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They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

It’s a double entendre for Francesca Enea, who was presented with the most important diamond she’d ever wear atop the diamond that’s shaped her life and is now shaping her family’s future.

While it’s too far to say that softball is the glue holding them together, her marriage to former broadcaster Christian Bruey doesn’t exist without the sport, and it goes without saying that her new job as Assistant Coach for University of Florida Softball didn’t happen without her dedication to the diamond.

But what’s really striking about this couple’s story is how the dedication to each other, and courage to know exactly who they are and what they want out of life, despite others’ expectations, cleared the path for her to take that job.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve known this couple for about a decade, working alongside Bruey in the same Orlando newsroom for most of that time. But before launching this blog, I never actually knew the story of how this sports power couple met. Of course, it has a tie to softball.

“I was the radio guy, and I was a senior doing a play by play for the Gators softball team. And then this freshman showed up and caught my eye,” Bruey remembers. “I traveled with the team, so I was on the plane, I was, you know, around the team wherever they went. And we started talking through a couple of the road trips and one thing led to another and we had a date and that became a thing.”

The Gators found young love in Gainesville, but Enea admits that before the proposal (and maybe for a time after), softball was her top priority. A star player for the team from 2007 to 2010, she helped the Gators to three consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances, taking second place in 2009 and solidifying her legacy as one of the country’s top power hitters; finishing her collegiate career as the SEC’s all-time home run leader, a three-time NFCA All-American… you get the picture. The girl can round those bases and hit with the best of them.

“In order to be the best at anything you do, you have to kind of make it your number one. And he was always cool being number two on my priority list,” Enea said. “But then I graduated, we got engaged, and as far as a career, there wasn't anything that I was dedicated and determined to do, but I was determined to be a great wife and great have a great partnership with him. And he loved being a sports broadcaster so much that I wanted to support him in what he loved and just being able to be flexible with that.”

For so many young couples, one person’s career tends to take priority. I know in my own marriage, it’s been a series of trade-offs over the last 11 years, with my husband and I jockeying back and forth for who would take the lead at what time. For the Gator grads, Bruey had already moved a few times as a sportscaster, chasing the dream of doing play by play from Maryland to Daytona Beach and eventually in Orlando. The stars- or diamonds- aligned; after years of long distance, Enea had just signed a professional softball contract in Orlando as well.

Despite playing her passion, Enea felt like her softball career was coming to a close.

“I was playing pro softball, but that was truly only taking place during the summers. So then during the fall and in the spring, I did hitting lessons in Orlando, just trying to cultivate my own little softball community, doing camps, and trying to figure out what it was that I wanted to do for my life because I wasn't going to keep playing forever,” Enea said. She had just been voted out of an opportunity to play in the Olympics and the next chance wouldn’t come until 2020, which she felt was too late in her life.

“Orlando was just a really big starting point, I would say, of our lives together, and growing together and learning who we wanted to be as adults.”

Enea jokingly pointed to softball as the reason she had no work experience, spending her entire youth and college career focused on the game. But softball made a way for her again; she took a sports marketing and account management position with Easton Baseball-Softball, learning sales and business skills for six years with the company. She also became a staple in the broadcast booth, calling games for more than a decade for several conferences, keeping her close to the game and creating a juggling act with her now-husband Bruey. Since sports are played 7 days a week, the only consistency was an inconsistent schedule for the couple.

“As our family started to grow, I wanted to stay home a little bit more and do something that was a little bit more rooted,” Enea said. “What was really important to me at the time was my family. I kind of took a step out of softball and started working more in corporate America… doing a 9 to 5 job.”

In sports, success is measured in wins and losses. In life, it’s a bit more fluid; the couple found success in the form of financial stability, a network of friends and raising two young children in a beautiful home in Orlando. Sometimes jobs are just jobs, and the two of them certainly value life over livelihood. Still, success doesn’t always mean you love what you do.

