Her long-time followers recognize Stephanie Funk McCratic as the creator of “Evolved Mommy,” a blog related to all things helpful in the parental realm. These days, Stephanie holds the reigns of Acorn: the influence company. Connecting these two career dots together is a word in Stephanie’s blog title, evolution.
The first memory that relates to her identity: when she was six, Stephanie rummaged around her dad’s storage room and crafted a violin from wood scraps, nails, and rubber bands.
Her parents were amazed. “It was the first time I created something using the power of my imagination,” Stephanie reminiscences. This recollection remains with her in those times when self-doubt settles in. It’s almost a summary of modern-day Stephanie, “…if I can make a violin from 2x4s and rubber bands, I can do anything.”
Flashing back to the formative years
The evolution began in Little Rock, where Stephanie’s caretakers mainly consisted of her paternal grandfather and his wife, whom she affectionately referred to as Mimi.
Mimi was 20 years younger than Stephanie’s grandfather, so she was closer in age to a traditional mother figure. Together the grandparents faced all the challenges that come along with raising a child.
One of the crucial moments that led to this scenario was when Stephanie was still in diapers. She recounts the story:
“Mimi went out to get dad up for work and found mom passed out, my sister in the living room, and me soaking wet and thin. Mimi took us to Nanny’s house after leaving a note telling mom and dad to come get us when they were ready to be parents.”
Stephanie was malnourished, and a challenging situation arose for everyone in the family. Painful decisions had to be made to keep some semblance of normalcy in the household. They decided it was best for her sister to go to Chicago to live with another set of grandparents while Stephanie stayed in Little Rock.
Lifestyle choices led to her father’s death when she was in 8th grade. While he was not exactly the parental role model most children envision, Stephanie states, “He was a really cool guy. He taught me how to shoot bottle rockets when I was seven years old.”
Questions about her biological mother do not have many answers. Stephanie briefly explains, “I’ve talked to her on the phone twice in my life. I can find her on Facebook. But to honor the family who raised me, I didn’t ask a lot of questions.”
One conversation was in 4th grade when Debbie called asking about what size clothing Stephanie wore. The next time was years later to inquire about Stephanie’s family medical history. “Turns out I’m 1/16 Creek Indian,” she observes. But, during these very emotional talks, Stephanie noticed there was a disconnect between versions of the story of the early days.
It was at this point she determined that the relationship couldn’t continue. While there is a half-brother in this situation who reached out to Stephanie on social media, she’s not sure if she will ever meet her mother in person.
Pushing boundaries as a young adult
Unconventional beginnings lent themselves to the journey for identity in nonconformist peer groups. Banding together with other kids her age meant she fit in somewhere. Plus, there is the adage of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Daddy’s bad-boy influence gave a handy justification to Stephanie’s antics. It got to the point she admits, that “…Mom put an alarm on the doors to know when I snuck out.”
Rebellious by choice, and fueled by an awkward phase in middle school, Stephanie acted in a way to overcompensate for her insecurities. Torn between gratitude for her caregivers, and a desire to throw convention to the wind caused her emotional scale to wobble between the extremes.
Pair this with private, Catholic school in Little Rock, and you have a storyline for the Arkansas version of the 1980s movie,”Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Along the lines of a stereotypical Catholic school girl, she recants the attempt at public school, “I tried public school for one semester, and couldn’t handle all the freedom. I needed structure and found that at the Mount.”
Detours, politics, and the emerging identity
In high school, her classmates included the offspring of political leaders and staff. She was active in the Young Democrats organization and worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. “Getting invited to neat events,” like the Democratic National Convention in 1996 was part of the benefits package. “We were celebrities,” she says. This attention sparked an interest in the political lifestyle.
After graduation from Mt. St. Mary’s, she came to the University of Arkansas with academic preparations and a healthy fear of how demanding the university setting could be. Topics of study included political science, “…because I was involved in politics and the Young Democrats, I associated with a lot of attorneys. They seemed to be doing pretty well, so I thought ‘I’ll go pre-law.’ But I hated being a political science major.”
