You don’t have to be perfect. This is a lesson I’m continually re-learning. Perfectionism runs deep in our culture and it’s important to fight back against it whenever you can. When I first started my business, I was overcome with the idea that everything I put into the universe had to be perfect. When I launched my homeschool, I was so worried about getting everything ‘right’ that I was constantly stressed. While it’s wonderful to move forward without mistakes or roadblocks, sometimes these things are inevitable (especially when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic!). It’s important, no matter what comes along your path or gets in your way, that you keep moving forward and giving yourself grace.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”,I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Donnelly, a writer, editor, teacher, and CEO of Be A Light Collective, a creative marketplace, online community, and writing/editing services company with a mission of re-shaping education through a relationship-based learning lens. She is the founder of Momish Moments, a vertical dedicated to empowering non-traditional journeys of parenting, and most recently launched Donnelly’s Daily Apple, a homeschool program in San Diego, California.
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?
I’m a Midwest-born, West Coast-based small business owner and bonus mama. I’ve always been passionate about writing and teaching — so much so, that my earliest memories are torturing my poor little sister into games of “play school” where I would try to get her to sit still and practice the alphabet at as young as age three.
Needless to say, she didn’t love it. But I was excited, even then, about the ability to help students/clients learn. And that passion has grown within me ever since.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many quotes that resonate with me — I’m a writer after all! But one that has really stuck with me over the last few years is, “You will be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.” As someone who identifies as big-hearted, I’ve often struggled with this notion of being ‘too much.’ I have a lot of emotions, a lot of words on my heart, and a never-ending stream of thoughts that I’m constantly turning into content.
When you’re that type of person — and especially when you’re sharing vulnerable work with the world — it’s easy to feel like you’re too much. But this quote is a constant reminder that you will never be too much for the people who love you, see you, and value you for who you are.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I recently read, The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock L. Eide, M.D., M.A. and Fernette F. Eide, M.D. As my fiancé’s son has dyslexia, this book was transformative in my personal journey, as well as my educational journey. In fact, it was the final push I needed to pursue my Master’s in Reading Education. Learning about dyslexia on a deeper level helped me to see ways I could have more compassion, empathy, and understanding as both a teacher and mother.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Prior to the pandemic, I was working full-time as the CEO & Creative Director of my business, Be A Light Collective — a writing/editing, coaching and content services business, creative marketplace, and online community. I founded Be A Light in 2016 and it has been my world ever since. When COVID-19 first hit, I started to juggle full-time business ownership and full-time caregiving of my fiancé’s son, as well as navigating his online learning every day.
The struggle of helping him with Zoom school — and subsequently signing off and re-teaching him everything as his learning disabilities prevented him from really attending in this format — while making meals, coordinating playdates and appointments, running my business, and managing my household was crazy. And that’s an understatement.
This chaos led me to pivot my business into a different and unexpected educational opportunity.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Watching my son struggle day in and day out with his learning was heartbreaking. With dyslexia and lower reading levels, he was constantly discouraged by the fast-pace, the disconnect of technology, and the continual interruptions.
I spent more time encouraging him and squeezing his hand when he got frustrated than he spent actually learning. And after we signed off, I would spend hours re-teaching everything he wasn’t able to catch or understand.
I realized, quickly, that this wasn’t going to work — for either of us.
Ultimately, I decided to homeschool my son and create an entire, full-time homeschool program for other students his age in my local community. This was a way to not only offer the in-person learning that these young students so desperately need, but it was a way for me to be intentional about my time with my child while having ownership of his education, and fully supporting his learning disabilities.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I remember asking my fiancé, “What if I homeschool A?” He turned to me, eyes wide, and sort of laughed until he realized I was serious. “I mean,” he had said, “There’s no one better than you.”
At the time, I don’t think he realized the gravity of his words. But his words inspired me forward. After years of frustration with my son’s learning and his struggles in different classroom environments, I knew, firsthand, what he needed — and craved — in order to feel and be successful.
It was that moment on the couch, and the realization that this homeschool was going to be something far bigger than our little family — that everything changed — for all of us.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I officially launched Donnelly’s Daily Apple in July of 2020. I enrolled six students in early August (including my son), in grades fifth and sixth. I researched programs, curriculum, and standards; I officially registered with a Private School Affidavit in the state of California; and I built out a full-year program.
Saying that this school has changed my life would honestly be an understatement.
Launching this program, opening my home to these kiddos and their families, and getting to be a full-time teacher to my own child have all been the most beautiful blessings, especially in the craziness of this global pandemic.
In a time where everything feels unsettled, confusing, and even scary at times, this homeschool has been our refuge and stability. The relationships built, the progress made, and the security of our little ‘pod’ has guided these children through one of the most difficult times in their little lives. And it has given me hope.
