Five Questions: Cassie Betts
Cassie Betts is the founder of the fashion company District2.co, founder and CEO of the urban tech accelerator MISLA, a diversity activist, and a mother of two. We got together at her office in Santa Monica, California and basically laughed throughout our entire meeting despite some heart-wrenching and soul-moving topics like infidelity, the afterlife, and the time she was held at gunpoint on the north shore of Hawaii. Meet Cassie.
How do you define being “in love”?
This is something that I’m ashamed to admit. It explains why I’m single. The definition of being in love is being insane!
Me: I love this already.
Cassie: Being in love is being insane. You lose all reason, logic…that’s why they call it madly in love because you have gone mad, you’re insane! And it doesn’t matter what this person does for a living, how tall they are, how handsome they are, how they treat you, almost—when you’ve crossed that line, you’ve lost all sense of consciousness and reason.
Me: I love “Being in love is being insane.” That’s a tee-shirt right there. Have you been in love before?
Cassie: I don’t know. Because I loved my husband and I was in love with him, but then when I found out that after ten years he had been cheating for the whole time, I left him. So maybe I wasn’t in love enough. I know I was madly in love with him, but after that betrayal, I just couldn’t let that go. I couldn’t continue forward because I felt like that was his character. It wasn’t a mistake, it was who he was, and he tricked me for ten frickin years.
Me: That’s an interesting point though. That you see it wasn’t a mistake, it was a character issue.
Cassie: It was his character. How do you work on that?
Me: I don’t know. At that point, ten years…
Cassie: You have enough time!
Me: Yeah, exactly! You knew what this was supposed to be.
Cassie: You had enough time to get it together.Was that too honest? You’re not going to print that, are you?
Me: Oh, it’s all in there!
What's one thing you don't know now, but feel compelled to know before you die?
I don’t know what happens when you die. That’s the biggest question mark I have. Because everything else I feel like I can learn, figure out, go find. But no one can tell us what happens. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Do you reincarnate? Is there just nothing, just blackness? I have Muslim friends who believe in just blackness. And then I have other Muslim friends who believe in the, what is it, forty virgins? There are all these different scenarios about what happens when you die and, yeah, our lives are short on this earth. So that’s a big question mark! Am I going to be able to look down and be like, “Oh, my babies are doing good!” Or be a part? Am I going to come back? Do I get to choose what I come back as?
Me: So do you have thoughts on what might happen?
Cassie: I don’t know. I kind of wish that the heaven thing is real and that I could come back every now again and help my little earthling friends. Angel kind of thing. And choose what I get to come back as or who I get to come back as. I think I want to come back as some sort of animal that could fly. I could just roll out like, “Ya know what? I don’t like it here, I’m out!” I would choose a bird, a really pretty bird. Not a person because, man, this life as a human is rough.
Me: Well, that’s interesting because your answer leads to the fifth question that I normally ask, so I’m going to go out of character here and ask you the normal fifth question.
Cassie: You’re going out of order!
Me: I am! Here we go!
What will you miss the most when you’re gone?
Again that’s like, “What happens when you’re gone?” Are you even going to miss? Is there going to be a you to miss? Is your soul there to feel that? But let’s say it is. That would definitely be my kids and people and experiences. I almost died once and I remember in that moment thinking how blue the sky was and the ocean and the trees. When I was in that moment of “I’m going to die,” the thing that I was thinking of the most was just living. Just breathing. And the wind felt so good on my skin. In that moment, I literally thought of the sun, the trees, and just being outside in the elements.
Me: What happened?
Cassie: I had a boyfriend that I was leaving and he kidnapped me. He beat me up and drove me to the north shore of Hawaii and put a gun to my head execution style and told me he was going to kill me. I thought I was going to die. When your life flashes before you—that was before my kids, so it was just life in general. I think now if that happened, my kids would flash first, and friends, family, and just life, just walking down the street. I enjoy just walking down the street and the wind blowing, watching a rose grow out of the ground. Everything is just so much more beautiful after you almost die.
Me: I survived two strokes, so I have my version of that. Not as dramatic, obviously, no comparison. But I had my moment of “This is it.” So what happened to you when it was done? How did you get out of it? How did you come back to center after that?
