Ball Gowns to Yoga Pants
SUCCESS SECRET #2:
Base YOUR Big Crazy Idea on Solving Clients' Problems While Following Your Passion
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is
to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you
—Steve Jobs, Cofounder, CEO, Chairman Apple Inc.
“Send.” I did it! I hit the send button on my resignation email to the university.
No one believed that I would leave a cushy tenured professor position. After all, I had
been making 6-figures with benefits and respect that I had worked so hard to earn.
Before we go any further, let’s examine the pros and cons of jumping into
entrepreneurship. Please don’t skip this step. Certainly, don’t just up and quit a good job without
thinking it all through! As a friend once said to me, if you have a stable job that allows you to
collect a paycheck and benefits while working your side-hustle, “Ride that bad boy ‘til the
wheels fall off!”
What would the issues be if you left your stable job for entrepreneurship?
Now that we got that out of the way, what would the benefits of being your own boss
and a thriving entrepreneur be?
Let’s look at how I became a CEO. I had a rocky start that forced me into being a
business woman based on my dream of inspiring the world.
Let me lay it out for you . . . after years of writing academic books based on what I taught
my future teachers and leaders from the undergrad to the Ph.D. level, I started writing
inspirational books. The real-life stories were so compelling and inspiring that I was drawn
toward creating a television show based on them.
All was going full steam ahead with my TV show. I had secured sponsorship for the
television show to be produced and distributed, the talk show scripts were created and loaded
into the teleprompters, people were hired, the multimillion-dollar NBC-affiliated studio was
booked, and the guests were ready to fly in from around the globe to my hometown to film.
My sponsors asked for a lot of voluntary work before the actual check would be cut,
though, so I was ready to be the face of a financial institution. They had me do multiple pro-bono
speaking keynotes for their leadership teams, and I hosted women-in-business events, attended
multiple meetings about our sponsoring partnership, and led videotaped focus groups with
respected women from my network. This was all under the understanding that the company was
going to be the lead sponsor for my television show.
Days before I was to hand over the big check to the studio, I received a call from the
financial sponsor. They had decided that they may not get the return on their investment in the
talk show, so they were pulling out completely from the sponsorship.
My heart sank. I just had to figure it out. I didn't consider myself to be a business woman,
but I knew I had to become one quickly, or my dream wouldn’t come to fruition.
I nervously went into my small local bank alone and sat down with the lead business
banker. I didn't focus on the sponsor backing out; rather, I started telling her some of the stories
of my guests who were going to be on my show and who were in my books. I knew in my heartof-hearts that I was going to make an impact with the show by truly inspiring lives. After she
listened to my story, we both had to wipe away tears that were welling up in our eyes. We both
knew that I was going to reach people with my stories and empower lives.
She no longer looked at me as just an education professor with just a lofty idea. Instead,
she perceived me as a business woman with a plan, purpose, and passion. She made a few phone
calls and secured my first business line of credit. I walked into the studio the next day and
presented them with the full check for 13 episodes of my television show Inspiring Lives with
I fell into needing startup capital. Take a moment and think through where you could get
money to start your business or fund taking it to the next level if you have been operating small.
• Would you be able to “boot strap” and pay for it with money you had saved? If so,
how much would you have to work with if you did it now? If you resigned in a year?
In two years?
• Would you need a small business loan or line of credit? Check your credit score and
see if you could secure funding through a bank.
• Could someone invest in you? Would you utilize an angel investor (a person who
provides financial backing for an entrepreneur’s startup)? If so, are you willing to
surrender some control and a percentage of the profits to an outside investor?
I turned to the bank for capital to start my television show because it was the only valid
option I could foresee at the time as a brand-new businessperson. And it worked! The shows
included powerful interviews such as the harrowing story of Alicia Kozakiewicz, the first cyber
kidnapping survivor, and how her trauma led to preventative safety education, National Child
Abuse Awareness Month, and effective legislation to keep others safe. Each episode featured
segments like “What’s Inspiring You” and “Gratitude Giving” for products that gave back a
large percentage to a charity.
