Why Courageous is My Word for 2017

Each year I pick a theme word for my year.  It is so much easier and more effective for me than a list of resolutions that always seems to wind up in a wad in a drawer by February.  I mean if it is already February without major progress, I might as well just say "next year" right?  (Any other resolution perfectionists out there, or is it just me?)

This year I chose the word courageous.  (And not because it is in the name of this blog... though that's a nice perk.)

I chose courageous because the gut-level, raw, honest, unedited truth is "courageous" is the reality I need right now.

Most people think I have the courage bit wrapped up.  I've climbed mountains with one leg, rescued kids and lived in a war zone with no running water or electricity for 7 years, faced-off with loaded AK-47s pointed at my head, traveled and spoken in about 20 nations.  I was mama to 130 precious children.  And I've always thought of myself as one who doesn't scare easily and thrives on what others run from.

But then came 18 rounds with cerebral malaria in 6.5 years that totally rewired my nervous, adrenal and immune systems and left me fighting for my life over the last 3 years since returning to the USA. I lost everything I ever worked for because my health crashed. 98% of what my life was about... Gone in the space of weeks. Relationships, gone. Kids I thought I would raise the rest of my life, gone. Goals, shattered in the dust between continents.  My home, no longer my own.  My health, decimated.  

After watching all my dreams die a death that practically took me with them, the scariest thing I've ever done by far is choose to dream again. To step out with huge uncertainty, long term health challenges and no visible path but the one I carve from the unknown in front of me.  One brave step at a time. Maybe you know that kind of path too.  You are not alone.

A wise friend reminded me today:

Courage cannot exist in the absence of fear.

So I move forward little by little reminding myself small steps still lead to big dreams. And I am dreaming big. Maybe even bigger than ever. And I am so happy to share this adventure with you.

What's your one word for 2017?  I'd sure love to know.  Drop a comment below so we can cheer each other on.

Do It Scared

Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver Canada | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver Canada | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When I was in high school and college, I was pretty daring.  If they said I couldn't climb a mountain, I'd climb the mountain even if it meant free bouldering with one leg and no crutches. So you know when I was on a family vacation to Vancouver and they said there was this crazy high, super-swaying, marathon-length suspension bridge that you got a certificate of bravery for crossing, I was determined to tackle it.

I'm still pretty daring.  Living almost 10 years on my own in some of the worlds harshest and most dangerous places, I have learned that courage is not the absence of fear, it is what you do in the face of it.  And sometimes stepping out, means doing things scared.

Eighteen rounds of cerebral malaria in central Africa over 6.5 years wreaked havoc on my nervous system and adrenal glands.  When my health crashed 3 years ago, I went through severe and prolonged panic attacks.  Over seemingly nothing... or everything.  I still deal with them even years later.  I don't know when or if they'll eventually stop.  But one thing I refuse to do is let them shut me down or lock me away from life.

Not. Happening.

Just to prove the point to myself, this morning I signed up for a networking event.  I do not like "networky" things or mingling in rooms full of people I don't know.  I'm a total introvert who loves solitude.  Three people to me is a crowd.  But I do love meeting people and that is mighty hard to do tucked away in my studio.  If it is a moment of epic not-for-me, I never have to go to this event again. 

Even without the added adrenal drama, starting to run full speed after your creative dreams can be as scary as traversing a super-swaying suspension bridge hundreds of feet in the air.  Or plunging into a room of people you don't know.  Or what ever it is that starts to get your heart-beating a little faster and makes you wonder if you are really cut out for the path you are on.

It is OK to be scared.  But there are some things in business, and in life we simply need to do scared.  There are moments we need to know when to push ourselves and when to use wisdom and respect our health limits. {I'm great at pushing myself.  I'm learning a lot about respecting my limits.}

What would happen if we all did one business or creative thing that scared us a little every day?

My guess is that we would make our creative worlds a far bigger and more courageous place. And we ourselves would grow leaps and bounds in the process.  

I'm in for that, are you?  

  • What is one thing in your business or creative endeavors that is scary to you?  {Talking to a perspective client about your prices for instance.} 
  • How can you plan some things that makes it a little less scary?  
  • What happens when you do it scared anyway?  

Pop on in down in the comments or comment on this post on Facebook.  Let's cheer each other on to greater courage!

A Purpose Greater Than Profit

This smile.  I'll never forget the first time I saw it. This little one was one of my first infants. She came to live with us at barely 3 months old right after we opened and she slept in my room. For 3 weeks she screamed. 3 solid weeks. No sleep. For anyone. But one day while we were all bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation, she got loved past her pain and became one of our happiest, brightest little girls.

It took me several years to realize my passion for creativity and art had a place even in the middle of the bush raising over 100 kiddos.  I was back in the USA traveling and speaking in churches and events to raise awareness and funding for our needs in Africa.  

I was slightly taken aback when one stop asked me to contribute an art piece to their art auction raising funds for a neighboring children's home 2 miles down the road from ours.  We were facing massive expenses I had no idea how we would cover and we depended on donors to even survive.

If I am totally honest, I was quite frustrated by the request. I understood, but it felt fairly insensitive to our incredible needs. I was sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, running on less that empty and recovering from yet another infection of malaria, so I was probably overly sensitive and my grace tank was nonexistent.  I took a deep breath and smiled anyway.  Deep down I was happy to help, but we had so many unmet needs...

I believe what you sow, you reap. So, I put my personal sensitivities aside and created a canvas that hopefully would speak to people and raise awareness as well as funding for our neighbors and friends. What came forth was a precious piece I dedicated to all my little girls who were my stalwart butterfly chasing companions in the bush.  It is called Freedom. And it raised hundred's of dollars to help more children in our region beyond our own program.

