Annie Lee: “Make Time for Yourself”

If we pay attention to how our days go, we can always find five minutes for someone who needs them. We can make ourselves available by giving full attention to the moment in the moment. If we can all give our time to someone or something, not by distraction but by full engagement, the world […]

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If we pay attention to how our days go, we can always find five minutes for someone who needs them. We can make ourselves available by giving full attention to the moment in the moment. If we can all give our time to someone or something, not by distraction but by full engagement, the world around us would be richer, fuller and more creative — all of which will come back to ourselves to better our own lives.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Annie Lee.

Annie Lee, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, serves as President of International Interior Design Association’s New York Chapter (IIDA NY), a professional organization that unites interior design professionals in the New York area. Lee leads initiatives to provide New York chapter members with networking opportunities, educational events, and charitable initiatives.

Passionate about fostering a strong design community for members, Lee has been a member of IIDA since 2008, and has a track record of dedicating her efforts to a variety of the organization’s initiatives, including DEX NYC® (Design Exchange NYC). Starting her career as a fashion buyer, Lee’s inherent creativity and curatorial design eye has translated perfectly to the architecture and interior design realm.

Lee is also Principal of New York City-based architectural and interior design firm ENV (formerly known as Environetics), and brings diverse design experience.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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 was a fashion buyer before entering the world of interior design. I was always in the realm of design and surrounded by creativity. I came to ENV by pure coincidence about 20 years ago from the fashion industry, and started out with a three-month, part-time opportunity while I was recovering from a kickboxing injury. I became immersed in the design world and decided to learn more about interior design.

You can apply the same eye and design sense from fashion to interior design, the only difference being the medium. Instead of dressing a person, you’re dressing a room or building. That aspect of it appealed to me. What truly drew me to design, though, and what keeps me excited and passionate about it, is the human connection — the ability to affect real change in people’s lives. The lengthy life cycle of architecture, compared to clothing, where styles and trends can quickly become outdated, means that everything you do will have a lasting impact. You must be conscious of the space you’re designing; not only how it will be used for the here and now, but also sustained for future generations.

During this journey, I also became passionate about fostering a strong design community. I joined the International Interior Design Association’s New York Chapter (IIDA NY) as a member in 2008, and I’ve dedicated my time and efforts to a variety of the organization’s initiatives including DEX NYC® (Design Exchange NYC). In 2019, I was elected Chapter President and began the year with an emphasis on providing more community and education initiatives for our members with the tagline, “Stronger together, Building beyond.”

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love books! Many of those I have read made a great impact on me. While it was very difficult to pick just one, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein comes to my mind as I think of a hopeful future that we will rebuild together after this challenging time. No matter what happens in our lives, I believe that mother nature and the universe will always support our lives and wellbeing. This is a simple truth that gives us faith, hope, and courage that I didn’t understand when I first read this book in elementary school, but realized as I eventually learned more about life.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have 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.

The interior design community is often described as open-minded, funny, warm, creative, and resourceful. I don’t believe there is any other community as caring and as sharing as the International Interior Design Association’s New York Chapter (IIDA NY), and I am so proud to be part of it.

We had a number of events planned for the spring season to help empower New York-based design professionals. But in the beginning of March, our executive board decided to postpone the spring events. We quickly adapted to the “new normal” and introduced a series of virtual events for our members to stay connected online during this time of uncertainty. Our first event via Zoom conferencing, “Working from Home — Managing Your Time, Technology & Yourself,” drew positive reactions from our members looking for messages of hope during the pandemic.

Since then, we decided to provide additional virtual events with educational opportunities for all age groups — kindergarteners through senior professionals — conceived through our eight different education committees, including a Design Camp workshop program for youth groups. In the meantime, I’d like to offer these five examples that can help us to remain hopeful during the Coronavirus crisis:

  1. Keep an open dialogue. We maintain staff meetings every Monday and review weekly updates and small project team meetings on a daily basis. This is important for maintaining an open means of communication.
  2. Acknowledge your team members. Scheduling Zoom video calls has given us an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level from our kids, pets, favorite artwork hanging on the wall or the architectural Lego collection in the bookcases. We will feel closer and more together coming out of this on the other side (hopefully sooner than later).
  3. Opening doors. For our members preparing for the WELL AP Exam, we’re offering a free online study group. In this time of uncertainty about our physical and mental health, the IIDA New York Chapter leadership is especially honored to offer this year’s study sessions free of charge. We hope that learning more about holistic design for human health will fulfill our members and help them deliver the most meaningful spaces to their clients
  4. Connect through creativity. Group expressions of creativity foster a sense of community and belonging For example, IIDA NY is planning virtual events for our members such as virtual hip-hop dancing and paint night. Paint supplies will be delivered to our members’ homes, and an instructor will infuse the latest styles of street dancing with calculated choreography.
  5. Acknowledge your colleagues. We become closer to others by noticing the small things. Scheduling Zoom video calls has given us an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level. We took a moment and acknowledged our kids or pets as well as our favorite artwork hanging on the wall or even architectural Lego collection in the bookcase. We will be even more unified coming out of this crisis (hopefully sooner rather than later).

