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Tammy Nelson: “Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most”

One of my favorite moments from the philanthropic work we have done is when they used keys we donated at a “ripple ceremony” on the Nile River in Uganda. At the ceremony, educators threw pebbles into the Nile to symbolically represent the ripples they would be making all over the world as a result of […]

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One of my favorite moments from the philanthropic work we have done is when they used keys we donated at a “ripple ceremony” on the Nile River in Uganda. At the ceremony, educators threw pebbles into the Nile to symbolically represent the ripples they would be making all over the world as a result of their collective work on educational reform and then were given one of our “HERO” keys to serve as a daily reminder that they were the ones who were called to make it happen. When I started this business, I hoped it would have a positive impact on people but never dreamed the keys would make a “ripple” all the way in Africa!

After working together for some time and becoming friends, one day we suddenly realized our mutual love of Broadway, and she floored me with the fact that she had created an original musical and was working to bring it to Broadway! Since my purpose is to empower others and this show is all about empowerment, I joined the producing team and have invested in helping to bring this show to Broadway. It’s pretty incredible how one inspiring and kind act can lead to another and another and how connections form that are truly “meant to be.”


Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy NelsonTammy Nelson is an entrepreneur on a mission to empower others and spread happiness. She is the founder and CEO of Hoi Polloi Trends which makes unique gifts that use the power of words to inspire their customers to lead purposeful, happy lives. She also co-founded 2Empower Productions and create2connect productions that support empowerment through the arts. She holds seven patents, three trademarks, and runs a philanthropic program that supports and amplifies the voices of those spreading happiness and kindness. She is a speaker, an author, and was recently selected as Chief Marketing Officer of the Year by The Cincinnati Business Courier C-Suite Awards. She has a Master of Business Administration degree from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, a bachelor’s degree in advertising and economics from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and recently completed a certificate program through Harvard Business School Online.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Asa young child, instead of playing dress-up, I used to play “office” and I loved the old computer game “Lemonade stand” where you could try your hand at running your own business. My dad worked for 3M so he would bring home all the test paper products like 3-part carbonless forms and (before they were available in stores) post-it notes. Besides my love for playing office, I also loved dancing and thought I would pursue that in college until I took a marketing class in high school and found another love.

Fast forward to grad school when I conducted a large research project on fads and I got interested in what characteristics led product ideas to take off in a big way. I set out to develop a product that had the traits common among other successful fads and imagined my first product all the way back in 1999. It wasn’t until 2011 that I really got serious about bringing it to market and then I finally launched it in 2016.

By the time I launched the product, the motivation to do so made a complete shift from launching a product that would sell like crazy (like a fad) to how could we create a product that was meaningful and empowering.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life” by Shawn Achor

This book turns conventional wisdom upside down and proves (with research, data, and case studies) that success doesn’t lead to happiness but, rather, that happiness fuels success.

Almost everyone makes statements that start with “I’ll be so happy when …

…this project is done.”

…I lose these last 10 pounds.”

…my son is out of diapers.”

…I get that promotion.”

…we move into a new house.”

Statements like this are made all the time — probably because we’re so accustomed to looking ahead, setting goals, and planning for the future. While this focus on what’s ahead is admirable and, undoubtedly, leads to many of our successes in life it can also result in a feeling of never being satisfied.

I have a “happy now” policy and challenge myself to find happiness in every situation — not after this or that. After all, if we keep saying, “I’ll be so happy when…” happiness will always be just out of reach.

This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about spreading happiness through my work.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most”

You might read this quote and think it’s not really that inspiring because life is full of trade-offs. The problem is that we usually look at them as “this” or “that” as if they are two equal things. When, in fact, rarely are two choices truly equal.

This quote is a game-changer. When you ask yourself what you want now versus what you want MOST, you have a different trade-off to make. For example, instead of asking yourself:

“Do I want a big, delicious piece of cake or to lose a few pounds?” (Who wouldn’t choose the cake?)

You, instead, ask yourself:

“Do I want to enjoy this cake for 5 minutes today or do I want to achieve what I want MOST — to have more energy, to comfortably fit in smaller clothes, and be confident in a swimsuit this summer?”

When you elevate the value or importance of one of the choices in your trade-off, you change the game. Suddenly, it’s not “this” or “that.” Now it’s “this little insignificant thing” versus “this big important thing” that you value so much more. When you put the trade-off you’re about to make in its proper perspective, the decision (and having discipline) comes easy.

This quote has helped me make many important choices and stay committed to doing difficult things. There will never be enough time in the day so life will always be full of trade-offs. If you avoid the “this” or “that” trap by giving appropriate weight to each of your options (by asking yourself what you want MOST) you can easily navigate the many trade-offs we face each day to choose the actions that will get you where you want to go!

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Ah-ha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

That “Ah-ha Moment” for me was inspired by another quote. “Do or Do not. There is no try.”

Yes, it’s a quote from Yoda, but this mindset is truly what made the difference for me.

One cold January day back in 2011, I stuck that quote on the wall in my office and before that one day was done, I had officially set up my business. I remember my husband was out running errands that day and, by the time he got home, I had written my business charter, set up my LLC, designed a logo, bought a URL, applied for an employer identification number, and a seller’s permit and more.

