A Conversation on Hard Won Confidence and Gut Wrenching Vulnerability

Flourishing is what gives you confidence. It’s enduring hardship or pushing through a tough time where you really were lost but you found your way back and pushed through.
— Naomi

Whenever I hear a new song with an addictive beat, I immediately imagine myself on a spin bike, with a tiny neon crop top on, yelling at the exercise class to move to the rhythm, “Come on ya’ll pick up the pace! Let’s get it! 1, 2, 1, 2.” It’s a fantasy that plays out in my head because if a song moves me and inspires focus, maybe I can inspire others to move with it?

That fitness confidence hasn’t fully translated into real life (I can get it poppin' in the front row of a spin class, but definitely not instructor level yet), but one thing I’ve discovered about confidence is its ironic relationship to vulnerability.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend and spirit animal Naomi Hirabayashi, co-founder of Shine, the largest daily messaging service for millennials and wellbeing. While chatting about her journey of creating Shine, we moved into the realm of discussing: what is confidence? How do we gain it? Is outside affirmation a great motivator or a risky place to reside?

Read on to gain some insight on confidence, risk taking, and vulnerability:


What was the motivation behind creating Shine?

Shine was created as a personification of my relationship with Marah, my co-founder, who you know very well. I have days where I feel really strong and really confident about what I’ve done. I also have days where I would second guess myself. While working together we found in each other an accessible strength and vulnerability. It was and is a real-talk relationship where we were able to, especially as two women who were on the senior management team together and two women of color, connect on a wide variety of things. I've never been able to have that level of transparency with a co-worker before. Our transparency manifested in a really powerful way through feedback post meetings -- such as, “I was trying to be really confident in that meeting, but did I come across too harsh?” “I'm struggling with this specific thing at work, what do you think?”

It was just really beautiful. We'd always have these really dynamic conversations and talked about how we should do something together, we should write something together, how do we get this story out there? 

Marah and I had this a ha moment and thought, "Maybe we try out a daily text to help people feel their best self. To show people they're not alone in their struggles,” which was the foundation of Shine.

Shine started as a side project, and Marah and I did a prototype of the concept with rock star VIP women, including you, and we quickly validated that this was something missing in the market. It just grew really really fast, and started to get a lot of organic attention. Ultimately, Marah and I made the call to go full time on Shine and to really go all in and take it from a side project to a venture backed start-up. 

What's so incredible about this is it all started out of a place of feeling like we needed something like this that didn't exist and we found it in each other.

That’s amazing. Confidence is this elusive thing that obviously affects so many parts of our lives, and was a main motivator behind creating Shine. Are there key moments in your life when you felt like your perception of your confidence was shaped, and if so, what were those moments?

Often what's confusing is you hear that accolades and awards produce confidence. But the concept of flourishing is what gives you confidence. It’s enduring hardship or pushing through a tough time where you really were lost but you found your way back and pushed through, especially for women of color. That resilience is a secret weapon that's really powerful.

For me, it was experiences from my upbringing where I did really poorly in high school, was struggling, and didn't know if I was going to college. I applied to one school and didn't get in, and then over time got my shit together and began to understand the value of education. I ended up transferring four times, and went to four colleges in five years, two of which were community colleges. I ended up graduating with a 3.5 GPA from my #1 university of choice.

That was an example of something that wasn't glamorous or perfect or the ideal experience, but of all the things that I've done it’s one of the moments I've been really proud of. I’ve gotten the most confidence from experiences like that, where I was able to see I actually am strong. I'm resilient. I'm able to push through these things.

As an entrepreneur there's no shortage of tough experiences or times when you're in you're head. I often go back to that set of experiences.

Such a great point. I think we forget that confidence is like a muscle, if you don't use it, it atrophies. The less you invest in yourself, the less you challenge yourself, the less confident you become. It's better to try and fail because you had the confidence to take on the challenge versus not at all.

