urban Masala, a globally-inspired wearable art company, and is finally learning the value of taking care of herself.
Not only have these women seen each other grow and develop over 30 years of friendship, they still find ways to encourage each other to continue creating. They also make it a point to curate a thriving scene for other artists in their community and share a beautiful view of the future. Listen in to shut the door on fear & soar.
“We are natural born leaders.” - Felicia
I love Baltimore - it’s a city with grit, fierce determination, and a history of diversity. Just 45 minutes away from DC, it has its own character - including incredible women with the same grit and determination. Mary & I wandered the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and snapped photos in Graffiti Alley before meeting at her natural light studio in an old factory building near Druid Hill Park.
Much like Baltimore, the women we met had the same grit & determination. Our first set of women were two entrepreneurs and long-standing friends, Sarita and Felicia - what a way to kick off the conversations in this incredible city. Sarita is a owner of SparTea, a day spa for girls in Townsend, MD, mother of four, and breast cancer survivor. Felicia is a people-builder, public speaker, and entrepreneur coach.
Sarita and Felicia lift each other up both as mothers, women, and entrepreneurs. Both lost their mothers at young ages, and although that gave them a significant bond, we learned how Felicia pulled strength from Sarita’s battle with breast cancer and how they both became better women through the fight. Listen in for the laughter, tears, and love.
“Thank you is a powerful word.” - Maritza Lizama
Raise your hand if you have a friend because you’re from the same area of the world. Isn’t it amazing how we can bond because we understand each other’s culture and speak the same language - figuratively and literally? Similar backgrounds can give us a deeper understanding of another person while also learning more about ourselves.
Mary & I sat down in DC to chat with my dear friend, Maritza Lizama and her unstoppable friend, Pamela Nieto, to talk all things gratitude, relationships, and... retro phone bills?!
Maritza and Pam met five years ago as industry colleagues and quickly gravitated toward friendship. They found their similarities extended beyond similar cultural background and industry peers. Their drive, determination, and spirituality bonded these two in a way that makes you want to hug their faces. Maritza and Pam are the epitome of what it means to build your tribe. These women lean on each other, support each other professionally and personally, and even make time to get some serious booty-shaking in between their busy lives.
Listen in and get reaquainted with the power of gratitude, mentorship, and the love and strength of our mothers.
“You know how in your life you have two special people?
Yeah, my sister is like number one.” - Natalie Poitevien
Sisters go one of two ways - they’re either SUPER close or not at all. There’s not usually a middle ground. Generations of my family’s sisters have shown me that, including my own. When my previous trainer, Natalie, said she was going to bring her sister on HERadventures, I was SO excited to hear about the closeness of the two of them. And it’s WAY more close than I expected.
Natalie and Shaneya didn’t choose their bond, but they definitely chose (and choose daily) to embrace it. Even if their significant others end up in second place. These two have each other forever.
Mary & I chatted with Natalie and Shaneya in Washington, DC about their unconventional family tree, growing up in Brooklyn, and their hopes for the future. Natalie is a fitness coach and Shaneya is a senior stylist. This episode of HERadventures includes many laughs and a reminder that real sisters host “ugly face” competitions.
“Stand in the light that’s shining on me and through me” - Kimberly Y. Moore
Not many of us get to manifest the human we’d like to work with only to have that person show up within 24 hours, but that’s the story of how Kimberly met me (Melanie). In the first episode of this season's HERadventures, you get to sit with me & Mary in Washington, DC as we get to know Kimberly Y. Moore.
We learn of the woman behind Go Together, a community building platform that matches carpooling services for students, and the adventure her life has been. It all begins with the fierce determination of a nine-year-old who changed her birth name. Then we learn about using a fashion show as a weapon against segregation along with finding the strength necessary to accept opportunities as they arrive - even in the form of jobs we are overqualified for.
Kimberly’s journey has been one of growth, inspiration, and developing routines that remind herself she’s enough - and goodness, don’t we all need that?!
How positivity, faith, and a little bit of sassiness can turn any situation around.
“I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, but I’m somebody’s double vodka.” – Wilma Jones
How often do we walk through life “dulling our shine” because we’re worried we’re too big of a personality? That we’re too loud or use too many swear words? How often do people tell us that we need to do less, be less, say less? Well you’ve heard me say it again and again: you are beautiful, you are loved, you are enough.
You are not too much.
