The #SHEIS section holds a really special place in my heart and I’m so excited to share it with you.
Starting a website is really freaking hard. Not because of the technical aspect (heck, I manage a ridiculously amazing wellness website for a living and I create websites for clients, I love the technical aspect – yes, I’m a total geek!!), not because of the financial aspect, or creating content or finding imagery. It’s really hard to have an idea and believe in yourself. It’s really hard to put yourself out there. I had this idea for For, She Is You for so long…I’m talking years, so long in fact that the original name I wanted to call it, got snapped up as a domain in that time I spent procrastinating, dang it. In reality, I wasn’t procrastinating for any other reason other than fear. I was so scared. I still am to be honest. I really struggle with believing in myself, and even though, thank goodness, I have an incredible support network of friends and family that remind me to, it ultimately comes down to me. And, that goes for you too – it comes down to you.
I created this because as girls, as women, we somehow believe and convince ourselves that we are not enough. We are not good enough, we are not smart enough, we are not beautiful enough. I mean, the list is endless. I know, because I am that exact girl. It’s really easy to look at other women and see their success and convince ourselves that we are not in fact special enough to even have something that even comes close. We look at other women and think their life is perfect. But you know what, this isn’t real. I wanted to shine the light on amazing women but to strip it back to the nitty gritty, ask real questions and hear their honest answers. To highlight that we are all the same. I wanted to start the conversation about kindness and build up a community of women supporting women.
One day last year (see, I still had to work up enough self-belief!) with a not-so-gentle nudge from my partner and friends who were sick of hearing me say it was something I wanted to do, I decided what the heck – no more wasting time – I need to just do this. It’s something I am so passionate about.
This interview coming up is incredibly dear to me and I wanted to launch with this one as it will always hold a very special place in my heart. Nikki was my first response back…I couldn’t believe that someone who didn’t even know me, took a chance and believed in me and what I was doing. Straight away, with no need to see the website, find out who else was on board or ask a gazillion questions…it was a big resounding YES. I can’t even tell you what that felt like and what it meant to me – I can still remember receiving it, because Nikki was in Australia and I live in LA she had sent it during my night and so I received it first thing in the morning. I nearly spat my coffee out everywhere. I was on cloud 9 and was literally jumping around the house, bursting with excitement. This amazing, successful, super busy woman said yes and believed in my project and what I was trying to achieve with this space. We scheduled a Skype meeting and all these months later, here it finally is. (Sorry Nikki for the delay!) So, without further adieu…here is the super inspiring Nikki. Her interview is full of wisdom, as we were talking I had goosebumps listening to her advice, stories and passion. She is one awesome lady and I am so excited for you to read and soak up every word. Plus, check out her cakes – to say she is creative is an understatement. They are next level!
NIKKI LEE // FOUNDER, UNBIRTHDAY BAKERY
One word you would use to describe yourself?
**Nikki asked me to come up with something for her, at the end of our interview. There are so many words that can describe Nikki, including driven, passionate and wise…but I went with CREATIVE**
‘Do things that have the least impact, least risk and assess. Do it, assess. Do it again, assess. And continue to do so.’
What would you tell your 15 – 18 – 21 year old self?
I think that even though the ages are really close, for kids they are very distinct ages and you expect different things of yourself at each of those ages. I think at 15, it was probably all about being socially accepted, boys, something like that haha. Probably, as a general bit of advice I would say just take your time and don’t rush. If it’s in context of a career; definitely take your time and don’t rush and really explore all the things that interest you and try and put those things in your life somewhere. They don’t necessarily have to be what you’re studying at school or at university but try to engage yourself somehow with those things. Have at least 3-5 things that you’re really interested in and if you’re trying to pigeonhole yourself into one thing, unless you’re really really clear that it’s your passion don’t worry about it, because I think when you’re younger you put so much pressure on yourself to figure out exactly what it is you’re supposed to do with your life. That’s the reality of life, it’s impossible to pigeonhole and you shouldn’t do that to yourself, I think a lot of people do that. Unless there’s something that you have a natural gravitation toward anyway (and if you did you would be studying it or immersing yourself with it) be really open and enjoy yourself when you’re young because you have the rest of your life to worry about career and money and success and all the stuff you’re ‘supposed to have’. It’s a shame so many girls, in particular, put pressure on themselves to be a certain way and they kind of miss their childhood. I think you very much are still a child pre-21 and they shouldn’t have to act like adults.
