I august 2014, I attended the Business Building Symposium, organized by the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce. I wasn't sure what to expect: I knew there was a keynote speaker, a panel, and some break-out sessions. I wasn't sure what direct impact it would have on our business, BUT it did have a direct impact on me.
What grabbed my attention, and made the event worthwhile for me, was the keynote presentation by Stephen Bienko. I had met Stephen once or twice before at other Chamber events, but I didn't know what to expect from his keynote.
Stephen began by revealing, in a very dramatic way, that he had suffered from a severe stutter as a child. He revisited the personal pain and anguish he experienced as a child who became the target of schoolyard bullying and social humiliation.
His story has a happy ending. Today, Stephen is very successful business leader. If you missed his presentation, I hope you will have a chance to hear his story directly from him someday.
But I'm not here to share his story, I'm here to share my own!
As Stephen spoke about his experiences, it reminded me of my own, similar, experiences, and his story has inspired me to share my own story.
On Tuesday, February 27th, 1968, three days before my first birthday, I was with my mother at my grandmother's house. I was just learning to walk. My father would later tell me that earlier that week I had walked out our front door and made it a few houses down the street before he caught up with me.
I was a natural explorer, curious about my surroundings and eager to learn about the world.
Back at my grandmother's, I found myself alone in the kitchen. Though I was too young to remember that day, I can imagine I was bored and in need of some excitement. What transpired next is every parent's nightmare. I discovered a cord hanging over the edge of the kitchen counter. The cord was attached to an electric skillet filled with scalding hot cooking oil. I reached out and managed to grab the cord, pulling on it I spilled the burning oil all over my scalp and shoulders.
I spent the next six weeks in an isolation ward. Over the next 13 years I would have multiple corrective and cosmetic surgeries to repair the physical damage from my third-degree burns.
I am lucky that I don't remember the pain of the accident. The surgeries I endured were certainly painful, but they ultimately made significant improvements in my physical appearance and mobility, and therefore improved my ability to enjoy a normal life.
The most difficult part of my accident was not the scars themselves, it was the teasing and humiliation I suffered as a result of those scars. It's no lie: Children can be cruel, and I know from personal experience just how cruel they can be. I'm not going to go into those details, I will leave it to you to imagine or at least relate to what I am talking about. Let's suffice to say that from the day I started kindergarten until my mid-teens, like Stephen Bienko, I was often the target of humiliation and bullying, at the hands of my school mates. It sucked!
When I heard Stephen relating his story, all those memories came back to me. But, instead of making me sad, his story filled me with pride. It made me realize how far I have come, and it also helped me see how things have connected through my life.
People who know me today would have a difficult time describing me as introverted. I'm anything but that now. However, if you knew me 20 or 30 years ago, you'd probably have a hard time remembering who I was. The effects of my introversion plagued me through the early stages of my life and career. Frankly, I was miserable.
Eventually I came to some important realizations. I realized that my scars were nothing to be ashamed of. I realized that the only obstacle in my life was myself, and that the only person I had to please was me. And finally, I realized that the only way I was going to find happiness in my life was to change my outlook and expectations. So I did, and in the process I created a new me.
Listening to Mr. Bienko, I reflected on my experience. Looking back on that time, I now realize how discovering that new me made it possible to chart a clear course for myself personally, and just as importantly, professionally.
So, even more than a way to share my story, this blog post is a thank-you letter to Stephen Bienko for reminding me about where I come from and what I have achieved in my life. Despite some serious challenges, I've managed to create a place for myself, and I've managed to become a better creative by realizing the value in sharing my own story.
Bryon McCartney is a managing partner and creative director at Be Brilliant™ Marketing! a branding, design, marketing, social media and web design agency based in Fort Myers, Florida. His work and experience has taken him around the globe, working with clients ranging from local entrepreneurs to global, Fortune 100 companies. Follow him on Twitter @BrilliantBryon or connect with him on LinkedIn.