When Wilma Jones walked into HQ, I knew she was a special person – she’s living her personal brand like nobody’s business. A mutual friend introduced us (Maritza Lizama, who will soon be coming to your ears in the next installment HERadventures) and man, am I glad she did. This woman is such a funny, positive force of energy and I can’t wait to sit down with her again.
Wilma is not too much.
As you’ll hear in her own words, Wilma is a big proponent of “positive psychology” and that above all, positivity breeds positivity. She calls it a “virtuous cycle” – a phrase I’m TOTALLY using from now on. (Another term of hers that I love: “celestial bootcamp”, which you’ll hear about later in the episode.)
Wilma shared her incredible story with me – how she went from feeling stuck and miserable in her marriage to being an empowered single mother and author. We bond over a mutual search for positivity and self-improvement, and she shared with me the secret to her success: being happy and grateful for where you are.
I can’t wait for you to hear this episode – I had so much fun recording it and can’t wait to have her on the podcast again. Grab yourself a cup of tea (or double vodka) and get ready to be inspired!
Honoring the differences and embracing the value in creative tastes.
What do you do if you’re stuck in a job that you love? You like your coworkers, you do meaningful, important work, and you’re really good at what you do. But you just feel… stuck.
That’s exactly where Monica Kang, Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox®, found herself about a year ago. She was pursuing an crazy-badass career, and she truly loved her job, but she felt like she had massive creative energy that wasn’t being expressed or put to use.
Her situation isn’t unusual — as you’ll hear her share in the episode, a recent study found that 87% of professionals worldwide are feeling “stuck” and lacking a creative outlet in their jobs. What?! Why is that such a high number?
It could have a little something to do with negative ideas surrounding “creative” or “creativity”. A lot of people think of it as a “fluffy” word that is somehow inferior or not characteristic of a “serious career”. Monica explains that simply isn’t true. Creativity isn’t just glitter and sparkles. Creativity can be expressed in all types of activities and pursuits. From painting to your morning jog, you use creative abilities in many areas of your life.
Monica started InnovatorsBox® as a way to combat these negative stereotypes of creativity. Through her awesome workshops, she helps others discover their own tastes, abilities, and most importantly, differences in creativity – and how to manifest all of these in their professional and personal spheres.
I hope you enjoy listening to this conversation as much as I enjoyed having it – Monica is a kickass human, filled with loveliness and sunshine. She also happens to be crazy smart and inspiring. She’s my type of people -- she even referenced one of my favorite quotes by Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I want her to be one of my five!
You can’t do epic shit when you’re sitting in a comfortable space.
"All good things are wild and free."
I saw that on a billboard on my way to the tattoo artist in Bali. I hadn’t been sure what to get on my arm, but I was literally given a sign that this should be the phrase. Not only did Bali shake up my physical self – #alltheyoga – it shook up my mindset. I came back from my trip feeling invigorated, fresh and ready for a big, big change. Shortly after I got home, my friend Kris made me realize something:
For someone who always says “there is no box”, I’ve been living a pretty comfortable, boxed-in life.
I love my job. I love my house. I love my dog (most of the time – he is a monster, after all). I have the best team and the best clients. I’m generally really happy with my life. And it’s exactly this “comfort” that’s put me in a box.
Last year during the podcast’s “Finding” series, Rebecca and I talked about “Finding Uncomfortable”. How you can’t experience growth or development when you aren’t pushing any limits or testing boundaries. Being comfortable is dangerous – we run the risk of staying stuck in one place because we’re afraid to upset the balance.
But what if we stopped being afraid?
What if we busted out of our comfort zones and pushed ourselves to do the extreme? How would our lives be different? How would they be BETTER? Don’t you want to do something crazy? Be wild and free? This is what I took from Bali: All good things are wild and free. Instead of putting up random limitations on my own happiness, I’m taking chances, exploring outside my comfort zone, and getting out of the box.
I’ve flirted with the idea of being “bicoastal” for a while, and I decided that 2017 is my year to make it happen. I’m going to live for half the year in DC, rocking it with my team face-to-face, and for the other 6 months, I'll put my place up on Airbnb and live in California. It’s been my dream and now I’m actually going to do it. Wild and free.
This week I challenge you to free yourself from whatever box you may be living in. It doesn’t have to be a big change – it can be something as tiny as giving yourself permission to dream. And dream bigger! It’s scary and nerve-wracking… but that’s also a sign it’s worth your time.
However you choose to define it: be wild and free.
Let go and come back to your heart-space.
One day last week, I really needed a hug.
