Don’t compromise just because you feel you don’t know everything. I tend to second guess myself if someone in authority says something should change or can’t be done. I compromised on a few product designs in the beginning I knew weren’t right. I then had to spend double the money to redo after one of my friends called my labels “grandmaish” I knew she was right as I knew it all along. I thought because I was new, that they knew more than I did.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50's.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia Besteman.
Cynthia Besteman landed in New York City determined to find her way as an actress, after working on Broadway for ten years, she received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2011 and her successful career came to a skidding halt. While undergoing cancer treatment, one of her first actions was to toss out all beauty products with harmful chemicals and she noticed that the beauty products she had that were classified as being “natural” contained parabens known to work as disruptors. She used her knowledge and passion for naturally-derived skincare ingredients to formulate her consciously-produced line of products under her brand name Violets Are Blue and is grateful to cancer for bringing this into her life.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am the youngest of three children, born in Seattle, moved to NJ for six years where I fell in love with Broadway. My Mom wanted me to be a professional figure skater but I broke my leg on my first lesson, so there went that dream! My family then moved back to Seattle where I finished high school. I went to both University of Oregon and the University of Washington for College but left once I graduated to attend an acting conservatory in NYC. I worked as a Broadway actress for ten years before tiring of the lifestyle. I then went into real estate where I quickly became the top broker in my office!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Worry is like a rocking chair, it will give you something to do, but won’t get you anywhere.”
I tend to be a catastrophic ruminator. I think a cancer diagnosis can do that to a person. I also think it’s a defense mechanism so I am prepared for the worst. I am realizing however that living in that space is not healthy. When I start to feel anxious and go to my default setting, I picture myself in the rocking chair, standing up and walking forward!
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Resilience is the first. I get knocked down, but I get up again. I think my diagnosis is a great example of that as I wanted to make sure my illness would mean something important in my life. I didn’t want to go back to how my life was before, I wanted a better normal, rather than a new normal. I researched things that I could do, like reiki, acupuncture, herbalism. Something that would help me get back up from being hit with a cancer diagnosis.
Humor — this is key. You need humor to stay sane when starting a business. You need it to not take the issues you confront too seriously and laugh at the places you find yourself in, otherwise, I’d be crying a lot!
Vulnerability. This is not the usual answer for someone starting a business, but I think it works in my favor. I am an open book, I share what I know with other business owners, founders, and product developers. I believe in being an open book and if I get burned, well that says more about the person “using” me than it does about my vulnerability. There have been several times I wore my heart on my sleeve in business meetings and you immediately see the human element come into play. Suddenly it’s not about business anymore but a company wanting to help someone like me build a brand that will help people. This happened both with my manufacturer and fulfillment center. If I hadn’t shared my story with them, I would have been considered too small for them to work with. Because I shared, they made exceptions to take me on.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an actress. That was the only career on my mind my whole educational life. I knew I wanted to be a stage actress, more exactly. I majored in theatre in college and moved to NYC to attend Circle in the Square Theater School. From there I worked with an amazing theatre company and other projects both on stage and screen. To support my stage life, I worked as a receptionist and at a ballroom dance studio which was a blast, and at an art gallery for up-and-coming artists. I started suffering from anxiety on stage and at that time, this type of thing wasn’t talked about so I was confused as to what was happening to me. I started dreading going on stage. Feeling burnt out, and poor, and not having the same joy as I had on stage, I decided to go into real estate as I felt I could make a lot of money and that I did! I never made a salary like that and loved the money aspect but quickly felt unfulfilled, I felt tied to the job and never had a break. It was exhausting! I think that is part of why I got sick, my body did what my mind couldn’t do. It created cancer for me to stop.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
My reinvention happened by accident. When I was diagnosed, I took a leave of absence from my firm. My husband took over everything as we were business partners. I started investigating things like Reiki, acupuncture, meditation, anything that would connect my head and my body. I had felt so disconnected. I was cleaning my house of things I thought may have played a role in causing my cancer. This included my skin care. I googled how to make organic ingredients and oddly enough or divine intervention a class was starting the next night ten blocks from my apartment. I signed up and that night changed everything. I finally felt my head and body connected as I was focused on making something that could help me with my current skin issues and taking control of my health. I then started to dabble in creating my skincare line and the women in treatment with me and my oncologist noticed how healthy my skin stayed throughout my treatment journey. When I told her what I was doing, she connected me with the department head to see if I could bring in products for their patients. They wanted healthier options for skin, but were more focused on curing us, not making our skin look nice! I came home and told my husband what I wanted to do and he told me to go for it! I worked for two years formulating and testing and in 2013 the Beloved line was born with Violets Are Blue fully launching in 2015. It was slow and steady for sure but we got there.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I think it was chatting with the people at my hospital and to hear how excited they were about clean skincare. I realized there was a need for it and how it can help women, not only physically but mentally as well. If they are given beautiful healthy products, I hope they have a similar response of reconnecting with their mind and body and feeling like they were taking control of their health. Also, my super, supportive husband didn’t blink when I told him what I wanted to do. If he wasn’t on board, there was no way for me to make it work. He believed in me, sometimes more than I believed in myself!
