Episode OverviewIn this episode, Melissa shares her story of living in poverty, getting pregnant at 16, and ultimately deciding to take control to create a more aligned life for herself. We discuss her evolution into a successful startup CEO and she tells us about how she overcomes systemic biases. We further discuss the way our society treats people who have unconventional pasts, and how we can do better collectively.
CEO - Edvo
Melissa StrawnMelissa Strawn is a Seattle-area entrepreneur and mom to five sons. Melissa blogs at FromWelfareToMillionaire.org, where she shares her story about going from a teenage single mother living in poverty to a successful startup CEO of MyPeopleNow.com. She believes that entrepreneurship should be accessible to all those who desire it as a career path and is committed to social institutional reform, eliminating poverty, and transforming the broken social services system.
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Shireen Jaffer 0:01
Hey, everybody, I’ve got Melissa Strawn here with me, Melissa, you and I recently met through a women’s founders Facebook group. And I’m so glad we connected. I’m really excited to learn more about your story, especially since it’s the first time I’m going to get to hear about it. So it’s great to have you here. Thanks so much for joining.
Melissa Strawn 0:22
Thank you so much for having me. And yes, it was a random chance moment where I saw not just an opportunity to be on a podcast, but one that was covering a really important and interesting topic. So I’m excited to be here.
Shireen Jaffer 0:36
Let’s let’s get into it. So you, you know from what I’ve read so far, and you came out of extreme poverty, and we’re a single teenage mother and you’ve done an incredible job, just building a life that allows you to live the life you want. So So tell me a little bit more about how you grew up and What childhood was like for you?
Growing Up in Poverty (1:02)
Melissa Strawn 1:02
Yeah, so I, I think I knew, probably like my entire life from as long as I can remember that, that something was a little bit different about us as a family and I think that just came from, you know, going to other people’s houses and seeing that things were run differently. And then just kind of always remember this being kind of like a, an air almost of like, Oh, well, let’s, you know, don’t don’t share too much about your personal life and stuff like that. And I and I remember thinking like, why, and then but it was really clear that that, that we were poor. I mean, we did the most the more obvious things that poor people might do, like, you know, wait in line at food banks, and we would get adopted for Christmas, and stuff like that. But but also it was just it was things like not having money to, you know, to pay the machines to do laundry and things like that. just you know, I think that the reason I bring that up is just that it still affects me to this day, you know, like decades later, just when you grow up in poverty and you grew up knowing that you’re different that it really kind of colors the rest of your entire experience in life. So so that was I, although I will say, though, that it’s not something I regret. I think that it’s shaped my character in many really positive ways. But it was definitely something that yeah, that something that color the way that my entire life is, even today.
Shireen Jaffer 2:36
Yeah, that’s interesting. I, I grew up in a one bedroom studio with my brother and my mom. We moved from Boston to Palo Alto, which is not poor, credibly affluent city, but you know, we weren’t. And my mom was working three jobs. So I don’t think I had any friends come over at all. Until we moved into an apartment, I remember this one moment where my friend was like, Well, why can’t we go to your house? Like, why are we always hanging out in my house? And I literally just had to make up a lie and say, I can’t I can’t remember what I said. But I remember lying a lot about my personal situation.
Melissa Strawn 3:19
Yeah, I grew up in the Bay Area, too. So that’s, it’s, I mean, I feel like the Bay Area is one of those places in this world where the difference between the haves and the have nots is just so incredibly obvious from like, one block to another even in some cases. And I remember that as well. I’ve like, you know, you can’t have anybody over or we knew if someone was coming over, it’s like, oh, my God, everybody has to hurry you know, quickly clean, you know, and do all these different things. Because, yeah, it just things were a little bit different. So,
Shireen Jaffer 3:52
yeah. So tell me a little bit more about how you felt you were treated.
Melissa Strawn 3:58
So definitely, not really relating to the poverty piece actually, um, you know, like, luckily I don’t think that came up too much. And I don’t think the teasing or whatever that I hear from other people’s stories, and luckily that that didn’t happen too much. But what was very different and unique about my childhood is that I, I had a certain medical condition that caused me to go through puberty at six and a half. And so I and I have a twin sister who did not have that condition. And so I was teased relentlessly for being overweight for having a face full of acne at seven years old. And just going through, you know, all the bodily changes that someone would expect to go through in their teens but as a very young child, and having a twin you know, being compared to you the whole time so I definitely would say that i i did not grow up with like the friendliest, you know, social environment around me and, and it was really tough. It was just it was very brutal and I think that that led to like so many other choices and decisions and experiences in my, in my later life, that were really just a way of me trying to heal myself and make up for everything that I went through as a as a kid.
Shireen Jaffer 5:16
Yeah, no, thank you for sharing that. Talk to me a little bit about your high school years. I mean, that’s really where a lot of people talk about, you know, the bullying and, you know, unfortunately, you have to go through that a lot earlier. But talk to us about your, your high school years and what that really meant for you.
