Be mindful of gossip. What we say about others is 99.9% always about ourselves. Usually, what we don’t like about the way we look, talk, or act will manifest in how others trigger us and what we say behind their backs. Before I opened my salon, I always questioned other owners about how they ran their business or why they did certain things. I gossiped with other employees instead of asking them directly about their business practices. I now regret that so much. Only after opening my own business, facing challenges and having to make hard decisions, did I understand why the other salon owners did things the way that they did.
As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships,” I had the pleasure to interview Chelle Neff. Chelle Neff has been a leader in the U.S. salon industry since founding Urban Betty in 2005 and has more than 20 years of experience creating innovative practices in the salon and beauty worlds. Neff has successfully grown Urban Betty’s revenue year after year and today has a space that houses more than 60 employees. So successful was the first location that she opened the second Urban Betty Salon in 2019.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
I began my journey as an entrepreneur first as an employee in the salon industry. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do hair. At the age of sixteen, I enrolled in Cosmetology school at my high school. When I received my license in 1995, I started working behind the chair at Supercuts. I slowly worked my way up the ladder to high-end salons. Five years later, I got a small suite. That was my first stepping stone to running my own business and coming up with the idea for Urban Betty.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
I’m not working on this project yet. However, I am conceptualizing an idea to write a book. I have a lot of stories to tell involving my childhood, teenage years, and progression to adulthood that led me to where I am today. I want to share all of the ways I have evolved and learned to love myself through letting toxic people go, standing in my own power, and not settling. To have a sense of well being in your relationships, you must stand in your own power and find someone who knows how to do the same. I want to teach people that communication and vulnerability are crucial to the success of a relationship.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
Yes, there was a massive trigger for me that I regard as my tipping point. I was in a relationship with a person who was an addict. I knew that I wanted children, and I also knew that I didn’t feel safe bringing children into a relationship with an addict. At that moment, I asked myself, “Why would you ever put yourself in a relationship with someone you didn’t feel children were safe with?” I knew then I needed to get help to get out of that relationship and focus on myself and get in a place of feeling safe. Only then did I slowly learn how to love and accept me. I’m ten years into the journey and I still work at it every day. I continuously remind myself that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be in this life right now. And that I am doing the best job that I can! You can’t rely on the acknowledgment from others to get you to the place. That’s only temporary and simply applies to our ego. You have to find a place inside your heart where you can ask (God, Universe, Source), am I enough? And the answer is always yes.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the U.S., only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
After working in the beauty industry for over 20 years, this seems about right. I had 5–10 guests in my chair every day, and most of them were unsatisfied with some part of their look the minute that they sat down in front of the mirror. It was heartbreaking. I think most of us struggle deeply with comparing ourselves to others. The world of social media has blown up, and everywhere you look is a photo retouched with photoshop and filters, which isn’t real life at all. We now live in a world where there is pressure to stay looking young with Botox, spray tans, and filters. I am guilty of all three. When you work in a company where the main focus is on how you look, there is pressure to maintain a sense of style and beauty. We have to remember that there is no such thing as perfection, and we will all age. Learning to accept the way you look can be a hard journey and takes lots of self-love and acceptance.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
We tend to confuse self-love with conceit, which is a false concept. Loving yourself isn’t cheesy at all. It’s essential to have a relationship with yourself based on love that doesn’t include anyone else. It’s about being compassionate and kind with yourself and accepting every aspect of yourself. Practicing self-love gives you emotional intelligence to overcome stressful situations and stay balanced. If you are in a good relationship with yourself, it will spread to every relationship around you. We cannot fully be present with others and be of service if we don’t first know how to fill our hearts with love.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
I have been guilty of this. Self-worth plays a massive part in why we stay with people we know don’t fulfill our lives. If you genuinely don’t believe that you deserve a fantastic partner, you won’t energetically draw one to you. I would go through all the hardships of my divorce and dating disasters 100 times over to meet the amazing husband that I have today. I struggled with knowing what I wanted and how to stand up for that. After several failed dating disasters, I finally hit rock bottom of unacceptable behavior that I would no longer allow. That rock bottom is what opened my eyes to what I am worthy of. I didn’t deserve wishy-washy people who were unsure about marriage, kids, or their careers. I deserve someone who would be as into me as I’m into them and show love, support, and kindness while never wavering. I was happy alone right before I met my husband, and I really think that’s what drew him into my life. I can now look back and be thankful for all the scrubs before him because they helped me appreciate what a real man can be. So wherever you are at with relationships 1. Know that everything is temporary 2. You always have a choice and 3. You are worthy of complete love.
When I talk about self-love and understanding, I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but for our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
Yes, I was dating someone for almost a year, and he didn’t want to acknowledge that we were actually in a relationship. We were both newly divorced and not ready for anything too serious. However, after having been in a relationship with him for almost a year, I felt the need that it should be defined. I can’t be a casual person that turns my feelings off and on. I was in my early 30’s and wanted a family one day. I knew I needed to give myself a chance to date other people as well. I feel like we get to know ourselves better through every person that comes into our lives, romantic or not. I asked him the question, “Where is this going?” He didn’t know. That was my answer right there. You have to step into your power and be willing to go there, show vulnerability, and ask the tough questions. If you aren’t’ on the same page with your partner, then you either have to make a compromise or detach with love.
