Allow your grief to have an endless expiration date : I have learned grief does not come with its own check list nor is it linear. It is not something you can rid of, it is something that permeates within you and will blanket who you are to become, forever. Don’t try to force it into a box. Let it runs its course.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives. How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Kate Adams.
Ashley Kate Adams is a Broadway / Television & Film Actress, Producer, Educator and newly Best-Selling author who calls New York City her creative home. She first created her Production Company, AKA Studio Productions, in 2011 in response to her abrupt Broadway closing, and in the past decade she has been responsible for helping to develop & cultivate the careers of hundreds of artists & their entertainment properties. Her book, #BYOP: Be Your Own Producer is now sharing these methods & lessons with the greater world, inspiring artists to take charge of their own careers & lead in their own artistic endeavors.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you so much for welcoming me to join you in conversation! I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky into a family of performing artists. I am the oldest of three & almost everyone in my immediate & extended family is a performer or musician of some kind! Growing up around the Holidays we could have as many as 10 different shows happening in rotation within just my immediate family. You could always find me at the dance studio, backstage, or in the house of a local theatre or rehearsing at my performing arts high school. I had such an exciting childhood full of music, love & opportunities to express myself! We always joke that “showbiz” just happens to be the “family business”.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I do believe at this point in my life it is, “This too shall pass”. I think this life quote is a wonderful remembrance of presence; whether you are trying to remember to hold on through challenging times in life, like through the bowels of grief, or to remember to be present in life’s most joyful moments. I think when things are going great in life we tend to almost speed up inside and “want more” . But when things are bad, we want to either not acknowledge the pain or numbness. Because the pain hurts so much, we want it to be over as quickly as possible. The quickest way through I’ve found is to remain present in the good or bad and remember “this too shall pass”.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Well I appreciate that. Thank you!
I think the three top qualities I possess are perseverance, empathy & the ability to pivot, quickly.
- Perseverance: Many good things in my life have happened only because I kept bouncing back again after “defeat”. This has been the most notable and repetitive “action” of my life. Nothing has ever been easy or handed to me, ever. Following my childhood dreams from being raised in the performing arts, most directly put, I wanted to be on Broadway. I auditioned for one of the most competitive musical theatre schools & was granted entry, but from the waitlist. I physically drove hours to the school, made an appearance, and thanked the head of the program for allowing me to be on the waitlist. Looking back, it was exceeding clear of what was to become of me. A most notable act of perseverance for me would be how my body & soul responded to my big Broadway debut. Two years into moving to New York City, after auditioning my tail off, I was welcomed to make my debut in the Tony-Award Winning Revival of La Cage Aux Folles. I learned the show for two weeks in a rehearsal room with my dance captain and was so excited to join the company in April of 2011. Opening night went off without a hitch! It was so exciting to experience my childhood dreams coming true! And then one of my biggest life lessons came, after my second show (a matinee performance) we would be told that the show would be closing in a month. My idea of how I would receive security in the industry completely dissolved into thin air. I quickly learned the harsh reality that there was no such thing as “making it”. So I responded by creating my own production company, AKA Studio Productions, to create opportunity for myself and others. It was a rebellious act of perseverance and showing up against “the system”. I was no longer only going to only serve a machine, I was going to get my hands more dirty and create a platform to allow myself and others to consistently create.
- Empathy: Having empathy is the main quality that allows me into the sacred space to do my work as a creative. It is specifically what allows me to meet with my creative consulting clients (#BYOP) or artists on a project where they are at in their creative process or moment. It’s all about listening to them and aiding them wherever they are in that particular moment in time and asserting our next move or response from there. I always have to place myself in their shoes because that is what encourages people to be the most self-sustaining and to aid them in finding their own voice and confidence. I would like to believe this is also my superpower as a producer. I listen and experience content from the audience’s perspective to make many decisions. I do this because sometimes my taste matters to “guide” but how it is experienced or relieved by the audience is what will always win. I also can empathize with my artists because I have shared the stage or a creative experience with many of them. I first learned true empathy from being an actor. We literally put on someone else’s shoes (or high-heels) to share their stories.
- The ability to pivot, quickly: It’s funny, when having to pivot quickly, I feel a million things on the inside. I never feel this is something that I am “good at” per say, but in reflection, I see that I am able to adapt quickly and move! When the pandemic hit, I was launching the fundraiser for my feature film “Boy Hero”, which I am the writer and lead producer of. This film is inspired by the comic book trial of 1954. Everything was ready to begin. Bank account & LLC ready to go, developmental funds in that account, producers united for a common goal and I kid you not, the day before New York City shut down, we were filming our fundraising campaign in the Queens Library. I quickly had to assert & grieve what I thought would be of my next two years .
