Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s really easy to convince yourself that the people you follow on social media have it all figured out. Just remember that it’s only a highlight reel. They aren’t sharing the moments where they are doubting themselves or falling on their face. They aren’t sharing the privileges they have that you may not have access to. EVERYONE is struggling and learning as they go. No one can keep all the plates spinning at once. If one area of their life is shining, there is a good chance there is another area that is in the shadows. Just focus on what YOU can do to become the best version of YOU.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mackenzie Collier.
Throughout her career, Mackenzie has gained a reputation for her unique approach to creating spaces that reflect her clients’ distinctive styles & interests. Mackenzie has built her business with her core values of community building, positivity and integrity in mind. She teaches and speaks nationally about business practices and interior design and is part of an ever-growing community of business owners who are expanding beyond the traditional business model.
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?
I studied Psychology at Michigan State and when I graduated, I moved to Chicago to go to grad school. I quickly fell in love with the architecture and design in Chicago and decided to go back to school for interior design instead of pursuing my masters in Psychology. When I graduated from design school, the economy was struggling and it was tough to find an entry level position. I decided to nanny and freelance my design skills on the side until I found the right position. My freelancing quickly snowballed into steady business, and after about two years, I made the leap to quit my day job and become a full-time interior designer. More recently since the start of the pandemic, I have launched a new venture as a business coach. My course Groundwork for Growth is a personalized training program for service-based business owners that teaches them how to implement systems, increase profits and instill values that are vital for company growth and culture.
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 honed the skill of being resilient over the years and have perfected the art of failing big and coming back stronger. But sometimes it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, you know? Five or six years ago, I went on a design consultation at a home that had one of the most awkward layouts I’d ever seen. The client was a veteran and didn’t have the budget for the services that they really needed, but I knew they needed a designer’s help to get this remodel to work- it was complex. I decided to give the services for free as a “thank you” for their service. It ended up being one of the most awkward consultations of my career. We had to move no less than ten deadly weapons to get the measurements we needed (crossbows, rifles, hand guns etc.). Their dogs kept jumping on us and there was dog feces smeared on the walls we were measuring. There was a lot of hyper-political propaganda lying around the house that made me a little uncomfortable. We produced the designs for free and presented them, but the client was unhappy with the fact that we had included a pantry in the kitchen and she hadn’t asked for a pantry. We offered to adapt it, but she fired us and then filed a complaint against us with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). In that moment I learned to trust my gut instincts OVER my eagerness to be generous. I was downright uncomfortable in that house, I should have trusted my gut and left when I saw the crossbow tucked into the guest bed. But I didn’t. I wanted to be generous and do something kind, so I ignored the little voice in my head that said, “something’s not right here.” and I ended up having to spend months going through three rounds of mediation to get this negative mark removed from my BBB rating. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn a few times and am still mastering — trust my gut instinct about people and protect myself first. As business owners, we are in a vulnerable place where bad reviews or bad publicity can destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to build. We have to be mindful of that and protect ourselves even when our personal instinct is to give.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that I absolutely love about my company is that it’s made up of people who grew up without enough financial privilege to have access to the interior design industry — many of my employees didn’t even know it was a career option until they were in college. One of my missions in my business has always been to make space for a more diverse group of people to have access to both working in the interior design industry as well as receiving design services. I swore if I ever made it as a designer, I would hold the door open behind me to allow others who don’t fit the traditional mold of a designer in as well. Our team is more creative, more industrious, and more flexible than the traditional interior design team because we come from a wide array of backgrounds and we bring a lot more varied life experiences to the table. We work collaboratively and that ensures we bring more diverse design solutions and avoid mistakes and oversights by having more eyes on each design.
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?
I’m grateful for Georganne Bryant, the former owner of Frances Boutique in Phoenix. She has been a leader among small business owners for years. She started a small group of women that met weekly in the back room of her warehouse to discuss business. Georganne led the group each week, assigned reading and homework, and just generally provided amazing support to these six or seven lucky business owners. The comradery and the collaboration I received from joining that group changed my business in so many ways for the better. I’m really grateful to women who take the time to share the knowledge they’ve amassed throughout their careers. I try to pay it forward as often as I can.
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’ll share the advice that I always say to new business owners or those who are thinking about going into business: Get comfortable with failing. If you are someone who is afraid of failure, small business ownership probably isn’t for you. When I look back at my career, almost all of the meaningful growth my business has experienced is a result of failing in some way and learning from it. Whether it’s a new employee or marketing idea that doesn’t pan out, or an unexpected legal or financial issue, or an expensive oversight or mistake — you fall on your face first, and then you figure out how you could have prevented it, and then you grow from it. It’s really tough to keep coming back swinging after each set back, but those moments are also what makes success that much sweeter.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Well courage is the ability to understand that something is a risk and go for it anyway, and that is an essential element to running a small business. If you don’t take risks and you play small, you won’t see the rewards you want. Resilience is just the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after the risk doesn’t work out. Having a background in Psychology, and speaking a lot about this topic, I’ve studied a lot about how men’s brains and women’s brains assess risk — it’s really fascinating. On average women consider many more factors when evaluating a risk, and that actually primes them to make more accurate assessments of the risk. Men’s brains may make decisions quicker, but they aren’t looking at the whole picture and they tend to overestimate their chances of success. The apex of decision making about risk is probably in that sweet spot between speed and accuracy.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Honestly, I think about the millennial generation in general. I’m at the oldest end of the millennial generation and so many of my peers really haven’t had a chance at the American Dream as we all know it. Our parents and our older siblings ate up everything at the buffet before we were allowed our first meal. If you think about my timeline, 9/11 happened my first week of college, the great recession began right as I graduated college with a huge mountain of student debt. In 2007 there was no “income based repayment” for student loans, we didn’t have the option to stay on our parents health insurance after age 18. Gen X was taking the entry level jobs we were promised, since they were laid off during the recession. We didn’t stand a chance. Growing up we were told that if you work hard and go to college, you can make a better life for yourself. Despite being the most highly educated generation in history, and despite that we are available to our jobs 24/7 due to technology, we are far less successful than our parents. Most of us couldn’t even find full time jobs in the fields we studied — that’s why we embraced gig culture and why so many small businesses were born in the following years. So many of my peers have had to get multiple jobs to make ends meet — we are nannies/interior designers, we are bartenders/yoga teachers etc. We protested and voted and made sure things were financially better for the next generation, but it never really got better for ours. So many millennials don’t have access to home ownership, can’t afford to start families, and it’s wild because we are full grown adults now — I’m pushing 40. The millennial generation has had to be resilient because we have no other choice.
