99. When it comes to being a military spouse, there's this secret "rule" that you have to be a certain way- you have to have a patriotic decorated home, you have to have traveled all over the world and live on base, gone through x number of deployments... but the truth is, no one feels like they've succeeded at being "that spouse" because the rule is a lie. Wendy, owner of Charliemadison Originals, comes to us after her husband's service and talks to us in both proud confidence and understanding, that the mold is a lie, and we are all "fitting the mold" by being uniquely US.
We talk about:
- The power in being bold enough to claim "I am enough"
- The struggles she faced with a corporate career in science her whole military spouse journey
- Why community over competition is so important to her and should be to other spouses
- How she's managed to succeed through connection and support from her family and network.
Enjoy our conversation? Connect with us:
Connect with Wendy at:
Connect with Britt:
Britt on Instagram @new_altitudes
Check out MilSO Box here: www.milsobox.com
I found this whole community of military spouses from service providers to product based businesses, everybody, and they are amazing, amazingly supportive, like they'll do anything for you. And so I, that's when I felt like I fit it in more. But you're right, there isn't a mold. And I think we tell ourselves that because we all we like labels because we want to feel like we belong. But the truth is, if we're all the same, then it's so boring. So why not just be yourself and stand out?
Hello, Wendy, I am so excited to welcome you to the moments within me Oh, podcast, your story is so inspiring. And I haven't even heard all the details I've just been pushed, you know, someone was like, Oh, my gosh, you have to interview this woman. And as soon as I heard the little bit in their email, I was like, Oh, my gosh, you are literally an inspiration. And I am so excited to welcome you to the podcast. How are
you? Thank you, I am great. It is it's an honor. It really is. I just love this community. So anytime I get to chat with another military spouse is a great day for me.
You know, I feel the same. And I'm just so grateful that that is literally my job. It's awesome. Why don't you introduce yourself to our listeners so that they know who is Wendy.
I'm Wendy Hively. And I am the owner and founder of Charlie Madison originals. And I think we'll talk a minute and a little bit about exactly what that is an entrepreneur, my husband was in the Navy for 20 years. So he's retired. He's been retired for a number of years. So we're a little past the whole military lifestyle at this point. But I am also a mom of two girls, my girls are grown now. They're 18 and almost 24. And I am a full time scientist. So I actually do this entrepreneur business stuff on the side. And interestingly, my daughter, my oldest daughter is now working with me, which is why I can get twice as many things done as I used to be able to.
That is awesome. And I have so many questions. But let's just go back to the beginning. The beginning. We'll start with how did you meet your spouse? What's your love story?
I love our love story, actually. So I when I graduated from college way back in the day, I started working for the Department of Defense for the federal government. And I was working in a lab at what is now Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It used to be Bethesda National Naval Medical Center. But that's where I was in working in a lab there. And my husband had been transferred there also working in the lab. But interestingly, he had requested a change with another military member. So she was supposed to go there. And he was supposed to go somewhere else. And he asked to switch duty stations with her. So they switched and he ended up there. Surprisingly, right. So after just a few weeks, starting there, we end meeting people and we had a mutual coworker who introduced us. We used to go bowling after work with all the mill all the co workers and not husband, but my husband now he came up to me. And he said pick a card and he did a magic trick with cards at the bowling alley. And that was the beginning of our story. We dated for three months before he asked me to marry him. And then we were married a year after we met. And we've been married now for 27 years.
Yeah. Yeah. And it's so cool.
And I was only 22 When we got married. If my 24 year old daughter did that to me, I would be
mad. You know, it's interesting, though, because in the military, the lifestyle encourages you to really know what you want in a relationship and either be serious or not very fast. You know, my husband and I, we matched on a dating app. And I thought he was boring. So I unmatched with him. A year later, we rematched on the exact same app. And I said listen, dude, you were boring last year, so and the rest he did? Yeah, exactly. And so eight months after we officially met, we were married. And so it does go fast when? I guess I guess the the phrase is Time goes fast when you're having fun. But I really think it just goes fast when you're in the military. Because you have to make those decisions.
