Your mistakes don’t define you. In fact, they are essential for self-discovery and success. They teach you a lot and help you grow. Having seen the bottom and climbed her way back up, Melissa Houston shares how she concealed $100k in personal debt from her husband, and bounced back both personally and financially. Now she is a financial strategist who helps entrepreneurs grow from 6-figure to 7-figure businesses. Stay tuned and learn how you can leverage your mistakes to achieve your financial dreams.
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Leveraging Mistakes For Self-Discovery And Success With Melissa Houston
We have an outstanding interview, a Forbes article contributor who has her own column. She has vast knowledge about serving entrepreneurs from accounting, CFO, and planning. We are going to be talking and celebrating Women’s History Month and how she got here, not just what skillsets she acquired over a lifetime of awesome service to entrepreneurs. We will do a deep dive into the path of female entrepreneurs in exercising and claiming that special place they have in the world.
We have a special guest and we are celebrating Women’s History Month. We are celebrating women becoming forces of nature in every area of life, especially finances. My guest, Melissa Houston, is with us. She has got more credentials and three-letter sets of the alphabet that I have seen in a very long time. As you know how this goes with my guest, it is not what you have become, Melissa. It is how you became her. Let everybody know who you are now, and we will talk about how we’ve got here.
My name is Melissa Houston. I am a CPA and a Financial Strategist for CEOs. What that means is I help business owners increase their profit margins so they keep more money in their pocket and ultimately increase their net worth. I also am the host of The Business Society podcast and a columnist at Forbes.com.
Yes to all of that but when you and I were talking, me, finding out a little bit more about you, where did you start as a younger woman? Let’s say in your late teens, early twenties, college or whatever that path started as, what was your initial engagement? What did you want to do in the world? Very few of us ended up where we thought we wanted to start. Tell us a little bit about your mindset and heart set as you are a younger woman and you are beginning your journey.
When I graduated high school, I always wanted to be a social worker. I did a social worker program. That was my first career. I worked in that field for six years and realized that if I wanted to have a family and raise kids and stuff, that was a high burnout career to have a life outside of social work. I was like, “I have no idea what I want to do now,” because I always wanted to help people in any capacity.
By way of what my grade ten teacher told me, she thought I was very promising in business, so I ended up going into a business program for lack of anything or any other direction I had. While I was in the business program, I had to choose a major and I had zero ideas about what I wanted to do. I looked at my dad and said, “What do you think is a good idea?” He is like, “Accounting is a good idea.” I ended up going into accounting.
What all of us dads want is something that is dependable, faithful, and makes sure that there is security, and long-term so that our little girls are taken care of.
My dad was no different. That is exactly what he wanted and he thought this was practical. He was like, “You can get your CPA with this,” so off I went. As I started studying and getting into the field and work experience, I enjoyed it. I am a cerebral type of person. I am social but I am cerebral. I enjoyed what I was learning. I could see how it could apply to so many situations and how valuable the skills were that I was gaining because accounting is not just about debits, credits, and bookkeeping. There is more you can do with it.Help people in any capacity. You always have something to contribute. Click To Tweet
I love strategy planning and helping people with understanding their business finances. Working in public accounting, corporate finance, and all the places that I have worked, I have got vast work experience. One thing that I noticed that was so common was that there was a lack of business finance knowledge, whether I was working with project managers or business owners, there was a lack there. At some point, I knew I wanted to go into business for myself. As early as 2004, I was like, “When I go into business, I am going to help business owners understand their business finances,” and I was adamant about that because I could see the value and there was a huge gap.
You are an entrepreneur serving small businesses and then soon medium businesses in this process, right?
At that time, I was not. I was employed. I was not an entrepreneur but serving entrepreneurs, project managers, and such. I knew I wanted to have that entrepreneurial journey. I had kids and felt the timing was not right. There were all sorts of excuses as to why I would not start this journey but in, not starting that journey, I ended up getting myself into a ton of trouble. We are going to touch on that a little bit. Throughout my working career up until about a few years ago, I was employed.
