Archie Messersmith-Bunting of Archie Cares: “You don’t have to be a pauper to be a helper”

You don’t have to be a pauper to be a helper — This was a big one for me. I had just gotten it in my head that since my goal in life was to help others that I should just accept any payment that someone offered me. I was doing multiple gigs a day and making […]

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You don’t have to be a pauper to be a helper — This was a big one for me. I had just gotten it in my head that since my goal in life was to help others that I should just accept any payment that someone offered me. I was doing multiple gigs a day and making peanuts because I was not owning my worth. Yeah, those days are over. YES, I want to help thousands of people, BUT I also want to provide for my family. Those two things can happen at the same time.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Archie Messersmith-Bunting.

Archie Messersmith-Bunting, M.S. is mental health educator and professional speaker who specializes in mental health and self-care best practices. Through his company Archie Cares, LLC, Messersmith-Bunting aims to reframe the narrative surrounding mental illness, suicide, and addiction by focusing on feelings and facilitating honest conversations. He reaches his audiences at a very personal level with his gift of storytelling and willingness to open up and share of his past while also sharing the latest research on mental illness, self-care, and suicide prevention.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My life started with abandonment and insecurities. I was adopted and started from a place of emotional trauma. I was surrendered at birth by my birthmother and was first placed in emergency foster care and then eventually in long term foster case. My parents, the people I call my parents, adopted me when I was two and I moved to small town Alabama.

My parents did the absolute best they could with me. But as a child who had been moved around to different environments with different people at a very young age, I had some pretty severe separation anxiety and bonding issues. All I’d known was that eventually the people that take care of you go away, so forming bonds with my parents took a while.

Let me also say that as a gay kid (who didn’t know he was gay but knew that something was different) who wanted to sing and dance and flit around constantly, growing up in the deep south surrounded by football and religion was a challenge. There’s a lot from my childhood that I carried over into my young adult and adult life that eventually I would work out in rehab and therapy.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote — it’s rather specific, but there’s a passage in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that beings, “Acceptance will be the answer to all my problems today…” It goes on from there and truly is one of the most impactful passages of writing I think I’ve ever read. But just those word, “Acceptance will be the answer to all my problems today…” is a great reminder to me that even when I can’t control what is happening around me, I can accept life on life’s terms and lean in to whatever is in front of me at that moment. Sure, that is sometimes easier than others — but it is a life lesson that I try to live by.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Humor — Honestly, I think that humor as a quality is not given enough credit or acknowledgment. As tough as life can be, if you can’t laugh at things, find the joy in the things, and sometimes just laugh at yourself — then I don’t know how you’re going to survive.

Being blunt (but fair) — I am blunt at times to a fault, but I believe that allows people to trust me and know that I’m not going to be anything but truthful to them. I’m known for saying, “I believe that people can smell BS a mile away, and I’m not here to BS you.” I keep it real at all times BUT, if anything I say ever offends you or brings up a feeling you want to talk about, then I’m there for that conversation, too. I am up for the tough conversations and am here just to listen when needed.

Transparency — In my programs I often say, “I don’t have a filter in the world! I didn’t stop putting a needle in my arm to live some boring, fake life so you’re going to get all of me today.” I really do believe that it is at that moment that audiences go, “Okay, we’re about to go on a journey — and I’m ready for it!” I don’t hold back at all so that my audience can learn and grow from my truth.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

My working life has been pretty all over the place. My first “big boy” job out of college was as a high school teacher. I taught show choir and dance at a public high school in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. That’s a story in and of itself. I was basically still a kid, having just graduated from my undergraduate program, trying to teach students that were just a few years younger than me. What a life lesson in perseverance.

I finished my one-year teaching high school and moved to NYC to be a performer — and I did that. I was blessed to have been cast in some amazing musicals and perform on cruise ships that took me around the world. Growing up I could have only dreamed of going to Antarctica or performing in New York City and Europe. It was truly a dream come true.

After my life collapsed around me due to drug addiction and battles with mental illness, I accidentally fell into event planning and project management. I worked for an amazing company in NYC called the International Institute for Learning, Inc. planning all of their events and trade shows. It was a wonderful experience and I treasure my time there, but the corporate world was just not for me.

When I left NYC, I jumped into higher education and have been in that space ever since. I worked in the Dean of Student’s Office at Illinois State University in student programming, at my Fraternity Headquarters, Sigma Phi Epsilon, for almost seven years, and then most recently as the Vice President of Health & Safety at the North American Interfraternity Conference supporting college students all over the country.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

Today I own a speaking and consulting business called “Archie Cares”. My goal is to reframe the perception around addiction and mental illness by first giving it an authentic face and then focusing on feelings and facilitating honest conversations. Conversations that I know can change lives.