Yeah, you definitely do either that or you you either choose to make that quick decision or you live apart. Yes, yes. Or deployment. So that's your choice. Yeah.
Yeah, absolutely. And Nick was getting deployed, which is why we did it for instead of after. But yeah, it was, you know, we were living together. And we were like, alright, well, I guess you should just make this official. That's right. Oh, yeah. Now, something came up in your original introduction, where you were talking about how you guys have been separated from the military for a while, and I am sure military life is very different 2027 years ago, than it is now. But I think a lot of people talk about how difficult that transition from military to civilian life is for this service member. But I don't think it's talked a lot about what it's like for the military spouse who has really I mean, you built your life for 20 years around the military, and then he got out. So I'm just curious what that transition was like for you going from military to civilian life as a military spouse,
I don't think I have quite the same experience, because I always had a career in some sort of scientific or engineering field. My whole I was very, very lucky to maintain that kind of career that up in a field that I had trained in. So when he retired, it was we were already here in the area where we're living now. So we had moved back and I had a job. So it was it, there wasn't a big transition or moving back to your hometown, or completely changing buying a new house, all that. So it was a little smoother transition. The hardest part, I think was was giving up that income for him. I mean, the military pay is great. I mean, let's face it, it really is when you get the BH and all that stuff. So to make up for that out on in the civilian sector, that's hard. So that was a big struggle is is making up that gap between what he was making and then what he could make on the outside after retirement.
Yeah, and I'm sure, you know, that puts a lot of of stress. I know, just society wise society puts a lot of pressure on men in general to supply that income. And so I'm sure when he wasn't able to sustain the exact same amount as before, I'm sure that put a lot of pressure on him. And in the family unit as a whole probably Yeah,
it definitely did. It's it's tough. Especially, I mean, we were in the DC area. So we're just like an hour outside of DC. It's expensive, so expensive. Yeah.
Something else that I think is just so inspired. Like, I'm literally just like glowing in awe, is that throughout your entire military experience, you are also a scientist, which is so cool. Can you talk about what it's like to sustain a professional job like that through the military? Because a lot of people will tell you it's not even possible.
Yeah. And people ask me, you know, how do you work full time, you know, support a family and run a business and, and to be honest with you, I don't even know, I don't even know the answer. I just, I think I'm highly functioning and that I, I don't really like to be bored. So I'm always doing something, but maybe it's also my Type A overachiever personality. That could be it too. It was always a struggle. And I have to say that, you know, when my kids were little, I wasn't doing this like little they were. They were when I started doing business stuff. They were about five and eight. But it wasn't till they were a significantly older age that I was really doing a lot more so as toddlers. Oh, that wouldn't have that definitely wouldn't have happened. So that's Yeah, but working full time. It you know, with long commutes. We made it work. My husband always says teamwork makes the dream work. But he's a very hands on Family Guy. He I cook he cleans the dishes. He and He cleans bathrooms. Oh, wow. Yeah, yeah.
I need to interview him now.
So, you know, I wasn't doing this all on my own. He's, he's a great supporter. And I honestly couldn't do this at all if he wasn't supporting me.
So that's yet another great point that you know, I think support looks like a whole bunch of different things depending on the person. I know. My husband does not clean unless he has to. Yeah, but He supports me in other ways, right or supporting me and you know, helping me move furniture around so that we create the perfect office Ace, it looks different for everybody. But I think it's so important to have that support. And if you don't find it in a friend or co worker or a team member or something, I don't think I could do it without his support, that's for sure.
Yeah, it's hard to do what you love if you don't have people who believe in you, you know, it really is. Yeah.
Yeah, that's powerful. So, I know, you said that your kids were like five or six when you started. But I'm curious what was the inspiration for Charlie Madison originals?
