Mel Robbins Is Not the Bashful Type
The Sherborn mom turned advice guru has a hot husband, a beautiful house, a deep-pocketed clientele, and a very healthy opinion of her bad, bad self. Who could blame her for wanting to teach every woman in America how to have a life as perfect as hers?
Inside a radio booth tucked into a corner of her sprawling Sherborn farmhouse, life coach Mel Robbins preps for Make It Happen with Mel Robbins, the call-in advice show she hosts each morning on the Sirius satellite network. The tiny space is plastered with photos, clippings of âinspirationalâ sayingsâone of which reads âAdvice is bullshitââand scrawled good-luck wishes from her three cherubic kids, Kendall, Sawyer, and Oakley. On the control panel in front of her sits a high pile of printed e-mails, which Robbins will answer personally, and an even higher pile of bills. âYou can quit smoking and lose weight at the same time…,â she says over the phone to her producer in New York. Then, weâre live.
Todayâs program, titled âEnough Is Enough,â focuses on domestic violenceâa heavier topic than the discussions about debt, cheating, and weight that usually fill the show. Robbins takes calls throughout the broadcast, and by the end of an hour sheâs talked at least one abused wife into moving out and getting a restraining order against her husband. Later, she connects the women with local resources, including domestic-violence prevention groups, and with other listeners whoâve e-mailed or phoned in to offer support. Itâs exhausting to watch. When the show wraps just before 10 a.m., Robbins exits the booth âtotally juiced!â
Earlier, Iâd pulled up to Robbinsâs fairy-tale home right as she returned from her daily sunrise jog, delicate droplets of sweat perched just so on her brow. Thankfully, Iâd passed up the offer to join in even before Iâd decided to down that third glass of sauvignon blanc the night before. (This woman might have 16 years on me, but I havenât been to the gym in a year and a half.) Five foot 8 and all legs, the 39-year-old is undoubtedly more Fitness Barbie than Joy Behar, not that it would matter: As a radio host, sheâs commanded a View-like following with just the sound of her voice. Since its launch in March, Make It Happen with Mel Robbins has been a growing success, with hundreds of calls coming in each morning and an estimated listenership of about 75,000. Bookstore giant Borders subsequently tapped her to host a talk show on its website and, most significantly, sheâs also scored a development deal with Disneyâs Buena Vista Productions. Plans for the coming years include self-help tomes, audio books, and a syndicated, off-line talk show, which she says sheâll insist be filmed in Boston. (âIf Oprah can do it in Chicago, I can do it here!â)
âI believe I am a brilliant and gifted guide, that I have been given a tremendous intuition,â Robbins says over a breakfast of eggs and wheat toast served up by her adoring husband, Chris. As if on cue, the phone rings. Itâs a girlfriend whoâs feeling neglected because Melâs been so busy lately. They talk it out; friend feels better. Robbins resumes: âPlus, Iâm really damn good at helping people get what they want. And when somebody gets what they want, they tend to go out and talk about it.â Indeed, people around Boston are talking about Robbins. Itâs just that âbrilliantâ and âgiftedâ arenât always among the words theyâre using to describe her.
Go on to the next page to learn the history of Mel Robbins’ career path…
Itâs tempting to think Robbins was born to be a life coach. Except that before a few years agoâwhen the only option for a similarly ambitious woman looking for high-paying, flexible employment after popping out a kid or two was to sell real estateâlife coaching didnât exist. Now itâs the hottest segment of the self-help market: According to a study by Florida-based research company Marketdata Enterprises, personal coaching jumped from less than one percent of the self-improvement industry in 2000 to 42 percent in 2005. There are hundreds of coaching certification programs out there, but no license is required to practice, making for a largely personality-based field marked by strong and varied characters peddling an endless array of methods.
