I would define resilience as a human’s radical ability to remain true to discovering oneself despite outside influence or previous circumstances. My friend Mari O’Rourke says, “it’s the drive within us to find joy.” While political leader, Stacey Abrams recently shared: “I am not pessimistic or optimistic. I am determined.” My friend Stephanie Wagner, who has been challenged with cancer at times shared that quote with me and it perfectly captures how resilience feels.
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 Linsey McNew. Linsey is an award-winning writer, communications strategist, media relations partner and speaker.
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?
Thanks for having me! I’m excited to be discussing resilience, a skill everyone can use more of especially now. I started out my career as a journalist, eventually working my way into publicity for a decade before adding business owner and strategic partner to my skills.
In 2015, I asked the viral question: can my womb also be a grave in my first piece for Medium. Since the beginning of that exploration, following the death of my first born son while overworking, my clients and writing have appeared in Inc, the Washington Post, New York Times, BuzzFeed, TIME, VICE, Refinery29, as well as featured on NPR, Good Morning America and CNN on the topics of grief, death care, cost of loss among many other taboo topics. For over the last two decades, I’ve had the pleasure of working with teams from most every timezone, agency, brand, nonprofit, enterprise and startup as an independent, strategic partner. Often called in as crises arise, working as an extension of teams fulfilling multiple leadership roles while creatively designing projects and managing growing teams to drive results that scale demanding timelines.
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’ve had the privilege of navigating many interesting growth opportunities over the course of my career, one of the most transformative experiences was on a trip to and from SF in a day. It was for one meeting, following that meeting with the CEO I decided I needed to leave my role that did not value my work or the job. I went on to lead and grow a new practice at a media agency while carrying my first full term child. In the aftermath of my child’s death, I took off three months and decided during that time, my survival demanded I fully integrate my career into the life I wanted to live.
Among many other things, the experience of being a channel for life and death, teaches me how fragile and short our experience on Earth is — — we only get one life to live. Since that season of intense lamenting while continuing to maintain a full time job as the head income provider for my family, I learned how to intimately co-exist with trauma’s triggers before eventually evolving enough to thrive among them because frankly there are so many in today’s culture especially for working mothers.
My intro to motherhood has shown me many things and despite doing my best, tragic things can still happen, anytime no matter our greatest efforts and controls. After a series of more challenging experiences, I grew to open myself up to shifting expectations with a focus on taking greater care of myself and finally tapping into trapped, unresolved childhood trauma. The journey in self discovery and understanding emotions along with the value they bring to being a whole, healthy person has made me a greater leader, steward, partner, colleague, mother and friend.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Rich experiences and connections help my business stand out with this most frequently showing up in authentic communications and the level of accountability I keep. I also maintain a wide view through a narrow lens to never stop learning to understand how markets shift in ways that benefit my clients and their customers. One way I’ve found to help me do this effectively is getting terms right in the beginning.
My contracts, for example, are written in such a way where as soon as a client decides to not fulfill their end of the agreement, I have the option to stop activity. This helps me identify earlier on, which clients I can pursue longer term relationships with that align against my own growth plans. This practice has also helped me gain a practice of anticipating situations where it doesn’t make the most sense to continue forward with a client. One time I had a few months left on a project when I needed to bring attention to the fact my client had an absence of diversity within the leadership team and board. After sharing an initial assessment along with resources from Black colleagues, the client decided to not make the changes necessary for us to continue partnering together. Not only did I lose a client, I gained perspective while working to replace the business — working with a client in the medical industry who is not anti-racist is violent for everyone involved.
Having a better idea of the types of clients I want to build long term relationships with led me to the work of folks like Toi Marie Smith and Alicia Forneret. Toi’s workshop on Business Beyond Profit, fundamentally shifted my pursuit of clients, she also just released an eBook I’m looking forward to reading. I know Alicia’s work through the loss she share’s about and have heard amazing things about her offerings of grief at work training. Given the amount of death we’ve all encountered this year alone, I can only hope support for intentional grief becomes mandatory for all employers when employees are expected to continue putting in overtime.
