We talked to Ashlie Lohner Dance for our Growing Admiration Series because, simply, we admire her. As a young self-employed entrepreneur and avid creator who manages to gracefully wear many hats at once, she offers bright inspiration on creativity, and advice on how to live the juggling life.
Like many of us, Ashlie Lohner Dance is coping with the fetters of being a complex woman with many interests in a world where careers are usually most successful if driven by a single passion.
“I am a mom. I am a calligrapher. I am an art lover. I am a writer. I am a songwriter and a musician. I am a singer. I’m a plushy designer (when the inspiration strikes). I’m a paper snob. I’m a True Crime fanatic. I’m a reality TV enthusiast. I’m a doodler…”
Many of us just give it up. We take one of our passions and forge a career in that thing, letting our other interests trail behind us, waiting to be addressed on the rare leisurely weekend or in our post-retirement freedom.
Ashlie chose a different and, perhaps, a much more taxing path. She chose to make careers out of several of her most fulfilling interests. When I ask Ashlie to describe what she does for a living, she chuckles and says, “I currently have too many jobs.”
As a working copywriter, musician, calligrapher, designer, and mother living in Chicago, IL, she’s pretty much rocking the juggling game. A 31-year-old seasoned urbanite, she is fully engaged in developing a career in each of those passions, and, if I may say so, she’s coming out hugely triumphant in this regard.
Her freelance copywriting career began with writing content for a start-up and has bloomed into writing creative articles; Since graduating from the University of North Texas’s prestigious jazz vocal program, she has fearlessly forayed into the world that is song-writing and vocal performance; Her calligraphy business includes designing invitations, producing custom work, and also jobs like addressing envelopes; And last but not least, she’s mother to a brilliant (and overly imaginative) five-year-old who just started Kindergarten.
It’s such an unusual path to pursue that I immediately asked Ashlie how she came to this multi-career life.
She explains that music has always been her first passion and pursuit. She’s not currently teaching because she’s expecting a baby boy in November. (But lest you think she’s taking a permanent respite, she’s only put it off until January.) However, she’s always had a handful of music students in the past, which is how the self-employed aspect of her career began.
“And then,” she says, “I’ve always enjoyed doing my own thing. So honestly, I’ve never really looked for a job that put me in an office every day. I’ve looked for things that expand outside of that.”
Unlike music, calligraphy began entirely as a hobby. It was simply fun for her—when she was little, she had a lettering book she loved, and, she confesses, she has always been a paper snob. In the beginning, she had friends who asked her to do work, and they recommended Ashlie to other friends. As her network spread, she realized she could do calligraphy to make some money.
And, although she’s a long time word enthusiast, freelance copywriting sort of fell into her lap. She began her work as a startup after she graduated from university and, she admits, “I’m not too bad at it.”
Ashlie adds, “I’m really fortunate to do several things I really love. But, I think I’m a little bit of a pessimist. So when people say, ‘Just do what you love and the money will come,’ I don’t really believe that. It still takes work and dedication.”
When I asked her whether an office job would ever be an option, she hesitated before responding, “If it were the perfect office job…but it’s not in my sights.”
And who needs a 9-to-5 when you can have a schedule like Ashlie’s? From early morning to late night, she’s alternating between her many responsibilities, catching one plate only to toss it up and grab another. Her career allows for an abnormal amount of variation in the day to day, but nonetheless, she fuzzily described her average day for me.
Around 6:00 or 7:00 (sometimes earlier), she gets woken up by her son Pearson, or as she calls him, “a five and a half-year-old alarm clock.” Some days, she lounges in bed for a while, either reading or pretending she’s going to get some more shut-eye. But either way, she eventually gets up, gets Pearson ready, and either her husband or herself takes him to school.
The morning consists of checking emails and writing. Often, that means writing an article from a content brief. As of late, it includes writing 140 character tweets. “I have like three hours of tweets to write today…that’s a lot of tweets,” she informs me.
After lunch, she usually plays some music. Sometimes, she just listens. Lately, she’s been learning new songs and accumulating a repertoire. Or when she has a calligraphy job, she uses this time to work on that.
In the afternoon, she picks up Pearson from school, and she just tries to do something fun with him—even if that’s just being at home, reading—although they really love the museums in Chicago. She tells me, “Lately, I’ve been making dinner because my personal chef decided to graduate business school and get a job…but also, if I know David [her husband] is not going to be home, I take Pearson out for food—He’s really into Chipotle.”
And then, it’s bedtime for the five-year-old. The evenings are when her creative juices really start to flow, so the after-hours often consist of things like songwriting or anything else to satisfy her creative desires.
It’s easy to see that creativity is a driving force in her life. A little scatter-brained, she works a bit like a stereotypical “creative”—doing things on her own time. Sometimes she completes tasks in a flurry; sometimes she takes the entire day to check one item off her to-do list.
“I’m innately a creator,” Ashlie states. “I feel like most of us are, in one way or another, and when you find what you love to create, it’s really difficult to stop.”
Music has always been her primary form of creation—songwriting is truly just the marriage of her love of music and her love of words. However, she discovered that her other creative pursuits, like calligraphy and plushy-designing, began initially because she needed an outlet where she didn’t feel like she was hitting the same obstacles over and over. She expands, “For so long, I was just doing music, and I’ve learned that other things can help me out of the ruts we get into as artists. So that’s why I diversified.”
Ashlie thinks that a lot of the pull she feels to creation came from her parents. She tells me that both of her parents are extremely creative, albeit in very different ways. Her mom specifically had a knack and love for creating beauty. She did this in small ways like keeping the house pristine and playing music, and in larger ways like her interior design business. One of the smaller things her mom created was her garden.
When Ashlie was young, her mom made her work in the yard (quite the miserable chore in the Texas summer heat). Her mom knew all the names to the flowers, and she would trim and take them inside because she loved their beauty so much. Ashlie describes, “I feel like the combo of hard work and seeing the fruits of our family labors resulted in beauty playing a large part of how I view the world”—and how she understands what it means to create.
But, as gratifying as creating is, it’s not the only thing that makes Ashlie happy. In the day to day grind, she gets a lot of joy out of relationships—mostly importantly with her family. For her, connecting with them every single day is a huge part of her daily life. And, she admits, “I, with only very little sense of shame, get happiness from Diet Coke.”
It would have been a shame to let our conversation end without asking her for advice for other career women (or men) who are interested in self-employment and the art of wearing multiple hats—it’s counsel I certainly need. When I asked, she did not disappoint.
“I’m going to give advice that I’m not always good at following, and that David [her husband] loves to say. ‘Do your best, forget the rest.’ Honestly, I think most of doing your own thing is just showing up everyday…We live in a world that’s inundated with people who are doing amazing things—which is beautiful. But sometimes I take that and internalize it and let it get me down instead of letting it inspire me.
“But if I show up every day, even though it may feel like I’m just going through the motions rather than creating something wonderful and amazing, I’m still doing my job and making progress…
“We can’t expect every day to be a day where we churn out a life-changing and wonderful product. All we can do is our best. And we should let that be enough.”