Melissa Panszi Riebe of A D’Zine: “You will work more hours and harder than you ever have”

Figure out what is the part of your business that takes the most time and then hire out. It will be an expense, but in the long run it will save you money since it will free up your time. For example, I am horrible at bookkeeping. I invested in software and professional services. This […]

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Figure out what is the part of your business that takes the most time and then hire out. It will be an expense, but in the long run it will save you money since it will free up your time. For example, I am horrible at bookkeeping. I invested in software and professional services. This has helped with the stress level and freeing up time.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Panszi Riebe. Melissa is a self-taught artist, she discovered jewelry design as a hobby and it has since transformed into a growing business. As a LatinX, she is inspired by her Mexican roots and culture along with her Irish/German ancestry.

Prior to A D’Zine, Melissa worked in the medical and legal fields as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Hello and thank you for the opportunity to talk with you. I grew up in the Midwest and went to undergrad and graduate school there. Both my parents were born outside of the US, my dad in Mexico and my mom in Germany. I have a younger sister who is 4 years younger. As a child I always knew I would live in a big city, however, I still like going back to the Midwest to re-charge.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite life lesson quotes came from my dad. He would say, “You always need to have a dream and keep reaching for that dream. Because it is that dream that will motivate you to keep striving. That dream may change, but you must always have dreams.” My dad grew up with very little money in Mexico. As a child, he would go to a specific store and window dream about having this specific toy soldier. He would visualize what it would be like to play and own one. As he got older, his dream changed to a suit. He saw that suit as a sign of success. He would dream about wearing that suit. Today he is a successful doctor and is the oldest practicing neurologist in Indiana. Back to the soldier, as a surprise his Godmother bought it for him. Recently, my dad gave my son that soldier and told him this story. I love that this small, beat-up toy represents so much(photo attached). This really motivates me to keep striving for my dreams.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Wow. Top three qualities. That is hard to narrow it down, but what comes to top of mind are 1. Doing what you love, 2. Being able to get along with others, and 3. Being able to laugh and find humor in things. I really believe that if you don’t love what you do then you will not be giving it your all. Having your own business there are a lot of sacrifices and time spent on it. You can’t just phone it in. It is important to get along with others since you never know what kind of collaborations and opportunities form by how you treat each other. Finally, life is just better with laughter. Even in the most difficult times, laughter really helps you get through it.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

Sure. My first job out of college was working as an investigator for the Indiana State Public Defender’s Office, Post-Conviction Capital Unit. We represented people who had been on death row for about 4–6 years and showed how their trial was not handled correctly. I would put together the defendant’s social history. I witnessed first hand the existence of two justice systems and how people were treated differently. Doing this work inspired me to pursue a Masters in Social Work. Once I graduated, I was burnt out with the criminal justice system and moved my specialty to medical social work. I worked with hospice and as a Senior Social worker at a Cancer Center.

As a social worker I was getting involved with programming and project management. After a move because of my spouse’s job, I decided to get another Masters in Nonprofit Management.

Talking about my past work experiences sounds depressing as I say it out loud, however, I have to say some of those jobs were the best experiences I had. I saw first hand the importance that hope has in our lives. The people who do that work create such an amazing supportive community. It never was just a work place, it really was a community.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

Hmm, the “how” was kind of organic. I never once said, I want to start something new. It just seemed to happen. I started making jewelry as a stress reliever during my second Masters. It went from a hobby to a business in a fluid way. I believe that the beginning of my second chapter was when I could comfortably say that I was a “jewelry maker “and not, “I make jewelry, but went to school to be a social worker.”

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

Absolutely. One word, Edie. Edie, was an acquaintance that I happened to go to dinner with one night and we got to talking about projects. For whatever reason, I started talking about my jewelry making and how I was waiting for the right time to “really” do it 100%. She said to me, you need to just start. You will never be 100%. You will make mistakes and that is ok. You will grow from that. Before that, I felt like I was just putting my toe in the water. She pushed me so I could take the plunge. That night I went home and started planning and researching shows and looked at what I was going to do differently and I have moved forward ever since.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

I always had an eye for design. Throughout my personal life, I would re-purpose or design. I designed my senior prom dress. I think that is the first time I saw the excitement of having an idea of something and creating it into a reality. Oh, I loved that dressed. Anyway, I digress in my prom memories. For jewelry making, I started it as a hobby and making for myself. As I got compliments and requests for my pieces, I started taking classes, reading books about jewelry making, and talking to experts so I felt comfortable with the quality that I was putting out. I am the type of person that will completely submerge myself and read as much as I can and educate myself as much as I can and practice, practice, practice to get it right. Once I decided to make this my profession, I started to learn how to run a business and surrounded myself with the gurus to learn what to do. With jewelry making you have to be comfortable making mistakes and knowing that not everything you make will be a success. Accepting failure is a huge way to overcome the barriers and manifest the power of success.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

Things are going amazing. I have never been happier. I’m not just creating jewelry, but I am creating a company and it is my own. I am creating a community that is supportive and nurturing. I’ve met some of my favorite people that I never would have met if it weren’t for my second chapter. One of the core values of A D’Zine, my company, is giving back. In fact the motto is “Make a Statement with What You Wear and Share.” A portion of all my sales goes to a featured nonprofit so I have been able to raise thousands of dollars for various nonprofits, even during this pandemic. In addition, I was featured in the December Gift Guide of Westchester Magazine, a local magazine in the New York area. Finally, people are becoming repeat customers. That is the biggest compliment. It is the validation that it is not just me that enjoys my creations.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