Melissa Strawn 5:39
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting because like in high school, I remember you know, girls in the bathroom trying to, you know, hide their pimples and things like that. And I remember thinking like, oh, god Been there, done that, you know, I’m way ahead of you all. I’m already you know, post that, but, you know, but in high school in particular It’s interesting that you bring that up just because High School was my period of time, where looking back now, when I look at pictures of me when I started high school, I was not overweight at all, I was, you know, very like normal, you know, normal weight for my age, but I had been, you know, overweight and you know, or obese, you know, for so much of my life by them, that I still very much mentally and visually just saw myself as a large person. And so, as a right when I got into high school, you know, the reason I bring that up is that, you know, here I was, you know, I had been a child that was you know, already ostracized socially. And so I get to at this age where, you know, everybody else is finally catching up and going through puberty and stuff. And I very clearly remember at 13, you know, starting ninth grade, and, and realizing, oh, so this is like so I am going to I’m getting Now getting attention positive attention from my body, like from boys. And like, after being given all this negative attention for my body for years, that this was very like Welcome to me in thinking like, oh, wow, like maybe, you know, maybe there’s something they want from me, right? And so the reason I bring that up is that I think that led to me experimenting with being sexual, like at a very, very young age compared to my peers. And I just thought, like, well, this is, you know, great, like, you know, guys want to be around me and stuff like that. But I think that I think that the reason why that was like dangerous, he’s like, when you go through all of these negative things, you know, especially as related to your body, and then you start getting positive attention. I think it leads to you due to you doing things that that maybe you wouldn’t do if you Yeah, if you had an experience such negative attention, so you know, very, you know, early sexual experiences and stuff like that and just kind of remember thinking well This is expected of me, right? I mean, this is what I should be doing, right? I mean, this is what they want. This is, you know, what I can offer or whatever. And I and that definitely, you know, obviously played a part in me, you know getting pregnant at at age 16, which we’ll get into but, but yeah, it was it was definitely, I was definitely at a diff I was always at a different place growing up compared to my peers. So I’ve always felt older than the people that I was growing up with.
Self De-Selection and a Prescribed Life (8:30)
Shireen Jaffer 8:30
So how was that for you socially? Do you feel like you’ve been here you feel like you’re, you’re growing faster than those around you. So how did that affect your social relationships? How was it like making friends in that in that environment?
Melissa Strawn 8:43
Yeah, well, I I just remember always feeling lucky that anybody even wanted to be around me. And I think that is a very dangerous place to be in when you feel that someone’s normal. Treatment of you is somehow, you know, lucky, you end up being so overly grateful for just normal behavior, that you will not only allow people to treat you, you know, worse, right? You know, because you just expect the worst I guess for yourself. But then you’re like giving this just abundance of gratitude for just the most basic normal behavior from other people. And I think that that leads to it really just lends itself to exploitation. And, and essentially an error where you feel like, you know, wow, you have to you have to be grateful for anything positive that comes your way you almost have to buy other people’s, you know, affection and things like that. And so I think even in my friendships, you know, outside of, you know, whatever relationships that were going on from a romantic perspective, even just my friendships, I feel like there was a little bit of an uneven, I don’t know, give and take, if you will, I think Like I, I always, I always wanted to do whatever anybody else wanted me to do because I just felt like oh, well, at least they want to hang out with me or be friends. And so I didn’t really have a high bar set for me in terms of what I was looking for in social relationships, and I think looking back Of course, you know, hindsight is 2020 but, you know, looking back I think that I had so much potential and so much that I could have, you know, explored I guess, even academically and I just thought, Well, you know, I’m not Oh, I told myself you know, I’m not smart. I’m not pretty, you know, I’m, I have to just do whatever anybody else wants and so I think I missed out on a lot of opportunities to to flourish academically as well.
Shireen Jaffer 10:45
Thank you so much for sharing that. I think it is so common, unfortunately, amount of like self discounting that happens. Self D selection, right? That happens on is so high and I think we don’t really do a good job of understanding why people aren’t, you know, let’s say, electing to be a part of things applying to things, you know, participating and things and, and it’s not as simple as well, they’re not interested or Well, they just, you know, they, they’re, they think they’re too good for this. Usually it’s the opposite at least from my work with, you know, kids. I’ve worked with a lot of high school students, Melissa and one of the biggest reasons I saw kids not participating is they just thought they weren’t good enough, and they thought that everyone else was much smarter. And now I see that same type of behavior happening in adults, you know, that essentially are experiencing the imposter syndrome. And more so just feeling like I’m not meant to be here and I don’t deserve this and so I shouldn’t even try.
Melissa Strawn 11:52
Yeah, I you know, I’ve never even heard the term self deselecting but that is that is essentially your putting yourself out of opportunities based on, you know, your your internal dialogue of I’m not good enough for this, and I could never succeed at that. And, you know, even at 35, you know, no longer a teenager, but still dealing with some of those, you know, similar things where, you know, I maybe I won’t apply to something or I just won’t, you know, put my all into something because I think that it’s not, it’s not going to happen for me. And I think that’s one one of the things that led to me joining, you know, even the group that we that we met in, is just learning that, oh, some of these problems are systemic, some of these problems are, it’s not just, you know, me not being good enough. It’s about a society telling, you know, kind of all of our girls and then young women, that you know, either you’re not good enough or you don’t belong here in this space. And so, I never really considered my gender all that much in my working world, until I became an entrepreneur and then I was like, oh, wow, like You know, but to either the questions that women are asked in, in investor meetings that are different from the questions that men are asked, or just, you know, their funding opportunities and different things like that, and I’m, and so essentially I would, I wish I could sit here and say, oh, wow, you know, learned all these lessons Been there, done that, you know, now my life is just hunky dory. But I think all of the, you know, things that led to some of the issues I dealt with as a teenager, they’re still alive and well, and just showing themselves in selves in a different way. So
Shireen Jaffer 13:30
a lot of those narratives have been so deeply conditioned into our heads as a society, and we continue even as adults to buy into them. And it’s very hard to say no, this is absolutely not true. It doesn’t matter how you look or what your color is or what you know, shape you are at the end of the day. We’re human, that is what connects us all. We’re human and we all go through very similar similar struggles just have different flavors. And I think more people are realizing that and recognizing that and appreciating that than ever before, but we’re still very far from, you know, true just acceptance of differences.