Well, they were so Charlie Madison is a combination of my daughter's name is Charlotte and Madison. So it was my husband's idea to do the name this way. When I first started, it was just like a hobby thing. It really was on Etsy. And I sold a little bit here and there. I've always been a creative. So from scrapbooking, to photography, to painting, you name it, I've done it. And I found jewelry, and I really loved it. And then I found that I really liked the business part, I actually started with a, a direct sales jewelry company back way back in the day. And when I realized you could sell stuff I said, I'd rather sell my own until somebody else's. And so that was an easy transition. But really the meaning behind Charlie Madison originals has to do with the military community and supporting the military community. My family has three generations and nine service members in it. And so it was a no brainer to say, Wow, I just I want to focus on the military community that I love and giving back to military families. So Charlie Madison originals not only inspires military families through all the seasons of military life, but we give back 5% of our sales every year to military, charities, organizations. So that's the story.
So before I do an interview, I always kind of do like a little internet search of the person. Yeah. So that I know what to talk about. Right? Like, have you been on other platforms, I want to make sure I don't ask the same questions that you get asked time and time and time again, there are things that obviously are going to intertwine and connect, but I really want this to be powerful for my listeners. And so I did a search and I found all this stuff out about your company and how supportive and how influential your company is not just for the military community, but also for the military spouse specifically. And I was just so inspired. So I actually did purchase a bracelet, and I got the airforce spouse bracelet. I'm so sorry. I don't remember the exact
No, that's okay. It's milspec pride. So it's the Millsboro pride Air Force. Yep.
Perfect. So the mil SVO pride bracelet, and I got it about like two weeks ago. We got it a while ago. Yeah. And I've literally worn it every day like I absolutely love it. It is classy, it is pretty, it's not clunky or big. I can wear it while podcast editing. It's not going to jangle around on my wrist. Yeah, I absolutely love it. It's top notch quality. The package came beautifully. It came in like its own little bag, like I felt like I bought like, like luxury jewelry. And that's what you want to feel when you're supporting something so important. So absolutely loved the whole process from start to finish of your company. And I just want listeners to know that if you haven't link in the show notes for where to get your own bracelet for your own branch. And you've got so many designs to where do you come up with all of your designs for these bracelets, they're beautiful.
They just come to me sometimes. But a lot of the bracelets you see in our shop now were a direct result of our community, suggesting something so we not only, you know, give back to the military, but we have a Facebook insiders group is what we call it. It is it's free to be a member but it is filled with military spouses, moms, grandmas, sisters, aunts, everybody in there is just so wonderful and supportive. And they are not shy about sharing their suggestions, which I love because why not be able to give people exactly what they want.
I was just talking on another podcast interview with someone who was like, you know, we love the suggestions like give us suggestions so that we know what you want. We're not mind reader's Right,
exactly. Yes, yes.
Before we hit record, we were talking about this idea of fitting the mold, quote unquote, and how you didn't really feel like you fit the mold as a military spouse throughout your journey. And anybody who knows my story knows that this podcast was inspired because of that because I don't like how do I fit the mold? Tell me how? And the answer was, overwhelmingly, just be yourself, there is no mold. I would love to know your opinion, or your experience of what was quote unquote, fitting the mold when you became a military spouse. And what was it like kind of navigating and figuring out how to break the mold and be yourself?
This is a great topic because for me, I actually didn't really feel like I was part of the military spouse community till after my husband retired. And it's a little bit sad to say that but you know, I worked when we didn't live, we've never lived on base anywhere we were. So we were living here in the DC area, just doing regular life family here, we PCs one time to Okinawa, Japan, which is still my favorite place on the whole entire earth. But we didn't live on base there. You having a full time career, I wasn't in with a military moms group or in, you know, living on base doing all of that stuff. So I just I always felt like an outsider. I mean, I had a few friends, but I didn't get it. I just, I didn't because I guess I was just too busy, you know, with working and everything. So once he retired, and I, I took a deep dive into this entrepreneur, world, I found this whole community of military spouses from service providers to product based businesses, everybody, and they are amazing, amazingly supportive. Like they'll do anything for you. And so I, that's when I felt like I fit in more. But you're right, there isn't a mold. And I think we tell ourselves that because we all we like labels because we want to feel like we belong. But the truth is, if we're all the same, then it's so boring. So why not just be yourself and stand out and figure out a way to shine as a military spouse with your own personality?
