We sat down with the founder of Worthy Women & Brown Girls Rising, Audrey Bellis to talk about her journey. Audrey talks about how a broken engagement left her in a dark depression for 6 months and in debt 6 figures. She talks about how she was able to pull herself out of that dark period and how she came out on top. She talks about working with Nylon Español to create a podcast series called #BrownGirlsRising and how she got Amber Rose to be on her panel last year.
Jocelyn: So you went to school for Psychology?
Audrey: Yeah, my undergrad is in Psychology. I had a full academic ride. I graduated at the age of 20 — I was like the annoying overachiever in life.
Jocelyn: But look where it got you!
Audrey: Well, everything in life is a hustle. When I was in college I was like “Oh, if I take this class it will double count here and triple count here..” and I graduated at the age of 20 with my 4-year degree in an impacted major — that’s not one you’re supposed to finish early. And I worked full-time, 40 hours a week! I’m one of those people that says you can do anything, it’s just a matter of how you choose to prioritize things and how you’re smart about it. Everything in life is a racket — you can manipulate anything. So, I sat there thinking “I’m going to beat this system.” Quite frankly, that’s been the key to all of my success in everything that I’ve ever done. I think, what is the system and how can I beat it?
Jocelyn: You finished so early, and I feel that at 20 years old, people don’t really know what they want to do. What did you do?
Audrey: I’m one of those people that always knew what they wanted to be in life, I just needed to dominate the world, lol. The company that I was at — I had an opportunity to step up into a leadership role, so I went ahead and did that. I then got engaged to the very wrong person. We had big broken engagement that left me 6 figures in debt. I don’t recommend that. He was significantly older, and I really made some poor choices in that relationship.
Jocelyn: In hindsight, do you recognize that you were blinded by the relationship or situation?
Audrey: Oh, I absolutely was. I don’t think I ever wanted to marry him and I don’t think he ever really wanted to marry me. He looked at me and saw dollar signs and I looked at him and thought this was just the next thing you do in life. I went to school, I got the degree, I have the career. I was in my early 20’s banking a quarter million dollars a year. I was doing fantastic. Meeting the wrong person who was significantly older and very manipulative, I didn’t know any better. When everything fell apart and he had blown through all my money and I had no idea. I was getting letters from vendors telling me my checks had bounced. I was like, “What are you talking about? I have tons of money in that account.” But apparently, no I didn’t. The house that we purchased was under my name. He goes, “Let’s put it in your name for the first time homebuyer credit for you, Audrey.” But it was because he didn’t want me to know his financial situation or to be attached to any of the debt. It was a very complicated relationship and an abusive one. It was a very unhealthy relationship, and when I walked away I was like — I couldn’t understand how for somebody who was so smart, how did I end up here? And then I realized that I was doing everything for the wrong reasons. I just thought this was the next step in life and this person just came along and asked me. I was modeling an idea I had of what a relationship should look like, which is something similar to my parents who have an amazing relationship. The older I get, I truly respect and really want that for myself. I went through a major depression, I crawled into bed for 6 months at my parents house and I could not get out of bed. It took me a really long time to get back on my feet, pay off that debt and rebuild my life. I am so grateful for all those experiences, because every single thing that I had been through has led me to today. I would not have the things that I do today, had I not been through that. And that’s not to say that you should give pain a purpose. But you should trust the journey that you are on. When things feel hard, there’s a reason it’s hard. It’s pushing you to your own limits, so you can know yourself.
Jocelyn: In every situation, you should be asking yourself — what do I need to learn from this?
Audrey: Yes! I often tell people that I lived like this Shawshank Redemption style experience — in the end when he goes “I swam through a river of shit to come up clean on the other side.” That’s how I feel! I went through some shit and I literally came out clean on the other side. Redeemed, better than ever and proud. A lot of people are like — oh, I wouldn’t talk about those things and I’m like — why? I have nothing to hide. I went through some shit and you know what? I wouldn’t have gone through those things, had there been people in my life to tell me I was making wrong choices. You are making choices that are unhealthy and deconstructive. Nobody in my life, when I was going through that depression, came to me and said that it wasn’t normal that I had been in bed for 6 months and that I had stopped paying bills. Everyone was like — oh, it’s Audrey, she’s just going through a phase. She’s going to get over this, she always bounces back. Nobody knew how to help me, because I was so damn self-sufficient and independent.