Melissa Strawn 14:15
Well, yeah. And even when you you mentioned, you know, earlier the term like a prescribed life, and I thought long and hard about just even that phrase and about the different periods in my life where I felt that that was the case. And so, you know, definitely Yeah, like, as I, as I said, as a young teenager, it’s like, oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And that’s what I associate with what I prescribed life is, is this is what I’m supposed to be doing. These are the rules. This is how I, you know, get in line and follow along, right. And I feel like there’s still, there’s still a lot of that even just in in being an entrepreneur, being a startup founder as much as we want to believe that we celebrate people’s differences and Everybody’s you know, you know, free to be their own selves, there is still very much this prescribed life mentality around being a startup founder. And it’s really hard to break that it’s really hard to break out of that, because it’s very risky. You feel like if you don’t play by the rules, then you already have all the odds stacked against you, right? And so if you don’t play that by the rules, and you you do things and you get on people’s bad sides or whatever, then oh my god, you’re taking like next to nothing chance of succeeding and you’re like, literally just shooting a hole through it and ensuring that you never will. But it’s but it’s also by the same token, I think that it’s been a process for me, and I’ve been, I guess, like, an official entrepreneur for three years, you know, in that I’ve been actively, you know, working on things but, but it was really a process of like, you know, okay, am I really gonna go down this path again, of, you know, playing the good girl and doing everything the way that I’m supposed to be doing. Doing or is it finally time for me to say To hell with all that, let me do it my own way. And I can definitely say that there have been some positives to shirking off that, you know, mentality, but then also some negatives as well. So it hasn’t been as easy as I would would like to have, you know, say that it is.
Pregnant at 16 (16:19)
Shireen Jaffer 16:19
Yeah, I mean, taking the path less common right is never is never the easiest choice to make. But at least what I found is once we make that choice, yes, there’s pros and cons, but typically, for me, at least in my life, it’s been largely beneficial, and it’s been largely aligned me with what I’m doing that not. So I’m excited to learn more about kind of how that journey has been for you. Obviously, it’s different for everybody. But let’s go back to where this all started for you. You know, from our earlier brief conversation, it seems like you know, when you did get pregnant, at 16, that really was a pivotal moment for you. So, tell me a little bit more about that time in your life.
Melissa Strawn 17:04
Yeah, well, I remember at the time, you know, to be 100% honest, when I found out I was pregnant, like, I wasn’t devastated, I was actually, you know, if I’m honest, I was actually kind of excited. I was like, Oh my god, I have this like little baby, you know, this growing human inside of me, like how exciting in my own way, and you know, and then I have a mom who was who’s just a forever optimist and a forever champion and supporter of me. And so even to her, I remember her being like, oh, wow, honey is sweet, and exciting. And then, you know, as I as I told other people in my network, it was very clear that like, Oh, this is not the most desirable, you know, situation for my life right now. And one one thing in particular, you know, sticks out as a memory for me, is that my mom at the time, had a friend who had really struggled for years to get pregnant and And I remember just immediately feeling like, almost kind of guilty of like, yo, it’s like it was, it was like, so easy for me that it just, you know, I didn’t even have to try, you know, kind of thing. And, and so, you know, basically what I was what I’m referring to is just that, you know, each person had their own reaction to what was going on, you know, some people, you know, had the, you know, pressured me to get a, you know, have an abortion, other people were pressuring me to, you know, give the baby up for adoption. And then for myself and my mom, I just felt like it was like, No, I mean, I, I’m gonna make this decision to, you know, to either go forward with this life or to not right and so I made the decision that if I was going to go forward with it, that I was going to do it, you know, quote, unquote, as responsibly as possible, which to me meant, you know, I’m not going to drink I’m not going to, you know, do any drugs. I’m not going to, you know, be dangerous or whatever with my behaviors or whatever. And so, you know, that was a time period where for the first time in my, in my teenage life, I took care of myself and I got I remember, like, even like developing a very routine habit with flossing, you know, just something as simple as that, like, Oh, I’m gonna, you know, floss, I’m going to take care of my teeth and I’m going to remember my little laundry basket and you know, doing my, you know, clothes and it’s like, I, you know, like I said, for the first time of my life, I was like, living what I would call like, a responsible life where I was taking care of myself and my and my personal body and, and stuff like that. And so, it wasn’t, it definitely wasn’t all, you know, bad. It wasn’t all roses or anything like that, but it was it was a very clear decision. And, you know, I things didn’t work out with the, you know, father and I, and so, you know, I was immediately you know, from four months pregnant on was a single teen mom, but it was, it was difficult. You know, but but, you know, I was commenting to my husband before this call even I was saying, you know, in a lot of ways, it possibly saved me, you know, from a life of like, I don’t know, I don’t know what my life had in store for me at the time, I knew that I was wasting a lot of potential at the time. And so in a lot of ways, I feel like yeah, that was a pivotal moment, but for in a very positive way. And, of course, it’s very easy for me to sit here now, you know, when that my son, you know, is 17 and things turned out really well. And he’s such a great, amazing kid. And I’m so proud of where things went. But you know, it’s it’s, there’s no guarantee that that’s the way that it’s going to turn out for everybody. And so I think it really is, you know, a matter of people making whatever decision is best for them personally and, and then being supported in that as much as possible by society.
