On little ideas, big anniversaries and great joy

My dear friend and business partner, Teresa Coles, wrote this post in honor of our company’s 29th birthday on October 19th. So many amazing things have happened since she brought her smarts to C.C.Riggs (now Riggs Partners) a quarter of a century ago, not the least of which is CreateAthon. A joint thought brought the initiative into the world, yes. But it has been Teresa’s vision, drive and passion that has turned the little idea into a national movement that has generated $24 million in marketing services for nonprofits around the country. What a joy and honor it is to bask in the glow of her work and heart. We have just completed our 19th CreateAthon at Riggs, and in celebration, I am happy to share the love here.

 

On Riggs. CreateAthon. And more than a little grace.

by Teresa Coles

Twenty-nine years ago today Cathy Rigg said enough. Enough to mediocre thinking. Enough to creative short cuts. She left her job on a Friday, bought a Mac SE with money from her grandmother, and opened up C.C. Rigg’s on Black Monday, October 19, 1987.

 

dsc_6686_ccriggs_sign_circa_1987
what a little vision and a lot of believin’ looks like

 

There were a million reasons why this company would fail.

And yet, here we are. 

Nineteen years ago, she and I wondered if there might be something more for our company. A higher calling, if you will. So we came up with the notion of pulling an all-nighter to help nonprofits that couldn’t afford professional marketing.

There were a million reasons why this idea would fail.

And yet, here we are. 

So what matters in all of this? What have these markers in our collective history taught us about our work, our lives and each other?

Consider it all joy. 

On this birthday of Riggs and the eve of CreateAthon 19, I’m mindful of the cords of grace that have bound us over the years. The unspoken covenant that held us together when we just didn’t think we could do One More Thing. The willingness to listen generously to each other’s point of view in order to solve the unsolvable. The abiding sense of teamwork that pulled us out of chaotic seasons and returned us to a place of peace.

I’m grateful for every one of these challenges and foibles. They are testament to both our humanity and to what can be accomplished when we uphold each other in pursuit of something that’s bigger than any one of us.

Riggs Partners hasn’t been in business for 29 years because we’re smarter than anyone else in marketing. CreateAthon hasn’t delivered more than $24 million in pro bono service because we came up with the idea first.

It happened because we had faith in each other. And we knew that by standing as one, there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish – even if it wasn’t always perfect along the way.

Tomorrow morning, CreateAthoners will walk into the WECO building and breathe air that is electric, inspiring and humbling. We will bear witness to our very best selves. And we will see that as much as our CreateAthon clients may benefit from our gifts, the joy we receive will be tenfold.

That, my friends, is more than enough to say grace over.

 

 

The Prize

I have the distinct privilege of working in a great company in a cool building with people who are oh-so-swell. I told you a bit about this in March Madness, where I brought you a quick glimpse via the magnificent Bracket Challenge entry by our own Jillian Owens.

Now there’s a just-as-fun Part II to the story. Because the 2015 WECO Bracket Challenge was won by my office mate and college basketball fan Katy Miller!

How fun is that?
Katy and Marcus, at the official ceremony

But wait. There’s more. LOOK WHAT SHE WON!

It's made of brackets.
It’s a WECO sign. Made of brackets.

 

I love these people.

 

 

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March Madness

There’s been a grand competition the past couple of weeks at the WECO building–the space our firm, Riggs Partners, shares with our friends from Truematter. It’s the 2015 WECO Bracket Challenge with predictions on this year’s college basketball championship.

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Serious competition

 

I know nothing about college basketball and did not participate. (This didn’t stop many of my co-workers, and may I just say I applaud their aplomb.) But my favorite, by far, came from the newest member of the RP family. There’s a good chance you are already familiar as she is the brains and brawn behind the wildly popular blog Refashionista. I didn’t have to work with her for long to learn Jillian Owens has a beautiful way of looking at things that turns them upside down–and in the best way possible.

Check out her entry in the Bracket Challenge.

ice cream

It made me giggle. And for that I say thank you, Jillian!

