Guest post by Rita Barnes
It is a difficult feat attempting to recapture the inspiration felt in a single moment in time, but I’m going to try. Why? Because Tuesday night’s Women Lead Lecture with Ashley Heafy was that good; it’d be incredibly unfair for those of us who were lucky enough to attend to hoard all her motivation and creative encouragement to ourselves. And hopefully, if I’m a decent enough writer, I’ll manage to translate half the inspirational impression her talk left on me here in this quick summary.
The topic was on how she achieves work-life balance as a freelancing designer. Her opening slide titled, “All the Cake,” opens her introduction as a woman who “wants everything life has to offer.” Something she finds to be a common theme between men and women, but women seem to have a harder time with that path. Why? Probably because we have children to consider in our version of “having it all,” and Heafy is no different from many women her age who are married and still childless receiving just a bit of hint-hinting from her ninety-year-old grandmother who wants her to “pick one thing and settle down.” Heafy seems to accept this pressure with a shrug of the shoulders and a laugh as she says this is the same woman who tells her there’s no reason she can’t have all the things in life that will fulfill her. With someone supporting her like that, it’s no wonder Heafy is choosing to chase after all the cake.
How is she managing to go after it all? One step at a time, with patience and a great degree of self-awareness. Graduating from art school where she admits she spent too much time painting and doing ceramics because she wanted to rather than focusing on a future career goal, she knew she wouldn’t be able to dive into being her own boss right away. So, she and her husband, a fellow local from the Orlando area making a name for himself as lead singer to an internationally famous metal rock band, chose to make their home here where they both grew up, and she took a job as an in-house designer for the Orlando Museum of Art. Not a bad gig for someone just starting out.
She spent three years at this job gaining experience she didn’t acquire in school before quitting and making her first attempt at freelancing. That first run didn’t pan out, because her ability to recognize her own need for more experience stepped in and she went back to work for an agency. But by this time, due to the success of her husband’s band and a busy tour schedule, she wasn’t willing to be strapped to a desk in an office somewhere. Unwilling to compromise and confident she was bringing as much to the table as the new agency was offering her, she negotiated herself a position in which she was able to work remotely while being on the road with her husband’s band.
In her four years working for this agency, she went from designer to art director ending in what she merely describes as a “multifaceted job,” she felt she’d outgrown. “You would think as you get older, you just get used to it … but I knew I was missing out on more life experiences I wanted,” she says about why she eventually left this job and made the firm decision to work for herself freelancing. And now, here she stands, a year later (literally she’s celebrating her one-year anniversary this month) being asked by AIGA Orlando to describe to us in the audience how she’s managing to keep up a balance between work and life.
So how is she keeping all that cake balanced? She gave some how-to blog-worthy answers –because they’re time tested and true – don’t settle, when something is wrong fix it, and on the daily side of operations, take a break, eat lunch, and exercise. Where her advice deviates from the norm and struck a resounding chord with anyone seeking to find this balance, is where the advice is inspired by her own unique life.
“Balance for me is having a partner who travels most of the year … our balance is creating a world that looks balanced to both of us.” If Heafy’s husband wasn’t an internationally famous rock star, would she ever have negotiated that job with the agency for more freedom to travel and work? Would she feel like she’s missing out on time with him by needing to be here in Orlando working from behind a desk? We’ll never know, because what it comes down to is that is her life, and she made her choices in order to create this world that looked balanced for her and her husband in that life. She chose to make her work work for her, not the other way around.
Each of our lives is our own and will be like no one else’s, so we need to find the balance that works for us. For some of us, that will be working the nine-to-five job at the agency and for other’s that will be working from home in our pajamas in the middle of the night or from a coffee house on just another stop along the tour route. In the end, it is up to us, to make the choice, to believe in ourselves, and not to let the fear or a sense of ‘this is how life is supposed to be’ hold us back. And that was the underlying motivational push behind her drive to make of her life what she wanted, and her message to us.