*SENTIMENT ON TURNING 30*
When I turned 30 it was very much about what I wasn’t, as opposed to what I became. For me it was a shedding of all the things I thought I had to be. You can have goals and plans things, which is normal to do, but I think the really intelligent person responds to what’ there in front of them in that moment and doesn’t worry about the rest which really isn’t relevant.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to make it a big dream, it can be a little tiny one and most dreams start off tiny and they grow big.
I read something beautiful in one of your interviews – that each year you have a ‘year of’ – I absolutely love this concept. Can you tell me a little about this, what some of your ‘year of’s’ have been and the process of making the year live up to your intention?
The whole theming of years came by with me and my sister, we would go traveling once a year and we did this about 4 years in a row. And every year we seemed to be traveling near my birthday and it would be a time of getting away from work and home and putting ourselves into a different environment which gives you a beautiful chance to reflect on everything. We would have these discussions about what the year of ’26’ would be or the year of ’27’ and it became a bit of a game to theme the years. It kind of became our version of a new years resolution but I don’t believe in new years resolutions so I thought if you give yourself a whole year and a theming, it’s a little more general and not so specific.
Some of my years have been the year of full engagement / the year of others / the year of wholeheartedness: it was a reflection of where I was and what I wanted to think of for that year. That’s how it came about. It’s not something I think about every day, I will write it down somewhere and on occasion come back to it and reflect as to whether I’ve done anything about it or if it still feels right and I’m heading in the right direction. The year of wholeheartedness was the year I started UNBIRTHDAY and it really was a good example of how I set out to start it: I’m going to give this chance everything and I’ll be honest with myself and know if I put my whole heart into it. That’s just an example of something. The year of others was really about moving business away from having it be about me and building a team and focusing on really supporting that team. As a result of that we’re a team of 6 people now at UNBIRTHDAY. It’s important to me to have a little bit of insight into what I want to achieve for the year but I’m not constantly looking at the theme, it’s a nice reflection of the year that’s passed or the year that’s going to come.
If you could have spend an hour with anyone (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
My two heroes would be Walt Disney, I just love what he created when he was alive, he was a person that had a really huge vision and was very set on how that vision should unfold. If you compare from an artistic point of view, the Disney work now compared to when he was alive, it’s totally different. I know it’s a different time but he had a way of telling stories and it was sort of timeless. If you can create something that surpasses your death, affects people on a global level and transports them back to a joyous time in their own life, to be able to make someone experience that through your work is amazing.
Ella Fitzgerald would be the other one: once again a great example of someone who just focused on their work and was amazing at it, dedicated her life to it and affected so many people. And her work will surpass her death, her style’s incredible. I’m sure if you spoke to them, they would be so unaffected on the fact they had that effect on you, they would have an incredible amount of humility I would imagine.
Biggest life lessons you have learnt to date?
– Taking time; exploring lots of things that interest you, I think that’s really important.
– Being very aware of what is in front of you and what you need to do to respond to that. I think that’s what intelligence is.
– For me now, one of the things I’m learning is to really let go of the drive to be successful, maybe the lesson is that there’s a balance to everything and for things to work really well it’s because things are in balance. If you have too much of anything, it doesn’t work as well. This all ties into being very aware of the now. For me, having been so driven up until this point to make UNBIRTHDAY what it is, it’s really time for me to step back and relax (which goes against my personality and my habitual way of working every day!) and be okay with not having to do so much and handing the work over to other people that I trust that can work better than me. Having an amazing team around to support that and also recognizing that success and hard work isn’t really a reflection of business or how many likes you have on instagram.
