Michelle Tunno Buelow of Bella Tunno: “Find your own measuring stick for success”

Find your own measuring stick for success. — Success is not just about the money. For our brand, success is measured in meal donations. Early on, I didn’t feel like our company was big enough to deserve a seat at the table. Even as we doubled year over year, our company never seemed to be growing fast […]

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Find your own measuring stick for success. — Success is not just about the money. For our brand, success is measured in meal donations. Early on, I didn’t feel like our company was big enough to deserve a seat at the table. Even as we doubled year over year, our company never seemed to be growing fast enough or hitting the big numbers that I watched other brands hit. Over time, I’ve learned there is always going to be a faster-growing, more profitable, larger company than yours — when you measure your success on sales alone. But when your success is linked to something beyond the numbers, your passion and drive and confidence become explosive.

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 McDonald’s 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 Michelle Tunno Buelow.

Michelle Tunno Buelow is the founder and CEO of Bella Tunno, a modern, innovative, purpose-driven baby accessory brand on a mission to end childhood hunger. For every product sold, Bella Tunno donates at least one meal to a hungry child. To date, Bella Tunno has donated more than 5.3 million meals. Michelle lives in Charlotte with her husband and two teenage daughters, and serves on many philanthropic boards.

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?

I grew up in a tiny, dot-on-a-map town in western PA. I was raised in a nuclear family, just my mom, dad, brother and me. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a government employee. I had one brother and he was my best friend. We grew up playing games at the dinner table and taking family vacations in a paneled station wagon. My parents were very religious and very strict, like 1 hour of TV a week and one sweet snack a week type of strict. We spent most Saturdays, Wednesday nights and ALL day Sunday at church. We did everything as a family and my brother, Matt, was my person. I was a soccer player and gymnast growing up. I loved school and loved learning. I went to Pennsylvania State University for college. Growing up in such a small town, I felt like ‘successful’ people were doctors and lawyers. So, that’s what I thought I’d be. I entered college pre-med, then changed to pre-law, then after about 3 other changes, graduated with Business and Psychology degrees. I always knew I wanted to get out of the small town, so all my life I took every single opportunity to travel, explore, and adventure. I did internships at Walt Disney World, studied abroad in Australia, and traveled to Europe for three months the summer after graduation. I moved to Charlotte, NC to start my first job. Then, when I was just 27 years old, my brother passed away due to an accidental overdose after a 14 year battle with addiction. That was when my entire life shattered.

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

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

I think everyone wants to find their purpose — the true meaning behind why they are put on this earth. But many people wait for it to be wrapped up and delivered on their porch. Sometimes purpose comes in more like a hurricane than a soft breeze, and it’s so far from what we expected or envisioned that it’s hard to accept. I know now that my purpose is to run a company where I can use my platform and my profits to change people’s stories. It’s a company where I can help as many people as possible not experience the type of pain my family experienced after losing my brother. But I fought hard to push my purpose away because I didn’t want this to be my story. I didn’t want to accept the loss or deal with the grief, or even admit that I was scared to move forward without my brother. Purpose isn’t always shiny. It’s not always pleasant and it’s certainly not always as expected, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. So often it’s our pain that unveils our purpose and then it becomes our passion and from that we can find our power.

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.

#1: I’m comfortable in the uncomfortable

I have always put myself in growth situations. I grab opportunities and I hang on tight. I don’t like comfort zones. I feel the most alive when something is brand new and I have no idea how it will unfold. Being comfortable in the uncomfortable is where I thrive.

In December of 2008, I got an email from the Target Innovation Team that said, “we are interested in your brand and would love for you to come present to us.” Other than that, it had very little detail. I had never been in touch with Target before and at this point my brand was only 2.5 years old. I immediately called the number on the bottom of the email and as luck would not have it, the contact was already out for holiday break. I emailed back and said I would love to know more. Then I checked my email every hour on the hour during holiday break. On a Monday in early January of 2009, I received an email asking me to come to Minneapolis that same week to present. I had no idea what to present or how mass retail worked, but I knew I was going. I bought an airline ticket that same day and hopped on a plane with every sample I had and just showed up. After I displayed my line, they peppered me with questions all containing acronyms I’d never heard before, but based on their tone, the answer to all their questions was supposed to be yes. So, I said yes and hoped I’d figure it all out later. I committed to a line in Target with no mass production leads, no idea what case packs were, and no clue how I was going to deliver. But somehow, I did it and we still work with Target today.

