A Major Award

This morning, two hours ago, Advokate won the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce‘s Independent Business of the Year award.  I think it’s a story about how nothing goes to waste; that cliché of everything happening for a reason. If my life didn’t go exactly the way it has gone, this wouldn’t be. From teenage self-harm to dropping out of art school to leaving the Chronicle, each failure along the way was temporary. Each one was to lead me to Advokate, my path in the woods, to today’s triumph.

I just might sleep with this thing under my pillow. Maybe I’ll make T-shirts out of it. If I could fold this plaque into an origami crown and parade around with it on my head, I probably would. It feels like that, anyway; a crown. It makes me want to prance. Walking out of the room with the award in my hand and folks congratulating me, I felt like a fancy princess with a straight back; my head held high. I called my folks and said in mock-arrogance to my dad, “Do you KNOW who you’re TALKING TO?” I’m over the moon.

What does it mean to me? It’s kind of like a giant eraser.

Yesterday I was feeling like the world’s biggest screw-up. It’s been extremely hard to balance Henry-work with client-work, and I feel guilty about the other whenever I’m doing one. That’s the working mom’s ballad, I know. But guys, it’s hard.

I actually was thinking about how maybe I should go see a doctor about my memory. I feel a little like the main character in Fight Club, who conspires against himself in a dissociative state; or Dana Carvey in Clean Slate, who wakes up with amnesia about the day before, every morning.

Last night was my husband’s first night shift at his new job (and the first in a series of solo overnights and new, funky babysitter configurations), and add that to mysterious family illness, a now-mobile baby (which is a game-changer), the costly typo I made last week, the towering to-do list I’m just always behind on… When things feel out of hand, I like to wad up everything that’s wrong into a big pile and throw it at myself. Lately my brain is full of holes. I’m tired.

The awards ceremony was on my radar, but it was a quiet blip. Last year I was also nominated, and it was a great honor, but I didn’t win. I figured this year would be a repeat, and I went with the expectation that it would be a tremendous honor to hear my name among those other great folks nominated, and that would be that.

I was seated next to Sara Mannix and even whispered to her that I wouldn’t know what to say and was unprepared; I was kind of hoping not to get it for that reason alone. Also because I didn’t want to get in front of people when my pantyhose was running. And there was a weird ball of lint stuck in them that made it look like I had a green fuzzy mole on my leg. And my shirt was wrinkled. Did I mention I was sitting next to Sara Mannix? (I wore a jacket this time.)

My stomach churned as they went through the names. I busied myself wondering why Advokate’s nomination was introduced as the honey-do man for artists, which is how Advokate got its start, but not necessarily the main focus these days. Distracting myself with that thought and staring at the wall while they ran through the other nominees in my category kept me from fainting from the anticipation.

When Advokate’s name was called, I was in shock. I may have started to shake. My heart was pounding. My husband stood up to hug me but I was looking at the room with everyone looking at me and just walked away, up to the podium to stutter something in a wobbly voice along the approximate lines of I don’t know what to say. I haven’t been in business a long time. I have a lot of people to thank, but I guess that’s what people always say. So… Der. Thank you! SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSSSS! (Brilliant. Oh man. What was THAT!?) Everyone applauded. They’re a forgiving bunch. It was hard not to cry afterward, sitting at my table as the ceremony carried on. I didn’t want to make it seem like more than it is. I shrugged into a little bit of Oh yeah, I win awards ALL THE TIME just to get through it. Breathe.

Gail Hamel had come up to me beforehand and congratulated me on the nomination. And afterward, she said she was looking forward to the inevitable blog post about it — so here it is, Gail!

At the risk of sounding redundant, I really do have a lot of people to thank for where I am today. Everyone who believed in me. This isn’t something you do on your own. My parents, sister, grandparents and family; elementary and high school teachers and college professors; friends; my supportive husband Cory and his folks; past employers; SCORE;  SUNY Adirondack‘s Microenterprise class and all the guest speakers; The Shirt Factory group; the ARCC; our babysitters and my intern/temp Hannah; the amazing Glens Falls community of artists, small business owners and activists; baby Henry for a reason to do it all; and of course, without Advokate’s fantastic, talented clients, this company would not even exist.

I undoubtedly have to thank each and every one of them for choosing me, and for making it possible for me to do stuff I like doing and somehow pay my bills doing it (mostly).

Despite my unpreparedness this morning, I  had fantasized about an acceptance speech as I was falling asleep last night and it went something like that list of thank-yous, and maybe I’d quickly tell the story of how I started Advokate, along with that line about Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

I am so fortunate.

There may be down days, but there are definitely up days, too. The up days keep you moving forward. This was one of them, to be sure. The hokey pokey isn’t what it’s all about — Today is what it was all about: Telling your son that your company won an award of this calibre, right before he grabs your glasses off your face and honks your nose.


Kate Austin-Avon

Kate E. Austin is known for her creative advocacy. She is a regular speaker on branding and social media with educational institutions and Chambers of Commerce. She owns and operates Advokate, LLC. Currently she serves on the boards of the Glens Falls Business Improvement District, the Jackson Heights Elementary School PTA, Lower Adirondack Pride, and is on the World Awareness Children’s Museum’s Advisory Council. Originally from Killington, Vermont, she studied art at Hartwick College and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Art from Empire State College. She is a mother of three.