As a coach (and, for that matter, as a person), Robbins has built her brand on being ballsy. Sheâs unafraid to use four-letter words, sing her own praises, and be ultratough on clients. Her philosophy is that everyone can be happy, both personally and professionally, but should not for one hot second think such happiness comes easy. Her cut-the-crap advice is results-driven, an approach that carries over to many other areas of her life (see: her flawless body, her well-mannered kids). Within an hourâsometimes minutesâof meeting a new client, sheâll pinpoint that personâs âobstacleâ and come up with a concrete plan to get them âunstuck,â getting deliriously personal as she goes. âMy job gives me the permission to ask really great questions,â Robbins says. âLike âAre you sure youâre not pissed at him?â or âIs the eating really about food or does it have something to do with your mother?â or âHow is your sex life? I mean, I know weâre here talking about your job, but I can tell this has to do with your sex life.ââ She demands answers, and honesty, and says she has fired clients for ânot being committed enough.â
Before she cut back on private appointments by about 70 percent to focus on her media pursuits, Robbinsâs $250-an-hour counselees (she now charges $350) included fellow moms, recent college grads, and executives from companies like Dunkinâ Donuts, Fidelity, and Johnson & Johnson. (Under her direction, she boasts, all her clients in financial services boosted their annual returns by no less than 25 percent.) Boston entrepreneur Jeremy Brollier hired Robbins in January, around the time he was launching his business TranBen Partners, which administers transit voucher programs for companies. The startup was a risky endeavor, both financially and professionally, but would afford him the freedom that a previous job as a midranking professional-sports exec did not.
âShe said, âIf you donât take this opportunity, Iâm going to kick your ass,ââ he remembers. âI did the heavy lifting, but Mel gave me the structure.â
In May 2006, Robbins got a call from a CNBC exec whoâd read about her in the business magazine Inc. The story had convincingly portrayed Robbins as an entrepreneurâs golden ticket, responsible for turning stale companies into thriving ones by overhauling executivesâ personal lives as well as their management skills. But Robbins wasnât sure. A business show didnât seem her thing. Eventually, the deal fizzled.
The lure of possible fame, though, was hard to shake. Robbins sought advice from her network of high-powered clients and got hooked up with a production company in New York; within three months, sheâd secured the radio and TV contracts and was hosting celebrities like pop star Mandy Moore and Donald Trump for the Borders show. Sheâd also secured the services of big-league literary agent Jan Miller, who has packaged and sold self-help bestsellers like Dr. Philâs The Ultimate Weight Solution. Miller is now shopping around the proposal for Robbinsâs The Momentum Factor; Robbins says âseveralâ publishers are interested. Sheâs also writing a column for the
Boston, New York, and Philadelphia editions of the Metro, and is an on-air correspondent for Good Morning America.
Robbins claims sheâs not in it for the fame, that she just wants to improve more lives by coaching on a larger scale; for her, she says, helping people âis like a drug.â Any would-be celebrity guru with half a day of media training would say that, of course, but with Robbins the question is whether audiences will respond to her wisdom, or to something else. As much as it makes sense for âstuckâ people to crave an insightful, brutally honest sounding board who comes complete with a confidentiality agreement and business connections, you canât help but wonder if women are attracted to Robbinsâwith her enviable marriage, family, home, body, and careerâin an âIâll have what sheâs havingâ sort of way. As for male clients, Robbins says it herself: âMen would rather stare at a very good-looking blond woman than a schlumpy guy.â
To find out what Robbins was like in high school and college, go on to the next page…
Robbins grew up in a small town in Michigan, where she was her high schoolâs student body president and was voted both âmost likely to succeedâ and âbest legs.â After college at Dartmouth and law school at Boston College, she spent four years as a public defender in Manhattan. There she met Chris Robbins, who was working as a commodities trader (and is now one of the entrepreneurs behind Belmont-based restaurant chain Stone Hearth Pizza Co.).
In 1997, Chris got into business school at Babson. After the couple moved to Boston, Robbins decided to make a career switch. âI realized I wasnât a good employee, because I was too busy listening to peopleâs personal problems to do work,â she says. Following failed attempts at a number of corporate jobsâa tech company, an ad agency, and a dot-com among themâRobbins booked an appointment with New York life coach Lauren Zander, whose fast-moving, no-secrets Handel method of coaching is based on the idea that âhard questions yield honest answers.â âWhen we began talking,â Robbins recalls, âshe told me, âYou should be doing what Iâm doing.â And that was it.â For two years, Robbins trained with Zander over phone and e-mail, with occasional in-person visits.