Nothing seemed to go right. Even tiny things felt like giant, annoying frustrations. Punching a wall was looking better and better. But suddenly I realized – I needed a hug. So I asked for one.
Luckily, I work with the best humans, so Gisell and Cheney were on hand for a warm-and-fuzzy group hug. We all went back to our workspaces feeling just a little bit better about life, and it all came from the power of human contact. A simple human touch made all the difference in the world. I just needed to ask for it.
Later that day, I got to talk to my friend Chris about what had been going on. He told me to come home – to get out of my own head. Of course I was having a crappy day – I was painfully homesick for my heart-space and wasn’t asking for the thing(s) I needed to get me home.
So many of us don’t take the time to examine what we need on a daily basis. We get caught up in the anxieties of the day, whether it’s running a business, raising a family, or picking out matching socks (everything is relative). We forget that we’re human beings, not human doings. Going up to Brainland is necessary and helpful, but sometimes we forget to come home to our hearts. Human beings live in their hearts, not their heads, so when we forget about the “be’s” and focus on the “do’s” we’re bound to get a little out of sorts.
The trick is to identify what we need to get home and ask for it.
What I needed was a simple human touch, so I asked for it. Maybe you need some time with your favorite book or a mug of your favorite tea. If you need space from someone else, ask for 30 minutes of ‘me-time’. Ask for what you need, even if it comes from no one but yourself. Give yourself permission to come home.
I’m in Bali doing exactly that – coming home to my heart. Giving myself the time and space to heal. My team is helping me take of everything while I’m gone – all I had to do was ask them. It’s scary to give up total control, to ask for help, but I promise you, you’ll feel amazing when you do. Come home, and when you do, send me a love note telling me how you got there.
Rock your week, super-lovely humans!
What the world needs now is love (sweet love).
I had every intention of recording a very different podcast episode this week, focusing on Rock Your Talk (now rescheduled for June 15th). But when I pressed record, I couldn’t help but talk about the state of affairs between humans.
Whether we admit it or not, none of us likes to be “wrong”. Wanting to be right, wanting to be the best is a part of the human genetic code. It’s harmless when we’re debating pop-culture facts or the answer to a math problem. But when we start applying the words “good”, “bad”, “right”, or “wrong” to race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, that’s when we need to take a step back and look inside ourselves.
What’s going on in our hearts that makes us want to take someone else’s down a peg?
Recently it feels as if everyone is against everyone else. Fear and hatred keep seeping into the conversation like a poisonous slime. But it doesn’t need to be that way. I’ve found that there’s tremendous power in holding each other. Physically, in an embrace, but also holding space for someone and filling it with love. Instead of asserting your “rightness”, hold out your hand and leave yourself open to the beautiful colors, faiths, and personalities of the world. If we extend our arms and start manifesting that love together, we’ll all be better for it.
I think somebody needs a hug. And that somebody is US.
Break up your story into bite-sized pieces.
All stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But sometimes, when we tell them, we skip around, play with the timeline, or leave a few background characters out. When you share your story, you don’t need to make it a captain’s log of your life. You don’t need to tell people when you ate breakfast or how much butter you used on your toast.
Share your story, not your inventory.
To get the most out of telling your story, focus on the pivotal points. The supernovas. The lightbulb moments. Last week, I chatted with a client, Marshe’, who told me her story. Together we crafted a talk based on one particular pivotal moment in her life and focused on how that moment shaped everything that came after.
People need to hear your story. The whole story, but not every little detail. This week, I discuss the key points in our lives and how they make the most impact when we share our stories with others.
What’s your pivotal moment?
Anything that could possibly be happening right now is happening. And it feels. Like. Shit.
I woke up Sunday morning with a huge weight on my heart. I had a friend say something to me that stung, even though I know she meant nothing by it. I needed to work through it… so I did it on the podcast. Yep - I worked through my own muck, my own expectations, my own pressure on a public podcast for all the internet to hear. And now you get to listen and/or watch me find the truth on the other side of it all. Here’s what I discovered:
We’re all on a journey. We all have our own journeys and our own spaces that we’ve been given. Unlike disgruntled people in a crowded airport, though, we’re all here to help each other. So, let’s not compare our journeys. Let's blend our itineraries and shoulder the burden of our baggage together.
I recently received the book Rebirth from a close friend. In it was a conversation about why suffering is allowed. Why pain has a purpose. The book said that we may be asking the wrong question of ‘why’. Why has this negative thing happened to us? But maybe instead we should ask the question ‘Now what?’