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I think why I took to this so well is because it fired up my creative side again. It combined the best of both worlds, business and arts. I felt the way I did at the beginning of my acting career — excited, driven, hopeful but without the anxiety and fear! It took me a while though to get into the true mindset of being an entrepreneur. I remember in the beginning I didn’t handle setbacks very well. I would get emotional and say that maybe it wasn’t meant to be and maybe the universe is telling me to forget it. My mom then said to me, that this is what happens in business, and if I didn’t like it or didn’t think I could handle it, then I should get out. But, if I put on my big girl pants and act like a boss, I can deal with the issue. She said there is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a business owner, I just had to decide if I was or not. That changed everything! I keep my big girl pants near me at all times and remember her words every time I run into a snag.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
The business is going well! We doubled our sales last year during the pandemic, in part because people want self-care products when stuck at home, but also because word is spreading about us. Nothing gives me greater joy than getting an email from one of my customers saying how much they love our products. I respond to every email I get and many of them are newly diagnosed women or women over 40 who are looking for cleaner choices that also work for their skin. We are launching new products this year that I am excited about and have won several awards in the last 2 years!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Can I say, two people? My husband David is the best. He is my rock and who I lean on, cry to, celebrate with, and make try sample products day after day! Some days have been hard and I wanted to quit and he has never said, “yeah, maybe you should” but rather convince me that I am doing hard work but well worth it. He has sacrificed so much and he is a neat freak so what he has dealt with is way more than your average person. My Mom is also right there with him in terms of support. I call her on when I feel like I am getting off track or just need someone to tell me to buck up and not stress the small stuff. She was the one who sent me the rocking chair quote. She knows me and how I respond to things and she knows just what to say to snap me out of my fear and anxiety.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
When I was a child, I used to dream about becoming a famous actress and being in the magazines I read. The chances of that happening were slim, and dropping out of acting I thought my face was never going to be in my favorite magazine. But I did get into a couple of major, national publications. Looking at the full page spread with my picture, my quotes, and the 4-inch heels, I realized my dream in my head was true, just not necessarily the way I envisioned it. I now believe in all of my visions and just know it may look a little different, but not give up on my dreams!
