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Five Lessons for the Fiercely Independent...

As long as I can remember, I've been a fiercely independent spirit. I believe this character trait was first diagnosed by my mother when I overheard her refer to me as a "strong-willed" child.

Over the years, that moniker manifested itself in peculiar ways and eventually evolved into a what I affectionately refer to as being fiercely independent. At times, it can be a tough way to go through life, but for sure, there are many positive life lessons learned in the process

Lesson #1: Politeness Never Goes Out of Style

The first time I noticed my apparent oddness was at my elementary school bus stop. In the midst of the Women's Rights movement in the 1970's, I negotiated a deal with all the girls in our neighborhood that we would line up for the bus in the order in which we arrived in the morning. After all, this was the best way to create a fair and equitable solution to determine who would be first one on the bus. While this was fine with all us kids, it did not sit well with our bus driver, Clyde.

This newly proposed departure from the hard and fast rules of proper school bus etiquette was not going to be allowed to subvert his long-standing rule of, "the boys always allow the girls to get on the bus first." After a passionate plea of stating my case and informing Clyde that everyone at the bus stop was OK with the new way of doing things, we were at a stand-off. His patience was growing thin and his final offer of you can do it my way or walk to school won the day - but it didn't break the fiercely independent spirit.

Lesson #2: There is More Than One Way to Climb a Tree

In high school, I was confronted with a test question in speech class that asked us how four different objects related to each other. This was indeed a puzzlement. I spent way too much time on this one but in the end I truly believed I had cracked the code and was looking forward to the extra credit I was going to receive for this bit of brilliance.

Upon getting the test back later in the week, my bafflement of getting it wrong let alone not receiving special recognition quickly escalated to a level of indignance. Needless to say the explanation from not my favorite teacher made it even worse. Mr. Carmichael did agree that what I had pointed out was true, but the answer key for the test did not account or allow for the pattern I had discovered. Alas, even though my logic was sound, the answer was still wrong - but it didn't break the fiercely independent spirit.

Lesson #3: Success is Often Times the Result of a Series of Failures

Freshman year of college most of my time was spent in an 8-man rowing shell on the Schuylkill River. As a walk-on to the school's freshman team with no previous rowing experience everything about the sport was new, wonderful and wildly competitive. Everyday there was something new to be learned and new challenge to overcome.

Within two short months the team went from a boat of newbies to lining up at the start line for our first official race. Like most things in life, nothing ever goes how you expect it and you wind up having to improvise as best as you can. I remember the start was shaky (at least for me) and the fear of catching a crab was more intense than ever before. Our coxswain held us together and kept us going to the finish line where we came in third place.

Then there was the long, slow row back up river to our boathouse. There we were, hoisting our boat onto its rack. We were talking about all the things we could have done better and then I said, "Yes, but with all that we still came in at a respectable third." To which our hard-ass coach overheard and abruptly let me and everyone else know that, "The only respectable finish at this school is first!"

To this day, I know that we rowed a good race. It was our first time together in that situation and we all learned a lot from that experience. And, Coach Spate's comment did not break the fiercely independent spirit.

Lesson #4: You Can't Get There by Yourself

While working on the Philips Electronics account, I had the good fortune being able to travel the world; Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, and who could ever forget Eindhoven. Eindhoven is like the Piscataway of The Netherlands - only grayer.

But it is here that a colleague and I encountered an old gypsy lady. It was after hours and we found ourselves wandering back to our hotel after an evening of entertaining clients. Through the mist ahead of us, we could make out two shadowed figures standing on the corner. Foolishly, we approached and confronted the two people. One immediately ran off into the darkened alleyway. The one who remained, turned to us and mumbled in an aged and gravely voice of experience, “You can’t get there by yourself.”

In returning to New York, the encounter with the gypsy woman and her curse continued to haunt me - but it didn't break the fiercely independent spirit.

Lesson #5: One + One = Three

//NKST is the culmination of a career's worth of hardships, blessings, experiences and opportunities. As much as I've tried to do something else as a vocation, I keep coming back to not only what I know, but what gets me excited to wake up in the morning.

Call it divine intervention or stubbornness but at long last, perhaps I've finally found myself - and that is working side-by-side with old friends, former colleagues, new acquaintances and fresh faces. Together, we are starting to create a dynamic force of critical thinking and creative action.

Because there's a level of trust that develops, there's a knowing that another person can tow the line if one of us misses a beat, the ability to add substance and beauty to other's ideas, and the different and unexpected types of conversations we can have with our clients.

That's the magic of //NKST. We don't fit into a known box and we're not limited by the confines of that box. That's the fiercely independent spirit in each of us getting stronger and our collective sound becoming bigger.


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