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President & Founder of Mekky Media Relations, a boutique PR agency based in Chicago with clients nationwide, delivering powerful publicity.
About six and a half years ago, I was emerging from my biggest life challenge — surviving cancer — and about to head into another incredibly difficult experience: losing my job. I had no idea this was coming my way. It was a period during which I was overwhelmed with sadness, anger, disappointment, and guilt that I had failed and let my family down. If you’ve ever lost a job, you know what that feels like. Getting kicked in the gut hard is putting it mildly.
Today, thankfully, I am able to see that chapter of my life for what it truly was: a rejection that was hurtful at the time but also a gift. It enabled me to step into the light, trust the universe and accept my destiny. It gave me the freedom and power to finally overcome my fear of doing the thing I most wanted to do: create, lead and run my own public relations business.
Before I suddenly became jobless, I didn’t believe in myself enough to take this leap. But the rejection made it apparent that I had two choices: stay stuck and hurting or rebound in a big way and prove to myself and others that I had more to give. With support from friends, family and colleagues, including one important mentor who shook some sense into me, I chose the latter. And I’m thankful every day that I did.
The ensuing four and half years were not easy. It took hard work and many ups and downs to build Mekky Media Relations into the thriving agency it is today. Of course, there are still tough days. But it’s all worth it.
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Building my business has been the most rewarding experience and has taught me a lot about getting through a disappointment and turning it into a positive. Here are a few lessons that I think can help others — from business leaders to those just starting out, especially given the challenges of our current climate.
Feel the pain, but don’t wallow.
When something bad happens, it’s important to feel and reflect on the disappointment. Don’t lie to yourself about the impact the experience is having on you. Rather, take the time you need to mourn and grieve. Just don’t get stuck in that pattern. Nothing good can come from wallowing in sadness or negative feelings for too long. Try to shift quickly into figuring out how you can grow from the experience and move forward in a positive way.
Trust the universe.
The first step in moving forward is to recognize that the universe has your back. When we face unfortunate experiences, which we inevitably do because we are human, we must remember that bad things often happen for a reason. I have done work with coaches, therapists and energy healers to inspire my own awakening and enhance my understanding of this. There might be a relationship that would have led you down a bad path if you stayed together, or a job you weren’t ready to take if you didn’t get the offer.
Ultimately, after absorbing the disappointment and taking an honest look at the situation, we can often see that we’re meant for better things. It can take months or even years to understand the teachable moments that result from a rejection or disappointment. But if we’re willing to be open and trust that there’s a path we’re meant to take, we can come out with a better, smarter frame of mind on the other side.
Don’t be afraid to fail.
When I lost my job, I could have started pounding the pavement the very next day, searching for new employment. That would have been a more predictable and relatively safe path to take. And playing it safe is tempting when you’re feeling raw in the wake of rejection. But my dream was to start my own agency, and I decided that after all I had been through, I wasn’t going to let fear hold me back this time. So I threw myself into the challenge, even though there was a risk of failure. Thankfully, the experiment paid off, and my company is right where I had hoped it would be. But even if things hadn’t worked out, I would be proud that I didn’t let rejection permanently damage my confidence and drive. When you stay bold in the face of rejection, you can hold your head high no matter where you end up.
Get better, and get help when you need it.
A failure can force you to figure out how you need to improve and where you need help. When my agency has faced challenges, we’ve made process improvements that enable us to work smarter and better as a team. When I become overwhelmed, I identify areas where I need the help of trustworthy experts. You have to admit you can’t do it all yourself. This can be hard for a hands-on leader who’s a perfectionist. But getting support when it’s needed is essential to the long-term sustainability of a business, as well as our mental health.
Be grateful for the good and bad.
People often ask me if I’m angry about losing my job. I did feel that way in those early days, but now I am honestly grateful for the experience. I know that sounds like something people just say to save face. But there is wisdom in the idea of being thankful for the good and bad experiences that teach and lead us. So while I’ve dealt with disappointment and made tough choices in my career, and I do have some regrets, these things have shaped me. As I lead my team and run my company today, especially throughout the challenges of the pandemic, I often reflect on the lessons I’ve learned.
I believe we can all learn from our darker moments. They can carry us and help us become the leader and person we’re meant to be.
Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?
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Author: Michelle Mekky, Forbes Councils Member