…Living in and for the Moment. I think this is one of the most refreshing challenges of this time. We need to remember to not get ahead of ourselves, to take stock in what we have. Be grateful for what you have, whether it’s your health, your job, your family, or your home. Be thankful now. There is a lot of freedom in living this way. If you really take a moment to feel good about where you are in the moment, you will realize you have everything you need.
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 our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Claypool.
A visionary change agent with an entrepreneurial spirit and love for yoga, Sarah Claypool serves as Director of Special Projects for the award-winning WBE PR and marketing agency, Novità Communications. Leveraging her diverse background in broadcasting, interior design, PR, and motherhood, she leads projects with a focus on innovation, sustainability, well-being, and culture.
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 am so honored to be a part of this conversation. My backstory is not so much of a path but a winding journey. It involved a lot of side trails that ultimately only made sense in the rear-view mirror. I began my professional career in local television news, first as a features editor, and then worked my way up to assignment editor. I was in charge of finding and assigning the news stories for the 12PM, 5PM & 6PM news hour. Since this involved a heavier focus on hard-hitting news stories in combination with working irregular hours, it began to take a toll on me. Especially in combination with the fact that to move up the TV news career ladder, you had to be ready to relocate at the drop of a hat. This lack of permanency was exhausting and hindered the idea of creating a stable family life.
I ultimately ended up leaving after a producer nonchalantly stated
“we need a fire or a murder, our ratings are low.” Those words encapsulated the distaste I felt towards a negative news cycle. Needless to say my parents were not happy that I left my first “real job” without a plan in place. But sometimes, you have to follow your gut. When rooting for murder and mayhem is the norm, it is time to go.
Thanks to a consistent refrain from a mentor and journalism professor, that said: “you don’t want to be in TV news, you want to go into PR.” I made the adjacent leap into the world of Public Relations (PR). I landed my first PR job in NYC with Rolex which was followed by a period at a boutique PR firm in the city that specialized in the architecture and design world. It was there that my love for interior design was reignited. Following the 9/11 tragedy, I decided life was short and followed my dream: I went back to school for interior design.
I left the city and moved to North Carolina to study and ultimately practice interior design. After 8 years as an interior designer, I realized I was spending more time trying to gain publicity for my projects than actually designing — and I was really enjoying it. This realization led me back into the world of public relations and marketing. First with the commercial furniture company HBF and then onto 3M. With a background in both interior design and marketing/PR, I was now even more uniquely suited to speak the design language they needed with the additional benefit of understanding the importance of visual and brand design. All of these twists and turns ultimately brought me in touch with the place I landed today, Novità Communications. In a funny twist of fate, I had actually hired the Novità team at HBF to help with the PR. I even hired them again when I took the job with 3M — I loved how they worked. I had always said to Novità’s founder, Chris Abbate, that I wanted to work for her one day. That day came in 2017.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
This poignant moment in time has taught me that everything comes full circle. My seemingly meandering path, the situations that pushed me out of my comfort zone, all of that led me to where I am today. Novità Communications is more than just a PR firm. We are all passionate innovators, creators, and connectors with a multitude of talents. The COVID-19 and George Floyd crisis challenged us to not only to do business differently, but to pivot many aspects of our agency and implement meaningful, lasting, and impactful structural changes.
As a mother of two rambunctious, precocious children who is constantly drowning in emails, I found myself struggling. I was not only juggling too many things at once but found myself constantly depressed by the news cycle. In an effort to spread positivity, while consolidating the firm’s media outreach, I tapped into my journalism roots and created what we lovingly call the Good News Blast (GNB). Its skimmable format features timely story angles, resources, experts, research, and mood-boosting content. The positive news initiative has landed premiere media placements with CNN, Today.com, The Atlantic, and more. But most importantly, it has given us another platform to spread good news.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the things I am most excited about is the #Be Well video series we created as part of the agency’s #DesignStandsTogether (DST) platform. What began in early 2020 as a show of support for our friends and colleagues in Italy at the outbreak of COVID-19 has evolved into multiple initiatives aimed at uniting and activating the design community to create a more connected, equitable, healthier and sustainable world. Be Well is one facet of this multifaceted platform and is aimed at creating mini-moments of wellness, creativity, and community action that people can easily and quickly integrate into their daily routine. Serving as a wellness break, its digestible format of videos — all under seven minutes — features experts and tips on topics such as mental health, nutrition, design, biophilia, yoga, cooking, and more.
Pre-COVID, I was a committed yogi, practicing every day. When the COVID lockdown was implemented, squeezing in a yoga class during my lunch break or after-hours became unattainable. Between toddler childcare, home-schooling our second grader, and just day-to-day life in quarantine, it became almost impossible. I was not willing to totally give it up, especially as I understand just how important mental, emotional, and physical health are in times of stress. If I felt this way, others had to be in a similar time crunch and searching for some balance, right?
