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WOMAN’S WORK: BRIANA STEWART

June 26, 2013

Working from home isn’t for wussies.  With an adventurous toddler at your ankles, a laptop balancing on your knees and Sesame Street playing in the background you try, unsuccessfully, to reply to a single email– even a simple sentence.  And yet mother of two small girls, Briana Stewart isn’t just making it work, she’s making magic as the Managing Editor for Utah Valley BusinessQ and Utah Valley Bride Magazines.  Yep, double the children and double the duties at work with two separate publications.  Like actual print.  I know.  Wonder. Woman.

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Bri grew up on the beautiful shores of Honolulu, Hawaii.  She attended school through 11th grade there and then her senior year of high school, her family moved to Japan.  After graduation, she attended Brigham Young University where she received a degree in Communications with a print journalism emphasis.  I’m excited to share more about how landed her dream job and how she makes work-at-home status work for her.

Q)  First, tell me about yourself and your background.

A)  For the first 17 years of my life, I didn’t do change.  I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. I lived on Malama Place in the house my parents moved into three weeks before I was born. I attended Punahou School from kindergarten to my junior year. And I was known throughout the land as Breezy.

But then April 2000 happened. My father got a calling with the LDS Church that took us to Asia. We moved into an apartment in Tokyo. I attended the American School in Japan for my senior year of high school. And I changed my nickname from Breezy to Bri.

Japan was a life-changer, arigato very much.  A year later I headed off to BYU, slept way too little, and majored in communications with a print journalism emphasis. I did two internships — one with Bennett Communications in Orem and one with Baseline Magazine in New York City. Three months after graduating from BYU in 2005, I became gainfully employed at Bennett Communications. And the rest is a wonderfully wordy history.

Q)  How did you know what you wanted to do professionally?  Was it an accident, or was it your plan all along?

A) I owe my career to New York City.  When I was 16, I visited my sister, Erin, who lived in D.C., and we hopped on a train to the Big Apple for delicious bites and sights.

Oh, how I hearted NYC.

We had makeovers at Sephora, sipped frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity and gallivanted around town to all the “One Fine Day” movie locations. This teenager of the nineties thought George Clooney was a dreamboat. And Erin — gem of a sister she is — even picked me up at the Bethesda Fountain like George did to Michelle Pfeiffer during the “puddle part.” It was a Kodak moment (you know, Instagram’s grandmother).

That one fine trip turned into one fine fate. I knew I would get back to New York. I knew I would live there one day. I knew not how.
Fast-forward to my sophomore year at BYU when I passed a sign — “New York City Internship Program, Communications Department.”
The writing was — quite literally — on the wall.

So I applied to the print journalism major and thought, “Sure, I could write.” I loved a good comma as much as the next nerd, and I thought alliteration was prose perfection. And as for well-crafted puns? Word. By the time senior year came around — journalism was the dreamboat.

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Q) Tell me about your road getting there?  Bumps?  Successes?  That moment when you felt like you had finally made it?

A) While working at the Daily Universe at BYU, I instantly knew newspapers weren’t for me. I was in awe of the news junkies. I envied their Lois Lane determination. But the idea of writing breaking news made me break out in hypothetical hives.

I was assigned to the Arts & Culture desk (thank heavens) with its lengthier deadlines and fun-loving headlines. But it wasn’t until my internship at Bennett Communications that I knew the pages of my career would be glossy.

Bennett Communications is Utah Valley from cover to cover — Utah Valley Magazine, Utah Valley BusinsessQ, Utah Valley Bride, Utah Valley Parade of Homes and much more. As an intern in 2004, I wrote about everything from the quirkiest donations at D.I. to St. George getaways to wedding bouquets that were to have to and to hold.

Spoiler alert! I was smitten with magazines. Then along came New York City. I was accepted to my major’s internship program — the very reason I became a journalist — and flew off to Baseline Magazine, a business and technology publication.

What an amazing experience. That staff was smart. No, like, suh-mart. They knew technology from the inside out, and they knew how it directly affected businesses and their bottom lines. And then they wrote about it. Smartly.

They would tell jokes in staff meetings with acronyms I had never heard of. I would laugh uproariously at their pretentious punch lines and then I would Google said acronyms in case I was ever expected to wax eloquent on them.

I was terrified of that internship. I drowned my sorrows in Grimaldi’s pizza over that internship. But that’s when I learned one of the greatest lessons of my career: Terrified is terrific.

I worked my terrified tail off at Baseline. I researched glossaries and read geek-tastic columns. And I crafted news blurbs like they had never been blurbed before. My terror worked so well they offered me a job. I didn’t take it. We weren’t MFEO.

I came home from New York in June 2005 and by August I was working at Bennett Communications — an absolute dream of a company. I’m the managing editor of Utah Valley Bride and Utah Valley BusinessQ — which come from opposite sides of my brain. The yin and yang is ridiculously fun.

