Natalie Dean, Founder of Whine & Cheese, Inc.

Women everywhere are working hard to make a difference in the lives of their community and the world at large. Some have overcome tremendous adversity and find ways to keep going. Others have blazed a path where few women have gone before. All of them are making a difference in some way. And each month Hope for Women seeks out and talks with one such woman thanks to the nomination of readers. Read the stories of women much like you and be inspired to make a difference today!

Hope for Women: Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Natalie Dean: My younger sister Camille is my biggest inspiration. She eagerly and unapologetically accomplishes her personal and professional goals all while maintaining a spirit of humility. For her to just be hitting her stride in her career, she's amassed much respect and success, not just because of what she knows, but because of who she is: smart, strategic and affable. When I am too cautious and calculated, she teaches me to be confident and carefree. When I'm feeling unqualified, nervous about new and unfamiliar opportunities and busy thinking up contingency plans, she forces me to remember my value, trust my gut and walk by faith. She amazes me in ways I didn't expect a younger sibling could. Many times she's been my sound advice and saving grace. I'm so incredibly proud of who she is and all she does; and I am compelled to be and do better because of her.  

HFW: What do you do to encourage others?

ND: First, I check my own emotional pulse and state of mind because I have learned that I am unable to encourage others if I am not coming from a place of inner peace and security. So, I first check in with myself to make sure I can give encouragement in that moment because energy – both positive and negative – is infectious, and I never want to do more harm than good. Particularly with women, I listen and respond with empathy because not only do women want to be heard, we want to be understood. I have found that I am unable to genuinely connect with or encourage another woman if I don't intensely listen to what she's saying (or not saying) and then place myself in her shoes.

I then respond from a perspective that encourages her to comfortably express and not suppress her innermost thoughts and emotions. And then, after she has taken the time she needed to whine, I help her find the reasons to still cheese – or smile – and be optimistic despite her circumstances. 

HFW: What obstacles have you overcome?

ND: In 32 years, I've had my share of obstacles. The biggest ones, however, have occurred when I've stood in my own way. Whether it was due to fear, insecurity, impatience or doubt, whenever I start to believe I'm incapable, I begin creating obstacles far bigger than what anyone or anything else can do to me. That's why faith in God plays such a huge role in my life. God can use anyone, despite their qualifications or lack thereof to do and reap exceedingly, abundantly, above whatever we could ask or think. For example, Whine & Cheese was only intended to consist of the 11 women that would meet periodically in my living room.

A year later, after telling a friend about it, she shared that she wanted to host a gathering in her city, too. I was hesitant and, frankly, possessive over the idea. And then I realized how ridiculous it would be to stand in the way of other women reaping the benefits of such a powerful concept. I overcame the self-imposed obstacles of insecurity and control and by doing so, birthed this national network of women helping women.  Now, we have branches of women gathering in living rooms across the country! 

HFW: What do you most enjoy about what you do?

ND: I enjoy being able to couple my passion for hosting gatherings with my purpose to build communities of support. I get positively recharged when friends send a note or give me a call thanking me for helping them to stop and smell the roses along the way. What's even better is when they share with me how they sought and found optimism on their own. When they start to point out the bright side without me prompting them, I know that I've had a positive impact. And that brings me joy!

HFW: What’s one message you wish all woman could hear?

ND: If I could shout it from the mountaintop, it would be that it's OK to ask for help, especially from other women. When I launched Whine & Cheese, I wanted it to be for women who were strong enough to admit things may not be perfect. You aren't expected to know it all, and you won't ever be free of failure. There is always at least one other woman who’s been through what you are going through. Use her as a sounding board and a source of strength. Believe it or not, we were created to help each other – to be interdependent.

That is the only way we'll be able to strengthen ourselves and, as a result, our families and communities. It begins with owning our flaws and collaborating instead of competing. There is room and opportunity for all of us to be great when we genuinely advocate for each other and not just ourselves.