We all Heal Differently – ZipperClub

Charli K Matthews - ZipperClub photo

Last July, I became a #zipperclubmember. This is not a club that you would strive to be in and probably don’t know exists until someone in your family joins it. I joined as an #openheartsurgerysurvivor … Those words still sound strange saying them aloud. I was born with a bicuspid valve instead of a tricuspid valve. Over time the valve began to leak due to increased stress and lack of caring for myself mentally and physically. I started having several unrelated symptoms, and it took us about 3 years to figure out was what was causing the problems. After a MRI found that my valve was leaking 30%, we realized I wasn’t getting enough oxygen mixing with my blood. This can obviously cause other organs to have problems, so I went to a surgeon to discuss options. I still hadn’t really processed surgeon = surgery, so when the words “open heart” surgery was mentioned it took me a minute to follow. I heard the words you can choose a tissue valve or a mechanical valve. I was then sent to make an appointment for surgery. I was alone and as I sat with the lovely nurse who was explaining this I was thinking, “Is this really happening? I mean is this a real option for me…” She asked me to pick a date and I picked the very last day available. I was just giving myself as much time to get out of this as possible. Surely, there was another option. I started to cry. The nurse prayed with me and that seemed to calm me down enough to get to the car. I sat and stared out of the parking garage in downtown Birmingham. The world turned blurry. Surgery was not something I wanted to do. I almost walked in there and said, “You should just cancel that appointment… I will just wait until it gets worse.”

A mechanical valve sounds cool and all, but I did not want to be on blood thinners at 40. I also didn’t like the idea of making my family go through the surgery again if I chose the tissue valve that would wear out in 10 years. I also knew my brothers would be making the sounds of whatever animal it was every chance they got.  These were not good options for me.  There was a chance he could repair it. That’s what he said repair OR replace… I held out hope that they could repair it. It was the best case scenario and I prayed for that.  As I posted to social media and told friends and business partners about this, I received a ton of support and encouragement. There really are too many to mention here. Let’s just say… there is no way my subconscious can ever trick me to think no one cares about me again. I have the proof that many people love and care about me.

I will mention a couple people who’s words still ring in my ears. 

Andre Davanzo. Thank you for telling me I shouldn’t wait that I should do it sooner than later. Thank you for saying, you need to take care of yourself and putting it in a way I could understand. “Do it now because your family and friends are going through this with you, and you don’t want them to have to wait and worry.” I took that advice and called and changed the appointment to an earlier date.  Andre… Thank you also for video calling me to make sure I was ok when I still had a tube in my neck. I will never forget it even if I was on some heavy drugs then

During this time, I would daily question if my family would be better off if I didn’t’ make it. I mean I had good life insurance. These were the mental battles that no one likes to talk about, but I struggled with these type of internal thoughts. Then, I received a card from Amanda and Matt Hoffpauir. At the very end it said, “The world needs you Charli!” My daughter was actually in the car with me and because I was driving she read it to me.  In that moment, something clicked and I know there was only one Charli and my family needed me… Just me to be there for them. 

The next person changed the way I showed up for the surgery. Mike Griffin aka Griff. He is also an open heart surgery survivor. He told me his story, welcomed me to

My ZipperClub Hero!!!
My ZipperClub Hero!!!

the #ZippperClub, and showed me his scar. Next, he told me to go into the surgery with a warrior spirit. He told me how he went into his battle determined to win and get out of the hospital in record time. It was a little bit of a competition, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I immediately pictured Gal aka Wonder Woman headed into battle with bullets flying at her… she was unstoppable in a battle only she could win. I was ready for battle. I had a warrior mindset.  I would win.

I woke up from surgery with the breathing tube still in. I motioned for a pen and wrote, PIG? Carter said, “No, they repaired it! I am still amazed he knew what I meant.  In that moment, I knew everything was going to be ok, because I knew without any doubt, God had answered my prayer and was right there with me through the surgery guiding the surgeon’s hands. I mean how does a valve just start again after 40 years being soldered together. It was a miracle. I was incredibly thankful! I relaxed… Then, I heard my mom tell me to breathe. I remember thinking ok yes, Breathe Charli… Yes! I want to breathe on my own. Mom had told me how important that was before I went under. I took a couple breaths and out came the tube… Now, it was time to get to work recovering… This was the real battle.

