How to Define Success on Your Own Terms: Q&A with Shelia Butler

When I came across Successful Women Talk, I was immediately drawn to it by the commitment of its host, Shelia Butler, to feature diverse female entrepreneurs. Barely getting by through high school, Shelia realized that she had to make a decision and not settle by limited options that many of her peers chose after graduating. Believing that perfectionism is overrated, Shelia built her business around her lifestyle and decided to define success on her own terms.

Many students fail to realize that graduating summa cum laude from a prestigious university does not necessarily lead to positive outcomes. What shift in perspective needs to occur for students to accept that they are more than their formal education?

I think that it has to be a mindset. You have to decide that you want to do something different with your life. You can lead a student to knowledge, but you can’t make him think. You have to decide that you want something more from yourself.

How did you decide to give yourself permission to not seek perfection?

Sometimes I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, but I’ve gotten over it. With my very first business I was more perfectionistic, but I’ve realized that you just have to start. You need to start with the best intentions in mind, and plan on doing your best work, but if you strive for perfection I don’t think that you’re ever going to deliver and ship products. You need to set systems in place to make sure that you’ve doted all your i’s and crossed your t’s, but you have to let perfection go.

Moments of adversity and struggle are often part of our success. What awakenings have unfolded out of the mistakes you made?

I wouldn’t say that it was a mistake, but about three years ago my business partner said that he wanted to be the captain of his own ship and that he didn’t want us to be business partners anymore. It was really hard for me and I ended up having a hard time. After we got evaluation done on our company, it got nasty and I ended up settling and having to sell my portion of business for my own peace of mind. At a time I thought that it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. However, I’ve since realized that it was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me because I’m no longer working in someone else’s shadow. I know that I can achieve things on my own and it has led me to a business of service. I initially started another company, Me Giant, which is a children’s line, and I started it because I didn’t know what else to do. In that process I had to learn about online business, SEO, marketing, content research, and I’ve now developed an entirely different consulting business around that and I love what I do. I am able to help business owners, mainly women entrepreneurs, simplify their business online. Had that terrible thing of having to sell my business not happened, I may not be in the position that I am today.

Diving into completely unfamiliar areas, both on a personal and a professional level, is something that you’ve done numerous times. When you don’t know what’s the next step, how do you take the first step?

I think that you have to assess what you are good at. A lot of people focus on their weaknesses, which I understand because we all want to be better. Focus on what your strengths are and figure out what your why is. A big part is giving yourself permission to start and also being flexible to pivot when you need to. When I first started my consulting business I thought that my business would be more geared toward helping business owners systemize and create processes in their business, because a lot of people have trouble doing that. I can take a big issue and I can break it down into small steps to make it easier for people to process it. I really started consulting around that, but what I’ve found when I started listening to the market is that a lot of people don’t know how to create an online brand, social strategy and content marketing, so I’ve switched my business to do that. You have to know what you’re good at, and get out and start something, and be willing to listen closely and pivot when you need to.

Many of us never had a mentor, but right mentorship can be extremely powerful. Do you think that it is possible to achieve a large progress and success without mentors? 

I think that there are a lot of ways to get mentors, whether you have them officially or not. You need someone to look up to and say: “They’ve done that.” Maybe it’s someone in your community that you know, or someone who you hire as your coach, or maybe it’s just someone that you are following online, and you like the way they are running their business, you love their content and it sounds like they are speaking to you. Allow yourself to let them mentor you whether they know it or not. You need to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and learn from them even if it’s taking things from outside of your own industry and applying it to your field.

We are often afraid to reveal our story and build relationships. How do you practice being transparent?

Luckily I’m a pretty open person. I learned early on that being personable and being able to laugh at life and laugh at yourself will get you far. Emotional intelligence, in my opinion, is more important than IQ. Putting yourself out there in little steps at a time makes a big difference. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but I think that it’s important. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay.

When you are creating art you are bound to get a lot of criticism. What is your advice to people who tend to doubt themselves when they are being criticized?