âMel was a lawyer and a very savvy businesswoman, and she loved talking about people, getting into the drama,â says Zander, who now also teaches the Handel method to MBA students at MITâs Sloan School of Management. âAnd she cares. Sheâs smart, can follow instruction. Her personality took well to self-management, the idea of putting yourself on a leash.â
Five years ago, Newbury Street clothier Dava Muramatsu turned to Robbins upon realizing she was in a rut in both her business and personal life. âMel knew how to teach me to access my own jewels,â says Muramatsu, who has since separated from her husband and overhauled her business. âOut of all the advice Mel has ever given me, which was a lot, not once can I tell you that sheâs been wrong, ever.â Other satisfied customers include local media personality Lisa Pierpont, Wellesley Partners CEO Tim Sullivan, philanthropist Kristina Hare Lyons, and San Franciscoâbased life coach Jay Grant, who considers Robbins a âtrailblazer.â After interviewing a long list of coaches across the country to be his own, Grant was struck by Robbinsâs directness and speed. âIâve done the touchy-feely stuff, the letâs-get-comfortable stuff, but I was ready to cut through that,â he says. âItâs not Melâs style to pick out the weaknesses, but to find your strengths. And sheâs made for TV and radio because she gets to the point so quickly.â (Zander agrees: âSheâs a ham!â)
âMelâs like an advertisement for the law of attraction,â says Roni Selig, Buena Vistaâs senior vice president of programming and development, who signed Robbins in June. âShe just has this light around her, this great energy. Plus, she really believes in the process of transformation. We were sure about her almost instantly.â Which is why they want to do it right, Selig says, in explaining why Robbinsâs development deal isnât already a TV show. She aims to avoid having Robbins follow self-help predecessors who have peaked fast and crashed even faster. Remember Fox talk-show host (and Newburyport resident) Dr. Keith Ablow, and Greg Behrendt of Heâs Just Not That Into You fame? âItâs like training an athlete,â Selig says. âAre they ready to compete? Thatâs when weâll put her out there, when sheâs ready and the audience is clamoring for it.â
âI told my people at the beginning: The problem is that Iâm scared to be on TV because Iâm scared to lose control of how Iâm portrayed,â Robbins says. âI would make a great character.â Clearly, Robbins would make a phenomenal caricature, something close to Amy Poehlerâs Mean Girls mom on speed. âControl is what you exchange for publicity, but thatâs what Iâm afraid of. Once youâre a public figure, people get to vote.â
To find out what other women really think about Mel Robbins, go on to the next page…
Over the years, Robbins has drawn much of her new business from working the Boston social circuit. Conversely, many clients have become friends, or at least acquaintances. When I first hear murmurings among them that not everything about Robbins is as rosy as it might seem, I figure itâs just jealousy, imagining Robbins at a PTA meeting, spewing suggestions while looking all pert and pretty in her Pilates outfit. But it turns out the animosity may run much deeper.
âSheâs very aggressive, very narcissistic,â says one former client. âA lot of women I know donât want to be around her; if they know sheâs invited to a party or event, they wonât come. I donât think Iâd hire her now. Iâd feel like a speck in her universe.â Over the course of the two months I spend working on this article, I find that almost everyone I ask has heard of Robbins, though some say they donât know what they think of her quite yet. Others arenât sure how to put their feelings into words. One believes itâs so important for me to show the âother sideâ of Robbins that she makes a number of calls on my behalf to fellow detractors in the hopes of finding one willing to speak on the record (while refusing to be quoted directly herself). Yet another whispers, âOh yes, Iâve met her. All Iâm saying is, thatâs not my bag.â I get a lot of âWho pitched that story?â
Robbinsâs close friend Jane Remillard, a biotech lawyer at Lahive & Cockfield in Boston, can see where the critics are coming from, but she insists they get Robbins wrong. âShe can come off as egotistical, calling herself a smart, kick-ass woman, telling stories about people saying sheâs incredible,â Remillard says. âBut I think she feels she needs to be that way in order to succeed. For TV, you need to exaggerate everything; you better bulk up on the self-confidence or youâre not going to make it. Itâs a survival mechanism.â I suspect the backlash may have more to do with Robbinsâs sales pitch itself. It speaks volumes about our celebrity-obsessed age that a woman like her could believe that simply because she has a decent life, and her act generally together, she deserves to be famous. There
are a lot of rich suburban women out there who exercise, look good, dote on their husbands and kids, all while still pursuing a career; the difference is that Robbins is convinced her charmed life can be a career unto itselfâa platform, as they call it in the entertainment business. Itâs the ballsy thing again.
