How To Write Your Own Life Story

Tran Wills

with Tran Wills

Co-founder of Base Coat Nails

How To Write Your Own Life Story

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Tran Wills and Jenna kick off during her teen years, beginning when she decided to leave home at 15, having her son at 16, bringing him to school and still graduating as one of the top in her class, and then starting her own company at 19.

In walking through Tran’s journey building businesses in the arts, fashion, and beauty industries, most recently at Base Coat, we focus on how to cultivate key values and mindsets that can help us improve our lives including: How to not be defined by your situation, having the courage to live life on your own terms, setting boundaries that are right for you, eliminating the word easy from our vocabulary, making pausing a habit, and the life-changing impact of small acts of kindness.

Highlights from the Transcript

  • On deciding to leave home at 15: “I knew I was meant to do more and not to stay in a place that wasn’t good for me. If I would have stayed longer, I definitely don’t think I would be here today. I chose not to feel sorry for myself, which is easy to do and makes you turn to things. I was seeing friends turn to alcohol and drugs. I knew that wasn’t for me. Thankfully, I was a creative person. I would draw and make my own clothes. I had an avenue to keep my mind off of things. I was just trying to figure out how to survive and not put myself in a bad place…I was taking care of everyone else and noticed that I was being a product of abuse. I had to do something. I had a gut feeling that it was time to take care of myself.”
  • On not being defined by your situation: “I always looked at the other young moms in my teen parenting class and said: ‘We can change this. We are in this situation now but it’s not the end of the world.’ We all graduated together and helped each other along the way taking care of each other’s babies…When I had my son, he came to all of classes with me. He slept under the table when I was finishing my courses senior year and I graduated as one of the top in my class. I knew I had to do it…When you’re in it, you’re in it. You have tunnel vision in those situations. I was with my baby and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to just work at a job to pay my bills. I knew there was more out there for me.”
  • On acts of kindness: “Walking down the halls with a giant belly, you get looks right away. People start to talk and treat you differently. That was really hard. I would go home depressed thinking that I shouldn’t go back to school. Having teachers treat me differently was probably what stung the most because they’re your teacher. They are supposed to help you regardless. Thankfully though, I had more of them who were there for me. Any time someone stepped forward and said, ’Hey, this is going to be okay,’ those were the moments that helped me move forward. I had a teacher who held my baby when I was taking a test. Its like Mr.Rogers says: Look for helpers. I definitely had a lot of people helping me. Small gestures like that showed that they were there for me and are what helped me get through. Even if they didn’t know how to help, they smiled or held my son. I don’t think I would have finished school if I didn’t have a support system…We can get through anything when we help each other; When we are all stepping up for each other in some way.”
  • On your voice as a source of strength: “There were also times when I had to stand up for myself. We forget that we have a voice and we need to use it. There were times when I had to. I think a lot of people expected me to sit there and be quiet, thinking, ‘You put yourself in this place. This is how we are going to treat you.’ Stepping up and using my voice, whether standing up for myself or voicing my concerns to teachers, was what changed things for me and helped me get through.”
  • On living life on your own terms: “When we opened Fabric Lab, I had to figure out what to do with my two kids. So, they came with me to the store every day. A lot of times people would ask: ‘Are you going to bring your babies with you?’ I said: ‘Yeah, I’m going to bring them with me. Whose going to watch them?’ When you love what you do, you have to step up and say: This is how it’s going to be. If you don’t like it, we can’t work together. I started really believing in the power of doing that. I knew I might lose a lot of potential clients or customers but at that  time I was like: This is what I have to do. We can get into a state of fighting with ourselves and creating more reasons of why we can’t do things, instead of finding the reasons and ways we can. Everyone was pretty supportive about it. I would meet with other owners in suits and there I was with my kids conducting a meeting and being asked to do something for a fashion show. That’s the amazing part of being an entrepreneur, you can remold how things look. That’s what I started doing and I still do it now. My son was sick and he came to Base Coat with me. It’s just how it is. Especially being a mom, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice what you love or sacrifice your family. I didn’t have kids so I can stop pursuing my dreams. They are part of my dreams. I have to really push that. It still happens now. I’ll be in a meeting with developers and investors and I’ll tell them I have to leave and go get my kids.”
  • On work-life integration, not balance: “Work life balance is not always possible. Some weeks my kids need me more and some days the business needs me. I use that mentality to be present and live in the now. Creating that has been really good for me and my family…We live in a world where work is glorified. It’s work, work, work all the time. I was doing that too. Then I realized that my family and my relationship with my husband was being sacrificed. My business is going to be there. Shit is going to hit the fan some days but we aren’t going to close because of it. If my kids are going through something where they need me, I have to put things on hold so I can take care of what is important. I want every one on our team to live like that and to say something if they don’t feel like they can.”
  • On setting and sticking to your own boundaries: “Life is about how we navigate it. You have to draw the line somewhere. We forget to do that. People are slowly people are starting to embody the self-care mentality. It’s not about going for a massage. Sometimes it’s just saying I’m going to sit here for an hour and watch TV, go to a movie by myself or just step away, go for a walk and turn off your devices so you can have that mental refresh. Creating boundaries has been really beneficial for me.”
