Annapolis resident Michelle Douglas helps people and organizations communicate and find their purpose while she works in a variety of roles in advertising, marketing and most recently, as author of the self–help book “Don’t Wear Shoes You Can’t Walk In: A Field Guide for Your Twenties.”
Douglas grew up in Florida, surrounded by creative people who worked with a variety of mediums.
“I often joke that my dad's a carpenter, my brother's a graphic designer, my mom's a piano teacher, and that as a writer, I might be the least creative person in my family,” Douglas said. “But I feel very blessed to have grown up in a creative environment.”
Douglas was inspired by her brother to go into marketing. She grew a talent for writing and communications and turned to advertising to use those skills in a business environment.
“It felt like advertising was a really fun way to kind of still be in business but use some creative skills,” Douglas said.
She went to the University of Florida to study advertising. Out of college, Douglas moved to Georgia, where she worked for an ad agency working for larger for-profit companies. She started a journal to write down and remember some of the lessons she was learning as she navigated her first job and living in a new city. She also started to think about passing on the lessons she was learning to help people.
“I kept wishing I had a guide, like someone who had been where I was and who could possibly tell me what would come next,” Douglas said. “So, I started journaling in part to record my own learnings, but also with the hope of helping someone else out in the future.”
So in 2010, Douglas challenged herself to write down one thing she learned each day for at least three years, a practice that she has kept up with ever since.
The entries are mostly freeform. Some days, the entries are as simple as one line and others are longer stories about entire events, all tools to learn from and use in the future.
“It’s not only what happened, but how I can apply it to the rest of my life,” Douglas said.
She discovered that journaling helped her grow as a person by giving her the ability to look back and remember lessons from previous days and learn to recognize patterns and cycles in her life from previous years. It also helped teach her gratitude for each event in her life.
“When you have all this experience or all these events that have happened, you can look back on it and you can see these events that were like good or bad or big or small, and you can realize that each moment has a purpose in your life and you can learn to be grateful for,” Douglas said.
She soon learned that she wanted to use her skills to help people and found her dream job working for a sports nonprofit called the Atlanta Track Club. Having always loved sports, Douglas found a passion in working to help the organization in its work organizing running programs for people of all ages.
“I got to see how sports can truly impact an individual and I feel like at the youth level, it gives everyone a chance regardless of their circumstance,” Douglas said.
She continued her work in sports and nonprofits, eventually ending up in Maryland to work for the Ulman Foundation and Under Armour. While working for Under Armour, she got the idea to start her own business to get back into nonprofits, while not necessarily working for only one nonprofit.
She felt that she could find a niche helping organizations and companies define their reason for being and share that in their mission values.
“I feel like a lot of priority is given to brand identity in a visual space, but I really wanted to help organizations with their brand voice,” Douglas said. “So, I started Ladder to really just help these organizations develop a strong foundation with which they could communicate to their audiences.”
While she started her business in 2018, the idea of possibly using the lessons in her journals to help people started to take shape. Originally, she thought that a future child or a family member might read the journals sometime in the future, but it occurred to her that if she wrote a book, she didn’t have to wait to share her lessons.
“I could share this with everyone because there might be someone who could benefit from it now,” Douglas said.
She started working more seriously to organize the contents of her seven black moleskin journals around themes such as love, personal growth and practical adult life, which eventually became “Don’t Wear Shoes You Can’t Walk In.”
The title lesson came from a time when Douglas borrowed a friend’s shoes to wear to a job interview. The heels were too big for her and she got blisters on her feet. She didn’t get the job and wondered if one reason might have been that the interviewers read her discomfort as a lack of confidence. But the lesson she took from the experience wasn’t just about shoes.
“It's about being true to yourself and not denying your authentic self,” Douglas said. “I felt like that if you're wearing shoes you can't walk in, you're denying the opportunity to be who you really are and that you won't make it to where you're trying to go.”
Although the book is geared toward graduates and people in their 20s, Douglas hopes that the lessons found in the book will resonate with anyone.
“A lot of the lessons are relevant well beyond your 20s,” Douglas said.
Douglas will participate in a book discussion held at Park Books on April 21 at 6:30pm. She will talk about the book, answer questions and sign books. Park Books asks that people interested in attending RSVP and reserve a copy of the book at www.parkbooksmd.com/michelle-douglas.
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