How I Thrive: Be A Light Collective Founder Marisa Donnelly

How I Thrive takes an inside look at founders, entrepreneurs and leaders and the behind-the-scenes self-care work they do to in order to live balanced, happy lives. Today's edition is with Be A Light Collective founder Marisa Donnelly, who gets up at 3 a.m. — no, we're not kidding — and believes that self-care is a glass of water.

Name: Marisa Donnelly

Age: 27

City: San Diego, California

Company: Be A Light Collective, a virtual and San Diego-based educational services company that's re-shaping what traditional "education" looks like through a relationship-based learning lens.

Role: Founder & CEO 

Beyond the role: Writer and editor, certified teacher and writing coach, Midwest gal with a California heart, a bonus mom to a sweet eleven-year-old boy, and at my core, a big-hearted twenty-something who's passionate about sharing my journey with authenticity, vulnerability, and a "bright side" approach. I'm a big advocate for dreams, for self-love, for inclusion, for conscious parenting, for special needs rights, for believing in love and building better relationships, and for sharing your heart with those around you.

Morning routine:

Honestly, my morning routine is a little crazy, especially in quarantine. Ever since the shelter in place hit California, I had to pivot and balance a new schedule of a full-time business owner, distance learning teacher, question-answerer, sandwich-maker, and main caregiver of my boyfriend's son — my boyfriend is an essential worker and out of the house from 7 to 4 p.m. every day.

The change was challenging, but it brought me so much closer to my son. Since I spend all day with him juggling my work-from-home schedule, his playdates, his schooling, and pockets of fun in-between work, I've started a morning routine of getting up before 3 a.m. every day to get work done. From 3 to 7 a.m. I have an uninterrupted block of time where I can focus on myself, my career goals, my never-ending inbox, and my personal writing. This has been instrumental, not only for my sanity but for my relationships.

Because I get up early, I'm able to disconnect at different points during the day and really invest in the special time I have with my son. I also get to "unplug" every night at 5 p.m. to spend family time and not be stressed about work since I've spent the wee hours of the morning in overdrive. My routine is simple: Get up when it's dark, feed my dog (he's a midnight snacker), write, work, pour myself a cup of coffee, have a breakfast snack, stretch, listen to music, answer emails, write, and then get up with my boys to start their mornings.

The first thing I do after work: 

Asking a business owner when they "wrap up their day" is such a funny question, because for many of us, the day never "ends." I used to have no set routine and worked on and off all day. That's still sort of the case, except that since I wake up so early, I now try to finish my day's work by 5 p.m. because that's when my boyfriend typically gets off of work and we start dinner together.

I'm big on finding time where I'm "unplugged" and focused on my family. I've also struggled with creating work-life balance and boundaries in the past, so this has been a barrier I've created to prevent myself from burning out and to also prioritize what matters most: my relationships. After work, we typically eat dinner, go on a beach/dog walk, play games or watch a family movie, and share the ups and downs of our days. It's so important to me to create these little "routines" and special moments in my family, as they are moments that have imprinted on me from my own childhood.

Dinner ritual: 

We typically eat around 6 p.m. I love to cook and have really grown in my skills. I went from burning eggs back when I was eighteen to experimenting with flavors sans recipes — it's a big deal!
I think that part of my passion for cooking has come with stepping into my motherhood role. I love the feeling of giving to my family and seeing the simple happiness on their face when they're eating something they like. I also really value time spent together as a family at the table. This is when we talk about our days, laugh, and truly build memories that stay. I know this because I still remember these times with my parents and sister when I was young. On average, we'll go out once per week, especially to places that are dog-friendly so that we can bring our pup along and enjoy an afternoon or night out, too.

Nighttime routine:

Because I wake up crazy early each day, my bedtime ritual resembles that of my eleven-year-old. After reading with him, I'll usually get in pajamas, brush my teeth alongside him, tuck him in, pray and sing a bedtime song, and then head to bed myself. On a rare occasion, my boyfriend and I will watch a show on Netflix. Most of the time we talk for a few minutes and then I fall asleep literally seconds after closing my eyes, hah! 