“As far as feeling challenged and feeling passionate about it, absolutely not,” Enea said of her corporate gig. “It just turned into one of those jobs that you just do.”

I probably don’t need to tell you that someone as driven as an All-American athlete isn’t satisfied to just punch a clock, regardless of the lifestyle it provides. As Bruey’s career was reaching new heights, being promoted to a weekday morning news anchor position at the same station where he had been a sports anchor, Enea felt accomplished in her family but unfulfilled with her work.

It would soon become apparent that her husband was feeling the same pull, despite achieving anchor status.

“I think I chased the dream of wanting to, you know, be on SportsCenter like every young broadcaster wants. You see that that's not panning out, and so, the opportunity is there to do the news,” Bruey said. “I started doing the morning show, and that's what I wanted to do. I still had a passion for journalism and telling stories and broadcasting… but then I think I quickly realized that that it's also still very tough,” he said of the hours.

I can attest to the grueling hours firsthand; going to bed at 8:00p or so, and getting up around 3:00a, it can quickly lose its luster. Despite that, I think I speak for everyone close to Bruey that when he made the announcement he was leaving the morning show less than a year after being promoted to the position, one he fought for and a role many people wanted, the word shocked doesn’t do it justice.

“When you have that lack of sleep, a lot of times, unfortunately, you know, the molehill becomes a mountain because you are dealing with stress, the sleep-related stress. And I wanted to be perfect. I wanted the show to be perfect. And when it wasn't perfect, that would piss me off. And so that led me eventually to making the decision to leave it,” Bruey explained. He accepted a position outside of news, and outside of what I think anyone expected; recycling.

“You see people go to public relations, but [I had to ask myself], do I really want to go do PR for a city or county? That didn’t appeal to me at all,” Bruey said. “I think that it took this opportunity where sports was sort of involved for me to really want to, you know, make the jump.”

What do sports have to do with recycling? A lot, I’ve learned. Bruey took a position with the publicly-traded, Orlando-based PureCycle, helping to lead the company’s PureZero™ Program, which seeks partnerships with sports stadiums and other venues to mass recycle certain plastics. The role, which he was offered months after meeting some of PureCycle’s leaders during a news story in 2021, aligns him with many of the same teams he covered as a sportscaster, including the Orlando Magic.

So, what’s it like going from a highly-watched on-air gig, where everyone immediately knows what you do for work, to having to explain what you do for a living? Bruey admits at first, it was a tough transition.

“Do I miss this?” he’d ask himself after walking away from the anchor desk in 2022. “That definitely happened in the first few months. It was like, what did I do?”

There are certain jobs that just get so intertwined with your identity and self-worth, and journalism is one of them. Being the one to tell the story; being the one people turn to; we’d all be lying if we said our egos weren’t somewhat tied up in the studio lights. I know a lot of people who have left the business in recent years, and most of them struggle with that part more than missing the work itself. It’s the going to the grocery store and being asked, hey, what happened to you? Or not being invited to events you once hosted… in some ways, as broadcasters, your byline is your ticket to enter spaces where others aren’t allowed. That front row view to history, the VIP access; it’s a hard thing to cut ties with.

Bruey, though, took the change the way an athlete would when faced with a new opponent.

“Being competitive has always been what I've considered one of my best attributes… I want to win and, you know, I want to be the best that whatever it is that I do, whether that's broadcasting or compiling a social media calendar for a recycling company,” Bruey said. “You just want to succeed in whatever you do.”

He still gets to scratch the play-by-play itch from time to time- most recently calling the Florida State University and Louisiana State University game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. It’s the same type of opportunity that Enea says kept her going during what she considered a down time in her career.

“Being able to broadcast for Florida Softball games was still that passion project for me,” Enea said. “Those were the things that were helping me get through the mundane 9-to-5 corporate job that I had.”

I would botch the quote if I tried to provide it, but there is a saying about the power of cultivating what’s in front of you during times of waiting for the next big thing. The beauty in the inbetween. The power in patience. Enea couldn’t have known it then, but the time spent calling games and keeping in such close contact with her old program would pay off in a major way.