Jocelyn: So how did you get yourself out of that depression?
Audrey: Two things happened — my dog, Tapatio and Brene Brown. Brene Brown had this TedTalk that hadn’t gone quite viral, yet. It was about shame and perfectionism. I saw that TedTalk and I thought, omg this is my problem. I thought I did everything perfect and I did it right, but it didn’t work out, so therefore I must not be worthy of love and belonging. And I go — no, that’s not true. 12 minutes changed my life and at the end of talk I decided I would call my insurance and book an appointment for a therapist. That same day I got out of bed and I went out into the living room and my dad was like, “oh hello.” And I said, I want to get out of the house, and he looked at me, ‘cause I had literally not gotten out of the house for 6 months, my mom said I was hiding in my cueva. I didn’t see people. I could not function. I was taking sleeping pills at the time, my mom was counting them to make sure I wasn’t overdosing. All I wanted to do was sleep and not exist — and I was, quite frankly, suicidal. Looking back at it now I recognize that I had a lot of suicidal thoughts, like what if I just don’t wake up tomorrow? It wouldn’t matter. It was very heavy. I got out of bed and I told my dad I was in the mood for Tam’s fries and he was like “Yes! Let’s go get fries.” We walked out of the front door and it was around 8pm and this little tiny ass Chihuahua runs up to me. We asked the neighbors if the Chihuahua belonged to them and everyone said no. He was starving, he was very skinny and all his bones were showing. I hate little dogs and dogs don’t really like me, either. But he ran right into my arms and I just turned around and walked back into the house with the dog and we never even got the fries. I bathed him, and then my parents wouldn’t let me not keep him. That dog brought me back to life. I always say Tapatio may have been lost that day, but I was the one who was found. He’s still alive! That dog is my world. He truly saved me.
Jocelyn: Timing is so crazy. What are the odds that the day you decided to leave, he finds you? So you that day really changed your life.
Audrey: That was a pivotal point. I decided to take inventory of my life. I treat life kinda like an AA program, despite the fact that I haven’t been to AA, but I don’t know, maybe I should. I do drink a lot of wine. So I started making an inventory of where my debt was owed and how I had to pay it, paying it down, I made a spreadsheet, rebuilt my credit and started my business. I owned an online boutique called The Bella Bambino, which I later sold. I figured out how much money I had to make per day to pay off my debt. I couldn’t afford to pay someone to build a website for me, so I stayed up at night and taught myself how to code so I could build my own website. I didn’t have a store front, so I had to do everything online and I got really good at social media. I twitter-stalked people, I had to cold call. I had no shame, I just knew I needed to move on from point A to point B. I needed to really clean up shit in my life. I even had a celibate year and I wrote about this in HuffPost, I did not date or have sex for over a year while I built my business and rebuilt my life. I didn’t hang out with my friends, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to see people. I just wanted to get rid of the baggage. I felt that I couldn’t jump into a relationship carrying the same shit that I have been dragging along with me and it needed to go. The only way I knew I was going to do that was be by myself and focus without distraction. Friends would say things like “the best way to get over somebody is to get under somebody.” Or they would ask to go out for drinks and chismosas telling me they were there for me, but wanted to know what I was going through. I took a very isolated year, it was actually more like 15, but it was transformative.
Jocelyn: I know a lot of women struggle with not being able to be completely single. How were you able to just be single?