Self-care guilty pleasure:

I don't have a self-care routine, per se, but I have little things I do that I love. These include taking long showers, sipping on PureBoost energy drinks when I'm feeling a lull in the day, soaking up the sun at the beach, laying in fresh-from-the-dryer bedsheets, taking my dog on a walk, cuddling in our outdoor hammock, dancing while I cook dinner, singing in the shower, treating myself to rainbow sherbert ice cream, and buying books, planner/organization tools, or colored pens for writing in my journal.

Workday self-care hack: 

This might sound silly, but one of the best self-care hacks is to keep track of when you have meals, drinks, and water throughout the day. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in completing my projects or answering emails that hours will go by before I've eaten. I'll start to feel nauseous, unfocused, or dehydrated and it's something that could have been easily avoided if I was paying attention to my needs!

Don't let your work get in the way of your day-to-day habits. A simple hack is to put a cup of water within reach or grab little snacks that you can throw in a purse or bag (even before you sit down or leave the house). That way you're always ready! I also set timers so that I can be reminded to get up, walk around, or stretch. My dog is helpful for this. I'll literally schedule pockets of time where I'm taking him for a walk, simply to break up my work. Another simple but useful self-care hack is to put your computer in an area where you can stand and work to break up how long you're sitting. This is a great way to activate your back and core muscles, as well as refocus your mind.

How do you define self-care?

Self-care looks different for every single person. Sometimes self-care looks like putting myself first as I, like most mothers, tend to put my family's needs and dreams before my own.
Sometimes self-care looks like creating a balance between work and play, between my job and my social time, or between my son's emotions and my own. Sometimes self-care looks like saying "yes" to an opportunity that brings me joy and excitement; sometimes it means saying "no" to something I can't feasibly do or promise. Sometimes self-care looks like self-indulgence, like ice cream from the carton and a show on the TV.
Sometimes self-care is exercise, like running up and down the streets by my house or stretching because I want my body and mind to align. Sometimes self-care is working hard because I know I want to rest later. Sometimes it's resting because I need to reenergize to work hard again. Sometimes self-care is doing a lot, and sometimes it's doing nothing. I think, for me, I'm still defining and discovering what it means to care for myself — as a business owner, as a bonus mom, and as a human. At the core, self-care is a delicate balance of selfishness and selflessness as I learn the value of empowering others to put themselves first, too. If there's anything I've learned, though, it's that there's no "right" or "wrong" way to practice self-care. You just have to figure out what works for you.

Favorite childhood toy or hobby: 

As a child, I was always fascinated with books, planners, organized notebooks and perfectly-lettered writing along the lines. I knew, even when I was little, that I was destined to be a teacher or writer — the excitement I felt when holding a ballpoint pen was palpable. I was always inspired by blank pages, by fill-in-the-line notebooks, glitter gel pens, and by the opportunities a new journal could bring. My imagination started running wild when I was five, and I don't think it's stopped since.

As I look back on my life, I think one of the most memorable moments was when my fourth-grade teacher handed each student in her class a notebook and said, "This is yours. Write." It was a moment that showed me the power of words and what I could do with them. And that power has resonated and stayed with me ever since. 

State of your (email) inbox: 

Oof. Email is something else. I have several inboxes I manage: work, business email, personal email, and "social" email (for newsletters, promotions, and coupons).

I also am a founder of a vertical dedicated to empowering journeys of motherhood, and co-founder of a resource platform for blended families, both of which have their own inboxes as well. It's a lot to manage (and I try to keep each inbox at 50 or less — when possible), but I've also given myself a lot of grace in this area over the years. I will answer emails, but I'll also determine what's worth my energy and what isn't, and act accordingly. When it comes to an email "hack," if you will, I'm a big believer in the "unread first" inbox sort and marking anything unread that I want to address later, "read" or delete if it isn't important.

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Illustration by Megan Behrendt

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