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Rising Through Resilience: Madison Utendahl of Utendahl Creative On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Resilient people are wholehearted, they practice gratitude often, and have perseverance to know there is a valuable lesson in every experience, even when the lesson is painful and enduring. A quote from a friend of mine that I believe really embodies this is, “I’ve loved, and I’ve learned and therefore it was worth it.”

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Madison Utendahl.

Madison Utendahl is a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient, a two time Webby Award winning Social Media Director, and the Chief Creative Officer & Founder of Utendahl Creative: an all-female branding and design studio. Prior to Known and Utendahl Creative, Madison was on the founding teams of three powerful cultural phenomenons: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 29Rooms and Museum of Ice Cream. Her expertise lies in immersive storytelling, helping brands and public figures translate their mission and purpose digitally. Madison has worked with accounts ranging from American Express and Target, as well as talent such as Halsey, Lenny Kravitz, Seth Rogan and many more. Madison lives in New York with her Partner, Lex, and their dog and cat, Lou & Izzy.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

First and foremost, I identify as a Black female storyteller.

Currently, I’m the VP of Social Strategy at Known and the Founder of Utendahl Creative, a Black owned, all female, empathy driven design studio that works with cutting edge brands like Simon Huck’s Judy, Halsey’s About-Face, and Lena Dunham’s Good Thing Going. Before launching UC in 2019, I worked on the founding teams of three powerful cultural phenomenons: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 29Rooms and Museum of Ice Cream. My expertise lies in immersive storytelling and helping brands and public figures translate their mission and purpose digitally.

These days, I live in Brooklyn, New York with my Partner, Lex, and our dog and cat, Lou and Izzy.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?

I believe that every year of professional life is one of immense growth and learning. My biggest takeaways are relevant to each year of my life.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are an all female team and identify as being anti-trend. We see trends in the marketplace and do whatever we can to move away from that.

We don’t value what the rest of the world is doing, and we believe that if you’re copying what you see around you, your success can only be temporary, as it is referential and not rooted in authenticity.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you get to where you are? Can you share a story?

Piera Gelardi of Refinery29. It was an honor of working with her for many years as her right hand. She is single handedly why I am the leader that I am today.

My biggest takeaway from her is that you don’t have to lead and grow a business with an iron fist and aggression. Leading with empathy, kindness and optimism goes much farther than fear and hostility.

She also taught me that there is a difference between being arrogant and being assertive. We can be direct and kind at the same time.

I’m very grateful for her and the lessons I’ve learned from her.

Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilient people have to have some type of belief that they are deserving and worthy of a positive outcome.

The key characteristic of resilience is knowing that there is a light at the end of the hardship one is going through.

Resilient people are wholehearted, they practice gratitude often, and have perseverance to know there is a valuable lesson in every experience, even when the lesson is painful and enduring. A quote from a friend of mine that I believe really embodies this is, “I’ve loved, and I’ve learned and therefore it was worth it.”

Courage is often linked to resilience. In your opinion, how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

Resilience is about longevity. Courage is about the present moment. Both are equally as valuable; one is not greater than the other.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Maya McHenry, Maya is an amazing producer and casting director in Los Angeles tragically lost her sister a few years ago (her sister was a dear friend of mine as well). Maya has moved through her grief with incredible resilience, grace and courage, in my opinion. Being able to move through the pain while simultaneously having gratitude for the life she currently gets to live in honor of the life that was lost… to me, that is really inspiring and an important reminder for all of us.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

I feel like this every day. The world tells us daily that life is scary and play it safe. But I never listen to the fear gospel that exists within our society. It does more harm than good.

It’s interesting when a female goes to start a business, there’s not the same rally cry around her that men get. There is societal and cultural belief that if it doesn’t work out that we, as women, wouldn’t be able to handle it. Therefore, the impossible narrative is one we believe and have to fight against more often than not.

When starting both of my businesses I didn’t get a lot of pro-comments; there were more “are you sure?” comments.

That can be a really dangerous thing, expressing uncertainty in someone else. Uncertainty is a self-determined thing, and we should play no part in instilling that in other individuals and have faith that another individual is exactly where they need to be. And if they aren’t, that’s for them to figure out.

Failure can be the greatest catalyst to what you are supposed to be doing and I genuinely believe that failure is not a negative thing. You can’t live your life according to anyone else or you are destined to live a life of misery.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

There have been many setbacks that were detrimental, but life is not linear, so I don’t look at them as setbacks but opportunities to change my life, or a moment of deep reflection.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story Or example for each.

Learn to identify thoughts vs. your feelings. You are not your feelings; you are not your thoughts.

Be self-reflective. Spend time meditating and journaling, value silence and everything that comes up during that period.

Engage in conversations with others and be vulnerable in your story, because if you can find a community and connect with people who have experienced the same thing as you, then you have a line of connection that can help you overcome anything.

Read read read read read read! There are thousands of books out there that outline the understanding of resilience in others, either fiction or nonfiction. Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” is one of my favorites. The thesis is that if you know your why, anyhow is bearable. Survival is the product of mindset.

Learn to hear people’s feedback but don’t listen to it. You can welcome it, but you can’t abide to living your life based on others.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

There is a list of million things I wish to change in the world if I could, I couldn’t possibly pick one.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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