Alumni Reflections on 2020: Caroline Hayward (’15, MS ’16)

Caroline Hayward head shot photo

Caroline Hayward (’15, MS ’16)

What has been most difficult for you throughout this past year?

Back in March, I had initially felt that the isolation and long-term time away from friends, family and co-workers would be the most difficult part of sheltering in place. However, looking back on the year, I have found that making time to “power down” has been the biggest challenge. As someone who works in advertising, already a time-demanding industry, working from home has opened the doors to an “always-on” mentality for me — both personally and professionally. I love the work I do each day, but quickly realized that working was ALL that I was doing during the long days of being home-bound.

At first, my thought process was “Well, what else have I got to do? I’ll get one last thing done, or read one more report tonight.” It was a lot of screen time, and a lot of disconnected mental energy. I’ve learned how important it is to take a step back and create new boundaries for myself between work and life. This was a particular challenge because those boundaries today are so blurred. However, doing something small, like putting work-related emails on silent once 7pm rolls around, and making real time to switch to “offline” activities (like cooking, calling a friend, or taking a long evening walk) made all the difference in boosting my creativity and motivation for the days ahead.

What has been the most positive aspect of this past year for you, personally and/or professionally?

The ability to lean into a “nomad” lifestyle has been a large plus of 2020. While I’ve been primarily working from home and closely following the sheltering in place guidelines, I have taken the opportunity to return to my hometown (Chicago, IL) to work from my parents’ home for a number of months during the past year. This has been a phenomenal way to safely reconnect with my family and the local community, which I likely would not have had the opportunity to do in a “normal” year — and may not get to do for as long a time period in the future. This renewed focus on community spurred me to join the local chapter of the Junior League in Dallas, remotely. Doing so gave me the opportunity to Zoom with and learn from inspiring women in the Dallas area, and start discovering more about how I can give back to a city I’ve recently moved to.

How have you grown, changed, and developed throughout 2020?

While I am not perfect at it by any means, I am becoming more aware of the importance of being fully present in a situation, conversation or activity. This includes work, time with family, talking with friends, and even while watching a show on Netflix. Now that life moves a bit more slowly, and obligations to physically move from one commitment to the next are no longer as demanding, I find myself able to intentionally enjoy smaller moments in life. My hope is to maintain this progress towards feeling more involved in what I’m doing “now” vs. spending some mental energy on what I need to do “next.” This has allowed me to realize what my priorities are, and the ways that I can focus on them.

What lessons from 2020 will you take with you into the year(s) ahead?

Building moments of stillness into your day does not make you less productive. Rather, these moments can enhance your day and re-charge you for what’s next. The beauty of stillness, to me, is that it can be defined in any way one wishes: From taking a breath and looking out the window, to meditating, to listening to the end of a great song.