Vanessa Connelly: “Being in one place with less support”

Focus — As difficult as so many things have been this past year, the removal of distractions and the increased focus on the many things that are (and have been) wrong in our world will hopefully lead to sustained change. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have […]

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Focus — As difficult as so many things have been this past year, the removal of distractions and the increased focus on the many things that are (and have been) wrong in our world will hopefully lead to sustained change.

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 Vanessa Connelly.

Vanessa Connelly is the VP of Sales for Brown Harris Stevens Development Marketing, currently overseeing the sales of 15 new development condominium projects in various phases of construction across NYC. She lives with her patient husband, two super-cool, spirited and creative sons — ages 7 and 9 and a menagerie of pets in Greenwood, Brooklyn. She has the honor of serving as the President of the Board for Extreme Kids and Crew, a nonprofit community building organization for children with disabilities and their families.

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?

While I grew up in various locations across the country, I knew from a very young age that I wanted to live in NYC. I got my wish when I moved at 18 to study acting at Tisch School of the Arts. I worked in the arts and also in the service industry through my early 20s and, while I still loved the craft of acting, decided I needed to make a change. As I moved from neighborhood to neighborhood in Brooklyn, I realized that, like many in New York, I had an obsession with real estate. I decided to devote my energies to working in the field 14 years ago and haven’t looked back since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

When I started in new development sales we were in a strong cycle — things were selling, and selling fast. Not long after I took on my first management role, the financial crisis happened. It was such a difficult time for so many people. I was working hard to navigate a new position in a new landscape but I came to realize it was a time of tremendous education in my career. There are so many facets to this job — the customer-facing sales component, working with the developers, the attorneys, planning, design, events…the list goes on. I realized then that this job would require constant learning and that really appealed to me. It never looks completely the same. Sometimes that is wildly stressful but it is also invigorating.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My work as board chair at Extreme Kids and Crew has been very exciting and rewarding. We went from having one space in a public school to three sensory gyms in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, all in fairly short order. To go from these really physical spaces to a fully virtual footprint after the pandemic closures was a massive change. As an organization that creates community for disabled kids and their people, strategizing about how to most effectively reach out online and create programming and events that interested, served and expanded these connections at such an isolating time- that has been exciting. I am so impressed with our Executive Director Caitlin Cassaro and the whole staff for not only meeting the challenge but thriving in this new world.

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 am very fortunate to have had a great deal of support throughout my career. A few important people I would call out are Bill Ross, who gave me my first job and without whom I would not be where I am today. Brendan Aguayo is a leader with great intelligence and dedication to this work and he has been a truly generous teacher and collaborator over the past several years. My mentor Roberta Benzilio championed me through the various stages of my career. She is great with people, super sharp and steady in manner. She invested in me when I was young and green and helped me climb the ladder, preparing me to take over her position when she decided to retire. That was a golden experience for me and I hope that one day someone will regard me with the same respect and gratitude that I feel for Roberta.

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?

Being in one place with less support — all of the components always existed: my sons’ education, my work, the board work. Being a working Mom you get good at juggling. In fact, I think I thrive on the pace and the movement of it all. So when we were forced to stay still and complete the same goals — because the needs of the day didn’t let up, and in many cases they expanded- it was total overload. Having every activity take place in this one contained space with less support and a cloud of anxiety and fear over everything — it was a lot — and it is a lot. I know I am very fortunate to continue my work and to be able to do so remotely and have a supportive and hands-on husband but it is exhausting! I think single parents are superheroes.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I am doing my best to embrace the crossover. If I have a break in the day, I go down and have lunch with the kids, make some art with them or just play. That has been really nice. I am also trying to be easier on myself and apply the same breaks I try to give to others to myself. That part is harder.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

There are many challenges that need to be taken on and done so quickly — employee safety, forethought on how best to work through this cycle and what the next will bring.

It is hard to find time to step away and turn off since there are very few pauses in the demands and the computer is always there. In addition, there are so many individual needs that people have right now. There is an inevitable blurring of the personal and professional that did not exist so much before, but you are now literally zooming into someone’s house. I work closely with our team and it feels wrong to not acknowledge that we are all working in these intense, unprecedented times- we need to support each other in different ways. People are going through so much. I am hopeful that this expanded understanding will carry on.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I do my best to be mindful that I do not know what someone is walking in with when they come in to a call or a meeting. There are all of these shifting, hard things that are happening now, and I’m trying to hold on to kindness as a default.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Homeschooling was really hard for us. Both of my sons are autistic and neither did well with remote learning. Their teachers were amazing but the routine of school, the socialization and the hands-on learning and sensory support that they both thrive on was gone and did not translate well to a screen experience. After many rough weeks, we ultimately decided to cut back on some of the sessions and do things off screen that were more interesting for them. I taught my youngest to tell time on an “old fashioned” clock, which was fun and not something I would have normally done. I am doing my best to prioritize the necessities. There are days I need to say “you guys can’t come in to the office”. If I have a deadline or a meeting, they need to pretend like I’m not here. Easier said than done!

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?

We have an unofficial policy in our house, that one person gets to fall apart each day and the others hold that person up- it’s like an eye check in the morning — okay, today gets to be your hard day.

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.

Family time — I feel like I am getting to know my boys better with the reduced time away from home. I know this is a hard time for them too but I hope that when they look back on it they will remember their mom always being there.

Helping others — with Extreme Kids and Crew I have always felt a sense of pride in doing something that is creating good. Seeing the organization reaching and helping people at this difficult time is so rewarding. It sounds odd to say that adding more to my plate restores me, but it does.

Focus — As difficult as so many things have been this past year, the removal of distractions and the increased focus on the many things that are (and have been) wrong in our world will hopefully lead to sustained change.

Examining what brings me joy — I give up, it is not gardening- I’ve tried for six summers and I never follow through. I love to cook. I love travel and I have made a pledge to myself that I will not postpone adventures when we are able to get back out in to the world.

Friendships — I have an epic text chain with my best girlfriends. It varies day-to-day: funny, sad, celebratory, hard, weird and wonderful. They are scattered across the country and it makes me feel closer to them.

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?

Just being there, calling and checking in. I am a “fixer” by nature and I am working on listening instead of trying to provide a solution. Sometimes there is not a solution to be had and it is best to just be quiet, listen and let people know you are there for them and they are not alone in all of this.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? “It’s chaos. Be kind.” Michelle McNamara. I keep this quote on a board by my desk. It really touched me when I heard it for the first time and I think it is perfect for where we are right now.

How can our readers follow you online?


Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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