I had my business idea for a LONG time before that day and I dabbled around with it “trying” to figure out where to start and what to do but that one day I changed my mindset and have never looked back. I no longer went into it saying, “I’ll give it a try” because that would give me permission to fail before I even started. The word “try” is a destructive word that, unconsciously, gives us an out. When we say we’ll try to do something we’re saying, “I’ll take a shot, but it may or may not work out.” We shouldn’t give ourselves permission to fail before we even start.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Several years ago I saw an article about an inspiring woman who founded an arts-based education program to help underserved youth be empowered to find their inner superhero called SuperYou FUNdation. I was so moved by her work that I sent her a handwritten note telling her so and included a small gift of my first product, key2Bme. She was touched by this note from a complete stranger and we eventually connected by phone, then video conference and, finally in person. Eventually, my company started regularly donating keys to support her foundation’s efforts.

One of my favorite moments from the philanthropic work we have done is when they used keys we donated at a “ripple ceremony” on the Nile River in Uganda. At the ceremony, educators threw pebbles into the Nile to symbolically represent the ripples they would be making all over the world as a result of their collective work on educational reform and then were given one of our “HERO” keys to serve as a daily reminder that they were the ones who were called to make it happen. When I started this business, I hoped it would have a positive impact on people but never dreamed the keys would make a “ripple” all the way in Africa!

After working together for some time and becoming friends, one day we suddenly realized our mutual love of Broadway, and she floored me with the fact that she had created an original musical and was working to bring it to Broadway! Since my purpose is to empower others and this show is all about empowerment, I joined the producing team and have invested in helping to bring this show to Broadway. It’s pretty incredible how one inspiring and kind act can lead to another and another and how connections form that are truly “meant to be.”

Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?

  1. Nominate someone who is spreading happiness and kindness so we can recognize them through our key2Bme Unlock Happiness Program. If selected, they will receive an award plaque, we will make an in-kind donation to support their efforts and we will also promote their organization on our website and in our social channels.
  2. Join our CONQUERing Community where we share an interest in positivity, kindness, and self-improvement. We desire to empower and inspire others.
  3. Follow CONQUERing and key2Bme on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to receive and share uplifting, positive, empowering messages.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I have always disliked the word “boss” and preferred the word “leader.” There are many comparisons of what it means to be one versus the other but one super simple one that really stands out to me is the idea that bosses say, “Go” but leaders say, “Let’s Go!”

Such a small difference in words but a big impact in meaning. It’s easy to talk about what needs to be done and send people off to do it. It’s another thing to jump in and help make it happen. Leadership is about painting a vision, generating enthusiasm, developing the team, and then leading the way.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Don’t look at how long something will take and get discouraged. The time will pass regardless so why not get started today? It’s better to be looking ahead and working toward a completion date that’s far down the road than be looking back at the end of that time period wishing you had started back then.
  2. Always make time for networking — connections are everything. I don’t mean this in the traditional way of, “It’s all about who you know.” I believe that amazing things build off one another and it is through connections that our world is expanded. For a long time, I was amazed when I had that, “It’s a small world,” feeling and then I finally realized it wasn’t due to coincidence — it happens because of the connections made.
  3. Just do the next right thing. Sometimes you can see so many obstacles ahead, you can get paralyzed with inaction. Know this absolute truth — as long as you work to resolve the ONE obstacle directly in your path, you are making progress. And then you can tackle the next one and the next one. And with each one, you will gain confidence and momentum.
  4. Write your own headlines. One strategy I use to push myself to make an important impact is to ask myself what I would want the headline to read at the end of an effort or the end of a period of time. When you jump into the future and are looking back, what are you or others saying about what was accomplished?
  5. Don’t wait to be great. (This is a phrase I first heard from one of our key2Bme Unlock Happiness recipients, 12-year-old Jahkil Jackson, who founded #ProjectIAM when he was just eight.) There’s no “right” time to start making a difference in the world. People often think they need to be older or more experienced but everyone, at any age, can make the world a better place.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There is nothing that will be more fulfilling and bring you more happiness than discovering your purpose in life and then living with intention to fulfill it. My purpose is to empower others. In other words, I feel that I exist to help others truly feel the confidence they need to create their own reality and fulfill their dreams. I have set a personal stretch goal to empower 1 MILLION people.

My advice is to find your unique purpose. These are some of the questions I asked myself that might be helpful as you explore your own ideas:

  • What are your different “roles” in life?
  • What are you most grateful for in life?
  • What can you give to others?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • In the last year, what has made you most happy?

If you write down the answers to these questions on one piece of paper, your purpose in life might just jump right off the page! Living with a clear purpose in mind will help you make the best choices to create the most fulfilling life you can imagine.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Michelle Obama because she is so intelligent, compassionate, and is the epitome of grace. I especially admire her motto: “When they go low, we go high,” referring to her commitment to take the high road…even when others drop to new lows.

How can our readers follow you online?

Personal website and blog

Newest brand — CONQUERing

Flagship brand — key2Bme

Another personal passion project — 2Empower Productions

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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