Audrey: I’m not a co-dependent partner. I didn’t feel unfulfilled, I think people that need to be in relationships are people that are very unfulfilled in their own lives and are looking for someone to complete them. Only you can complete you. I focused more importantly on the relationship I had with myself. And I’ll tell you what — the next serious relationship I had was with somebody that was in my life for three years. I call him Big (Sex and The City reference). I think what ends up happening is, at least for me, Big came into my life because he was so attracted by who I had become. He got to see a lot of this journey. He saw me build my eCommerce business, he saw me sell it, he saw me start StartUp DTLA, Grid110 and two projects with the mayor’s office. In fact, I started Worthy Women when he and I ended our involvement in each other’s lives. I distinctively remember reading this article by Brian Reeves, who is a relationship coach and lifestyle blogger. The title was “ Choose Her Every Day (Or Leave Her)” and I read that and I turned to Big and said — It’s not that you’re not choosing me every day, it’s that I’m not choosing myself in this relationship. It felt very much like my broken engagement towards the end. I said the relationship I need to work on is with myself. So, I started Worthy Women because I wanted to know what it meant. I said, I must not feel so worthy of love and belonging if I’m still repeating these same mistakes in my life. So really, I started Worthy Women from my own issues, things that I had passions about. I wanted to explore — they say that to teach is to learn, and I needed to learn. Here we are, Worthy Women is about to have the 2 year anniversary of our first event. It has brought me to a life that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams. I’m in a relationship now with somebody that is the man of my dreams. I truly feel that he was brought to me — this is somebody that has seen my whole journey, but more importantly he has seen the woman I’ve become and he’s attracted to who I am. He came out of left field, I would have never realized that, that would have been a relationship that I would be in, if you would have asked me a year ago today. When you truly focus on yourself and you lift your vibrations, somebody else’s higher vibration is waiting for you. You have to have trust in that.
Jocelyn: Going back to Worthy Women — I love that you said you started it when you didn’t feel worthy.
Audrey: People tell me all the time, you must feel so worthy ‘cause you just talk about worthiness all the time. That’s not true, I am no different than anyone else. I guarantee you at least once a week I’m crying in my office. At least once a week I self-doubt and think why am I doing this? Am I doing the right thing? I have bad days, I have good days. I have a great support system in my life who are very proud of me, but don’t they don’t really get what I do. My mom tells me – I don’t know, mija. What do you call what you do? I tell people you play on Twitter. And I go — that’s not what I do! I do real things, lol. I tell my mom I do a lot of motivational speaking for corporate companies and she goes — ay mija, les estas vendiendo aire — you know selling pipe dreams. I’m like no, this is real psychological things, mom! (lol) She tells me — Mija, that sounds like something white people pay for. Those things make me wonder #1 Mom, you can’t say that and #2 am I really making an impact in the world? The truth is I know that I am. because I hear it from my audience members. I’ve said this many times before, but worthiness is a very heavy word. You literally cannot use the word worthy without wondering how it applies to you. Secondly, no one can tell you why they are worthy, until they’ve told you about a time when they weren’t, which means we hear a lot of shame stories. Most people’s sense of unworthiness stems from some type of trauma that has happened when somebody told them they weren’t enough. They felt unworthy of love and belonging in some way. They abuse themselves to numb or have been abused by others. Often times, sexual abuse is a very big reason for where people’s addictions come from and how they numb. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from Worthy Women audiences members tell me they went to an event and have since gotten sober — they made the decision to change their lives. They’re now living a sober life without shame and they can talk about how they use to numb because they didn’t feel enough. I listen to that and I see that and I just sit here and go — I am making a difference. I think everyone is in need of a 12 step program, because they’re truly is a sense of people that have to overachieve, because they don’t feel enough in life. They’re not just happy, they’re always seeking something more.
Jocelyn: I was just talking to Zaida about how my mom would always tell me my brother was the ‘smart one’ and I was the funny one. So I grew up thinking I wasn’t smart and it wasn’t until someone was like — man, you’re smart! and I was like ‘I am?’ But I know she didn’t mean to be malicious.
