I have literally sat down on a dozen different occasions to write this blog post. It is the one that talks about “The Flood.” But, there is so much more to it than that. Nearly a year ago, on July 30, 2016, life changed for me and insight180. Like many in old Ellicott City, I was in shock and absolute awe of the rainfall and the devastation to this beautiful little town due to the “extreme weather event.” And, oh yes, to my business of 16 years.
Who knew when we launched the new insight180 website in January of 2016 that the life preserver and hashtag #brandresuscitation would be so apropos?
On that Saturday night, I had been in downtown Ellicott City to show a guest from Slovenia, Karin, our quaint little town. My long-time friend Carol would be leading a Sierra Club trip in the fall to Slovenia, so I invited her along for an opportunity to talk to a native. It had been a beautiful summer day, with a slight chance of rain in the forecast. As we drove around Ellicott City, it started pouring; and as we looked for parking, it became torrential. Though we decided not to stay, I did swing by the office to put out the sandbags in front of the office door and that of our business neighbor — as I had done so many times for so many storms in the past 16 years. By the time I dragged out the sandbags and got back to the car, my feet were covered with water. As we tried to get to higher ground, many side roads were already closed.
That evening was surreal. Flash flood alerts. Frantic social media updates as the storm thrashed through. Videos of what looked like a river rushing down Main Street. The inevitable call from the security company, notifying me that the office alarm was going off – which of course meant that either our front door was opened by a rush of water coming in, or water had entered by another means and the motion detector sensed the water, floating furniture, or other movements. This was the third flood that would temporarily displace us, but somehow I knew this was different — way worse than before. Heartbreaking news stories in the storm’s wake confirmed our worst fears.
Thank goodness I wasn’t alone. While my heart raced, I knew there wasn’t really anything “to do.” Carol and Karin took me home, where I took solace in talking, cooking risotto, and sipping wine. My anxiety spiked and then settled into a calm surrender. I had felt this way a few other times in my life — often around life-changing experiences. I was very present and aware, but I felt grounded and clear.
Enter reality, overwhelm, and calm.
Six inches of rain in two hours was unprecedented. First reports and photos were unbelievably shocking. What came next was a stream of “couldn’ts.” We couldn’t get into the office space — even to look into the windows — for days. No one could even get into town. We couldn’t get to the server that housed our client files. We couldn’t get credentials made for staff members and helpers without standing in lots of lines. We ran from one place to another only to wait in line again. The first look at Main Street was somber — vast areas of the street and sidewalks were simply gone. Once we did get into the office space, we couldn’t believe the destruction — large cabinets toppled over, a refrigerator and dish cabinet on their sides, important papers waterlogged and muddy, water damage from all sides. We couldn’t save 16 years’ worth of samples and job folders.
We were really busy and exhausted each day as we tried to figure out what to do next. I would go from moments of panic to great calm — in just a breath. I will be forever grateful for my meditation routine — no, really — which at this point had been a daily habit for about a year. Maybe I was in shock, but I remember being hyper aware of what I “could” do and what didn’t make sense to do — it was clear that worrying helped in no way at all. Each day, there would come a new challenge, but someone would show up or something would happen, and it would be addressed. Ironically, I found myself comforting and calming people who came to check on (or comfort) me, which was an interesting dichotomy, to say the least. I was just present. Aware. And it was all okay.
And we would be okay. We are a service business. Fortunately, we had had all of our client files backed up onto a server (and in “the cloud” — something we had done less than nine months earlier!). Miraculously, I had taken home the QuickBooks laptop — the only computer that was not backed up on our server — the day before the flood. Fluke? Insight180 art director Bethany Howell was already set up with a workstation at home, since she often worked remotely with a little one at home, and another on the way. We could continue to work on client projects even through this temporary chaos.
Still, there was a lot of waiting. When we felt a little helpless and didn’t know what else to do, we put our design skills to work. We created the #Can’tKeepThisGoodTownDown t-shirts, stickers, and magnets. Through that Booster.com campaign and subsequent donation jars around town, we were able to contribute more than $3,500 to the recovery effort. It was one way we could help and could direct others who also wanted to help.
There is something that kept me going through what might have previously brought me to my knees. Call it serendipity, fluke, coincidence or the Divine at work, but as people would see me and express outpourings of sympathy and compassion, I found myself just observing it all and feeling grateful — I kept noticing synchronicities that were helping to totally reframe “the flood” for me. Ultimately, I believe that the flood, and the circumstances preceding and subsequent to it, was not something that happened to me; it’s something that happened for me. Here are some of the other wonderful things we gained:
Connections. My Ellicott City neighbors — residents and businesses — and volunteers are a tough and amazing lot. People helping each other was evident everywhere. I literally saw people give the shirts off their backs, or a spare pair of close-toed shoes from the car, or half of their sandwich. Everyone has a story. And we all listened to one another. There’s this strange kind of bond — a knowing — that will always be there.