That first night was awful. I was nauseous, and I could not get enough pain medicine. I got sick over and over until this Angel gave me a sponge bath, and I was finally able to calm and go to sleep. The next day, I moved to a room where my mom and Carter could be with me. I was given instructions on how to breathe into a spirometer or what I liked to call the lung capacitor, a Back to the Future reference… It was a struggle to take a deep breathe, but each time I did it I felt like I really did something. Each time I could take a deeper breather or more reps, I felt I had made it to the next mile marker in this marathon. Seeing how I couldn’t do much else, I focused on breathing. There were fluid tubes everywhere: A tube in my neck, two coming out of my lungs, a catheter, two that filled up these air wraps on both legs, and an IV. Let me just say… I was barely able to say the word tube before my surgery without getting nauseous, and now they were all around me. I have never cared much for medical talk and the nurses in my family who love all those details know not to talk about that around me! I knew this was going to be hard for me, so I literally told myself over and over before surgery… Tube are good. They save lives… Tubes are the best thing for you. Just to prepare my brain for what I knew would send me spiraling if I didn’t prepare.

So, I set out to master the deep breathe. I did it! Then I got to move from the bed to the chair. I realized that if I did one task, I would get to try another. So, I kept taking the next step… I went from the chair to the bathroom. Then, I went down the hallway. I still remember seeing another woman that came in the same day I did for surgery, and I thought, “I am doing better than her. Keep fighting warrior…” I took a larger walk. The first day I walked I was scared that I would not have the strength to make it much around the corner, I would turn around. I could just see me fall laying with all the tubes, gown open, butt shining… The next day I decided I would walk the full hall, and if I passed out with all these tubes and my gown open so be it. I would at least know my limits. I did it… I made it down the hall and back. I was able to take all the tubes out.  The tubes that were in my lungs were the last to come out.  I was a wake for this. They literally just told me to take a deep breath and then blow out.  While I blew out, they pulled the tubes out… It was the most amazingly awkward rewarding feeling I have ever experienced.  My reward… a shower! Even though it was sitting down on one of those medical chairs with a handheld sprayer, it was heavenly…

It was time to go home. The battle continues…

I kept this mindset once I got home and pushed myself to do “one more” each day… one more walk to the mailbox, one more 5lb weight rep, one more bite of chicken casseroles… It was a process, and I was prepared for that. I was not prepared for the mental struggle that would take place next.

My scars. One LONG scar down my the middle of my chest and two “tube” scars just underneath.

Each day, I was a little stronger and would continue to do my walks around the house. I would wear my robe pajamas that wrapped and allowed my scar to be open and heal. It was on display. I saw it constantly with all the mirrors in our home. It made my children uncomfortable. So, I would try to hide it with my robe pajamas as best I could when they were around. But there is not hiding this scar.  As it healed I was instructed to put oils and lotions on it to help the scar. I did this everyday. Everyday, looking to see if the scar had changed. Was it fading? The answer was NO. I would get in the shower to clean it and cry.  I cried a lot in the shower.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like having a scar.  I think scars are cool, and I already had a C-section scar so I was use to that.  It was that every time I got out of the shower, the mirror was there to show me the scar and remind me how WEAK I was… 

My entire wardrobe seemed to be some sort of V-neck collection to showcase I was injured. I went through my clothes throwing out my favorite items that I no longer felt comfortable wearing. I would look through my photos and see my chest in my favorite V-neck shirt or dress without a scar and think… Well, that is no longer me. My favorite dresses and styles would need to change. All I could think is who am I. The way I expressed myself through fashion had changed forever.  I didn’t know how I wanted to show up.  I am not one to hide. I was so uncertain. Should I be hiding this scar? I know it makes people uncomfortable. Hell, it made me uncomfortable! I didn’t know what to do… The strong lady I saw in my photographs had disappeared for me. She was lost. I was sad. So, I grieved. I gave myself space to do this. Three months later after binge watching Chicago Med and watching all the up-close surgery action I could find (part of my healing I suppose), I began to see my scar as a symbol of my courage. 

I have to thank my coaches Susan Hobson and Rob Kalwarowsky for allowing me to share about my surgery on the Leadership Launchpad Podcast. I just recently listened to it, and I know that was a turning point in my journey.  I was then able to share it on the stage at the American Heart Association’s Worksite Wellness event. I had done the work to get myself back physically and on mission. 

You can listen to it here:

In September, I had made it to 3miles walking with intervals of running just in time for the Grundfos Water for Water.  This really was my motivation.  I wanted to be

Made it 3 miles!!!
Made it 3 miles!!!

able to post that I had done the virtual 3 miles.  This was an eternity on a treadmill for me back then… I was bored after 1 mile. I learned that if played my cardio pop music and did more of dance walk. I could make it. It was a mental test.  I finally passed it.  This also allowed me to be ready for the Empowering Women stage in Chicago in Oct. This was my ultimate goal.  I wanted to show up with energy as myself.  The whole conference was themed #BeYourself.  I was there and I felt I had won the battle!