Shireen Jaffer 20:52
That is what first of all your story super incredible and beautiful and thank you again for sharing that. And do also Yeah, thanks for being so hyper aware and empathetic with the fact that everyone’s situation is so different. And yeah, it is never a one size fits all. And you know, people just have to kind of figure out what works best for them. And I’m so happy that you have the support and the awareness to figure it out for yourself. I know when we were briefly talking about this, you know, earlier, one of my questions was, it’s absolutely not easy to turn your life around. Right? And you obviously had a huge motivator to do that. You’re an expecting mother. I mean, that that definitely as a way of motivating some folks. But regardless, that transition is not easy to go from a life of, you know, partying and having friends that value that lifestyle, and having been in it and having found frankly, love in it in many ways. So how did you how did you go through that transition where you had to say No, to that part of you, and ultimately, you know, choose a different path.
Melissa Strawn 22:05
Well, I, I feel like there was this just oddly perfect timing of something that that shifted and the rest of my life that supported this. So, I guess the short version of this story is that I essentially cut ties with everybody that I had been interacting with, you know, up until that point in my life, but here’s how that was possible is that, you know, my, this is around the time. You know, I, my son was born in 2002. So, you know, this is, you know, the start of the new century and all that kind of stuff. So welfare to work the Welfare to Work program as well underway. Thank you, Bill Clinton. And so what that means for what that meant for our family was that, you know, we were on section eight, you know, we had section eight housing living in Santa Clara County. But because of the Welfare to Work program, my mom was in a unique state. situation where she got to choose to go to school instead of go to work. And so she was going to be transferring to San Jose State University. And so she, we needed to find a place to live. That was what we call over the hill, you know, which basically means moving from Santa Cruz to San Jose. And so, you know, after searching and searching and searching to try and find a house that would accept section eight, because that’s not the easiest thing to do. We finally found a place that was like, deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, like in the woods that was so far removed from any, you know, normal way of life. That that essentially, we were just isolated from everyone. And, you know, even though I was, you know, 16 I had a driver’s license, I, you know, I had a job I even had a car so I could have, you know, gone back and visited those friends and, you know, still dabbled in that lifestyle or whatever. But essentially, what I’m saying is that there was the perfect timing of a physical break that removes To me from all of those people that I that I had partied with and stuff like that. And I feel just so incredibly grateful for the timing that that happened there. Because then it was like, Okay, now I’m physically separated, you know, I’m pregnant, I have this new, you know, deal that’s, you know, going on with my body and changing and all that kind of stuff. But it really gave me the perfect opportunity to have a blank canvas and say, What do I want the rest of my life to look like? I get to actually sit here and paint that picture. And and yeah, I mean, I guess looking back now I feel just so incredibly lucky that it all turned out that way, because I didn’t really have to tell anybody you know, goodbye. I’m not hanging out with you anymore. Because I’m changing my life. It was more like Oh, how shitty my mom moved us all over the hill. I can’t see you anymore. And this is before you know all the lovely social media and stuff like that. Moving out of the out of town means you’re gone. You’re, you’re moving out of town, so
Shireen Jaffer 25:03
and I mean, but to go back and to give you, you know, credit here, and I’m glad the timing worked out, but you also made a choice, you made a choice to not take that car and drive back over and continue that right. I think that is a powerful choice and a hard choice. And again, I meant to so many kids and of course, you know, social media makes us a lot more difficult but I do mendy so many kids who want to leave toxic friendships, they know they’re toxic, but it’s a very hard decision that they haven’t been able to make that so so kudos because it is it is still very tough.
Making Changes and Finding Support (25:41)
Melissa Strawn 25:41
Well and I think that that’s uh, I think that you know, you bring up a good point and and i think that that’s what was what made things just slightly easier for me is that I had an excuse. And you know, my, my husband has taught me about this concept like the crab pot mentality where people are basically pulling one another back down with it. them. And I think that thinking back had I said to my friends, like, Hey, I don’t want to hang out anymore because I’m going to lead a better life. You know, I think I would have been, you know, ridiculed or demonized or whatever. But essentially, I had this like, perfect, convenient, excuse me, oh, well, I’m pregnant now and whatever. And so I think, you know, I think the lesson, kind of from there, or even just something for us to think about as adults who do mentor younger people now is, you know, are there opportunities to, I don’t know, create excuses, or how do we, how do we show people that we want to change without even needing an excuse? Why is there even an excuse required to be able to tell people that I’m changing my life, things are different. And I think that one of the things that we see, even being an adult now is that people feel threatened when those around them are making positive changes. And as suddenly it’s now it’s almost like casting judgment on on their own lives of like, Oh well you’re you’re changing your diet now or Oh, you’re going to the gym now oh so and so quit drinking now or whatever and it just immediately like people start to feel a little threatened by the positive changes that others are making and so it can be really hard to feel supported and the changes that we make because you know, we don’t want other people to feel like we’re prescribing it to them we’re just saying this is what’s working best for me right now or I’m in my life. Absolutely, I think you
Shireen Jaffer 27:29
know, yeah, I wish I wish I hope we get to a point where people can simply support each other and be happy for each other and not feel you know, frankly what a lot of people do feel is threatened threatened that if you for some reason move on with your life and and do these other things. I’ll get left behind. I’ve I’ve often found that’s one of the reasons why people are not as supportive. I, I agree. I wish we lived in a world where an excuse was not needed, I will say at least what really helped me growing up is I was taught that at the end of the day you answer to yourself and you answer to, you know if you feel super guilty about something because you know you did something that you don’t agree with that you don’t allow align with, well, you feel that people around you will likely feel that you feel it and you cause your own body and your mental health damage for for feeling those negative emotions. So if you have to answer yourself, answer to yourself, then you have to decide what you want to be accountable for. If you are choosing to live a better life, know that you’re going to answer it to yourself. So it doesn’t matter what other people think. As long as you align with it. And I know that’s I mean, I felt it. It was so much easier said than done, but that’s something my mom always told me is, you know, people that really care about supporting you and really care about helping you live your best self. They will they will They will stick around, they will support you, they will vouch for you, they will cheer you on. And if they don’t, it’s cool, they’re dealing with something themselves, it’s not about you and give them the space they need. And, and, and don’t let them, you know, crowd your space for any reason. And that, to me was really important. I think that’s actually when I started even recognizing my own space and claiming my own space and really cherishing, you know, the environment I surrounded myself with and frankly, even taking ownership of choosing what environment I chose to be in versus not via.
