WomanUP panelists share stories of obstacles and success

March 29, 2019

Whether it’s fear, prejudice or paralyzing self-doubt — most business women have faced hurdles on their journey to success. Many, if not most, are still working on conquering them.

It was this theme that brought together four women from all stages of life, to share stories of success, obstacles and lessons learned before a sold-out crowd of 300 at the Asheville Chamber’s annual Woman UP workshop. In a panel moderated by Victoria Dunkle of AdventHealth, these conquerors responded to an array of poignant questions about their career and personal lives.

“My biggest challenge in growing has been myself. It’s so easy to say why me? Especially when you have a past that you feel defines you,” said panelist Madeline Delp, Executive Director of Live Boundless and 2017 Ms. Wheelchair USA. “No matter what happened, even it was an abusive or manipulative experience, you can redefine who you are and how you approach the rest of our life…Look inside. Focus on yourself first and you can do whatever you want to do.”

Panelists JoAnn Yoder, Murphy Funkhouser Capps and Cleaster Cotton have all channeled a similar focus in their business endeavors. JoAnn climbed the corporate ladder of Arby’s until she earned an executive role in an industry that’s typically male-dominated. Murphy spent fifteen years working and traveling across the country before successfully starting and growing her company Kudzu Brands into an award-winning branding agency. And Cleaster overcame prejudices held towards indigenous women of color, along with a turbulent yet nurturing childhood in Brooklyn during the teacher strikes and riots, on her journey  to become a successful artist, teacher and STEAM inventor.

Thinking out of the box

So what helped the panelists climb their unique mountains? Thinking out of the box certainly helped.

“This is in every book. But as I have grown over the last 30 years, I’ve realized people don’t do this,” said JoAnn. “It’s important to know how to build a team and surround yourself with people who have skills and knowledge that you don’t.”

Madeline said to think creatively and not to worry about moving linearly: “You have to look at all sorts of possibilities. … If you have a big dream of being in a certain position, think how you can get involved with clubs or meeting new people to spread out your network and gain new abilities.”

Cleaster takes a particularly radical approach to the box metaphor. “I’m not aware that the box exists,” she said. “Don’t have a ceiling over what you can or want to do. Have a big and outstanding imagination.”

Snippets of advice

The panelists echoed plenty of valuable advice for their fellow business women, along with some jokes.

“Take care of yourself, show yourself a little bit of compassion,” said Murphy. “It’s not okay to get to the end of the day and not know if you peed.”

JoAnn recommended learning to “be okay with not being liked,” while Cleaster sung the praises of intuition.

“Use your mother wit. You know when it’s the right decision. When you begin to use that voice more, you’ll find it grows stronger.”