“Two days before I got this opportunity presented to me, I told [Christian] my dream job would be coaching at Florida Softball with my Head Coach [Tim Walton],” Enea said. “I was like, well, that's never going to happen, though, like that. But that would be the dream.”

Though playing has always been part of her life, Enea had never coached. It was a softball-sized gap in her resume. So, even when approached with the opportunity she quite literally manifested, she second-guessed whether she was qualified.

“I haven't coached. I retired in 2013, and all I did to stay in the game was broadcasting,” Enea said. “There are people who dedicate their entire life to get to an opportunity that I have.”

I’m going to assume here that the majority of those reading this blog may not know Francesca personally, but as someone who does—this self-doubt is not what she leads with. She is an outwardly confident, commanding woman who is sure of herself in any situation. As a new mom, she was one of the most blunt, keep-it-real confidantes I had in those early months. So for HER to have imposter syndrome… is there hope for any of us?

“I am a very confident person, but I have this one part of my brain, and we call it my lizard brain, that doubts every part of who I am,” Enea joked. “I only show it to a few people. It could be at anything that I'm doing, I get a little insecure about it, because I want to do so well and I want to be the best at it.”

Can you believe she even considered turning down her dream job because of that stupid lizard brain?

“Part of me was like, this is a no brainer. We have to do it. Then this other part of me was a little hesitant just because of where we were at in our life in Orlando,” Enea said. “We were very happy, we were settled. We had a plan, and this definitely was not part of the plan.”

But this isn’t a position you turn down. Until recently, the role didn’t even exist; the NCAA just granted some smaller programs, like softball, a fourth coaching position. Historically, Florida had just a head coach and two assistant coaches. This change allowed Fran’s former head coach, Tim Walton, the freedom to take a chance on her, despite her lack of true experience on the other side of the sport.

“If there was one reason for why we would leave Orlando, it's for this,” Enea said.

It helped, too, that Bruey was no longer tied to a TV contract, free to move in more ways than one for the first time in more than ten years.

“This opportunity is too good to pass up on, you know, a chance to come back here to Gainesville,” Bruey said. “To have a chance to be a part of a sports program like the University of Florida, and a softball program where they’ve won a couple of national championships and want to win more, I think that's pretty fun.”

Her love of the game is obvious, but now it’s work. The new assistant coach is feeling the pressure, but trying to channel the same energy she’d use when the bases were loaded and it was her turn to swing.

“If I am up to bat and the game is on the line, I have to shut that noise out if in order for me to succeed. That's the same process that I do in life,” Enea said. “Shut the noise out, fake it ‘til you make it, and if you’re confident enough in what you're doing, people are going to buy it and listen to you.”

When we spoke, there hadn’t even been a full week of practice in the books, but Enea was already plotting for how to expand her reach; from player development, to recruiting, to navigating Florida’s laws that allow collegiate athletes to enter into contracts for the use of their Name, Image, or Likeness. More than anything, she’s excited to mentor; with only ten years separating her from her last game as a player, she hopes to connect to the young women in ways the rest of the coaching staff simply can’t.

“Right now, I would say everyone's very nervous. They're trying to show off to the coaches. I think they're trying to figure out everything right now. But you know, they have told me that they're really happy to have some some energy on the field,” Enea said of her coaching style. “Instead of feeling so tight, they can feel like a little bit more loose.”

I think there are a lot of lessons to be taken from Fran and Christian. First, never let other people’s expectations set the trajectory of your life. Christian leaving news after getting to a weekday anchor role went against what anyone in our newsroom, or our industry, expected, but he knew it wasn’t right for him or his family. Second, never say never. Francesca joked that if someone told her she’d be back in Gainesville, coaching the same team where she made her mark in the record books, she would have laughed in their face (respectfully).