So, what’s ironic about what I do today is that it truly does circle all the way back around to my very beginning in education and performing. I believe the reason that I’m so good at what I do today is because I actually know the science behind how people learn and how to effectively communicate with them due to my education degree. And, because I spent so many years on stage, I have stage presence for days. So even when I’m speaking on a very difficult topic like mental illness or suicide prevention, people lean in and want to learn.

I also finally started talking about my mental illness and my suicide attempt so that I could help others. I talk about really personal and painful times in my life every time I get on stage, virtually or in-person, with the belief that my honesty can help save others from experiencing the pain that I did.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

I think the “plunge” for me came before I actually started my own business. I realized one day that my story of survival could really help people BUT in order for that to happen I had to first forgive myself (which is a huge part of my story) and then I had to be okay opening up to complete strangers about my past. Now listen, the first time I stood on stage and told my story, I was trembling like a leaf inside. BUT since that day, I’ve received so many messages from people all over the world about how much hearing my story and my message has helped them and, for some, helped them on a path to recovery. And that makes all the fear worth it.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

I always knew that I was a gifted storyteller. That’s what acting is — you become a character and you tell that story in such a powerful way that audiences have no choice but to believe you. What I learned was that I have that same power as a storyteller by just being 100% authentically me. I actually think that authenticity and transparency are my superpowers. I think attendees at my programs are so surprised at how authentic and honest I am that at first they are like, “Wait, is he for real?”, and then when they realize that I’m being 100% open with them — they lean in and engage in very powerful ways.

BUT I also had to learn very quickly to block out all the noise around me. When you’re a professional speaker, especially one who part of their delivery is sharing parts of their past, everyone has an opinion on what you should say, shouldn’t say, should share, shouldn’t share — it’s exhausting. So, I finally just learned to smile and thank people for their opinion and to trust my own gut and my own training.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

You know, when I was first trying to get sober, I often heard one of the Promises read at meetings: “You’ll experience life beyond your wildest dreams.” To be honest, back then, I had no idea what that really meant. It was only when I had put a bit of time between myself and the drug that I realized the true meaning of that Promise. That the things I am living today, the life I have and the business I have, I could not have even dreamed back then. I am truly living life way beyond my wildest dreams!

So today, not only is my business producing more revenue that I’ve ever experienced in my life, but people’s lives are being changed — and saved.

I’ve had conversations with people who after attending one of my programs have found the strength to tell others about their mental illness, people who had been experiencing suicidal ideation who found help and treatment, and literally hundreds of people who have shared that they now know how to deal with their anxiety better and are living happier lives. That to me is way more meaningful than the financial success that I’m having today.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My sponsor in AA, Joe D. That man literally helped save my life — no questions asked. I was as stubborn as they come and was certain that I was special and that what he was saying wouldn’t work for me. But he stuck with me and kept encouraging (and pushing me) until I “got it.” To be really transparent, I think Joe actually taught me what unconditional love really was. He had no reason to give that much of his life to me and hang out through all the crap that I put him through, but he did it willingly because the same had been done for him. He really changed my life, and he is one of the only reasons that I am still alive today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Interesting story…hmm…One weekend I had five different programs to deliver for three different organizations. It was a bit chaotic jumping back and forth from Zoom-to-Zoom link to deliver each program. When I finished my last one on Sunday afternoon, I was mentally exhausted and needed a break from all things electronic.

On Monday morning when I woke up and checked Instagram, there was a message request from a mother of a student who had heard me speak that weekend. She said that her son called her on Sunday morning raving about this guy he’d heard speak and how much what I had shared with their group had helped him.

Y’all I almost fell out of my chair! A college student called his mother on a Sunday morning to share about a mental health program he’d come to that weekend — a story I never even dreamed possible.

Come to find out, his mother is a psychotherapist and podcast host, so I ended up being a guest on her podcast, Sister Soul Podcast, and recording an episode that became very popular with their listeners.

Just wild the way that things can intersect, and it all began with a college student hearing a program and resonating with it.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

YEEEESSSSSS!!!!! Absolutely I struggle with believing that I am good enough or worthy enough or smart enough all the time. It’s sometimes a daily struggle as I do also have a diagnosis of major depressive disorder so not only do the fears that any entrepreneur would face occur, but the ones from my mental illness also creep in.

I think the biggest limiting belief that I had was that I was “just” a college and high school speaker, meaning that I wasn’t good enough, or talented enough, or smart enough to be hired by anyone outside the high school or college market.

Okay, let’s stop and unpack that for a hot second. If I can both keep the attention and land a message about mental illness and mental wellness with college-aged men on a Sunday morning at 9am, then I can literally land that message anytime, anywhere to any audience.