Now hear this.

It is the kind of thought that causes a shift, I think, a change in the way you consider something you’ve known all your life. Something that has been right in front of you forever but when you look at it in this new light you realize it is not what you thought at all.

Listen I heard her say.

Listen as if you don’t already know the answer.

~~~~~~~~~~

I would have characterized myself a pretty good listener, had you asked. In fact I’ve made a career of it. As a brand strategist, my job begins and ends with listening—hearing my clients when they describe their challenges and fears, opening my imagination to new “what ifs,” working within passionate teams that demand of each other the willingness to see “same-old same olds” in new ways. In fact, a primary mantra at Riggs Partners is Listen generously. We repeat it often.

So why did as if you don’t already know the answer come at me so fast? It made me realize that whether in a business meeting, at a cocktail party or in a telephone conversation with my daughter, what I often listen for is confirmation that what I am already thinking is accurate. How much I have missed, I now realize, because I let information pass me by, listening for an easier bit of perspective to grab onto—perspective that already matches my own.

Listen as if you don’t already know the answer.

How much bigger will the world become when I intentionally go about the business of listening from this empty canvas place? How rich and vast and colorful and interesting?

Listen as if you don’t already know the answer.

That, my friends, may well change everything.

Day 16: The Lost Art of Conversation (a redux)

Pam's living room, the perfect place for conversation

I believe our lives are defined by the mantra that plays in our heads. Here’s mine: I don’t have time. If I just had more time. Why is there never enough time?

I know, I know. It’s a matter of priority and focus. But — and you women know what I’m talking about — somehow it’s ALL priority. My children, my husband, my parents, my family, and extended family, and church, and clients, and causes, and on, and on. There are a thousand details to be managed and executed, and if you “just let that one go,” chances are good there will be a great big hole in its place. (Case in point: DINNER. If it’s not a priority, there isn’t any.)

And thus I rant. Until this week. When I Took Time.

I didn’t mean to. I joined a group of fabulous women for a little holiday gathering at my friend Pam’s house. And I packed a bag, so as not to face a late night 30-minute drive across town.

The evening was lovely in every way. And when all the Fabulous Ladies (I am inspired by every one!) had left for home, my hostess and I settled in front of her warm fire, faces washed and PJs on, and spent two hours wandering aimlessly through each other’s lives.

There was no television to watch. There were no emails to check, no texts to respond to. (And there was no multi-tasking, unless you count “throw-log-on-fire-while-having-meaningful-conversation-with-dear-friend.”) Instead, we sat there, person to person, face to face, and talked—uninterrupted—for a glorious, soulful, peaceful two hours.

The next morning, I woke up renewed. By taking the time to participate in real human conversation, by talking, and listening, and focusing on an exchange of perspectives for which there was absolutely no agenda and for which there would be no “completed” checkmark, I relocated a part of me that had become lost amid a million swirling daily details.

It makes me think about the insatiable appetite of this digital world we live in. How ironic that digital technology gives us the ability to make endless connections, and in our quest to make the most of each of them, we are forgetting what it means to really connect.

And so I vow: Rather than obsessing over my inability to out-manage my demand-filled life, I will, instead, focus on the human being RIGHT THERE who is trying to simply have a conversation with me. And for that moment, I will let the rest go.

 

This post first appeared on R/blog in December 2010. I hope you don’t mind that I repeated it here. It gave me a chance to step away from the computer and enjoy my 2011 fireside chat with Pam.

Day 21: On Friendship and Tattoos

There is one thing I know for sure: I will never get a tattoo.

I’m not opposed, do let me say. It’s just that I am not sure enough of anything in this life to have it permanently tattooed on my body. Except for this, of which I am positive: My friends mean the world to me. It comes as kind of a surprising insight to me, at this stage in life. At 14? Sure. But at 52?

Oh, yeah.

I have been blessed with long, deep friendships that still today, many years and many miles later, continue to shape and form and mold the person I am becoming. We gather together once or twice a year, our group of childhood girlfriends who are scattered like seeds across the East Coast—we, the Wise Woman. These weekends reconnect us to each other and to our inner selves, the people we are underneath the layers of sediment life has deposited there. We laugh a lot, and we celebrate the differences in our lives and our personalities.