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
It should be more like; is there a time I don’t struggle! I deal with imposter syndrome on most days! Every time I am asked to speak at an event I think, seriously, do they think I know what I am doing? I had this happen one particular time where I was asked to speak to a group of female skincare founders. I was terrified! What if they ask me a question, I don’t know the answer to, what if they don’t like my products, what if they think I’m using my cancer diagnosis as a way to sell product? Well going back to talking about sharing my vulnerability. I shared my fears with these women and what happened, in turn, was an incredible conversation about how we all felt this way. We were all puffing up trying to compete when deep down we were all feeling the same way. We had a wonderful, emotional evening which turned into a sisterhood. Our facades came down and we are now there for each other when we feel insecure. It helps me to remember this in times where I feel like I may not belong.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
My family rallied around me. I remember specifically my brother said when he heard I was diagnosed with cancer, “Well. Let’s circle the wagons.” That has stuck with me. I want to know I am surrounded by people who will circle wagons for me. I have girlfriends who I acted with who are my closest group of friends to date and we have all been through, disease, divorce, job loss, love loss together and I know I would not be where I am today without them. These women show up for each other and my family is very tight-knit and between these two groups, I am good. I also have created an incredible group of women friends from the green beauty space and we have each other on speed dial. Some of them I speak to daily! In the green beauty space, we are in some ways competitors, but in many ways not. No one has just one brand in their bathroom, they have several products from different brands. We all get this so the belief is, if one does well, we all do. We are all growing and celebrating together.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Unlike my acting career, in which I always felt weird selling my talent, it is easier for me to sell my products and, although it would hurt to hear someone doesn’t like them, it’s not as painful as someone not liking you. Selling products is more of my comfort zone. I think in a way, doing speaking engagements as myself rather than being on stage as a performer is scary for me. I spoke at a corporate event in Laguna Beach a couple of years ago and for some reason, I was nervous about forgetting my lines. I rehearsed and rehearsed my speech until I could do it in my sleep. Sure enough, I completely forgot my lines during the presentation, which I never did as an actress, and after the flop sweat and panic hit, I realized I knew the story, as it was my story! I took a deep breath and spoke from my heart about how I started my business and why the products were so important. Looking back, I laugh at how nervous I was and how I stressed over learning my own life.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Nothing about launching a product will go smoothly. This is huge for me as every product I have launched has never gone as planned. Looking back, I am always grateful for the monkey wrenches as they made the product better in the end, and knowing that ahead of time would save a lot of stress! I did a run of 10k deodorants that weren’t mixed properly and ended up mushy. Tens of thousands of dollars wasted with my old manufacturer and product development team all pointing their fingers in different directions. I had to walk away and start over which almost tanked my business. Looking back, the changes I made in manufacturers and formula were well worth it. It is now our top-selling product.
- Don’t compromise just because you feel you don’t know everything. I tend to second guess myself if someone in authority says something should change or can’t be done. I compromised on a few product designs in the beginning I knew weren’t right. I then had to spend double the money to redo after one of my friends called my labels “grandmaish” I knew she was right as I knew it all along. I thought because I was new, that they knew more than I did.
- Start small. You don’t need to buy 10k of something just because you get a price break. Had 10k bottles screen printed and ended up changing the formula after only using 2k of them. If I had bought 2k originally, they would have cost me more per bottle, but I ended up wasting 8k bottles in the end which was way more of a loss! Better to run out and need more than start off with too much
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. I’m continually working on this and I think in the beginning I overcompensated. I was so green that I lost out on learning things because I was too proud to say I didn’t understand or didn’t know.
- Take time to enjoy the wins! As my business grows, so do the needs, it’s like feeding a teenager, I am constantly looking ahead and what we have to do to get there. I need to take the time for the wins and sit for a bit and look at what I have accomplished. The journey is the fun part, not the result.
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?
One word, sustainability. As I learn more about plastic waste and pollution, I am horrified as to what we have done as humans. We are working on making our packaging fully sustainable, we know exactly where, and how our ingredients are harvested, who is harvesting them and how they are manufactured. We are also looking into our carbon footprint, ways in which we can educate others on this and in my own home we are expanding our zero waste options. Sustainability affects every human being and animal on the planet.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
Hands down, without a thought, Marcus Lamonis. My husband jokingly asks “If Marcus told you to do such and such with your business, would you?” and before he can finish, I say Yes! I am amazed at how he runs his, for lack of a better word, empire! The thing is, he does it all without being cocky. He shows that people who are cut from a certain type of cloth can be successful! We can be warm, care about those we work with, make a difference and still make money! People, processes, and products are always at the forefront of what I do.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
@violetsareblueskincare — Instagram & Facebook
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!