Alumni Spotlight

Motivating Mountaineers: Q&A with Morris Morrison

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Motivating Mountaineers: Q&A with Morris Morrison

As a prolific public speaker, writer and entertainer, Morris Morrison has come a long way from New York City, where he was adopted and raised before being orphaned again and winding up in Fairmont, West Virginia.

Morrison, a Chambers College graduate of the master of science in industrial relations program, personifies grit. He has turned obstacles into opportunity to build an esteemed career that has led him down a successful entrepreneurial path as CEO of StoryMaker Brands and co-owner of Windmill Park Media. His clients include global leaders including Microsoft, McDonalds and the NBA.

The Chambers College recently spent some time with Morrison during his Empowerment Series session, where he inspired students, faculty and staff with his story of profound perseverance. He shared words of wisdom on staying motivated to compete, his experiences with public speaking, leadership and motivation.

How did you get started in public speaking?

A lot of people ask me what made me become a professional speaker. Public speaking is still the No. 1 fear in the world. It's No. 1 ahead of spiders, snakes and death. So initially, I disliked public speaking as much as anybody else.

I realized that when you have the ability to do what people fear, do it long enough and figure out how to do it well, people respect you for that because you're doing something that they would never want to do themselves. I like the pat on the back, but I want people to realize you can do it, first of all, and then secondly, you must do it.

Public speaking is really about someone sharing their perspective on something that they're passionate about, and presenting it in a way that is compelling that inspires you to action. People who master that can make a career out of it and change lives for the better.

You had some great advice for our students during your Empowerment Series talk. If you could go back and give your twentysomething self advice, what would you say?

Being here and speaking to students is great because it helps me reconnect to the fact that I was once a student. If I could go back to talk to my student version of me, I would reassure myself that the things I was thinking, the things my gut was trying to tell me, the things I was drawn to, the things I was interested in, the things that made me feel different than everybody else were more significant than I understood at the time. I would say, "Hey, you're on the right path. Keep doing what you're doing."

I've never followed the crowd. I've always trusted my gut to do things that were different. All you need is an idea of the vision that you want for yourself and the courage to go after it.

Do you have something that you live by and wake up every day to keep you going?

Movement. The thing that keeps me going the most in this world is movement. Whenever I'm having a bad day, I go and do something for someone else. Movement takes the focus off of me.

We all have to-do lists. I will go knock out a couple things on my to-do list right away. What does that give you? It gives you that immediate feeling of accomplishment. And you're like, "OK, I feel better. I got some things done today." Movement is a thing that applies to all of us and it ties back to responsibility and ownership.

You’re doing the things you're supposed to do, you're taking ownership and you're not expecting someone else to do it for you. I think it's where self-respect comes from. I think it's where self-esteem comes from. I think it's where confidence comes from. The more you move, the more you do, and the more you feel better about doing it the next time. Commitment is never convenient.

Photo of Morris Morrison giving a speech

What does confidence mean to you?

Confidence and courageousness, those two words are kind of closely linked. And when we think about the word "courage," we think of what it means to be brave and to really be able to stand up to things that intimidate the heck out of us. But confidence is completely different. Confidence doesn't mean that you have it figured out. It doesn't even mean you're not scared. It means you do it anyway. That's exactly what that means.

How do you feel seeing students bringing Reynolds Hall to life?

Reynolds Hall is something really special. I hope that students recognize that this is not just a building. I hope they see this as an opportunity to get exposed to something that is going to prepare them for an incredible life if they get involved and if they leverage this complex for what it is. This is so much more than a building. I've even noticed the professionals that I'm interacting with have a pep in their step. Everything's different because of the opportunity of Reynolds Hall. So I hope the students see that opportunity, too.

Photo of Morris Morrison signing books

What's the differentiator between people who come from hardships and build the resiliency to get up over and over again, versus people who don’t?

I think there's only one key differentiator, and that's ownership. The reasons why some people go through tough things and learn from it and some people don't, is they're actually able to ask themselves the tough conversations that says, "How did I contribute to that, and what can I own there? Where did I mess up?" Every time I've done that in my life, it's such a tough pill to swallow, but you grow 10 times stronger, 10 times faster when you just own it.

What does being a Mountaineer mean to you?

Being a Mountaineer means that you have to lead. It’s knowing that you are a part of something that's bigger than yourself, and gaining courage from that. That’s what it means to me and why I appreciate being a Mountaineer.