The impact truly does begin at home.
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?
I am continually supported and blessed by so many people, but especially my son. Although he is only twelve years old, I have learned more about life through him than anyone else. His resilience, his drive, his compassion for others, and his acceptance of life’s curve balls has pushed me forward. No matter how challenging navigating this house-turned-homeschool situation will become (which it often gets crazy!) I am continually reminded of why I did it in the first place — for this bright-eyed kiddo I call my own and his peers.
I hope, above anything else, that my son and his classmates look back on these times with smiles on their faces.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
There have been so many blessings in this homeschooling journey. Some of the more obvious are seeing my son’s reading progress jump an entire grade level, witnessing a young girl’s confidence skyrocket, and watching a young boy find his own voice and perspective on literature.
Another special moment is when I led my students through a novel study of Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. This book is all about recognizing your differences as things that make you unique as opposed to setbacks. The title of the book centers on the idea that you’ll always think a fish is stupid if you ask it to climb a tree.
Right at the time that we were diving into the book, a local San Diego artist was doing an exhibit called “Fish Out Of Water.” I entered my students’ art in the exhibit and their pictures were turned into waterproof designs, printed on concrete, that were only visible when wet. I was able to take my little group on a fieldtrip to watch their designs come to life — the alignment was so beautiful and I feel that it really helped each child to connect the story to their own lives and experiences.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I jumped on the opportunity to launch a homeschool without knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. As an educator, I of course, knew how to launch a school, but with the pandemic I knew there were going to be roadblocks and obstacles — things I would have talked myself out of if I had given myself too long to think.
Although I’m thankful that I jumped in, here are a few things I wish someone would have told me before I started (both my business, and of course, the school):
- You don’t have to be perfect. This is a lesson I’m continually re-learning. Perfectionism runs deep in our culture and it’s important to fight back against it whenever you can. When I first started my business, I was overcome with the idea that everything I put into the universe had to be perfect. When I launched my homeschool, I was so worried about getting everything ‘right’ that I was constantly stressed. While it’s wonderful to move forward without mistakes or roadblocks, sometimes these things are inevitable (especially when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic!). It’s important, no matter what comes along your path or gets in your way, that you keep moving forward and giving yourself grace.
- Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s okay to ask for help. Read that again. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you can’t do it on your own or that you’ve failed. It simply means that you’re acknowledging the ebb and flow of life and relying on others to support you in your journey. This is healthy — not weak.
- You know your child and yourself best. This is for all the parents out there: you know your child best. Don’t let anyone tell you different. If you’re not a parent, please apply this to yourself, too. There will be people who think they know what you’re supposed to do, feel, and say. Sometimes you can listen, and sometimes it’s actually good to take advice from those who have been there. But sometimes you have to listen to your gut, your intuition, and your heart.
- Nothing can stop a determined mind. If and when you set your mind to something, I mean really set your mind to something, nothing can stand in your way. If you would have asked me if it was possible to run a full-time writing/editing and coaching business while tutoring, managing a household, being a full-time caregiver, running a homeschool, and navigating a global pandemic… I would have laughed in your face. But I was driven to make it happen because I knew how important these different pieces of my puzzle were/are. You just have to believe in what you’re capable of.
- Exhaustion is normal; rest is necessary. You’re going to be exhausted, especially if you’re doing something you’re passionate about. Pouring your heart into something takes energy and time, so it’s important to keep in mind that being tired doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the wrong path. Remember that rest is necessary for recovery, re-centering, and resetting yourself. Rest. Unplug. And do things for yourself as much as you do them for everyone else.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Stress is inevitable, but we have gone through one of the tumultuous and challenging periods in our world’s history — and it’s’ important to keep that in mind. We must be patient and gentle with ourselves.
Some strategies I use to disconnect from the media and keep myself emotionally-regulated are journaling (writing about how I feel, what’s upsetting me, or what I wish), disconnecting from my phone from 6–8PM every night, spending purposeful time with family and friends (oftentimes scheduled or with e-calendar invites), and taking time to read for pleasure and enjoyment (rather than always getting wrapped up in social media or the news).
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?
My business name is ‘Be A Light Collective’ — and it’s all about being a light in the darkness of the world — through positivity and creative inspiration, through personalized resources, and through relationship-focused services.
Beyond my business model, something I’m personally working on is building awareness around parenting and non-traditional motherhood journeys. I want to encourage other mothers and fathers to share their experiences. I also want to encourage people to share vulnerable stories and content — for others going through similar experiences and for their children to see and resonate with.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to meet the founders of Motherly magazine, Jill Koziol and Liz Tenety. I love everything that Motherly is about and stands for, and I really resonate with the stories they share. As a bonus mama, I would love to collaborate, share some of my writing, and just pour our hearts out about parenting over coffee and sandwiches.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!