XayLi’s grandma Florencia was a creator, but everyone in the neighborhood just called her “mom.”
Sitting in her place below the cash register at Florencia’s market in her childhood home of Trinidad, XayLi remembers being enamored with this business woman in her family.
And Florencia didn’t think five years old was too young to learn about business: “She taught me to count money and about profits and losses,” XayLi remembers.
We never know which early experiences or loved ones will shape our dreams. But shape them they do. And for XayLi, her grandma was the first person in her life to show her what was possible – the limitless potential of a creator.
XayLi latched onto that faith with an almost subconscious dedication, and coupled it with her grandma’s example of hard work.
That combination powered her through her early life, that time when she knew with all her heart that she wanted to be a creator, but had no idea what to create.
When you don’t know exactly what you want to do, putting your 110% into whatever is right in front of you can be a great place to start.
That’s how XayLi approaches life.
She tells me her motivation comes from a sincere optimism that the future holds bright possibilities for anyone willing to work hard at whatever they do. Even when her dreams are fuzzy, it’s this belief that something special awaits that keeps her moving, even through the toughest of obstacles. What does she say to herself when times do get really tough?
There’s something amazing that is coming. I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to work toward that; because if I stop working, then the possibility of it coming is gone.
In her early life, school was what was right in front of her, so she gave it her all, earning a college scholarship to St. Francis College in Brooklyn NY. She moved to a new country, alone, when she was 17 years old.
She was proud of herself for taking such a big leap. Creating her future. New York was exciting, full of possibility.
There was just one problem.
New York was gray.
She missed the colors of the Caribbean.
Turquoise ocean. Pink flowers. Red roofs on blue houses.
She felt homesick most of the time: “The color that I loved as a kid became dim.”
But for many creators lying in wait, the spark for that next creative idea is just a few dark days away; when the pain, the dimness – and the subsequent feeling of sinking – brings a creator to the very depths where the treasure is buried.
XayLi realized that if she wanted more color in New York City, she was going to have to create it herself.
When you don’t see yourself in the places where you dream.
It started with fashion.
Since she didn’t have a lot of disposable income in college, she started making her own jewelry to help make her limited wardrobe feel more colorful and varied.
When more and more people started stopping her on the street to ask where she got her jewelry, she decided, inspired by her grandma, to start her first business selling jewelry.
She created her first blog as a way to market the jewelry and explore her own drive for a creative outlet.
That first business unleashed a creative energy in her that sparked in all directions. She gave herself permission to create whatever she wanted to create, letting inspiration take the wheel.
She learned a lot about herself. She loved creating websites. She loved creating videos. She loved design and drawing.
She even drew a woman she named “Esteem” when she was really struggling with her own self-esteem, alone in the city:
“Because I didn’t have any and I was searching for it, I created this person outside of me. She looked just like me.”
She ended up putting Esteem on T-shirts and they sold like crazy.
People were connecting with her work. And while she wasn’t making any kind of sustainable income, she was making money from her art, from the sense of visual style she brought to every medium she touched.
She was a creator.
And like her grandma, she dreamed of having her own full-time business one day.
But first, she felt compelled to get some corporate experience: “That’s what you are really nurtured toward in college.”
So after graduating with her business degree, she got a job at a top PR firm in New York City.
It took exactly one month for her to realize that environment was not for her.
People didn’t even say good morning in the elevator.
But XayLi still gave her 110% in hopes to soak up all the goodness that she could.
That PR job is where she learned about blogging as a real profession (her job was to find bloggers for brand sponsorships). The more she got to know the blogging world, the more a singular, sincere thought kept bubbling up:
I want to do this.
She credits being in tune with such inklings of direction to all the work she put in during her low self-esteem days, getting quiet (not easy to do in a big city). She exercised a lot and listened to podcasts on the subway. She disappeared into herself, trying to learn how to recognize and appreciate her own voice. Trying to see that she always was Esteem, all this time.
We get these kinds of inklings all the time, but not everyone bends toward them.
XayLi wanted to explore this new spark, especially because at the time she noticed there weren’t any bloggers working with the PR firm who looked like her.
Representation is powerful.
When you don’t see yourself in the places where you dream, it can be discouraging. Heartbreaking. It can make you feel like you don’t belong before you even start. Sometimes, it’s downright gutting, making an already difficult experience (like starting a business, going for a big dream) even harder.
