Cup 14

Person: Denise Busley

Drink: Small brewed coffee in a mug, Grand Traverse Pie Company, Lansing

If you can’t get enough of the pie at Grand Traverse Pie Company, thank co-founder Denise Busley.

Her story, however, is even better than the pie.

Two years after graduating from Michigan State, Denise Busley found herself in a medical sales job outside Los Angeles.   Between student loans and the high cost of living, it was a constant struggle to make ends meet and she and her husband Mike couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

She had a sales territory that had been abandoned for six months and the sales forecasts she was expected to meet seemed impossible. When her sales numbers were meager at the end of the quarter, her manager walked in and warned her—she had 90 days to turn her territory around.

She was distraught and mad. The situation wasn’t fair.

Then something happened. Right after the meeting with her manager, Denise attended the company’s national sales meeting. During the meeting, they made a big to-do about the rep with the highest sales. They gave him a big award and displayed his sales numbers—he was making twice as much in commission as Denise was! And, he was from some middle-of-nowhere state.

Suddenly a huge mental barrier disappeared for Denise. She realized she was letting the situation pull her down. If this guy could make that kind of money in his state, there was no reason she couldn’t match his numbers in LA where she, “could trip over 10 doctors on her way to work.”

It was a light bulb moment.

After the meeting, she ran (literally) to catch up with the president of the company and told him, “I’m going to be the sales rep of the year next year.” Then—once the adrenalin wore off—she had a moment of panic wondering what on earth she’d done.

But a year later, she was sales rep of the year.

For Denise, the change happened because she shifted her mindset. Instead of thinking, “this isn’t fair, my territory was abandoned, there’s too much competition, etc.,” she accepted that she was in a tough situation and  focused on the goal she had decided—very boldly—to achieve.

Denise eventually left the job, but the lesson stayed with her: understand situations for what they are and change what you have the ability to change.


Two kids and a 15 years later, it looked liked a relocation was in store for Mike, and neither Denise nor Mike could justify uprooting their kids to a new state when they weren’t really in love with the jobs they had. During a trip back to Traverse City, they visited a small pie shop and an idea hit. They would forget their current jobs and start a small 15-seat pie shop. Grand Traverse Pie Company was born.

In 10 years, they have expanded to over a dozen locations, which has brought Denise great success in a career she never expected. But more importantly, it has given her the resources to do what is most important to her—helping others. With the business running strong, Denise has stepped away from daily operations at the pie shop to contribute her efforts to a group of people working to bring a Children’s Advocacy Center to Traverse City.

Her journey has had its fair share of ups and down; but she has flourished because in difficult situation she has looked for the positive and focused on doing her best.  She’s approached life with the, “I’m going to be the sales rep of the year” mentality, instead of believing “this situation is unfair, and I’ll never make it.” That approach has made her happy. She feels truly blessed.


A few days after meeting with Denise, I was having a bad day because there was something I just couldn’t get off my mind. I spent all day dwelling on the bad situation and by the end of the day, the negative thoughts caught up to me.

Then I remembered what Denise had said, “Why label something as good or bad? Why can’t we just accept the situation for what it is?”

That’s when Denise’s words about acceptance really sunk in.

We often get stuck wallowing in situations we can’t control: the weather, genetics, the economy, the past, a bad sales territory—whatever it might be. And we let those situations drag us down. We focus on why it’s unfair or wish with all our might that we can snap our fingers and solve the problem.

It’s because acceptance is so damn hard.

No one wants to face the reality that their life has an imperfection. So we default to denial. We either dwell on the problem or push it under a rug and pretend its not there. But that doesn’t work. Refusing to accept situations we cannot change leads to devoting significant emotional and mental energy to changing a situation that we have zero control over. This turns the situation into a black hole for negative energy that entrenches our thoughts in a negative cycle. A cycle that is ineffective and sometimes destructive.

But if we can find the strength to push through the emotion and pain necessary to accept reality, we can redirect our focus to identifying the issues we can control. We start looking for solutions instead of wallowing in the problem.

The process of acceptance has transformative affects. It’s the reason Denise became sales rep of the year and a reason she and Mike have succeeded in the restaurant business and their mission to play a positive role in the community.

As I sat in my bad mood feeling the weight of the world on top of me, I thought about Denise and how that sales meeting changed her life. How it shifted her thinking and got her out the door selling.

In a way, cup 14 is like that sales meeting. Talking with Denise didn’t solve any of my problems, but it did reframe them. I realized that when life is pushing down on me, I’m just wasting energy pushing back. As hard as it is to let go—the more efficient use of that energy is finding a way to move forward.

I realize looking for the positive in difficult situations seems like a cliché. Its too easy to say, impossible to do. Accept terrible situations and emotional pain? Please. This isn’t Pollyanna.

But here is what I learned from Denise: if we can’t find acceptance, we get dragged down by denial and negativity. And that is no way to spend a lifetime.

Alright, so how do we find acceptance? What exactly is acceptance? How long does it take? How do I know when I’ve done it?

I don’t know those answers, which is why acceptance is damn hard.

But I think it’s worth finding out.