Chelsea Austin is a writer, speaker, podcaster and life coach helping others to define their self-worth. As the daughter of two gay fathers, Austin has always been passionate about helping to bring more acceptance and tolerance to the world and to help expand society’s definitions of ‘normal’ families. A passionate LGBTQ+ activist, her work slowly evolved into a podcast “Worthiness Warriors” and through speaking engagements, her first book Inexplicably Me: A Story of Labels, Worthiness, and Refusing To Be Boxed In. Today the Los Angeles, California-based coach is launching a course designed for high-achieving creatives and continuing her life’s mission to spread love and joy to as many people as possible through her work.
Austin’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I have always been a very creative person, but more in the performing arts than anything else. When I graduated college with a degree in theater and dance, I fell into a high-powered real estate career. I felt like that creativity was missing. Four years into that adventure, after doing everything I could to ignore the little voice in my head, I had to face the artist in me that was screaming to be let out. While I had never considered myself much of a writer, after many suggestions from friends and family I started writing a book about my life. I then created my blog, The Girl With Five Names, as a small way to give back to my artist-self while I continued to work in real estate. I would write late at night and on the weekends knowing that it was in those moments that I felt the most “me” I had felt in a long time. I told myself I couldn’t just leave my career with a manuscript and a blog, but lo and behold I took the leap and quit my job, and it was the best decision I ever made-right after marrying my husband.
How do you define success?
Growing up, I thought that success meant money and fame and that when you weren’t making money or gaining notoriety it was hard to feel worthy. It was the story I received subconsciously from society regardless of my parents telling me the exact opposite. But as I’ve grown and lived I now define success as finding joy, balance, and feeling love for yourself. Success is laying your head on the pillow at night and feeling in your heart that what you’re doing is making a difference, regardless of how small, in other peoples’ lives and in your own life. To feel joy, love, gratitude, and excitement about something each day feels like success to me. To better understand balance and letting go of what others think of me would feel like I’ve just made it. Success is also not a constant, it is something that can fluctuate and isn’t just about being successful in your work, we have an opportunity to be well-rounded humans and be successful in so many areas, and when you look at success that way it takes the pressure off. Of course, there is still a monetary factor because I am not a monk on a mountain top. A monetary exchange for the energy I put out does also feel like success, but money does not equate with my value as I build to success.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
I was positive when I wrote my manuscript that I was going to self-publish. I had been told by everyone and their mother that it is virtually impossible to get a publisher and for a long time, I believed them. And then I came across someone that said, but what if you just try? What’s the harm in that? And I remembered that I was created out of an impossibility. I am the daughter of two gay men, both of whom I am biologically related to, and I was born in 1993-before it was “in vogue” to have gay dads. So, what was stopping me from believing that this “impossibility” couldn’t also be made possible? As I started to put it out there that I wanted to find a publisher, breadcrumbs of people that could help me started to trickle my way. I submitted to many publishers. I received many rejections, but finally, there was one, and it only takes one, that wanted to publish my book. To date, the feeling that I had the day I found out I was going to be a published author feels like my greatest success. I overcame something people were sure I wouldn’t be able to. I accomplished something monumental when it felt like the odds were against me and I am incredibly proud to say that my book will be published in the spring of 2022.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
The challenge of building a platform from the ground up and getting noticed has been one of the biggest struggles of starting my business. What I’m selling isn’t necessarily as tangible as something you can buy and have delivered the next day so it makes it hard. I think a huge portion of this was honing in on how I define myself and my brand. It started with hiring a personal branding coach/strategist that was able to help me see where the holes were and work through what exactly it is I wanted to build. I came to my coach, Kim, with the notion that I wanted to have my book published and work consistently as a speaker, but no clear pathway to get there. I knew I had to build my audience but was again at a loss for how to do that. The best thing I did was listen to experts in their field. Even if I didn’t hire a coach, there was so much information online that you can find, if you’re willing to put in the time and do the research. Looking at my wants for the future and starting to see them as a business and something to be sold was also a big transition for me. I had to reshape my thinking around what exactly I was building and treat my creative career as a business. Hiring individuals that knew what they were doing, learning how to delegate, and also how to make the intangible, tangible.
When I finally realized I didn’t have to have all the answers and that I didn’t have to do it all by myself it felt like my life changed–which was not easy for me because I’m a control freak, but it was so necessary. And also learning to take things a step at a time. You don’t have to do it all at once. Launch one thing at a time. Build one pillar at a time so that when you start adding more onto the foundation it doesn’t begin to crack. Learning how to take a break also facilitated my ability to be creative. When you’re a solopreneur it can feel damaging to take a break or take time for yourself, but it’s the best thing I can do for my business. It’s a way to continue to inspire creativity in myself and to continue creating in the long term.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Work/life balance is not an easy thing to achieve, especially not when you’re a high-achiever and believe your worth is tied up in how much you can create or produce in a single day. When I started my venture I was pushing so hard to create I overwhelmed myself and I refused to take a break. I was positive if I stopped once I started gaining momentum that it would all melt away and I would lose everything I built. Because I started my business during the Pandemic I didn’t know anything other than working from home, but I realized that working down the hall from my bedroom was affecting me so very negatively. I could never turn it off. I didn’t know how to stop and I always felt I wasn’t doing “enough” or that I was “behind” even though I set all my own deadlines. It made me realize that I needed to change up my environment more often if I was to continue and set boundaries on my working hours.
Working from a cafe, or even my husband’s office, or just finding a quiet space in a park did so much for my mental health and my ability to continue creating. And setting boundaries in terms of my hours helped remind me that I am in charge here and if something has to be pushed back or moved aside it’s not the end of the world and if I want to take a vacation and really make it a vacation, the world is not going to end and all of my work won’t have disappeared. When my auntie, who is also my biological mom, passed away in 2017 it was a real shock to my system. It made me realize how quickly life can go and how it isn’t guaranteed that we’ll live to be 101. I was working in real estate at the time and when she passed I deeply felt the need to follow my passion because I know that is what she would have wanted for me and I knew that life was too short to stay in a job that didn’t make me happy. Her passing planted the seed for me to start looking for other opportunities in my work and for something new.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
The quote, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” by Marc Anthony is BS. I am 1000% doing what I love, what I’m passionate about, and there are definitely days where what I do still feels like pushing a boulder uphill, and other times where it feels like I’m walking on sunshine. Just know that there will be challenges, there will be major wins and losses along the way, but if the wonderful outweighs the negative it’s always worth it to keep going. Just keep consistently checking in with your heart. If it feels good in your heart then follow that path. It’s never steered me wrong when I’ve truly, truly listened.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I take a breath. I go for a walk. I talk to friends and family that I know support me. I look at puppies on Instagram. I go to my favorite coffee shop. I do something I feel like a freaking boss at (for me that’s a beginning ballet class, but it can be anything!). Most importantly, I step away even for five minutes to gain some perspective and I allow myself to feel the emotions I’m feeling instead of just forcing myself to be productive, which never ends particularly well for me.
Who is your most important role model?
Since I began this journey, and even before, Glennon Doyle has been one of my most important role models. I read her books and saw her speak and I was so inspired by the way she was so deftly able to tell her story and create a platform without it ever feeling sales-y. I love the way she created a community and was so vulnerable and open about exactly who she is and I strive to emulate that in so much of what I do. I looked at her ability to write, create, inspire, and run a non-profit organization and I just fell in love with everything she does.