Kelsey Carter is Chief Operating Officer at San Diego-based design agency Grizzly, an independent creative agency that helps adventurous brands challenge convention impact culture and move conversations onward.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
My career journey to my role today as Grizzly’s Chief Operating Officer is unconventional, and at Grizzly that’s valued. Most of our team members haven’t had a traditional advertising career. I was a biology major in college when I decided to scrap the idea of medical school and found myself working for the next ten plus years as a television producer.
The more senior I got, the lonelier it was. I was often the only woman on set and at network meetings. White males were talking into echo chambers and if you didn’t shape yourself to who they felt you should be, you weren’t invited in.
I took a 6-month hiatus and transitioned to working in advertising. During that time, I went back to school and got a master’s degree in clinical psychology. What started as a personal passion project set me up for my forever career.
I became determined to bring my deeper understanding of the complexities of humans to my day job in leadership. Can we do our life’s best work and also be empowered to fully be ourselves while doing it?
When I met Nate and Greg, the founders of Grizzly, it all just clicked. Their personal values were their business values, and each day we set out to lead with those values in mind.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I’ve learned that the more that I’m able to compartmentalise my days, the better I am at being fully present. My husband and I start each day early, drinking coffee in bed together.
We take advantage of the quiet before our two-year old daughter wakes up – I meditate, check emails, and then jump into mom-mode. We go walking at the beach with our daughter and dog which really helps ground my day.
We’ve recently implemented meeting blocks at Grizzly which define set hours specifically for meetings. Grizzly has a dispersed team throughout the United States and Mexico, with team members across time zones and we had gotten into a pattern of filling our days with meetings, leaving little time for the real deep work to happen.
Our meeting blocks empower the team to use their time in ways that work best for them, knowing that we have reserved time for collaboration and connecting with clients. Outside of these blocks, team members can use the space for focused efforts as they best see fit.
I use my mornings to catch up on emails and prioritise tasks for the afternoon. As COO, I’m constantly accessing agency priorities and aligning my time accordingly. Some days I’m in it with the team, deep down in the weeds solving client complexities or creative challenges. Other days may be filled with connecting with clients, in-person meetings or working on Grizzly’s finances. I love my varied days and I’d be bored doing anything else!
3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
When I’m operating at my highest and best, I’m fully present. It’s my life’s work to find a presence in all that I do. My daily-hourly mantra is “be here now”.
If I can be fully present in the moment, have the psychological flexibility to be all-in, and always hold my personal values close to heart and mind, I’ve found that the balance has created itself. In the past, it’s empowered me to walk away from roles that weren’t congruent with my values. It’s a gentle reminder that work may sometimes need to wait when I’m spending time with my family.
Research shows that our psychological flexibility – our ability to cope with, accept, and adjust to difficult situations is directly correlated to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
My workdays are stressful, I hold a lot of responsibility to both our team and our clients but I know that if I respect my own values and my own non-negotiables, then I can process that stress in a healthy way and empower our team to do the same. A core belief of mine is that a healthy mind, body, and spirit can accomplish anything.
4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Starting my days by walking at the beach with my daughter and our dog has brought such joy to my life this past year. I love being able to ground my days with the physical sensation of being close to the ocean, as well as the uninterrupted time I get to spend seeing my daughter explore the nature that we’re so lucky to have so close to us.
Grizzly introduced Adventure Days this past year. Once a quarter, we close the agency down and encourage everyone to unplug in their own way. For me, it generally looks like a workout class, a massage, and a leisurely lunch with a friend. Other team members go snowboarding, make art, or explore a new part of their city. Creating more intentional opportunities to fill up the whole human is critical to our collective successes.
5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – a deeply honest account of the human experience.
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – the human condition in all its messiness. The first time I came across the idea of ‘Getting the shitty first draft out’. Big fan of shitty first drafts, for anything and everything.
- Elise Lohman – Pulling the Thread
6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
My parents. They owned and operated their own small business for most of my childhood, but somehow also made it to each of my sister’s and I’s sports practice, sports games, and knew all of our friends and took us on incredible vacations. I’m still not sure how they did it.
7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I wish I knew how powerful time away from work was years ago. I used to never disconnect until I had a boss who finally mandated it. I came back as a more thoughtful, patient, inquisitive leader.
Grizzly has an unlimited Paid Time Off policy that I take full advantage of. While it can be initially difficult to book that trip or walk away from the email, the gains of disconnecting are ten-fold. I always encourage our team to take the email off their phone, sign out of Slack, knowing that each person will come back happier and healthier.
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