Her advice to the young players could apply to anyone, in any role, seeking any type of promotion:

“You're not going to win or lose a position in one day,” Enea said. “You're going to have bad days. You're going have bad days on the field. You're have bad days in your brain. It all just comes down to how you respond and setting your own goals for yourself.”

As they settle into their new/old city, the couple is setting their own goals, starting with a rather simple one.

“I think we just want to be happy, and I think we've realized that what makes us the most happy is being able to be there for each other,” Bruey said. He doesn’t just mean in the philosophical sense, but physically being there for their kids’ activities, including T-ball practice, which is just getting started.

And like any good athlete who studies game tape to see where they might improve, Bruey knows his family’s success is more than just manifestation. “Definitely bet on yourself, but I think there's also a need to make an informed decision.”

Their playbook is full of calculated risks that have led them to where they are; both making major career changes that, in many ways, only worked out in the exact sequence in which they took place.

“We rely on each other as teammates. We love each other, but we're also best friends. And so, if I'm ever having doubts or insecure or I'm just unsure, I want to I need to talk to him like I need to know what he's thinking,” Enea said.

And though it’s clear her family has taken the top spot on her priority list; she no longer has to choose.

“Softball, I always say it was my first love. And you never forget your first love. It's just something that I can never not have in my life.”

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There’s just something about Target.

It draws you in with its bright red bullseye and before you know it, what was supposed to be a quick in-and-out for laundry detergent is a $156.23 checkout with who-knows-what in your cart.

I’ve long been a Target stan, but it wasn’t until I became a mom that I joined a silent sisterhood of women who see it as more than a store; Target is often a refuge in those early months of motherhood when you’re cooped up with a blob of an infant and no clue how to pass the time during their wake windows. Target is climate controlled, has a Starbucks waiting for you and aisle after aisle of colorful items to catch your little one’s eye and snatch your credit card. It’s the sense of familiarity and aspiration to curate the perfect wardrobe- self care routine- or home. So, it’s fitting that a stroll through Target, something we’ve no doubt all done a time or two, is the origin story for what lead to one of the most recognizable designs on its stationery aisle within the course of just a few years.

Before she would go on to create the gorgeous watercolor designs and distinctive patterns that helped grow Simplified’s following to more than half a million between Facebook and Instagram (compared to just 315,000 or so combined in 2017, according to published reports)- and push its revenue far outside the lines of its typical planning pages, Jessa Bray was that new mom wandering through Target, in the oil boom town of West, Texas… isolated and restless.

“When I had my son, everything kind of just stopped. Everyone told me that it was going to be crazy and chaos filled, and it was in its own way, but I was so bored,” Bray said. “I remember sitting there and being like, I don't know if something's wrong with me, but I'm very unsatisfied with just being here.”

“I loved him. I loved playing with him and taking care of him, but I wanted to do something, and feel like I was contributing,” Bray said. “I'd walk in stores like Target, and Marshalls, and Hobby Lobby and look around at the things that like I really wanted to use in my home to make it feel like a home, because we were a young family and that's the dream, and we couldn't afford any of it. We were just in a part of our life where like that was impossible. So, I went home and I was like, well, I'll make it.

Jessa was the girl with good handwriting growing up. Though she had no formal art training, she made it a point to rewrite her notes in school to be pristine, and so she found immediate connection with word art through calligraphy and lettering. What started as an effort to make their house feel like home, led to an Etsy shop and a full-fledged wholesale line, Flax and Wool Designs.

“One sale turned to fifty, fifty turned to paying bills,” Bray said. “But the dream was always Target. I wanted to see myself in Target.”

This is the part of Jessa’s story where you may think it’s actually mine. She turned to social media, honed in on her investigative reporting skills, and searched through geotagged posts at Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis until she tracked down the Senior Trend Constructor for the retail giant. And then, aiming right at the big red bullseye, she took her shot.

“I messaged her,” Bray recalled. “This is so random, but would you look over my line sheet and just tell me if I'm crazy, or if this is kind of good?”