I drew upon my broadcast days for a solution — those taught me the best stories were those done in two minutes or less. What if we could create mini-moments for people to just take a break? The idea percolated and took shape. We began with a seven-minute sofa yoga video. Today the series has evolved. It spans the gamut on all things related to well-being — from feel-good stories about community action to tips to improving your gut health, collaging as a creative outlet, conquering fear, and more. The series has become influential in itself. It’s been so well received it was picked up by NeoCon’s online platform, the world’s largest commercial furniture virtual 2020 trade show: NeoConnect.
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?
I have been fortunate to have had many mentors and working mothers (and fathers) along my journey. They have helped shape my career and have helped me realize what I didn’t want. But it was not until joining Novità that I really found the freedom to express my voice and my passions in a productive way. Our fearless leader, Christine Abbate, started the agency as a young mother out of a need for flexibility and balance in her own life. Chris knows first-hand what it’s like to work hard and raise kids while doing so. For the first time in my working career, I didn’t have to feel “mother-shamed” and was given the freedom to prioritize my family life in tandem with my work life. Novità is a place where it is acceptable to say, “I can’t make that meeting, my kid has soccer practice.” And when COVID turned our world upside down and school and daycare closures persisted, I was more grateful than ever for a kid-friendly work zone. This insight and realization came to fruition with the idea that we needed to use our own communication skills and connections to evoke change. Chris was immediately supportive — she is always positive and comes to everything with an open mind.
Without this support, I would not have felt comfortable sharing these new ideas (like the Good News Blast or Be Well series). She has taught me what it means to lead by example, to trust your people, and to use your power for the greater good. And most important, to believe in yourself and share your ideas. The biggest takeaway? Don’t be afraid to ask for help and share your personal struggles. They will not only help you, but help others as well.
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?
As a mom to a four-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl, the neverending cycle of parenting while working is now my reality. Every task takes twice as long, even if you master getting interrupted 1,000 times a day. I call this cycle the ‘momblurr,’ because you never stop momming, and if you’re not careful, you never stop working. It is also challenging to manage all of the pulls of being a 24/7 on-site parent with the desire to also be a conscientious and dedicated employee. I have a tendency to overwork which is ultimately not healthy for me or my family. It also doesn’t set a good example to my kids as I want to communicate in visible ways just how important they are to me.
This period in my life has been particularly difficult finding time to really connect with my kids. Yes there is so much to do but there always is. I need to slow down, leave the dishes in the sink, leave emails unread and unanswered, and homework undone. And instead take the time to play a game or just be utterly silly with my kids. When work is “done,” life’s “to do list” can run rampant and feel overwhelming, but guess what? It will still be there tomorrow. It’s learning to be mindful of what you have, shake off the responsibilities, and enjoy these precious moments.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I think it starts with realizing what you need. If you cannot take a moment to recharge yourself and take time out for self-care, then you will simply not have enough energy to care and show up for others. I cannot stress enough how important it is for me personally to have time for my daily yoga practice. While I would love to practice for at least an hour a day, sometimes 10 minutes is all I’ve got and that seems to give me the sense of grounding and sanity I need. I also try to gift myself grace and forgiveness — it’s easy to be hard on yourself. And to be honest, some days just keeping everyone fed feels like I did enough.
In terms of trying to be a better mom and connecting with my kids, I try to make myself completely present even if just for 10–15 minute windows. So whether it’s checking in with them multiple times a day or tucking them in at night, I make sure to listen. I want to hear what happened in their day. I want them to feel heard and loved. I make sure to give them my undivided attention — a feat that is much harder than it sounds at the end of the day when I just want to curl up in bed myself rather than deal with the pile of laundry in the next room over.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
I call this challenge the “mom factor”. My biggest challenge is juggling my kids’ wants, needs, and requests while trying to get my work done — I am becoming a master of interruptions. For example, in the few minutes I have been trying to answer this particular question, I was summoned at least five times by my kids. I was also asked for a drink, a snack, to come see a show-and-tell of what they were working on, and the list goes on. This I feel is a situation that is mostly particular to moms. My kids do not seem to inundate my husband as much with requests, questions, arguments, etc. I am not sure why that is. True story: I was once in the bathroom only to be interrupted by my son to peel an orange for him. When I suggested he ask his father, my son literally looked me straight in the eyes and said “Oh he looked busy, I didn’t want to bother him.” I guess my bathroom time doesn’t equate to being busy? Maybe my husband is better at saying no? I think it is just the “mom factor” — a pre-COVID situation where I am at their beck and call. There are countless requests they skip over my husband for and go straight to me — it’s the mom default.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I repeatedly say: “NO, go ask your dad!” When I know they really need me, I make sure to maintain eye contact, listen to them, be mindful of my tone of voice and give them a hug. Sometimes that is all they need. I am also trying to take care of my needs; I do my best to exercise, meditate, and practice a few minutes of self-care each day. Enforcing a hard end to my work day is sometimes challenging but worth it. We all need time to recharge and I find the simple act of keeping to a schedule and closing the computer signals a period of relaxation is to come. To me it is the equivalent of making your bed each day so you are not tempted to get back into your bed. Turning off your computer is definitive — you have to make a conscious effort to start it back up again.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
You can’t do it all! I wish I had a better answer, but the truth is, I am still trying to master balance in my own life. Sharing my struggles is the first step I am taking as a mother to give voice to how many of us are feeling. To be an advocate, we have to paint a real picture of what it takes to work full-time while simultaneously caring for children and managing the requirements of our daily lives.
