We had the good fortune of connecting with Lauren Jones and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lauren, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Being an overachiever and a work-a-holic is my birthright.
My parents never take off work; they do not know how to nap; in fact, they watch TV with the volume on high to drown out the noise of their keyboards tapping vigorously. It is labeled multi-tasking, but honestly my parents are always working. As do I, and my brother.
This dismal phenomenon is not uncommon. We have been socially conditioned for generations to prioritize work over our life. In school, we learned that good grades, special privileges, awards, scholarships all correspond with individuals that exude the most sweat equity, stress, and task completion. School does not encourage or validate rest; breaks equate to being lazy and unwilling to apply oneself. The broken record goes homework, project, test, repeat.
Workplace culture is no different. It reinforces the message that life outside of one’s career is not as important as the tasks and deadlines. Requesting vacation days and sick days must be justified and approved; and is often met with a looming cloud of shame, guilt, and disappointment. Playful banter amongst peers describes an inhumane competition regarding who has the most work to do, how many additional jobs one has, how few hours slept the night before, and how many working lunches endured. What do we win?
Even when we are away from work, we are working. While physical tasks are not being completed, mentally our minds are combing through memos and ideas. This is not balance. This is toxic. This is draining, and exhausting, and endless.
We learned that rest is a reward after a long and hard day of maximum effort. We have an unhealthy relationship with work within our culture. I have an unhealthy, unbalanced relationship with work. This is especially true as a clinical mental health professional, and an Executive Director of a non-profit (Propel Productions Center, Inc). Work life balance was strained this past year as an essential worker during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This past year exacerbated problems within “work life balance” and hustle culture. There was so much guilt associated with wanting to take a break from work. My community demanded so much from my social work profession; I demanded so much of myself to help.
Sometimes we get things wrong; and work life balance is wrong. The connotation is sinister. Not only does the phrase imply that work comes first; but it also alludes to work getting your first and best 50% and life gets the remaining 50% for you to have true balance. It is a huge scam.
Becoming increasingly more self-aware about how different aspects and environments in our lives impact us is a quintessential step. This past year, I realized that I did not have boundaries and parameters around my work. My brain whispered this to me ages ago; but my body screamed at me all last year. Migraines, jaw pain, hormonal acne, diarrhea, weight gain, pregnancy loss…my body cried out in all these unique ways. Our bodies and minds are interconnected; and chronic stress is detrimental to our physical and psychological health. I was completely out of alignment.
I am grateful for the pandemic because it forced me to reassess what was important. How did I want to use my energy? How much time did I want to spend working versus how much time did I want to spend living?
It is important to note that we have the power to change any moment of any day. I needed to change. I wanted to change. Work consumed such a huge part of my life. Although I love my entrepreneurial, artistic, and clinical social work career, I knew that I wanted my occupation to be a small part of who I am and what I did with my life. I am unlearning my toxic work habits. Regardless of how I gained them (parents, school, society, etc.) it is my responsibility to continuously assess and tweak habits until I become holistically well. It is our responsibility to define and create balance.
Change begins with the mind. I am reorienting my values and beliefs regarding work. I am disconnecting my self-worth with my career. I am identifying and prioritizing my social, spiritual, and emotional wellness goals.
I am even learning to say the phrase differently. It is no longer work-life balance; but rather, life-work balance. Which is as uncomfortable to do as it is to say. But change is awkward, difficult, and uncomfortable in the beginning.
There are still days when I look up and realize that I spent my entire day at my laptop. Whenever that happens, I allow myself grace during this transition and remind myself that being a work-a-holic and hustler is not who I want to be anymore. I actively schedule time to rest, play and surround myself with loved ones, prior to scheduling meetings. It is an active decision that I make every day.
Whatever we are not changing, we are choosing; and I am choosing to completely redefine my life work balance. Soon my new life work balance will solidify as a lifestyle; and I will be thanking myself for the necessary transition and growth that I am striving towards today.
What should our readers know about your business?
My name is Lauren Jones, and I am the Founder and Executive Director of Propel Productions Center, Inc. (PPC/Propel). Propel is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that develops art-based mental health programs, products, and services centered on wellness and entrepreneurship. Our mission is to “Create Change!” through creating a culture that prioritizes Social, Emotional, and Behavioral wellness by changing how we explore and address our mental health needs. Overall, I want Propel to be what I needed when I was younger…an emotionally safe space to process and create.
