Rachel Stewart: “Recognize grit in other people”

Identify and eliminate your most well-used numbing agents. What do you do when you don’t want to do the hard work? What do you do when you are uncomfortable or restless? Once you identify your numbing agents, select one to eliminate. For example, if you like to avoid making sales calls by scrolling through social […]

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Identify and eliminate your most well-used numbing agents. What do you do when you don’t want to do the hard work? What do you do when you are uncomfortable or restless? Once you identify your numbing agents, select one to eliminate. For example, if you like to avoid making sales calls by scrolling through social media, commit that you will only look at social media on Saturday afternoons between 3–4 pm. By setting these boundaries, you will be able to actively stay in discomfort and focus on what really matters.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Stewart. Rachel is the CoFounder & CEO of Xcelerate Restoration Software, EVP of Titan Restoration of Arizona, and author of Unqualified Success: Bridging the Gap Between Where you are now and Where you want to be to Achieve Massive Success.

Rachel is passionate about helping people understand that their mindset is the only limitation that is preventing them from reaching the success they dream about. She is very transparent (and proud) of the fact that she has been unqualified for every position and role that she has ever held, but that hasn’t stopped her from achieving some really amazing things and growing a great deal along the way. She attributes this success to developing and continuing to grow key characteristics such as grit, the ability to deal with fear and failure, being hungry for growth, persistence, and bringing others with you on the journey. In addition to all her business pursuits, she is a wife and mother to four beautiful children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path?

My career path really started 11 years ago as I returned to work because of the Great Recession that hit the country at the end of 2008. Prior to that, I was a stay at home mom. My youngest child was eight months old and I had two others at home, ages three and five. I was dabbling on the side, doing self-taught graphic design work and book layout, but the majority of my time and focus was spent doing puppet shows, reading bedtime stories, washing dirty faces and hands, and keeping tiny humans alive.

But during the recession of 2008, my husband lost his job and made the decision to become an independent insurance broker and build his own agency. We, like so many others, were upside-down on our house, which we had purchased at the height of the housing market boom two years earlier. Seemingly overnight, my husband had lost his job and our home had lost half of its value. To say that we were living with a good deal of fear and uncertainty is putting it mildly.

This led to me transitioning back into the working world. The way I was hired can be described in no other way than divine intervention. I wasn’t really qualified for the position and property restoration was an industry that had never even crossed my mind. But I got a job as a Bookkeeper/Office Manager for a small restoration company. This eventually led me to my current role, 11 years later, as Executive Vice President, and the company has grown into a phenomenal, nationally recognized restoration company.

In the midst of trying to grow a company and trying to come up with solutions to the problems that we were facing in our business, we started a software company for restoration contractors. You’ve heard the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That is exactly what happened as we were trying to scale our business, and the tools we needed just didn’t exist. After spending months researching the solutions available, we finally came to the realization that what we wanted/needed didn’t exist. Shortly after, I became the Co-founder & CEO of Xcelerate, a SAAS technology company, that will transform the restoration industry and the tools contractors have to do their work.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

On my first day of work, I showed up at the small, dated, farmhouse which was Titan Restoration’s existing office space. The two other full-time workers and I worked on folding tables set up in the kitchen because it was the best-lit room in the house. Paper files cluttered the floors and available counter spaces. Even to my inexperienced eye, the accounting books were a mess.

I soon came to realize that the “accounts department” was really only a “document generation station” — invoices were created and sent to customers, but actually receiving money or payments in return was hit or miss. The receivables were not actually reliably being received. It was nearly impossible to determine who really owed us money, our annual revenue amounts, the health of our balance sheet, or what our cash status really was. The last time the bank account had been reconciled was right before never. I got to work trying to decipher how all the pieces of the business fit together and locate the missing pieces tucked away in the corners of the farmhouse and in giant stacks of old paperwork.

