Have you ever been a member of a religious cult? Although, it’s difficult to generalise, cults are often identified as communities that place rigorous restrictions on their members, demand separation from mainstream society and hold dogmatic and unconventional beliefs.

If you value freedom and autonomy, beware cults. But, here’s someone who was a cult member for several years. And she’s my Page 1 Woman.

Meet Michelle Coops – inspirational, charismatic and dynamic, a multi-award winning international public speaker and courageous go-getter. On recognising that her values contradicted those of the cult, she rebelled and was shunned by cult members and banished from home. She was only sixteen. Another teenager might have collapsed under the pressure. But not this one; she knew what she wanted and went after it. But she paid a price – entrenched self-limiting beliefs, forgotten dreams and stifled voice.


Michelle has made herself highly visible in her network, sharing her story, developing her brand, whilst walking the talk for her clients. ‘I've had to overcome a lot of limiting beliefs to do that. And still I believe I'm not visible enough’. And what’s more, she received the Member’s Choice Award (2018), in the Professional Speakers Academy. ‘It was mind blowing being recognised by the whole community’.

 Keep reading and discover how Michelle defeated cult influence and became the success she is today.


Describe what you do

 Michelle: Through my company, Be a Brand Rebel I use the power of language to build brands and unleash, what I call, their ‘rebeliciousness’. I help brands achieve this on three levels. First, to unveil a brand’s true identity. Words can limit us when we use them to label ourselves, but they can also empower us if we use them to achieve who we want to be. Whether you’re working on your personal brand or your business brand that doesn’t matter: words give direction to understand who we are and who we can choose to be. Second, words are a filter to express the brand’s personality. What graphic designers do for a brand visually is what I do with words and language. The message is the third level. It’s the outcome.

 As a former copywriter, I got to appreciate the power of words. They could convey emotion and stir people. But their potential impact on a brand is undervalued. Every business has brand colours, logos, (i.e. the expressive elements), but often they lack their own brand language. Moreover, my target audience - companies and solopreneurs - doesn't consider the intangibles either; they lack the basics of everything they’re building. How frustrating! So, I decided to focus on the beginning of the branding process rather than the copywriting at the end. So, now I help entrepreneurs to create magic by defining the brand and creating the brand story.

 I’ve always loved writing stories. My mom said that whenever things were quiet, and kids would be doing naughty things, she’d find me alone reading a book. When I was two and couldn't sleep I would invent stories for my stuffed animals. And at age six, I started writing tiny short stories. But I lost my dream to become a writer.

 My single mom was looking for meaning and, being only eleven years old, I followed her into a very strict Christian cult. Televisions were forbidden and outsiders were judged. My school friends were seen as ‘worldly’ so couldn’t be ‘real friends’. But as I grew up and saw them developing and discovering themselves, I reflected on why they were labelled ‘bad’ for not following my church’s path. On discovering that this wasn’t what I wanted, I decided to leave. When the community rejected me, and my mom kicked me out as advised by the pastor, I stopped writing.

 As I was only 16, my focus shifted from dreaming to be a writer to surviving. I had to earn money and finish my education. I stayed under the radar, feeling silenced. Actually, there were numerous experiences which confirmed that my voice shouldn’t be heard. For example, my first boss wouldn’t stop harassing me although I resisted.

 When I was 27, my dad got cancer. High on morphine he would see the most beautiful things, including eagles flying. Quite magical, actually. I decided to capture these moments together by writing them down. People were moved. I realised that I needed to expand my writing, so I initially focused on copywriting, continued with branding and, when I came to Andy Harrington and his Professional Speakers Academy in 2017, I recognised that I had to share my own story rather than that of others.

 That’s what I do when I’m on stage. Be a Brand Rebel is my way of using my story and knowledge to help my target audience up level their sh*t. When I started this second business a year ago, I started running training events: half-day events and 3-day events as part of my programme.


What essential steps took you to where you are today?

 Michelle: Investing in educating myself. I really believe in continually learning. I invest in training, analyse what others are doing, learn on the job and read. When I joined the Professional Speakers Academy in 2017, my learning curve expanded. I needed to challenge myself to feel confident in the spotlight. It's helped me to position myself better and create more value for my customers. I apply my learning and get sh*t done, otherwise there’s no point. I want the same for my clients. That's why my three-day course is about implementation.