I’m here to tell you that you’re right where you’re supposed to be. You don’t have to do this life on your own. Your journey is not about you. My journey is yours. Your journey is mine. I’m walking with you. When you stand, I stand with you. This pain isn’t yours to suffer alone, and it doesn’t matter why it’s present.
So, now what?
The lovely people behind the scenes typically don’t get enough thanks. This week we have Tony Porreco, our podcast producer on the show - and after the Crew saying “sorry, Tony” over and over, it was time to bring him in for an interview. All you kickass humans now get the chance to hear his voice!
How many people don’t start really living until something bad happens? They get cancer, a hard diagnosis, lose a parent or child, get a big scare.What if we learned from those who have dealt with all of that and started really living instead of waiting for something to happen? What if the people who have to deal with these hardships can teach us something bigger about living? Oh man, do I have a fun one for you.
My little brother - an almost-30 6’5” youngest sibling - honored me with his life story this week. Ok, yes, I asked Cheney to email him and she sent him the most HILARIOUS formal email telling him I would blackmail him if he didn’t accept our request - but despite the threats, he happily showed up before work one morning and sat for a chat with me at my office.
Andrew Harris shares his story of how he’s dealt with a life-changing diagnosis, huge transitions, and finding his path. He moved into Sisarina HQ early last year and lived on my fold-down couch while figuring out what he wanted to do with his life. In that time, he learned more about himself than he expected and I got a chance to watch my brother grow up in front of my eyes.
If you are struggling through a transition, wondering what steps to take, or finding your way in life, listen in - but grab a tissue box. This little (yet super tall) brother of mine made me tear up after he admitted how he was able to break through his toughest walls. SO proud, Andrew Harris. I’m SO proud of you. Xoxo, your big sister, Melanie
Everyone has a personal brand. Even if you don’t know what it is, it follows you around like a shadow. Most people have a tough time identifying their brand because they worry more about what other people think about them. Charleen McManus didn’t have that problem - she just wasn’t sure she wanted to own her personal brand - until it found her.
You’ll remember Charleen from the Richmond HERadventures episodes - she’s the one who hosts incredible parties at her house (and yes, I’m waiting for my invitation). Since last May when Mary & I were on the road, she has put her entrepreneurial gig to the side and gone full-time with a South African company - and guess what?! She found her brand in the process!
From creating a look of professionally artsy to walking out of meetings feeling like she knows her stuff now, Charleen is looking good, feeling good, and enjoying life like the kickass human she is. In case you’re trying to find yourself, this is what it looks like when you’re stepping up and owning your personal brand.
In this episode, we dive into why hiring experts to help you is a badge of adulthood, what choosing your career can look like, how knowing who you want to be helps you find your brand, and why Charleen’s parties are quite literally the best (and yes, it’s the food). Listen in or watch us chat, but make sure you don’t listen hungry.
Sometimes you meet someone who makes you laugh like you’re old friends. Someone who just gets you and flawlessly blends with you in conversation. Hilarious banter, fond memories, feel good moments, and deep thoughts. That’s where we find ourselves on this episode of Adventures in Branding.
You may remember Ingrid Black from the final episode of our first HERadventures series. She’s the South African beauty who kept us belly-laughing with her stories. Since then, she’s decided to take stand-up comedy classes and once you listen to this episode, you’ll know why. Ingrid and I got a chance to sit down for a one-on-one and although I’ve only spent a short amount of time with her, she shared her life with me and all of you kickass humans. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard for 40 minutes.
Filling her bucket list with vomit (seriously), Ingrid recently jumped out of an airplane in Australia and now wants to learn how to do aerial silks despite her motion sickness. Chit-chatting about hanging from a ceiling while debating the definition of “pasties” moved into talking about laugh-out-loud horrible dates - including one guy she nicknamed Cinderella because he wore his slippers to bed.
Ingrid knows how blessed she is as she has come to realize her life has never really been a challenge. Starting her career as a physical therapist, she saw lives changed in a split second and kept a solid perspective. This woman volunteered in the Israeli Army and one of her favorite memories is watching the sunrise on Mount Sinai. Although climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was #1 on her bucket list, someday she would love to be able to run her own company.
Right now, she’s doing big things as the Vice President of an organization in a male-dominated industry, and as she’s taking on the diversity challenge, she’s still giving back in more ways than most humans I know. Listen in to find out why her mom has a Finder’s Fee for the person who finds her a husband. But be forewarned, people on the train will think you’re crazy thanks to the numerous points you’ll burst into laughter.