Finding a work-life balance is something that most of us struggle with. Google Creative Heather Luipold is taking it in her stride by finding fulfillment in all aspects of her life. Heather talks to us about the soothing sounds of Ira Glass, personal style and the best wings in New York.
What was your first week like in New York?
It was snowing a lot. It was February of 2010 or 2009, one of those years. I had moved in with my boyfriend at the time. It was pretty miserable actually. I actually hated it a bit and was thinking “why did I leave Boston?”. It was definitely a shock when I got here. Before I was living in a place called Winthrop, it was on the beach. It was beautiful, even during the winter.
But then I started working in this place called LBi, I just fell in love with the people and realized how different people are here. They’re much more open, you can really be yourself and I just started coming into my own. Then I started loving it.
What brought you to New York?
My best friend, Noha, was here and I wanted to try something new, something bigger. I was super focussed on my career and I knew that coming to New York would be the place to be the best at what you do.
What were you doing in Boston?
I had gone to college there, at The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and I had lived there since college started, so about 9 years. I still don’t think I needed to have gone to college for design. It’s a dangerous thing to say because college is so important, especially for growth as a person and meeting new people, but I learned what I learned through jobs. It’s not that college wasn’t useful, but it almost wasn’t from a job standpoint.
I wonder what would have been if I hadn’t gone to college.
College as a place for personal growth is really interesting though.
It’s just interesting how much money you spend to grow [laughs]. It’s outrageous.
It is outrageous! I don’t understand how people go to school in the U.S.
It’s stupid, it’s going to change. I mean, it has to change. It’s not scalable. You can’t educate all these people from different classes and cultures on this kind of budget. It’s insane.
Did you always want to come to New York?
Well, originally I was going to go to Parson’s. I was accepted and decided I was going there until I realized how expensive it was. I was paying for college, my parents chipped in a little, but I paid for most of it.
Even at a young age I had an understanding of how much money I’d be spending and I wondered if this was really worth it. Also the thought of coming to New York was really scary.
So I went to Boston. I waitressed all all through college, and after college. Now, that’s an experience I think everyone has to have.
Waitressing is so hard. I used to cry before my shifts because I hated it so much.
It can be quite scary. People are horrible.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in small town Connecticut, in Somers. There were more cows than people and it smells there. There are three prisons in that town.
Oh my god, have you been listening to Serial?
Yes, I’m obsessed! I also listen to This American Life religiously. Listening to it at work is the best. There’s something about Ira Glass and his soothing voice.
I think New York is such a podcast town because everyone goes outside with their headphones in. You very rarely go outside without listening to something.
I’ve been trying to not to. Especially when I’m running, just hearing the people around me and the sounds of the city, it’s kind of nice. It’s kind of cool to have your head up because everyone is so heads down in New York.
Back to New York … where are you working now?
Since July I’ve been working at Google Creative Lab. It’s like an idea house, if you think of something and you want to do it then you do it. It’s really wonderful.
Is the focus in the lab on Google?
It can be. Sometimes it’s to make Google better, sometimes it’s to make other things better. We have such great resources at hand and the smartest people who really care about what they do. They foster an amazing environment.
You get to do what you love and you get to do what you care about.
Do you think you’re on the right path with your career?
Honestly, my career is not as important now as it once was to me, which tells me that I’m growing as a person.
I think it’s important to have things that you care about and are passionate about, that’s life. But I think what a lot of people get confused about is seeing being busy or stressed as a positive. You get into that world, you are proud of what you do and moving up in your career. That’s where I was.
While it is fulfilling seeing yourself growing in your career and getting more responsibilities, you have to be very careful of taking on too much. Stress changes you a lot and you don’t realize it in the moment but in hindsight you see that you were in a bad place.
Now, being outside of that situation I’ve achieved balance in my life, which is something I never thought I could do. When you’re not stressed out everything else just seems so much better. Everything else is richer, my relationship with my boyfriend, my family, myself.
It does sound almost impossible to live in New York, have a great job and have this personal balance. It’s a New York mentality that people work crazy hours and are proud of it.
You know what’s interesting? I actually do a lot of freelance design work on the side. My boyfriend and I have a company called Chico & Lui, but it’s so different. When you work in an agency it’s very deadline and client focussed. You don’t have control over that. When you have your own company you get to choose.
My hobby is my job and I get that balance from working at Google and then working on my own stuff, plus I get to work with my boyfriend which is great.
You live in Williamsburg with your boyfriend, how do you like living here? Any favorite spots?
I love it Williamsburg. I love this specific street. We got to St Anselm, that’s our once a month date spot. They have brunch now and it’s so amazing.
I am also a nacho connoisseur, Commodore has the best nachos. It’s just across the road.
This is why I love this spot. In the morning I smell Fette Sau’s bacon, I walk outside and I can go to Lodge, which on Monday’s has wing nights. The best wings I’ve ever had and they’re free with a drink, and I do like indulging myself with alcohol.
This sounds trivial but allowing myself to go to wing night every Monday with my friends is super important to my well being.
Your style is great, what about shopping?
It’s not around here but there’s this store, & Other Stories, which is awesome. I got this top there. But mostly I wear spandex and sneakers to work. I’m a woman of comfort.
You look really good.
It’s because I put makeup on! That’s the one thing I do. You can get away with dirty hair if you put makeup on. Then you can put on spandex and oversized t-shirts on, which is what I do everyday.
I’ve been wearing sneakers everyday because I’m training.
What are you training for?
The New York half marathon. I did cross country in high school. I ran a lot in college too but then when I started working in New York I stopped. I didn’t have time for it and when I did have free time I was out or sleeping or trying to relax which was very unfortunate in hindsight.
Now, that I’m working a regular day and am relaxed I got a personal trainer at Chalk Gym, which is awesome by the way. So I go there three times a week before work. My friends at work were like “we’re gonna run the half marathon and we’re gonna make t-shirts!” so now we’re running the half marathon ...
… and you have wings, and a life, you have everything!
It is all about getting the right job. If you’re happy working a lot, that’s super cool, even if you’re working 9-5 but the job takes everything out of you and you can’t do anything, for me that’s not the right job either.
It’s got to be something where I can balance a job, my health, my family, my boyfriend, all of those have to be equal and if that works then it’s right.
Also finding something that you really care about. With skills like ours as designers we can really help people.
This is like what Meagan Durlak talked about in her interview.
There was this wonderful article written about this autistic boy who made friends with Siri and Siri taught this kid how to be react to social cues. His mother said that this relationship had really helped him.
There are so many things in technology that can help people, especially people with disabilities.
I feel like in design or advertising, you’re not taught about those possibilities.
That’s why doing side projects is really awesome. A lot of times people who are working on these kinds of things don’t have the budget to hire a designer so I’ll just do it for free if I really care about it.
It’s different for everyone too. I think it’s really important to be as self aware as you can and just notice when you’re not being yourself. I actually think that’s the most important thing.
I remember being in this relationship with a guy and he was so great to me and so nice and we got along really well but when I was with my friends I was a different person. I was this person I loved but when I was with him I was very reserved. All of a sudden I was like “that’s not me”.
Knowing who you are and who you want to grow into is the thing you should gauge everything else on.
This has been a very good conversation. It’s important to hear what other people think about their careers and how they’ve done it … what do you think about when you think of New York?
Possibility. You can do anything you want. You really can do anything you want and be anyone you want. You are what you’re surrounded by and in New York you’re surrounded by everything. You don’t have to hold back.
Also you can walk to bars whenever you want which is awesome [laughs].