I was introduced to mental health and social work in a unique way. My childhood home served as a therapeutic emergency placement for foster care children. My parents (especially my mother) modeled compassion and empathy to her, her brother, and their transient foster siblings through warm meals and fun activities. Pure healing and wellness through food and laughter…they embodied arts-based mental health. Prior to pursuing her career in social work, she embarked on mission trips to South Africa and Costa Rica. Whether I am working locally or globally, art shatters barriers!”
Immediately following graduate school, I combined my clinical and creative skills and incorporated Propel Productions Center, Inc. (PPC) in 2013; and launched the first program in 2016. I am currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW, LCSW-C) and truly embody innovation, exemplary service, dedication, and commitment to heart work.
I’m a Clinical Social Worker and while working within the realm of mental health, I’ve noticed that there are no “fun” or “engaging” agencies that truly meet people where they are. That had to change! I decided to create an organization that inspires people to want to participate in mental health. I wanted to design a safe space to process difficult emotions and create. As an adult, I need this space now more than ever!
I love so many different forms of expressive arts. However, my favorite art genre is dance. I can tell stories through my body that I may struggle to convey through words alone. Recently, I have also gravitated towards gardening (herbs & succulents) and aromatherapy. There is something purely magical when you play in the dirt. I am looking forward to baking with my fresh ingredients soon.
What sets me apart within the mental health space is the desire to use the expressive arts as my main therapeutic intervention. I believe that art is a powerful tool and allows us to be vulnerable. Within the artistic/creative space, I am different because I infuse social, emotional, and behavioral themes throughout my workshops. Art is a tool for engagement; but once art opens the door the goal is processing, healing, and changing.
Using the expressive arts to do that makes emotional wellness more manageable and enjoyable. I envision PPC becoming the ‘Parks & Rec’ of the mental health and wellness space. A community pillar for healing.
Starting and scaling a small business is hard. There are so many choices and decisions to make, and a lot of the time, we may choose what is “right” but not what is “best” for us and our company. It is important to know that it is okay to mess up. It is okay to fail. It is important to fail and fail fast. Learn to pivot; learn to ask for help; build your team. My business has grown significantly during the pandemic. Mainly because I became more intentional. I narrowed my niche more. Instead of “mental health” I focus on “stress, anger, small business burnout and emotional wellness for entrepreneurs”.
I started saying “no” to opportunities that did not align with where I want my company to go. Initially, I did contract work with children; now, I’m moving towards 16yrs and older. I became more consistent with social media. I avoided learning about marketing, but now I dedicated a day out the week to watch marketing videos on YouTube and implement new strategies I’m learning. I also took more risks. I have spoken at two conferences, launched “Feeling Triggered” podcast, and develop on-the-go self-care products.
Remember that entrepreneurship is a lifelong journey, not a race to the top. Celebrate every milestone. Enjoy the process and go your own way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
As a Maryland native, these are the places I’m taking you for a good time:
You’ll stay at my parent’s Airbnb – The Hideaway
Blue Dyer Distillery
The Brass Tap – jalepeno burger
Jerry’s Seafood – crab bomb
Bun Cafe – boba smoothie
Aunt Tea Boba – Tiger stripe milk
National Harbor – ride the ferry to Old Town Alexandria and walk around
Color Me Mine – pottery
Interior Design shopping – Ross, Marshalls, Burlington, Hobby Lobby (I could spend all week shopping for house stuff)
Remix Rage Smash Room
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would be remiss if I did not thank my parents Lorenzo and Teressa Waters for literally everything, but especially for modeling and nurturing my entrepreneurial spirit. I am so grateful that I saw firsthand what successful small business owners look like. You two are resiliency, grit, love, and faith personified. I hope to make you proud and carry on your legacy.
Next, I want to shoutout my baby brother Lorenzo Waters, III. Thank you for always challenging me and forcing me to see the world differently. You are a model for servant leadership and giving from an open and pure heart. Your greatness and work ethic inspire me to keep pushing towards my goals. The world is not ready for what you have planned.
Additionally, I want to acknowledge my favorite person, my husband Michael Jones, 2nd. Thank you for being a constant anchor and allowing me to dream big and leap without fear. I would not be doing what I love without your continued support. You bring me balance and hold me accountable to live life outside of work…and make sure I eat vegetables. You take care of me so I can take care of the community.
…and Ry’lei our angel baby for completely changing how I view life work balance.
Last, but not least, I want to thank my team at Propel Productions Center, Inc. Jarrell Pittman, Sarah Sumter, LaTasha Roy-Sterrett, and Alexis Rouson you four have been so impactful and influential to me. You all are dope, innovative, passionate, and dedicated individuals. You each have elevated the company is so many ways. I cannot wait until we change the world!