About a week in the shutdown, I realized it was not at all the appropriate time for me to continue to push for this project. I had to gently lean into the breaks and make a sharp turn. That turn is what has led me to speak with you today. I used my time to reelect on my production companies creative consulting brand #BYOP: Be Your Own Producer and began to share those lessons and turn them into a book! Thank goodness when the opportunity presented itself I had an outline ready to go. After listening to the universe and my community, they both told me what they needed from me and I am grateful I was able to produce it.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
I do. I would be honored to. In 2016 I unfortunately lost my amazing father, Ernie Adams, to a brief battle with cancer while also incurring a large professional and creative loss at the same time. Both happened to take place in Louisville, Kentucky when I was 28. Talk about having a “Saturn Returns”.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
The scariest part of the event was the fear associated of living without my Father. The fear of losing him. The fear of missing his presence in my life. The “fear of the unknown” was the big scary monster which seeps out into everything else. For me it manifested in anxiety, which Claire Bidwell Smith says is the missing stage of “grief”. With losing a parent, you don’t know how you are to live without them because you have never had to function without them before. It’s one of the great givens of your world, and when you tragically loose one, especially at a young age, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how you will be able to function in your daily life without them. I was afraid I simply would not be strong enough to function. I was afraid that I would be in a perpetual panic attack with the inability to live again. Losing a parent tragically for me meant I had to learn how to function and breathe again. Because this was not the only hardship happening in my life at the time, I immediately had to learn how to take things one at a time.
How did you react in the short term?
I immediately went into my survival mode which is to “get to work”. I felt a deep responsibility as the oldest child in the family to make sure my immediate family was OK; that things were as organized as possible before I was able to truly begin my private grieving process. My father passed late August 2016 and I’m sure I was in shock until at least October. I knew the grief bus was on its way but you never know exactly when it will hit. It took my soul and body about 2 months before it was fully engulfed by the tidal wave of grief.
The same was for my creative business loss which coincided with my father’s passing. I still had to make sure things were appropriately taken care of and “in order”. Sometimes it’s excruciating to have to focus deeply on detailed work while in crisis mode, but it is a skill that I have unwillingly had to learn how to navigate.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
Something I say all the time isthat I am so grateful I was already 5 years deep into weekly therapy when these massive and unexpected losses occurred. I leaned heavily into my therapy and I leaned heavily into my alone time. My younger self would have considered myself 100% an extrovert but the loss of my Father is something that was so loud, there was no other choice than to let it take all of the wind out of my sails and to process a lot of it alone quietly. I knew with grief I had no choice, so I allowed it to painfully run through me, and for me, that was the most efficient way through it. If I were to hold onto the violent emotion too heavily and attempt to suppress it, it would have eaten me alive.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
I think the loss of my Father is something that will never be fully healed within me, but I feel I reached a healthy balance of full acceptance about 3 and a half years into the grieving process. The healing is such a massive thing to be aware of and honestly a massive challenge in a bustling city like New York City. I healed a lot by solitude and yoga, specifically restorative yoga. It was a relief to be able to lean into the consistency and comfort of that cozy repetition. I would release a lot of my sadness on my mat. As I would shift into new positions, new emotions would release out of me. Sometimes I lay there and just allow myself to cry. It was sacred for me. Sharing my stories through writing have also been a huge part of my healing. I first wrote my screenplay “Boy Hero” about a grieving family navigating the golden age of comic books and then wrote my first book, #BYOP: Be Your Own Producer. I process things while writing so it has served me greatly.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
Feeling every emotion rise up in me is what has allowed me to shift into feeling better in time. There was dread at many times because in the earliest bouts of grief it felt like nothing short of possession. But through facing it for years, I learned once it had run its course in that moment (after being provoked or triggered), the anger, sadness, & emptiness would escape my body as quickly as it came. I also created space and time for myself to experience these things. These things take so much time for the body and soul to process so you have to make space for it to exist.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I am very lucky to have many people who have been very integral in my coping and healing process. The first is my therapist which I had mentioned briefly above. “Dr. T” has been one of the greatest blessings in my life; not only because of her knowledge, but also because of her generous spirit which has always supported me in such a warm way. I need warmth, especially through my healing. Other people who have been integral in my coping were my two male best friends from childhood and college Ben & James Lee who lost their Father & Mother respectively before my Father passed & my childhood best friend Paige who lost both of her parents tragically as a child. All three have been so generous with their time & care within their own grief. You don’t realize what a gift that is until you go through it yourself. I have been so lucky to have them as pillars within my life. I also have endless gratitude towards many of my best friends who have not yet dealt with this loss themselves. Friendship around grief is tricky. It takes two willing hearts to go on the journey. It takes copious amounts of listening and vulnerability on both sides even when people are feeling broken. I needed people to sit with me in my “nothingness” when I had to begin to learn to take time for myself and not know what I needed but I first had to learn to let them. Two of my girlfriends who figured my personal grief recipe with extra persistence were Remy and Courtney. They sought me out to sit with me in my nothingness & my processing and it has been a gift to see where these friendships have blossomed because of that extra attention and care.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