Audrey: It’s and internalized belief and I think with parents, here’s something I’ve really learned with my own, you’re parents truly love you the only way that they know how. She didn’t mean to inflict trauma. It’s probably all that she knows because that how she was raised and she thinks she’s doing the right things. For us as adults and who we are in our lives, our job is to learn better, to expand out horizons, and to no do that to our children. We need to educate when you hear that, ‘Okay thank you for saying that’ or ‘I understand why you said that, but that can be shaming.’ I’ve had those conversations with my mom, where she’ll say something off-hand and I’ll have to turn to her and say, ‘Mom that’s really shaming to me. When you say that, here’s how I feel. Here’s how I internalize this. Please don’t say those things or maybe you’re trying to say x, y, z, here’s a better way that you can say that that’s a more effective way of communication. She hates that. I try not to be not so subtle and give her psychology. That kills her. I think for me, the older I get I have to be more aware of that and not internalize it, but also how do you educate around you to say ‘that’s not okay to say.’
Jocelyn: During your journey, did you ever think of getting a 9 to 5?
Audrey: No. Never. I’ve always been unemployable. I look at my life and I think I can . . . I honestly look at the world and think there’s nothing I cannot achieve. I have been through shit like you would not believe and I have always come out on top because I know myself and I know my determination. I have made dollars out of 15 cents over and over and over again and I sit here and go ‘that hustle is deep’ and why would I build that for somebody else, when I can build that for myself. I’m at a point where, unless something very different changed in my life and I absolutely had to and there’s nothing wrong with a 9 to 5. I think it’s the attitude that you bring to the world and how you show up in it. I knew for me I very much needed to feel like I was in charge I suppose. I had natural born leadership skills and those where things where I felt more comfortable and so why not create an environment for myself where I’m going to thrive?
Jocelyn: How did you let go of feeling like you have to do everything and allow yourself to delegate some of the work?
Audrey: I still struggle with it. You don’t ever get away form that. I am a total control freak and I have a little bit of OCD. It drives my boyfriend crazy. I’m very clean. I’m very particular. I color code my closet by season, by style and by color. It looks like the container store exploded in my life. I’m very anally particular and that’s helped me in a lot of business things, but it’s also been my downfall. My sense and need for control . . . and here’s where my sense of control comes from. Here’s a psychological fact for you: People that need to control things, control more and more because they feel out of control on the inside. So they have to control things outwardly. Recognizing that in my team, when I’m being overly controlling and micromanaging it’s because I feel out of control on the inside. So how do I self-check? I do that through daily practice, daily meditation, I go to daily mass. I really have to check in with myself and ask myself constantly, ‘Am I doing this because this needs to be done or am I doing this because I can’ let go?’ Letting go means finding the right people and training them. You have to teach people how to do this and trust that you’ve taught them and that they can do it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some people that you can’t teach because they just can’t do it. There’s a difference between having the skill set. I think you can’t teach people enthusiasm. You can’t teach people work ethic, either they have it or they don’t. It has to be people that believe what you believe and want to further that mission. I’ve made very poor hiring choices and I’ve made some great ones. You just learn with it. When you make a bad decision, just don’t keep making the bad decision. Don’t keep investing in mistakes. Once you realize it’s not working, cut it. I had a mentor tell me this. He goes, ‘Why do you want to keep investing in the same mistake Audrey? Do you enjoy throwing away money?’ And I was like ‘No you’re right.’ And that applies with all things. When people don’t work in your life, cut it. No fucks given! Ask yourself, ‘Am I investing in the same mistake over and over?’ And once it was framed to me that way I was like, ‘No I’m unwilling to invest in the same mistakes.’
Jocelyn: What are your morning rituals?
Audrey: I get up at 4 a.m. I’m a morning person, always have been. I do a daily message form a course in miracles. I read my lesson of the day. I meditate. I go to yoga. I go to daily mass. I walk to the office. I start my day. I start my east coast stuff. By the time the girls come into the office it’s about 9:30 – 10 a.m., now we do our west coast things. My day wraps around 4 p.m. I typically have evening events and speaking engagements. I’m probably on the microphone 2-3 times a week. Those take me until 8:30-ish p.m. Even my own events for the Worthy Women half-day summits, our after-party is from 5-7 p.m. so that I have time to get home and be in bed by 8:30 p.m. That’s why they are so early because I don’t do late nights, EVER! I mean sometimes I do, but I’m not a late night person.