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?
Great question and so true! It literally has taken a network of family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers for me to be where I am today. A couple of specific people come to mind, a friend of mine who offered me complimentary therapy sessions for over a year after I carried our first born to term and took full maternity leave that transformed me into what Minda Harts calls a “career revolutionary.” I also gain a lot of perspective from reading including Minda whose an entrepreneur and author of The Memo as well as Sarah Lacy, CEO and author of three books, of which my favorite is titled A Uterus is A Feature, Not a Bug.
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?
I like that you use the word flesh out, it feels appropriate for the work of resilience as it certainly often requires full body intention and response. I would define resilience as a human’s radical ability to remain true to discovering oneself despite outside influence or previous circumstances. My friend Mari O’Rourke says, “it’s the drive within us to find joy.” While political leader, Stacey Abrams recently shared: “I am not pessimistic or optimistic. I am determined.” My friend Stephanie Wagner, who has been challenged with cancer at times shared that quote with me and it perfectly captures how resilience feels.
Some traits of the most resilient people I know include calm, grounded, loyal, admirable, passionate and hopeful. Mari, who displays many of these traits, shared with me resilience is about getting to know parts of herself that she didn’t know were there before. It is primal and it appears in hindsight after going through something hard and coming out the other side. As Mari put it so beautifully — resilience is the extra muscles holding me up, waiting for the rest of me to get stronger and then after, it leaves me with more trust in myself.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Mothers, period. Specifically working mothers, my mom…Breonna Taylor’s mom…I’m leaving out a lot, clearly. No explanation is needed.
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?
Yes, in many ways, everyday I am bombarded with messages that the way I work, the way my partnership and household runs is not normal. Many times in my role engaging media, agency partners have wanted my time to do the work within a regular 9 to 5 schedule and that just isn’t how media works, it certainly isn’t how news is consumed today.
If agencies are going to want to work with the best in the business to secure the greatest engagement for a client, they need to be open to stretching and in many projects, completely shifting these working norms.
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 manager at an agency had been on sabbatical for three months and after finally getting a chance to chat after she returned, she let me know the next week would be my last. I was surprised, though not shocked as I had recently stood up to one of the other founders in defense of a few different teammate issues. The agency was moving in a different direction that no longer included investing in my role.
Before I could respond, my manager shared her own story of bouncing back. At that moment, I had to decide what I wanted to do with the information I was given despite feeling deeply grieved for the work I was doing that would go unfinished. I decided to use the moment as an opportunity to negotiate three times the original severance package I was offered. It was my first time receiving severance and as I moved forward into an uncomfortable new space, I could feel myself gaining strength with each hard decision.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I am the most mature of three siblings with a family history of mental illness and abuse; also a survivor of adverse childhood trauma. From what I’ve learned, despite these early harmful experiences, I have gained emotional intelligence and resilience, by finding the methods that work best at bringing greater awareness to my needs and health.
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.
Totally agree! One of the things I love most about resilience is much like a muscle you can start building it at anytime, anywhere and with zero financial burden. While there are many more steps, below are five that continue to help strengthen my resiliency muscles:
- Interrogating personal privileges
- Exploring relationships I keep, businesses I support and systems I finance
- Not avoiding or numbing uncomfortable situations
- Building an authentic community of support
- Proactively investing in mental and physical health
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. 🙂
It’s already happening at this moment within both the birth and death positive spaces. I couldn’t be more hopeful and honored to be a small part of supporting humans during our greatest transitions.
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 🙂
I’d love to get brunch with Yvonne Orji; she’s skilled at so many things I want to grow in: writing, faith, family, producing and plus she’s funny as hell. And getting together would likely mean the pandemic has passed and just the thought of that possibility brightens my current outlook.
How can our readers follow you on social media? I’m everywhere @LinseyMcNew
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!