#2: I’m Resilient

I fall often, but I find a way to get back up every time. I guess you could say, I bounce! And each time, I come out a little stronger and stand a little taller. The key is to learn from the mistakes and appreciate the scars. I’ll never forget my first trade show in New York City. I had been invited to join a ‘showroom’, and they were going to display my brand under their larger brand umbrella. For this small town girl from Pennsylvania, NYC was the big time, and I was honored they selected me. I was thrilled to be represented on such a big stage. In fact, I was so proud that I invited my mom and dad to join me on the trip. My mom was still in a massive depressive state from losing my brother, and I wanted to show her what I was doing in his honor. I knew she’d be proud. Deep down, I hoped it would also snap her out of her depression. So, I flew them up to the show and we all arrived early on a Monday morning to see my booth and start selling. But there was only one problem: I couldn’t find my booth. We walked the showroom area for over 30 minutes and still couldn’t locate the Bella Tunno products. I found the showroom owner, with whom I’d only spoken with on the phone, and introduced myself. When she heard my name and brand, her face fell. She had completely forgotten about me! She didn’t leave space for my brand and didn’t bring my products into the show. She left me standing there for an hour, with my parents right behind me, while she tried to think of a solution. There are no words to express the disappointment and embarrassment I was feeling. I brought my parents to New York to show them what I’d created, in hopes that they would beam with pride. Instead, I stood there doing everything I could to hold back tears. The showroom owner came back with a handful of my products that she found in her car, and a flower pot for me to display them in. Yes, that’s right… A FLOWER POT! She put everything on a 2×2 tray table — like a TV tray straight out of the 1970’s. I begged my parents to leave because my eyes were burning, and I knew the tears would start flowing if they kept standing there looking at me with pity. I stood behind my flower pot for 3 days straight, and only two people stopped to hear my story. Who could blame them? I mean, who wants to talk to the founder of a company with a few products sitting in a flower pot — on top of a TV stand?

I came back from NY thinking I had no business launching Bella Tunno. I wanted to quit. I wanted to put it all behind me and go back to the fast-paced life I loved. The one where I felt like I mattered. But I didn’t, because I knew I had to change people’s stories in my brother’s name. I learned so much from that experience about humility, forgiveness and the importance of planning ahead. But perhaps the most valuable takeaway was learning just how resilient I was.

#3: I’m Scrappy

My ways aren’t polished, and they are certainly not by the book, but I get things done. My approach is unconventional and it’s homegrown, but it’s who I am.

Several years ago, Baby GAP asked us to create a diaper bag. At the time, we didn’t do diaper bags. I referred them to a few companies that made amazing bags, but they said they loved our mission and wanted the bag to come from us. We only did cotton burp cloths and changing pads at the time, so this was a huge stretch, but they insisted. I had one week to deliver the bag from NC to CA. I called every home seamstress I knew to see if they could construct a bag from a drawing. They all said no. I called every small factory within driving distance to ask the same question. The answer was still no. Not being one to take no for an answer, I drove to a fabric store and bought upholstery weight fabric, then to the hardware store for a staple gun. I tried constructing over 10 different styles of bags and finally, with one day to spare, I stapled a diaper bag together with great form, excellent functionality and a sleek look. I overnighted it and the minute I dropped it at UPS, I realized the absurdity of sending a stapled diaper bag. I truly never expected to hear from Baby GAP, and assumed I just gave them a good laugh and lost 81 dollars on overnight shipping. Believe it or not, they called, and they loved it! (as long as it could be made without the staples of course). I was thrilled to hear the news, but told them I didn’t have a way to get it manufactured. So they introduced me to their bag factory in China, held my hand through the entire process, and together, we launched one of the most successful diaper bags Baby GAP had ever sold.

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?

