This founder overcame addiction — now he combats stigma with success

Today, Colby Flood is a successful founder of digital marketing agency Brighter Click. While the 28-year-old is now running a thriving business, his outlook was much different just a few years ago. 

"I started dabbling in drugs and alcohol when I was 16, and that tumble downhill continued until I was 21," Flood says. "I ended up going to a rehab facility and when I left, I had no college degree and I was facing 10 years in prison for drug charges." 

At the time, Flood was able to find work at a big-box store, working 70-80 hour weeks. Yet his background limited his ability to advance through traditional career pathways, a frustrating situation that Flood says left him with "very little hope." 

"I was doing well and I got promotions quickly. But I hit a ceiling based on my criminal record to where I could not move to a store manager position," he says. "But I had a lot of ambition and a lot of drive to reach the goals and the dreams that I had." 

Read more: A criminal background shouldn't be a life sentence: How to mentor and upskill employees so they thrive at your business 

That ceiling is an issue faced by many employees — data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 13.4 million employees are currently in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. Additionally, nearly one-third of Americans have some sort of criminal record, whether an arrest or actual jail-time served, according to the Department of Justice. 

Yet the stigma around these issues persists in the workplace and beyond. Just 5% of managers admitted they recruit people with criminal records, though 53% said they are "willing" to do so, according to SHRM. 

Flood eventually left his job and focused on teaching himself the ins and outs of the marketing industry. He turned to freelance platform Upwork to establish connections with clients, which allowed him to create a company on his own terms, and avoid potential barriers that could limit his professional goals.  

"I have never had a sales call where someone asked me where my degree is from, or what my background is," Flood says. "If you've set yourself up and present yourself well and you've actually recovered from the journey that you've been on, there's really no reason for clients to ask you that type of information." 

Read more: Recovery Ready 

Flood says that doesn't mean he hides his background and what he's overcome. Being given so many chances himself has allowed him to create a culture where employees feel safe making their own mistakes. 

"I've recovered, and when you truly recover from something, it's your responsibility to share it so other people can find their path out," Flood says. "You can learn from anything and everything that you do in life. With that comes opportunities to be incorrect, and we don't make that a bad thing." 

Flood says Brighter Click's core values are focused on education and creating opportunities to learn and grow each day. He advises other employers and clients to lead in the same way and watch how their employees will thrive. 

"We've all gone through something," Flood says. "Give people equal opportunity and let them pick it up and run with it." 

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Mental Health Workforce management Health and wellness