It's working for Amy Shey Jacobs, Founder of Chandelier Events
Amy Shey Jacobs, New York
I love building a brand, I love being a working mother who’s business is now our family business, I love working with my husband, with my kids, teaming up with so many talented smart caring people and teaching others that they can do it too.
My advice: “No one can prepare you for the rapid twists and turns of life when you become a mother — but girl, you’re gonna be A-OK.” I was living the picture perfect married life in brownstone Brooklyn with the dream corporate SoHo job that I worked so hard for. I loved how I spent my days and nights burning the candelabra (as I like to say) and I truly thought adding a baby to the mix would mean motherhood would come along for the ride. After an emergency, life-threatening birth a month early to a three-pound preemie, I still wasn’t convinced that life would be much different once I recovered. I mean, I worked from home through my maternity leave because I wanted to! But what I thought was going to be my life — and moving along the road after a speed bump — truly became a major turning point that would change me forever. Out of nowhere, I was torn: I loved doing my work but I wanted to pour myself into caring for my family, too and something had to give. I wanted my cake and to eat it, too. One day, I just jumped off the corporate ladder: no plan, other than do what I felt was right and figured I’d figure it out from there. And with the encouragement of my husband and my family, never being one to NOT do it all, I found a new way to balance life…and as I turned the spigot on opportunity to allow me to be in control of that balance, a new me (mother-wife-entrepreneur) emerged. This is the me that I am today!
I also never stopped working — I just changed how I worked. To my surprise, my employer who really invested in me allowed me to scale to a consultancy that kept me in the loop for more than two years. Together, they supported my decision to go to the office at least 1 day a week as a freelancer to help them build a new team and work on special projects. I never had a 9-to-5 and so having a defined calendar worked for my new life. But I am also a born creator, a Scorpio! I simply cannot live a life without the art of creating something from nothing, and building a business was a natural next step. When opportunity knocked, I made a conscious choice to say yes to the things I wanted to do and put the word out I was available and open for more. I had learned so much in a decade of working at The Knot in its early start up days (which I liken to my unofficial MBA in PR, marketing, editorial, entrepreneurship, weddings and events); I had been playing on the 50 yard line of an internet- new media phenom and had cultivated contacts that were ready to refer me. The key was being ready to take the opportunity, be bold, say yes and be confident that I could build something on my own while also having time to be with my little one. It also helped that he never slept at night, so his three-hour naps every afternoon allowed me to squeeze in emails, social media and phone calls.
Philanthropy has been a pillar of my life and work since a very young age. I think this has much to do with enduring adversity as a teenager and being side by side with my parents strength and passion for fighting their own diseases through creating the support they so desperately needed themselves. At 17 years old in 1995, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer — and due to the lack of resources, education and support — I supported her in the endeavor of creating the first patient-survivor-run non profit organization for Thyroid Cancer, the Light of Life Foundation (www.lightoflifefoundation.org). I have sat on the board of this organization for over 20 years, running a Facebook group of thousands of patients around the world since 2008, along with fundraising campaigns, awareness campaigns and the Light of Life Fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center which has put through over 17 fellows who treat thyroid cancer patients across the globe. When my father was diagnosed with MS in 1999, when I was 21, I rallied alongside of his support of the MS Society. And from there, committed to incorporating philanthropy into my life and work throughout my adult life. At Chandelier (and now my virtual events company), we have supported and produced fundraisers and awareness events for so many incredible organizations including R Baby Foundation, Smile Train, Food Bank of New York City, Streets International, American Cancer Society, Wish Upon a Wedding, UJA-Federation, American Friends of Israeli Navy Seals and as a family, we actively give and volunteer with charities on an ongoing basis.
You are absolutely right about that! “Endless energy” is mandatory, not optional. But I think it starts with this simple fact: I love what I do. I love the art of it all, I love telling someone’s story through my imagination — what they see, touch, taste, smell and hear — and I LOVE building dreams. And most importantly, the humanity of what I do: that’s where the energy comes from. The feels, the goosebumps, the butterflies, the satisfaction of something being just right. Whether it’s a wedding, a mitzvah, a milestone, a fundraiser or a big corporate launch: the feeling that comes from the collaboration (the teamwork does make the dream work), the making “what if’s” the “yes we can’s”, transforming someone else’s experience — it’s just magic to me. And, I’d be remiss in not saying that I also love the business of what I do: I love building a brand, I love being a working mother who’s business is now our family business, I love working with my husband, with my kids, teaming up with so many talented smart caring people and teaching others who they can do it too. Together we dream big and overcome challenges (there are always challenges!). Can you tell, I am motivated?