So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to indeed be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Being alone is crucial to finding yourself. I am so thankful for my time living alone and being single. I learned to be happy hanging out with my dog, seeing girlfriends, or just reading a book. Even though I am married now, I still need alone time. I like taking time for myself, and I know it makes our relationship better. Taking time to meditate, walk, or read by yourself is a considerable benefit to your mental health. I actually have a scheduled “recharge” day that happens on the 4th Friday of every month. I am not allowed to put anything on my calendar other than appointments that reflect self-care, i.e., massages, nails, or meditation. When you first start out being on your own, please remember that it’s reasonable to sometimes feel lonely or sad. That’s only temporary! It’s much better to process those emotions and evolve through them to become a stronger person who can attract a much better partner.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
If we always expect others to make us feel loved, it is a losing battle. Love shouldn’t be viewed as something that can be abandoned or taken away. If you learn to love yourself, it is infinite. When you look at love from a place of abundance and light, you will approach every relationship around you differently. Jealousy, comparison, and fear can’t exist in that same space when you come from a clear, loving heart, and that’s what will cause the change. Your connections will become deeper and actually last longer when you no longer feel a sense of abandonment or loss around love.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
First and foremost, self-love doesn’t mean massages and facials. Let’s not confuse that with self-care, which is also essential. Society needs to remember that we are all doing the best that we can with the tools that we have. If you look at yourself as a small child, would you still say all the same hurtful things that you do to yourself? Because in essence, you are still that tiny child some days and you will mess up. The difference is how you learn to treat yourself. When you come from a place of forgiveness and love with yourself, I believe you can overcome anything. And if we all learned that simple step, we could all become more empathetic with others. When I looked inside and pictured myself as a little girl, all I wanted to do was lift her up. Practice that the next time you question something that you’ve done. Give yourself words of appreciation and forgiveness.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
- Practice words of appreciation for yourself when you do well. I don’t necessarily believe in self-affirmations. If you genuinely don’t believe something in your heart about yourself, it can manifest. If you just say words over and over again, that doesn’t change anything around you until you genuinely believe them. I used to put post-its up on my mirror with cool sayings, and honestly, it didn’t do anything for me. When I changed my way of thinking and actually took a moment to appreciate myself whenever I achieved something (even something as small as one full push up), that’s when I noticed not only my mood but also my mind was lifted.
- Be mindful of gossip. What we say about others is 99.9% always about ourselves. Usually, what we don’t like about the way we look, talk, or act will manifest in how others trigger us and what we say behind their backs. Before I opened my salon, I always questioned other owners about how they ran their business or why they did certain things. I gossiped with other employees instead of asking them directly about their business practices. I now regret that so much. Only after opening my own business, facing challenges and having to make hard decisions, did I understand why the other salon owners did things the way that they did.
- Choose the people around you carefully. Do your friends build you up and want you to do well, or do they want to commiserate in negativity? I had an entirely different set of friends post-divorce than I do now. I noticed that they were great friends when I was feeling down, and we could all bitch about our lives together. Once my business and relationships turned around, they weren’t the same. I sensed feelings of jealousy and learned that they were gossiping behind my back. When you are learning to love yourself, you will not tolerate those around you that don’t feel the same. As soon as I started surrounding myself with positive people who were on the same life course of self-discovery, I expanded even more. Take a look at your closest 5 friends. Are they in constant drama? That’s the opposite of self-love.
- Learn to say no. When you listen to your inner voice, and all signs point to no, SAY NO. For most of my life, I have struggled with people-pleasing. Every time I say yes to something that isn’t in my highest good, I am not practicing self-love. You will notice that you feel dread, and your energy will be zapped when you say yes to things you don’t love. I used to try to do everything and work five days a week behind the chair. I couldn’t imagine telling my clients that I couldn’t do their hair anymore. More and more though, I didn’t enjoy it, and I dreaded coming to work. I had to make the decision after 20+ years of doing hair to finally retire and just own and manage my salon instead. It didn’t happen overnight. I slowly scaled back my schedule, and after 3 years, I entirely quit doing hair. I haven’t regretted it for one day. I haven’t missed it either. My business has not only thrived, but I also have more energy and time to do things that I genuinely love now.
- Give others appreciation. When we are in an actual state of joy and self-love, we see the beauty in others. Show that appreciation with words. And when you give words of appreciation, tell the person what you love and WHY you love it! It further cements their belief in what you have said and makes more of an impact. I used to just tell my staff, “Good job.” or “That was cool.” That’s not a great way to show appreciation. Now I have learned to tell them what they are doing well and why I believe they deserve the recognition. If you have time to write it on a card, that’s even better!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
My absolute favorite podcast right now is the EXPANDED Podcast with Lacy Phillips. I discovered it this year, and it has changed my life. I love that she speaks to you on a human level about spiritual things and a manifestation process that’s rooted in psychology, neuroscience, and energetic insights. My favorite episode is number 61 about getting back to our authentic selves. So many times with founding a company, I try to wear all the hats, boss, friend, mentor, and so on. You can’t be all those people at the same time and be your authentic self; you have to pick who you are and wear that one hat and not care what others think about you. That episode resonated with me on not feeling guilty about having to step into my power to become a leader.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
I would love to inspire a movement of supporting other people’s successes, especially for women. Too often, we get caught up in competition and comparison with others in the world of business and social media. Prosperity and abundance are not one single pie for everyone. We each have our pie! When one person is successful, they are never taking away from you. Your worth and all that you have is a reflection of your emotional well-being and your beliefs surrounding that. Whenever you celebrate another person’s success, you draw that same energy onto yourself. I would love for everyone out there to want others to succeed and be happy for them!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
My favorite quote is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
I heard this quote right after opening my salon company, and I was utterly overwhelmed with all of the things that I needed to do. I believe that all movement is forward movement. Even the smallest action like having coffee with another business owner — asking them one question may help you get to where you want to go. Don’t worry about what’s at the end and how you are going to get there. Just take small steps, and you will end up where you are supposed to be! And guess what? It probably won’t look like what you imagined; it will be even better.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!