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    7 min read

    Rising Strong: My Thoughts as a Comeback Kid

    Three weeks after an EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin, MO I stood on a street corner and watched my offices burn to the ground. If the last three weeks had taught this town anything, it was that there would be some things just not coming back and some remarkable stories in the most unlikely places. We just weren't sure which were which yet. Next month marks the five year anniversary of this momentous event in my life and here I reflect on my own comeback story.  

    Earlier that year my sister Michelle introduced me to Brené Brown via The Gifts of Imperfection and to say that it changed my life is under stating the truth. Informed with research, Brené calls you to declutter your mind and your life from all of the past messages which led you to live with a quarter or, if you were lucky, a half of your heart. No matter how much you were engaged you quickly realize it was not with your whole heart. 

    Through the course of her book she reveals the secrets of that special tribe called the "wholehearted". In the midst of life, which inevitably includes pain, they are not walking unscathed, but are walking with their whole heart engaged - bravely facing things for real. 

    You may wonder why I am discussing this book that touched me so deeply on my business blog. Firstly, this is my blog and I get to talk about anything I want. Secondly, the scars of shame are incredibly strong around business management, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. This is my territory. Every day I walk through a minefield of what VPs of marketing, CEOs and entrepreneurs think they "ought" to be doing. I have discovered, at the root of many poor decisions, is a lot of shame people are carrying around about business.

    I have said it a hundred times, but I hate the part of our culture where we make business people feel ashamed for not knowing jargon, current trends or the real "how to" for emerging techniques. The business world moves at a fast clip and just when you think you understand your ROI, core competencies, DNS, keyword research, buyer personas, SaaS and you think you know how to "move the needle" then you still have to actually get the work done. VPs of Marketing, CEOs and entrepreneurs come to me and often confess they don't know what a hashtag is, let alone how to use it. THIS IS VULNERABILITY IN ACTION and it is the place where we can truly begin. They don't need to fully understand what we do, but they need an environment where they do not have to be tacitly shamed for what they do not know. 

    My entire company survives on our ability to create and innovate - on demand. Managing a staff of mostly creatives involves a strange balance between pushing people's boundaries of what they think is possible and asking them to get it done on a schedule. That is a tightrope act to say the least. Then you get to the good stuff which is dealing with the deeply personal work creativity is. Brené totally has it right when she says that you cannot expect people to create or innovate without an environment where it is acceptable to fail. At Little Bird, we say, "work your work job, not your worth job". In this way, we keep our self worth intact despite how much we may tinker with, recreate or totally toss our work in the end. 

    As a corporate sponsor for Emerging Women, I've had the privilege of meeting Brené a few times. She signed my tattered copy of The Gifts of Imperfection with a kind look. But the last keynote I heard from her was about Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble and The Revolution. Since then I have totally enjoyed this book as a handbook for those willing to accept the challenge. I'd like to point out that she felt the need to give a kind of WARNING indication on the front. It's not the title, or the subtitle, but it reads: "If we are brave enough often enough, we will fail. This is a book about what it takes to get back up."

    A few tears slid down my cheek as I read that anew. It has been a long 5-year journey to create a company literally from the ashes. June 14th will mark 5 years since I stood on a sidewalk and watched my company burn to the ground. Today, with this anniversary in sight I reflect on the process of Rising Strong and what it feels to be a comeback kid. 

    The Reckoning is a “walking into our stories.” This is where you recognize emotion, and get curious about your feelings and how they connect with the way you think and behave.

    The surprise to me was how many of my emotions after the fire centered on a desire for vindication. You would have to know the back story of what I was up against as the new agency on the local scene. Local TV reps, radio general managers, and established media seemed vehemently opposed to my success. This was not a dismissive attitude. My new shop was innovating and challenging the status quo and created much fear in the established small town media. This included the editor of the only local newspaper telling a room full of staff to not honor my agency of record contracts as I would be "failing soon anyway".  News travels fast in a small town. I got the message. Nobody thought I would succeed and they sure weren't going to help me do it. 

    The Rumble is “owning our story.” This is where you get honest about the stories you actively make up about the struggle. 

    It took some time to own the story that was driving my motivation to succeed. Namely that was "I will have to do this against all odds because everyone is against me." This middle part uncovers the deepest truths about how we allow these stories to control us. I had to deal with the truth that just seven months ago I started this marketing company to innovate, but I was beginning to drive toward my success only in order to prove to others that I could succeed. I had allowed the naysayers to coop my dream and pollute my vision. If I continued down this pathway to vindication I would allow them to dictate my every step. The truth of the matter is that it was a self-protection mechanism so that if I did indeed fail, I would have someone to blame. Removing this "safety net" was a part of the rumble that had to take place to pave the way for The Revolution. I would no longer allow myself to perpetuate this story. 

    The Revolution is “writing a new ending.” This “new story” takes key lessons from the rumble and helps you change how you engage with the world and transform how you are living. 

    I needed a new story that did not involve having someone to blame should my business fail. Instead, I needed to recommit to the bravery of my vision to create a company of forward thinking creatives bringing world-class branding and marketing concepts to a small-town market. I also reminded myself of my desire to create a company culture where creatives could be brave enough and respected enough to innovate regardless of the outcome. Ultimately, these goals became my guiding principles and my success began to be measured from my own values. The old story of how they were all against me now had no power and other's opinions of my success began to fade into the background. I was once again free to be myself. 

    Five years later my business is a tremendous success. We've surpassed our own goals and created a movement others are trying to mimic. Many who used to oppose us we now consider to be colleagues and friends. That did not come to pass because I vindicated myself, but because I have written my own story and connected with them through my vulnerability and bravery instead of through my contention and negativity.

    My business may fail yet, but I am not a failure. Being a comeback is not about coming back from one crisis. Nor is it about losing your fear of failure, but it is about developing resilience to stay present and engaged in your business and having the courage to get up time and time again. I am a comeback kid, writing my own come back story.


    This post was written by Priscilla McKinney, Momma Bird at Little Bird Marketing. As a full service agency, we provide full branding overhauls, website development, and extensive digital strategy including inbound marketing packages. Hear more from this Momma Bird in her podcast, Ponderings from the Perch or follow her on Twitter @LittleBirdMktg

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