17 years in advertising and marketing taught me that I hate selling stuff. 25 years of charity work taught me that I love helping people.
For 10 years, I owned a successful boutique ad agency; it was my job to sell stuff and I was good at it! But being good at a task and being happy doing it aren’t the same thing. I needed fulfillment. I wanted a greater purpose to drive everything I do, not just the few hours I could spare for charity work.
My “Why” sneaked up on me in the emergency room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite and was called Rhabdomyosarcoma – a big ugly word that put my little 9 year old in the hospital for the better part of a year hooked up to IVs full of nasty chemicals they hoped would kill the cancer before it could kill the kid.
I wish I could say that was the moment that my greater purpose hit me like a bolt of lightning. It wasn’t. It was the beginning of a long journey that was dark and fraught with depression, fear, failure, hopelessness, and many teary nights. The journey that brought me to EPIC Creativity. This is my story.
Cancer is the kind of thing that brings to light all of the good and all of the bad at once.
There’s the good and it’s truly, truly good. Cancer brought friends and neighbors we barely knew together to help us get siblings home from school, cook meals, run our business, and raise money to cover the expenses insurance doesn’t. It introduced us to the good people at CURE Childhood Cancer that made sure that at least one night a week, the families at the children’s hospital got a delicious meal – a huge blessing after days or weeks of hospital cafeteria food. It brought blessings in more ways than I can recount.
Then there is the bad and it’s very bad. The strain Cancer puts on finances, relationships, and the spirit is unbearable for many. It was unbearable for me. After 11 months of helping care for my son through chemotherapy, radiation, and countless hospital stays; he was alive and healthy, but I was spent. I had used all of my strength to help our family get through cancer and I had none left to take care of me – much less the strength to cope with the emotional turmoil that a child who has faced his own mortality fights and the daily needs of my other children and husband. I struggled with this for a few years until I simply broke. I sought professional help. I walked away from the agency I’d worked so hard to build. I took a part-time job hoping less stress and more time would help me get in touch with myself again. I retreated into an introverted cocoon for extended periods of time breaking free occasionally to paint or write feverishly, but mostly I escaped into reading and did little else. Inspiration rarely follows inaction, action however, often follows desperation. My heart craved change. It craved purpose. I walked away from my 17 year marriage, desperately hoping I’d find it.
For the first time, I had time to be alone with my own thoughts. For the first time, I couldn’t rely on my gregarious husband to rally me into socializing with friends. It was about that time that I saw a video on Upworthy about The Severn Project. A former addict in England hires addicts, helps them get clean, and teaches them to grow and market salad leaves. He makes a living and supports an on-going mission of creating positive social impact. I wanted that! But I still didn’t know what “that” was. I’m definitely not a lettuce farmer. My introversion turned into introspection. That video sat on the periphery of my thoughts for months while I kept standing still – unsure, hesitant, thinking. I needed to take action if I wanted my life to have a greater purpose. I still wasn’t sure what action but I knew I had to act.
I came across a posting for an women entrepreneurs event. I’m not sure why I decided I should go to that one in particular, there are a dozen any month in a big city like Atlanta. I wasn’t even sure what I was getting myself into. That Saturday morning, it took every bit of willpower I had at that point to force myself to go. I made every excuse to myself – even as I was on the road driving there. That day I heard a number of charismatic women speak about purpose and I began to see the spark of the change I was looking for. The answers still took a while to come, but I had a glimpse of who I wanted to be. I knew I had a purpose for being here and I felt confident that I could not only find it, but I could fulfill it – whatever it ended up being.
A few weeks later, I happened upon another event, Generosity Generation Mastermind, a monthly speaking engagment of best-selling author Michael Maher. As I sat there listening to him feeling unsure about why I was even there amidst suit-clad real estate agents and mortgage lenders, a lightning bolt hit me. I began feverishly writing on every piece of scrap paper I could find. Everything I had been desperately seeking suddenly came to me at once in a jolting Matrix-style brain upload.
I’m fortunate to have the best ex-husband in the world (how many ex-wives say that?!) and very loving, forgiving children who never forget that I love them. They’ve supported me through all of my struggles trying to find my purpose. I intend to repay them by fulfilling it.
My “Why” is to instigate social change. I want change apathy to empathy. I want to change indifference to making a difference. Brands have the power of influence. By becoming champions for a good cause, brands can create both epic growth and social change.