The socially conscious programing was globally streamed with an active chat room
through a New York City television station that picked up the show. By hosting discussions on
important topics ranging from domestic violence to homelessness in real-time, my audience
grew. I loved having my TV show. I was interviewing fascinating people who had been through
so much, but Inspiring Lives with Dr. Shellie really focused on the guest’s happy endings. I was
telling the stories of people internationally who had conquered their obstacles and gone on to
Then one day, I went to a seminar for women small business owners. We were all sitting
at round tables in a hotel banquet room. At this point, some of the audience in the room knew me
from my professor position, I was on their TVs weekly, and I was being followed by many on
social media. The hostess of the workshop spotted me sitting there and, with a smile, inquired
into the mic, “So Dr. Shellie, what's new in your very public and perfect life that we are seeing
I burst into tears. (You are probably reading this and thinking I cry an awful lot . . . and
you would be right with that assumption, especially during that time of my life.) I had just gotten
evidence the day before that I would have to divorce my husband. I explained to the crowd that,
yes, my life is public. But it was far from perfect. That I had just realized I needed to get a
divorce. Also, that I could no longer do my TV show that I loved, because my life was going to
be turned upside down financially and emotionally, and I needed to be there for my children.
Needing to go through a divorce while raising a toddler and a kindergartner, it was so
clear that producing a studio show while maintaining a full-time professor position wasn’t going
to work. I poured myself into parenting and teaching at the university and all the while, more and
more fantastic stories were appearing my life. Stories that I knew needed to be told.
Fortunately, with the guidance of a friend in the media world, I changed my platform to
Empowering Women Radio. I was syndicated to over 120 radio stations internationally. I was
able to tape from my own home on my own time after my kids were asleep at night and then edit
and send out to the radio stations.
Real life happens when we are building a business. And my divorce altered the way I
presented my content and ran my company.
• What personal life challenges have you been faced with lately that could impact
your business in the future? From health issues to relationship insecurities, take a
moment to think how these could affect you.
• Speaking of relationships, how would it affect your partner, aging parents, spouse,
and/or children (if you have them) if you were to leave your current position to
pursue building a company? For example, are they counting on you providing the
health insurance for your family?
Once I had started the divorce process and custody was being smoothed out, I was able to
form some great friendships with the women I interviewed for my radio show. I saw a book
emerging from the stories that were being told to me and my radio listeners. I started to see that
there were common threads between the stories. I earned a sabbatical from the university, and I
dove into writing the book Common Threads based on my radio interviews.
One night, as I was analyzing the tremendous amount of transcripts (over a thousand
pages worth in binder), I was struck with a desperate need to paint. I went to my 5-year-old
daughter's art easel that my father had built for her, and I grabbed her paint brushes and primary
Lacking a canvas, I pulled a sheet from my linen closet. I was compelled to boldly paint
in three different styles and colors the words “INSPIRATION,” “EMPOWERMENT,” and
“BALANCE.” I stared at the words. Not knowing yet what they meant to me, I cut holes in the
top folded and sewn part of the sheet. Then, I stood on a chair and pulled down the curtain in my
bedroom. I threaded the sheet with the words facing me so I could see them on the curtain rod.
Thank goodness I was newly single, because I am sure that a life-mate would have been
so confused by the scribbled words hung over the big window!
I stared at the sheet with my arms folded and a confused scowl on my face. Finally, oneword sprung to my mind . . .
I needed to create three books based on the 100 top interviews from my Empowering
Women Radio show: Inspiration, Empowerment, and Balance.
As the books were taking shape, I interviewed Wendy Lydon, an awesome business
coach, for Empowering Women Radio. I remember planning out my life from personal to
business goals with her. Then, she had me talk about them and rank my urgency. And she said to
me, “The one dream that you keep bringing up is that you have always wanted to go to Paris.
Why can’t you make that a reality?” A month later, I was told by my friend about an incredible
yoga and writing retreat in Paris. I decided it was time for me to make it happen.
I booked the Parisian trip, and off I flew during my sabbatical. Writing in quaint cafes.
Meditation and yoga with powerful women. Group writing with intriguing prompts in French
rose gardens and at the base of the Eiffel Tower. It was exactly what I needed to breathe life into
my book series.
At that time in my life, I needed to make my Paris dream come true. It wasn’t until I
wrote down what I needed in all areas of my life that I realized how important this dream had
been to me since I was a young girl. I actually recall being an elementary-aged child and filling
my pockets with quarters. I grabbed a large wide-brimmed hat with black sequins and tulle from
my mother’s costume closet (she ran the local theater and had fabulous dress up pieces). I
walked all the way to the local deli, Lou and Hy’s. I was seated at a table by a confused hostess
who probably thought I looked ridiculous: a child wearing a Kermit the Frog t-shirt, corduroy
pants, and a gigantic black hat.
In my mind, though, I was not in a deli in Akron, Ohio. I was transported to a Parisian
café, and I was ordering my delicious cup of tea with sugar. In my imagination, I was having the
adventure of a lifetime, and I looked so sophisticated to all who saw this mysterious young lady
in the black hat. I had envisioned my Paris writing adventure decades before I ever got to really
After I was able to truly journey to Paris and create real memories, I was delighted with
the richness of the experience. My senses seemed heightened, and my writing was improving as I
told the women’s stories in the books.
