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Episode 36: Thriving on Discomfort with Nicole McKinney

Nicole challenges us to think about how we want to be remembered, how we’re going to make this world a better place, and how will we leave it better when we’re no longer here. Her father’s death was the impetus for her Courage Up moment where she chose to be silent and look around to really what she is passionate about. Leaning into your gut and pursuing what your gut was telling you.

Being familiar with discomfort has propelled her to do the things that are really hard. When she’s uncomfortable, she knows she’s on the right path.

About Nicole

Nicole is a passionate, dedicated senior digital and marketing strategist who has enjoyed more than 20 years of experience as a leader and strategist on behalf of clients across North America. In the last year, Nicole has been dedicated to pivoting her business to embrace the change technology is demanding to lead into the future. For her, that focus has always been about women and those that are other. Her marcomm business was founded because there were so few women of colour leading and creating content sold to women.

In, 2019 Nicole founded and launched the Not For Profit WtC WAKING the unCONSCIOUS that has a core premise to focus a lens on both the systemic and relational dynamics of elements like Unconscious Bias, specifically the Unpacking of Privilege and Marginalisation, allowing for critical examination and an understanding of intersectionality. Nicole’s work is inspired by the legacy of her father, Dr. David McKinney Jr: a renowned Academic in the US and Canada, who ended his career at the University of Guelph. With a career-long focus on anti-black racism, he worked with organizations such as the Black United Front in Nova Scotia and pioneered research into police brutality. He also advocated for human rights in conjunction with Daniel G Hill and took on several major court cases including the famed 1990 Supreme Court case, McKinney vs the University of Guelph.

Courage Up Moment

She was thinking about how she wanted to be remembered. We often think about what we want to take for ourselves. For example how do I get better, how do I make more money, how do I get to the next place to create a better life for myself? We rarely think of, “how am I going to make this world a better place when I’m no longer here?’ If you listen to your gut, get the courage to do the things you need to do, want to do, and are afraid to do. Give yourself that silence and be true to yourself, we all have the opportunity to be the change you want to see.

Nicole has so many moments of courage because she thrives on discomfort. It is something that she’s grown up being used to and within.

Impact of Courage Up Moment

For Nicole, “When you know something, you know.” You feel it with every fiber of your being and it overtakes you. In some of the beginning work she’s doing, she’s seeing the effects of the possibility for change. That comes from the juncture and perspective of looking at individual behaviors and actions.

Sharing Stories

When we pull ourselves back and start to listen, hear and understand all of our varied experiences we can be more mindful on how we want to be inclusive instead of continuing to be exclusive. For some people, they don’t understand what it feels like to be Black on a day to day basis. What are the barriers that are created for them every single day in so many aspects of society? It’ll help give an understanding and perspective for all of our experiences.

An example of Canada and the United States. In the United States, it’s very blatant and in your face. You know when it’s happening to you. When it’s happening to you in Canada, it’s under the guise of politeness so it’s very baked into society.

Comfortable with Discomfort

For Nicole, discomfort means she’s growing. Nicole is always looking where discomfort is finding herself, not just from a race perspective, rather a life perspective. She always wants to grow.

When she gets to that road of not being able to continue on, she asks herself “What am I going to learn from this? How am I going to be a better person? How will this take me to my ultimate goals?” Looking at it from this perspective gives her peace of hanging in there. She’s always looking for discomfort and it is strangely empowering to her and vital.

Currently Courage Up

This work Nicole is doing right now is forcing her to look at the world differently with patience and empathy. We have a tendency to blame, to be angry, to lash out on the things we want to change. Choosing an approach of patience and empathy forced her to gather a lot of courage because it’s caused her to step back and understand where someone else is coming from even when they are doing/saying/acting on something that could be harmful to her. It’s important to do this work in a way that will foster kindness and change.

Action Step

Stop and be silent so you can hear what you’re meant to do.


“You need to know when something is about you, and when it’s not. When you understand that, you will have made it. “

Courage Song:

Three Little Birds by Bob Marley



Connect With Nicole


Connect With Ming:

Instagram: @mingshelby

Facebook: Ming Shelby

Listen to songs on the Courage Up Playlist!

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