Let’s get into the triggers in this corporate journey. As you said, until a few years ago, it was corporatey. You still were serving the market you always wanted to serve and you are just under the umbrella of an organization. I can’t call anything in life a negative experience because it is always bundled with some opportunity and transformation. For every new limitation, there is a new freedom. Tell me what some of those triggers were or what some of those face plants were where you fall on your face or you are like, “What the hell did I just do?”
I love how you said that with every failure or mistake, there is a learning opportunity. Since it is Women’s National Month, I am going to relay a little bit of this story too, where there were a lot of the male leaders who were difficult to deal with.
Do not put it around this and say, “There is a bias, prejudice, anti, and misogyny in the space.”
They tick me off.
I am a single White older male. I am the man. If I say it, I will add legitimacy to it.
A lot of them have proven to be very difficult and God forbid you would know something that they had not thought of or what have you. Generally, being bored and limited to what I was working on and what I was pursuing trapped me into a career that felt very misappropriate. As I mentioned, I am very social. I like to help people.
That is a huge part of who I am. Being an accountant working in cubicles, small offices or whatever I have worked in over the years, being that person behind the desk who is looking at the numbers, spreadsheets, and interpreting, that was all fine and dandy but without the social aspect of the job, it was very limiting to me. I knew I was not pursuing my life’s purpose but because I had kids, a good job, responsibilities at home, financial obligations, and all sorts of reasons, I chose not to pursue that entrepreneurial feeling that I had within me and that desire to go out, do something, challenge myself, and be happy.
Readers, how many of us have found that same experience? How many of you were experiencing that, where there is a deep unsettled experience that you may be having as a result of not reaching your highest potential as you see it, not setting a new bar or not leveling up because of the obligation? I do not want to miss this point that you are not alone.
I know among our readers, there are innumerable amazing, talented women, full of grace and goodness who have not walked the plank yet. They have not said, “I am out here all on my own doing my best.” You are saying some insanely vital things that speak to the heart and the soul of so many women.
At that point, I was back there with those women who were not doing it. Hindsight is always 20/20. A few years ago, I went into this spending spree from hell.
Was it retail therapy?
It was retail therapy gone beyond. I blew through $100,000 worth of credit and hit about half of that for my husband. It was big trouble. As I said, hindsight is 20/20. At the time, I knew what I was doing was wrong. I am a CPA and educated in all things finances. I knew exactly how much interest expense I was paying and carrying this enormous amount of debt. I knew the pain I was causing in the relationship, although my husband did not know it at that time. I was concealing it and it was so wrong on many levels. Everything had to come to the surface. I’ve got busted and had to deal with the consequences.
Tell us about that moment of truth because we all have secrets. Some of us, while we are struggling with our pain or the dissonance inside of us, sometimes do things. It does not have to be necessarily financial. It could be extramarital relationships or we are not showing up in our jobs. There are all kinds of ways that our dissonance shows up. Tell us about what was happening before you got caught or in that process of the revelation and coming to terms with, “That was no bueno.”We can make huge mistakes, but they do not define us. Click To Tweet
I felt like I should be okay and felt like I was being ungrateful for wanting more but I was bored and I wanted more. I was not being true to myself, so the bad behavior came out.
“I am going take it out on you, Nordstrom.”
That is exactly what happened and you realize that that buzz lasts for so long, and then you up the ante.
Let’s look at that because of boredom, the internal dissonance that you are unsettled in your own heart and soul. Readers, how many of us feel that what we are trying to solve that ugly feeling or not showing up does not even have to be ugly, that we are not being all of who we can be? We do not realize the human being that we were designed to be, so we take it out on family, friends, credit cards or everybody because we are not feeling okay.
It is the worst thing you can do to yourself. I love sharing this story with you because clearly, you get it. The reason I share this story is so I can help others who are feeling this way or have gotten themselves in this position so that they understand that we are not defined by our mistakes. We can make huge mistakes as I did. I was very embarrassed at the beginning to share my story, especially thinking, “What are people going to think? What are my colleagues going to think?”
It is the shame that we fear or feel when we have been coloring so far outside the lines.
What happens is it makes us relatable. If you can help one person with the story, it is worth sharing. As you said, the best thing about this huge, phenomenal mistake that I made is I’ve got the best lessons out of it. It was a very expensive lesson.
It is a Harvard education expense. What are the new opportunities, new a-has, realizations, and epiphanies that you have had as a result?