The first major review of her designs was better than good. It landed Jessa an invite to the twin cities to teach a workshop for Target’s design team.

“I thought I died. I'm pretty sure that is when I peaked,” Bray joked. “She hooked me up with so many meetings that day. I met incredible people… they presented it that, we’re going to let you meet the people, we’ll see what happens organically ,and kind of go from there. I was so grateful, even for that.”

The trip to the mothership didn’t lead to any of her wholesale products being picked up, but there was still a lot of significant work coming Jessa’s way; including the massive ask of lettering the floor of the original Paper Goat Post location in Orlando's Ivanhoe Village, and the very public writing of the names of all 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting along the windows of The Guesthouse in Orlando, after the Bray family moved back to Central Florida.

“It was just so emotional. It was really connected to so many people that were grieving, and for the city that was grieving, and the families, it was awful,” Bray remembered. “That was such a small thing I could have done, and it kind of showed me that, lettering is just not lettering. Art is not just art. The impact that it can hold is pretty big and wide.”

By then, you could buy wallpaper designed by Jessa (in fact, you still can, here), and a signature style was being solidified. The impact of her lettering and designs started to catch the eyes of some big names, and just as she slid into the DMs of that Target bossbabe, she one day opened her own inbox to find a message from a name she recognized; the creative director at Simplified, a stationery and lifestyle brand best known for its planners that sell out within days every.single.year.

“Do you do patterns, or are you freelancing pattern-type things? I love your art,” Bray recalled. “And I kind of posed it as, why don’t I paint something, and you can tell me if you want to pay for it.”

For all you non-freelancers… that’s not typically how it works.

“This was when I had that feeling of, I don’t feel like I deserve to be in the room. Big, big, tall, imposter syndrome.”

The gorgeous watercolors with telltale florals of delicate pastels turned out to be perfect for the polished, preppy fanbase of Simplified planners. A beautiful minty blue and foiled pineapple design was selected from the freelance gig.

“They fell in love with it,” Bray said of her first design. “It was their first watercolor design ever for the company, and they paid me for it, and we went on our way.”

But the story of Jessa Bray and Simplified was just getting started. A few months after that first freelance design, the brand posted an opening for an Art Director. Instead of a bullseye, Jessa set her sights on the pineapple, and wrote a literal love letter asking for a chance.

“I’m not one of those, but I’m going to try. What’s the harm in trying? It’s kind of my attitude about a lot of things,” Bray said. “My resume had nothing on it except my own business, and I didn’t know if I had been doing it well, you know my work because you’ve already bought it… and they hired me, and it was really crazy.”

“At the time, it absolutely was my dream job. I couldn’t think of another position I wanted more,” Bray said.

And it would be for the next five or so years. It became obvious that the diehard customers were loving her designs, a playful, imperfect addition to a very traditional southern brand; as Jessa herself described them, a perfect mix of color and class. And as about a dozen of her designs sold out, making the company a conservative guess of millions, her confidence grew and the imposter syndrome shrank.

“You just experience all those thoughts. The whole time I was putting out work, it was just kind of like, I hope this makes sense… I hope they like it. It’s like spaghetti on a wall,” Bray said. “And then probably at about year three, I started to know, oh, this is good. This one’s going to sell out. The confidence really kicked in around year three, and I can hold my own.”

“That’s when the shift started to happen,” Bray said. “I’m glad to be here, thanks for having me, but, I belong here, and this could be my room, too.”

It wasn’t her room, though. Even though her artwork was being produced and enjoyed by the masses, since it was made for someone else’s brand, Jessa doesn’t technically own it. If Simplified wanted to rework a pattern to become home décor, or a wall covering, Jessa would have little say over it. That, combined with the pressure to create more products with heavy direction, led to internal (and maybe outward) tension for the art director.

“At first, I craved it… to finally be in a company where I could have someone with experience in selling things tell me, refine this… it was very much a learning experience for me, and I’m so grateful for it because I didn’t go to school for art or design,” Bray said. “I think as I got more confident as an artist, I started to resist a little more.”