That is such a big question. There are several. I am grateful for my parents and family who always instilled in me that I could be whatever I wanted to be and the most important thing in deciding what to do is to make sure I am happy. My spouse who has supported me throughout my 1st and 2nd chapters and has been my biggest cheerleader, and I am forever grateful. Finally the incredible community of makers/friends that have become my new “work family.” We believe in community over competition and are cheering each other on and rooting for nothing but success. I know that is not a particular person, but no one succeeds without a community.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Starting and growing a business in the middle of COVID is interesting in itself. In December of 2020 I did a 10 day outdoor pop-up. It was the hardest I have ever worked. I had to not only plan for a market, but plan with COVID safety guidelines and winter temperatures in mind. It all worked out well and people seemed to be happy to get out and do an activity that gave the feeling of normalcy. It just made it interesting to have to communicate and sell without the ability to see people’s mouth or smiles or be close to each other. I feel like if I can go through that, I can do any kind of show.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Um, everyday. This is still very new to me. I always wonder if what I am doing is “right”. Will people still want to buy from me? Will people come back to buy more? Am I running the “business” part right? As I mentioned before, I surround myself with amazing makers. We rely on each other not just for resources, but to bring each other up or talk things through when we need it. In addition, I belong to a Collective of artists (Handmade in Brooklyn) who are amazing support. We can relate the highs and lows of being in a creative business, and they are the most supportive. I feel like I have found my people, and they have found me. They help me grow, and, I can only hope that I help in return.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

That is great advice. I actually did it backwards . I embarked in this new adventure and then found my support. Because Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 overlapped a bit, I always had a support system. In fact, some of the people who were my supports in chapter 1 of my life are my best cheerleaders in chapter 2. The important thing to know is that your support system is out there. At times they are easier to to find than others, but they are there.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

Starting a new chapter or even doing new things within this new chapter at times feels uncomfortable. For example, I still get nervous every time I do a show. I still get nervous when I send out newsletters. I think, “will people even read it?” There are several tools I use that help. First, I find that meditation really helps. I never meditated before. You would think working with grief, bereavement, and complicated medical issues I would have. In my meditation I have certain mantras to help me get through it. One of those mantras is, “Even if I don’t succeed with (put in what I am afraid of), I will learn from it and do it better next time. Second, I make time to surround myself with people who make me laugh. Laughter is so important for stress relief. Finally, I save all the comments I receive from people who have bought my jewelry in the past and read them. Seeing their words and come that come to life when they are worn is so inspirational.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why?

1 .You will work more hours and harder than you ever have. However, you will know that it is the right thing to do because you will realize it as you look back at all you have accomplished. For example for the 10 day market the amount of work I put in planning, prepping, marketing, during the market, and after the market with follow up was crazy. I would wake up at 6am work for 3 hours making more jewelry and creations since they were selling so well, and then work 10 hour days and then come home and finish up the day and got ready for the next day.

2. Figure out what is the part of your business that takes the most time and then hire out. It will be an expense, but in the long run it will save you money since it will free up your time. For example, I am horrible at bookkeeping. I invested in software and professional services. This has helped with the stress level and freeing up time.

3. Have staff meetings on a regular basis. Even if your staff is only you. I have a staff meeting every week to plan out the week, make sure I am on track for what is scheduled, identify any issues, and problem solve.

4. Come from a place of “yes” and don’t let being uncomfortable put in in a place of “no”. You will be amazed what opportunities will come with that mind set. I was once part of a business group and people were brain storming ideas to help their businesses during Covid. The facilitator kept saying no to the ideas or talking about reasons that idea wouldn’t work. A small group of us got together and figured out a way to make one of the ideas happen. We ended up making holiday gift baskets and sold out before the end of the season.

5. Don’t let people put doubts in your head about what you are doing. Other people’s opinions can be harsh at times, but it is important to recognize that their negativity may be a reflection on them and not you. Because this is all new, other’s negativity can seem louder to you than it should be. Respect the fact that you were in chapter 1 for a while and you created a sense of comfort there. For example, part of the reason it was hard for me to answer the question, “what do you do?” was because I felt that I didn’t deserve to say I was a jewelry maker. It felt uncomfortable to say my title and not explain why my years in schooling were not being used. I felt people would be judging me for not doing what I went to school to be. The more I verbalized the title of my new chapter, my chapter 2, the more comfortable I became and my confidence and happiness grew.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If we could truly end systematic racism that would benefit so many people. It is so intertwined in almost ever aspect of our life. It is also so much a part of our history, our present life, and it determines our future on how we deal with this issue. Education, environment, justice, occupation, social economic status, the list goes on . Our true American history isn’t taught to everyone so there is not a true understanding about why things are the way they are now. When I went to undergrad I took an African American English class. My whole world opened up to these amazing literature geniuses. There is no reason everyone hasn’t been exposed to those authors and their stories. In addition, when I worked at the Public Defender’s, time after time I would see how there were truly 2 systems based on the color of the defendant’s skin color.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would in love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to sit down with Bozoma Saint John, Chief Marketing Officer of Netflix. She is so inspirational! Who she is, what she has accomplished, and what she is doing to give back to women, especially Black and Brown women. She is someone who stays true to who she is with style, intelligence, confidence, and business sense. She is a true trailblazer. She is someone that more people, especially young people should know.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow me on Instagram or Facebook @adzineny or sign up for my emails at I’d love to have your readers as a part of the A D’zine community.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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