One reason why creativity and entrepreneurship is such a great activity for anybody, especially for people who come from marginalized groups, is because you can take those adversities and spin them as inspiration, which is really the impetus behind The New Quo and why I collect these kind of stories -- solving problems is really why people should be creating and not just because of the accolades or the labels or the awards for it.  

It's so true and that's why I've always been a fan of you and will always be a fan of you! You're such an artist and creator, and entrepreneur. I think entrepreneurship has historically been serving people that were able to take pretty significant risks as it relates to economic stability, and there's so much power in this new generation of entrepreneurship where creators are coming from a wider set of backgrounds and experiences.

Agreed. What can other entrepreneurs learn from your process of building Shine?

There's so many lessons, but if I had to pick the biggest one I think it's the power of momentum. Once you start to put your idea out there, just telling people about it, putting together a prototype that's not perfect, you’ll see it come to life. 

We need more people from more diverse backgrounds stepping forward, if they are able to, and putting their ideas into action, because that's how we'll get more accessible products, better representation, and more capital going to more diversity across all things -- race, age, education, whatever it may be. The biggest lesson is, get it out there. Get it out there in whatever way you can and it will start to take on a life of its own. 

Hearing the testimonials of how Shine Text is impacting people gets me so excited and motivated to keep doing this.

That's totally true. So many people think to create something it must be this massive, multi-level, million dollar thing from the beginning so they never get started. Most companies don't start out super flashy with millions of dollars. They start with a very small and basic product, see how it goes, and invest from there. I think that's a really great lesson.

Have you felt like your confidence and relationship to your self-worth change by the experience of building this company?

I think it's definitely data collecting. The day-to-day challenges are still there. I can still second guess myself, or need validation, which I think is life because you never reach this perfect plateau, but I'm really proud of myself. It's taken me some time to be comfortable talking about that, especially as women and women of color, we’re expected to be the perfect balance of humble but confident and self-assured but relatable.

The experience I talked about with college was formative for me because I saw a fight in myself that I hadn't acted out before, and I see the same thing happening with Shine.

I've definitely been inspired by your journey because I've seen how tenacious you guys are and the sacrifices you made in both your personal time and really just hustling. It takes hard work.

I mean the hard work is not to go unnoticed, and thank you for noticing that and for saying that, because that is what separates why not everyone is able to do it. I’ve had people say to me, "Oh my god you work for yourself!" And yes, it's amazing, but it's also really hard and you feel the failures in such a personal way because you don't have anyone to blame but yourself if it doesn't work. It can be hard, and very introspective, and very vulnerable. I think being an entrepreneur is a buzz word in some ways and it is tough, it's worth it, but tough, and you know that.

I agree. I think it’s remembering what the reason is behind why you're pursuing something. If confidence and success is defined by these outward flashy things, I don't think it's ever enough because it won't motivate you to get through the hard shit. 

Exactly. Shine is a manifestation of a lot of conversations. Conversations with Marah, girlfriends from home, my mom. I've always been drawn to very authentic women and people that are willing to talk about the things that are hard, and talk about it in a way that's constructive, relatable, real, and vulnerable. And that's always been something I've been interested in. I love psychology and was a sociology minor. It's part of my passion.

There's so many things about Shine that have been motivating but probably the fact that I always felt like there was something I was supposed to do, and was disappointed that I hadn't quite figured it out. I would like to think that Marah and myself talking more openly in forums like this and talking a little more about our story, our passion, our background, inspires more people to find an outlet for whatever that thing is for them because everyone has it.

I love that, which is having intention and being self-aware and not being afraid of pursuing personal desires and interests. A lot of the time we deny our curiosity and personal desires because we feel they aren't worthy of attention.

One thing that has always been interesting to me is new experiences. The more comfortable you get and the more reliant you are with everything being familiar the less diverse experiences you're going to have. This journey has given me this new set of resources and arsenal of experiences to tap into if I need it.

These are new traits and experiences that I'm gaining at 33. Being uncomfortable or being vulnerable are experiences that you can go back to for inspiration, it's all on us to be data collecting so things are less scary.