Balancing the Grind with Clare Willis, Director at The Grey Area

Clare Willis is the founder and director of The Grey Area, a boutique strategic marketing, events and content agency based in Sydney.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Over the last 14 years I’ve built my career on one simple principle: work hard, play hard. I aim to lead by example and to truly encompass what it is to work within a collaborative team environment.

I’m the person who continually strives to raise the bar, who always executes at high quality and who always rolls up her sleeves to get her hands dirty. My ambitious nature and appetite for what I do led me to my most recent role before starting my own business as a Global Brand Partnerships Manager.

Prior to that I worked at Philip Morris both within Australia and New Zealand for over 5 years within their marketing and brand activations teams, and Accor Hotels Regional Team for over 6 years.

Earlier this year I started The Grey Area. I have been wanting to do this for a few years now, and due to COVID I took the plunge to go out on my own and it truly was the best decision I have ever made.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I have had some incredibly challenging roles during my professional career, but never have I worked as hard as I have during the last 8 months.

I believe I was born to be a marketer, and building the foundation of The Grey Area, especially in a global pandemic, and allowing people to understand what it is I am doing, and where I would eventually like my business to one day be, is taking every ounce of hard work and passion.

A day in the life for me at the moment would look like the ultimate hustle. Reaching out to my network, arranging meetings along with face to face catch ups and continually looking to grow the foundation and help businesses rebuild after COVID.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Over the last few years, I have gone from working in a flexible environment, to an environment that was incredibly micromanaged. I believe in building a team within a workplace made up of different strengths and capabilities.

Allowing people to demonstrate their skills and bounce off one another to deliver an amazing end result, and that’s how I have built The Grey Area. A safe place, that encourages flexibility, a fun environment and a place people want to work.

They deliver on time, every time because there is trust. Trust is the cornerstone to success for me and I will be a leader that fosters an inclusive and flexible business culture. This culture fits into my routine as I am incredibly focused on health and wellbeing, and want to ensure my team feels the same.

I don’t agree with working people to the bone because it delivers a result, if they are happy and they are committed, they will go to those lengths on their own because they will be so proud of the result they are delivering.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance to me is crucial. I woke up one day last year, completely burnt out and realised there was so much more to life than working a 15 hour day, every day. My mental health was slipping, my fitness was slipping and I was not able to spend time with my family or friends.

I felt like I was on autopilot with no end in sight, and that was the day I changed my routine. I controlled the controllables and made a conscious effort to do something for myself at least once a day.

Whether it was to take 5 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee, or sit in the sun and actually have a lunch break or just call a friend for 5 minutes and it made such a huge difference.

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I know it sounds strange, but I am incredibly grateful for COVID. It forced me to completely stop, take a step back and learn to appreciate the little things. I stopped being so busy all the time, I forgot what it was like to enjoy life.

I started going back to the gym every day, I got back into the kitchen, which was one of my favourite things and taught myself to bake bread and I kept doing little things for myself, to inspire happiness.

I listened to music, I read books, I had days where I didn’t get out of my pjs and the biggest thing of all, I started my business.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

My favourite book has to be The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. I’ve read it so many times now, the pages are all torn and frayed but it has been so inspirational for me.

It taught me how to recognise a habit, explore what that habit meant, the impact it had on my life, and then the ways you could scientifically look to change this if you needed to. If you haven’t read it I would absolutely recommend it.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I know it’s cliché, but I have just gotten myself the new Apple Watch and I am obsessed with it. I’m currently doing a fitness challenge and in the past have struggled with tracking all my data and patterns, but everything is in one place, all the time and it’s great! So easy and absolutely helping me keep track of all my meetings and appointments.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Simon Sinek. Ever since I first learnt about The Golden Circle when I was at Uni, I have been an avid follower of his work. He just finds a way of hitting the nail on the head every time for me, and his content is relatable and real. It spoke to 18 year old me, and now 33 year old me and every day inspires me to be a better leader.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Gary Keller said it best:

Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls – family, health, friends, integrity – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.

This quote for me sums up how important the work life balance is. You only get one life, one body and one chance to make a difference. Focus on what is truly important and be remembered for your kindness and the way you made people feel.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.