When everything went wrong, Tiffany Dawn kept goingJackie Gill - August 7, 2019
Tiffany Dawn is the CEO and co-founder of Atoms Integrator, a startup in Cambridge, Ont. that connects bright ideas from around the world with the places they’re needed most. She also runs Creative Business Week in Canada as the president of the Creative Business Cup’s Canadian National Committee.
Here is her story.
This year, my grandfather passed away. He died at 91. He was my everything. He was an amazing role model and example of how to live your life. He would drive his minivan into the low-income housing here in Canada, pick up all the kids and take them to church because at least he knew they would get some love and something to eat. That’s just the kind of person he was.
My marriage ended because of mental illness. My ex – I don’t even know what to call him – wanted to overdose. He wanted to die. Depression’s hard to understand, and when you’re married to it, you learn a lot. Sometimes you look at yourself like, is there something I could have done earlier? Am I enabling it? You sometimes blame yourself. We’ve been putting a lot of resources into getting him help and counselling.
Then I moved. We had a deal going with a triplex, and it fell through because we needed a signature. I just needed a safe place for now, for me and my son.
“It’s very powerful to hit rock bottom, because it makes you look at you.”
– Tiffany Dawn
It’s a painful place because you look at what you lost. But it’s very powerful, to hit rock bottom, because it makes you look at you, to make one of two choices: quit or keep going.
Tiffany chose to keep going.
Quitting? Yeah, that’s the easy way. Or you go through it and say, “I’m not giving up.”
When you lose somebody, you want to do something about it. You don’t want a loss to go on as a loss. So you live for the goal. That’s how you get out of it. On days where you don’t want to get out of bed, think about how many people are depending on that goal. Then you’re not looking at your circumstance. The picture is so much bigger than what you see.
Her grandfather’s death inspired her to start developing a non-profit.
I want to disrupt that poverty cycle.
In Brazil, how can we help that next generation in the favelas so they don’t fall into poverty or drugs or violence? I really want to balance that social gap, because people in the slums are so creative, they’re so innovative, they’re so positive.
When you start investing in children and start investing in people who have mental illness, and even encourage them and let you help them cope with it, imagine what they’re able to do. I want to level the playing field. I’m really excited to continue what my grandparents started.
“When you invest in children [and] people who have mental illness… imagine what they’re able to do.”
– Tiffany Dawn
Here, we really have a great public school system. If a rich kid and a poor kid go to school, they’re getting the same education. Something like raising awareness for mental illness is maybe more effective than what we would do in Brazil.
Her marriage inspired her to make mental health a focus.
Mental illness, it’s still being swept under the rug. A lot is just being medicated. And the people that are going through this are very talented people. We need some more support.
Now with the company, we have unlimited mental health days. As long as you’re proactive and seeing a counselor or doing something, you need to take that time.
“I want to partner with other people to raise awareness for mental health and do something on the side.”
– Tiffany Dawn
For the Creative Business Cup, we want to go across Canada looking for entrepreneurs. Every province we go to, we want an artist to spray paint something cool about the province on our van. Now, because of this, I want to partner with other people to raise awareness for mental health and do something on the side with that trip.
Losing her home inspired her to look at things in perspective.
I live in Canada, I have a roof over my head. We have free healthcare. My son gets free education – a good education. He’s a smart cookie. We have food to eat. I really have everything, even at my rock bottom.
Imagine rock bottom in a place like Mexico, or Peru, or Africa. There’s too much poverty. There’s too much pain. There are still people starving to death. There’s so much that still needs to be done.
“I really have everything, even at my rock bottom. Imagine rock bottom in a place like Mexico, or Peru, or Africa.”
– Tiffany Dawn
As long as people need help, she’ll be there to lend a hand.
Life sucks some days, it really does. You have these extreme highs and extreme lows, and you just have to keep going, keep dreaming, keep learning, keep growing – because going through something bad, it really changes your mindset a lot. I look at things very differently now.
It’s not a permanent place, thank God, because it’s a painful place. And sometimes those painful moments direct you and pivot you onto the path you’re supposed to be on.
Interview edited for brevity.
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