“I felt that internal strain of, this doesn’t feel like me, or this didn’t feel like how I would do it, or the best that I would have it, or the colors I wanted it in. And that’s really hard to let go of, because you put so much time into things like this, they’re like your children… it crated a very real attachment to the art,” Bray said. “That started to get really difficult.”

After heavy contemplation, conversations with her family, and prayer, Jessa resigned from Simplified in June of 2023, leaving fans and followers in shock and with many questions. For her, there were none.

“I think there's a lot of girls that think I'm crazy still for leaving. I know that I had a lot of messages, in my inbox, like, I can't believe this,” Bray said. “And I'm so grateful that people even feel that kind of connection with my work, but the feelings that I was having, were overwhelming in that it kind of wasn't even a choice. I have to go.”

“It went from not feeling like I could be in the room- to I deserved to be in the room- to I want my own room. I want to say who can come in and join me in that room,” Bray said. “I would also say that the discomfort of working on a team and working on a machine, when you’re constantly releasing things and more products are being picked up and more art is being produced, it’s very difficult to be okay with that.”

Jessa believes the feelings she experienced are why companies don’t often hire independent artists.

“I think it’s just too conflicted with who they’re created to be and to have someone else calling the shots on creativity, and that being an innate part of your being, it’s like oil and water at some point.”

The split between the brand and its art director was amicable, but Jessa admits she believes Simplified’s owner, Emily Ley, was surprised by her decision. It also came in the middle of a production cycle, with products being ordered for the next season due to lead times on customs and shipping. Jessa says steps were taken to ensure no gaps in quality or design, and her final planners will come out next season.

I’ve seen this time and time again as friends move on to new chapters in their professional careers; they take it upon themselves in the final weeks to put systems in place to protect the company or brand, even if it’s not necessarily their responsibility. To steal a line from T Swift herself, Jessa says she wanted to keep her side of the street clean upon her exit.

“We've kind of moved on, both of us,” Bray said of Ley. “And I think that it's great.”

But, now what?

“I really had only worked in this like one niche… and I know I'm good. I know that I'm good at this, but I need more I need more experience now, and more knowledge outside of just paper,” Bray explained.

What better way to learn more things than by doing… Everything. All.At.Once.

Enter Cherrywood Lane Design House, an explosion of rich color and flavor, akin to its namesake.

From the CL website, Jessa describes her specialties as graphic design, surface patterns and illustration, hand lettering and typography, branding… basically, she can take your idea and make it a brand- or take your brand and make it even better- and create an online presence that will stand out in the crowd.

“Not boring, very full of personality, and just kind of reflecting all of the work that they've already put in,” Bray said. “Those are the people that I'm working with to build brands with and brand identities with, and that has been super incredible and very rewarding.”

She’s now building out full websites for clients in addition to lettering and logo work, and potentially most exciting, licensing, through the help of her new agent, who brings her ideas that she can latch onto or throw back.

“I feel like I’m in a movie. It is incredible. It is the coolest thing to be on this side of creative work and having this range of trends to create for and manufacturers to create for, and stores. It really has been the coolest experience and I’m super grateful,” Bray said. “Just being able to say, no, I'm not going to do that, something's more important and I can choose that. That kind of freedom is everything.”

But the newfound freedom comes as her most famous work to date continues to live on under someone else’s brand. On the Cherrywood Lane website, much of her portfolio of pattern work links back to Simplified or one of its retailers. She knows that, at any time, those could pop up in new products and continue to make someone else money into perpetuity.

“I think I'd be lying if I said that wasn't hard. I think anybody in my position would be lying if they said it wasn't hard,” Bray said. “Once that feeling got too overwhelming is really when I started to know, okay, if this isn't sitting right, you have a choice. You can stay here and if you're uncomfortable that's not going to be fair to you, and it's not going to be fair to them because there's no way to put your best work out experiencing feelings like that, I'm convinced.”