‘You’re going to fail and you’re supposed to fail because there’s no other way you’re going to learn anything. If you’re trying to do something without failing, it’s completely unrealistic.
What was the catalyst for making the jump and creating un-birthday bakery?
I always get asked this question which I find really fascinating, I guess it’s because most people want to know the how; how it happens. I knew that someway in my life I would be doing cakes on a full time basis. It wasn’t a surprise to me or anyone when it happened but I think what went on behind the scenes was very unglamorous. I was working a full time job, I’d been in the corporate world for 4 years before I started UNBIRTHDAY which I had to do to save money and have my finances in order to do this. I also took up singing as a part time teaching business, so when I quit my corporate job, I had a part time income that was pretty stable so I knew that when I made the transition I didn’t have to put any financial pressure on my passion. I think that’s a huge lesson I would tell anyone who was trying to figure out how to make the jump. Especially if you love what you are doing, don’t put any financial pressure on yourself to succeed because you will kill your passion straightaway. Always have something going on in the background, or your money saved up or some kind of cushion to protect your passion. Because that is really the quickest way to kill it, by putting unnecessary pressure on it. So I had that kind of prep already done, so when I made the switch it wasn’t like ‘whoa, I’m going to do this thing now’, actually to some degree I guess it was but that was more a mental thing as opposed to a physical thing. I was ready for it. I told myself I would give myself a year and work hard. I had a backup plan and if it didn’t work I had built up my teaching business enough or I would go back to working corporate, no problem. So I had no pressure to succeed. Mentally I did find it challenging to put something out into the world that was so important to me, because I think people hide behind their jobs or things that are not necessarily important to them. I remember having to put my pavlovas on Facebook for the first time, I was really confronted and began doubting, questions such as what if no one likes it / what if no one wants to buy anything – so I had a little bit of a mental hurdle to get over but once I did that, everything fell into place. I think it was important to go through that, it’s really normal and you’ll be okay and it’s stuff you have to address within yourself. I think always be mindful of starting off low risk: for UNBIRTHDAY it started off with a photo and grew fairly organically from there.
I guess there’s another lesson there – Do things that have the least impact, least risk and assess. Do it, assess. Do it again, assess. And continue to do so.
Any wisdom you can impart on following your dreams and dreaming big – and why it is important to do so?
Don’t put pressure on yourself to make it a big dream, it can be a little tiny one and most dreams start off tiny and they grow big. I would say aim small; not as a negative or lack of confidence or ability but do something that brings you joy and fulfilment and if that works, do it again and do it again and slowly it builds into a big thing. And I think perhaps, that’s why it’s scary, people dream so big from an unrealistic place, I know that sounds negative but I think that’s the reality. People get caught up in their big dreams and they scare themselves with their dreams because their dreams are so big!! And they wonder how they can do it, I always say do this, and then do that etc. Small steps.
This comes from how I teach as well, one of the lessons I learnt when I was training to be a singing teacher; I was at a workshop with an amazing vocalist and I remember someone asked about one of their students who couldn’t even sing a scale let alone a song and they were having difficulty with the situation. And he simply said; you have to meet the student where they’re at. If they can’t sing A B C, don’t make them sing the whole alphabet. Just have them sing A and then you make them sing B and then C and then ABC and then they can do the whole thing. That comment really stuck with me and I use it in my singing teaching all the time and I guess I use it in business and in life. It’s fine to want to sing the whole thing; big scales and big songs, but if you’re not there yet, don’t beat yourself up, don’t get scared, just break it down so it’s really simple for you and it’s something you can really achieve and feel confident with and build on that.
Since starting un-birthday bakery have you experienced self-doubt (especially in the beginning) and how did you deal with that?