In the last eight years I’ve written about everything under the Wasatch sun. I’ve met the most interesting and innovative people. I’ve giggled and gushed with bride after blushing bride. I’ve written some winners and I’ve made mistakes that still haunt me.

Both BusinessQ and Utah Valley Bride have been named best magazine in the state by the Utah Society of Professional Journalists. So cool. But the honest to goodness best part of my job has been the people I work with and the people I write about. I get to interview real people doing unreal things. And then I get to make sentences sing.

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Q) Tell me about your role as a working mother. How do you balance work and mommy hood? If you work from home, how do you get anything done?

A) In April 2010 I had my first little girl, Margaret. I’ve always wanted to stay home with my kids, but I didn’t want to completely give up this career I had composed. With the blessing and help of my unbelievably supportive bosses — Jeanette and Matt Bennett — we decided I would work from home on my two projects.

Typically, I go in for article interviews here, there and everywhere. I can go weeks without needing to go into the office, and then during deadline time I’m there non-stop.

In addition to my work family, I’ve been more than lucky to have a fantastic support system at home. My perfect, marvelous mom helps me out quite a bit with the girls, which they LOVE. Maggie and Lydia are mad for their nana, and the peace that comes from knowing they are with her is a heavenly gift I don’t take for granted. When it comes to my beautiful mom? There are not enough words. Additionally, my husband, Adam, and I have made a real effort to team parent. He cooks dinner as often as I do, he reads the girls “Fancy Nancy” with poetic charm (that’s fancy for super cute), and he takes the occasional vacation day if I need a full day at the office. He’s a stockbroker who works from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited for him at the door so I can leave when he comes in. We give each other a peck, a high-five and a “go team” as we pass through the garage. He’s hands-on. And handsome. And my heart.

When it comes to work and motherhood, there’s no such thing as balance. Sometimes your seesaw will tip one way, and other times it’ll nose dive to the other. My goal is to keep it from crashing in either direction.

But boy (or girls, as the case may be) do words collide. I’ve written a story while Maggie’s used my knees as a slide. And I’ve done a phone interview in the closet in an attempt to drown out toddler squeals.

But even without a perfect balance, there can be sanity. Rather than beat myself up over the one gajillion things I do wrong, I try to focus on what I’ve done right and what I can do better. It’s one of those easier-said-than-done lessons, but when I make a conscious effort to stay positive, it’s positively empowering.

As far as getting anything done, I get creative with time. I can keep up with my e-mail and correspondence when the girls are awake, but it’s nearly impossible for me to write anything winning during that time. Naps are obviously sent from heaven. And the wee small hours of the morning can be especially productive (3 a.m. and I are old friends).

If I absolutely need to do some writing when the girls are awake, I know it’s going to be a day when they eat way too many fruit snacks and watch way too many episodes of Sesame Street. The word of day? Survive.

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Q) What is the best advice you’ve ever received or lesson you’ve learned?

A) The biggest lesson I’ve learned from being a working mom is that women need to support other women. Some women want to stay home with their kids — and that’s OK. Some women want or need to work inside or outside the home — and that’s OK. We need to have less judgment about the decisions others are making. We’re all different women with different situations and different dreams. But the best part? Our commonalities still outweigh our differences.

In the last three years of being a working mom, I’ve noticed that — totally subconsciously — I’ve “played to the crowd.” Depending on who I’m with (and how I think they’ll react to my situation) I’ll either play up how much I work or totally downplay it. I find that so interesting — and also a little sad. What am I so afraid of?

As women, we can be each other’s biggest allies or worst enemies. And I love me some allies.

Q) What has been the secret to your success as a working woman and mother?

The secret to success is realizing you can’t have it all. As a working mom, I’m excellent in some areas (my girls are totally boss at “please” and “thank you”) and I’m embarrassingly mediocre at others (I’ve actually shushed my girls and hid when the doorbell rang because my house looked like “Would War III — When Toys Attack”).

I pick my non-negotiable priorities and work my heart out at them. And then I work on improving one of my mediocre talents at a time. It’s hard. I fail. I pray. I start over. I laugh. I cry. And then every once in a while, I knock one out of the park.

Q) What advice do you have for other women wanting to pursue career ambitions, but also be mothers?

My advice to women who want to work and be mothers? Watch and learn from other women who do it — and then be authentic to you.
I have had the best mentor in the world in Jeanette Bennett. She’s my boss, my word hero, and one of my closest, loveliest friends. She’s a mother of five. She’s the editor-in-chief. She’s a stake Young Women’s president. She serves on local boards. And she gives stellar speeches at events around the state.

My balance beam is on the floor — hers is at Olympic levels.

In the nine years I’ve known her, I’ve watched her mother her kids and her business. I’ve watched her work through balance struggles and celebrate standout successes. I’ve watched her shift her methods — but never her values.

Learning from other women is a gift — and it’s a lifesaver when we can do it without unnecessarily competing or comparing.

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Q) How do you define success?

