INTERIOR DESIGNER & CREATOR OF THE TENNILLE LIFE
When did you launch your business? What is the message behind your brand?
I started The Tennille Life with my best friend Carol in 2016. Our goal from the start has always been to uplift and inspire women to embrace their uniqueness and help women build confidence through self-care. As someone who personally struggled with depression in my early 30’s I saw first hand the healing power of self care. I wanted to share my passion for beauty, fashion, hair, skin and wellness routines to help women build their confidence and teach them to be kind to themselves both physically and emotionally. I want to help women to feel beautiful in their natural hair, feel sexy with silver hair, and most of all, know that self-care isn’t selfish.
What were the defining moments in your career that taught you the biggest lessons?
I am turning 43 in a few months and very proud to say that I am STILL open and available to learning. There are 3 significant stand out career defining moments that center around the same theme: taking a leap of faith despite being scared out of my freaking mind. The first one was when I was a 20 year old college student at UCLA and I was offered an intern position at a small yet prominent LA interior/architecture design firm. My immediate thought was HOW in the hell was I going to go to school full time, work part time, and oh yeah be May’s mom!? But, I went for the interview, got the job, interned through the summer and landed a permanent position as a junior designer (which blessedly solved my medical insurance problem). Additionally, it turned out a principal at the firm was on the board at UCLA interior design and architecture program. So basically the firm's principles were eagerly grooming me to one day be an associate. LIKE how did that happen?? It was a leap of faith. The 2nd moment came more than a decade later, but essentially the same story. This newly single mom was offered a chance to reinvent herself as a corporate flight attendant. All the warning bells of fear, anxiety, and worry flooded my brain. HOW was I going to travel AND take care of the girls, with one in elementary & the other in middle school?? This was not for me and in fact I turned the offer down flat. Later that same night when the news hit my parents ears that I turned down a rare opportunity to be trained as a CFA, they stepped in and offered to help watch the girls while I was on trips. I mean we were living with them at the time so now I had no excuse. I put my fears aside and took the job. After 6 months of ground training I went for my official FA training. Barely a week out of training I had my first flight with Magic Johnson, who coincidentally 4 years later would become my full time boss. LIKE how did that happen?? It was a leap of faith. My final moment brings us to the present day. Only weeks ago, December 31, 2020 after 8 ½ years, I resigned from my position as Magic Johnson’s flight attendant to take another leap of faith and work full-time for myself. This moment has more fear and anxiety than the last two career defining moments combined!! My life lessons have taught me these are the pivotal moments I need to run towards. Fear and anxiety are the hallmarks of decisions that could have the most beautiful and rewarding impact in my life. I recognize those knots in my tummy for what they are and I am very excited for what comes next!!
Sometimes we're all BAD MUTHAs (as we should be). When did you go against traditional advice that propelled you forward?
I am what you might call “the black sheep” in my family. I have always marched to my own beat. I did not set out to be contrary for the sake of it, I believe it's because I am hardwired that way. Shucks, I’m pretty sure it goes back to the fact that I was what is known as a latchkey kid, a product of the 80’s. I learned to take care of myself very young, so as I got older I became fairly confident in what felt right for me. The first and perhaps the most profound advice I went against was having my daughter May. I was 17 when I got pregnant and had her just after my 18th birthday. Being a mother changed me forever. It shaped me into the woman I am today. Crazy as it may sound, teen motherhood allowed me to be the person I was meant to be. I had to rethink my career path (or rather the M.D. path everyone else wanted for me) and discover what would make me happy!!
"You have to be a leader in your own life. You have to be the hero in your own story."
We all need a champion. Who in your life has consistently supported you?
My closest friend and business partner Carol (another BAD MUTHA herself), has been my champion for the last 20 years+. She has seen my girls grow into women. She has been there to dry my tears when I found myself as a single mother, jobless, and homeless. Carol comforts me like no one else can. She always has level headed words that resonate straight to my heart. Her love and support is the reason why we created TTL. Her dream was to have a business that would lean into the gifts that we each have. Her dream quickly became OUR dream. We wanted to create a platform to celebrate those talents while also inspiring and uplifting others. Like I said she’s a BAD MUTHA!!
Reverse that. Who in your life do you support without judgement?
