From Tofu to Unicorn: A Story of Reinvention
It’s all about perception, right? That’s what everyone says. All the experts and gurus agree. Change your perception, change your life. Yeah – about that…
I’d like to share my story of reinvention. I seem to have taken the crown and the gold medal in this category of life. I’ve gone from managing rock and roll bands to managing a funeral home to digital marketing. Along the way I’ve learned a few things, made a few messes, and come out the other side a better version of me.
I’ve wanted to be in rock and roll since I could dance in my diaper in the rain (that was a long time ago). I remember wanting to be a part of that culture, though at the age of 5 I didn’t know why. Then I went to my Mom’s office and fell in love with office supplies and desks and drawers; though I got into a nasty fight with an electric stapler. Who knew those things still bit you when there were no staples in them?
Once that love affair began, I wanted to be a secretary for a record label. A year or two down the road, I decided I wanted to own the record label.
By the time I was 16, I decided I wanted to manage the bands and be in the thick of it, making things happen, moving and shaking things up! So I did what you normally do, I found Billboard Magazine, read a few issues and wrote to recording studios in Rochester NY to visit a recording session, so I could find out what it was like to create the records I loved to listen to.
Everyone said, “Sorry, don’t have any sessions.” Or “Nope. Can’t help you.” Except one person. Bill Thomas of Avatar Studios right near my home, called me up and said, “I’d love to talk to you. I don’t have any sessions for you sit in on, but come on over to the studio, take a tour and let’s talk.” So I did.
He then introduced me to my mentors, Bruce Pilato and Debbie Schied. Then my world changed. I went from being an obscure, awkward teenager to being “with the band”. Bruce said he had a show opening up for a national recording act, some new band called Bon Jovi. He said I could come along and see how things worked with a live band situation. So I went with him to the club. Met the band, met the crew.
Running on nothing but adrenaline, I decided I knew what I was doing already. I mean, I read a book about artist management, read a few copies of a trade magazine, I knew the vocabulary too – Recoupable, Recording Contract, Payola, and Performing. Had it made. I was in the presence of a national recording artist, after all.
That went so well I went on to work with Rochester’s finest in various capacities even getting them to the negotiating table with major record labels. I got to know all the decision makers in the industry and made some inroads and had some success.
Fast forward about 6 years. I’ve gone on to college, dropped out and came home. I eventually met my first husband, had 2 kids and then my world changed again.
After 5 years of marriage, he wanted a divorce. My dreams of the house, white picket fence the 2.5 kids – gone. Done – nothing more to see here.
I was working full time at the funeral home by now. My parents owned it after buying it from my grandparents. My grandfather started the firm in 1956. I was proud of our family legacy and proud to serve the grieving families in our city.
I also had to find new dreams since my other ones poofed in a puff of smoke.
I went to school to finish my degree. Back when I was an awkward teenager, a teacher told me once that if you get an MBA you will have the keys to the kingdom and be able to have all you want. That was the golden ticket because I like having keys and kingdoms. I also failed at college the first time around.
Nothing like grieving a difficult divorce, 2 kids in grade school, one with major surgeries every year, working full time and having to run every committee I came across from the cub scout pack to the Christian Education at our church plus the education programs for the single parents club I joined to add going back to school to the list of crap to do!
I got my degrees and then I went to funeral directing school, because my MBA didn’t bring me any keys or kingdoms and I had a family legacy to save.
I got my Mortuary Science degree and was in the middle of my residency on my way to becoming a licensed funeral director and saving our family legacy to take it to new height (my new dream).
Yeah – then my life changed again.
I got fired. Yep. Fired. By my parents.
OK – I can do this, we just dream again, begin again. I started my business doing strategic business planning for small business. Our firm didn’t seem to have one and we needed one – everyone needs a plan.
Then came Facebook. I realized I could get paid to post to the new social phenom. Because I read the book, I drank the Koolaid, I can do this!
I followed a bunch of people and taught myself digital marketing. Scared as a little bird just learning to fly. Could I really do this, though? It seems too easy.
I networked, I grew my company to an international company within 60 days of opening thanks to partnering with a Canadian web design firm to provide social media and SEO services.
Then my life changed. Again.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her second time, after being declared “cured” at her 5 year check up a few months prior. A year after this diagnosis, her time was coming to an end. I was getting frustrated with my declining business because digital changes every 5 minutes.
I left my business. All of it. I figured I could build a business any day of the week. What I could not get back was time with my mother.
Dream ended – again. Now what?
My mother died in December of 2012. I went to work for a digital agency. Another cancer diagnosis for my Dad this time. Heart surgery for my Dad. We had to give our home back to the bank and move.
The agency thing didn’t work out – again.
So I started this incarnation of my business going back to what I know. Though I fight most days with imposter syndrome. I’m nothing. Nobody wants to listen to me – but they should because I’ve read the books, I’ve met the influencers, I’ve given workshops to rave reviews.
Tofu – that’s what I was, again. Tofu. I was like the stuff that just absorbed whatever was put over it or around me. If I was in a high energy situation, I was high energy. I had dreams again, sort of but no plan.
I shifted again during a conversation with a business coach, Dan Paulson, who was in a mastermind group with me. We were talking over breakfast in NYC and he said to me, “Dude, you are not Tofu – you are a Unicorn!”
Discussing my business and niche, he said I was a unicorn because of the experiences I had that I could bring to the table, if I’d only get out of my own way. I had various industry experiences, various business experience and experience navigating some tricky waters, and still I was standing.
I reinvented myself again and again. I never realized it. I just thought I was picking myself up and moving forward.
Old dreams die for one reason or another. Life happens. I dreamed new dreams and I took the silver lining of the previous experience into my new ventures. There are not many digital marketers like me out there. There are even less in my niche of funeral home digital marketing.
I am able to see what others can’t. I see opportunities, I see conversations, I see goals they could be hitting. My eyes were opened with one conversation of someone who believed in me, and still does.
I still have work to do. I think I have to trim the horn on my Unicorn head because I still get in my own way; maybe it’s the rainbows that I shoot out of my eyes that trip me up. I’m not perfect.
My reinventions happened out of necessity, out of survival. My biggest transformation came because I had several people who were willing to help me see what I could not see about myself – but it all started with what I could see and questions I asked.
Whatever your situation, don’t stop dreaming. Maybe the gurus were right perception does change everything. Changing your perception can change your life. It does, to an extent.
What I know for sure – changing my perception allowed me to find new dreams to reinvent myself over and over again to be a better version of myself.
And that national recording act, Bon Jovi. Yeah, we walked out on them because they didn’t leave room for us to play and their crew chased us. The lesson I was taught was not to be afraid to walk away from the big deals. They got us back and the show went on, we played on picnic tables. I didn’t think Bon Jovi was going to do anything.
I was wrong. I wasn’t a fan that first time. I am now. I believe strongly that had they not changed, grown as people, reinvented themselves to become a better version, they would not have succeeded. They did. They are. Now I’m a fan.
If I can leave you with anything – know this: You got this! There’s a unicorn inside of you too. Let it out.
Don’t be Tofu – be a Unicorn. I’m rooting for you!
About Tamara MacDuff: Tamara is the owner of NOW Digital Marketing in Rochester NY where she specializes in Niche Marketing. She has 5 children and 3 grandchildren and loves Bon Jovi, the 49ers, Coffee, Wine and Conversation. Connect with her on Social Media and say Hello. Conversation can change everything, don’t be afraid to reach out.