XayLi thought of Esteem.
Maybe it was time for her to be Esteem, IRL.
Maybe if you don’t see yourself represented it means it’s time to do something about it.
Celebrity nanny diaries
After a few years learning all she could in PR, and then a few more in banking, XayLi shocked everyone and quit her top New York City finance job to become a babysitter.
“Everyone thought I was crazy,” she remembers. But she had a plan. “I’m going to use my mornings to get my work done for my business and then in the evening, I’ll go babysit for a few hours.”
“Everyone thought I was crazy.”
Her corporate jobs required all of her time, so babysitting seemed like a great way to continue to pay her bills but also have the time to pursue her business dreams.
It was her version of the actors who wait tables so they can have the flexibility they need for auditions.
And because of XayLi’s 110% habit, it wasn’t long before she was in high demand, getting recruited by a childcare agency that catered to celebrities.
She started babysitting for very creative and very famous people living in New York City; it became an important catalyst to her creative life that she never could have planned. While her grandma showed her what it meant to exchange goods for money, the famous artists she worked for showed her something else:
That’s where I saw the transaction of being creative for money.
The business of creativity at such a high professional level fascinated her, and she paid close attention, trying to learn everything she could. She took mental note of the patterns she saw among the famous creators:
- They invested in themselves, spending more time than most on improving their craft.
- They didn’t rely on one stream of income. Even if they had a movie on the big screen, they didn’t assume that alone would provide for their family. They were always working on multiple projects, products, and promotions, knowing that not everything will work out.
- They worked seasonally. Sometimes they’d be gone a lot, working on their various projects, but sometimes they’d be home for a season, going to yoga in the mornings. They didn’t have to be “chained to a desk” to make money.
And at a time when no one else understood what XayLi was trying to do, they did. The famous parents she worked for became a beautiful support system. They knew what it meant to be a creator, and they saw that same drive in her.
For two years, XayLi babysat in the evenings and worked on her business in the mornings. And during those years, her business evolved.
While people loved her jewelry and clothes, they seemed to love her website and visual branding design even more. People reached out offering to pay her to design their websites.
And when she started to film YouTube videos in the beauty and lifestyle space, people were even more interested in how great her videos looked and how confident she was on camera – could she teach them how to do that too?
People loved XayLi’s content, but – and this won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s ever met her – they loved XayLi even more. They were drawn to her sense of design, branding, and videos, and they wanted her to teach them how to do what she was doing and make it look as good as she made it look.
She pivoted to working one-on-one with clients, designing their websites and coaching them on how to use video content to build and serve an audience.
Her income slowly but surely started to match her babysitting income.
But the client work required more and more time. It was getting difficult to do both.
So, after two years of babysitting, she decided to quit and go all in on her business.
The celebrity parents were excited for her. She was excited.
But she was also really scared.
Her biggest fear?
Am I going to keep making money?
“A lot of people are afraid of their lists.”
To help calm the fear, and inspired by the professional creatives she babysat for, she decided to diversify her income so she wasn’t just reliant on client work.
She kept hearing about online courses from all the online business podcasts she listened to whenever she was on the subway. She also remembered loving online learning as a kid (we learn that we both shared an obsession with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing), and in her early blogging days she loved being a student in a blogging course by Kim of Naturally Fashionable.
She dove into learning everything she could about how to create an online course herself.
And then she just got started. Her motto? “Hurry up and fail.”
No one signed up for her first course. But that didn’t stop her. She kept learning and kept listening.
Grandma Florencia built genuine relationships first, and XayLi wanted to do the same. Quality relationships matter a lot to XayLi, and she wanted to cultivate those relationships over the long term; email seemed like a good place to do that.
Remembering how her grandma treated people even when they didn’t buy anything, XayLi wrote helpful emails to her subscribers before she sold her next course.
“A lot of people are afraid of their lists,” she tells me. “They think that it’s a bunch of people that are going to judge you or that are going to pick apart your sentences, or they think that you need a long, drawn out email.” She knows this well because she used to feel the same way.
But her desire to create was greater than her fear, and she knew that email was going to be vital to diversifying her income and selling courses.
As scary as it could be to send those first emails, she believed in the value of what she was creating and reminded herself that the unsubscribe button existed at the bottom of every email – she was only talking to the people who “walked” into her shop. They could walk out anytime.