Wow, I am like literally brought to tears right now. Oh, my gosh, Wendy 100%. Yes, man. I remember, I was climbing the corporate ladder, I was had all these dreams. And I was going places and I knew what I wanted to do. And then Nick pops up on my on my Bumble app. And the rest is history. And all of a sudden, it went from yay, so excited for you that you're engaged. Welcome to the military community, to Oh, you have a corporate job. Good luck with that. I just felt like from the beginning. It was either I wasn't. I don't want to say enough. But I was too much to be in the military community because I had dreams and goals. Or I wasn't meant to fit in. Because I was that wad ball over there doing things different. It's just overwhelming when you can actually just sit there and say, You know what I am enough for whatever the next journey holds. It doesn't matter if I'm doing things different. I'm doing them my way. The power but the courage and confidence that you have to have to do is Yeah, warming sometimes.
Definitely. And and you know, I I've heard from so many military spouses who've had to give up a job in the field they trained in, you know, went to college trained to be whatever. And then they either had to choose the career over the military relationship. That's probably more common than being able to stay. I was lucky. I was just I just happen to look into jobs. I don't know how I guess it was just meant to be being able to work in the scientific field for as many years as I have, while my husband was in the military is really rare, I think.
Absolutely. Yeah. And the other thing that you mentioned that I think resonates with a lot of listeners, because I get messages almost every week about this, and it's, well, we don't live on base. Well, we've never had a deployment. Well, we've only PCs once Well, we've never PCs. And there's a lot of you know, when I first started this podcast, it was pretty crazy. But I would reach out to people and be like, hey, I want to interview you. I think you're a successful military spouse. I would love for you to just come on and just talk about your life just talking about what you're doing and how you're doing it successfully. Probably 80% of the time, especially in the very beginning, I would get a message like oh, I don't think I'm military spouse enough. I don't think I'm like that spouse with air quotes are actual quotes around the text. And it really just got to me and I was like I'm not alone in feeling Like I don't fit in, and then realizing that nobody fits in and that's what makes us fit in. And I think that that is so cool.
I had those exact same thoughts exactly the same. That's what we have to remember. We're really all the same. We really are.
Absolutely, man. I love this. Oh my gosh. Okay. Where can people connect with you? Where can people purchase a bracelet? Where can they be part of your journey?
So we are on the website on our website at Charlie Madison originals.com. Same tags on Instagram and Facebook, just Charlie Madison originals. We also have military branch bracelets, so specific for each branch that we sell exclusively through our Riveter. So if anybody knows our Riveter, also a military spouse business. We did that collaboration with them, so you can buy through them as well?
That is amazing. What is something that you're learning right now?
Great question. Because I believe that you should keep learning all the time. Even being in business this many years, I'm always learning something. What's next? And I guess truth be told, I probably spend too much money on training. But But I think that you have to sometimes to pay for training, but you do have to do the work. So there's that too. So right now I am learning how to give up the things that I have had control as control of as a solopreneur. And trying to farm that out right now. I'm trying to give it to my daughter who is working directly with me. So I'm trying to, to let go of the things that I've had control over and let her do them now. It's hard. It's real.
I was just going to ask because I know most of us consider our businesses our baby, right? And so for you, it's giving one baby to another. And so yeah, what is it like handing over the reins? I know, you say it's hard, but like, is there a certain part? That's the hardest? Is it letting go of that control? In particular? Is it letting go of creative decisions? Like what is it that's the hardest?