Well no surprise here, it's Carol again!! She and I are unconditional with each other. In a way, we are sisters. Each of us grew up young and had to work our asses off to be the people we are. Naturally, we have and will always support each other without judgement. Our foundations are parallel and I have supreme trust in her.
Rewind. What is the best advice you’ve received throughout your life?
Sometimes YOU have to be the change you want to see. Self examination is far from easy, but without a doubt necessary. It takes guts to look at yourself and truthfully call yourself out. You have to be a leader in your own life. You have to be the hero in your own story. For that to happen over the years I have had to force myself to take a close look at ME and ask if you are not happy with the status quo, are YOU willing to be the change that needs to happen?? Each pivotal moment in my life that I faced my biggest fear...myself...I have been rewarded with the most beautiful life changing shifts. It means being vulnerable, taking risks, being scared, being unsure, and most importantly it takes confidence. But in my opinion being brave enough to be that change you want to see yields a profound sense of achievement that is priceless.
Fast forward. What insight can you give to aspiring women in their careers who want to be a leader in their space?
Honestly, Be the Change YOU want to see!! For example, never in a million years could I have known that my choice to wear my hair naturally and not dye it would turn into a source of inspiration for so many women. Furthermore, that I would be able to carve out a niche as a middle aged black woman in the influencer and beauty space all because I was brave enough 20 years ago to embrace my white hair. It has been a recurring theme in my life: As a 21 year old junior designer, as a corporate flight attendant, and certainly now building a brand from nothing in the digital marketing arena. Whether it has been working on major commercial design project in LA, traveling the world in a multi-million dollar private jet, or standing side by side with digital creators that are you enough to be my daughters, I don’t let age, race, or gender detour me from the simple fact: Someone has to push and be the first so I guess it might as well be me. Having the courage to be that change is so important not only for yourself but for those who follow.
How do you like to MUTHA yourself and ensure you still have some 'me' time?
The concept of ‘me time’ was completely foreign most of my adult life. It took me YEARS to recognize the importance of ‘me time’. I kinda chuckle thinking about it because as an 18 year old new mom the last thing I thought about was ME and my personal needs. I was consumed with survival and the best way to get my life on track for my daughter’s well being. Ironically, it wasn’t until I was 31, newly single, no job, no home, no car...literally I was withering away that I turned my attention to ME!! The weekends that my daughters visited their father was my first time being completely alone in my adult life!! I was free to explore what makes me happy. For me, my favorite ways to MUTHA are the little meaningful rituals that I do daily. They include taking care of my inner self. Diet and nutrition are the foundation in my daily happiness. I believe that a plant based diet actually makes me happy, energized, and is an essential way to care for ME. Skincare, makeup, and getting dressed are also essential daily rituals that legit brought me out of my depression all those years ago. The few minutes I take in the morning and at night layering on lovely nourishing products are not selfish or indulgent, they are crucial to the love that I show myself. After discarding the guilt I carried as a mother believing that anything I did for me was being utterly selfish, I have been able to fully embrace all things that can be coined “self-care.”
What is your secret to managing career and all other aspects of life?
Wake up early!!! LOL!! But for real, wake up early!! Yep, that’s my big secret!! It comes down to time management and planning. I wake up as early as 4:30 or on days I sleep in 5:45/6:00. After mothering for the last 24 years and bouncing around the world the last decade in various time zones, it's safe to say I have been conditioned to wake up early and keep the juggling act going all day long. With that early start I have learned to block out my day to make sure I can fit in everything I want to accomplish. For me, the quiet mornings allow me to gather my energy and prepare for the day ahead. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me.
Anything else you want to share about your story?
I would love for anyone reading this to know that the world loves a good underdog story!! Today does not define your forever. I believe that as mother’s we have a profound and beautiful role to play in raising our little ones. We have the honor and privilege to set the example. My daughters have seen my entire adult life journey. They’ve seen first hand Mommy get up each day and work my ass off for the life I have created. They have seen me depressed and they have seen me persevere and triumph under the most dire circumstances. They now have an example of the strength, power, and grit of a woman. They have seen me grow in confidence. They know it’s ok to fail, be imperfect, be vulnerable, take risks, a F’ing run towards those moments that make them most uncomfortable!! And now they are witnessing a new chapter of me building a business and starting a new career as a middle aged woman. What could be more rewarding than giving your babies first hand inspiration.