When I finally fully owned my talent and my skill as a speaker and stopped limiting myself and opened myself up to the possibilities that were out there — things changed. I started getting booked on morning shows and news programs, I began getting corporate and public bookings — life just changed. The only thing that changed was my belief in what I could do, the skill was always there, I just had to believe it for the miracles to start occurring around me.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

I learned some tough lessons with this one as I can’t say I had all the support systems in place before I started. I have my husband, who is amazing, and some close friends — but business wise, I just jumped and trusted that there would be a net to catch me and then trusted that the net would not have holes in it.

But if I’m being really honest, part of the lack of support structures was due to me lack of finances. I started this business in January of 2020 and invested a lot in the startup — and then in March all my business froze up. I didn’t make a penny for months, so things were really scary there for a while — but I just kept on trucking and believing.

Today I have a great support team. I’ve built out support team members and independent contractors to help me with the things that were bogging me down so that I could get back to the work of helping others.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

I think that would have to be program wise. I knew that I could tell my story, but I had to focus on putting meat around my past. A good friend once asked me, “It this a program, or a therapy session?” That really hit home and has informed every program I write since. So today, I start with the meat — what’s the message that I want to land with the audience — and then sprinkle Archie in around that message.

I’d also say learning to present virtually. Presenting in the virtual medium is completely different than delivering a program on stage in front of people. I had to stumble my first couple times out of the gate before I realized that I needed to go back and focus on my craft. I did tons of research on adult learning theory and how adults actually learn and retain information through virtually delivery and then I spent time and money retooling all of my programs. I learned so much that I actually created a program to teach others how to present virtually. It’s been a cool ride and it’s helped me find the joy in all of my business moving to Zoom

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

5. The first support person you should hire should be an accountant/money person, the second should be a business coach — Dear heavens! I had no idea how different things were once you become an actual business. All the things you need to complete and file and keep up with. My head was spinning the first time I met with my accountant. But, once I got the money side worked out, I knew that I needed to have someone in my life who could help me not only make sense of my day, but also specifically help me grow my business the right way. Cam, my coach, has been a life saver and I’m so grateful he’s in my life.

4. You are more than “just” — I was limiting myself so much with the word “just”. I really try not to say that word anymore and lean into the belief that I am good enough and talented enough and smart enough to speak on any stage, to any group, at any time. Period.

3. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re not going to make it — Again, humor is such an underrated quality of a leader. You have got to find ways to giggle or chuckle or just outright laugh at yourself if you’re going to survive owning and running your own business. At the end of the day, when I look in the mirror to brush my teeth, I still have to love the guy staring back at me. The only way that is going to happen is if there is laughter throughout my day.

2. Outsource quickly, but carefully — I was buried in email and administrative tasks for months longer than I should have been. It was only after team members like Sam, Cathryn, Nick, Veronica and the team at Revoice Media that I began to see some calm return to my life. I finally had to give myself a break and learn to hand over tasks to others which is REALLY hard when it’s your business with your name on it. But for real, find people that you trust and hand over tasks slowly until you trust them completely, and then learn to let those tasks go.

1. You don’t have to be a pauper to be a helper — This was a big one for me. I had just gotten it in my head that since my goal in life was to help others that I should just accept any payment that someone offered me. I was doing multiple gigs a day and making peanuts because I was not owning my worth. Yeah, those days are over. YES, I want to help thousands of people, BUT I also want to provide for my family. Those two things can happen at the same time.

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? 
This one is easy: I am on a mission to change the way that we greet and interact with each other. To be more specific — I believe with all of my heart that we should NEVER ask someone, “How are you today?”, ever again. Instead, we should ask the question that matters, “How are you feeling today?” Ask a question that allows the other person to know that you really care and that allows them to feel comfortable sharing of their feelings.

We have been trained by society to lie about our feelings upwards of 20 times a day. “Fine” is not a feeling and it doesn’t allow for any real conversation to happen. When we say “fine” or “I’m okay” or “Aight” over and over again, we train ourselves to not be honest about how we feel. That’s not helpful and it’s actually dangerous. Because that one time that we actually do need to talk and process our feelings with someone, we have no practice doing so.

I believe that if we create a space for people to begin to share about their feelings then we can begin to save lives.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 if we tag them. 🙂

Robin Roberts — I didn’t even have to think about that one. One, I just think we’d hit it off and really enjoy ourselves. But I also just really resonate with her work. When I read her book “Everybody’s Got Something” I found myself saying “YAASSS” out loud over and over again. And, transparently, I really think she’d vibe with my mission of convincing people to start saying, “How are you feeling today?” But, mostly, I’d just love to have a meal and kee-kee with her for a bit.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The easiest two places are either my website or my Instagram @archie_cares. You can also subscribe to my Podcast, “What a Feeling!”

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you! It’s been a pleasure!

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