Mary Wissinger - “Invite others to wonder with you”

As part of the TechArtista member series, author Emily Eckley, meets with Mary Wissinger. 

Mary Wissinger

Mary Wissinger

Only a year ago Mary was a teacher; the job that she had wanted since she was a kid. She taught music at Ferguson/Florissant and wasn’t shy to tell me that she was the nerdy white teacher in a generally african-american community. Just like in any school district, Mary dealt with both good and troubled students and balancing things was a struggle, “there are tough kids that don’t mince words and their homelife is really tough.” Pick a problem -bad homelife, no food, violence- they faced it. “You can’t just say ‘take a break’ [to these kids] because life is tough, but you also can’t attend to everything that’s going on, and then they’re teenagers on top of that…”

Despite these challenges she always found her own way to connect to the kids. She would see these “flashes of brilliance” from her students, a glimpse of what the students could be if their circumstances were different. It was these flashes of brilliance that brought her into work everyday. She spent all of her creative and emotional energy on the work that she did with her students, and while some teachers can find balance, Mary just couldn’t find that balance. Although colleagues would tell her what a great educator she was, she decided to leave before her teaching deteriorated and she burnt out.

It was a major moment in Mary’s life, as teaching had become part of her identity. “It was a really really tough choice.” She figured she’d get a regular corporate office job and write, figure some stuff out. So she started sending out the “best resume” and the “best cover letter” to the jobs that she thought she wanted but was met with silence. She wondered “What’s not working, what is the disconnect?”

She was reading a lot of Brené Brown at that time, which led her to the realization that she wasn’t being vulnerable enough. So she made a game for herself around vulnerability. She would send an email and ask for help which would give a +1 vulnerability point. Each day she’d try to acquire as many moments of vulnerability as she could and reach a new high score.

Despite not knowing anything about co-working, Mary reached out to TechArtista’s Community Director at the time, “I see you’re a former teacher and now working in the ‘real world’ and I would love to talk and see the space.” This one vulnerability point earned her a free month trial period at TechArtista. She wanted more of those sweet sweet vulnerability points! She connected to Shelly from Genius Games and thought their products would be great for a classroom setting. And everything kind of fell into place.

During this period of Mary’s life, tumultuous and new as it was, Mary would tell herself “Chin Up, Heart Open”. It was a catchphrase that encapsulated Mary. Eventually this phrase morphed into a project which Mary now runs and spends her days working on at TechArtista. Think of “Chin Up Heart Open” as a project that aims to inspire creativity and vulnerability. The mission is to get people to do the creative things they secretly want to do.

The “Make Sh!T Night” was a reflection of that mission. She took the idea from a friend who had hosted a similar event in the bay area and brought it to St. Louis. Mary expected to have upwards of 20 or so people come to her event. There were around 80. It by all accounts exploded. She believes it meets a need that people have to set time aside to be creative. “When you get around a group of people the energy is different...They need a place to be creative that isn’t their house...There is a desire for people to connect that’s not a bar or a networking event.” “[I] speculate that this event allows a part of yourself to come out that isn’t normally seen by other people.” This is the quintessential example of what Chin Up Heart Open is all about. Bringing people together to be creative, open, and vulnerable.

The next Make Sh!T Night will be August 24 from 5 - 7pm.  

You can find Mary working, reading, writing, on the third floor of TechArtista. She’s always game to help with writing, marketing, and opening your heart.

Mary’s Tips

  • Listen.
  • Look for ways to collaborate and showcase the strengths of others.
  • Just make something, whatever it is you’re passionate about.

Rules of the Vulnerability Game

  • One point for being vulnerable  
  • If you are exceptionally vulnerable you can get as many points as you want
  • Vulnerability is when you hear in your head “UHHH, I DON’T want to do that,” or “when you feel the pit of your stomach.”