Much like the TV news business, Jessa described noncompete clauses may keep new designs from entering certain spaces for awhile. But that doesn’t mean she’s not producing, and though she can’t yet reveal all the details, as we say in news, here’s a little tease: what’s coming is BIG.

“That’s something I struggled with when leaving, too, was that the last time I see my stuff in a big store? The answer is no,” Bray said. “And more stores than I’ve ever been in. It’s very cool, and very surreal. Still very much a pinch-me-moment of, oh good, it worked. The jumping worked.”

That leap of faith was, indeed, faith-based. I can’t write about Jessa without writing about her faith. In fact, back in those West, Texas Target aisles, inspired by home décor she couldn’t afford, the first designs she made for her own home and wholesale line were scripture-based, using the repetition in a way she can describe far better than I ever could:

“When I started lettering, I started lettering scriptures that gave me peace and hope and comfort. And I didn’t believe them,” Bray recalled, noting it was a tough time for her marriage and as new parents. “I had a really hard time believing the words in the Bible to be true, and the words that I had been raised on my whole life. To be in that place and feeling the way that I felt and dealing with what we were dealing with, I decided, if my heart's not ready, I'll just memorize it.”

“There's this verse in the Bible that says, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,’ and I remember feeling that exactly,” Bray said. “I know somehow this is probably true, but I don't feel it right now. I'm not experiencing it. So, I would letter the verses over and over until I believed them.”

Her trajectory is now beyond belief. Not only can she buy her designs in her favorite store, but more are coming, and a Cherrywood Lane Home line for Target doesn’t seem too far-fetched (it’s not in the works just yet- at least that I can confirm- but we’ve all seen the power of manifestation during this blog post alone!)—but navigating your own business requires some serious self-reflection, especially for a creative mind like Jessa’s.

“You have to know your limits; you’ve got to know how to manage your time. I think that the biggest mistakes that I made in entrepreneurship early on and the biggest mistakes that I made at Simplified early on were writing off some toxic traits of mine like procrastination and just assuming that I'll be able to do it without writing it down in a list like a normal human,” Bray joked. “Those things add up, and if you cannot balance your time, if you cannot know your capacity and your boundaries, you will overcommit every time. You will under-deliver, most times.”

But perhaps more importantly than knowing your limits, Jessa has a piece of advice as bold as any of her patterns- Know Your Worth.

“Know what you're worth. Know that there is a transition that happens from being grateful to be in the room, to you deserve to be in the room. Know how to identify that transition because it's an important one,” Bray said. “Don’t be a crappy human. Treat people the way you want to be treated. And if you are given the chance to take a chance, just do it. Because the worst that could happen is they say no. And that is like so elementary, but like, why not?

From Beyond The A-Block: I feel incredibly lucky to call Jessa a friend, and to have an original design in my home. In 2021, when we were both pregnant and she was in the throes of work for Simplified, Jessa was an integral part of our story by taking her talents to our nursery, giving us a surprise mural which we used as a gender reveal. We both had baby boys toward the end of the year and I am dreading the day that my guy wants to paint his room something new, but with Jessa just a call or text away, I have no doubt she will be able to execute whatever his mind dreams up.

And if you made it this far... Jessa may kill me, but you have to see this video she left us while she was doing the work in our home! I laugh every time. Love you, JB!

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  • Writer's pictureKarla Ray

When did it end? All the enjoyment.

If you haven’t been living under a rock or avoiding social media this summer, you’ve no doubt seen all the hype around the Barbie movie, and likely seen Reels or TikTok videos with splashes of pink to the upbeat sounds of the soundtrack (or the satire posts about how the men in our lives are just ‘Kenough’ set to a quite catchy reprise of one of Matchbox 20’s greatest hits... as evidenced by the throwback photo above, he's always been Just Ken). Most of these clips are fun to watch, and the choreography that looks so simple would take me days to learn, but the posts hitting me in the feels the most are those set to Billie Eilish’s haunting voice on What Was I Made For?