There was a lot I didn’t know. (Surprising, I know, especially given my level of qualification.) I started with understanding a P&L and a balance sheet and devouring everything I could google, read, or listen to about the topic. Simultaneously, I learned everything I could about the restoration industry. I organized, strategized, documented, planned, systematized, standardized, revamped, and reconciled. There were a lot of days that were frustrating and demoralizing as I wondered if I would be able to ever make sense of the mess. But I kept showing up and exercising grit. I progressed, succeeded, failed, floundered, rallied, triumphed, and continued. Above all, I worked, and worked, and worked some more. When I was finally able to wrangle order out of QuickBooks and was able to get true financial statements, it was a great day.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I think that grit, like so many other traits, is one that can be developed. My life has been spent developing this trait, sometimes voluntarily, and at other times, as a result of circumstances. I grew up in a big family. In addition to having two sisters, I have six brothers! They are amazing individuals, so I say this lovingly, but you don’t grow up and thrive in that environment if you are a wilting flower. I learned a lot about how to have staying power, how to not give up when things don’t go your way, and how to keep pushing for what you want. In essence, I learned grit.

Another thing that I attribute to developing grit, is running. I ran cross country and track in high school and in college, and then later participated in regular and ultra-marathons. Running teaches you a lot about not giving up when things get hard and you want to quit. The key is staying focused on the goal and where you are going, and not letting the discomfort distract you from your purpose.

I have a sign that hangs in my office that says, “Keep Running.” It reminds me that there will be discomfort in all the big goals I go after, and to not let up when it gets hard. This allows me to stay engaged long enough for things to take a turn for the better. Grit is about outlasting the discomfort, and thereby, allowing time for a solution to appear.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

There have been so many peaks and valleys in the pursuit of my dreams. I have heard so many entrepreneurs refer to the trough of sorrow, which is this really difficult place that you come to as you are trying to grow your business and find success. It’s not for the faint of heart, and there are so many times that I have wanted to quit. But, grit has allowed me to stay in the game long enough for the valleys to become less severe and for the peaks to last longer.

I have found a lot of success but as I am reaching for the goal around the corner, I often find myself back at a place where I am relying a lot on grit again. For those of us chasing new dreams, this is our reality…constant discomfort. I am banking on the fact that it will lead to the next level of success.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. Find something that will be physically and mentally challenging and really go for it. I have already talked about running, but it doesn’t have to be that. My brother just completed Jesse Itzler’s 29029 Everest Challenge. This event requires you to hike the mountain over and over again until you have ascended a total 29,029 vertical feet, the height of Everest. My brother said it was the hardest thing he has ever done and there were so many times he wanted to quit. But by completing that challenge, he did far more than conquering a mountain. That will be something that he will now be able to apply in so many aspects of his life.
  2. Identify and eliminate your most well-used numbing agents. What do you do when you don’t want to do the hard work? What do you do when you are uncomfortable or restless? Once you identify your numbing agents, select one to eliminate. For example, if you like to avoid making sales calls by scrolling through social media, commit that you will only look at social media on Saturday afternoons between 3–4 pm. By setting these boundaries, you will be able to actively stay in discomfort and focus on what really matters.
  3. Do something fairly simple every day to increase grit. This could include, taking a cold shower, sleeping a night on the floor, fasting for 24 hours, or helping a child with their common core math homework. (I am kidding about the last one. Kinda.) By doing one small thing every day where you are purposefully going to experience discomfort, you are building your ability to be comfortable with discomfort.
  4. Work on recognizing when you are in discomfort and identify it for what it is. Many times, the discomfort will come with a feeling of panic. A couple of years ago, we had some massive goals as a company. These goals required quite a bit of change and stretching. This change was uncomfortable…for everyone. About half-way through the endeavor, I started to panic. I wanted to go back to where we were where we started, and I worried that something had gone wrong. This was not the case. This was part of the process. Once I was able to identify what I was feeling- discomfort and fear — I was able to recognize they were a part of the journey. That recognition helped me to increase my grit and ability to ride the wave until we accomplished our goal.
  5. Recognize grit in other people. There are few things more inspiring than seeing other people exercise grit and overcome challenging situations. That’s why movies like Rocky are so popular. My son, who is fourteen, has been on a binge recently of all the Rocky movies. I have joined him and re-watched these movies I loved as a kid. It reminded me of how much power there is for others when we exercise grit.

