Community//

Marisa Donnelly of Be A Light Collective: “You will undoubtedly need to push yourself harder than you ever imagined”

My ultimate goal with all of my services is to create space for people to find their voices, pursue their dreams, and become who they inherently and individually are. Whether I’m working with writers or young students, my focus is on individualization and helping each client figure out who he/she is and his/her space in […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

My ultimate goal with all of my services is to create space for people to find their voices, pursue their dreams, and become who they inherently and individually are. Whether I’m working with writers or young students, my focus is on individualization and helping each client figure out who he/she is and his/her space in the world.


As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Donnelly, writer/editor, teacher, founder of two small businesses (Be A Light Collective & Donnelly’s Daily Apple), and bonus mom based in San Diego, California.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I’m originally from the suburbs of Chicago, but I’ve lived in Southern California for almost six years (so I’m basically a local by now, right?!) As long as I can remember, I’ve been called to three main areas: writing, teaching, and children. And these three things have woven their way into my heart and my day-to-day life with my small businesses and step-parenting journey.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

I’ve always known I loved to write and teach. When I was as young as eight years old, I was trying to force my little sister to ‘play school’ or creating these elaborate tales about my stuffed animals that I would attempt to ‘publish’ through my elementary school’s printing center.

My passions have always been pressing in my life, but it wasn’t until college when I realized that I could actually create a life doing what I loved — and as I busied myself with to-do lists, creative projects, and business plans — I started to (and haven’t stopped). Now, with the onset of COVID-19, I felt called to start a homeschool… and I did. I think that life often gives us the opportunities when we least expect them. And we have to take them when they come!

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

Honestly, I think my business began because I focused on the gaps I saw and experienced. As a writer, I continually found myself pouring my heart out and submitting pieces to magazines and journals… only to get impersonal rejection letters or ambiguous notes that didn’t actually tell me were or what I could improve in my writing.

I hated the lack of connection and individualization that surrounds both the writing and education industries and my goal was to actionably and purposefully shift this by creating an online marketplace and services business that was focused on individuality, vulnerability, and genuine connection.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Wildly and fearlessly pursue what calls to you. I can’t say that enough. Chasing your passions isn’t easy, but when you do, you truly shift the trajectory of your entire life for the better and you align with all that you’re meant to have or do.

With that, I would also encourage everyone to lean into all of the things they love — don’t just focus on one area. One of my biggest ‘regrets,’ if you will, is not chasing after all of the different things I believed in from the start. I spent so much time trying to ‘stay in my lane’ and I wish I didn’t because my multi-passionate heart has opened up so many doors when I finally decided to follow it.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

My fiancé calls me the ‘pivot master’ and although that phrase makes me laugh, it’s pretty spot-on for how I live my life. When one door closes, another opens. When something falls apart, you shift. That’s how I launched a full-time homeschool in the middle of a pandemic (haha!) — you have to find ways to make things fresh, new, and fun by changing the routine and leaning into the opportunities that fall into your lap.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

Running my own business(es) has been the most rewarding process, even though it’s been HARD. What I love is the ability to work for myself, set my own hours, create my own time with family, and really invest in each and every person I work with. What’s been hard is creating boundaries between work and play, not overcommitting myself, and understanding what and where I can delegate responsibilities.

I think I’m still learning how to navigate new obstacles. Something I’m continually working on is asking for help when needed, and realizing that I am not any stronger by doing everything myself (in fact, it’s truthfully the opposite.) I’m stronger when I lean on others.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Ha! I never thought that I’d be a twenty-something with a bonus son, a fiancé, a full-time homeschool, and a worldwide coaching/content writing business. I always thought that starting my business would be starting something small on the side — but God had other plans. And I always like to quote this because it’s so true in every aspect of my life: “Passion led me here.”

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

This is a great question, but the answer is no because my job is a ‘real’ job. I think the most exciting part of society this day and age is realizing that work doesn’t have to be boring, draining, or stressful. Work can also be fun and something you love.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made SO many mistakes in starting my own business. Something that comes to mind is when I didn’t have any type of order or structure for my business expenses come tax season of my first year. My poor accountant was overwhelmed with a bunch of spreadsheets of personal pricing, miscellaneous receipts, and random thoughts in my head as opposed to actual organization. I learned (pretty quickly!) that I needed to get my finance/financial reporting together if I was seriously going to have a business.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

I’m inspired by mothers who are continually shaping what being a ‘mom’ really looks like. There are women who are stay-at-home moms, women who are CEOs, and women who are both (and everywhere in-between). I love how mothers are redefining what their version of motherhood looks like and becoming less apologetic of their own processes, beliefs, and stories.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My ultimate goal with all of my services is to create space for people to find their voices, pursue their dreams, and become who they inherently and individually are. Whether I’m working with writers or young students, my focus is on individualization and helping each client figure out who he/she is and his/her space in the world.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You will undoubtedly need to push yourself harder than you ever imagined.
  2. You must find ways to rest, create boundaries, and ask for help when needed.
  3. You don’t have to have everything ‘figured out’ before you start
  4. It doesn’t matter how old or experienced you are — you can make a difference.
  5. Your journey will probably be isolating at times (so find your people).

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire 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 founded my coaching/content services business with the title and message of ‘be a light.’ What this really means is that we all are unique and can provide something special and valuable to the world. My hope is that people who connect with Be A Light Collective can see us beyond the services — we aim to spread hope, inspiration, and empowerment.

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

‘There is only one you.’ This is such a simple phrase, but it’s so powerful. It’s a reminder that even though life can be filed with comparison and competition, there is only one person like us — and we need to make our mark.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Get a good night’s sleep” With Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated & Marisa Donnelly

by Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated
Community//

Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Marisa Donnelly of Be A Light Collective Decided To Change Our World

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
Community//

Marisa Donnelly of Be A Light Collective: “Be you”

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.