Even Buena Vista seems to get this. While Robbinsâs appearance has certainly aided her coaching career, she and her handlers arenât sure such assets will translate well to television. Robbins specifically worries that her looks could come across as intimidating. (Consider all the daytime talk-show fixtures, and their flaws: Rosie is overweight. Barbara Walters is old. Joy Behar is average-looking. Elisabeth Hasselbeck is Republican.) âFor TV, you need to be relatable,â says Robbins. âThe truth is I probably will never have a weight issue, because I run, Iâm a healthy eater, and Iâm disciplined. Thatâs a liability. My challenge is, Will they relate to me because Iâm a mom and Iâm from the Midwest? Or will they brush me off because they think Iâm too arrogant or too confident or that my life is too perfect?â
Robbinsâs efforts to be seen as that Tyra Banksâesque best girlfriend include calling herself âself-deprecating!â and âreal!â and regularly declaring that sheâs âfucked up a million times!â But if she truly believes her âperfect lifeâ is a hindrance in her route to fame, thereâs no sign sheâs willing, or able, to effectively downplay it.
At the taping of Robbinsâs Borders TV interview with Mandy Moore in July, I count about 80 people congregating inside the booksellerâs Downtown Crossing location. (Robbins later swears it was closer to 350.) Another 17 million Borders shoppers will receive a link to the segment via e-mail. Instead of the no-fail suit or, perhaps, sophisticated dress that most other professional women pushing 40 might wear for the occasion, Robbins has chosen a slinky gray ruffled number that leaves one of her tanned, angular shoulders bare aside from the babysitter-length blond hair that falls against it. When Moore, 16 years Robbinsâs junior, finally arrives onstage in a demure, knee-length red dress and brown cardigan, the contrast is stark, and begs the question: What, exactly, is Robbins going for here? No one would argue that she looks good in her getup, which I later learn came from the sale racks of teen clothing hot spot JasmineSola. But itâs her second show of the series, and undoubtedly there are some corporate bigwigs watching closely. Whatâs more, itâs Robbinsâs chance to win over a new audience of moms, there with their Moore-loving teenage kidsâand instead she seems to be targeting frat boys with MILF complexes.
A few weeks later, I run into Robbins at Bostonâs annual Best of Boston party. (Chrisâs restaurant has won an award.) Sheâs wearing a tight, strapless geometric-print dress, and, after a few beers, is feeling honest. âWant to see how I keep my marriage hot?â she asks, whipping out her cell phone as she sways to the beat of the cover band. Onscreen is a message from Chris, asking if they could âsqueeze in sexâ before the party. By this point, she has not only my attention but also my girlfriendsâ. One wants advice, and Robbins is happy to dish it. Anna, visiting Boston from New Orleans, has been hooking up with a working actor back in Louisiana. She wants to send him a text message but wonders if letting him know that sheâs thinking of him when out of town might come off as too strong. Iâve been advising Anna to abstain from long-distance textsâin my book, thatâs serious-relationship territoryâbut according to Robbins, a text is the right move. And make it a dirty one. âWhile youâre at it, do you have a camera phone?â she jokes, pantomiming a crotch shot.
âIâm incredibly effective with the high-school-to-thirtysomething crowd,â Robbins tells me later. âItâs just part of my personality. Iâm going to know about Second Life, play Xbox, be on MySpace, read TMZ every day, have an opinion on Lindsay Lohan. Like, I love the way I can run into you at a party and tell your friend to send her boyfriend a dirty text message!â
Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, Anna hasnât seen the guy since her ill-fated missive. Heâs made it clear (via text message) that heâs no longer interested.