Success, to me, is working my heart out for my family. While I’m never in perfect balance, I do regular “balance checks” to make sure the odds are always in their favor. And sometimes that means it’s time to close the laptop and have a dance party in tutus. Success is also about striving for excellence at my job. If I’m going to do something that ever takes me away from my girls, I better be doing my best at it.

My husband and my kids will forever be my No. 1, and I obsessively try to keep that knowledge at the forefront of every decision I make. I have adored being a mom. Adored! And I feel an enormous sense of gratitude that I am able to be the mom I want to be and still have a career. The nature of my job has allowed me to work while watching my daughters chatter and twirl three feet away from me. I know that’s not everyone’s dream. But it’s my dream. And the fact that I get to live it? Dreamy.

Being a working mom is totally awful and absolutely wonderful. My days are filled with a constant back-and-forth of Wonder Woman strength and paralyzing self-doubt.

But you know what? I love that my girls see me love my job. I love that they see me loving words and longing to learn. My 3-year-old regularly picks up her purple Leaptop, types crazily and says, “Now, let’s do some work!” She wants to be like me.

Write on.

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While Bri was off interning with the intellectually gifted at genius magazine in NYC, I was interning at a major network.  We would come home from our days at work and swap stories about topics way above my brain function (her) and sitting in as Elizabeth Vargas’s lighting double (me) over Gilmore Girls in our teeny-tiny closet with a closet apartments.  I can tell you she is every bit as adorable in person as she is in these beautiful photos by Veronica Reeve, and in the written word.  And those girls of hers?  They could not be cuter or sweeter.

We share a love of the english language, she and I.

I hope you are loving the WOMAN’S WORK series as much as I am.  Stay tuned for more features coming up!

Until then, as Bri so perfectly put it, WRITE ON.

Photos by VERONICA REEVE

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  1. Love, love, love this!!! It was a treat to work with Bri way back in our BYU days, and it’s been delightful to work together again in the last few years as our careers have overlapped here in Utah Valley. She is such a rockstar, and I’m so grateful for her example! The longer I’ve been in my career, the more I’ve come to love it, and as much as I hope to become a mother someday, the thought of stepping away from my work altogether is gutwrenching. Here’s hoping I can find a balance like these amazing women you’re featuring, Jen (yourself included)!!!

  2. Meghan loveless says:

    Wonder Woman! Loved this.

    Breezy & Jen I want to be like you both when I grow up. Such amazing women, you are. ❤

    • Briana says:

      Um, this coming from the woman who made a life-size Lalaloopsy box for her daughter’s birthday party? 🙂 I’m pretty sure you grew up to be amazeballs. 🙂

  3. Lindsey says:

    This made me miss Bri SO much! Love that girl and what a rockstar of a mom and journalist. I love hearing how she does both. Such great memories of our NY Intern days too… We were so lucky to do that! xoxo Lindsey

    • Briana says:

      I miss your face and I love your guts! Also, I think I need to go reread all of our e-mails to each other during said NYC internship. They were kind of totally epic.

  4. Tiffany Bird says:

    I love this!!! Miss Bri as we worked together at the Universe. 🙂 She is just as awesome as you describe her in this article.

    • Briana says:

      Thank you, Tiffany! You are fantastic. Remember how you were my Arts & Culture desk editor? Good times. 🙂

  5. Natalie Hollingshead says:

    Love this! I am proud to call Bri my friend, and I can vouch that she is just as awesome as she sounds. As a fellow work-from-home-mom (and former Utah Valley Magazine staffer), I know all too well the absolute madness and bliss of trying to work while watching little ones. But Bri does it so well. Bravo friend! And great blog, Jen. I’ve had fun poking around.

  6. Bri, you’re amazing. This post brought me down memory lane and made me want to hop on a plane and head straight for Bennett Communications. I’m only a few months in to my new life as a working-from-home mom, so your advice is much appreciated. Keep up the good work/writing! Here’s to hoping we get to work together again someday…

    • Briana says:

      Ash! What a nice note. Thank you! And please hop on a plane and head straight to the BC. I want to snuggle your wee one and catch up on everything. Love seeing all of your Instagrams with your little man! Can you believe it was eight years ago when we started working together? Crazy town. xoxo!

  7. Mary Bendixen says:

    Breezy….I love your guts you cute cute girl!
    Aunty M

  8. Kimberly says:

    Bri, you described life as a working mom beautifully. Love your honesty and optimism. I have always looked up to you and your work ethic, your class and your ridiculously amazing writing skills. Oh, and you introduced me to the glory of Gilmore Girls, so I obviously owe you my life. Love you!

  9. Anneliese says:

    Kara brought me here… Love this interview. So fun to read your great writing. I admire your ability to make it all work as I struggle to weave in creative outlets with child-rearing. Congratulations on doing what you love at home and from home! Happy to find “With Heart” too. I’ll be back!

  10. Tina says:

    Thank you for this series! I totally understand the “play to the crowd” part – I do it all the time. I’m definitely going to work on that one. As long as my family is happy with the arrangement that’s all that matters. Everyone has to find their own version of “balance”. Time to let go of the guilt!

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