Entrepreneur. Mentor. Different.
Tracie Rollins is the founder and CEO of Nail Art Club Inc. When she’s not killing the board game scene or watching her boys dance, she’s volunteering for the National Association of Women’s Business Owners, mentoring young women and sponsoring disadvantaged girls from the Philippines, Rwanda and Kenya.
Winner of multiple innovation awards as well as the 2015 NAWBO Presidential Award, Tracie has learned to embrace her differences and use her skills to improve the lives of women worldwide. But, it hasn’t always been easy…here is her story…
Why I Started Nail Art Club, Inc.
When I launched Nail Art Club Inc, I wanted to create a business that could have a positive impact on society and the environment. So I researched Arizona’s new laws and created a benefit corporation. NAC is currently one of only five in Arizona and our purpose is to improve the lives of women worldwide by learning to accept, love and embrace our differences.
Success has always stemmed from being different. Great leaders, influencers and innovators of the world change it and inspire others do the same by not following the leader, but by being the leader. But, before you can lead – you must first embrace who you are and what you stand for.
Embracing Being Different
Being different means that you’ll have more hurdles to jump, more risks to take and more trials to overcome. Sometimes you have to face giants in the moment, yet other times you get to run away until you’re better prepared.
As child, I had my fair share of giants. I never told my parents, which is actually pretty common among those being bullied. The bullying started when I was ten; mostly verbal, but occasionally physical. Perhaps it started earlier, but many of my memories are blocked from my childhood and that’s fine by me.
Schoolgirl Crush Retaliation
It started with boys. The beautiful blonde blue-eyed ones who would taunt me and try to hurt me with whips made of wet towels knotted at the ends. The kind that left bright pink welts on your legs as they snapped them repeatedly. But they never hit me because they couldn’t catch me.
I remember one day three of them waited for me as I began my one-mile journey home from the fourth grade. They came from behind laughing and heckling at me, calling me Fat Jap, ugly, poor and worthless. With so much hate, they flicked their wrists so the whips in their hands made snapping sounds as they hit the air six feet from the back of my banana seat bike.
Fiercely peddling, I knew I would never make it home without their punishment for my school-girl crush on their mean, hateful, blue-eyed leader. I searched the area for shelter. With the speed of a bat out of hell, I thrusted my bike on the ground, threw open the doors, and ran into the arms of the librarian who didn’t know my name. She held me as I sobbed and scolded the boys who continued to chase me up until that point.
They left defeated, and I stayed in the library for hours that day reading books, finishing my homework, but mostly avoiding my attackers. The library became my sanctuary and to this day, I still love the smell of books and paper.
Being different in the fourth grade meant being fast, and I embraced my ability to be quick. I still do to this day because it helps me deliver more value, but also helps get me out of sticky situations.
As time passed, the boys began to tease me less and girls took their place. Even my best friend got in on the fun when she surprised me by slapping me in the middle of playground recess before grabbing my hair and swinging me around in circles. I tried to get a few shots in before the teachers broke up the fight, but sadly the consensus was that I lost that fight.
Losing that fight opened me up for more ridicule and hate by kids that never bothered to learn my name and instead chanted the words, Fat Jap. I didn’t correct their use of the adjective, but I did explain the differences between Filipinos and the Japanese. They’d roll their eyes, put their books or their leg up on the seat next to them and yell, “saved” so I’d pass them by when it was time for bus rides.
Sitting on a seat by myself didn’t bother me as much as being required to play the game of dodge ball during PE. This was the one time where it was acceptable for the kids to hit me because they were doing it with rubber balls instead of open hands and fashioned whips. Teachers stood aside as hard, red rubber balls flew my way with as much force as the kids could muster. I was always the last one picked and the first one out, but eventually came up with clever reasons to be the teacher’s helper instead of target practice.
Being different as I got older meant that I could quickly analyze and respond to situations. It helped me progress in every career role that I’ve held but occasionally got me in hot water because of my lack of filter. #nofilter
Strategic Corporate Backstabbing
What I thought would end in high school followed me late into my adult years. The verbal abuse continued, but it was much more strategic. Luckily, the skills I learned from my childhood haters helped me outwit and outmaneuver the terrain while , excelling in my role and quickly promoting.
In my corporate career, taunts turned into humiliating games where high-level executives searched for the slightest flaw in an analysis made by every female engineer. Somehow, the male engineers passed the gantlet of scrutiny until the machines they were managing became the factory constraints.
Preparing for my turn in the gantlet took hours of preparation for a presentation that lasted minutes. To avoid being humiliated in front of a room filled mostly with men, I worked into the night so any question that might be thrown my way would be met with an intelligent, well thought out answer. I never lost that game, but I lost many, many hours of my life.
Occasionally, the leaders I reported to would pit the females against each other. Having one female analyze and make recommendations to improve the other female’s work. Sometimes work would be displayed for the entire team to analyze, bringing back dodge ball memories that I had tucked away long ago.
I had many male leaders in my career and befriended most of them. They wanted someone on their team who actually did the work, so they often sought me out. I delivered and banked many, many corporate awards and plaques.
