As we try to regain our footing during the pandemic, what can we learn from people who have reinvented themselves from the ashes of distress? How can we pick ourselves up in a world gone askew?
Motivational speaker Mikki Williams has suffered two tragedies during her career. At 29, she lost her husband who died in a car accident. A mom without a job, she was left with only $25,000 and a two-year-old son to raise. At 50, she suffered another crippling loss after being embezzled out of her six-figure life savings.
After both losses and throughout her life, Williams successfully reinvented herself 12 times. (Yes, you read that correctly). While she easily could have marinated in her own distress, she instead sought ways to help herself and feel better.
“I could have had the biggest pity party ever,” she told me. “But I chose not to be a victim.”
She has always lived outside the box. As she likes to say, “I never met a sequin I didn’t like.” No shrinking violet, she’s known for her big hair, large personality, and love of rhinestones, sequins and high heels. Her mantra is “Be outrageous, it’s the only place that isn’t crowded.”
What can Mikki Williams teach us about surviving a crisis? Although her story is unique, her survival skills are lessons in endurance — ones we can follow.
Here are 10 steps to take based on Mikki Williams’ experience
1. Have a growth mindset
Williams exercised a phenomenal will, perseverance and grit. She didn’t stop in her tracks thinking that she would be happy only when something happened. She acted and moved forward.
She embodied what Stanford psychologist Carole Dweck has called a growth mindset, a willingness to take on challenges even if you fail. To “be vigorously engaged with learning, especially in the face of difficulty,” according to Dweck.
2. Tap into your strengths
After Williams’ husband died, she wanted to do something that brought her joy. Drawing on her professional dance career, she opened a dance studio for adults.
3. Follow your intuition
Marching to her own drummer, Williams didn’t offer the usual ballroom dance classes. Instead, she taught ballet and tap for adults eager to revisit what had made them happy as children. She also catered to men, who had been shunted from taking ballet as children. Her gamble proved right and the studio was a hit.
4. Keep learning and doing
While teaching dancing, Williams turned to another love, cooking, and started a catering business. Her logo was herself dancing and holding a frying pan. She called her business “The Happy Cooker.”
An instinctive marketer, Williams knew how to promote her businesses. She volunteered her cooking skills for countless fundraisers giving her visibility and connections. She befriended local media people and timed announcements to be in outlets frequently.
5. Think outside the box
Williams had a pitchman’s talent for recognition. She was determined to be in the premiere dance publication, Dance Magazine. She knew it wasn’t likely the magazine, which focused on well-known dancers, would cover her studio. So, she used a back-door tactic. She created a recipe called Nutcracker Sweet and submitted it to Dance Magazine. They ran it along with a tagline about Williams as the owner of a dance studio. She now had bragging rights of saying she was featured in Dance Magazine.
6. Don’t let a crisis define you
At 50, Williams sold the dance/fitness studio she had run for 10 years for six figures. She gave her proceeds and much of her savings to an investor to manage. Unfortunately, she trusted the wrong person. The investor embezzled her money and she was left practically penniless.. Everything she had worked so hard for was gone.
Williams didn’t fold. “I’m not averse to risk or change which most people fear primarily because of what happened in my life (losing her husband) when I was 29,” she said. Williams again embraced a growth mindset taking charge of her life, learning new skills and moving ahead with resilience.
7. Don’t stop learning and doing
“I have a mentality that I’m a work in progress,” Williams said. “You’re perfect when you're born and when you die. All the rest of the time, you’re just a work in progress. I never stopped learning, and never stopped doing.”
She took odd jobs to stay afloat, everything from selling candy to managing a fitness center. At the same time, she plotted her next move. Any career had to offer four benefits: travel, glamour, unlimited financial opportunity and people exposure. She eventually landed on being a professional speaker after quick stabs at working for a hotel and being a meeting planner after gaining certification. Speaking answered all of her objectives.
8. Start with what you know
Not getting many general speaking gigs, Williams focused on what she knew, the fitness industry, sharing how to be successful within it.
Her approach paid off. Presenting one day to a fitness industry audience, she was approached afterwards by a man who was a principal with Ernst and Young. E&Y was sponsoring the Inc. magazine Entrepreneur Award Banquet and invited her to be the keynoter before an audience of Fortune 500 CEOs.
9. Be authentic
Being true to herself, Williams wore her usual Las Vegas type outfit of rhinestones and sequins for her Inc. keynoter and wowed the audience with her authenticity.
That gig launched her career and subsequently, she was hired by many of the companies in attendance.
10. You have a choice
“Don’t wait for tragedies to alter your path,” said Williams. “If I’ve learned anything in the course of my life, it’s this. We really do have a choice.”
Mikki Williams’ career has continued to scale upwards. Today, she’s a Hall of Fame, TEDx speaker, executive speech coach, inspirational humorist and business motivator, storyteller and entrepreneur. But behind her success is her attitude. Instead of giving in to frustrations or saying she can’t do something, she perseveres. If she can’t do something, she learns how.
Williams’ story is a powerful incentive to take control of a crisis. These 10 steps will give you the tools to confront a crisis…and survive it.