Now, I don’t think I will ever be able to look at the loss of my Father and say that will ever be deemed as a positive situation, but it has allowed me much perspective, which is the blessing of this curse. I live more fully because I am his daughter and because I have lost him. I make it a point every day to show up and share his generous light with others in my world. That is my responsibility now. Within my professional and creative loss of 2016 it has indeed turned into more of a positive situation. I was living so small and not realizing the power I had within my own integrity. I thought swallowing so much and allowing certain behaviors or mistreatment was the way to exist and in my own way, I very quickly found my voice and used it in asserting the matter. It was tricky because when I needed my voice most I was processing and had to take time to first heal on multiple levels of grief so then I could use it. And I have now, full steam ahead. You can read this story in it’s entirety in my upcoming book, #BYOP: Be Your Own Producer which is currently in pre-order with Morgan James Publishing.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned that I was already so much more of my own compass than I had ever given myself credit for. I am extremely self-sufficient and that comes from the lessons from my parents, which came two fold as well. By encouraging me to make the choice to move to New York City with about $2,000 of graduation money in my bank account, they let me learn how to support myself while still cheering me on from the sides. My parents gave me the gift multiple times of allowing me to live uncomfortably. I also learned my value from these losses. I had never understood how special I was and I would give that magic away to others blindly on multiple accounts. I wish my Father could have seen me living with boundaries while her was here, but I know he is cheering me on each day as I live my more healthy truth.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Allow your grief to have an endless expiration date: I have learned grief does not come with its own check list nor is it linear. It is not something you can rid of, it is something that permeates within you and will blanket who you are to become, forever. Don’t try to force it into a box. Let it runs its course.
- Give yourself the time for reflection: When asserting grief I needed a lot of time to break down and process the trauma of what was actually happening. I had to make time for myself to process that and a lot of that meant time alone for me. If you never take the time, grief will seap out whenever it can and has the potential to dampen future joys of life. We want to aid the process, not hinder it.
- Claim the blessings & lessons of grief: One of the best things I did in my darkest bouts of grief was use it as an opportunity to take inventory of my entire being. There were many lessons to learn; like my value in regards to the loss of my father & it was the same lesson I needed to learn in my creative business endeavors. It was a blessing to finally learn this lesson and finally be ready to change my behavior.
- If you are a nurturer, give people the gift of allowing them to show up for you: Someone very early on made it very clear that being in grief is one of the times in your life to receive from others. It’s one of the rare moments in life where the trumpets alert your tribe and everyone comes together to help a person or a family in need through a horrific time. If you are usually the person who does that in your community or circle of friends, allow others to change and grow in their roles. Allow yourself to receive.
- Release judgement of your productivity during this time: One of the biggest things during the pandemic to look at was that people were shocked and dumbfounded that they did not have more energy or feel jolted to “think outside of the box” at a more rapid rate. We would meet weekly to speak about this on our #BYOP Live Series. When you are in grief, productivity is usually not the most natural response and it’s good to release the judgement of that within yourself. The quickest way for me to get back up on the horse and grow into a more genuine, fast-paced being was to let myself learn to do nothing. Believe me, your soul will want to rise up again.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
In many ways I think this is the work that I am doing right now through #BYOP and my production company. #BYOP inspires people how to be their own producers of their own work and how to navigate their creative businesses in a way that they are proud of. Taking all of the lessons and hardship and molding their “now” into something better and affecting the communities and world around them through their art. This creative consulting reached a new depth over the pandemic where we would meet weekly to speak about our “Grief and Productivity”. We dove into discussing how the pandemic impacted the arts and the artist’s output and understanding of it all. Those teachings and conversations manifested together to create the book which has been kindly received throughout its pre-order! In the book I walk with you through your very own personal creative process and we execute an idea or “rebirth” of your creative business together!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
I have always deeply admired Reese Witherspoon for many reasons. We are both bright-eyed business women who entered into acting through a very pinpointed “type”. We both hail from the South and have not lost our southern charm within the larger entertainment industry. When she began her production company Hello Sunshine I was thrilled. I also truly enjoy her multiple brand extensions and love that she has a bookclub ; ) It would be an honor to collaborate with her one day. My sister even worked at her clothing store Draper James while in college!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on Instagram @ashleykateadams and you can also follow my creative consulting business and book @byop_nyc. You can stay up to date on all things in my acting career and production company at www.ashleykateadams.com. The e-book and audio book of #BYOP: Be Your Own Producer is available right now on Amazon or you pre-order a physical copy of the book via Barnes & Noble, Booksamillion & Amazon online for its publishing date which will be on August 10th, 2021.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for allowing me to! Blessings to all!