Cassie: In that moment—and I remember. The sun was so beautiful. Everything was so beautiful. The grass was so green, the sky was so blue, and I just remember it being the most beautiful day I’ve ever seen in my life. So I said a prayer: Dear God, If I can get past this day, if I can make it through this moment, and if I can survive this, I swear to you I will change the world. I will grow up, I will become someone amazing, and I will help, and I will save, and I will do good things with my life, I swear.
And in that moment, on the radio, comes his and my—our song. Literally in that moment, the song that was “our song” came on. And he started to choke up and cry. And he said he couldn’t do it. And he didn’t do it.
Me: Oh my god. Oh my god.
Cassie: Right? Hence my focus on saving South LA!
Me: Totally! Now it’s a contract!
Cassie: It’s a contract!
Me: God is like, “I saw you sign that!”
Cassie: “I’m gonna need ya to pay up!”
So, I think I’ve been making a good difference in people’s lives since then. I felt like that was one of my second chances. I brought myself back to center because I had been through so much. That isn’t even the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. That’s probably number four. So if that’s the number four worst thing, you can only imagine what one, two, and three are! It was easier to find my way from that because I had already found my way from other things that were way worse.
Me: OK. Wow. I mean. Whoa. I need a minute to find the next questions.
Cassie: Do you need a moment? Do you need a hug?
In what ways do you hold yourself back?
I might hold myself back with the whole love thing. I’m afraid of insanity. And of course I think love is insanity, so that’s a fear of losing my brain. I just don’t want to be that wife with the cheating husband or the beating husband. I just don’t want to be that person. So I hold myself back with that. Not career—I go and I get it. Whatever I want, I go get it. I’ve always gotten pretty much what I want as far as life goals. But love…yeah, that’s where I hold myself back.
Me: For you in love equals insane. Do you think there’s a possibility that you could be in love and be sane?
Cassie: I don’t think that would be fun!
Me: Oh, I get it now!
Cassie: I would want to be madly in love! But I would want to be madly in love with someone who’s going to be good to me!
Me: But that’s what I’m getting at. I think you can still be fucking fiery, but not crazy.
Cassie: I think crazy’s the good part though. See, that’s the thing, the crazy in love part is the good part. When you can lose yourself with this person. This is real love. You are so in love that you don’t even know if they’re good or bad anymore, you’re just in it. Like when you’ve been in your house and you haven’t showered for a week and you’re like, “Do I smell? I don’t even know anymore!” It’s like you don't even know if he’s a good guy or not because you’re so in it, you don’t even care. It would be nice to be in it—I don’t think you can be in love without being insane. No matter what they did—they could kill someone and you would just cover it up. So I don’t think that’s love if you would leave them… You know? So it scares me.
Me: You like the idea of the “uh-oh!”
Cassie: Yeah, I like the idea of it. It’d be great if we could be on the same page and he could love me that much. Because if he loved me that much as much as I loved him, he wouldn’t hurt me. He wouldn’t cheat, or hit me, he wouldn’t do anything to hurt me because he loves me so much. And I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him either. Intentionally…we’re going to hurt each other accidentally, because that’s just life, but we wouldn’t intentionally betray each other. So the answer is no, I don’t think you can be in love without insanity, but I think it can be good. You can have a good insanity if the two people are kind to each other. But the odds of that! In LA?! I just need to move to some country town or somewhere in Europe!
How do you define failure?
I don’t think there is such a thing as failure. It’s only fear and laziness. There’s a quote! “There’s no such thing as failure, only fear and laziness.” Because whatever you want to do, it only stops because you were too scared—well there are three reasons: Fear, laziness, and you’re just over it. You’re too scared to continue forward with the goal. Or you just got lazy and didn’t want to do it anymore. Or you were just over it and you realized it didn’t make you happy. Fear and laziness are not an option in my world. It’s OK to want to be a doctor and then realize that this doesn’t make me happy and you want to be a photographer. I started a fashion tech company and now I want to be a diversity-in-tech activist. It’s OK to change paths and there’s really no big failure because you’re going to take something from that. Even in a failed marriage, it’s not really failed—we have to stop looking at things as if they have to last forever because when you go to school, you’re going to have a teacher for maybe four years and then it’s over. Was that a fail? That was that time for that moment. Failure doesn’t really exist, it isn’t so finite. It’s such a small thing unless you just give up and die.