Jocelyn: When and why did you move to Downtown L.A.?
Audrey: I’ve been in downtown for six years. I’ve worked in downtown, I’ve lived in downtown. Downtown for me is the place that made me. I always say Long Beach raised me, but downtown raised me. We talked earlier about how I love hustle. I love it! Downtown is a big racket. Everyone’s got their hustle. They’re trying to sell you calsetines (socks) on the corner. They’re trying to sell you paletas (popsicles). Everybody has a hustle in downtown and I love that. My office is on the 16th floor of the Wells Fargo south tower, overlooking full downtown. I can see everything . . . I’m on Bunker Hill so I’m on the middle of the tall building and I look around and I just see inspiration. Somebody thought to build that. Somebody wanted this and I look at that and think there is so much more to build and conquer. I love that I get to be a part of that and shape that. I mean I’ve shaped that through Start Up DTLA, through work with the mayor’s office. I feel like I make a direct impact on my community not just through Worthy Women, but through economic development and the companies I bring to downtown and the people I help get funding for, or people I’ve placed in office space. I’ve placed over 200,000 square feet of office space in the last year and I’m not a broker. So for me, the hustle has always attracted to me to downtown. I don’t ever want to leave downtown, but I think at some point when I get married and have kids I’ll need more space.
Jocelyn: Do you think it’s essential for creatives to be surrounded by other creatives?
Audrey: Yes because you need people who are going through the same things you are to help you thrive, who understand your struggles and your successes and to centralize the allocation of resources. If you’re in a place where no other creative’s are, it makes no sense for people who provide products and services to creatives to service them. So you’ll be like well all my stuff is really far away. People naturally seek like-minded communities, so it’s our job to create that. Downtown especially is a tech-hub. We’re the second largest capital in the U.S. We’re the second largest civic presence outside of Washington D.C. We’re the fastest growing metro system in the U.S. Downtown alone has 6 million square feet of empty class A office buildings in just the high rises, which could house Skid Row 42 times over. I sit there thinking these are all empty with fiber internet coming out of One Wilshire, which is the largest fiber internet on the west coast. It’s the major data-hub and it’s all right here in downtown.
Jocelyn: How did your partnership with Nylon for the Brown Girls Rising podcast come about?
Audrey: I pulled that out of my ass in a meeting. So I’m going to back up to Chrismakkah 2016. Christmas and Hanukkah overlapped for the first time on Dec. 25th right and I’m mixed and I come from an interfaith family . . . and I’m listening to Too Short and one of my favorite songs “Gettin It” comes on Pandora and he has this line in there that goes ‘I’m one on a million, Black men rising. Try to keep me down, but I always surprise them,’ and It sat there like ‘I’m a brown girl rising. I fuckin surprise people keeping me down’ and by then Drake’s “Fake Love” is my anthem for life and I was like alright then so I texted Ivette, who used to work with us she’s no longer with the company, but I said, ‘What do you think of when you hear brown girls rising?’ and she says, ‘Me.’ And I said ‘That’s right, we’re brown girls.’ So I sat on it, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it and then we had an opportunity to meet Marty Preciado, who’s the Editor-In-Chief of Nylon Espanol and we’re sitting in this meeting we’re talking about how we could collaborate or work together and do some Worthy Women stuff, PR for me to be in the magazine, to do a photoshoot and for her to highlight Worthy Women and I turn to her out of nowhere and I go how about a podcast. How about I do a podcast called Brown Girls Rising and I’m going to feature the stories of brown women, feminist women, taking positive action. I want to tell elevated stories because the march had just happened and I pointed out to her people marched, but now what? I said let’s do something about it and I said, ‘Do you want to be my media partner?’ And Ivette is looking at me like she’s going to fucking cut me. She’s like, ‘Why are you adding more work onto this? We’ve never done a podcast. We don’t even know what we’re doing.’ And I just pulled this out of my ass and Marty goes, ‘Yeah that sounds like a great idea. Lets do it. Send me a proposal.’ I sent her a proposal. She agreed to it and I went, ‘Oh shit I guess I have to find a podcast bay . . . We committed to doing 40 episodes. I’m literally one studio appointment away from wrapping my last episode and I’ll be done for the year and we’re in June. It’s been incredible we’ve had the opportunity to sit with Lila Downs, that’s coming up and special guest, one of my favorite people that we’ve loved to work with Ms. Amber Rose ‘The Muva.” We’re doing something with her this year and she’s going to guest host on Brown Girls Rising with some of her very special guests related to big project that we’re going to announce. I’m very excited to be doing more with Amber Rose and she’s launching her first women conference in attachment with the Slut Walk and yours truly will be the emcee for the event. Amber Rose has been an incredible resource for us, a believer when we were nobody and I’m very grateful to her and her continued support. This just goes to show you that you can do anything . . . I’m telling you people hijas de la revolucion! You can do anything you just have to be willing to go out and get it and I do that. I literally cold call every day for two hours. I make my list. I reach out to my partners. You just have to keep asking. People are going to say no, but at some point they’re going to start to say YES. And when they do, you figure out why they said yeas and you keep getting more of those.
Jocelyn: So there where times when you weren’t getting any yes’s?
Audrey: Oh yeah, we go weeks with no’s. Last Friday I closed a big national deal. Southwest Airlines now sponsors worthy women. They are flying me to all my events and my team. There were weeks and weeks where I was getting no, no, no. The Women’s March is a national partner for me and we’re about to drop that announcement coming up for our Chicago Worthy Women event. Our audiences are probably going to scale to a thousand-plus people per event versus 350 like we had in this last one . . . I was an influencer at South by Southwest where I interviewed Farrah Abraham for MTV. I’ll tell you there is nobody that isn’t worthy of a redemption story and Farrah has a very interesting one and I really like what she’s done with her life and how she’d turned her world around. She’s sober and even hearing her story and I sit there and she’s reached out about doing Worthy Women stuff . . . They aired my entire interview with her so for me that was a big deal. It’s not enough about you being open to opportunities, you’ve got to go out and create them. It’s a little bit of both, you’ve got to create them and you have to be open to what may come your way.
Jocelyn: What are your future dreams?
Audrey: For anybody listening, I want to be on Super Soul Sunday. I want to talk to Oprah about worthiness and Worthy Women. At some point for Worthy Women Media, we would like to see a digital platform where we are able to share the content across all the pillars Worthy Finance, Worthy Relationships, Worthy Weddings, Worthy Business – all the things that we can talk about where it is a constant stream of that type of rhetoric and not just from my point of view, but from other people’s point of view. I think that’s incredibly important for both diversity and inclusion . . . just like you’re doing with this show, which is incredibly powerful.
Jocelyn: What is the most important thing you’ve manifested?
Audrey: Worthy Women because I said I wanted to know what it means to be a woman of worth. That was the question I asked myself and I said well I’m going to go figure that out. I’m in the process of publishing a book called “Dirty to Worthy” and my publisher was on me about building an audience and I said why don’t I call it Worthy Women because that’s the question I’m asking myself and Dirty to Worthy is my hashtag that I use for me and my own redemption story, but maybe that’s applicable to other people. When I did the first event it went viral and I kept doing it and people kept coming, with now marketing or advertising by the way. That’s just Eventbrite, Facebook and my email list. Every time I walk into Worthy Women events or experiences I’m always incredibly humbled. There’s one particular photo of me standing in the front and it’s a sea of women and I’m giving opening remarks and I cried when I saw that photo because I thought I don’t know when I became this woman, but I am so proud of her because I often still se myself as the girl the girl who’s spending six months in bed who cant quite cope with life anymore. And I sit there and go, I don’t know when I became this woman, or when this happened but I looked at that and I was humbled by that.
Thank you for reading!
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