You have to have thick skin and you need to believe in yourself. If you are on a right path, knowing that you are doing the right thing, being honest, making good decisions and serving others while trying to give more than you take, then you’ll have to accept the fact that you will have some naysayers sometimes who won’t like what you do, but that’s okay. It’s a good thing that in life we don’t all like the same things. I think that diversity strengthens us. If someone makes a negative comment, my real short-tempered nature is to say that I don’t like them either. However, as I’ve gotten older and a bit more mature, one thing I look at is that you don’t know what kind of a day they had; maybe you caught them in a bad moment. You’ve not walked in their shoes, and you have to understand that we all have a different point of view, but that’s what makes the world go round.

Shame is an immense obstacle to a wholehearted life. The reason you didn’t start your WebTV show earlier was due to being ashamed of your Southern accent. How did you overcome the feeling of shame and what did you learn through embracing and accepting yourself?

When I was in business school I ended up taking a job in a research company. The CEO of the company was very smart and articulate and I always admired the way she spoke. I tried to be careful and I was always mindful of what I would say in a meeting. Now I realize that I beat myself a lot when I didn’t need to. The same thing happened when I wanted to do my WebTV show. A lot of people tease me about my accent, but I’ve realized that I have a gift and I have a lot to offer, and if I let my fear stop me then I was potentially going to miss out on helping someone else reach their potential. It took some time and practice, but what I found was that since my Southern accent seems friendly, and I am a truly friendly person, it diffuses people. If we had an angry customer, I would listen to their needs and talk with them, and sometimes my Southern accent diffused them. More than being shameful of it, I use it as my strength.

Many people are not proactive because they are embarrassed and afraid to reach out and ask for what they want. What came your way when you decided to overcome that resistance?

I really didn’t realize that a lot of people are afraid to ask for what they want, and I have to say that I was probably one of those people. Early on I interviewed Suzanne Duret and she was saying how important it is to ask for what you want. I had a habit to hint around what I wanted, but never to ask for it. After listening to her, and doing a little bit of research on the power of asking, I started asking for what I wanted. I’ll give you a good example: there are two clients that I am currently working with and doing an entirely new process at their companies that they didn’t event knew they wanted. I reached out to them and told them what I thought they needed. Basically I created a job for myself. I think that asking for what you want is important and that it’s a good way of communicating with people. If they say no, that’s okay, but you can’t just assume that they will if you don’t ask. The power of asking is truly a very powerful skill set.

Asking for help is usually considered a weakness. How can we change that mindset?

We are realizing that it’s okay to put yourself out there even if you are not going to get the results that you were searching for. I think that we are changing a lot of things and finally realizing that there is no such thing as a work life balancethere is a work life rhythm. Perfection is overrated, so there’s no sense in trying to be perfect at everything. As a society, I see a change toward working more on our own terms.

Many young people experience confusion trying to figure out everything at once. What advice do you have for people who are not quite sure what they want?

You can create your own path. Everyone else out there is as afraid as you are. Put your hand up and see what happens. Don’t be afraid; you may stumble but that’s not a failure, that’s building a character. Move forward and try something. Be open minded, read and learn as much as you can on different topics. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get a job, but put yourself into situations that other people wouldn’t. Introduce yourself to people from diverse backgrounds. For example, I’m from West Texas and everyone I knew was from that area. I moved to Dallas about fifteen years ago, and just seeing the way people reacted differently to situations made me a different person; I’m stronger, more tolerant and willing to try new things. Just try something different and baby step your way into it.

The first blog entry on the Successful Women Talk was titled “Have you found your why?. What was the critical juncture when you became aware of your calling and what was the journey to get to that point?

When I wrote that blog post I thought that I knew my why. I thought that my why was going to be to help people simplify their business and their life. It took me about six months to come full circle and to figure out that my why really is to be of service to people. I realized that I had skills that I took for granted and I didn’t realize that everybody else didn’t have the same skill set. It took me six months of playing around and not being sure what to do and who my ideal client was. My why is that you can have it all. You can have a family, you can have a business, and you have to define what your why is and on what terms you want those things and then set your life up accordingly. A lot of people say that they don’t have enough time, but we all have the same amount of time in a day and it just depends on how we spend that time.

How do you define success?

It lies in the eye of the beholder. To me success is having my creative needs met through a business, being able to financially support my family, having freedom in my schedule to go where I want, when I want and as my family needs. I’ve adopted two boys, and if I manage to raise them to be good citizens and to be caring individuals then I’ve been successful.

-Danica,
Lead Her Intern, Campus Calm®

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