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Andrea Heuston: “Life is not going to be as fast paced”

We’ve been presented with opportunity to slow down and focus on what’s important. Life is not going to be as fast paced. I’ve always been in a race — with myself — and on a constant treadmill. No more. We’re focusing more on what is of value in our lives now instead of needing more, more, more. We’re treasuring […]

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We’ve been presented with opportunity to slow down and focus on what’s important.

Life is not going to be as fast paced. I’ve always been in a race — with myself — and on a constant treadmill. No more. We’re focusing more on what is of value in our lives now instead of needing more, more, more. We’re treasuring the connections and small moments and not the material things. For me that’s been huge.


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Heuston, founder and CEO of Artitudes Design in Issaquah WA (a suburb of Seattle), a 25-year-old experiential design firm that works with Fortune 500 companies (Microsoft, Starbucks and Expedia to name a few) as well as startups and non-profits. She’s also the host of the Lead Like a Woman podcast where she interviews top women leaders as they share their stories on life and leadership. Andrea has been living and working at her beach house 130 miles from Seattle since March, sharing her space with her husband, two dogs, a cat, and two teenage boys.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I came back from my junior year abroad in Denmark and was in between my junior and senior year of high school. I got a summer internship at an energy systems engineering firm as a technical illustrator and I loved it! At the end of the summer when the engineering firm found out that I only had to go to school for one class early in the morning they offered me a full-time job. For the next year I went to high school in the morning for an hour for the credit I needed, then to my job at the engineering firm, and in the evenings, I went to a local community college to start getting credits for college. During this time, I was accepted to pre-law at a private college in Washington State. But my family’s circumstances changed — my father lost his job — and they were no longer able to afford the private school fees for the college I’d been accepted to. Despite the scholarship that I’d been offered, I could not make up the difference. So I switched to the University of Washington and put myself through college at night while working at the engineering firm.

From 1988 to 1995 I worked my way up to running the creative services department and had seven designers who reported to me. In mid-1995 the company was purchased by a French company. They brought me in one day and said we need you to lay off your entire team as the new firm has their own team in France. At 24 I was totally unprepared for something like that. The day after I laid my team off, they laid me off. I never saw it coming. Two days later they called me back and said we made a mistake — we need to do some rebranding and we need you and a team member to come back. I jumped in my car, drove 60 minutes to Olympia, the state capitol, and got a business license. Thanks to a 5,000 dollars loan from my Grandma Gerry that I used to buy a Macintosh computer and business cards Artitudes Layout & Design was born. The next day I called the firm back and told them I’d come back and bring my teammate Sandy, but that they would be hiring my company, not me. I decided then that I was going to start my business and not study law.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

In 2008, I started the year off in the emergency room. In March I had surgery. In April I had more surgery. On May 30th, I became very ill. Three days, one misdiagnosis, three emergency rooms, two ambulance rides, and one very concerned husband later, I was in surgery yet again. I didn’t wake up from that surgery for nearly 3 weeks. I had aspirated on the operating table, contracted pneumonia, which then turned into Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS. ARDS is similar to SARS. It turns the lungs to stone. The doctors put me into a medically induced coma until my lungs could recover. At the time, ARDS had an over 70% fatality rate.

I don’t remember anything from that time. Except for some very vivid, medication-induced dreams! My husband and family remember it all. I woke up and met Dr. Stuart — the head of the hospital. (You know you’re really sick when the head of the hospital takes you on personally!)

Dr. Stuart said to me, “I’m so happy to meet you because I didn’t really think I’d ever get a chance to.” I had no idea how ill I’d been until that moment. It was a long road back to health, and I missed over 8 months of work in 2008.

During that time, something amazing happened. The enthusiasm and passion I had breathed into Artitudes Design kept the company alive — without me! My incredible team of talented, creative and yes, enthusiastic heroes pulled together and saved the day!

Prior to this experience, I was a micromanager, a control freak. I used to touch at least 80% of all projects that came through our doors, but because of my illness, I was forced to step back and see where I could truly add the most value to the company, and where I could let others shine with their skills and enthusiasm. It’s changed the way I lead, and I believe that both Artitudes and I are better for that decision.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I started a podcast in March, right after we went into lockdown in Washington state! In Lead Like a Woman I interview female leaders and entrepreneurs who share their tips on life, leadership and entrepreneurship. I’m passionate about elevating women’s stories and empowering them to help empower other people. I firmly believe that all voices need to be heard and now is the time to do it, when people have time to listen and talk and have conversations that are relevant. I’m loving it and hearing some freaking amazing stories that are inspiring, motivating and energizing me, and I hope they will do the same for others.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My Grandma Gerry was a powerful woman for her time. She raised two boys on her own after her husband left her. She needed a job so marched down to Boeing and got a job operating a huge computer back in the day when computers were the size of a room. She worked full time and worked her butt off to raise her children in the 40s and 50s.