It's letting go of control? Because I am really probably, I'm like to be in control. Like, I've always believed that, why give it to somebody else, when I can do it better, you know, I mean, so that's, that's my confession for the day. So it's really just just learning that, you know, as a team, you can do so much more. So, if you want to grow, you can't do everything, it's physically impossible. So you need the team, and you just need to learn how to I need to learn how to give up some things. So yeah,
what is something positive that's come out of giving up that control? Yeah, you
know, I, I really, my daughter was a marketing major, which is great. And she's in grad school now. And she's doing stuff with analyzing marketing data, which is fabulous, because when she's done, I'm hoping she's gonna use what she learned to help us so. But I, what I really love is that we'll talk about things. And I often have big ideas, and I try to take on too much. And she'll say, Mom, I think you're I think that's too much. I think you're trying to do too much. So I think it's great to have a sounding board and somebody that will tell you, if your ideas not so good. Or maybe you know, you need to look go in a different direction. If you just have somebody telling you yes, all the time, you won't. You won't get anywhere because you need that person. You need somebody to tell you, I think you need to rethink what you're doing.
I love that. Is this like a spare room in your house? Or do you actually have a team that you outsource for this? Like, how do you make that happen?
I know you're this is going to be very surprising to you know, it is just the two of us. Normally, unless we have some really big thing and then we ask for help from other people. But it's normally just the two of us. And we actually live in we have a townhouse but we have four floors. So our top floor is a loft area and it's our studio so it's strictly all of our stuff. It's really beautiful and sunny up there. That's where we go
Wow. So I'm guessing product photos, all of that as you guys as well.
It is some of it now we do out we have outsource some of the product photography. We have a military spouse who does that we every time we need all of our stuff from accounting to graphics to photography, anytime we need to outsource. I go to a military spouse. That's so important to me. Yeah, absolutely.
Yeah. You know, staying within the community whenever possible. It's not always possible. But when you can, it's awesome. Definitely, definitely. Well, that brings me to my final question for you. This has been an amazing interview and I'm so excited. But how are you embracing being an M e o a military community member, CEO
Since I've been in business for a number of years, now I'm kind of entering a different stage of business life. So I've learned from others for so many years. And now because I've done this for some so much time, I feel like I'm transitioning into a place where I can help other people. And so I've always been of the mindset that community over competition, you should always share, you should always give back. So I'm embracing the position that I'm in now and, and just really honoring this space of having a platform to give back to military families, because I couldn't do any of this without the people to support and who are buying for me people like you. And if nobody buys, then we can't give back to any military families. So yeah, you know, I am so grateful for this community that we've built, and for the people in it. But as an Emmy to being able to now transition into a space where I can help somebody who's just starting out, is really, it's kind of where I am right now. So I've always done that. But I'm feeling like, it's time to start doing a little bit more. I know, last year, I mentored a military spouse through I don't know if you know, the, the ACP American corporate partners, they do mentoring programs. So I did a year mentoring program with a military spouse. I think that's really important. As you have that experience that you freely give back that you there's there's room for everybody, and that we all can learn from each other and support each other
1,000% There's really three pillars to your brand. And it's what it does for you personally, what it does for your business, and how you can pay it forward, for sure. Put it back out there. And so knowing where your dollars, but also your impact is going in all three areas. How is your business impacting your personal life? How is it impacting your business and your clients? But also how is it impacting those around you in your community is just so vital for a successful sustainable business. People also love a brand more if they connect with the mission. If they don't know your mission, they're not as inclined to purchase and so knowing that, okay, wow, this if I purchase, part of my dollars are going to them, but part of it is going towards the community or back into the economy or to this charity or that charity or this thing that means a lot to me. And so if you can pull on their heartstrings, if you can pull that emotional tug through community through charity through whatever, it just means the world to you and your business, but also to who's buying from you. They want to keep buying from you. Because they feel like they're part of that impact.
For sure. For sure. We all love companies that give back and and really that's that's I know. That's who I go for when I go by personal gifts is you know, where can I make an impact? Yeah,
absolutely. Yes. 100% Well, Wendy, I just want to say thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for coming on today's episode. You have sparked emotions, but also inspiration and I love your story so much. So thank you.
Thank you for having me. Truly. I am honored that you asked me to do this. So thank you