To be honest, some of the female leaders that I reported to were much worse than the males. The female leaders tended to be more manipulative, and they amplified their positions so that you knew you were below them. They didn’t encourage other women to ascend the corporate ladder and often times diminished them. I became really good at creating an exit strategy for every job and situation I encountered.
Being different as an adult helped me create alliances and strategically plan actions before situations presented themselves. I learned how to be one step ahead of the rest, which is very advantageous in the corporate world as well as in life.
Almost Losing My Baby
In 2001, I spent 11 weeks in the NICU by the side of my 2 pound 6.4 ounce baby, beating myself up for my inability to carry him to term and praying for the opportunity to take him home. I had HELLP syndrome, which caused my liver to fail necessitating the trip to operating room to deliver him so that I could have a chance to live.
It was painful watching my little boy struggle to breathe and fight for life. Week after week he was poked and prodded so that the doctors could figure out why he wasn’t thriving. Necrotizing Enterocolitis, C-diff and Intestinal Malrotation were all diagnosed and in his ninth week the doctors rolled him into surgery. I held my breath for three hours that day.
When I finally saw my baby again, he was hooked up to machines that helped his little body breathe. Suture tape covered his entire abdomen as a result of his Ladd’s band procedure. Doctors told me that he might’ve died had he not been in the NICU where they could accurately treat him and that having him early was why he was there.
Ashton began to heal and would soon come home. He was confined to the house until the age of one, which meant I was as well. Although I never planned on being a stay at home mom, I walked away from the rapid progression of my corporate career to take care of my little boy.
My friends couldn’t understand my decision and said I would never reach my full career potential. They eventually faded from my life one by one.
Being different meant that my child would live. Although I disappointed many people with the decision to leave my career, I live with no regrets. My family will always come before my career.
Back to Working Mom
When I finally entered the workforce again, it was not by choice. I enjoyed being a stay at home mom even though it was the hardest job I’ve ever had. But like many families affected by the Great Recession, our family lost our income. In one swift moment, we went from paying the bills to making decisions on who would get paid that month and searched for assistance to feed our family. It was humbling.
Shortly thereafter, I kissed my babies goodbye as I headed to the first job that offered an income and healthcare. I worked around the clock to make an impression and we struggled to pay the bills until my husband found a job that paid significantly less than before. We worked extra jobs to make ends meet and after two years of hustle I was able to double my salary and get back to my pre-stay-at-home mom salary.
I took on many mentoring roles and volunteered to help others, which helped me gain the skills I needed to grow in my career. When it was finally my turn to formally lead the team, I did so with compassion and care often breaking the rules to the benefit of my team.
Although I no longer lead a corporate team, I lead in other capacities. I meet with both men and women who are starting businesses, learning how to write or in need of career advice. I volunteer, sponsor and seek ways to better myself and those around me.
Leadership isn’t a job title. It’s within each and every person who takes the time to help others make a better life for themselves. The best leaders embrace who they are, take care of themselves and use their differences to make the world a better place.
Although my hair is purple, and my nails are a bit edgy, it’s not what’s on the outside that makes me different. What’s on the outside helps get me in the state of mind to express what I sometimes try to hide because of fear. It forces me to remember to be bold, be different and be myself. If a little bit of color helps me get past my fears, then bring it on.
Being different gives me the confidence to lead.
Are You Ready?
Every second of every day you have a choice to make. You can either be a victim of your circumstances or you can choose to be the victor of the future you make for yourself. The world is filled with amazing individuals who choose a different path. One that’s different and apart from the status quo. Being different is a choice.
I hope you choose to BE BOLD. BE DIFFERENT. BE YOU.
According to the 2013 Indicators of School Crime and Safety report, approximately 28 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. Kids who are bullied are 2.4 times more likely to report suicidal ideation and 3.3 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than those who aren’t (Espelage and Holt, 2013). Yet, 64 percent of children who were bullied never say a thing. (Pacer)
Bullying doesn’t stop as we get older. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health (NIOSH) (Sauter, et al.,1990), workplace bullying results in $22 billion in employment and productivity losses. Females continue to be the highest targets among both male and female bullies in the workplace, with Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians being the most affected.
If you truly want to make a difference, take a second out of your day to get to know people, listen to them and provide wisdom, resources or encouragement that helps them move the needle in an area that burdens them. You don’t have to be a formal mentor; you just have to be a decent human being.
Consider sending a message to your co-workers bosses, letting them know how awesome their employees are. Publicly recognize someone for a job well done or take a moment to say thank you.
You don’t have to have kids or be a parent to make a difference in the lives of children. I’ve seen great women leaders who have none, yet don’t push the responsibility of change on teachers, parents or community. They take individual action to mentor, sponsor and spend time with others.
If you are a parent, take the time to get to know your kids and their friends. They may not want you in their business, but they need you in it. Talk to them. Play with them. Put down the laptop and cell phone and take them out to dinner and a movie. Spend time with each of your kids individually and help them understand how important they are with your actions as well as with your words.
And never stop asking about their day.
Change starts with you and the choices you make every second of every day. Do your actions support your beliefs and passions?
BE BOLD. BE DIFFERENT. BE YOU.