When I spoke to my grandmother about starting my own business, she was hugely supportive. She loaned me 5,000 dollars to start the business which was a huge amount of money to her. I paid her back, with interest. She insisted on interest. Smart lady.

She was a very powerful force in my life for a very long time. She was never a victim. I really respect that about her. A lot of people are victims in this world, and they look at life as being bad to them. That wasn’t my grandmother. She owned her own experience and pulled her own bootstraps up. She was also very opinionated back when women weren’t allowed to have opinions. Whether or not she and I agreed on everything, and we didn’t, I looked up to her and valued everything she said. I had the honor and privilege of living with her as a young adult when she was recovering from rotator cuff surgery. It was such an incredible six months. It was at the time when I was becoming who I am and looking at life differently than my parents had shown me. And my grandma believed I could do anything, literally anything. She was my biggest supporter.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I think the biggest challenge is figuring out how to be as fully present in each area of my life as I need to be. When you have two kids and a husband at home and two dogs and a cat underfoot, meals to make and schedules to keep, you’re running a business that takes more than 40 hours a week and hosting and producing a podcast, there’s a lot to figure out. And not just how to keep all the balls in the air, but how to give everybody the time and attention they need and deserve.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I practice time blocking. By dedicating a certain number of hours to just one task, you “block off” your time (and your mind) from other projects — and the myriad of other demands on your attention. I block time every day to answer emails and other communications. I block time for cooking. I even block time for exercise. It’s important for me to get each of those things done each day so I create space in my calendar that can’t be taken up by something else. It’s a nice way to be productive but also helps create your priorities. I walk for at least an hour every day — that time is sacrosanct, vital for my mental and physical well-being– and my family and team know it.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

Pre-COVID my company specialized in designing and executing corporate events — from visual concepts, to presentation design to speaker training and support. Obviously in-person events aren’t happening anymore so, like many companies, we and our clients have been forced to pivot. We’ve moved a large national corporate event completely online and two others are currently underway. We took a big hit at the beginning of the pandemic and business was down about 40%. We’ve since gained some traction with our virtual event work and we’re now down about 25%. My biggest ongoing challenge is regaining market share with virtual event work, reinventing ourselves and finding new service offerings for clients.

The other big challenge is managing employee morale as many people are feeling isolated and lonely during this time.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Rather than pulling back, I’m leaning in. I’m using the time my team has on their hands to focus hard on and invest in training. What new skills can they learn, what services can we add that we haven’t offered before, what new ideas can we bring to clients, what can make us more relevant for the time? I’m also investing in talent. I’ve hired biz dev manager, a VP of operations and a social media expert. We’ll be casting a wider net for clients. We’ve always focused on Fortune 500 companies. Now we’re also looking at small and mid -sized businesses. How can we help them get their messages out there and influence audiences?

For employee morale, in addition to our weekly scheduled team meetings and check ins, I check in one-on-one with my team regularly. I also send small gifts once every two to three weeks. So far, my team has received UberEats cards, treats from Seattle Chocolate Company, plants and grocery gift cards. But beyond sending gifts I’m making sure we’re staying connected to each other. Recently we did a virtual cooking class with chefs in Italy which was incredibly interactive and fun. We got to see each other’s kitchens and share our successes and failures and put COVID out of our minds for a while.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Give everyone their own designated space. The beach house is about 30% smaller than our home in the Seattle area so with all of us home all the time, we are more on top of each other than we are used to. In the beginning I was working at the kitchen table. It quickly became obvious that it wasn’t working. Teenage boys eat a lot and a lot of the time! They were constantly coming into the kitchen and I was constantly shushing them or telling them they couldn’t be there because I was on a call. It took my focus away from what I was doing, and it felt punitive to them.

We quickly realized we needed to create and delineate our own spaces so we could all be successful. We’re fortunate that we can. I’ve now set up my office in the guest bedroom. And the boys are working from theirs. My husband works from our bedroom, or his car — he actually loves taking calls from his car! I also allowed the boys to make the spaces their own. Previously I hadn’t let them decorate their bedrooms as they doubled as guest bedrooms. I realized I had to let go of my OCD tendencies to want to have everything perfect as it was much more important to have them settled and comfortable. I did however draw the line at letting my youngest paint his room black!

Clear communication is key. I let the boys know when I’m available and when I can’t be disturbed. Since they’re teenagers and I’m up long before them in the mornings, I’ll let them know the night before what my schedule looks like for the next day, so they don’t barge in when I’m on a call or recording my podcast. That way they know they can’t interrupt and that they can make decisions without me. Conversely, I know I can’t go knock on my youngest son’s door at 4:00pm as he’s in the middle of his online driver’s ed course.

