Hit the pause button — You don’t want to be rushed in to making a bad decision. When we are emotional, we may make a wrong decision. Emotions greatly affect our decision-making skills. It’s not always in a negative way, you want to make sure that your decision is the right one for you. I strongly dislike complaints. I know they’re important, I still take them personally. We don’t get them very often, but when they come, I must hit the pause button or else I react emotionally. That takes a toll on my overall stress level. Pausing allows me to process what is happening so I can listen to myself and plan.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Blanton.
Jennifer is the owner of FAME Performing Arts, a performing arts after school program based in Charleston, SC. After suffering a career ending injury early in her career, Jennifer taught herself how to sing again and developed a deep love for teaching. Jennifer was then diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of a pandemic while trying to save a business that was losing clients almost daily and homeschooled 4 children under the age of 6.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I had a normal childhood in a middle class family, filled with memories of family time, dance and music recitals, beach trips, and sporting events. I took piano lessons, sang in choir, and participated in community theater. I was encouraged from a young age to perform, I had plenty of opportunities to develop my abilities. I went on to study at Baltimore School for the Arts, Shenandoah Conservatory, and New England Conservatory, all for classical voice.
I was born with a birth defect- pectus excavatum. My first surgery was at the age of 6. I went on to have 5 more surgeries into my early twenties. It started to become an issue early in college. After one surgery, I was left with a broken sternum, a chest full of scar tissue, and 50% lung capacity. Singing was not an option. But what I learned over the next several years shaped who I am today as a business owner.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I am living it right now. Once the pandemic started, I knew we could get through it if we just kept going. We had to maintain consistency for our students, and I had to keep the business open, even if by the skin of my teeth. Once I felt like we made it past the hard stuff, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. While everyone was getting ready for 2020 to end, I was sitting in a very cold room being infused with lifesaving drugs, hopeful I would see 2021. My diagnosis and treatment forced me to step away. This allowed others to rise and fill in the gaps. I thought I had the right team during the pandemic, but truthfully, the ones that have been with me during my treatment have become the most supportive staff I could have ever wanted.
This has allowed me to explore leading the business and focusing on the big picture. It’s been so difficult to let go, but we wouldn’t be experiencing the growth we are had I not stepped away.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We stand out because we have a safe space where students can just ‘be’. We help them find their ‘voice’ through teaching them how to discover their confidence. The one-on-one attention our students receive creates a mentorship that can last forever. We often have students get back in touch with us to let us know how much we meant to them. Most recently I had a student send me a note explaining how her voice lessons taught her the confidence she needed to be an instructor in her field. She said, “I would have never been able to get up in front of a classroom of adults to speak, let alone teach.” We have several stories exactly like this one.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There really are so many people, I am grateful for dozens of people that have helped me. The biggest shift that put me on the path I am on today was put in place by my first business coach Michelle Markwart Deveaux of The Speakeasy Cooperative. She challenged me in the most loving and kind way. I never felt like I had to have the right answers or even any answers. She created a safe space for me to learn who I was as a business owner.
So many things were discussed in our sessions, one that sticks in my mind was early on. I was giving her a more detailed version of my background, she told me I had to share it. Up to that point I avoided talking about it, it’s easy for me to hide it. In my field, it isn’t about the teacher- it is about what we can do for our students. I never thought my story was needed. As I lived on, I realized that if I were to stay silent, I may miss an opportunity to encourage someone to keep fighting, to believe in themselves when it feels like no one else is, to keep going. If you’re suffering silently, you don’t have to do it alone.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is never giving up on your vision, no matter what comes your way. It means staying flexible, receiving information when it is time, and being flexible with your approach while staying true to yourself.
Being self-aware is an important characteristic of people that are resilient. I have very strong intuition that I follow and know exactly what to do 100% of the time. I may not want to, but I know.
Having self-control and staying calm under stress is important as a resilient leader. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that community is important. I was thrown into the position of leading everyone through a traumatic experience. I had to stay calm and focused under an intense amount of stress. Even though I was also living through the same trauma, I had to lead everyone through.