That one choice sent me on a new journey to find out the ways my love for creativity and illustration could intersect with my life in Africa.  Ultimately, it is that journey that led here.  To this design company.  To all I am doing now.  Generosity opens so many doors we can't even imagine at the time.  When we live open-hearted, we always receive more than we give.  Life is not a competition, it is a collaboration.

Freedom | Premium, 9x12 in. limited-edition giclées available in my Etsy shop.  100% of the profits go to help the kids I love so much central Africa.

Freedom | Premium, 9x12 in. limited-edition giclées available in my Etsy shop.  100% of the profits go to help the kids I love so much central Africa.

To celebrate the launch of my design company, I am selling the limited edition giclée of Freedom in my Etsy shop here and 100% of the profits go to help the children I still hold in my heart as my own a world away.

You may not have children in Africa, but I bet there is some social cause you care about.  I believe creative brands and business can be built to give back extravagantly to a social purpose greater than profit and in so doing, create a sustainable supply for worthy causes. We can build economies of generosity and intention, as we embrace #courageouscreativity.

Who's down for that? I'm know in! 🙌🏻

If you are interested in a free hour to grab coffee over the phone and talk about how you can build social purpose into your business and find a purpose greater than profit (or chat about branding or story-led business growth), just click the button below to send me you details.  Can't wait to hear about your business passions!  

Where This Journey Began

Photo Credit: Anna Betty Photo

Photo Credit: Anna Betty Photo

I never planned to own my own business.  Yes, I "broke" the entrepreneurship aptitude test at my university where I earned 2/3rds of an MBA before dropping out to start a children's rescue home in war-torn Africa. I'll never forget the professor's extended introduction before handing out the papers.  This was not graded.  It was scored on a scale of 1-10.  The most successful serial entrepreneurs he used it on, only scored 7s.  Most people were 3-4s tops.  

I broke out my pencil and started answering the assessment.  I was sure there was some trick to the scoring mechanism because the questions seemed so self-evident.  {Of course, I had multiple childhood businesses, everyone has multiple childhood businesses.}  Then I was certain I added wrong because my score was impossible and numbers were usually my nemesis.  I felt a little like Tris in the Divergent books that hadn't yet been written, when she finds the test doesn't work on her.  I re-added and re-checked and finally turned my aberrant score in. 9.8 out of 10.

The professor looked at me and, with almost a prophetic amount of clarity, squinted his eyes and told me I would in no way graduate with my MBA from that program.  I would leave in order to go start something.  Neither of us knew at that time that it would be in a war-ravaged, tumultuous dusty corner of Africa in a no-man's land known for generations of brutal conflict.  But a few short months later in the next term, I became an official MBA drop-out.

I was raised to finish what I start, so dropping out was far from easy.  But I also knew I would never become who I was called to be settling for quarterly reports and corporate America.  {The portions of the MBA I did get were incredibly helpful and were in no way wasted in establishing a an international development base in what would become the world's newest nation.}

Once I moved to Africa, I never expected to return to live in America.  You don't take over 100 children into your heart as your own and plan to eventually go do something else.  But after 7 years with 18 infections of cerebral malaria as well as likely typhoid and a whole host of other tropical parasites and critters, my health shut down.  I moved back to the USA in 2013 and have been fighting to get even a toehold of health back since then.

It rapidly became evident I would not be moving back to Africa and my future existed on this side of the Atlantic.  It has been a gut-wrenching, soul-searching, dream-crushing, hope-awakening, comfort-stretching couple of years.

My journey to start Michele Perry Design started a world away when I looked into the eyes of the first child who called me mama.  It started with the first little hand that curled around mine that I went back out into the night to find and see her rescued from living in a brothel.  It started with seeing women being exploited because of economic vulnerability and forced to sell their dignity for less than the price of a juice box on the street.  It started with learning the names of those others judged as worthless as I sat with them as friends, in awe that a life of abuse lived on burning trash mounds didn't crush their ability to dream.

I didn't know it then, but these women and their tenacity to dream would help me to find my own again after having all I thought I was to do stripped away.  And so this new endeavor grew from the ashes of my own crushed dreams.

Even in the middle of the bush by lantern light and a waning laptop battery, I often would sit with visitors and help them think through creative businesses and branding and ways to integrate it all with serving a purpose greater than profit when they returned home.  I simply love to see others soar higher and farther than I can or than they thought they were able to.  Little did I know that that love I discovered in Africa would become the foundation of all I am doing now.

So, welcome.  This is a brand new journey and I can't wait to share it all with you.  I mean the raw and the beautiful, the frustrations and the joys.  This is not going to be a nice polished business blog in hopes to get you to sign up for an equally polished newsletter.  Not. Even. Close.

If you are part of this tribe of creatives and makers, creativepreneurs and artisans, community builders and conversation changers, I am going to take a wild guess that you don't want nice, neat and polished.  Life isn't.  Pioneering a new thing certainly isn't.  The creative is absolutely not.  

Nope.  The Inside Story is a place find courage for your creative soul.  Where you can find inspiration and insight to build an authentic brand, grow your business through the power of story and pursue a purpose greater than profit.  Here, we spill words and heart... me, from my own business story as it unfolds and the lessons I'm learning along the way.  You, from yours.  Together.

Know this my friend.  The road ahead may be very unknown. But as you step out to traverse its course, you are not alone.  I'm so glad you are here and I cannot WAIT to get to know you.

Before you go, start the new year off by signing up so you don't miss any of the adventure.  

{I hate spam and am an inbox minimalist myself, so I promise all you will get are blog posts, an almost weekly dose of encouragement and the very occasional announcement.}

Take a moment and say, "Hi!" in the comments.  Let me know where you are from and what creative business dream you have for 2017!