  • On courage: “Courage is trying. Just try. The first step of saying: ‘I’m going to try this’ is courage. It’s hard because people get so complacent. When you know what to do but are afraid to take the next step, making the choice to do it is courage. Because you can do it. It’s going to be really hard to take that first step but the next step will be a little easier and the one after that will be too. That’s what I had to do. I was terrified when we opened our first store. We used all of our savings. We didn’t have any money but I knew we had to try. We ended up closing the store. Most people would see that as a failure but for me that was my first step to the next thing. I had a little more courage for the next time we tried something. Courage is taking the first step towards whatever you want to do, whether it’s opening a business, asking for a raise or exercising. It can be anything. The worst thing is that you’re going to fail and you’re going to learn from it or someone is going to say no and that really isn’t that bad.”
  • On eliminating the word easy: “Nothing that you love is ever going to be easy. I used to hope that Base Coat was going to get easier but it’s just gotten harder, in a different, more satisfying way. It’s more challenging but that’s what I need and I love it. That’s what all of us want. We want to be challenged and happy at the same time but we know that it’s going to be a lot of hard work…A lot of people who want to open a business need to know that ahed of time and remember that you have to sacrifice the word easy. It’s not going to be easy. Everything is hard and it just gets harder as your business grows…There are days when you don’t want to get out of bed. Some days courage and the will to keep moving forward diminishes a little bit. You have to keep getting up. We build our courage every day. It’s so hard sometimes but you have to keep moving. You built this. You have to see it through.”
  • On failing, not being a failure: “When bad things happen, the fear sets in that you built all of this and because of one situation you’ve failed; Something went so badly that none of the other stuff matters and you can’t do it anymore. It makes you feel like you’ve failed in all of your roles; parent, partner, founder. When we lost our partner at Base Coat it shifted my perspective. I learned that it’s just another wrench thrown in this life I’m trying to create. It was really hard but it was a time when I had to really dive deep into myself and say: ‘I did all of this work. This really shitty situation just happened. Should we close Base Coat?’ Because there was a time where I was like: ‘Do you really think this is still worth working at?’ The answer was yes. So, I kept pushing through even thought it was pretty painful. Every step I took, looking into people’s eyes and trying to be honest when them when inside I didn’t feel honest with myself. I didn’t know what we were going to do. People may see Base Coat as a successful brand but we still deal with failures and my internal failures. There are days when we just really sucked at doing something. It’s how you handle it. I realized: ‘We are going to fix this. This is not the end of the world. We aren’t saving lives. This is a nail salon.’ We need to remember that. Don’t let the fear stop you. I have definitely had times when I wanted to stop but I kept doing it because this is worth doing. My heart is in a good place right now. If you feel the same way, you just have to keep at it.”
  • On pausing: “I used to be so reactive to everything. If something happened, I’d be right on it. That definitely didn’t benefit me or the business. If I do something without actually pausing, stepping away from the situation to thoughtfully think about, it comes back and bites the business and me in the ass. Take that breather, even if it takes a couple of days. I have started doing that and being really thoughtful making my decisions. Sometimes I just tell people: ‘Hang on. I don’t know the answer right now. And, it may not be the right one when I figure it out but at least I will know that I made a good decision because I really thought about it and got help from other people who have gone through it.’ Reactive decisions don’t benefit us.”
  • On creativity and calmness: ‘When we were starting the Nordstrom partnership, I was asking myself: ‘How are we going to do this? How are we going to make it different from other nail salons doing similar work? How do we always stay ahead in this industry that we somewhat helped create?’ I remember just hitting a wall. I just stood there and was like: ‘I don’t think we’re going to do this right.’ I, of course, still have my insecurities thinking: ‘Why did they choose us?’ I look at all these other brands doing similar things and they’re amazing. They’re rockstars. I get those insecurities of: ‘Is our brand good enough? Our product?’ I hit this wall and it definitely made me realize that I didn’t know how to get out of that headspace. My husband asked me if I had taken a break, just taking a minute to sit down and think about how we can move forward and stay relevant. I realized that I hadn’t. I couldn’t even remember the last time I sat down and ate lunch. He told me I need to take an hour out of my day to just sit and sketch or write down my thoughts, watch a movie, or just let my mind go for an hour. So, I started meditating and using Headspace, listening to it while I am eating lunch and just sitting by myself. That has really energized my creativity because it gets me lost in my thoughts. I love being lost in my own thoughts and I hadn’t done that in a very long time. I think everyone needs to get lost in their thoughts because that’s where your best ideas come up or things that will help you in life. The next day you realize, Oh why didn’t I think of that?  That’s what I have been doing for my self-care ritual. Its good to get you hair and nails done but I honestly think this is more important.”
  • On presence: “For me, being present is just improving the relationships in my life with my husband, my kids and with whatever I am doing. I wasn’t being present at all. My mind was always on work or what the next step was or how we are going to pay our bills and all of the things that you go through. It’s real shit that you have to deal with and those things really take over. Just making my priorities different helped a lot..If I’m at work, I’m at work, I’m not thinking about a fight I had with my husband or an employee who is mad. I’m here right now. I’m going to take care of this right now. And then move on to the next thing. Before I was trying to put too much on my plate and felt pulled in so many different directions. I felt so overwhelmed and it broke me down. I felt like I just couldn’t do it. When you are pulled in so many directions, how else are you supposed to feel? At that point, I didn’t have any feelings. I had to stop that. Be in the moment you are in and truly be with the people you are with versus just being there and thinking about someone or something else. Sit down and listen to people. I know they took that time for me. So, I am going to take this time out for them. It’s like a partnership. Just being there and really helping them in the same way that they are helping you. I still feel pulled in a lot of different directions but I am minimizing it by stopping and just saying: ‘This is what I am going to do right now.’ I create that boundary.”