Staying optimistic through trials is important. You will always be faced with challenges. Having the ability to stay optimistic will open a new level of confidence that is needed as a leader.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My dad contracted West Nile Virus from a mosquito bite in his front yard in Maryland in 2011. He was very sick very fast. He suffered meningitis, encephalitis, heart attacks, lungs collapsing, neurological damage, depression, Covid, and now cancer. He keeps fighting and is an incredible example of resilience. He was left unable to walk but now 10 years after his diagnosis, he’s still working on his rehab and believes he will walk one day. His resilience, amongst chaos, is inspiring to me.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I am rarely told something isn’t possible because of how many times I prove people wrong. I was told at a young age that I wouldn’t be able to physically carry babies because of how my body was after many surgeries, specifically my rib cage. I was told I wouldn’t be able to breath with the added weight of a baby. It wasn’t a big deal because I didn’t want babies, at least not until I met my husband. I knew I wanted to have his babies. With the help of an amazing OB and pulmonologist, I not only carried a baby, I carried four babies in four years. I hated being pregnant, but I love those babies!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My breast cancer diagnosis has been the greatest setback I have experienced. I am bouncing back stronger, in different ways. Because it forced me to step back, I was able to see the holes in the business. This allowed me to not only see them but start fixing them. Prior to the diagnosis, I felt like I was always putting fires out. I wasn’t creating the environment I would want as a teacher, but I had no brain space to adjust this. Now that I have had time to think, I am coming back full force, but shifting my focus to working on the business vs in the business.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
My birth defect was never an issue till my late teens into my early twenties. My entire life I was groomed to be a performer, specifically classical voice. I started seriously training in college, where my deep love for classical music blossomed. My most traumatic surgery was in between my sophomore and junior year where my sternum was broken. I was left unable to sing for over a year. As I gained strength, I suffered from my inability to sing freely like I had known for my entire life. My lovely teachers did their best, but no one knew what to do with me. I have 50% lung capacity and could barely stand up long enough for a voice lesson. I tried and tried but could not get back to where I was. After years of trying, I stopped. I left music. That was one of my darkest years. I decided to start singing again, this time I had to figure out how to make it work within my limitations. I kept going, never giving up. I learned so much about the voice and how trauma greatly affects it. I started paying attention to my body, not just the sound of voice. Through my own adaptation of vocal pedagogy, I learned how my body could produce a sound. To this day, I am told by Drs that they don’t understand how I can even sing with my physical limitations. I believe it is my resilience and believing that there is so much we still don’t know about the body. I went from being one of the top singers in my program, to barely being able to sing a few seconds, to now teaching young students how to sing by being acutely aware of their bodies. And I am still performing today too!
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Hit the pause button
You don’t want to be rushed in to making a bad decision. When we are emotional, we may make a wrong decision. Emotions greatly affect our decision-making skills. It’s not always in a negative way, you want to make sure that your decision is the right one for you. I strongly dislike complaints. I know they’re important, I still take them personally. We don’t get them very often, but when they come, I must hit the pause button or else I react emotionally. That takes a toll on my overall stress level. Pausing allows me to process what is happening so I can listen to myself and plan.
Listen to yourself
When you know, you know. Your instinct is there for a reason, do not ignore it. The biggest mistakes I have made are always because I ignored my gut. I once hired a teacher that on paper was amazing. For some reason, I never trusted them. They never truly bought in to the concept of the studio. When they left, many of their students followed. This is not typical for teachers that buy into the studio concept because the students become a part of the community we’ve built. We also take care of the hassle of finding another teacher and place them with another great teacher. I knew from the beginning they weren’t the right fit, and I lost big. But with a plan in place, we made it up with a new teacher and new students within 6 months.
Make a plan
When you’re faced with what may feel impossible to overcome, having a plan gives you direction. It may take time for that to show itself, but it will. For me, the most important part of planning is being patient with myself. I am the type of person that must think, a lot. For things to go smoothly, I plan at least 3 months in advance. I think through every angle and possible path. My plan becomes my partner.
Trauma shows up in all forms, it doesn’t have to be something as serious as cancer. It could be suddenly having to homeschool your kids during a pandemic, a friend ghosting you, or a client giving you feedback that you take too personally. Giving yourself time to rest and process your emotions is so important for your emotional stability.
Be open to change
Any time you experience something that flexes your “resilience” muscles, you are given an opportunity to change. If you’re open to receiving new information and thoughts, you may surprise yourself. My biggest challenge is management. It is a challenge because I have extremely high standards and expect everyone else to share those same standards, which is so selfish of me! Through my own continuing education, I have learned how important it is to understand your employee’s needs. This may seem like a no brainer, but to implement this into my business has been a huge challenge for me. It’s been slow, which is why we suffered at first. Once I became open to change within myself, I was then able to see change within the staff.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Your voice can change the world. Everyone has a story, everyone has challenges, the more we share them, the more we help others. Going through breast cancer opened my eyes to the fact that everyone suffers in some way, kindness and love to all is always the answer.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Marcus Lemonis, hands down, one of the most supportive entrepreneurs I follow. I love how he interacts with business owners; he cares about the person first, business second. He is so inspiring to me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!