Change or Die.

What if we could live our lives with a sureness that things often fall apart in order to make way for something even more remarkable?

Above: One of my favorite photos of Ramsey, Cordell, Mike and yours truly taken during one of Mike’s visits a couple of year ago.

In 2004, Mike Goot, my business partner of many, many years looked me in the eye and said, “If this next election goes a certain way, Karen and I are leaving the country.” Mike and Karen were not happy with our country’s leadership, to put it mildly.

“Yeah, Yeah. Sure. Right.” I said.

I’ll never forget the call after the election when he told me he was serious and planning to take three months away (a sabbatical, who takes a sabbatical from marketing???) to explore his options. They were going to find another country to call home for a while. As we talked, I remember my hands — one of which was holding the phone — began to shake. I literally had to hold the phone with both hands. Mike, Greg Cordell and Greg Ramsey and I had weathered plenty of change in our business adventures before. Good change and bad change. But we’d always done ittogether. I knew from experience that all change can eventually lead to something better. But that night, after that call, I layed on the bed and wept.


It was the end of an era.

And I was white knuckled scared.

Then something amazing happened. Over the next few days and weeks, even while I was sad and grieving the fact that Mike and Karen were going to leave and move to another country to start a new life, I also felt something inside of my soul come alive.

One of Mike’s famous lines was rolling around in my heart and head: “Change or die.” I was now standing face to face with that set of words and realized I/we/Brains on Fire wanted to LIVE.

I not only embraced change, I became a cheerleader for change.

I started driving to work a different way each day to break myself from do anything that smelled of routine.

Together and inspired by my two remaining partners — Greg Cordell and Greg Ramsey — we started talking about ALL the work we’d ever done over our careers. We started talking about what we loved, what we hated, what we admired. And most of all, what we’d love to do more of.

We loved naming and branding. Helping organizations find their soul, their voice.

Our decision to change wasn’t a long drawn out decision. It was quick painless one. Sometimes when you’re staring at a major change, you’re forced to act VERY quickly.

I see FORCED ACTION as one of the many gifts change brings.

Basically in one short, quiet conversation, we went from being a local marketing agency to being a national naming and branding company. In our hearts, where it matters most. We started studying successful companies who were doing remarkable branding and naming work.

Where were they showing up? How do they do what they do? What do they charge? We changed our website to reflect who we wanted to be.

And most importantly we changed our own vocabulary.

We were fueled with a desire to help others by doing something we absolutely loved.

After many years of doing business in a certain way, we were a start up again.

It felt amazing. And it worked. We started getting not just regional work, but national work. We entered competitions alongside national naming and branding firms. And we got noticed.

That day and that decision to embrace change led us to create a culture that actually welcomes change. In the last decade or so the world of marketing has experienced massive changes as shiny new technologies pop up every day and give organizations more ways to have a dialogue with and get closer to the people they serve.

Many agencies folded under the pressure to change and learn and adapt.

Brains on Fire chose to change again. We become the only Word of Mouth Marketing firm with roots in naming and branding, creating community and conversation for amazing organizations along the way.

We starting keep track of the lessons we were learning. We started believing and saying these words out loud:

We’re all in Grad School.

We began to write and speak and share what were learning with each other and the world. In order to accept change you have to change your words and the things you say. And again, change worked. We doubled our revenues. We wrote and published two successful books.

Together, we have become cheerleaders and champions for change.

In 2010, I had a chance again to embrace change or die. I lost someone very close and dear to my family in a fast, startling, almost profound way. I found myself white knuckle scared with change on a very personal level

This particular change hit hard. I lost 30 pounds, I got pneumonia. It took months and months, but I at some point, I heard Mike’s words rise up in my heart yet again.

Change or DIE.

And I realized I wanted to LIVE. So I got healthier. I got stronger. I took up yoga and meditation. I found a new personal purpose. I moved to a house half the size of my old one. I embraced change and challenged my comfort zone.

Every single day.

And I can tell you with complete certainly that sometimes things really DO fall apart, in order for something even more remarkable to happen.

Over my incredible career, I have seen people lose jobs they love, businesses they started, homes they cared for… and even loved ones. I’ve seen massive changes in the way business is done and how we communicate. I’ve seen some people struggle to keep up. I’ve seen others snub their noses and ignore change until it swallows them.

And I’ve seen others thrive.

I believe you can make a choice to Change, DIE — or LIVE.

You can become a cheerleader of change.

You can rewrite your story and change your vocabulary.

If you want leave your safe job to be a photographer, get a business card that says photographer on it. If you lose your job and have always wanted to write for a living, start writing. Introduce yourself as a writer. If you want to teach, call yourself a teacher.

You can change your words and that will change your actions and you can make something remarkable happen.

If you want to be a Word Of Mouth Marketing Company or a tribe of vagabond baristas, you can.

If you are willing to change your words and take action.

I don’t know what unexpected change is in front of you or me or any of us. None of us can see the future. But we can choose to be stay awake and alive to the gifts that change brings us.

I am happy to say: Mike and Karen, after a nine year adventure in Mexico are now back in the States living and loving out loud in Colorado. And most of all, looking forward to what is next.

We are too.

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