The fact is that being a working parent was hard before the pandemic, and COVID has just magnified these challenges. Parenting 24/7 along with back-to-back Zoom meetings, home-schooling, preparing three square meals a day, keeping a clean house, grocery shopping, keeping mental lists of everything that is missing, needs to be done, and appointments to make — well it’s utterly exhausting. Nothing ever truly gets checked off and when it does, it starts all over again. And believe me, I know I am one of the lucky ones. I am so grateful that I have a job and a husband who does more than his fair share. But it is still HARD. It sometimes feels like a debilitating groundhog day.
I truly don’t know how single a single parent does it all. I cannot imagine having to worry about putting food on the table, working an essential job, and having no choice but to send my children to daycare. Maybe rather than searching for balance, we should rethink what a workday looks like and how many hours we are all working. What if the normal workday was five hours instead of eight? Imagine a world where we work less and accomplish more. What if we also prioritized things like sleep, exercise, healthy meals, spending quality time with friends and family, what would that look like? How would that effectively affect our work productivity, our health, our stress levels, our life expectancies, our families, and personal lives? Various studies show that working less hours each week or even instituting a four-day work week have spurred a marked increase in productivity.
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?
Take it day by day (or hour by hour if need be!). Exercise and meditate daily. I realize that I am vehemently belaboring this point, but I think peace comes from a quiet mind. I did realize as of late though that even a positive attitude can yield a tormented mind. If you are constantly debating things in your head, that can be draining. I try to find space between my thoughts, and try to just sit still and be present.
Sometimes a moment of peace comes from just staring out the window or lingering over a sip of coffee in the morning breeze. The pandemic has reminded me to value some of the simpler and free things in life, like the joy of a delicious nap, a cup of warm tea, hot chocolate with extra marshmallows, or a walk in nature — all of these restorative moments are so important. Sometimes a simple break in routine can also spark joy — making pancakes for dinner or declaring school night a movie night replete with the air popcorn popper. Or even revisiting fun games and events from my own childhood — watching your kids play twister, going to a drive-in movie, having a water balloon fight in the summer heat. These all create priceless memories! Who doesn’t look back fondly on a living room dance party with their family? Or roasting marshmallows for smores in the backyard? This is what our kids will remember, so I try to make sure we get some of these moments in with all of the rest.
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.
This is exactly why we created the Good News Blast and the Be Well video series: To spread positivity and inspire others to make wellness and mental health a priority in their lives. As challenging and scary as these times are, there are also a lot of important positive shifts happening. Topics that needed to be addressed are rising to the surface. We are being asked to look at things in a new light, to shift not only our way of thinking, but our way of being, and of working. Many of these changes are for the better and should be a part or our “new normal.” They include:
- Living in and for the Moment. I think this is one of the most refreshing challenges of this time. We need to remember to not get ahead of ourselves, to take stock in what we have. Be grateful for what you have, whether it’s your health, your job, your family, or your home. Be thankful now. There is a lot of freedom in living this way. If you really take a moment to feel good about where you are in the moment, you will realize you have everything you need.
- More Work Flexibility. I am grateful that so many more people are able to have more flexibility in their work schedules. My husband and I are both fortunate enough to be able to work from home during COVID. This allowed us to temporarily relocate and work from Colorado for a few months to be closer to family. Living in Colorado for the summer allowed us to have a much-needed change of scenery, enjoy the mountain air, and safely expand our ‘Corona bubble’ and with some much-needed human interaction. It also allowed us some peace of mind — our kids were with family, giving us some quiet time. It also did wonders for them — our kids were able to go back to being just kids and develop deeper relationships with their cousins.
- A Heightened Focus on Healthier Ways of Living. The importance of mental health, exercise, healthy eating, and taking care of yourself when you are sick are becoming more of a priority (i.e. staying out of the office). We have always known these things are important, but now there is more of a priority on tackling those issues head-on rather than putting them on hold.