The Robbins are taking huge financial leaps to achieve success. Find out just how much is riding on making it big…
Her questionable counsel to my friend notwithstanding, Robbinsâs own romantic life seems on very solid footing. Her singular intensity may give the illusion that Chris is just along for the rideâeven as heâs in the public eye himself, thanks to the fast-growing Stone Hearthâbut itâs clear heâs more than just the Stedman to her Oprah. Every Sunday the couple meets for an hour to discuss âthe logistics,â so that domestic details donât consume their time together during the week. âMy job is to make sure his life works, and vice versa,â she says. âMy job is to push him out the door. A marriage is all about surrendering and trust.â
This trust shows up in the huge financial leaps theyâre taking for Robbinsâs media career. With companies like Disney and Borders aboard the Mel train, one might assume sheâs raking in the cash. But Robbinsâs development deal paid only a lump sum to lock up exclusive rights to her talents. Sheâs not drawing a salary for any of her Borders work, and receives just a small stipend for the radio show. And she opted to pay for her own producer instead of using the one that Sirius assigned her, flies herself to New York for meetings, finances promotional materials like demo reels and her website, and has been shelling out $600 an hour for a Manhattan voice coach. âWe are so out over the tips of our skis financially,â she says. âChris is launching a business and Iâm building a media brand, both self-financed. This could be a quarter-of-a-million-dollar investment before we start making money. And because my life is about coaching people to take risks, Iâm basically having to drink my own Kool-Aid.â
What the couple is banking on is that a few million others are willing to drink the Robbins Kool-Aid, too. And they just might be out there. Sonya Prasad, a 34-year-old Brooklyn resident, was feeling frustrated with her professional life when she discovered Robbins through her Metro column. After being in touch via e-mail, Robbins invited her to be coached on the radio. On Make It Happenâs July 31 broadcast, Robbins fired one probing query after another at PrasadââWhat did you think life was going to look like?â âDo you regret having your daughter? Then why are you continuing to punish yourself for the fact that you got pregnant?â Through tears, Prasad admitted that in order to move forward in her career she must embrace the decision she made six years ago to have her daughter out of wedlock. After following Robbinsâs suggestionâthe fairly obvious âPick up the phone and call a temp agencyââPrasad now feels âin sync with the universe.â And more than Robbinsâs advice, Prasad says, itâs the whole package that makes tuning in so attractive. âSheâs got kids, and sheâs really cool. On my good days, thatâs who I try to be and who I always aspire to be.â
This is exactly the sort of response that Robbins gets off on. âI get so much positive reinforcement, and that makes me say, âOh my God, I must be doing something right,ââ she says.
âDoesnât it feel good when people acknowledge what youâre doing? Gratitude is very empowering.â
One afternoon Robbins and I meet for coffee on Newbury Street. Sheâs got a hair appointment at Mario Russoâs salon later, and she breezes in looking all âcool momâ in tight designer jeans, an even tighter gray T-shirt, bejeweled belt buckle, and ridiculously tall white wedge sandals. I have on my last clean pair of jeans, and I spend a few seconds wishing I looked nicer while I listen to Robbins go on about her âblissfulâ life, her âsickâ wardrobe, how proud she is of her body, how gifted she is at her job. âIâm like the friend whoâs already won the marathon of life,â she says. Then the tape in my recorder runs out on me, and I almost die of embarrassment. She calls me âsweetieâ and looks through her purse for her own recorder, offering to lend it to me.
There was genuine kindness in the gesture, and in her abrupt transition from ego to empathy, I think I glimpsed the whole Mel Robbins. She may be a little too fond of tooting her own hornâbut then, unabashed self-esteem is one of the big principles she promotes to her clients, and she displays an addictlike commitment to practicing what she preaches. High on her own momentum, she canât figure out how to cheerlead for others without constantly doing the same for herself. âOne of my best personality traits is also one of my worst,â Robbins says. âYou donât want to drive a car that just has one speed, and Iâll work on that until the day I die. But my confidence paves the way for people to do what they want. If Iâm like, âFuck, yeah! You can do it!â itâs a lot more convincing.â
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2007/10/mel-robbins-is-not-the-bashful-type/