Rags to riches: From rehab to running a business
Joe McCord has seen more than most. A life turned upside down by family violence and drugs could have ended in tragedy but for one strong belief and an epiphany that changed his life.
The General Manager of one of the State's fastest growing digital marketing companies, South Bank based Digital8, his star is certainly burning bright but it wasn't always that way.
Now he feels sharing his story might help others to see their way out of tragedy and change the stigma attached to mental illness and poverty.
A victim of family violence, homelessness and for a number of years lost in a drug fuelled psychosis, his life was so broken he was sure the world had written him off completely.
"There's a lot of people who would have locked me up and thrown away the key but I say give people the benefit of the doubt … whatever is happening is not an indication they are a write-off … people need to be given a chance," he said.
He's the first to say he wouldn't change anything, that everything he has been through has made him who he is today.
But his experiences also mean he wants nothing more than to help others and stop the cycle of poverty and family violence whenever he can.
"As a child I was not sheltered from anything … I saw things no child should have to see," he said.
He counts a court decision to give custody to his father and making them move in with his grandparents as the one thing that saved him as a child.
"My grandparents loved me," he said.
But they were the only ones.
A bright boy, he somehow managed to keep at the top of his year across primary school but when his grandparents split on the cusp of going to high school and his grandmother left, his world soon started to crumble.
He struggled to make friendships at school. "I was the oddball because of my circumstances".
"And because violence was something I was used to my response was not to turn the other cheek … it was to take them on," he said.
He got in fights at school and then a huge row with his father saw him leave home and try to make a go of it with his mother.
There he found himself at sea in a house full of half-siblings where narcotics and alcohol were "super, super normalised and it was really not good".
So he left his mother and was placed in State care.
But the weight of everything, the isolation and loss, soon came crashing down and in no time he found he could no longer keep up at school.
By the time he was 16, Joe was in a unit in Coffs Harbour, on a youth allowance, where free of adult supervision he's the first to admit he quickly took advantage of the freedom and "self-destructed".
Drugs soon became his life.
"I ended up literally hearing voices in my head. Strong voices that would tell me to do things. To the naked eye I looked normal but I would be hearing voices and all that combined dialogue would merge into one dialogue and sometimes I thought the TV was talking to me …"
For several months "detached from reality" and "totally consumed by these voices" he sank to the lowest of low.
An altercation with a neighbour the final straw sending Joe into rehab and on the path to recovery.
"It was a matter of finding things that were better … building a life that didn't require substances in order for me to feel whole - I started to fill the hole in my soul with other things - good things."
He soon found love with his partner Tegan, had a baby girl, Audrey, and realised that it wasn't enough for him just to struggle along, the same way his parents had.
"We were living with Tegan's parents in a shed … our relationship was strained … eventually I had an epiphany. I looked at Audrey and I realised that I didn't have good role models, structure or environment and I didn't want her to be another victim of the same cycle. Enough is enough"
"It's not like you can just be suddenly successful but in that moment I thought how can I get out of this."
And he did. He mapped out a plan.
"I realised that I love being on the internet. I love social media, posting on forums, being part of online community conversations . I thought how can I turn wasting my time on social media into a career? I realised that I had friends who worked in digital marketing and asked whether they thought I could do it too. The very same friends who let me in when I first left home."
And the rest is history.
He turned an initial job rejection into an opportunity by asking the business owner what he would have to do to get a job.
And he got lucky. The business owner offered him a chance to show him what he could do.
"He asked me to turn around a job in two weeks and I thought well I'll get it back to him tomorrow … I'll show him what I can do."
"I think navigating the lifestyle I had been navigating you learn to think outside the box . you become resourceful and you learn how to navigate people.
"You develop a deep understanding of why people make decisions."
He got the job.
He moved to Brisbane from New South Wales where he group up.
"I started to succeed," he said.
Within nine months he was offered a role as a SEO Manager for a digital marketing specialist and not long after got a position with a well known local real estate agency as their digital marketing specialist, this led to the owner of Digital8 asking him to "come and be my General Manager".
"All I want to do now is be a positive influence. To do the right thing by people."
Now he has grown the fledgling business to a multimillion-dollar operation employing 20 people based in South Brisbane.
"Giving back and being positive - it works when you make that your focus," he said.
From pro bono work for neighbouring charities, to supporting local businesses grow, he believes strongly that his upbringing happened for a reason.
"My Pop, even though he was a grumpy old cat, was the kind of person who was always doing something for others. I get that from him," Joe said.
"The other thing is that I absolutely want to be a good father. I know how hard it is to overcome not having a good structure or a good environment. I've seen it because I lived it.
"Luck played an enormous part … but I don't want luck to have to play a part in my daughter's lives. I really want to be a positive role model for them.
"I think if I show people where I have come from it puts things into perspective for them … to come back from what I've come back from there is literally nothing I can't come back from now."
"I'm 32 years old and I realise now you have to throw your hand out - you never know who is going to catch you when you are falling but you won't find out unless you put your hand out."