Pay attention and acknowledge your friends, family, and co-workers when they are digging in during tough moments. Write them a note or send them an email, telling them how inspiring they are to you. As you celebrate grit, it will increase your own ability to draw on this trait in your own life.

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

There have been so many people who have helped me through when times were tough and who believe in me. When I have a bad moment, I like to think about them and what they believe about me. It gives me the courage to keep moving forward. As an example, my husband often tells our kids that one of the reasons he fell in love with me, is my grit and determination. When I want to let up and not push so hard, I think about his opinion and that of my kids. This lens motivates me to live up to that ideal.

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

I think that success breeds success in those around us. Daniel Coyle wrote about this in his book The Little Book of Talent. He examined several pockets of modern achievement in sports, academics, and arts to discover that clusters of people were popping up together that were exceptionally talented. Was there something in the water? No, great people help create other great people.

I work every day to develop the talents and skills of others. There is nothing more exciting to me than seeing the growth and development of those around me. It pushes me to be better and showing up. It is a beautiful cycle; as I get better others to get better, and then they push me to grow even more.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on two major projects right now. One is getting my book, Unqualified Success out to the masses. There is so much that I have learned over the last several years that I know will help others to achieve their dreams. I can’t wait to share this message.

However, the biggest project I am working on right now is rolling out of Xcelerate to the restoration industry. This software is the answer to so many of the problems we have been facing in our business. It is simple and easy to use, but at the same time allows us to get the crucial data that we have been missing. I am so excited and passionate about helping other contractors be successful and can’t wait to see the effect this will have on the industry and individual businesses.

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

I would really want to know what advice and wisdom they can give me! There is so much that I am still learning. Whenever I find myself at a conference, event, or in a networking group, I am seeking to learn as much from people as they will be generous to share. I hope I am providing value in return, but that desire for growth and additional knowledge has been a tremendous asset on my journey.

Being humble enough to ask for help and to know that you don’t have everything figured out, opens up so much capacity and ability to improve. So, the advice I give to develop employees is to teach them to be hungry for growth, stay humble, and always seek additional knowledge.

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. 🙂

My movement would focus around teenagers and those just starting out in life. I think developing life skills like grit, hard work, using vision and harnessing the power of your mind, persistence, and several others will be the most valuable thing they learn in life. Everything else will follow.

Unfortunately, with the influence of social media, I believe there is a skewed view of life. There is a view that if life isn’t easy and happy all the time, then something has gone wrong. There is constant FOMO (fear of missing out) that leads to anxiety and depression. But real life doesn’t have a filter and is often messy. But the beauty is that the struggle (and the subsequent growth), are the things that bring real meaning.

I wish the emphasis was less about how many followers and likes you have and more about an authentic life journey. How much happier would our children be and how much more would they contribute to the world, if this was the lens that society looked through?

I would love if there was a community of ‘Unqualified Youth’ that we’re bucking the status quo and focusing and supporting each other in developing the traits that will ultimately lead to success and more fulfilling life.

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

Wow! This is tough. I feel like I have a different one for different aspects of my life right now. So, I will share a few:

In regards to Xcelerate and software development: “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.”

-Leonardo da Vinci.

This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently because I want our platform to be intuitive, seamless, and simple to use. This isn’t always an easy task, considering the complexity of the industry and all the problems that need to be solved. The amazing thing is that as this has been on my mind, I find so many other aspects in my life where this quote brings value to me.

I already spoke about the quote in my office that says, “Keep Running.” This inspires me every day to keep pushing and moving forward.

The other quote I have in my office is, “Face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility.” — Thomas S. Monson

I think if I can master this sentiment, then I will have a pretty grounded perspective and be able to face all the ups and downs of life with grace.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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