If you’re growing, you’re changing, but if you’re changing, you aren’t necessarily growing. While change is inherent to growth, growth isn’t inherent to change, and that’s why we often resist it. But all it takes is a simple mindset shift to embrace change—to see that when we’re faced with opportunities for change, those are often the opportunities most ripe for growth. Unfortunately, we rarely realize it until after the fact.
Why? In the words of James Belasco and Ralph Stayer, it’s “because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” The issue isn’t change itself—any change can bring about growth, as you’ll see below—it’s your approach to change that determines whether you grow or things merely change.
The first part of this decade has been a lot of things, but topping the list is that it’s been a time of change. For people and organizations with a growth-focused mindset, those changes served as catalysts for growth. You probably won’t find a business where that’s any more apparent than Abstrakt Marketing Group. Like many businesses, we initially took a hit with the onset of a global pandemic but ultimately ended up growing through 2020 and have continued that growth in 2021 and now heading into 2022.
During the pandemic, we didn’t have to lay anyone off, and on top of that, we acquired Sapper Consulting earlier this year. As a business, we catalyzed change into growth, but that wouldn’t have happened unless the individuals at the ground level had learned to view this change as opportunity. After all, if individual employees weren’t able to grow over the past year, the organization wouldn’t have either.
To gain a better understanding of not only how our company responds to change at an organization level but also on an individual level, we asked several members of our team a simple question: What’s been the biggest change or disruption in your life over the past year? Here’s where the conversations went from there.
For Kris Karsten, the biggest disruption in his life occurred as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many, Kris lost his job in 2020 due to downsizing in response to the pandemic. After losing his job, he began reexamining his life and the choices that had brought him to that point. He spent four months unemployed, depressed, and stuck at home trying to figure out what to do next.
Initially, Kris responded negatively to the disruption. He lost his sense of security, income, and confidence. Although he understood that losing his job wasn’t his fault, he also had qualms about whether he had done everything possible to prevent it from happening. His self-doubt and depression caused him to gain 20 pounds.
Since finding a job at Abstrakt, Kris feels like his life has turned around and the experience has really changed his whole life. After starting his job at Abstrakt, Kris realized that he can still have a positive impact at an organization he cares about. In his previous role, he knew he could do the job and be successful, but at Abstrakt, he realized that he had a voice and the opportunity to effect positive change. It also gave him the perspective to realize that he hadn’t been entirely happy at his previous job.
Thanks to the change, Kris now feels more satisfaction in his career. In the long run, it restored his confidence and propelled him to make better choices, like committing himself to live a healthier lifestyle starting in January 2021.
While he viewed this as a negative change initially, he now acknowledges that the experience has been 100% positive. He has a job that’s both personally fulfilling and gives him a newfound perspective. His confidence level for what he can accomplish is at an all-time high, and he feels healthier than ever after losing nearly 35 pounds. Even his family and friends can tell that he’s a happier person.
The experience has shown him that he can accomplish anything as long as he believes he can do it with his faith and family to support him. He has a new outlook on life, having found that even if you’re in a bad situation, you have the power to overcome it and put yourself in an even better spot.
Would he go back, even if he could skip the pain and grief those four months caused him while being unemployed? “Absolutely not,” he says. “I’m a better person because of that experience.”
For SaraJo Adkins, the biggest disruption in 2020 wasn’t how the COVID-19 pandemic directly changed her life. Instead, the bigger disruption was how it affected her team. She’s been working remotely as a Partner Retention Manager since 2013, so the company’s transition to a fully remote work model didn’t immediately disrupt her life. She and her son are also self-admitted homebodies due to pre-existing health concerns. Having to spend more time at home was already something they were used to and even enjoyed.
However, most of the people around her were used to working in the office full time, and the biggest change she experienced was finding new ways to support them as they adapted to the work environment she was already accustomed to. She found that, at least initially, she had a lot more fires to put out as people suddenly transitioned to this new, foreign work style.
When she started at Abstrakt, SaraJo never had the chance to train or have face-to-face meetings. She’d always learned or trained via phone or video calls, but most people she worked with hadn’t. The biggest challenge for her involved helping other people learn how to function remotely. At the same time, her experience as a remote worker prior to the pandemic gave her the unique experience she needed to support her team.
As a senior in her department, SaraJo has trained a lot of people at Abstrakt, including her current director. She’s always been the go-to person for training, and she helped to set an example for everyone else. She’d been successfully working from home for so long that it helped others overcome objections that remote work couldn’t be done effectively.
To help overcome those doubts, she focused on some of the positives of working from home: SDRs didn’t have all the background noises and distractions like they did in the office. They could really listen to the person on the other end of the phone. She believes quality even improved in some regards because SDRs were focused. Part of that, she acknowledges, is that her team became more dedicated to their jobs as they saw many people around them losing theirs due to the pandemic. They saw that the company took a risk by transitioning to fully remote and showed appreciation for hard work.