I was able to follow my heart’s desires, which led me down a winding alley to a vintage
Parisian boutique. I found a 1950s couture gown that I modeled in front of the Eiffel Tower for
the cover of the first book in the series, titled Common Threads: Inspiration. It was a girlie
dream-come-true for me. And this experience foreshadowed modeling in my future as Inspiring
Let’s look at what experiences you desire. To open your mind to the possibilities, let’s
look at what your dreams are.
• What experience is on your “bucket list” that you must find a way to make happen?
• Would your current job allow you to attain those dreams on your bucket list? If not,
is there a side-hustle or job that would be better suited for you to check off your
bucket list? (For example, in the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talked about
waitressing and bartending jobs that allowed her to write, travel, and not take job
pressures home with her.)
• If you had your dream life and you could travel anywhere and have any experience,
what would it be?
I returned to my Pittsburgh home from my Paris yoga and writing retreat with renewed
energy. I had a burning passion for more travel, though, so I knew it would be difficult to return
to the monotony of teaching the same lesson plans over-and-over for a decade after my
sabbatical. Not to mention following the administration’s strict office hours rules. Or being
discouraged from forming friendships with my students. That was especially tough because I was
forming mentoring bonds with them and was clearly making a profound difference. These things
started to weigh heavily on me. I could imagine what I could do with the freedom to really take
my little Inspiring Lives, LLC to the next level and make it Inspiring Lives International.
Then, when I interviewed Kate Batten out of the United Kingdom, who recorded the15
Minute Motivation podcast, she told me that she was planning a women’s retreat and that all the
ladies would be in a pin-up calendar. I was so in! My dear friend Beth Shari, who is a costume
designer and vintage clothing expert, and I headed to the beaches in California for this trip.
During a group circle beachside discussion, we all said what we would do if we had no
limits. I exclaimed aloud for the first time, “I will quit my tenured professor job. I will make my
book series a bestseller. And I will make my company Inspiring Lives International a huge
success around the world!” And wow did I ever!
• What would you do to become successful if you had no limits?
• What noise in your head is holding you back from trying to reach that limitless
Right after I made that claim to the women about what I would do with no limits, I
couldn’t believe it came out of my mouth, and with people I barely knew listening to me. I
thought, “My parents would be so disappointed if I quit after I worked so hard to earn tenure.
What if the books don’t sell? What if I am never a real business woman . . . if I am just 'faking it
until I make it,' forever?”
• Do you have “imposter syndrome,” which makes you feel like you will be discovered
as a fraud? Like you are not a true business person, and you will be found out? If
so, take a moment, and write down your deepest fear about this.
• Now, take that fear (such as “I am not a real business woman, and they will find
out!”), and rewrite it for yourself in reverse so you can see it in black and white:
“People will find out that I am a real business woman, and they will want to work
with me!” Type or write this phrase somewhere where you will be able to see it
because you are not an imposter. You, my friend, are the real deal!
I did go back to being a university professor after my sabbatical, but not for long. While I
loved the students, my Inspiring Lives International company was growing. Universities and
companies around the world were requesting me to keynote and inspire their audiences. And I
was getting married to an amazing man who was very supportive of me pursuing my dream
career while raising my children. My three books were launched as Common Threads, the trilogy
in Inspiration, Empowerment, and Balance. All three books made the Amazon International
Bestseller List at the same time! My life had turned around, and I was ready to make the leap of
faith into entrepreneurship full time.
My big crazy idea was that I would be inspiring lives internationally through a
motivational media company. Let’s start brainstorming YOUR big crazy idea! First, evaluate
whether it would be smarter for you to simply buy into a franchise or do network marketing with
a ready-made business that is already pre-branded and established as a business entity. You can
still use this book to enhance that business and yourself leading it, but if you need to discover
your unique idea and make a business from that idea . . . I can’t wait to watch you blossom into a
• What are you truly passionate about?
• What would your ideal business be based on? What are your skills? Your purpose?
To have a business, you need to create demand. And to get the demand for your product
or service, you need to solve a problem for your customer.
• What problem do you want to solve for people?
• Brain dump all the ideas for a business that you would like to create.
• Write out a one-sentence description of what you would like your business to be.
• What will you name your company? (Pro-tip: Make sure that you trademark it and
legally create a corporation with your name).
Now that you have your basic concept and a name for your company, you are well on
your way to bringing your dreams to fruition, to being your own boss!