Melissa Strawn 29:41
Yeah, absolutely. I think that that’s a that’s a good point. And that, you know, we shouldn’t need an excuse and and I really, I think, I think it’s a very mature way of looking at it and that if people are not supporting you, then they’re going through things on their own. Because immediate what immediately what I was thinking in my mind is like, Oh, well If they’re not being supportive, well then screw them. Right? And it’s like, well, I, you know, you could actually choose to look at it just a step beyond that and say, You know what, maybe they’re not being supportive because of what they’re going through in their own life. So,
Shireen Jaffer 30:12
to be totally fair, my mom is, she’s a nurse and she’s a psychiatry, so I got my own, like personal therapy lessons growing up. Of course, in hindsight, I can, you know, see this back then, honestly, it came down to my mom, my mom would actually say, Shireen, like we had a you know, like every my mom definitely taught me you know, lying is not good and, and, and, you know, you need to know between good and bad as far as morals and ethics we, we were definitely taught that. She did however, say, if you need to make an excuse, which you know, if you need to lie about something, if you need to make an excuse to get yourself out of a really shitty situation, do that. Do whatever it takes to get yourself out of a shitty situation. Because that like that is you doing the right thing for yourself. And so there were so many. Again I can tell you there were so many times growing up where I did tell lies and and we like even even as simple as honestly, skipping school, I wish mental health days, for example existed. I wish more parents were just more aware and I’m not a parent. So so you know, this is just my feeling as a kid, really. My mom was so receptive to us needing mental health days, that if I just woke up one day, and I had a legitimate reason, or sometimes I wouldn’t been able to verbalize why I didn’t want to go to school. But as long as I did well, and I tried my hardest and it was clear, I was making choices that served me in a positive way. She kind of kept track of those things. She didn’t really care about me going to school and having 100% attendance rate. She cared that I was showing discipline and ability to follow through and all these things that are, you know, genuine and valid. She allowed me to demonstrate those things in different ways. So there were often times where she would write these excuses to get me out of school. And I remember, she, like I literally had my friend’s mom, yell at my mom and saying that she was being a terrible mother, and she was teaching me to lie. And she was teaching me to, like, you know, live my way out of things. And now as an adult, I can say so honestly, that was not what she taught me because she would, again Teach me you know, why those things were okay. And when they were Okay, and what they were not okay. Right, the boundaries and the limitations. And what she actually taught me was my mental health is important. And ideally, I don’t, I don’t need to have excuses. I don’t need to have to lie my way out of things. But there will always be environments where those things are not empowered. And unfortunately, you have to do what it takes to get yourself out of a shitty situation and that is okay. And that’s a survival instinct.
