Editor’s note: This is an edited version of the story Michael Wynne Kithcart wrote while participating in a Whyography workshop. For tools and resources for writing and publishing your story, visit our Workshops page.
Michael Kithcart was enjoying brunch with family when she spotted an old college professor seated at the table next to her and nearly spit out her eggs. Anger and humiliation raced up her body and reddened her face. Out of nowhere memories of being ridiculed in the professor’s class 30 years ago came rushing back. The mere sight of that instructor brought back the shame of having articles she’d written for the college newspaper used as examples of what not to do. Having her classmates pick apart her work added to the criticism she already experienced daily as the only female sports reporter at the newspaper. The messages were the same: She didn’t belong, and she wasn’t good enough.
Michael kept going even as she was regularly inundated with inappropriate comments. The rejection and ostracization only fueled her to keep pushing forward and finding ways to do what others said she couldn’t. She developed a thick skin for rejection on the exterior. And those experiences prepared her well to move into a 100 percent commissioned sales job after college. But emotional scarring and self-doubt leaked out as resistance to authority and a need to prove wrong anyone who doubted her.
In her mid-20s, while working as a commissioned salesperson at a radio station, Michael finally found an ally in her sales manager. He found ways to direct her passion and determination in a positive way. He discovered what motivated her, coached her on getting better at her craft, invested in her success and championed her. As she got better, she saw the value of lifting people up instead of squashing them. She developed a commitment to continuous improvement and building high-performing teams. It created a foundation for her own leadership approach.
As Michael moved into sales leadership roles, she began to recognize behaviors that prevent people from realizing their full potential, including her own. The company provided her with a coach and invested in her professional development. She noticed that when something was important enough to her, she became willing to change her behaviors, and she could see the same in others. She learned how and why changing behaviors was necessary to get where she wanted to go. She also realized she wanted to help others get out of their heads and unstuck like her coach was doing for her. She eventually moved into a role as a peer with her coach, becoming an executive coach within the company. The job was a perfect fit, but it was short-lived. Though the department got dismantled, Michael now knew coaching would always be a core element of her leadership style.
In 2011, Michael took on an executive role at a nonprofit, thinking it was a great opportunity to apply all of her leadership and coaching experiences. A series of unexpected events had her reporting to the board and leading a reorganization. Outspoken and quick to identify changes needed, Michael’s approach was criticized, her integrity was questioned, and the backlash was swift. The whole experience broke her. Once again, she sought the support of a coach to identify how she could grow from it and to restore her passion for helping others be great at what they do. She learned the power of never compromising her values, making sure her voice was heard, and being OK with the outcome.
She found her way back to coaching at a boutique leadership firm where she worked with CEOs and executive-level leaders. When Michael realized she wanted to do more than was possible there, she set out to focus on her own practice built around helping people do the hard things to make their dreams come true. Using her Wynning Your Way Framework™, Michael champions worn-out achievers who are looking to re-engineer winning their way in business and at life so they feel like the thriving badasses they truly are. In addition to coaching, training and speaking, Michael’s “Champions of RISK” podcast shares stories of decision-making, struggles, and the many ways people navigate risk to help others who are thinking or going through similar things find the courage to take their leap.