Her job wasn’t to think about the people walking out the door. Her job was to give her 110% to the people walking in.
And it worked. “Email was essential,” she tells me. “Especially for nurturing people at first, then closing the sale. People always wait for the last minute to sign up!”
She even emailed people her new videos directly, instead of just relying on YouTube’s email notification system.
That way all her email subscribers (even those not subscribed to her channel) knew about the new content, and even those who were subscribed would get an extra personal message along with the video, and, most important, the chance to reply back and reach her.
That two-way communication has meant everything to XayLi; it’s what she attributes her ability to now consistently create and sell online courses.
What she didn’t know then, though, is how vital that stream of income was about to become.
“It thunderstormed like I had never seen.”
In 2016, XayLi got three separate calls from Trinidad in just a few months, all with news she didn’t want to hear.
Her Aunt Anne, a 62-year-old teacher who instilled in XayLi a love for education, had died of cancer. She had just retired.
Her grandpa also died.
And so did Grandma Florencia. The market closed.
Any creator knows that loss affects the creative process. It’s different for each individual, but what’s the same is that for a time, nothing is the same.
Grief is powerful. Grief is its own force, it’s own gravity; it refuses to be ignored. Even those who try to sidestep it eventually get pummeled. Grief is creative that way.
The only way out is through. And it’s deeply understandable why some want to sidestep that – because through is horrible.
Any creator knows that loss affects the creative process.
But through we go.
And the greater the love was on the other side, the greater (and longer) and more painful is the journey through the loss.
For XayLi, losing three loved ones in a few months was brutal. She was unplugged by the fog and pain of grief. She couldn’t access the creative energy she’d once had.
She couldn’t do one-on-one client calls, and struggled to maintain the basic functions required of her business.
She says now that she’s not sure if her business would have survived if she’d relied only on client work.
Her courses and the automated sales funnels and sequences she’d built played a role in her life she could have never anticipated: they kept her financially afloat as she grieved.
I didn’t actually understand the seriousness of what I had built until it had to sustain me in that time.
It also gave her time to fly back to Trinidad to attend Grandma Florencia’s funeral.
People say you’re lucky if anyone comes to your funeral when you die, and if it rains, then forget about it. When she passed away, it thunderstormed like I had never seen, but there were people everywhere.
Grandma Florencia was a creator.
A business owner.
She made money for her family and created something special for her community – so special that they all stood in the rain, soaking, with thunder clapping all around, to tell her thank you.
That rainy funeral is also the first time XayLi ever saw a mustard seed.
“All you need is that little bit of belief, and so much can unfold from it.”
The pastor brought one. Grandma Florencia was known to talk a lot about her favorite metaphor in the Bible – the idea that faith as small as a tiny mustard seed has great power.
It reminded XayLi that faith doesn’t mean you have to feel positive, inspired, or hopeful; you just have to move forward anyway.
That kind of forward movement, even if it’s so much slower than you wish, even if your only accomplishment that day was crying on the floor, is it’s own act of faith. Simply being here. Going through.
The mustard seed reminded XayLi that even when she was feeling small, maybe she still had more than enough: “You don’t need a lot [of faith]. All you need is that little bit of belief, and so much can unfold from it.”
“You can put your shoulders down now.”
Not too long after, XayLi woke up in her New York City apartment and decided it was too cold and too dark for her; she just knew: “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
She decided to move to Texas on a whim, after asking one of her course students who lived in Dallas what it was like there.
“You won’t like it here,” the student said, “it’s not like New York.”
“Okay, I’m coming,” XayLi said.
And that was it.
She found an apartment online and moved to Dallas. “It was the most crazy thing I had ever done,” she recalls. But she loves it.
I love the sun. I love how blue the sky is. I feel like in New York you don’t look at the sky. People are always looking down, so focused on getting to the train, getting to the bus, or you’re so cold that your posture [is hunched]. You never look up.
When I moved [to Dallas] a little generator at the back of my head just turned off. ‘You can be calm now. You can put your shoulders down now.’
When I ask her how she defines success she answers with one word: “Peace.”
And for XayLi, that peace comes from working with clients and online students she genuinely loves.
All money is not good money. I turn away people sometimes because for me, success is about being happy with the quality of people that I can work with and creating great relationships.
She feels peace knowing she’s operating with her priorities intact, her creative business feeling more like a community, like what her grandma built.