The phone rang, and Kathy Sipple’s life was forever changed.
It was July 2008, and Sipple found herself shaken to the core. The voice on the other side of the telephone line would tell Sipple her sister Julie was laying in a coma hundreds of miles away, the victim of a serious brain injury.
A successful Valparaiso real estate agent at the time, Sipple knew she had clients to call and paperwork on her desk to complete. Leaving everything to travel to her sister and be by her side through this cruelest of life’s challenges could ultimately have a detrimental effect on the career Sipple had long envisioned. Yet, there was no question or time for consideration.
Sipple hung up the phone and headed straight towards Detroit.
For months, Sipple would remain largely at her sister Jule’s side as she began to regain body and brain functions that most of us take for granted. “Even after she came out of the coma, my sister was rebuilding her strength and working very hard at just surviving,” explains Sipple, who established My Social Media Coach in 2009. “I found out later that she didn't remember many things that I thought were a shared memory for us.”
Throughout her sister’s recovery, Sipple maintained a blog, constantly updating family and friends of the state of her sister Julie’s condition. And while the hours passed slowly and the fate of her established career remained in question, Sipple says she began to see just what life still had left in store with her both personally and professionally.
“I began showing other families waiting in the Neurological ICU at Henry Ford Hospital how to build their own Carepages for their own family members,” says Sipple, who now works as a Social Media Strategist and Trainer for a wide range of clients throughout Northwest Indiana. “Blogging allowed me to create this community around my sister, and I began to see the different kind of conversation social media could offer. When she was released from the hospital in 2009, she had over 500 followers. I knew right then and there that I could ultimately use these social media tools to help small local businesses back home in Northwest Indiana.”
As her sister Jule returned home to continue her therapies, Sipple embarked on her new career. “Looking back now, I know that everything that has occurred in my life and everything I have done career wise has been connected,” says Sipple, who also worked within the sales and marketing industries. “I believe fate brought me to every position, and made my sister’s injury as an opportunity to energize me professionally.”
Now teaching people how to blog and use social media to build their business or further their cause, Sipple says she loves the opportunities the virtual world offers to her growing list of clients. “Every business has an emotional story to tell and I help people use technology to put that story together,” says Sipple, who also recently launched 219greenconnect.com as a way to encourage residents of Northwest Indiana to live in a more sustainable manner. “I help them connect to the people who want to hear that story.”
And while she spends much of her time these days teaching her clients how to tweet their way through Twitter and update their statuses on Facebook, Sipple is well aware of the importance of continued face to-face interactions. “I’m definitely not one of those people who are going to tell you to go home and sit on your couch and tweet all day,” she says. “In fact, I tell my clients specifically not to do everything virtually. You must find an even ground between virtual and real time interaction.”
In fact, Sipple says she finds much satisfaction during those times when she completely unplugs, whether hiking the Indiana Dunes or gardening in the backyard of her home. “I consider it a rebellion against my real estate days when I always had to be reachable and online,” she says. “I specifically schedule screen-free nights, and most will tell you that I am not a good texter. You just have to find that downtime or you will ultimately fall victim to connection and communication fatigue.”
“Kathy's determination, creativity and technology expertise helped her succeed professionally,” says her sister Julie, who continues to make great strides within her own recovery process. “But most of all, (Kathy) has taught me to be open to possibilities and to strive for grace under pressure. I could probably write a novel on what she has taught me.”