- A More Interconnected & Equitable World. The pandemic has brought a greater awareness of our world’s interconnectedness. It’s never been more apparent that we are all in this together. Everything we do has the power to affect someone and something else — both negatively and positively. By acknowledging this, we can tap into our hidden potential and our power to change the world. COVID has brought the inequity that surrounds us to the surface. It has made us see rather than look and it has inspired empathy and a movement towards change. I would like to think that this has also made us more loving towards each other and helped us realize that each one of us is unique and has a purpose.
- A Spotlight on Women with Children in the Workplace. COVID has magnified the challenges of working women with families. It has also shed a light on the struggles working mothers face on a daily basis. We haven’t yet seen a solution but our voices are finally being heard.
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?
It comes down to a few basic things: be present; listen; share; laugh; sleep; have fun; and make time for self-care. To expand on these ideas further, below are some tips I have found to help.
- Listen: Be prepared to stay silent and serve as a sounding board. Sometimes, to share and be heard is all people need.
Make quality time for others: It doesn’t matter if it’s only a few minutes. Every moment you offer to others counts.
- Give (and receive) a hug: If you are being safe and are comfortable with doing this, the power of the human touch is amazing. We all need to feel that connection. It has been proven to lower blood pressure, help you live longer, and has all sorts of good feels packed into one little moment.
- Be there for others. You most likely cannot be in the same room with many of your friends and family. Be there for them in other ways. It also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to FaceTime or Zoom with friends and family. Make an effort to show someone you are thinking of them. Send a care package full of their favorite chocolates, hand-write a letter and drop it in the mail, forward a joke or a quote that will mean something to them. It’s the little things that matter.
- Schedule a “walkie talkie” with friends and family (aka a good old fashion phone call that you take on a walk). In a world where Zoom fatigue is real and our rear ends are suffering from sitting at a desk for hours on end, this is one of my favorite remedies. Not only do you burn calories and get your steps in, but you can enjoy a change of scenery and disconnect from some of the bigger devices you are tied to for the majority of the day. You’ll find that without the distraction of a computer or TV in front of you, more meaningful conversations will ensue. In addition, connecting with nature refuels us.
- Acknowledge your struggles, but don’t dwell on them. It is important to get to the root of any issues. Journaling is a good way to explore your feelings and work them out on paper. I think of it as a release, a purging of toxic thoughts and an amplification of positive ones.
- Practice gratitude. When you focus on the things you are thankful for, they are magnified. Practicing gratitude is known to increase positivity, improve self-esteem, reduce stress, and assist in better sleep. The more you practice gratitude, the more your mindset will change.
- Make sleep a priority. Sleep is SO important, I cannot say enough about this. Take a nap, forgo setting your alarm clock if possible, and set a bedtime schedule. Sleep helps reset our natural biorhythms, and has a plethora of benefits. From regulating blood pressure, reducing stress, weight loss, to improving memory, and boosting your immune system, getting enough sleep also improves your mood and restores and recharges us in so many ways.
- Use your vacation and don’t check your email. Use every last vacation day, especially now. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any plans, research shows taking time off actually increases productivity by making workers more resilient, improving cognitive function, creativity and problem-solving. More than half of Americans don’t use their vacation days and when they do, they spend their entire vacation checking emails. That sets a bad precedence for everyone.
- Laugh.Epigenetic research and modern medicine support the claim that laughter is often the best medicine. Watch a comedy, read something funny, enact laughter yoga. Laughter boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones, and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. It’s an immediate mood booster!
- Listen to music. It is scientifically proven that listening to music for just 15 minutes a day can boost your mood, reduce your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure, and anxiety. When I am feeling depleted, listening to my favorite song on repeat can lift my spirits. If my kids are bored or stressed, a dance party with their favorite music is sometimes all they need.
- Prioritize your well-being. Do whatever works best for you. If exercise, meditation, or cooking a meal from scratch is what makes you feel good, make sure to prioritize those activities. And make sure to check out our #Be Well series, we have a video for everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It is hard to pick just one! But there is one that has brought me an inordinate amount of comfort as of late — it’s become my new mantra! This quote came from one of our Be Well guests, Fear Guru, Author and Motivational Speaker, Patrick Sweeney. He says: “Replace judgement with curiosity.” This is a life lesson to be repeated often, especially these days when there is such a divide between people. That simple phrase of advice has helped me in a variety of different ways. From the manner in which I interact with my children, to the manner in which I view my friends, family, and co-workers. Getting outside of your own head always offers a new, sometimes enlightening perspective. It also allows you to connect with people on a deeper level and really understand them, not assign an idea to their thoughts.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!