Everyday Icon: The Messenger

Jewelry designer and blogger Melissa Camilleri shares how her unique career path led to making jewelry with written encouragement.

Image Credit: Meredith Carty

When faced with a choice to continue a stable teaching career or to veer onto a more creative path, Melissa Camilleri chose the latter. Though she now works full-time on her jewelry and gift line, Compliment, Melissa continues to leverage her background as a teacher and a wordsmith by encouraging others through her products and services. Whether she’s offering support through the Compliment Scholarship Program or hand-stamping loving compliments for each gift she sends out to customers, Melissa has found a way to blend her two careers together. We chatted recently about what inspired her to launch her business, how we can all make our words matter, and how she stays grounded while running a successful business:

You taught high school English and AVID for ten years before deciding to work full-time on your jewelry and gift line, Compliment. What made you want to take that leap?

It was kind of the perfect storm. I had launched Compliment while I was still teaching, which was a profession that consumed my life. Teaching is a calling and, at the core of me, I don’t think that is something that will ever change.

I ended up taking a leave of absence from the classroom for personal reasons. I had gone through a very abrupt and devastating divorce in the summer of 2012 and then between August and November, we lost three members of my family, pretty tragically. I was in such a heavy fog of grief that it was impossible for me to continue pouring myself into my students. I was depleted.

So, I took a semester off. During that semester, I blogged, took a couple of classes, did some yoga, went for long walks by myself, took myself out to lunch, read a lot, and created. I learned that creating was the way I could stir up some life in me. I fanned that spark by continuing to make things, and some of those things were jewelry. It wasn’t as though I had this overnight success. I just loved working on building Compliment as the antidote to my grief. When it was time to decide whether or not I was going to go back to the classroom, I just felt in every bone in my body that I wasn’t ready. It was a leap of faith, for sure. In fact, it was terrifying! But it was also exhilarating carving a new path for myself.

Talk to us about the importance of words. You’ve built your love of words and encouragement into your business model on many levels. Your tagline reads “gifts for the spirit” and you often share your belief that we rise by lifting others through compliments. How do those ideals help inform your outlook on life?

I’ve intentionally built Compliment to be a reflection of my own ideals and outlook on life. That’s all on purpose. I remember when I was in high school, I had to give a speech on something I was good at. I was stumped. I felt as though I had no great talent. Nothing stood out because I was okay at a lot of things, but not superior at anything. I shared this with a friend and she laughed. She told me, “Melissa. Your talent is seeing the best in everyone and encouraging those things. You make people feel awesome.” I’d love to say that was a life-changing moment. But I looked at her with exasperation, like, “How in the heck do I make money doing that?! HA!”

Several years later when I was teaching, I realized this was my greatest strength in the classroom—far greater than knowing my content or classroom management. I knew I could quickly learn the things that made each kid unique and worthy and build those things up. Year after year, kids would say to me, “Your class is the only reason I come to school.” That, I assure you, was not because they were excited to write essays or read Shakespeare. It was because I made them feel seen.

Compliment is really an extension of this belief—that our spirits make us unique. When a customer gifts a piece of Compliment jewelry to someone, sure they are giving something cute and fashionable, but what people are really gifting are the words of encouragement and gratitude that will touch the spirit of the recipient.

The best part of this business model for me is that I get to work in an environment that is so full of love and support and kindness. The energy in my workshop and my office exudes this. I feel so blessed to be able to be a conduit of this love from person to person.

On Instagram, you’ve been using the hashtag #wordsmatter on a regular basis and we couldn’t agree more. What are three ways we can all use words to help boost someone’s day?

  1. Write and send a letter to a friend for no reason—just to say hi or share a memory—even if that friend lives in the same town. Snail mail is still the best.

  2. Start a group text with far away friends. I was feeling distant from my two college roommates who live several hours away and missed sharing the mundane moments of our days with one another. So, I started a group text and took pictures of my dinner and wrote about what I was doing at that moment. It’s a little dorky, but it’s a way to say, “Hey. I’m thinking about you. You matter to me.”

  3. Write a heartfelt list to a friend. One of the best gifts I ever received was a list of 101 reasons why my friend loved me. The list was full of silly things and deep things and it is still one of my greatest treasures.

Owning a business and balancing everyday challenges can be tough. Do you have a mantra that helps you get through the hard times?

YES. In 2014 I had two mantras and I’m still deciding on my mantras for 2015.

I made this first one up for myself to combat the comparison monsters: “My business is growing at a pace that is perfect for me and what I want for my life.”

The second comes from the Prayer of Jabez. I read it and it just made so much sense to me considering where I am with my own personal, spiritual, and business development. I have this one written on my bathroom mirror: “Oh that you would bless me, indeed. Expand my territory. May your hand be with me and keep me from evil.”

Here at Clementine Daily, we celebrate the idea of living authentic, inspired lives. What are some ways you keep yourself grounded amidst the hustle and bustle of running your own company?

Though I work more total hours in running my company, I feel less hustle than I did when I was a classroom teacher. Sure, there are times of stress, but I am able to be in the flow so much better now that I’ve made some significant changes in my life that my business supports. But, when life gets sticky, as it will, the main thing I do to stay grounded is reach out to a small handful of people in my life who help tether me. They help me remember my reality, how far I’ve come and how much I continue to grow. The other thing I try to do regularly is meditate. I’m on a journey of trusting my own instincts and intuition and meditation has helped me tremendously.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next 5-10 years? What do you envision for Compliment in the future?

I’ve stopped measuring my years in accomplishments, actually. Isn’t that funny?! But I can project the way I want to feel and the things I need to do to be able to feel that way. So, in 5-10 years I hope to have a full staff of people who feel proud and invested in Compliment and who believe in the same core values. I want to bless the young women we support through the Compliment Scholarship Program in bigger ways, like paying for all four years of an undergraduate degree and having a program that supports their transition into college and continuing that support through ongoing mentorship. I want to be a mother and have a family life that is supported by my business and a business that supports my family life. I want to feel in the flow of life. I want see more of the world. I want to be able to give more generously to the people I love.

p.s. Now that’s a sentiment we can support with our whole hearts. Want to hear more about Melissa’s journey? Listen to her recent interview on the Creating Your Own Path podcast!