My first “big girl” job out of college was a Change Management and Human Performance Consultant for Accenture. Coming from a town the size of a dot on a map, I wanted so badly to see the world. I only applied for jobs that would allow me to travel the country. This role was what I considered a dream job: it was fast-paced and pushed me beyond anything I thought I could do, both emotionally and mentally. Working 80 hour weeks was standard practice. I travelled every week and went above and beyond in every project I touched. Climbing the corporate ladder — and making as much money as possible — was the goal. I tried to earn a gold star everywhere I went. I even slept under my desk once, while on a project in DC, because I wanted to finish ahead of time and get promoted. I went on to run a brand strategy department at a marketing firm at the age of 25. It was a great gig, and it required international travel.

And how did you reinvent yourself in your Second Chapter?

I didn’t choose to start my second chapter. My second chapter chose me. The only choice I had in the matter was how I would deal with it and find a way to move forward.

While I was busy climbing the corporate ladder 2 rungs at a time, chasing accolades and promotions, my brother and best friend was in a downward spiral of drug addiction. He had been struggling for 14 years in and out of rehab programs. Just as my life was lining up to be the exact life I envisioned, his was literally crumbling. On August 5, 2003, in the middle of the night, I got the call I always feared, but prayed I’d never get. My brother was dead. It was an accidental overdose.

At that moment, everything changed. All of a sudden, my world stopped and nothing else mattered. The projects, the pay raises and the gold stars no longer meant anything. I quit the job I loved and went into a pretty deep depression. I stayed down for about a year. I kept wondering if I could ever be happy again, if life would ever feel like it mattered again.

About a year after my brother died, I had a very surreal moment of clarity. It was like my heart and my mind both woke up at the same time, and I remember making a promise that I would dedicate my life to helping as many people as possible avoid the pain I felt.

I didn’t know exactly what that meant at the time, but looking back on it, I realize that moment of clarity was when the concept of Bella Tunno was born. I wanted to start a fund in my late brother’s name that could do two things: 1. Leave a legacy for people to remember all the good about him. He was so much more than an addict and I wanted the world to associate his name with all of the good. 2. Protect as many families as I could from going through the pain I felt.

With that, I started the Matt Tunno Make a Difference Fund and simultaneously launched Bella Tunno.

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?

Pain. Pain was the thing. Realizing that although I was alive, I was not really living. Launching Bella Tunno seemed huge to others, but it seemed like the only option to me. I needed to heal, and I needed to honor my brother. It was the only option for my survival.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skill set 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 learned to fail forward. I had no idea that I possessed true leadership qualities. I didn’t realize I had a good design eye. I never thought of myself as a salesperson. Turns out, I’m pretty good at all 3 of those things. I also realized I’m a terrible accountant and possibly even worse at customer service. When I started Bella Tunno with a 6,000 dollars investment (of my own money), I had to do everything myself. I designed the products, sewed them, marketed them, sold them, invoiced them, shipped them, etc. In my past roles, I had one job with a short list of focused responsibilities. Now I was one person running about 7 departments of a company by myself. So, I tried and I failed. I fell and I stumbled, but I learned. Perhaps the most important lesson was to give myself grace for my mistakes, but not to make the same mistake twice. I didn’t mind failing because it always meant I was growing and learning — I just wanted to make sure my failures were new failures. We have a motto at Bella Tunno, “learn and turn.” We celebrate failure because we extract the lesson and apply it to the next opportunity. That’s how I’ve learned to uncover my new skill sets, and when something is just clearly not in my wheelhouse, I’ve learned it’s a sound investment to hire someone who can take it off my plate. I heard Barbara Cochran speak once and her advice stuck with me — she said to divide a piece of paper right down the center and on the left, write the things you love to do. One the right, list the things you dread doing. Then, give yourself 6 months to get everything on the ‘dreaded’ side off your plate. That advice has truly been a game changer for me.

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

To most people, success might look like products on the shelves of Target, Nordstrom and Buy Buy Baby. Or 3,000 boutique accounts that choose us, along with multiple international distribution relationships. But at Bella Tunno, we measure our success by how much we give.