When I realized the reason why I had put myself in that situation and it was from the boredom of my life, in wanting more, and how I was holding myself back from becoming that entrepreneur, taking that leap of faith, and knowing that what I had to offer the world was valuable, that is the huge lesson I’ve got from it. By not being true to myself, the only person I was hurting was myself. Overspending, overeating or whatever the case may be, you are only damaging yourself and maybe some loved ones around.
It is self-destructive. We talk about finances and what we call fundability. There are borrow behaviors that the credit bureaus, FICO, lenders, and all measure to see if they should invest in us with loans, etc. We help borrower behavior. Those behaviors do not stop with our relationship with money. It is what behaviors we have that cause distress in ourselves, loved ones, team members, and employers. What is the distress that is going on that we are acting out? Ultimately, they all reveal that wild, disconcerted, painful internal experience we are having.
The great thing is these behaviors can be changed. Once I realized that by not being true to myself, I wanted to get out, start my own business, do the things that make me happy, and feel fulfilled in my career. I went for it 100%. I was all in. It was like a switch that flipped. I was like, “I am done pretending I am somebody I am not and I am going for it.” By being true to myself, I lost the feelings of boredom, those bad habits of turning to the internet and shopping mindlessly to make myself feel better or looking in the fridge to see if there is any sign of a miracle solution.
My emotions at that time were like a banquet table of fine cuisine. I was just eating.
We are all human. It all happens to us. When I went 100% in, which I did pretty much immediately, I have been in business for a few years now. I have accomplished a lot of things that I am proud of within those few years. One of the things I learned and had to do was feel the fear but do it anyway. Many of us get caught up in that fear and it holds us back from doing things in our business, and I am like, “I feel it for a second and I am still going for it.” It is never going to go away.
It is the dilemma of getting on that wild rollercoaster. We put on to the rollercoaster way more anxiety than the rollercoaster ultimately gives us. We are looking at it going, “That is wicked. I do not know if I want to do that,” but then most of us, when we get off the ride, we are like, “Do it again.” It is our ideas about the future, breaking out of the corporate world, and creating a life we love. The anxiety associated may be way less painful than what it is. This has happened the last couple of years, and you did it in the middle of COVID.
It is right at the beginning of COVID. We are in a pandemic. I had nothing to measure my success against, so it was good.
You are like, “This is the world as it is. We might as well go for it.” We have a lot of young entrepreneurs, college-age, etc. I’ve got nothing against accountants. It is an amazing experience for some personality types. You are literally built for it but most fathers are not built to send their daughters out into the wild entrepreneurial world right out of high school.If you can help one person with your story, then it's worth sharing. Click To Tweet
Those daughters or those young women count on us to at least give them a full-colored palette to paint with. Not moms or dads, or the school counselor like in your case. If you were somebody’s coach and their dad told him to become an accountant, what would you coach a young college-age woman who is exploring or not even exploring but going down a beaten path that she thought that she needed to follow?
That is such a great question because I have that daughter. She finished her first year of college. She is not loving it. She is confused and doesn’t know what to do. I see an entrepreneurial spirit in that kid and I have seen it since she was young but I also believe in the value of getting educated first because you will always have something to back up on and try different things. I keep telling her, “You are eighteen. You do not need to know what to do for the rest of your life.”
There is no rush. There is no, “You have to go to school. Do the four years. Get your degree, go get some job, and do that for the rest of your life.” That is not the way the world is built these days. The advice I offer her and what I would advise anybody is to get that foundation and educational credential in place. I know that in this day and age, it is absolutely not necessary but that is part of the old school, to have something to fall back on. Enjoy the process of trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do because who you are now is not going to be who you are 10 or 20 years down the road. It is never too late to change your course or direction. I am in my late 40s and I started my business a few years ago.
That was one of the things that I am inspired by as I am getting to know you and going through this process. It is never too late. A human nature that I want to bring up because it feels like you are the poster child like I am. You are the poster child for this process. Remember, many of us learn and discover who we are by learning who we are not first. We ping something and we would be like, “No, not that. I am not a Bohemian or accountant.”