Give the kids the tools they need to be successful. That meant something as simple as getting a booster so the wifi signal would be strong in the boys’ bedrooms. But it also meant recognizing that our youngest son, who had always been a good student, struggled early in with online learning. We realized he needed help with structure and a rhythm — whether that meant waking him up before a 9am class or blocking time for him to work on school work every evening before playing Xbox with his friends.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

I’m fortunate that we are riding out COVID at our beach house which is truly my happy place. So just being here brings me a measure of serenity. And my daily walks are a sanity-saver.

As a family we are playing cards in the evening — one favorite is a game my grandfather taught me called Knock. What’s great is that it’s not forced family time like it might have been when we were home in Seattle and managing crazy schedules and time together was harder to come by and had to be planned. The boys are often now the ones to suggest card nights.

They are also making dinner a few nights a week. It’s great to see them take ownership over it, including researching recipes online together. And they get to fix things that I wouldn’t normally. Recently they fixed steak and burgers which I never do as I don’t eat meat. But they also made sure there was something for mom.

There’s a lot of give and take and we’re trying to give each other lots of grace and not worry about small annoyances.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

We’ve been presented with opportunity to slow down and focus on what’s important

Life is not going to be as fast paced. I’ve always been in a race — with myself — and on a constant treadmill. No more. We’re focusing more on what is of value in our lives now instead of needing more, more, more. We’re treasuring the connections and small moments and not the material things. For me that’s been huge.

Personal connections are becoming deeper

One of my employees has a virtual family happy hour every Thursday. There are about 40 people who can join and usually they have at least 25. They are connecting in a way they’ve never connected before; they’re learning more about each other. I joined a virtual happy hour of girlfriends from high school who I had only talked to periodically and it was the highlight of my month. I got to really connect with them and learn about their lives.

Strangers around the world are connecting and sharing messages of support and positivity

Whenever I want a boost, I check out the Facebook group ‘View From My Window’, which is just as it sounds — people from all over the world posting pictures from their windows during lock down. It has over 2.3 million members. But beyond sharing the view, people share their own stories and get messages of support in return from the community. And a sense of hope that we’re not alone in all of this.

Pandemic pivoting has led to a rise in creativity

So many businesses had had to reinvent themselves, and the result has been incredible creativity and new ways of doing things. In Seattle, a local restaurateur is offering themed dinner boxes — one was cleverly Hamilton-themed to coincide with the release of the movie. Another high-end iconic Seattle restaurant turned their parking lot into a drive-in movie theatre and served burgers and popcorn. The Table Less Traveled, a local tour operator specializing in culinary tours to Europe, brought the chefs into people’s homes via live, online cooking classes. A friend of mine started Boxperience, an experience in a box that connects people and brings them together in a virtual way. Non-profits are learning how to take their auctions and events online and in many cases are making more money than ever. We and our clients have found ways of leveraging technology in new ways to creative immersive online experiences to replace the in-person events.

Many new businesses and innovation will be born out of COVID

Adversity is often the launch pad for new businesses.I started my business as a result of being laid off and deciding I didn’t ever want anyone in control of my future again. Many businesses were also founded during the 2008 financial crisis — WhatsApp, Venmo, Groupon, Instagram and Uber to name a few. I predict that many people who have lost their jobs because of COVID will take this an opportunity to become entrepreneurs and we will see a rash of amazing new businesses with ideas for innovative tools and services.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Focus on small touchpoints and small acts of kindness as they can have a huge impact on the recipient and won’t overwhelm you.

I now Facetime time my parents every week to see how they’re doing and if there’s anything I can do to help. My dad is high risk so not at all comfortable going into businesses and recently he needed a new prescription filled and my mom just had knee replacement surgery so couldn’t drive. I went online and found a pharmacy that had a drive through and accepted his insurance. It was easy enough for me to do but would have been time-consuming, frustrating and anxiety-inducing for him.

Pick somebody to send a note of encouragement to. Who doesn’t love getting a hand-written note in the mail? I use Punk Post, an online tool, as it makes it so easy. You pick a card, type in your message and a handwriting artist writes your card and mails it for you. You don’t need to leave your house; you’re supporting artists and you’re going beyond a text or an email to let someone know they’re not alone and you care.

Give yourself and others some grace. Everyone is in the same position right now. We’re creating the roadmap while we’re driving! Cats go where they want to. Dogs bark! Toddlers cry! Teenagers whine. Technology can be temperamental. Signals can get crossed. Remember that everyone is facing challenges right now. Remember when you thought your baby crying in the restaurant was the loudest sound on earth? And it wasn’t. The same goes right now. If the distraction is big and loud, acknowledge and move on. Make sure to laugh at yourself right now as well. There is no need to be so hard on yourself — there’s enough stress in the world as it is.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Happiness is the place between too much and too little.” — Finnish proverb.

It’s so true. In my life I’ve been a striver. If I think about where I’m happiest and the most comfortable, it’s where I’m not having to worry too much about my everyday needs but also not worrying about bigger needs. I’m happiest when I have what I need but not too much.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreaheuston/

Lead Like a Woman: http://leadlikeawoman.biz

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


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