In the first five years, we focused all our charitable work around drug and alcohol rehabilitation, education and addiction prevention. Trying to save other families was my passion. In a project that we called Extreme Mission Make-Over, we pulled 70 individuals and 18 companies together to add 5 dual occupancy rooms and a bathroom to a local rescue mission. This allowed 40 more clients to participate in the program annually. We hosted a one-night charity event called Posh with Purpose that raised more than 30,000 dollars, which allowed 30 women to go through a 120-day rehabilitation program. We provided a true Christmas, complete with presents and a meal, to all 90 clients at the local rescue mission. We sponsored rehab for a year for at least 4 male clients. We gave scholarships to unwed teen moms, as they are at an extremely high risk for addiction. It was good work. It was personal and healing work.

But in 2014, I came across some research stating that 1 in 6 children in America faces hunger on a daily basis. That was more than 13 million children right here in the U.S. at the time (now it’s 1 in 4 due to the pandemic). I also read an article that linked food insecurity in childhood to addiction as an adult. This was where all the dots connected. The statistics about child hunger haunted me, and the link between child hunger and addiction fed my personal purpose.

In 2014, we became a one-for-one social impact brand, where we decided to donate at least one meal to a child in need for every product sold. To this day, we’ve kept our Buy One, Feed One promise, even in 2020 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with our partners and customers, we all share a vision of ending child hunger in America. Together, we have donated more than 5.4 million meals, and every month we celebrate success (we call it throwing confetti) based on how many meals we donate.

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?

My husband has always believed in me and in Bella Tunno… some days, more than I did. He never gave up on my dream, even when I wanted to. I remember 3 years into the business, we were growing at an uncanny pace. We didn’t have any employees — or systems in place to scale the business — yet we had a deal with The GAP and were in talks with Target. I was still working out of our bonus room with a 3-year-old and an infant. We couldn’t keep up with anything, and I didn’t even feel like we had time to hire someone to help. We had no childcare, and there were times when I truly felt like I couldn’t breathe. We would stay up packing and charging orders until 3 AM, and most nights I’d have tears streaming down my face while we did it. I’d never worked so hard in my life, and I felt like we would never catch up. I was sacrificing everything for the business, and felt like it was taking everything from me. I wanted to quit. But Todd would say, “go to bed, I’ll finish” — and stay up all night — then he’d roll right into his ‘real’ job at 8 AM. He never wavered in his commitment to the brand — never got angry, never showed me that he was tired. He was working a full-time job outside of Bella Tunno and never once complained. Behind the scenes, he was interviewing Distribution Centers, submitting me for awards and landing PR opportunities. I have too many “Todd to the rescue” stories to count. He’s the heavy lifter behind Bella Tunno.

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

I found myself. I found the beauty in not wishing your life was something other than what it is. I realized that this is my one precious life, and although I wouldn’t have authored my story this way, it’s my story and mine alone. I learned that tragedy is a teacher, and it’s better to learn from it than run from it. Although I’d give almost anything to have my brother back, I’m happy to say I’ve finally found joy again. I think so much of that stems from knowing I’ve made the most of the life I’ve been given — and in doing so, I’m helping others every single day.

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?

I battled imposter syndrome the first 10 years of running Bella Tunno. Who was I to be a CEO? I had 6 years of work experience. I had never managed a team. I was only 27 years old. I remember the first time I won a big, national award — along with 10 other amazing, fast-growing women-owned companies — and travelled out to CA to receive it. I was terrified to show up — scared that they would realize they made a mistake. I was in the elevator heading down to get the award and another ‘winner’ was in the elevator with me. She had a presence. She was outwardly perfect. I introduced myself and congratulated her. She leaned over, pulled some lint off my dress and said, “Oh honey, didn’t you bring a lint brush?” Her only intention was to make me feel ‘less than’ — and she won. I felt like I shrunk and shriveled, and it was all I could do to follow her to the 1500-person room where the award was being given. I felt so inadequate. I felt seen in all the wrong ways — judged without being known. Overall, I think women are amazing supporters of other women, but not every woman gets it. Maybe it was her own insecurity speaking. But that day, after a quick cry in the bathroom, I put myself back together and walked up on the stage with my head held high (and lint on my dress!) and felt sorry for her. Sorry for a woman who didn’t think there was room on that stage for all of us. Ever since, I’ve gone out of my way to be supportive and make space for other women to succeed.

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?