Looked so alive, turns out I’m not real.

Just something you paid for.

What was I made for?

Though I’m a few weeks late to tackle this topic in terms of the never-ending cycle of what’s hot on social media, it took me some time to digest how I was feeling about Barbie. How could I, a grown woman… a wife, mother, news anchor, be so impacted by a movie about a toy? One I haven’t thought of in decades? Well, simply put, it made me reflect on the same question Billie asked—What Was I Made For?

What analysts have called the Great Resignation, to me, has looked more like the Great Reinvention. In the last two years, as industries have changed and the gig economy picked up, I’ve watched my network of friends and family flip the script on their destinies. Some- scratch that- MANY have walked away from their careers in television after decades of climbing from market to market, in favor of charting their own path in the new media landscape… but it’s not just the news industry. I watched one of the most talented designers I know leave one of the most notable brands to launch her own, and a lifelong friend walk away from a top hospital job with the most medically complex cases in her specialty for summers off with her kids and a less stressful school setting. Another dear girlfriend is planning her exit strategy from being a full-time PTto focus on growing her side hustle into her main bread and butter; a new advisor launched her own consulting firm after more than a decade of growing government contacts while working for other people; and yet another friend is planning to walk away from a successful brick and mortar business for something new by the new year.

Whether it’s the unrest of approaching middle age or a search for self-actualization, it seems everyone in my circle is feeling the urge- and taking the leap- to pursue passions instead of promised paychecks. And they’re far from alone. GoDaddy started studying the phenomenon of microbusinesses in its Venture Forward project just before the pandemic, and found evidence of massive growth of entrepreneurship based on the number of unique domain names launched for the smallest of businesses, almost all with fewer than ten employees (95%), and most with just one. And though instinct may suggest that of the 30% of those microbusinesses that were born post-pandemic were created due to necessity (read: people losing their jobs due to shutdowns and closures), GoDaddy’s data found that a whopping 83% of microbusiness owners are running their own show due to opportunity, rather than necessity.

Opportunity breeds optimism. GoDaddy found that for all microbusiness entrepreneurs, confidence in their own endeavors is growing, while confidence in the overall economy has gone down. I can feel that optimism when I talk to my girlfriends who are helping to make up those statistics; they feel confident in what they’re doing. In the work. In themselves. And though I think autonomy and the feeling of achievement is hard to beat when you launch your own business, I think what’s fueling the surge we’re seeing now is bigger than that. It’s about getting back to the storylines we created in our minds when we played with Barbies- the dream lives built in our imaginations, based on our hobbies and what we enjoyed rather than what was expected of us. This new wave of entrepreneurs is leaning in, and answering, the question-- What Was I Made For?

And that leads me here, in an existential state of self-reflection. I am grateful to say that after all this time, I still love what I do for work. It’s all I ever wanted to do, to write professionally.


I used to write for fun.

I used to create storylines in my mind.

Poems- plays- short stories- even songs.

Too many ideas for novels to count.

When did it end? All the enjoyment? When my passion for writing became my profession, I stopped pursuing the playful part of it. As an investigative reporter, I now tell some of the most detailed, delicate, data-driven stories… sitting with people from all walks of life who have entrusted me to push for answers on their behalf in what’s often their darkest moment. There is joy in that responsibility, and I don’t take it for granted, but… I used to write for fun.

The idea of this blog is to go Beyond The A-Block- and beyond the newsroom, even- as a commitment to myself to get back to the girl I was when my Barbie collection was at its peak; the girl who filled dozens of notebooks with inspiration only from her imagination and did so just for fun. I want to tell these stories, in addition to those I tell for work. And I hope to start with those who are living out the dreams they had when they were little... dreams they may have pushed away for a more practical path for years... but are getting back to what it is they're made for. If this is you, I'd love to help tell your story.

It’s Something I’m Made For.

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