Michela O’Connor Abrams is the founder of MOCA+. The firm offers an innovative approach to design thinking and leadership for companies who want to make good design the foundation of their strategy. It’s a philosophy she knows well as the former CEO of DWELL for 15 years.
At DWELL she built the brand and grew the community to over 3 million people. She has won numerous industry awards for design, audience growth, website innovation, live event performance, and executive leadership.
And then things changed for Michela. For a couple of years in short succession Michela lost her mother, her husband, her father, and her best friend. This would be devastating for anyone and she recalls, “I sought balance, it was a tidal wave of grief. I spent a lot of time on self-reflection.”
She chose to leave her position and take 6 months off as part of her recovery. She didn’t last long because, she explains, “Rather than having a planned reinvention it ‘rolled into me.’ When you start losing friends too young, it changes your lens.”
Then a friend asked for help on a project. “I realized that my work could still be a big part of my life. Shame on me if I don’t grab the reins.” She continues, “Then I got excited again, like a kid able to do whatever I wanted. Not much else could scare me. I started MOCA+ to extend my vision and got to add talented people along the way.”
“What motivates me every morning is reminding myself that because I am not scared I will attempt to do everything I love without fear. This has brought an abundance of great clients and rewarding work.”
Her Advice For Adjusting to the Unexpected:
- Get outside of your head. Listen. Be observant.
- Look at this stage of life as “another” period, not the last chapter. That’s the wrong programming. What you say is what you’ll do and be.
- When I ask myself what should I do today? I should do anything that reminds me of where I’m supposed to be. I realized ‘You are where you are’. Be present.’
- All of the things you’ve done, can be rearranged to create something new. The metaphor I use, because I’m a cook, is ‘ingredients’ – when combined one way they make one dish – but the very same ingredients combined in a new way make something entirely different. Your next meal.
On Overcoming Self-Doubt and Ageism:
- Transition your fears out of your system.
- Ageism is active. Don’t believe you’re not up to speed. These are stories, not a reality. It doesn’t have to be your story. I’m surprised people accept that story.
- Buying into bad stories is a roadblock to change and transition.
- I’ve had incredible interaction with the generation. They don’t think – ‘Oh this person is too old to understand.’ And they aren’t afraid to fail.
- I mentor young women each week and appreciate the exchange. One example is Charu Sharma, who has developed a mentoring product and is leading with compassion and intelligence.
Michela is an inspiration to those who who have faced a personal tragedy and a role model to those who want to translate their life experiences into the next thing. “So now I find myself with no limitations. I have hundreds of ideas. It’s exciting. I’m meeting new people through work that I love. They like the same stuff I love. What I believe is what attracted them to me. I have abundance on many fronts.”