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“Imagine If Every Time We Saw A Kate Spade Bag, It Would Prompt Each Of Us To Talk About Mental Health”

5 Leadership Lessons with Johnson and Johnson’s Michelle Dickinson

Adrienne Longo Photography

5 Leadership Lessons with Johnson and Johnson’s Michelle Dickinson


In her name, imagine if every time we saw a Kate Spade bag, or Kate Spade designer item it would prompt each of us to talk about mental illness? Imagine if we were all courageous enough to cause just one open conversation around mental illness the difference it would have on reducing how we all relate to this topic. It would become much less of a taboo and much less feared. Just talking about mental illness can reduce the stigma substantially.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Dickinson. Michelle is a director of operations at Johnson and Johnson. Michel also recently released her memoir entitled Breaking Into My Life, Growing Up with a Bipolar Parent and My Battle to Reclaim Myself. She is a passionate advocate for change in removing the mental health stigma especially with normalizing mental illness with youth.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I had a challenging childhood where the role of the child caregiver was imposed upon me in caring for my bipolar mother. That experience shaped the woman that I grew up to become impacting me at every step of the way. During the 4-year cathartic writing process for this book, I found myself getting deeply connected to wanting to help eradicate the mental illness stigma. Humanizing mental illness has a way of reducing the fear and shame associated with the illness. That is what I am out to cause with sharing my emotionally naked book.

Adrienne Longo Photography

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

A month ago, I found myself waiting in a greenroom for a TV interview in Birmingham Alabama when Chris Kattan walked in and quietly sat down. Being a huge fan of SNL, I had all I could do to contain myself. Who doesn’t love Mango or A Night at the Roxbury!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes my story stand out is that I can tell it from a place of love, compassion, and forgiveness instead of a place of anger or hate. With a lot of self-discovery and therapy, I have finally reached a place of forgiveness for my parents. I have persevered in the face of some dark challenges and emerged healthier with a strong sense of responsibility to give back and make a difference for others.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

My book is written in 3 parts. And, well I am currently living out part 4 of my book so who knows what will happen in a few years after I navigate the personal stuff that is currently unfolding. You just might see some of it in a book down the road. I am clear that life is unfolding perfectly for me. So, I am just being with what is happening.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Advice I would give to anyone who has a loved one with a mental illness — don’t get lost in caring for them. Be sure to take good care of yourself. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping someone else.

Advice I would give anyone with a challenging past, you are not defined by your past. Don’t allow the past to dictate your future. You are not your past. You have a big beautiful life in front of you that you get to say how it will go. Create a beautiful future for yourself. You deserve it more than anyone else!


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 about that?

Many people helped me along the way. My family and friends, who encouraged and supported me throughout the process and my very supportive writing coach Linden Gross with the One Stop Writing Shop who doubled as my therapist at times. I am so appreciative for everyone along the way who has supported me and continues to support my quest to make a big difference in the world.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Yes, I have had the good fortune of being asked to speak at two high schools to raise awareness and normalize mental health. Helping children have a healthy relationship to mental health fills my heart in such an incredible way. Now, I am on a mission to make this my focus.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. It is ok to get tired and rest

· My book took me 4 years to write. That is a long time and it was an emotionally draining process at times. Giving myself the permission to take time off and regroup was not only ok, it was necessary. Listening to what you need is vital when you are divulging so much of yourself to the world

2. Never give up.

· It is totally ok to stop and rest and catch your breath but never give up. Nobody wants to live with regret. If you find yourself afraid work through it so that it does not prevent you from going for your goals.

3. Get committed to your bigger why

· What will keep you going in times of challenge is being deeply connected to your larger goals and commitment. Always have that as your north start and it will help keep you moving forward in the face of obstacles. And there will be obstacles.

4. Everyone has an opinion

· You will get an assortment of feedback and opinions along the way. The only real opinion that matters is what you want. I learned to listen to everyone and extract from their feedback what made the most sense. It is an exercise in learning what matters most to you and valuing your own vision.

5. Always be your authentic self

· You can never go wrong when you share yourself honestly and authentically. Being true to who you are and sharing yourself vulnerably creates a safe space for others. Just be you.

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. 🙂

In her name, imagine if every time we saw a Kate Spade bag, or Kate Spade designer item it would prompt each of us to talk about mental illness? Imagine if we were all courageous enough to cause just one open conversation around mental illness the difference it would have on reducing how we all relate to this topic. It would become much less of a taboo and much less feared. Just talking about mental illness can reduce the stigma substantially.


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

“If we can realize that life is always happening for us, not to us… game over, all the pain and suffering disappears.” Tony Robbins

When you realize this, you remove the suffering and victim mentality. Whenever things happen to me that I don’t like, I always try to remember that there is just a reason that I don’t understand and that it is perfect. It is not easy to do but it is far more empowering than feeling like you are at the effect of life.

Some of the biggest 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 🙂

YES! Any celebrity dealing with a mental illness or loving a family member with mental illness. I would love to connect with them because I have a deep compassion and understanding for what they are dealing with and would love to offer them a few words of love and support and enroll them in helping me to change the world!

Originally published at medium.com

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