In reality, it took me a few more months and a hysterectomy to work out all my health issues. Today, I feel that we have uncovered the energy I have been missing for decades, but I still felt I wasn’t fully healed.

Going through this trauma and listening to others stories has taught me, everyone overcomes obstacles in their own way. I know for me I must tell my story to heal… I must show my scar… I must not hide to live in my truth. 

Life goes on and we must keep moving as well.  Take the Deep Breath, Take a Walk, Benge some random TV, do whatever it takes to walk in your truth!

My truth is… I am a survivor. a courageous warrior who went straight at the problem and I happy to show off my victory scar with all my fellow zipper clubs friends. 

Cheers to all of you bold beauties! #scarsarebeautiful #zipperclubmember #openheartsurgerysurvivor #mentaltoughness #selfdispline #nationalzipperday #empoweringwomeninindustry #empoweringwomen #wonderwoman #charlimagic 

Leadership and Personal Branding

Charli's Events and Workshops

I’ve recently shared Lessons Learned in Ten Years of Business and wanted to continue to build on that. We all know that being a good leader is important no matter if you are the head of a large corporation or temporarily in charge of a small team. They want to know who they are working with and what you stand for. Below, I will show you why personal branding is important to leadership.

  1. It allows you to be authentic.

In the past, we only had our name to rely on. Now we have our own personal branding. The bad news is if you aren’t creating your personal brand, others are. You show your commitment to your work by defining a clear leadership style as well as if and how you live it. You must go beyond having a developer design a logo, create a mission statement, etc. A leader is a mentor, role model, trusted colleague, expert in their area, and an overall authoritative voice in their chosen field. This goes whenever you make an appearance on social media, in person, in the office, on the field, or even in a podcast. Your personal branding is authentic when you live it every day and others pick up on it.

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The World Needs You… Yes YOU!

Charli at Model Call

These were the sweetness words read to me by my daughter as I recovered from surgery. I don’t know if it was the confirmation I needed to heal or just the emotions that anyone feels when they are told they matter, but it did the trick. I saw this phrase in several letters I received as encouragement and it made you wonder, “The world needs me for what?”

When my daughter read it to me, I immediately thought “Yes, to be your mom!” But, each time I read it in other places, I would think of a different reason. I remember thinking about the engineer who wrote this in his letter, and I thought “Yes, to bring the excitement!” I could give more and more examples, but the main theme was… The world needs you… Because no one else can be you!

This is what I want all of you to know! The world needs you to bring yourself to the table. The world needs your ideas, your creativity, your strategic mind, your critical thinking, and yes your voice. We need to hear from you and learn from who you are!

I encourage everyone who reads this to look into themselves and wonder not “the world needs me for what?” But What can I share with the world that is unique to me? What are my strengths, gifts, and talents? Now, let me settle your doubts right now… YOU HAVE THEM! You were created to be a blessing to others and you are!

As I understand from the outpouring of love I experienced during my recovery from heart surgery, you are loved whether you feel like it all the time or not. Accepting that love or any help from others has been hard for me in the past… Gratitude practices really helps with this. Learning to love and appreciate yourself as the creation you are also helps with accepting love and understanding others motivations.

I am confident that I am loved by God, myself, and others. I say “others” because I could feel the love from strangers as well as friends during my recovery, and it is truly incredible. What strangers’ love did you walk right past and not notice? I challenge you to make it a point to notice. Love comes in so many different forms, and it is an honor to get to know your love language! One of my favorite ways to share love is to mention someone online and include a picture of them (with me if I have it). I like to do this, because I also like to receive that kind of love as well. Bethany Womack picked up on my love language without me telling her. It really made me smile when she mentioned it in passing because I felt like she understood me. Similarly, Bethany captures my soul in photos. Like the one featured here, she captures the things that make me… well ME!

The hundreds of people who posted on my heart surgery and recover posts can not have known how much their comment would really mean to me. It helped me understand that I was loved, in a way I could understand and valued. If this was you, Thank you! I truly felt the virtual embrace!

If public shoutouts aren’t your thing, I’m curious, how do you show love? You can private message me 😀

Ok… I know that is a lot about love on this “professional network” so I’ll get back to business. The world needs you! Know it and shine your light within your industry. We want to hear your voice, we want to learn from your story, and we want to see what you will innovate next!

Don’t know where to start, message me! I’ll listen!

Lessons Learned in 10 Years of Business

Charli and Lessons Learned

Let’s start with this…Double Digits!!! Can you believe I have been a business owner for 10 years?!! It’s a huge milestone for an entrepreneur, and I am so happy to celebrate with all of you!

