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Best Advice I Ever Got: Don't Be a Slave to the Ordinary

How Sunny Bonnell took the fire in her belly and turned it into one of the most buzzworthy design companies of 2014

Sunny Bonnell is a branding expert and serves as the co-founder and creative director at Motto. Here's how she breaks away from the mundane and utilizes her rebellious energy for good.

A Maverick Spirit

As far back as I can remember, I've always been an insatiable overachiever. I was often described by my parents as the one with the lionheart. In my early 20s, with my co-founder Ashleigh Hansberger, I channeled that maverick spirit into starting Motto, a branding and design firm that helps visionary leaders around the world build inspiring brands using their most meaningful asset: their purpose.

The company that started in a 14 by 14 room with $250 and a no guts, no glory approach has since been recognized in Inc.'s 30 Under 30, GDUSA's Top Creatives to Watch in 2014, and several of the design industry's leading publications. Though I have had many mentors in my life who gently nudged me north when I got lost at sea, I also believe in trusting your instincts. There have been several times when I've been given advice that I didn't listen to in favor of my own values and convictions.

Still, the beauty of entrepreneurship is the journey we take and sharing that learning with others. To that end, here are a few pieces of advice that I carry with me each day.

1. Be loyal to the nightmare of your choice.

I heard Anthony Bourdain say this on Parts Unknown as he endured a difficult and dangerous trip across the eastern part of the Congo. The journey was harrowing--he called it the most stressful, terrifying trip of his life. But he braved the nightmare because he is committed to his dream and his work.

I was so taken with the phrase that I decided to research it. I learned that it originally appeared in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and speaks of fully committing to the path you have chosen, for better or worse.

2. Remember the fire in your belly.

My parents have always been very influential in my life, and they were also entrepreneurs. As a result, I grew up with an entrepreneurial spirit that made it nearly impossible for me to work for someone else. My mother in particular never failed to inspire me with her courage, fiery point of view, and remarkable attention to detail.

Over the years, both of my parents have given me incredible advice, but there's one thing in particular that's always stuck with me. Anytime I've ever become discouraged or arrived at the point of giving up, they would remind me: "You can go on, and you will. Remember the fire in your belly--it will be the only thing that sees you through."

3. Don't be a slave to the ordinary.

This is a mantra that Motto has adopted. You're always presented with opportunities to either fit the mold or break it, to fall in line or buck the status quo. We've worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and companies over the years on issues of brand positioning, naming, and design, and the one trap we see most often is that they know, in theory, that "different" is a competitive advantage, but fear of failure keeps them bumbling around in the sea of sameness. In order to be remarkable, you can't be a slave to the ordinary.

There's an old Namibian proverb, "Learning expands great souls." When I embarked on the entrepreneurial journey almost a decade ago, I realized very quickly that I didn't have all the answers, nor did I need to. Navigating through business is much like navigating through life--an ongoing process of learning about who you are, what you stand for, how you can be better, and what you can offer to the world. Now go do it.

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