There is no one better equipped to pivot than a working mother. For me, I think we, working moms, have a natural-born agility and a nurtured flexibility which uniquely prepares us to tackle life’s toughest moments. Think about it: we already do this constantly; we have to assess and refocus every hour of the day, jumping into one problem and finding a solution and then jumping back out to focus on another. For me, it was my mother-bear instinct that kicked in when the COVID tsumani rolled in: Suddenly, our work was rendered not only impossible but illegal. I balled my eyes out for two days when I realized that the business I had killed myself to build for 15 years was suddenly at peril of evaporating almost instantly. I let myself cry it out — and then, the “oh no you don’t” adrenaline kicked in. On day three of COVID, while my industry was burning to the ground, I said, “Amy, what do you know how to do better than anyone else? And what do you have in your Mary Poppins bag of skills to keep putting food on the table.” I was prepared to eat my humble pie, I was prepared to hang it up for a bit and get a job, but in the end, when the wolf was threatening my cubs, fear didn’t matter. I had already survived so many challenges in life before, and as a mom, easy life is never guaranteed: So launching something entirely new was born from the endurance I’d built in life and the wisdom that we’d get through it but we had to try, even when it felt like there was nothing left to give. I launched a PR campaign to “save events” not just for my clients but the hundreds of thousands of people planning events across the country; and soon after, launched ‘Don’t Let the Day Go By’ to do events differently in a world that so desperately needed a new solution. I guess it was a gamble but it didn’t feel like it at the time; it felt like, this is something you HAVE to do. And I jumped and never looked back. I suppose having jumped before in life made it easier to do it this time? I guess time will tell when I look back on this all a few years from now.
Childcare for our family is a formula that we make work. When the kids were young we had full-time and part-time nanny childcare (which we loved and found through a myriad of personal referrals; I cannot stress that enough!). Over time, my husband left his corporate gig and joined me in building Chandelier: which meant that between him and I someone was generally working from home at any given time — or — no one at all, on event weekends we’d both be gone for days. As the kids got older and were both in school much of the day, we started to assemble what we call our babysitter’s club, who have now been with us for the last decade: the first was a wonderful girl named Jackie who was a teaching student at a local university, and then she recruited her best friend and another. So, they are invaluable to us: we send them what we need and they organize shifts amongst themselves. With COVID, and now a 15-year-old and 11 year old, we’re in a new zone. Tutors and rides to activities have become our new childcare but they are largely self-sufficient.
New normal was almost immediately after bringing Wyatt home. Having your own schedule, being able to take a shower or get anything done in those early newborn days was a rude awakening.
I’d say about two or three months after I went back to work and my son started to have a life of his own with the nanny and her crew was when I started to get that pang that I wanted to participate in that life too. At the time, I remember feeling torn, tired and confused. But, that discomfort also let me figure out how to manage life in a different way; and having structure but being flexible was good for everyone. And not trying to be perfect; just doing my best and keeping everyone alive was good enough. By baby number 2, I felt like we’d found our stride.
I am most proud of the fact that giving back is something that is part of my every day—it’s not a box I need to check on some list, it’s my life. It’s my work with my mom, who is now healthy and living a wonderful later life after much struggle when she was exactly my age through her mid-fifties, that I am most proud of. Through her own cancer battle and recovery, we have built an amazing organization with some of the world’s most renowned institutions and doctors: together, we have raised monies, funded research, fellowships and awards and programs to better the care of patients; but its the day-to-day contact with people who tell me they feel seen because we hold their hands through their journey — something that did NOT exist when my mom was diagnosed 25 years ago — well, knowing that they don’t ever have to feel alone makes my heart full.
Be gentle with yourself. If you have dishes in the sink, so be it. No one’s life is like you see it on instagram (NO ONE).
Don’t give up on your dreams. My 85 year old mother in law sat me down when I was contemplating leaving my corporate job and told me not to phone it in. It was her belief in me and moxie that a woman could provide as a mother and a leader at work that I hear in the back of my mind to this day.
You don’t have to have it all figured out to get moving. Say yes first, and figure it out later. Imposter syndrome is real, but acknowledge it and move on.
Trust your mother’s intuition. Our instinct as mothers is a rare gem and will guide you through life. Trust me on that.
Don’t look at anyone else. Focus on you and your lane and your family. In the end, that’s all that really matters.
My husband. Hands-down, my biggest cheerleader, lawyer, box carrier, psychotherapist, best friend.
As a working parent, I never expected being perfect would be so hard and choosing not to be and going for it anyway would be so much easier.