Melissa Strawn 33:01
I think that’s just so interesting how I mean, same, you know, environment growing up here. And it was, you know, I was again, just talking about this similar thing earlier today with my husband and that, again, it’s not like my mom was like, Oh, you need to lie or whatever. But my mom taught me early on. And I think this goes back to why I felt like, you know, I needed to kind of hide, you know, who we were, you know, being poor or whatever, as a kid, is that my mom taught me early on that, unfortunately, we live in a society that doesn’t always support people and being their open, authentic selves. And unfortunately, if we are just open and outright with who we are or the things that are going on in our lives, that unfortunately, that can oftentimes shut us out in a way that we can never recover from, and especially living in our digital age where everything is, you know, documented online, and you can’t ever really get rid of things that are that are posted online. It’s like oh my god. So it really makes you question like, well, what am I open and honest about? And what do I need to forever keep behind closed doors? And I think that that’s, I think that, you know, leads me to something I want to say that I hope it’s okay to bring our conversation in this direction. But one of the things that I’ve talked about recently with a friend is the ones of us that had moms especially or parents that were very supportive of these, you know, kind of extra things I would say like about teaching us these life lessons about being honest. The ones of us that had parents or or role models in our life that were really there for us no matter what through thick and thin no matter what they were there. We turned out, okay, we turned out all right. But there are friends now looking back who, you know, we went through similar things as teenagers, and they did not have parents who were there for them unconditionally. And they do not have that strong, you know, adults, you know, giving them support, that are still struggling with those same things now in their 30s, or in their 40s. And our we’re just kind of left to twist in the wind. And then we, you know, then that leads me to asking, you know, well, what about those people? What do we do in society? And, you know, we obviously can’t ensure that every single person grows up with with, you know, parent with birth parents who are there, you know, through thick and thin. So what do we do with people who don’t have those support systems in place? And how do we as a society show up for those people to ensure that they come out of those hard lessons in life ahead and being able to move on with their lives as well? I still don’t know how to answer that. Even for myself, like I I still ask myself on a regular basis, like how am I playing a part in being there for people who don’t have, you know, those strong role model, you know, relationships that I took for granted growing up, you know, Think about Yeah, even though we grew up in extreme poverty, I had two parents who were essentially there. 24 seven. I mean, there was no, we didn’t even understand the concept of daycare or whatever, or we would hear the term like latchkey kids. And we think, Oh, what’s that? Like? We almost thought, like, Oh, that must be so cool. You know, I mean, we have our parents around all the time, because they didn’t work. You know, and they and they have their own reasons for not for not being able to work, you know, at the time and struggles that they were dealing with. And so I asked myself, even today, all the time, like, How can I be a part of that, you know, change or how can I create a situation and where, you know, people who don’t have that, those relationships that I took for granted? How can I be a part of making it so that they still quote unquote, make it in life or that they get to where they want to go in life? And I think, you know, mentorship is one of the things that’s, that’s important, you know, I’ve read that, you know, mentorship can kind of be the difference, you know, for people and their lives, but, but I think that traditional mentorship doesn’t doesn’t reach everyone, you know, on both sides of the equation. And so I still think that there’s a lot to be, you know, learned and I think that it’s going to take some type of a societal shift, even just in, you know, forgiveness, right. You know, I loved how you said, you know that you grew up kind of knowing that, okay, well, mistakes are going to happen, people are going to mess up, you know, and I think that in order to be able to say that to people, that mistakes are okay, then you really have to back up that forgiveness is a reality and that people can live beyond the mistakes that they’ve made. And, you know, I you know, I read it even as a heartbreaking story today about someone who struggled with addiction issues and different things and then, you know, turn their whole lives around, and was just rejected from professional opportunity after professional opportunity, because you can’t go and scrub that record clean and it’s like, oh my gosh, so it’s very easy to say, like, Oh, yeah, you know, we can you know, we make mistakes and stuff like that, but then still As a society, we don’t really, you know, put our money where our mouth is, you know, we still you know, we have people, you know, we were even just talking about how, you know, one of the most common questions that we get asked about our own platform is, oh, well, do you do background checks. And I always try and explain to people that we don’t do background checks as a, as a almost a form of rebellion against the social system, you know, today, because we have a we live in a society where, you know, the the penal, you know, system is not equal, it’s not evenly divided, that some people are punished way more, you know, some groups are punished way more than others. And so until we live in a society that’s a little bit more equal, and just, I’m not going to rely on that society to say, Oh, yes, this person is good because they have no background and this person is bad because they do have a background because especially when we’re tying that to someone’s economic opportunities for the future. We are literally damning someone to live by their past mistakes if we don’t ever allow them to move beyond, especially economically because you need money to survive, you need, you know, money to create a new, you know, generation of life for yourself, you know, like, you know, you talk about in this podcast like evolution and evolving and you know, what about when you evolve personally, but society has not caught up to allow that to evolve self to really break free from our past mistakes.
Breaking Free from Past Mistakes (39:33)
Shireen Jaffer 39:33
Yeah, I mean, that’s super powerful. I think we definitely. We don’t necessarily allow people frankly, or empower people to evolve. And I you know, I I say this a lot. For example, our schools reward people to not question our schools reward people to not think our schools reward people to mimic and follow the rules and do what it takes. Right and I think that is Then carries over to how our society is shaped where someone could be changing and evolving and all the ways that are that are really positive and allows them to frankly be a more productive member of society yet, we, if it’s not being done in a way that we agree with as the norm, it’s rejected. And I always I always like to tell people, you know, focus on the outcome, if the outcome is, let’s say, from a societal lens, like we want people to be more productive members of society, we want them to practice you know, healthy habits and good habits and all these things will focus on the outcome, how are they already doing that? Are they committed to doing that and it doesn’t matter if they got to that point from from a way that you don’t agree with and i and i think that so many people focus on well, where did you come from and still judging them for you know, mistakes they may have? made that they have done more than enough to make up for, quote unquote make up for have done more than enough to, you know, reprogram their mind and make different choices however we we we don’t recognize that we don’t see that we don’t credit that and we’re so afraid of giving people the option and the the opportunity to just redefine themselves. And that goes back to why so many people get stuck in vicious cycles. And then we wonder why that’s happening.