The Howard County Economic Development Authority team — Larry, Catherine, Mark, and everyone else — was simply amazing. They practically lived on site. They felt the frustrations and sadness along with the little and big wins that we all went through from surveying the devastation to the recovery of important files or keepsakes. Between the EDA, Ryan Miller and his staff at the Office of Emergency Management, plus County Councilman Jon Weinstein and County Exec Allan Kittleman who were physically present every time I turned around, I felt very well cared for.
So many instances of worlds colliding — reconnecting with old friends and clients alike. Unbeknownst to me, a friend set up a GoFundMe page for me and insight180. I was humbled, not to mention surprised. The number of people, from dear friends and clients, to “friends of friends” and complete strangers, that provided support and encouragement and cash in the bank when we needed it, was extraordinary. It was exactly the amount we needed to keep moving forward in those first harrowing weeks.
The Ellicott City Partnership stepped up as an incredible resource during this time. Not only did they expand their services to direct funds donated toward recovery, but were accessible, kind and truly became friends.
And, I don’t think I cooked for an entire month, as friends, my church community, and neighbors made sure that I, my staff, and volunteers who came to help with cleanup, were well hydrated and well fed. Friends with trucks, garbage bags, gloves and Clorox kept showing up at just the right time.
Technology. Our server, which contained all of our backed up work files, was miraculously high and dry and intact. What made that rescue more special is that our rescuer and gator driver that day was my friend and fellow singer (AND firefighter) Jeff Carl (pictured below).
Our Mac workstations recovered. Our muddy Mac keyboards, which we almost threw out, were replaced free-of-charge by the Apple Store, and the components that we could not find (or didn’t gather) in the mud, were purchased at a greatly discounted price!
This transition period also allowed the insight180 team fine-tune our remote working capabilities. We are using new tools every day to better communicate with each other and better serve our clients.
Perspective. Others had it worse — way worse. I and my team were alive and healthy and had homes to go to. Being displaced — and working for months from my home basement — shook us out of our routine, which helped us focus on what’s really important. We have more clarity around what we do and how we serve. We are willing to let go of those that aren’t the best fit for us. We had come through a couple of challenging years prior to the flood and can let all of it go. Forgiveness. Resolve. Purpose . . . feels good.
Rediscovery. Through chaos comes clarity. I think Lao Tzu said something about finding the divine in the disruption. We truly have rediscovered the joy, meaning, and purpose that insight180 is meant to bring to the world. We have re-established our connection with our core values — service, beauty and delight being among them!
The time is now. Life is too short to waste!
New Beginnings. In the midst of the intense flood recovery, our fabulous art director Bethany gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She had the good sense to wait until two weeks after the flood, thank goodness! I am so grateful no one was in the office during the torrential downpour and that my staff was safe. And this beautiful little girl is just another reminder of how lucky we are.
New team members and new clients, too! Two years ago, we said goodbye to former principal and co-founder Chris Quinn who decided it was time to do more sailing and enjoy the empty nest. And in April, we said goodbye to our digital strategist Tara Urso, who is enjoying a new career in UX design. And, we are delighted to have welcomed senior marketing strategist Elizabeth Doubleday and digital marketing coordinator Caroline Cerand to insight180. As we build our team, we are thrilled to welcome additional new clients to the fold who are truly mission-driven and beautifully aligned with our passions.
After being in the same office space since our inception, and with 16 years of client files and samples, it might have felt like an overwhelming task to move insight180 to a new home. As fate would have it, “The Flood” took care of that! No file sorting — pretty much everything was gone! After working temporarily from the lower floor of my house, we began the move to a new office on Main Street in February. Our new space feels like a dream! We loved working together to create the perfect space for us — from the palette wood wall and barn door to the custom-built desk by Ellicott City craftsman Bill Rodgers, to our bright teal couch and funky orange stools, to our back patio and garden — all on higher ground!
On April 28th, we revealed our new space, and our new logo, at our ribbon cutting ceremony with County Executive Allan Kittleman, EDA president Larry Twele, many friends, and colleagues. It was a full-circle moment and a fitting time for our own brand resuscitation!
Insight180 has come full circle.
We at insight180 have experienced incredible acts of kindness, generosity, and love, and can only hope that we’ve helped others experience some of the same.
We are happy to be back in Ellicott City settled in our new home at 8333 Main Street — just a hop, skip and jump from our first space.
— Wendy Baird, president & creative director