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?
I can’t think of a time when someone told me something was impossible, I surround myself with really supportive, optimistic people. BUT I have certainly seen a lot of eyebrows raised over the years, specifically with the benefits that I offer to my team. It was important to me to build a business model that reflected the kind of business I would want to work for. I believe that a well-rested employee is a better employee, so we have progressive business hours and clear boundaries around time off. Work-life balance is at the heart of every decision we make. We celebrate birthdays, engagements, holidays and we support each other through life’s tough moments too. It’s important to me that MCI is a joyful place to work.
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?
I thought that 2019 was the worst year of my life, I got married AND divorced in the same year. I had to move out of my home that I had spent five years renovating. We hired a marketing company that tanked our company website for six months and nearly put us out of business — I had to borrow money from a friend to make payroll a few weeks after my wedding. I was at rock bottom. I went into 2020 ready to bounce back and have the best year ever, then Covid19 hit in March and, well, we all know how that played out. As the pandemic wore on for months, I really started to question whether I had the strength to keep leading my business. I was completely burnt out. I’ve wanted to quit a thousand times, but when I really think about it, there is absolutely nothing I’d rather do. I actually hired a life coach who helped me pull everything back into perspective and she helped me reignite my passion for my life. I realized I just needed to figure out what motivates me and then make sure I’m focused on that. My life coach, Lucy Spiro, helped me find my “why” and I came back swinging!
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
My mom had her first surgery for breast cancer on my tenth birthday. Over the next three decades, I would watch her fight cancer many times. Right now she is the healthiest she has ever been and I’m so grateful for that, but I learned everything I know about resilience by watching her positive attitude snd relentless effort as she suffered through some of the most painful and uncomfortable moments of her life. She would focus on something positive like her horses, her garden, her family and use that as fuel to fight each battle. She was so strong through all of it. When I’m struggling I try to channel the confident, positive energy that she brought into each challenge.
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.
1.Try to fix it yourself before you ask for help. If you have support, that’s great. But nothing matches the confidence boost you get from solving a problem independently. When I started my business I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had to figure out how to build a website, how to market my business, how to structure my services etc. In doing all of these things myself, I have a much better understanding of how they all work together and it makes me a better business person.
2. If you have specific triggers that cause you to break down or burn out, identify what they are and really focus your efforts on trying to understand them — that way you can prevent them in the future. For me, I lose my confidence when I have money issues, so I have created a system where I am well insulated with a few different back up savings accounts — it just helps me avoid panic mode. Good decisions are rarely made when you are already at the point of panic. I also tend to burn out when I don’t take time to go hike or camp in nature, so I build that into my schedule.
3. Don’t take it personally when you fail. Just because something didn’t work out, does NOT mean that it is a reflection of you as an individual. It says nothing about how smart you are or how good you are at your job. Everyone makes mistakes, even the all-stars, and the sooner you learn to look at that as an opportunity to take it as feedback, the better off you’ll be. Be kind to yourself.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s really easy to convince yourself that the people you follow on social media have it all figured out. Just remember that it’s only a highlight reel. They aren’t sharing the moments where they are doubting themselves or falling on their face. They aren’t sharing the privileges they have that you may not have access to. EVERYONE is struggling and learning as they go. No one can keep all the plates spinning at once. If one area of their life is shining, there is a good chance there is another area that is in the shadows. Just focus on what YOU can do to become the best version of YOU.
5. Get creative! When you feel like you are between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to go. Just step away and spend time doing something that relaxes you. It may seem counterintuitive to go for a hike while the building is on fire, but if you are stuck, taking the pressure off your mind for a bit will help you access the part of your brain that is better at solving problems. Most of my best business ideas pop into my head while I’m out in the woods hiking. We tend to see things in black and white when we are stressed, but almost always the best solution is in the gray area between.
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. 🙂
I honestly wish people would just practice empathy. It’s so easy to make a quick assessment and judge people or situations based on what’s obvious to you, but so often if you pause and dig deeper there is a level of complexity there that you didn’t’ see at first glance. Assume that everyone is doing the best that they can and give people the benefit of the doubt. So many of the issues in the world could be solved with just a little bit of empathy and kindness.
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 meet with Jonathan Van Ness. I think he has such an interesting life story and I really admire his resilience in life and his ability to maintain a positive attitude through anything. Plus I think he’d be a really fun lunch date.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can learn more about Mackenzie Collier Interiors at https://mackenziecollierinteriors.com/portfolio and stay up to date on all things business coaching at https://mackenziecollierinteriors.com/business-coaching
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!