On this International Women's Day, I wanted to highlight an exceptional woman and the incomparable Jesi Haack came to mind. She owns and runs Jesi Haack Design, which consistently creates fresh, stylish and dramatic events. She's also a wife to Ryan Haack & mama to Jonah, Maverick, River & Emerald. I sat down with her to hear her unique and insightful perspective on life & business as a mother. Our interview took place on a picnic blanket with five kids + one dog, and it was every bit as funny and inspiring as I thought it would be.
You started your business by planning weddings for friends. When did you decide to make the switch to full time?
I still don’t think I have! I lie to myself and say that I haven't, anyway. I never quit a full-time job to start doing this, and as my life evolved the business has evolved. Things are constantly changing because I keep popping out kids, which turns into taking breastfeeding babies to meetings and scaring people. Ha! #thefutureisfemale
What's the best thing about running a small business?
Having ownership over something. The pride that you feel when you complete projects successfully.
And the worst?
The responsibility and vulnerability of it. And the comparison game. I think I would care less about what people thought about me if my work wasn’t so visible. It's not caring what people think, though, but more that I want to be the best, and when I feel like I'm not the best it eats at me.
At this point, my little dog, Benny, climbs on to Jesi’s lap and repeatedly tries to lick her face.
Why? Why do you like me?! It is not reciprocated!
Is there a particular project that you can’t believe you pulled off?
The geode. That thing was the thing I didn’t think I was going to be able to pull off. And it was for one of my employees, so I thought “I am about to break a heart right now.” It didn’t get pulled off until the day before. It took about 4 or 5 different versions to get it done. I came close to saying “ This is impossible. I can’t do it.”
https://stevecowellphoto.com/journal/samanjolie-sacramento-farm-wedding (the infamous geode wedding)
How do you balance your work and family life?
I spent a lot of years pursuing balance in my business and family life. I said, “I’m only working on these days, and I’m only taking meetings during these times.” I tried all that, and it’s just not realistic for my personality or my business. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as balance. Or at least not the way that I was defining it. If I’m splitting my time, one or both things are going to suffer. So Instead, I've modified my definition of it. You have to decide where you want the scales to fall. Could my business look completely different if I worked Monday through Saturday from 7 to 7? Absolutely. But then I couldn’t be the mom I want to be. If I’m a mom constantly and never look at my phone, never look at my computer, where would my business be? So I’m still learning where I want those scales to fall, but are they going to be balanced? No! I have to be okay with not having the most successful design business out there. And I also have to be okay with being at the park but on my phone and having other moms throw me a judgemental glance.
What do you hope your children will learn from you about women in business?
A fearless abandon in pursuit of what they want. Freedom from self-restrictions and self-doubt. I don’t want them to think “Oh, that’s not something that’s being done; no one is doing that. I can’t do that. No one does that.” I want their thoughts to already be in the posture that there are no limits.
If you could give advice to a budding female entrepreneur, what would it be?
Celebrate other’s successes instead of thinking that their success takes away from yours. It will minimize your heartbreak. We can so easily look at the success of others and immediately turn that into something about us, about how we failed. If you change your outlook and instead say “Good for you! Rad that you got that huge client!” you change the dynamic.
Wouldn’t you say that approach perpetuates an exciting and mutually supportive community?
Totally. That’s one effect of that approach, but I think the underlying effect is that it immediately takes the focus off you and puts it on the other person, so then you’re no longer about making it about you. Instead, it’s “Your success is independent of my own. So if you get that high profile client or magazine cover, that’s great for you, because I’m going to get things that are great for me.” I feel like I’ve been on both sides of that, and the times I’ve chosen to be stoked I’ve felt this camaraderie with that other person and then I feel immediately lifted up. I then feel like we’re supportive of each other and it just feels warm and fuzzy.
You've experienced some very significant loss in your life. How have those experiences shaped you?
It’s redirected my focus on what’s really important. I think back on the conversations that I’ve had with the people that I’ve lost, and I think about the conversations I wasted complaining about stuff. I'm trying to live with a greater sense of intentionality. It’s not perfect, but I’m trying for more intentionality and focusing on good, deep relationships with important people.
Who can you name as inspirational women that stand out to you in your life? Which female figures inspire you the most?
There are several that I’ve been fortunate enough to have relationships with, and so they stand out to me. The first would have to be Joy, from Oh, Joy! She’s a lifestyle blogger who has developed a brand with Target. She’s got two kids, and she lives this very intentional life. She truly embodies what I meant earlier when I was talking about pursuing the things we love with no abandon.
The second is my friend, Paige, from Bash, Please. We connected years ago, and we’ve always been supportive of each other, and we have shared things even down to contracts. She and her business partner, Kelly, have pushed me and inspired me to unapologetically strive for things that mean something to me and not worry about how this person or that person may take it.
The last would be Jen Gotch, founder of ban.do. She is just so fun, and so quirky, and her product line is totally my jam. She seems to live her life so genuinely, and she's just REAL. The stuff she puts out on social media is real life. And it’s always been very important to me to be myself on social media and not try to portray my brand as something that I’m not. I don’t think that approach is for everybody, and I don’t think I’m for everybody! *laughs* And that's okay!
So much of what we choose to present to others is the polished and glossy version of our lives, but authenticity is extremely rare. Jesi is who she is and she owns it completely. She is an incredibly capable & successful woman who is also REAL. She’s unreservedly honest, and it’s so refreshing. After spending an hour with her I felt inspired to embrace my imperfections, uplift my community, and chase the life I love with reckless abandon.
And Jesi? One day you’re gonna learn to love Benny the dog. I just know it.
Interview by Rachel Deol