Academics were a focus, but having a good time was equally important. Stephanie labeled her college self, “…A very productive partier. I accidentally went to New Orleans from Fayetteville one time.” That example is certainly sufficient evidence for her claim.
During her days in politics, she was an intern in DC for a summer for Sen. Dale Bumpers. That stint led to work in the political realm for a while, but politics was not the career route of choice. Diplomacy wasn’t exactly her strongest trait. She says, “I am very bull-headed, and if you don’t believe the way I do, then you’re confused.”
Mid-college she discovered that you could major in advertising. “Wait, I can color?” was the reaction when she investigated the curriculum. So she changed majors from Political Science to advertising. It was very freeing because this took away law school, taking LSATs, and passing the Bar Exam.
Grasping her newly-declared field of study, Stephanie entered the creative realm where writing content emerged as a strength. Affirmation from a teacher in college encouraged her to start a new journey because, he said, ” …your writing has a flow. You have the gift for writing.” She counters, “I didn’t think I was worthy or capable, but he insisted. ” The professor suggested she write for The Traveler. That was the beginning of her writing career.
The challenges of post-college life
Stephanie returned to Little Rock with the intention of landing work in an ad agency. When her plan didn’t pan out, she took a job at Channel 4 as an admin, but it wasn’t a good personality fit for our free thinker.
Along comes Waymack and Crew, and a job in media production. That career chapter was like “Mad Men” in real life. The owner was a “rock star” in the creative realm. But, true to the theme of life so far, there was an element of toxicity to the situation. Day drinking, client schmoozing, were part of the game.
The week of 9/11 she lost her job, or as she says, “I was given the opportunity to go freelance. But it was really difficult for me because all my friends thought I had the coolest job ever, and then that went away.”
The repressed economy meant she had to wait tables and serve the clients she once managed. Now the time is chalked up to as a “humbling life experience.”
From the restaurant industry Stephanie “walked through” as she likes to say, to the staffing sector. Again, not the ideal career, but it taught her how to identify what person would be a proper fit as an HR placement. “I had to hire 1,000 people in one summer, so I got really good at determining who was going to stick around and do a good job fast.” This role served as a valuable piece for her next chapter of work experience.
Personal trials and life change
After her time in the staffing industry, Stephanie went to work for Blue Cross, bringing her stellar insurance benefits. Her husband, Marshall, had End Stage Renal Disease, the only condition, other than age, where you can qualify for Medicaid.
Her supervisors let Stephanie visit Marshall in the hospital up to four times a day until his body finally stopped working. She was prepared to file for bankruptcy with all the hospital care, but the Medicaid plus insurance covered his bills.
She was a 30-year old widow. Thinking this was her only shot at love, Stephanie turned to the online realm for support. None of her real-life friends could identify with all the emotions that flooded her days.
Stephanie had a “Caringbridge” site for Marshall during his declining health. “That was really my first blog because I could update everyone at once and share my story at the same time. I got tired of answering the same questions over and over again, and this took care of it.” Online information sharing and support gave form to the world of building rapport through cyberspace.
The next career phase took Stephanie from insurance to tobacco. Marshal didn’t have life insurance, and she was left holding the mortgage. A friend knew of an opening with Philip Morris in Little Rock as a sales rep and she got the job calling on convenience stores.
One day she pulled up to one of her convenience stores to call on her customers and found a swarm of police cars. The store had been the scene of a violent crime, leaving two of the owners dead. The crime scene tape was a wake-up call to make yet another change. Stephanie’s boyfriend, now husband, popped the question and she made the move to leave her past in Little Rock.
A new love and professional journey
Steve McCratic was a classmate from college who Stephanie had more than a “just friends” fondness. “I actually sent him a letter, in the mail, that told him I loved him, but I was getting married and had to honor Marshall.”