What remains is, “This feels comfortable that I am not these things but I feel that I am this.” Your life represents that to a significant degree. Defining who we are not and then embracing who we are. You are in your late 40s and you are embracing and taking all your skills. I noticed your new entrepreneurial path does not, for one second, miss out on all of your life experiences. You get to implement all of it.
I want us all to be aware that gathering more knowledge and experience is always going to serve every single thing we do. What would you tell these young women who are looking at their life as though it is not going to pass in a blink of an eye? Oscar Wilde said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” What would you share with them?
If you are going down that entrepreneurial path and you want to start your own business, there is some business advice that I would share as well. One is don’t chase shiny objects. Once you figure out what you want to offer, you do not need five million different courses that are offered on the internet. What you need to do is get that offer out there and start making money on it. Get that money coming in so that you can manage your money well. In managing your business finances, you will create wealth.
The best way to create wealth for people is to start their own business but first, get that money coming in the door. Second, know how to manage your money. Third, do not spend more than what you are bringing in. As I mentioned, there are tons of shiny objects out there and you may think you need all the marketing and messaging.
This person has got this course and you end up spending $100,000 on online courses. Do not do that. Buy things as you can afford them. Take that money or profit that you are earning in your business and reinvest it for growth. Do not expect everything to happen at once. It is not going to come at once. It takes time to build a business.
One of my favorite questions, especially when I am interviewing women is, what would you tell the men in the life of an aspiring woman who is looking to create and do more for themselves?
Be supportive and know that women can do as much as you can or more.
For the women in my life, I am going to say more. You are still married, so what happened? How did your husband support that experience when you were caught? How did that resolve? What does support look like when the loved one or your husband is struggling with this experience?
When we talked about the debt and he found out about it, he was extremely disappointed in me and angry. I am not going to downplay his emotions whatsoever and he rightfully so. The saving grace was that we always had a very strong relationship and we communicated. We had financial goals when we got married and worked towards them.
That one year, I veered off course, which did a lot of damage. He knew that that was not who I was. That is where I was very lucky because he knew me well enough to know that clearly, something was going on or he would not have put us in this position. I was not allowed to spend. Normally, I would not say that because I would be like, “No man is going to tell me what I am going to spend.”
That is the partnership, so it doesn’t matter if it is 2 men, 2 women, a man, and a woman, as a partner, one showed bad behavior, they get to be on a consequence list.
I believe that he took my credit cards away and was monitoring everything that came into the house.By not being true to yourself, you will only end up hurting yourself. Click To Tweet
Reading between the lines, you did not experience that as controlled by a man. That was a partner saying, “Little lady, we’ve got some challenges that confront us as a team and we need to aright this ship and now you are on the consequence list.”
“You did this. It is time to fix it and this is not going unnoticed.” It took a while to rebuild that trust but we are still in a good place. CNBC had interviewed us in February 2022 and they asked him. “How have you changed from it?” He was like, “I never check out all the finances again. I am always involved now.” It was a learning lesson for all of us. As we discussed, these big pain points bring in a lot of value. If anything, it brought us closer because we communicated a lot more and better about our financial goals.
What did support look like when you did that face plant and had those struggles?
When I was building the business and still do, my hours were not as long as they were in the beginning but he supported me by helping out with the kids, making dinners, cleaning the house, and stuff like that. It didn’t have to be all on my shoulders because I am the woman. It was a team effort. He recognized what I was doing that was bringing value to the household and he reciprocated by helping out in other ways. That, to me, was a huge support.
You read it here first, everybody. Melissa Houston, thank you for joining me on our show. The bullets of accomplishments do not tell the story of how we’ve got there. Thank you for being vulnerable with me and sharing what was a hardcore situation that many of us have run into or many of us who are having an internal battle about the value of our own lives and how we are going to manifest that value out into the world. Thank you for your story. Thank you for having those miserable times because it is going to bless the lives of my readers and women everywhere. It has been a pleasure, Melissa.
Thank you so much for having me. It has been such a fun talk.
You be well and be sure to read the next show. If you like, love, share, and comment, this is mad reinforcement of our tribe’s principle, “The heart of the matter creates the success of the matter.”
- Melissa Houston
- The Business Society
- CNBC – How these couples overcame financial infidelity, money secrets in their relationships – Interview