As I look back on the last ten years, I have so much gratitude for the journey. I have had some huge celebrations and some disappointments and have learned great lessons from both.


To be an entrepreneur, you must be a leader. You can’t pass this role off to someone else. Even if you have a team to help you, you must understand your responsibility within the organization to lead yourself and your team. When things are hard, it is your responsibility to share the vision toward improvement. As an activator, so many times I am ready to pass off a project to someone else to carry on. This is not possible for your company. It must be a reflection of you and your values as well as taking into account the views of your team.

I love the work around leadership and developing others. I’ve learned that it takes the individual (me included) deciding to do the work to grow. It really must be their idea. You can suggest and recommend things but a leaders must believe in themselves and their abilities. Sometimes that isn’t natural and sometimes there are limiting beliefs that are keep you from moving to the next level.


When I started the company, it was so that I could have a job. I quickly realized in order to grow I would need help. I wasn’t sure who I needed but I knew I needed some help. I needed people around me that had strengths that were different than mine. I also needed someone that could stand in when I wasn’t able to be there. Each person that has worked for us had a significant influence on what the company is today and I love sharing this accomplishment with all of them. I will add, my team that navigated the pandemic and came through to now navigate my absence is showing remarkable abilities beyond my expectations! I am so proud of what we have built at Empowering Brands.

The Hard Stuff

I was a mom of three (under 6 yrs old) when I started my company. This was no doubt a challenge for our family and the business. My kids have seen me at my best and at my worst. What I know today is that I am glad my children are independent like their mom and know how to work hard. They also know that rewards come with challenges and the good ones usually come with a lot of hard work. Navigating family life and work commitments for both me and my husband, Carter, was a source of conflict especially when his job would ask why I couldn’t watch the kids every-time they were sick. I would get so angry as I was also building my business and there was no one else to do it. These were tough days… But I am so glad we made it through it because now, if my child needs me, I can be there. I can be there because we built a successful business and it allows me and my team the flexibility to work and have a wonderful family life. This is so important to me and one of the most rewarding parts of my business today.


You must be passionate about your work! If you lose that passion along the way, you must find it or adapt your business. Burnout is real and you must have purpose alongside the work to keep from tiring too quickly. For me, it’s my passion for water and empowering women! I wake up on mission each day and that makes no challenge to overwhelming.


Moving forward is essential. When you get complacent, you will soon see yourself or your team falling backward. There is a good way to see this forming… it starts with unresolved conflict. Is there something that keeps coming up but isn’t getting addressed? This is a sign to look for a root cause. Problems are often not related to the obvious.

Being Present

The best thing I implemented when Bekah joined our team is a weekly meeting and a Friday email check in. This has allowed us both to grow. It gives her access to me at an uninterrupted time as well as a way for her to keep me informed. There is a trust and accountability for each of us to be there for each other and accomplish our goals along the way. This system has allowed me to fully trust her and her abilities because I know her. I know her because I spend time with her and I believe this makes all the difference.


Yes, I had to learn about cash-flow and credit lines. I still think I need more knowledge of investments and finance even if it was my college major. Having said that, these business tips and tricks are the easy part. The tough part of entrepreneurship is believing in yourself. You must have the courage to take risks and believe that you can accomplish your goals. You also need to be able to adapt and move on when things don’t work out as planned. This is all much easier with a network of encouragers! I am lucky to have such a diverse network. It has been key to my understanding in business and company culture as well as benefited me personally when I needed a good high-five !

So the best advice I can give if you are considering starting a business…Find you a cheerleader, a side of grit, and a list of all things that make you uniquely you. And know…You got this!


I think the role of the person creating the company has to be vision. They must have a clear vision of where the company is headed. This can change over time but I think it the owner doesn’t know what they what to accomplish then it will be hard to get their team to buy into the work. I do believe that each team member can have input into the vision but the responsibility for vision must stay with the creator as the final say. I say this because I believe the team looks to the entrepreneur for confirmation on next steps. I don’t believe real success is possible with a hand off approach unless the creator steps away completely. This is why staying involved with the people, products, and processes is so important for our leaders. We must understand the work we are asking others to accomplish.

Finding Your Voice

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Water is Life – Buy Pumps, Save Lives


Can you imagine a world without water?

In remote parts of the world, women spend several hours a day carrying heavy buckets many miles to gather water for their families. The work is backbreaking, and the water is filthy. Because of the effort and time required to collect the water, the children are unable to attend school or play.

More than 750 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. However, the non-profit engineering company, Design Outreach, has developed a deep-water hand pump called LifePumpTM that helps alleviate this crisis, especially in isolated communities.

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