A recent episode of This American Life profiled one of my great friends and personal heroes, Giulietta Carrelli, the founder of Trouble Coconut Club in San Francisco. Her founder story is completely different than the vast majority of other business owners I have met and worked with. She is, in my opinion, the most incredible entrepreneur on two legs.

Trouble, as the cafe is known, is responsible for the freshly popped up trend of gourmet/artisan toast in the Bay Area. It serves coffee, coconuts, grapefruit juice, and cinnamon toast. It’s an odd but effective combo. But really her story is an inspirational one about how to overcome any obstacle and find and build the circumstances you need to live a healthy and happy life. The tattoo on my arm that reads, “Build your own damn house,” is the name of the coffee-coconut-toast combo at Trouble and a reminder of what it takes to do just that.

Giulietta has struggled since she was a teenager with what is now diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder. “Trouble” is her self-appointed name for these episodes when they occur. During these times, she hears voices, hallucinates, has extreme discomfort when trying to eat, gets disoriented, and is vexed by her own existence.

For many years Giulietta wandered from crowd to crowd, city to city, and even coast to coast looking for a place she could “fit in,” trying to make sense of her situation. She struggled to keep friendships, relationships, and jobs. At what seemed to be the end of another coffee shop job, instead of being shown the door again, she was encouraged to open her own place. She opened Trouble in an out of the way San Francisco neighborhood, gave it a bizarrely simple menu and today has 5 locations turning a handsome profit.

As she went through her days, weeks, months, and years, she began to build a model of the kinds of things she needed to function with her condition. She got sober and was prescribed proper medication. She learned that she needed to talk to people (eat a coconut in public and see how long it takes for someone to ask you about it) and she needed to be able to ask for help when she needed it. She wears the same thing everyday so the people she’s most likely to ask are likely to recognize her.

During her interview for This American Life she said, “I need to be well known.” And she means this in the most elemental, basic way possible. It’s this kind of “need” that’s so refreshing to identify and act on. She knew that she needed the help of others, whether friends or strangers, to properly function with her condition. She didn’t need to be famous or admired, simply recognized so that when she needs help, she is likely to get it.

Identify your needs and ensure they are met! Anytime I find myself whining about something being “too hard” I look down at my tattoo, inspired by Giulietta. If Giulietta can get into Trouble, you and I can do anything, sacrifice anything, and use our talents to greater effect — if only just in gratitude that we can.

Want to know more about Giulietta and Trouble? Listen to the episode here.

photo credit: monicapharr.wordpress.com