Maybe We Could All Do With A Few More Exclamation Points
Misty Bell Stiers is a creative director at Isobar US, one of the world’s leading digital agencies with 6,000 employees across 45 offices. She is active with multiple organizations for business women including The 3% Movement and The Wing. Prior to working at Isobar, she was a senior art director with Ogilvy and a visiting professor at the Pratt Institute. She has a BFA from the Ringling College of Art and Design and an MPS from the Pratt Institute. Misty lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
The room was crowded and everyone sat knee to knee while the “networking” area in the back buzzed a never-ending cacophony. My hips and back were aching from the daylong conference, but I had eagerly awaited the next panel all day, so I sat there patiently, front and center, unwilling to give up my seat.
As the panelists took the stage, the rumbling in the back slowly silenced to pin drop status and the lights came up on some of the most anticipated speakers of the day.
They had walked in with the kind of confidence I can only hope to emit in my best moments, and were dressed in the kind of casual style I constantly strive for.
Also, I should mention, they were children. Aging from elementary school to college age.
Seated next to them? Their mothers. Hands resting on their respective child’s chair, bodies leaning just slightly to the side. Heads turned, beaming profiles, as they gazed at the young women beside them. I knew that posturing well. Stand on your own. I will give you space. I will just set my hand here. Can you feel my support? Am I too close? Too far? Gawd, I am so proud.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome the Daughters of the Evolution.” As the applause rang out, my eyes overflowed with tears before the panel even begun.
As much as I was looking forward to the talk, I was also more than a bit hesitant. You see, it took me years to finally draw a line in the sand and know for sure I wanted to be a Creative Director – and honestly, if I were working anywhere else it’s entirely possible the title I currently hold will still be permanently on hold. I spent years reading about renowned CDs and watching the ones around me, thinking there was NO WAY. My little life, overflowing with burp rags and baby carriers and random stains on my shirts was just not cut to fit the Creative Director mold.
I came to terms, I was okay with that. Only I wasn’t.
I spent an ungodly amount of time crying over leaving my kids at daycare and equal amounts of time frustrated at work because I felt I had so much more to offer. I was spread thin in the worst of ways – feeling unable to give my all on any front.
So, I took another look around. I had some brutally honest conversations with managers and leaders. I tested boundaries (professional and personal) and I (gasp!) changed my mind. Goddammit, this was important to me and I was going to make it work.
And, for the most part, I have. Sitting there, in front of those women - the epitome of what it means to find success as a Creative - and listening to their daughters speak about what that has meant to their lives and relationships - was terrifying.
The conversation was compelling. The dialogue centered largely on what the daughters thought of the work their mothers do – the challenges, the awards, and the responsibilities. The pride they had for their moms, every single one of them, was palpable.
There was also discussion around the holes that happen as a response to those very challenges, awards, and responsibilities. The nights where their moms came home exhausted or the nights they weren’t able to come home at all; the missed events, the discussion around just accepting their moms would never be the “class moms.” It hurt to hear, but was heartening – these young women recognized the importance of their mothers’ work. Not because of the awards, but because of the passion they put behind it. They recognized how hard their mothers worked, and appreciated why.
I said a silent prayer my own daughter was somehow absorbing that as well. What did she think? How did she see it all?
I decided to do my own interview. Confront my own fears of how she saw me: leaving her behind, never around when she needs me, gone too much - or worse, less important than my work. I was terrified of the answers I may get, but knew not knowing would be worse. She’s still small, and I could still stem the tide.
I just needed to get up the courage to ask.
So that’s exactly what I did.
We laid down some ground rules. I would write the questions and she would write the answers about we would not discuss it until she was absolutely finished. She was allowed to take her time, and would give the answers back to me when she was ready.
I had already declared myself guilty. I wasn’t prepared to speak directly to the jury. Yet here I was with pages stacked, filled margin to margin with her small, careful script (all her lovely errors are preserved here in the replies):
How old are you? What do you like to do? What are you best at?
I am 9 years old and I am in 4th grade and I love writting. Right now we are earning about myths and writting our own! We can use our creativity to teach others or explain stuff! Awsome!
I love to just talk to my best friend Lily. Just talking to her makes me laugh. We also play games and do tricks on the monky bars.
I am best at writting. My creativity and passion makes me a great writter. I also have a big vocab.
What makes you special?
My passion. For anything. The consontration I have for a subject.
What kind of things do you like to do with your mom?
I like to paint with her. Are imagination together makes an unbelievable world!
Are you like your mom in any way? What do you have most in common?
Well, we both have sierious passion for many subjects and stand for rights. We can easily decide how something is right or wrong and like kind of dum.
Do you know what your mom’s job is? What do you think it entails? (What does she do?)
My mom is a creative desighner because of her creativity and ways to speak aloud. She also can use her imagination to think up great ideas. She protects good ideas and the people who make them.
What is the hardest part of her job?
She has to solve and think around problems to find interesting answers.
What is the best?
She gets to travel and create on a computer whatever is in her mind.
What do you like about her job? What part of it would you like to do?
Well she gets to look down and say no. That’s not right, try XY and Z.
What do you not like about her job?
Well, she has to work with a lot of not so… you know, people.
Would you want to do what she does?
No, I think I want to do more public speaking and making a difference.
How do you want to contribute to the world someday?
I will help people who need it, fight for rights, and do bits of public speaking.
Do you think your mom is doing what she most wants to do?
Yes. She doesn’t just create designs she also writes and illustrates books which she loves and paints which she loves.
What do you think would be the best job for your mom?
She is doing it!
I set the pages carefully down on my desk. I smiled at the misspelled words and the use of exclamation marks – I could absolutely hear it all in her voice, where she paused, and where she waved her hands about.
Perhaps her answers would have been different had I been there to lead her a bit, dig a bit more … but overall I had gotten what I had wanted. Some insight into how much she understood what I do and what she thought of it. The funny thing was, I framed that as my job. She didn’t. She was looking at my whole person.
I am always a mom. I am always a creative. I do not ever stop to be one in favor of the other. They feed each other and I am better at both because of that. The person who I was most afraid would be affected by my job didn’t see that as a separate entity. She just saw it as part of me. It wasn’t something that affected her; it was just something I did among all the other things.
I thought this exercise would give me a chance to see what specific wrongs I had committed, or feel good I hadn’t totally fucked it all up.
Instead, I learned something invaluable and something I already knew – my daughter is way smarter than me.
I’m striving to be my best self – and to be that person in every area of my life. I’m making it work, however and whatever that means day to day.
We all are, really.
Though perhaps we could all do with a few more exclamation points.