The example of putting something on Facebook, it was confronting for me because it was very personal. I have wonderful support around me and I have friends and family but I also have this lady that does a lot of creative therapy with me and I don’t see her for anything in particular rather than; this is what’s happening and I need talk to someone and think of ways to address of what is going on with my life. I think that’s really really healthy for everyone to do in some form. So I told her I was feeling confronted and we did some work around it…sometimes it just takes a conversation with someone that you trust, and you just need to hear yourself think out loud. After that, I was able to put the photograph online and it was fine. It wasn’t a huge life changing thing but I found it really interesting that I was so confronted. My corporate background was in sales and in that context I had no problem calling random strangers and selling them products that I wasn’t really that passionate about, but putting my own work up on Facebook to sell I find it really interesting that I was confronted.
‘You need your sisterhood around you, men give you a certain kind of support but I think women give you another kind and it’s a different support.’
What can you do today that you couldn’t do a year ago?
I can take the time to speak to people and do interviews. I can leave the kitchen and know that it’s running without me and that’s a huge deal for me personally because I thought I had to do everything myself. Definitely something I could not have done a year ago; because the team knows exactly what to do which now allows me the freedom to be able to leave when I have to.
Are you still learning? And what would you say to people that let fear set in and let fear tell them; I’m not good enough / I’m too old / It’s too late / I don’t know how to do that…etc
I don’t know if this answers the question, I am definitely still learning, I will always learn until I die. And that’s not necessarily to do with UNBIRTHDAY. As a thing I do for myself, I put myself in situations where I don’t know what I’m doing and I want to know. Just this year I started sewing classes and I started Pilates classes; they’re both things I wanted to learn about and really resonate with me. But the lesson is, there are always people that are better than you at something and I think if you can admit that to yourself and be humble about it and open to to what they have to teach you, you’re going to be a bigger, better person for it anyway. Those people make you bigger because you allow them to, I think the worst thing is for anyone to think they know everything and to stop themselves from learning something. It doesn’t have to do with the business you want to start or what you want to become, it’s just the process of learning is wonderful because you open yourself up, you’re vulnerable, you allow someone else to guide you and contribute to help you grow. The ability to learn how to learn is really, really important. It’s fine and normal to be scared, we can either be really stuck with being scared or there are a billion other choices as well as being scared. You don’t have to eliminate fear, take the fear and use it to confront things and grow from them. Be scared and do it anyway.
Who or what inspires you?
I wish I could say there is one thing that directly inspires UNBIRTHDAY to be what it is, but it is a collection of so much; all the things I mentioned earlier – Disney and Ella Fitzgerald from a creative point of view. My husband’s pretty awesome; he’s a bit of a rockstar who is very blunt and honest with me, he’s the guy that keeps me on track with doing the work I think UNBIRTHDAY should be doing, sometimes you need those people that can cut through all the noise and show you what it’s like. You need real life people around you that their inspiration isn’t necessarily looking at a painting or someones artwork but it’s about breathing life into someone and that can come in lots of different forms. My brother and sister are also creative, they have their own film production business and they’re creatives as well so the three of us often talk about work and that support system is really cool.
What are your thoughts on ‘failure’?
Failure is completely normal, it’s really normal and I think if you’re scared of failing that’s fine, you take that with you and it becomes your buddy. You go in with the fear. You take that with you, you’re going to fail and you’re supposed to fail because there’s no other way you’re going to learn anything. If you’re trying to do something without failing, it’s completely unrealistic. You figure things out by having a context of what you’re not supposed to do, or where your skills are lacking. Someone who is skilled at what they do get closer and closer to that point of balance, that point of perfection and they know how to use that to get there, the only way they do that is by having failed so many times. Same thing in the kitchen: if the girls make a mistake or they do something wrong, I say to them, ‘that’s great, okay what did you do, why did you do it and what can you do next time’ And they know, and that’s why they have grown because my reaction is more like ‘awesome, great mistake, what can we do next time’ and it’s a lesson for everyone.