At the same time, she also had some concerns that the fully remote model wasn’t sustainable for everyone. Some people couldn’t hold themselves accountable, and it made it more difficult for managers to hold those individuals accountable. Early on, she was also concerned about how successful employees would respond when they eventually had to be uprooted and return to the office. The reserve effect of working from home was her biggest concern at that point.
She discovered that just about everyone on her team learned a lot about themselves during the pandemic. Some learned that they were more independent than they thought. They realized they didn’t need someone looking over their shoulder to be successful. Others learned that they weren’t independent workers. Most people, however, still needed at least some degree of help recognizing that they’d ultimately been growing through these challenges.
In terms of her own growth, she experienced a steep learning curve in grasping how different people learn in different ways. She had to figure out the best way to talk with different team members and communicate, even when face-to-face communication wasn’t possible. She had to learn how to better read between the lines and ensure she was accurately conveying what she meant to say.
The biggest opportunities SaraJo sees moving forward? Our company grew through the pandemic, and as the world opens back up, she recognizes an even greater opportunity to continue that trajectory of growth. Internally, she believes many opportunities for advancement and promotions will open up, which is also one of her favorite parts of the job. No, not promotions for herself—instead she loves seeing the talented individuals around her grow and celebrate promotions, knowing she played an instrumental role in their development. Ultimately, when you join SaraJo’s team, her number one priority is to get you off of her team with a promotion.
Most people would say that the biggest change in their lives over the past year was tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Abby Scherer, however, the biggest disruption would have occurred even if the pandemic had never happened. Last year, her father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Initially, she felt fear and anger when she found out. He’s been an instrumental part of her life. From attempting to do her hair in kindergarten to helping her with math homework in high school, Abby credits her father with making her the person she is now.
Abby recognizes that the anger she felt largely came from the surprise of the diagnosis. As treatment progressed, she realized how much of her life revolved around not only family but also her father. The experience has shown her that he’s the rock of their family. She’s still angry that her family had to go through the experience, but she also appreciates that it showed her how strong her father is.
Her father has been going through immunotherapy twice a month, and although treatment has changed him, he’s improving every day. His tumor, which was once the size of a softball, has shrunk significantly and the cancer is no longer spreading.
Ultimately, the experience shaped Abby in the sense that she now realized something good can come from every negative. She has been able to see how strong her father and her family truly are as a whole. His diagnosis has pushed her to become a better and stronger person.
The biggest change in Jessica Rentel’s life over the past year was transitioning out of a classroom training role for new hires into a corporate training and recruiting role. Fortunately, this kind of change is nothing new for Jessica. During her eight years at Abstrakt, she’s served in eight different roles, and she’s never turned down an opportunity that’s come her way. She credits Dave Hollis, author and leader at Disney, for inspiring her growth-focused mindset. One of his 10 Operating Principles encourages people to jump into uncomfortable situations because they make you more experienced and unique, and she’s taken that approach to heart.
The initial transition from new hire classroom training was challenging because Jessica had been tied to that role for so long. She didn’t want to leave the team she’d been working so closely with. She still stays in touch with that team and now realizes that her transition into a new role ultimately opened up new opportunities for others on the team. She’s been amazed at how seamlessly they’ve transitioned into their new roles and what they’ve been able to accomplish. That potential wouldn’t have been possible, however, without her stepping into her new role.
Being in corporate training has been Jessica’s goal for a while at Abstrakt, so she’s grateful to be in the position she holds today. Initially, she was challenged by working independently because she’s so driven by leading a team, but with the recent addition of recruiting under her umbrella, she’s been able to work alongside a team again which has been really fulfilling.
She absolutely views the change as positive because she’s now able to have a larger impact on the entire organization. Something she’s said for years is, “The one thing that never changes at Abstrakt (or anywhere in life) is change, so even when changes come my way that I don’t agree with, I always learn something that helps me become a better person. You grow through what you go through and if life is always easy, don’t expect to become a well-rounded individual.”
Jessica enjoys and appreciates change, because without it she wouldn’t be the person she is today. She’s been able to gain more grit and perseverance working in an ever-changing environment than she would have at a static workplace. The changes that she hasn’t liked are the ones she remembers most and has learned from the most. At the end of the day, she believes that if you’re not going to remember a stressful change in 10 years, then don’t sweat it. Don’t continuously stress about the things that aren’t in your control. In her experience, the only thing you can fully control is how YOU react to the change.
Brian Mackenzie graduated in December of 2019, and prior to the pandemic, he was preparing to serve in Sri Lanka with the Peace Corps as an English teacher in the first group to return to the country after 20 years. His plan was to leave June 2020 for at least two years of teaching, cultural immersion, and representing the United States abroad.
That all changed in March of 2020 as Covid-19 spread across the globe. The Peace Corps decided to immediately evacuate about 6,000 active volunteers across 60+ countries—something that had never been done since the Peace Corps began in 1963.
Initially, Brian felt stuck in limbo as the entire bureaucracy of the Peace Corps shifted to coordinating the evacuation. He was living at his parent’s house and wondering how the world would change in response to the pandemic. As the pandemic grew worse, he began to realize that it would be a long time before he would have the opportunity to pursue his original plan after graduation.