From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I believe that staying engaged within your community and surrounding yourself with positive people, even if it’s virtually for the time-being, is beneficial during anxious moments in our lives. I’m also an advocate for pursuing creative outlets whether individually or with a group of people. During times of crisis, creating a sense of community and belonging through shared experiences is more important than ever. Here are my five tips to maintain the connectivity of community:

  1. Participate in a creative outlet: Partake in live, virtual events, such as virtual paint nights, which call for participants to harness their inner artist from the comfort of their home. We all need ways to express ourselves creatively, which can be done at home through cooking, writing, or listening to music.
  2. Volunteer for your Community: It’s truly better to give than to receive. We choose to volunteer for a number of reasons. For some, it offers the chance to give something back to the community or make a difference to the people around them. For others, it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. But best of all, volunteering allows you to feel connected to your community and feel involved.
  3. Peer Support: I’ve always believed that surrounding yourself with supportive colleagues and peers is one of the top reasons for success in any profession. Everyone wants to be acknowledged for their hard work, and it’s important to recognize the efforts of our colleagues through small, simple, and heartfelt gestures. By encouraging team shoutouts, you’ll ensure that no small job goes unnoticed.
  4. Reaching Out to Loved Ones: We have advanced forms of technology at our fingerprints and it’s easier now more than ever to reconnect with family or friends. Simple acts such as sending a text message or sharing an Instagram post can help brighten someone’s day. We’re all experiencing a unique set of challenges and personal gestures of communication can make a big difference to someone’s day.
  5. Make Time for Yourself: Last but not least, I start my morning with yoga and meditation. It helps clear my mind and keeps me centered. It’s also important for me to have some alone time before I switch gears into work. Everyone has moments of stress and anxiety in their professional and personal lives which makes it important to take a step back and focus inward.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

The best antidote for overcoming anxiety is keeping yourself stimulated with an activity or recreation that brings you happiness, peace, relaxation. Personally, I love practicing yoga and meditation with various breathing exercises. I also enjoy watching movies, especially comedies. I’ve found that indulgences in simple pleasures such as coffee or a small piece of chocolate brings an unexpected moment of joy. Human connection always helps people feel less anxious. Picking up the phone and reaching out to a loved one who lives in another city, state, or country, can restore the warmth and kindness that get us to move forward. It’s the thought of someone that means the most to creating a human connection.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I can write two separate books about my grandmother and mother, who both gave life-inspiring lessons. My grandmother taught me early on that, “Everything in life happens for reasons even if some things don’t make sense right there and then.” My mom often said, “The greatest risk in life is not to take one.”

I can always look back and testify that these two lessons — from two great women in my life — are absolutely true. I set out to become a French linguist while I studied in college, but then I turned to a career as a fashion buyer, and eventually tumbled into interior design — initially for three months, which became 20 years (and counting). I would have never been introduced to fashion design, had I not studied the French language in Paris. I would have never decided to come to New York City, if I wasn’t studying fashion. And I would have never been introduced to interior design if I hadn’t been injured and took time off from fashion buying. Things will ultimately end up making sense, even if we might not see it in the moment. As long as we are ready to take the risks to move forward, the paths will reveal themselves.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to start a movement called: “Yes, I have time for you.” So often, we greet each other, “How are you?” and answer each other with, “Good. Busy!” We might not mean much by this answer, other than stating the simple fact that we are busy. With our lives engulfed in various technology, activities, work obligations, and home responsibilities; we are all so truly busy. But, why can’t we make time, even if it’s just five minutes, for someone who needs it — including friends, colleagues or neighbors?

I once worked with an older gentleman, a partner at a firm. Whenever I asked him if I could have five minutes of his time to go over a few things, he would say, “yes.” One day I thanked him for always making time for me. He responded, “I can always make five minutes for you. Do you know why? Because I have 24 hours a day every day, that’s 1,440 minutes I have every day!”

If we pay attention to how our days go, we can always find five minutes for someone who needs them. We can make ourselves available by giving full attention to the moment in the moment. If we can all give our time to someone or something, not by distraction but by full engagement, the world around us would be richer, fuller and more creative — all of which will come back to ourselves to better our own lives.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

You can follow my Instagram handle at @annieleeNY or my LinkedIn page here: Annie Lee.

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