‘You don’t have to eliminate fear, take the fear and use it to confront things and grow from them. Be scared and do it anyway.’
Do you stress about things or suffer from anxiety?
I don’t think so, I’m not an anxious person. There are things I will think about and worry about as any human being but I never let that debilitate what I’m supposed to do and if it does I do something, have a little creative session or talk to someone – I know there are things you can do around feeling anxious. It’s okay to feel that way, just have your support around you, people around you that can get you out of it or give you actions you can take that won’t debilitate you. The worst thing is to stop and not do anything, if it’s a failure or success you’ll learn from it, but if you just stop and freeze, I think that’s the worst thing, so anything that makes me feel like I’m going to do that I will address pretty quickly.
What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?
My husband Thomas suggested I relax for half an hour more and he’ll get the day started and my thought was ‘that’s fricken awesome’!
What has been your biggest challenge to date? And what have you learnt from it?
I think it comes back down to realizing that I can’t do as much as I think I can because I’m pregnant and just being okay to not have to do everything, it’s against my personality type but that’s fine because I think I am becoming someone new in this next stage of my life compared to who I was. Whenever there is growth there’s a little bit of pain, a little bit of tension with that, but that’s normal.
The hardest thing I have ever had to do in terms of business was with UNBIRTHDAY when we forgot to put a cake into our baking schedule, the customer showed up and said she was here to pick up her cake. I’ve made mistakes like this before but not to that extreme. I asked when she needed it, she said 5 hours, I apologized and said I’m really, really sorry, I’ve overlooked this and it’s completely our fault, can I deliver this cake to you, delivery with compliments, by 4pm this afternoon. The cake itself was the biggest one we do, which takes 2 hours to bake! I did it, by myself because my team had gone home for the weekend, I gave her a box of complimentary cupcakes. I delivered it to her, apologized again and she was really happy.
But from there I learnt 2 things:
– Oh shit if it happens it can be handled, nothing is going to fall apart and die – it’s fine!
– We put a system into practice that we will have one spare cake in every flavor and size that we do, in future, so if that ever happens, it will cut our prep time in half and instead of waiting for 4 hours, the customer would wait for half an hour in their car and we would still give them something with compliments to say sorry for waiting. It was a really good lesson to know what our limit was, it can happen, people aren’t perfect and we could something in place.
‘Be really content and happy with who you are, live in your own skin and go ‘this is me’.’
Your cakes are so amazing and unbirthday is moving forward in leaps and bounds, did you undergo any education or training to get to where you are today?
All self taught! All trial and error from making big fat failures!
It needs to be asked; your most favourite cake flavor and what would your dream cake situation look and taste like?
Dream cakes are definitely what we’re producing now; that’s the premise for creating them. I think to myself, what cake would I like to see at my party. In terms of flavor; anything with salted caramel!
Why do you believe it is important for girls to learn from a young age to support one another and build each other up?
I think it’s important because you need your sisterhood around you, men give you a certain kind of support but I think women give you another kind and it’s a different support. I saw this in particular during my kitchen tea preparations….prior to that I had been working with Thomas to sort stuff out for the wedding, however, the kitchen tea was a time where all the girls came together and we sat down and had tea and we were talking. And I realized the importance of just having that ability to talk to other women who were like-minded and knew me. The ability to connect with them was really, really nurturing.
I think girls need to learn to do that for each other, I can understand that when they go through high school, puberty and all that it’s harder because in that context too you’re still trying to come to grips with who you are as a person, so if that’s vulnerable and insecure as a reflex people can become very abusive to others because they’re reflecting on themselves. Get really comfortable with who you are, then you won’t feel like you need to tear each other down, but rather accept that everyone is different and that’s beautiful and that’s why we like each other. As soon as you can do that, get your sisterhood around you, it might not happen so quickly in high school but I think you grow into that and that’s why it’s really important because your girls give you a different level of support that men can’t.