I have been having dreams filled with these women the past few weeks. I know it is time for a visit, a re-calibration.

the wise women

Another great joy in my life is the constant presence of so many of my dearest college friends. One is a business partner I see on a daily basis; two others live within 5 miles. Our children have grown up together, our husbands are friends, we gather for football games and graduation parties and Sunday night dinners. My life is rich and joyful, and I owe much of that to these incredible women who walk the path with me, day after day, year after year.

And then I look around at my life and see it populated with so many new people who give it texture and goodness. Some I met through this blog, or theirs, connections that both astonish and thrill me. Others are friendships formed through my husband, whom I met later in life. Some are gifts via my daughter—young women I adore, Moms with whom I share a special bond. And many, many came my way through work. (This is another fact that surprises me.) The job brought us together, yes, but these connections transcend business relationships. These are truly friends.

This is why we are here, don’t you think? To find each other, as days go by? To bring strength and encouragement and laughter, at the very moment it’s needed, in that very place, in that very life.

My friends are the sunshine in my life, of that I am sure.

But I’m still not getting a tattoo.

30 Days of Grace

Day 15: Honor, Gratitude, and The Good Night

It was the kind of night you know will stay with you for a while, for a thousand different reasons. But the most significant is one I didn’t expect; a comment made so casually in a quick moment it might easily have gone unnoted; a fleeting bit of small talk passed between two acquaintances, just one of hundreds of layers of cocktail chatter.

But it didn’t disappear, her comment to me. It couldn’t, in that place, with those people.

All our candles together burn brighter, she said, and she smiled and turned to walk away.

It was a night in which we were to be honored—the volunteers of CreateAthon and those of us who started the whole thing 15 years ago—by The Cooperative Ministry, an organization that works tirelessly to meet the needs of the working poor in our community. The Cooperative Ministry was recognizing us for our philanthropic work with nonprofits over these past 15 years.

I was deeply grateful. And I was humbled, to be sure, recognizing how much more significant the work is of those who were doing the honoring. I said as much to Yolanda, who works with The Cooperative Ministry, standing there with me at the bar. We should be honoring you, I said.

All our candles together burn brighter, she said.

And so I smiled, too, and walked back toward the celebration.

My business partner, friend and CreateAthon co-founder Teresa Coles on the left. I'm on the right. It was a Good Night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 Days of Grace

Day Three: The Beauty of a Post-It

My sweet friend and apprentice Kathryn White (I recognize both her handwriting and her spirit) must have left this post-it on my keyboard last week. I have no doubt I gave the note a quick glance, then moved it aside intending to resurrect it the first moment I could give it the love and attention it deserved.

The gentle message stayed there, growing more and more lost amid the papers of a thousand projects. This is CreateAthon week, the busiest week of the year for all of us at Riggs. On Thursday / Thursday night / Friday, we and a band of fearless creative volunteers will work 24 straight hours—yes, without sleeping—to develop desperately needed marketing materials for 12 area nonprofits. It takes a village to get ready for this monstrous event, and when you layer on the work required to keep our regular client work on track while we shut down for 48 hours … well, you get the picture.

I overloaded my backpack with work to bring home tonight, and one thought played in my head like a vinyl record with a needle stuck in its groove:  I will never get all this done in time. I will never get all this done in time. I will never ….

Then right there, peeking from under an unread research report and a half-finished creative brief, a quiet little unassuming post-it reappeared in my life.

Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, remain still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you unasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

I can tell you right this very moment that note will get me through this insane week. And in the long night that is CreateAthon, when doubt and stress and exhaustion begin to wreak havoc on me—mind, body and soul—I will remember the promise and be grateful.

30 Days of Grace