I’m not sure I did that intentionally. I think starting Bella Tunno was more of a “ready, fire, aim” story than a “ready, aim, fire” one. I didn’t have a business plan, and I definitely didn’t feel ready. At the same time, there was a fire burning in me to do something in my brother’s name and help change other people’s stories.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the corporate world was the support system I needed to start Bella Tunno. International travel taught me to be independent and fearless. The consulting work gave me insights into so many different companies and their cultures — their missions, visions, values, and operations. I started building a virtual ‘business backpack’ and filled it with all of the positive things I’d experienced, while trying to learn from any negative experiences or missteps. I learned how the best companies treat their people and how they are hyper-focused on their goals. I had 3 corporate jobs before I started Bella Tunno and each one taught me so many valuable lessons.

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?

Early on, I was my own biggest obstacle. I had a firm belief that when you give back, make charitable donations and help others, it should be in private — not something you let others see or know about. It felt disingenuous to share all the philanthropic work we were doing — almost like announcing how much money you give before putting it in the offering plate.

I also hadn’t come to a place where I fully owned my own story. I didn’t want to share my brother’s struggles. I didn’t want that to be my family’s story. As much as I wanted to change other people’s stories, I hadn’t let go of the shame associated with my own. I just wanted to make great baby products and donate part of the profits behind closed doors.

That mentality was actually inhibiting our giving potential, and, in a way, I was cheating my customers too. By not letting them know about the donations, I was actually limiting our company’s growth potential and our customers’ ability to know they were part of a solution. As time started to heal me, the passion to do more just kept growing, and I had to get out of my own way to really start helping in a meaningful way.

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? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Align your purpose and your product.

Bella Tunno was launched with a mission of breaking destructive cycles and changing lives, and we’ve never once wavered from that. However, in the first 7 years, our giving was all directed toward drug and alcohol rehabilitation efforts. This was my passion and my personal story, but there was a huge disconnect from our target audience. Our customers were new parents who just brought a brand new life into this crazy world. The LAST thing they wanted to think about was that sweet little bundle potentially becoming an addict. While it felt good for me personally, it was a complete miss for the brand. When I came across the link between food insecurity in childhood and addiction in adulthood, we immediately redirected the mission and created a fully-aligned brand story. We were selling feeding products for children, and donating meals to children in need for every product sold. This alignment became a story that not only made sense to our customers, it made them want to share the story themselves. That newfound alignment between our products and our purpose went even deeper, and it united our team. We are all mothers and aunts and mentors to the children in our lives — we can ALL relate to wanting children’s core needs to be met. Our entire team volunteers once a month at a local school. We set up a food pantry through our food bank partner and hand out more than a week’s worth of healthy meals to each family. It’s our favorite day of the month because we get to meet the people we are serving. We get to talk to them and share with them and see where our donations are going, which means so much more than simply writing a check. EVERYONE shows up — not because they have to or get paid to. It’s our shared purpose. It’s fulfilling and it gives us MEANING.

Now that our purpose aligns with our product, our customers are proud to use our brand and excited to join our mission. I remember in 2014 when we launched our Buy One, Give One initiative at Market in Atlanta. We wanted an impactful way to show how many meals each customer was donating through their order, so we bought huge bags of mini pom poms. After each order was written, we tallied the donated meal count and handed that same number of pom poms to the customer. Then we would have them add the pom poms to a huge glass container that we kept on our table all week long. I still remember the first order from that market. It was for 204 products. We literally counted out 204 pom-poms on the table and had the customer add them to the jar. She started crying and kept saying, “I did that? I gave all those meals?” She sure did! That same customer sent 3 more people our way just within that market week. And now our customers talk about the meals they donate all the time. People are good and they love being part of a solution.

We were just named the 8th fastest-growing company in Charlotte for 20202, and I truly believe our mission alignment is the driving force for our growth.

2. Fiercely commit to your values.

Set your brand values and use them to guide your decision making. No matter how big or how small the decision, use them as your north star and if a potential decision does not align with your values, walk away. Our company values are:

  1. SOCIAL IMPACT- The commitment that we will use our company to make people’s lives better.
  2. CONFETTI THROWING — The celebratory art of uplifting and recognizing goodness.
  3. CREATIVE FREEDOM — The unconventional permission to dismiss the status quo.
  4. COLLECTIVE POWER — The shared belief that we can do more together.
  5. UNAPOLOGETIC CURIOSITY — The need to constantly question the norm in order to rise above it.