Have you ever had to deal with judgment or bullying?
Yes, absolutely. Once again, completely normal. I remember in year 10 I had a group of friends both mixed girls and guys and I remember one of my friends really hated me – we’re friends now – but back then, he would deliberately not include me in group discussions, he would make fun of me in class. I got really upset by it and couldn’t figure out why he hated me so much. Turns out he came out and he was gay so he was going through his own stuff and projecting it onto me. It’s really hard because you feel so alone and that no one really likes you, you don’t understand why, especially if you didn’t do anything to that person specifically that you know of, it’s really hard. Once again, you just hope that you have got support around you, you just need someone around you to tell you you’re okay, it’s okay, it’s all going to be fine. I think people would go through much worse than that, especially if they didn’t have the support around them and were suffering from things, I think that would be very hard.
‘You’re a beautiful human being and it doesn’t matter what you look like or what you’re doing, you just need to come to accept yourself as you are at this point in time and once you get to that point of acceptance you can grow and do wonderful things from there.’
What is something you don’t tell yourself enough?
Just relax, it’s fine. It’s okay, you’re pregnant, sit down.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I thought I wanted to be a psychologist, but that clicks because if working with people and I still find it really fascinating.
In your opinion, how can we all spread a little more kindness into the world?
For me, I know it’s about keeping in touch with my friends and seeing them face to face and trying to do that on a monthly basis. I think particularly with social media and texting and technology, that connection is really weird now and I think you need to tell people they’re being thought of, you need to think of people, you need to make an effort for people that you care about and that’s really easy to do whether it’s get on the phone and call someone or take them for a coffee or bake them a little cake, or something just to show that you’re thinking of someone else and it can be done in so many different ways but that stuff makes a huge huge, huge difference. I think that’s the problem, people feel overstimulated and isolated and you need to maintain those really lovely little connections somehow and you’re a better person for it and feel nourished from that too.
Has being an entrepreneur taught you anything about yourself / your strengths?
People can create things, people are creative. What I’ve learnt is that my strength is working with other people and building them up to be the best they can, my teacher side of me is my strength. My ability to draw people together and train them and hold them to a standard and nurture them so they feel like they’re part of a family and their work is appreciated and I will most definitely carry that lesson into the things I do next beyond UNBIRTHDAY.
Your all-time favourite song that always puts you in a good mood no matter what?
Anything from Ella Fitzgerald, love her.
The best piece of advice you have ever received?
Deal with what’s in front of you right now and go from there.
‘I think you need to tell people they’re being thought of, you need to think of people, you need to make an effort for people that you care about and that’s really easy to do.’
Why do you believe in promoting positive self-talk?
Who else is going to do it? At some point you have to take responsibility for your own life and what you do and how you think about yourself and your actions. If you go around and think about what’s going to happen for you and to you, you’re never going to be as powerful as taking responsibility and asking how you can train yourself and talk to yourself so that it works for you and not be a victim or on the receiving end of things all the time. The most powerful people are the ones that just know that’s how it is; who else is going to do it? As an adult too when you grow up and move away from your family and parents, you realize this is your life and part of being an adult is to look after yourself and talking to yourself nicely helps.
Any inspo for young girls and women to be the BEST version of themselves?
Don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t have unrealistic expectations. Dream big, but dream small. You’re really good as you are. You’re a beautiful human being and it doesn’t matter what you look like or what you’re doing, you just need to come to accept yourself as you are at this point in time and once you get to that point of acceptance you can grow and do wonderful things from there but I think if you’re trying to do things to compensate, or feel whole or to prove things: that’s dangerous. It sounds really cliche but just to be really content and happy with who you are, live in your own skin and go ‘this is me’. Sometimes a career gives you that and sometimes it’s something else, be aware that those insights to yourself can come from all different types of places and when you identify where they’re coming from you follow those and you see where they lead you I think.
**All imagery courtesy of Nikki and @unbirthdaybakery instagram