He felt pretty lost with no clear path forward and no idea what the world would look like even a few months in the future. At the same time, he also recognized the opportunity to explore more of his interests and grow as a person. While he knows he would have enjoyed the challenge of moving halfway across the world for two years to learn the basics of teaching as well as a new language and culture, he’s surprised by the opportunities for growth he’s found right in St. Louis.
Today, Brian views change as necessary. He’s found that he personally handles disruptions best by keeping busy and trying new things rather than remaining in place and stagnating. “Some disruptions are painful, and we shouldn’t take them lightly,” he reflects. “But there is always a silver lining.”
Alyssa lost her step-father to cancer in early 2021. Reflecting on it, she wonders how the biggest change in her life over the past year had nothing to do with COVID-19. While everyone else around her may have been thinking that the world was falling apart due to the pandemic, she remembers thinking to herself, “How during COVID do you have your biggest disruption that isn’t COVID-related? I’m wearing this mask, I’m hiding, and I’m trying to figure my life out, and I’m thinking the world’s falling down, but it had nothing to do with that.”
In many ways, the loss of her step-father impacted her more acutely than anything else going on around her, in large part because of how quickly it happened. “We found out he had liver cancer, and about a week later he was gone,” she recalls.
As the oldest sister, she knew she had to be strong when she found out. She remembers carefully taking notes in the doctor’s office, convinced that everything was going to be fine and they were going to beat the diagnosis.
Now, it feels surreal to her. Within two days, her step-father was incoherent. That’s when she realized everything wasn’t going to be fine. The gravity of the situation set in. She realized things weren’t going to ever be the same, and this was one problem she wouldn’t be able to solve. In response, she opened her laptop and focused on problems she could solve at work.
Alyssa’s step-father was “the glue of family.” He was the one who brought everyone together and told her she could do it when she thought she couldn’t. If someone was having a bad day or had a problem, his solution was, “Let’s go fishing.” Without him around, her future suddenly became uncertain. All the life milestones and celebrations she thought he would be there for—suddenly, she realized he wouldn’t. In memoriam, her family planted a tree for her step-father at his favorite place, Suson Park, and it’s become one of her family’s favorite places to visit.
Obviously, there’s nothing Alyssa wouldn’t do to turn time around and have her step-father back again, but she’s realized that she reacts to things differently after the experience. The situation has made her more empathetic. She’s learned to stop for a second from time to time and when to go with the flow of life. It’s easier to step back and put problems into perspective. She’s always seen herself as a strong-willed perfectionist, but now she finds herself asking, “How much of a problem is that really?”
In essence, she’s learned to look at problems the way her step-father did.
The biggest disruption in Scott Scully’s life over the past couple of years was the transition to a fully remote life in 2020, including transitioning his business from operating almost entirely on-site to fully remote. At the same time, he had to help his children transition from learning in the classroom to learning at home. Scott admits it was a scary time. He felt a personal responsibility for the lives of everyone at Abstrakt along with his own family.
One of the most challenging parts was that there wasn’t a lot of time to plan, and it required a leap of faith to move the whole business out in a couple of days while a fair percentage of people hadn’t been on the team long. After successfully executing the transition, the next big challenge was to instill confidence in leadership and individuals at every level of the organization.
Following the transition, Scott quickly realized that a lot of people need to be around others in order to thrive, but at the same time, going remote came with plenty of positives. It opened people up to new ideas about how to connect, how to sell, and how to build partnerships. It even opened Scott up to the idea of dying his hair red and then cutting it into a mohawk when his daughter suggested the idea.
Scott saw the time as an opportunity to reach out to people throughout the organization, particularly people he wouldn’t have normally interacted with. He wanted to get a pulse check on different people throughout the organization. Without the ability to see their faces in the office, he and some of the other leaders began video calling different people and checking in. The conversations ranged from work and performance to family and fears.
Overall, Scott views the past two years as positive, although he feels like he’s still recovering. He feels like he now knows what he—and the entire organization—can handle. The time has shown us new ways to connect in business, proven Abstrakt’s business model, demonstrated the power of numbers, and forced him to reflect on what makes him tick.
Scott’s definition of what drives a person is that it’s “the one thing they account for in every decision they make,” whether it’s personal, professional, or somewhere in between. For Scott, what drives him are his children. With every decision he makes, his children enter the picture to some degree. He knows that they’re always watching, and he wants to set the best possible example for them. In his words, he wants to “put enough good stuff in their heads before they go to college.” The past two years have only deepened and reaffirmed this commitment.
On a professional level, he’s driven by the desire to be a small part of something positive that happens in someone’s life. Whether it’s a promotion, a wedding, the birth of a child, or just a good week, Scott finds fulfillment in knowing he played a small role in all these good things.
Reflecting on his life, Scott can’t think of anything that felt impossible at the time but didn’t end up being worth it. Reflecting on Abstrakt’ history, he acknowledges that the business is only here “because we were willing to change early on.” That readiness to change in the face of adversity and at every level of the organization is the main reason Abstrakt continues on a trajectory of growth today.