Melissa Strawn 41:38
Yeah. Well and that’s I think that’s what you’re what we’re talking about here is like this, this unequal evolving, right you know, you can evolve as a person, you can evolve your circumstances, your mind your thinking, your actions, everything, but if those around you are not really prepared to receive that evolution, you know, it’s it’s we very much Like to, you know, sort of label things, and oh, this is bad. And this is good. And, you know, when you bring it up to the education system, and you talk about, you know, mimicking and basically following, I mean, that’s, that’s the way this system was set up, right? I mean, it’s, it makes it easier on, you know, a teacher or whatever, or society if everybody’s going one way, in the same way. It’s a lot, a lot less work, you know, and not even a matter of work, but it’s a lot more manageable and controllable. And, and I think that it’s like, I think that that society, that that way of thinking, and I think that that society is ready for change. And I think that it’s time for us to evolve as a society on a greater scale, rather than just individually. But we have to in order to do so we have to recognize that. That mistakes and evolution and all that kind of stuff is a natural process, and that we have to support that and that it’s going to look different for each person and that is Essentially accepting it does not mean that we’re condoning any form of, you know, mistreatment or behavior or, you know, criminal actions or whatever than anybody does. We’re certainly not saying like, Oh, that’s okay. You know, oh, they did their, their programs. So now everything they did was fine. It’s not It’s not about that. It’s about saying that, okay, you know, some steps have been taken to make, I guess, make amends, you know, as much as possible. And now let’s support the next evolution of this person. And I think that it’s just a very interesting time, you know, to be alive, you know, as I’m sure everyone, you know, has said in their own unique, unique perspective in history, but it’s a very interesting time to be alive and to watch. If, you know, all the things that we’re going through right now, even with Coronavirus, and talking about healthcare being a, you know, a human right. You know, is this going to be that time where we can make that, you know, quantum leap, are you No shift in our evolution as a society and make make this just a little bit easier on the individual going forward.
Shireen Jaffer 44:07
Absolutely. And I could not agree more with that I think we can all use a more. I think as a society, we can use a heightened level of self awareness. And I think as people become more aware, they become more aware of their thoughts, why they think the things they think, why they believe the things they believe why, you know, certain decisions are made around them, wire institutions react or act the way that they do. And, you know, just like you said, Melissa, it’s not about just like right or wrong. It’s not mutually exclusive. I mean, there’s so many things that are in the gray area. But a lot of people don’t even acknowledge the nuances and a lot of people are just struggling to empathize and be open minded, because we frankly, just have to be more self aware. To even recognize the need for being open minded and being empathetic. So, I certainly am with you and hoping that we’re able to really make that societal shift and recognize people’s individual needs for evolution, but then also realize that it is a collective effort. And it is something that all of us need to be just more aware of, at least to start with,
Melissa Strawn 45:27
yeah, and I think, you know, if there’s anything that I want to kind of leave as my nugget of wisdom, it’s that, you know, my mom, my mom taught me my whole life, that life is a mixed bag, and that both things can be true. And that just because, you know, two things might seem conflicting, that doesn’t mean that they can’t coexist peacefully. And I think that you know, especially with our our global society, you know, that’s that’s even more global because of you know, the the internet and you know, social media, that alone A lot of things a lot of times that we see people, you know, evolve or come out and apologize for things, you know, it almost, you know, comes across as like saving face Oh, so and so messed up publicly and now they have to make this PR statement apologizing for what they did, and stuff like that. But I think that I think that even more than that, it’s that recognizing that that again, life is a mixed bag, two things can coexist. You know, if we, if we can get to a point in that in our own thinking there, then we can, I think move forward. But for as long as we’re stuck sitting here thinking, Oh, I have to change this person and this way is wrong, and my way is right. And yeah, I mean, I think that just keeps us stuck. And it’s hard. It’s really, really hard to do to coexist with somebody who you’re just so you know, against or thinks so differently from but I think that’s part of the process is just as you know, moving forward and just knowing that okay, it’s okay. thing to these two things can coexist here together.
Shireen Jaffer 47:03
Yeah, I mean, let’s let’s also go back to, you know, we your story of is that you’re redefining how you see yourself and the type of life you want around. Right. So how do you go from obviously poverty to now being a successful entrepreneur? What What does that journey look like for you? What are some things that you encounter? I would love some more information there.
Entrepreneurship for All (47:26)
Melissa Strawn 47:26
Yeah. And I think that I think that my process for becoming an entrepreneur, you know, even in itself just just showcases some of the I don’t know, deficits, if you will call it in society. I, you know, I say all the time, that I don’t want my legacy in this life to be that I got out of poverty because I married up, you know, I mean, the truth of the matter is, if I’m being really honest, I’m not living in poverty right now at this moment, because I’m married somebody Who is a successful you know, engineer and, and is not poor. And and the reason why I even bring that up is because I, I feel that, you know, especially what, uh, you know being in a bunch of you know, female founder communities and women entrepreneur communities, you see a lot of, you know, privileged privileged by proxy, I don’t know, if you if that’s even a term that I just, you know, made up but but essentially in that, you know, why are the people that are able to be entrepreneurs right now, why are they able to be entrepreneurs and then who’s being left out of that equation, and I very, very strongly believe that entrepreneurship should be open to all those who see that as a career path that makes sense for them, but it’s not the case. And you know, I mean, I came up with the idea for my you know, business 11 years ago as a single mom, you know, with my two kids living in Bay Area I was living in a one bedroom, you know cockroach infested apartment in San Jose. And you know and I tried and I tried and I tried all these different ways to you know bring my idea to life there was a lot of opportunities for you know, exploitative you know treatment I remember all the you know, the guy on the guy engineers at the time, you know, trying to talk me into different you know, schemes and things like like that and I was so desperate and just really wanted somebody to help me bring