 What was the greatest challenge that you faced? And how did you overcome it?

 Michelle: My biggest challenge was my fear of visibility. I've been told that I have my dad's energy and presence. He would walk into a room and light it up. So, when I look in the mirror, I see him. But I've been told many times to tone it down because ‘You're stealing someone's thunder’ and feared being judged, because cult members warned my mom saying, ‘She'll get knocked up soon.’

 I've never been a wallflower, and I'm quite outspoken when talking to people individually. But for a long time those comments made me fear being the centre of attention in groups. When a friend said that sharing my story wasn’t about me, I realized, that withholding my knowledge and skills, was depriving others of benefits. Damn, she was so right!

 I overcame my fear of visibility by getting a mentor and sharing my message step by step. I plucked up courage and made a video and posted it using Mel Robins’ five second rule: I’d count from five to one and then take action. It works!


What was your greatest light-bulb moment?

 Michelle: Just after my dad died, I found one of his articles about his burn-out experience. Stressed by perfectionism and trying to prove himself, he learned that if he felt good enough proving himself was unnecessary. I grasped the depth of this when I kick-started my development journey with Andy Harrington. I’d been proving myself all my life, unaware that I was enough. I just need my story, knowledge and skills rather than comparing myself to others.

 I realised that I’m here to perform AND serve, in a bigger role than I’d appreciated. I have something to do and share, which isn’t about me. I’m the channel. And I’d better accept and utilise it because there's no time to waste. I'm incredibly grateful to hear from people that I inspire them this way.


What resource has been crucial to your success?

 Michelle: My mind. We make most of our decisions unconsciously based on how it feels. It's all in our brain, which steers us. If you know how your brain works you can steer yourself in the right direction. I couldn’t have achieved everything without the right mindset and without utilising my brain to learn new information and perspectives and to self-reflect and break through useless patterns.

 My mindset has given me courage, (which many people lack), the ability to reflect and take responsibility. It takes courage to self-reflect honestly. And when you identify your internal patterns and programmes, you can change them.

 I’ve always had courage. The sixteen-year-old who left that cult had balls. I've always known that you can’t let someone else run your life. And I've also been reflective. Maybe overly so, for example, automatically blaming myself for things that go wrong. But I believe in looking for the positive outcome and seeking opportunities. For me everything is an opportunity and I try to find the lesson in every experience.


What do you understand by leadership?

 Michelle: When you're a true self-leader you’re courageous enough to examine yourself, maintain self-awareness, find and learn the lessons in your experiences and push through your fears. You aren’t responsible for everything that happens to you, but you can choose your responses. Personal leadership involves taking charge of your past, present, and future and being courageous enough to reflect and take responsibility for what you want to achieve. It’ll help you progress.

 Self-leaders use their gift to help others and are a source of inspiration. If you're in a good place and you've worked on yourself, you’ll want others to shine and you’ll help make it happen.

 As women we can empathise more than men and connect with people on a different level. We're good listeners, but often micro-manages too. I never felt restricted as a woman, but I sometimes have limiting beliefs around my gender, especially regarding sales, because of cultural messages and gender expectations – e.g. girls are cute whilst guys are tough.


What are your top three tips for women who want to be leaders in their field?

 Michelle: First, invest in your development and your business and you’ll be able to tap into things that you weren’t aware of. Avoid becoming a seminar junkie. Focus and implement the learning and you’ll develop your potential. When I implemented my newly acquired speaking skills, I discovered that I could inspire on stage. I never imagined I’d be able to do that!

 Second, choose who you want to be and how you show up as a leader. Beyoncé, for instance, becomes Sacha Fierce when she’s on stage. You’ll do more, make more impact and give more value than you could ever have imagined. You'll become who you deserve to be.

 Third, surround yourself with the right people. Remember, you don't have to do it alone. With a strong network, you'll have warmth, community and always someone to fall back on. It will help you improve and elevate your success and give you an inner circle where you can vent your emotions.

 To find out more about Michele Coops and Be a Brand Rebel, click here.

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