Interview 012: Annette Ferrara

Annette Ferrara is a Storyteller and Marketing Lead for Ideo Chicago, and a Co-producer of Mortified, a live event in which adults share shameful tales of yore with complete strangers (it's so up my alley, I wish I'd thought of it first.) Professionally,  I've long admired Annette's multifaceted creative path. Personally, the way Annette describes herself as a "high-functioning introvert" who idolizes Iris Apfel, strives to stay present, and consciously puts herself in a position to grow no matter how uncomfortable, inspires me deeply and confirms that she's my kindred spirit; although Annette is much, much wiser than I am. 

Here's Annette.

This is me with my husband Jerry on my 40th birthday. We were visiting his family in Ireland and I asked to spend the day among Megalithic-era tombs to give me some perspective on the expanse of time and my place in the universe.

This is me with my husband Jerry on my 40th birthday. We were visiting his family in Ireland and I asked to spend the day among Megalithic-era tombs to give me some perspective on the expanse of time and my place in the universe.

What character stuff have you had to actively work on over the past several years?
I'm an over-planner and list-maker by nature, so it can be very hard for me to be really present in a moment or to be serendipitous. Both are enviable character traits / ways of being that I have to actively work on daily. I think those who don't know me well might be surprised to discover I'm really an introvert masquerading as an extrovert. Or as I describe myself, a "high-functioning introvert."
 
How are you doing on that stuff now?

To help myself stay present: Every morning when I take my dogs for a walk, we stop in more or less the same spot (they like routines, too!) and I force myself to pause and look at the skyline and the buildings and people around me. Really concentrate on how my body feels, the weather, sounds, sights, etc. The idea is to reflect for a few minutes on what's different and to remind myself that although things might look similar, today is never yesterday.
 
To invite more serendipity into my life: When I go on vacation with my husband, I still do a lot of research and create color-coded Google Maps (!), but I don't plan every millisecond. I leave time for serendipity (as weird as "planning for serendipity" sounds...). I credit my fun-loving husband for that. His favorite activity is getting lost in a city. I've also started to take Second City classes. Having to say "yes, and" in front of a room of strangers doesn't leave you a lot of time to plan ahead!

This is the Frenchie Shrine in my house. Most of the artwork and objects are gifts from friends. At the top is a beautiful watercolor portrait of my dear, sweet late Frenchie Prue by Dmitry Samarov. It's not hoarding if it's organized, right? 

This is the Frenchie Shrine in my house. Most of the artwork and objects are gifts from friends. At the top is a beautiful watercolor portrait of my dear, sweet late Frenchie Prue by Dmitry Samarov. It's not hoarding if it's organized, right? 

To be more social/outgoing: I have two very cute Frenchies, so strangers always stop me on the street to talk to them (and, because I'm attached to them, eventually, they talk to me). Co-producing Mortified is also a sociability forcing function for me. We have shows confirmed so I have to meet new people and help them shape their stories. Ditto for any events I do at IDEO. I put myself on the hook in a public way so I can't back out and hunker down at home by myself with trashy magazines. Oh, and I also try to wear something eye-catching like a statement necklace or clashing patterns to give people something to talk to me about. I know that sounds lame, but it saves me from having to approach them first and makes socializing easier.

How would you describe your purpose?
In a lot of ways, I see my purpose in life as that of a gracious host at a party. I want the people around me to always feel warm and welcomed and truly seen and loved by me. Like we're collaborating on an extraordinary experience that, for even a few minutes or seconds, will make our lives a little happier and brighter and fun.

This is one of my favorite spaces in the IDEO office: our roofdeck! It's a great sanity check to have some outdoor space in the middle of a busy work week. Bonus: during the summer we hold outdoor movie nights out there. Photo by Steve Hall (C) 2010 Hedrich Blessing Photography

This is one of my favorite spaces in the IDEO office: our roofdeck! It's a great sanity check to have some outdoor space in the middle of a busy work week. Bonus: during the summer we hold outdoor movie nights out there. Photo by Steve Hall (C) 2010 Hedrich Blessing Photography

Define your career... Then tell us how it's different then you thought it would be.
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to do something creative, whether that was writing or acting or making art, it didn't matter. I just wanted to be surrounded by other creative people and do weird, wonderful stuff. My "career," as it were, has taken a number of twists and turns. I went to grad school to be an art historian, worked in museums and galleries, founded an art magazine, was a catalog copywriter for Crate & Barrel, started Mortified Chicago, and ended up at a design firm called IDEO where I'm now leading marketing for our Chicago studio. These things might seem unrelated, but I think the thread through them is that same desire I had as a child to pursue creativity in whatever form it happened to take at the time.
 
Do you feel like you've made it yet? Have things clicked? Explain.
I'm an only child who was raised by a single mother in a working-class family in a small town in Pennsylvania. I was the first woman in my family to go to college and move to a big city. All this is to say that the life I've made for myself is the result of hard work, stubbornness, optimism, and a big dose of luck and good timing. I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful husband who both challenges and supports me, work for one of the world's most creative design firms, have friends who continually inspire me, and come home to the sweetest dogs on the planet. I don't know if these things mean I've made it, but do feel like things have clicked.
 
How do you think others perceive your life path? Do you care?
I used to think my mother thought I was crazy for moving away and pursuing a life in the arts. It turns out--she did! But she's also told me how she loved how brave I was for striking out on my own. As I get older, I find I care less and less about what others think about my life choices and listen much more closely to my own intuition. As long as I'm not intentionally harming anyone by my actions, I feel like I'm all good.
 
Speaking of others, how have your relationships shaped you?
Like most teenagers, I used to complain about how lame I thought my family was. Why couldn't they be cooler? Less religious? More cutting-edge? More adventurous? As an adult, however, I've come to appreciate how genuinely good and steady my family is. They're supportive and helpful and loving at every turn. I credit this early stability and their unbelievable faith and support in my being able to have long, solid relationships and to automatically assume good from others.
 
What's your perspective on life like now as opposed to 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
I appreciate small things more and don't sweat things I can't change. I'm easier on myself. That doesn't mean I don't continue to challenge myself and learn new things, but I recognize that trying something and failing isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It doesn't mean I'm a failure. Failure is just a part of any creative process. It's necessary for change.

What are you most looking forward to?
It's both a challenge and aspiration, but I hope I age gracefully and am as inspiring as my style heroes, Diana Vreeland and Iris Apfel.
 
In your daily life, when are you happiest?
Rolling around on the floor, playing with my dogs. Busting out into a spontaneous dance party with my husband. Riffing on jokes with my friends. Taking that first sip of coffee in the morning.
 
On the other hand, how do you pull yourself out of a funk when you're in one? And how did you most likely wind up in said hypothetical funk in the first place?
See previous answer. If I'm in a funk, it's usually because I feel overwhelmed or over-committed in some aspect of my life. Something is out of balance.

Annette on Twitter

More on Ideo

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And for good measure, rescue a Frenchie today!

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