Steve’s mom showed him the obituary after Marshall died, and he waited a month before calling. He went so far as to hire an internet search firm to find her. Stephanie didn’t know about that part when they reconnected. “It was creepy but sweet when I did find out. We didn’t date when we knew each other in college, but were connected souls.”
At the beginning of their courtship, they were in different cities, but that distance allowed her the privacy to “be me and grieve because he wasn’t around all the time. But he was also here when I needed him.”
Stephanie’s first job in Northwest Arkansas was selling salon products to stylists. It wasn’t a great match, so when she became pregnant with Charlie, she decided that being a stay-at-home mom would be better. But, that didn’t stick either. Even before her daughter arrived, Stephanie started her blog, Evolved Mommy.
She connected with folks via the blog posts and Twitter. This new venture bridged the gap between professional worlds. Working with brands that catered to her new lifestyle gave her the chance to dust off the advertising hat again. “It definitely gave me a purpose.”
After a few years of establishing a web presence of her own, Acumen Brands came along to have her work magic on their web branding. Stephanie’s time with them allowed her to experiment with digital advertising in the social space.
The campaign was so effective that anti-Country Outfitters groups began forming because people thought Acumen was stalking them on social media. Stephanie’s was one of the first groups to leverage social media in advertising.
Sophisticated evolutionary changes
New Road Ventures approached her to leave Acumen Holdings, and she promptly declined. “I was on a rocket ship; no way was I leaving.” But, as the culture of Acumen began to change with a new infusion of capital and an influx of employees, the love faded.
New Road Ventures persisted, and she left Acumen for a generous salary. As she worked her way through the new landscape of SEO audits, an idea began to take shape. A concept that would propel her into the world of entrepreneurial ventures as a stand-alone shop, but New Road wasn’t in the position to “invest in ideas.” Management encouraged her to find clients to try out the new approach.
Within a week she secured national brands and $100,000 worth of contracts, something unheard of at this point in internet advertising. Her accomplishment was pretty convincing.
Fortunately, our defiant youngster developed into someone who wasn’t afraid to take chances. Stephanie drew upon her early adulthood experiences to carve out a space that is unique to her, yet blends with current-day approaches in the world of commerce.
She is currently sporting tattoos and alternating hair colors, which are the banners of her self-acceptance. “Now I own it. I like the fact that I’m edgy… my outside matches my inside.”
Acorn: the influence company opened its doors in 2014, and Stephanie is thriving in her self-starting environment. The HR skills acquired in former roles help manage all the contractors and the gray areas of the startup world.
How does her blog fit in with the influencers she works with through Acorn? “I wouldn’t be an Acorn influencer because I don’t write often and I say the F-bomb a lot. Evolved Mommy is just my little piece of internet real estate.”
What’s next? “I have big plans. There are days that I feel like what I’ve done here is just getting started. Our goal is to be ‘the’ influencer marketing company. I don’t enjoy party politics, but I might run for something some day.”
How she does it
Stephanie is a wife, mother and business owner at all times. “Now we have a seven-year-old and a one and a half year old.” Piper and Charlotte “Charlie,” are their names, and according to mom, “are cool kids.”
Past mistakes lead to better parenting claims Stephanie, “Because we were so bad when we were younger, I think my girls are going to be good because they won’t be able to get away with much.”
Stephanie’s boundaries are formidable, and her mantra is, “Even if the worst thing happens today, tomorrow still comes.”
Life teaches lessons that Stephanie carries with her. “I’ve been through so much and have to keep walking through all these experiences like my first husband’s death. There are times I want to just curl up, but I keep going.”
Noting her numerous professional accolades and accomplishments seems certain she’s moving in the right direction.
Gretchen Friedrich is a freelance content creator whose specialty is forging written collateral from ideas or goals. Gretchen likes to say that her real job is to make her clients’ look good on paper. You can find her off the beaten path with camera in hand, searching for the next perfect moment in nature. She is an Arkansas native, but currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.