my idea to life. And so you know, I basically just kept putting it on hold and putting it on hold and I you know, I always joke that I had to you know, marry an engineer just to get someone to code my MVP because I you know, I had a next door neighbor who was an engineer and I asked him to you know, help you know, code my idea or whatever and we fell in love and we got married and things are, are you know, are great and stuff in our in our relationships. Obviously, I don’t want to leave people thinking that I just married someone for that. opportunity. But But by the same token, you know, I look at, like I said, Who entrepreneurship is available for and who it’s not. And I think that the biggest problem I have with with what I’m talking about here is that certain certain social problems will not be innovated for if we’re not including those people in the innovation for those problems. So, you know, to give you just a super quick, you know, idea of what I’m talking about here, I volunteered for the greeter Foundation, which was a organization that was started by Russell Okun who you know, played for the the Seattle Seahawks, you know, when they won the Super Bowl, I think I’m getting that right. Oh, my God, I’m not a sports person. But, you know, anyway, my point is, is that you know, he started an organization where different you know, underprivileged youth were working on entrepreneurial ideas, and I was mentoring them and all of the kids that were, you know, Going up and talking about their innovations, they were innovating for problems that I didn’t even know existed. And I thought, you know, that’s because, you know, even though I grew up poor, you know, there was still many, many layers of privilege that I had, you know, protecting me. And, and that’s not the case for everyone. And so I thought, you know, God if we, if we’re only choosing people for the pitch competitions and the different, you know, things that look like us and talk like us and you know, can, you know, pull it all off, right, the way that we’re supposed to in this prescribed way of entrepreneurship, then we’re missing out on a massive like, you know, layer of innovation because it’s not including the people that are experiencing the very problems that that they’re innovating for. So, I think that we still have a long way to go I still I think that my own you know, I like I said, I very much very want very much want to be able to say that, oh, I made it for myself and I you know, I came up with this idea and I saw it, you know, come to life. on my own, I think that, you know, we’re interconnected. And we’re always going to rely on other people. And so there’s never going to be a Oh, she did it entirely on her own. But I would like the message to be, you know, even though I don’t have any daughters, I have five sons. But I would like the message to be for other girls or women coming up after me that you can succeed that entrepreneurship can be available to you, even if you don’t have the financial means or the exact skills necessary to make that happen. And so, that’s, you know, one of my missions in my own startup is to make that more accessible and make it more possible to break into that world of entrepreneurship.
Shireen Jaffer 52:39
Yeah, absolutely. And I I relate a lot to that experience, Melissa, because same thing I was I you know, USC and again, even though I came from pretty humble means I remember being part of money, think and nifty these, you know, organizations that really care about entrepreneurship and financial education. And we would have worked with a lot of the schools in downtown and East LA and the kids that were pitching these ideas. I mean, the ideas were phenomenal. They’re definitely pain points I did not know existed. And then of course, there’s so many experiences that people go through that you could not even dream about going through, but all of a sudden become part of your universe, because you’re, you’re now become more aware of someone else’s struggle. So I couldn’t agree more. I think now I invest a lot. And as an investor, I come across, you know, the founders are people that traditionally struggled to get funding. But now there’s more and more funding sources that are out there and ecosystems that are springing up. We’re not as far as we need to be. But absolutely for anyone that wants to go into entrepreneurship that that feels like they don’t have the resources that they’re out there. We definitely need to get more out there. But absolutely there there are options and we need As a society again, going back to meeting that societal shift, we need to recognize that in order to solve the problems that truly exists for many people, we need to start empathizing, we need to start listening, we need to start understanding and and we need to start making that collective effort.
Melissa Strawn 54:16
Yeah. And you know, the one other thing I wanted to say real quick is just that I often say that for profit is the new nonprofit. And I think that that’s my, my way of saying essentially, that I was raised, you know, especially growing up poor kind of thinking that something was wrong with wealth that if you were a wealthy person, that it’s almost like you’re a bad person. And I think that that’s just a way of, I think that that’s a way of thinking that helps people feel a little bit better about being poor or kind of like, you know, you’re demonizing them so that you’re not feeling so much, you know, so bad about yourself. But I think that as I’ve grown as I’ve learned, you know, in Life or evolved, you know, myself, I’ve learned that it there’s nothing wrong with wealth. And in fact, if we want to see real change, you know, happen, we need to allow for other people to experience, you know, amassing wealth. And I think that in order to do that, I think there’s nothing wrong with being a for profit company or for profit, you know, organization. And so it’s not that the only positive change that you can make, or that someone can, you know, make is by being a nonprofit, or volunteering and stuff like that those things, they all have their plates and their greed. But essentially, I would like to see, you know, I would like to see a future that includes wealth, being a mass by people who, who wouldn’t normally have access to it. And I think that that’s, I think that we are going to see that I think we’re going to also start to see that it’s totally possible to marry these do gooder ideas. Right of helping people also with making you know massive amounts of financial success happen I totally think that’s possible and I really want to be a part of that happening in our lives.
Shireen Jaffer 56:12
I did hear with that Melissa thank you so much for sharing your story sharing your encouraging words and just obviously your vision for the world we want to live in it has been such a pleasure having you here. Tell us how we can find you how we can keep updated on your journey and your story.
Melissa Strawn 56:32
Well, I we are pretty much final anywhere under my people now. And you know, Melissa Strawn and I’m obviously on all the usual channels, my people now calm. But definitely I also blog it from welfare to millionaire.org. And I and I love hearing stories of you know, the quote unquote rags to riches. So I would love for people to reach out there as well and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. Sure. And it’s been very good enlightening. Thank you
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