When I look back at mistakes I’ve made in hiring, selecting company partners, or new product launches, I can tie each one back to a sacrifice of company values.

3. Fail Forward.

The entrepreneur’s journey is not for the weak. You will fail. Over and over and over again. The only real mistake in failing is if you choose not to learn from it. Failure is growth. It means you are pushing beyond what feels comfortable, and you are trying something new or something bigger. It’s critical for expansion and crucial for change. It’s also painful if you look at it as a negative. So don’t. Celebrate failure and share those mistakes, as well as what you learned from them, with others on your team. At Bella Tunno, we have what we call “Failure Fridays”. We kick off our meeting by sharing our biggest failure of the week, and teaching the rest of the team what we learned from it. It’s amazing to all come together and support each other like that. It invites vulnerability and encourages creativity. Framing failure as a positive gives people the permission to try new things, to think bigger, and to feel more ownership. Failure is not a dirty word, so don’t treat it like one.

4. Find your own measuring stick for success.

Success is not just about the money. For our brand, success is measured in meal donations. Early on, I didn’t feel like our company was big enough to deserve a seat at the table. Even as we doubled year over year, our company never seemed to be growing fast enough or hitting the big numbers that I watched other brands hit. Over time, I’ve learned there is always going to be a faster-growing, more profitable, larger company than yours — when you measure your success on sales alone. But when your success is linked to something beyond the numbers, your passion and drive and confidence become explosive. Meal donations drive everything we do at Bella Tunno, because that’s how WE measure success. It’s meals donated, not dollars earned. The money has to be there, and the two things are directly related, but measuring success in meals is so much more impactful. The most important lesson I’ve learned since starting this company is: When your purpose is shallow, the victories are empty. And when your purpose is deep, the victories are meaningful.

5. Own your story

Our stories are what make us uniquely who we are. I spent so much time trying to hide from what made me the person I am. It had so much negative power over me. It wasn’t until I accepted it as my story that it had positive power. Our stories are the most powerful form of human connection we can have with one another. They’re what make us uniquely qualified to do big things, and they make us raw and vulnerable enough to know we need each other to make it happen.

When I started sharing my story on bigger stages, I’d have people lined up afterwards to share theirs in return. So many people had similar experiences, and I realized there was freedom in knowing they were not alone. I remember during one panel I spoke on, there was a woman in the third row that cried the entire time. Turns out, she had just lost her son a month before to an accidental overdose. This was her first week back at work and her first time in public since his passing. Her pain was so raw, she had no idea how to function without him. She came up and hugged me and shared her story. We cried together. She said she felt seen. Some of the undeserved, but unshakable shame and guilt she felt were lifted in that conversation. We were both part of a club no one would ever choose to join, but in that shared connection we both found a clearer path forward. She wanted to start helping others, and donating her time and resources to families that still had a chance to change their stories.

Owning your story can be painful, but connecting to that pain could be what helps you find your passion and your purpose. I consider that a gift.

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 love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

That would definitely be Guy Raz, the host of NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast. To say I’m a huge fan of the podcast feels like an understatement. Guy is such a great interviewer, and I love listening to other innovators, creators and entrepreneurs talk about how they built their companies from the ground up. I get really excited when a new episode comes out and I can’t wait to listen. I especially love the Resilience series. Hearing how other people, particularly those who are successfully running well-known companies, are getting through these crazy, uncertain times keeps me hopeful and inspired. And since resilience is kinda my thing, those conversations just feel so relatable to me.

We’ve sent several emails to the HIBT team, sharing our story in hopes of being brought on as a guest, but we haven’t gotten a response yet. So if you have some connections or happen to know anyone who works on the show, we’re totally open to an introduction. Haha!

Seriously though, it’s not lost on me that his guests are heavy hitters in the business world and many of them are the incredible minds behind the world’s best-known companies. But to have a seat at that table, and to be given the chance to share the Bella Tunno story with Guy Raz, would be an absolute dream come true for me.

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