Lizzie Williams On The Importance of Empathy, Community, and Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin
Photography by Studio Phrene
This is a series on local style talent, where I will introduce you to some of the most stylish top talent in West Michigan. These creatives, professionals and entrepreneurs are at the top of their respective fields and have put in the blood, sweat and tears to get where they are today. They're dedicated, hard working and most of all, kind, good people. You can find them busting ceilings, re-inventing and re-thinking industries where another name, website or business is just another drop in the bucket, all while managing to help others along the way. They're the workers, the dreamers and the go-getters who are the best at doing what they do, and they do it in style.
A few jobs ago, I had the pleasure of working with the very talented Lizzie Williams. We never actually worked on anything together until we started up the club BitCamp, where we teach a day long class to middle school girls, exposing them to the industry of computer programming and helping them realize their possible potential in the field. However, Lizzie was in marketing, and was often helping out with things in the application development department where I worked, so we ran into each other often.
The first thing I really noticed about Lizzie was that she seemed to be comfortable talking to anyone, a trait I would give my left leg for. She had poise, confidence and familiar faces who were always happy to see her where ever she went, and her clean, professional style often impressed me. Possibly my favorite thing about Lizzie was that she spoke to me like a regular human being, not like a nerdy, awkward programmer. She remembered my interests, what was happening in my life, and made a point to say hi when she saw me hanging out by myself. I've always worked in a typical "boys club" of a setting, so people like Lizzie really stand out to me since it can get very lonely. Her style, in one, self-described word is, "comfortable," which in my opinion is what Lizzie is to everyone she meets. Whether she's in jeans and a hoodie, or a peppy blazer and heels, she is someone who takes the time to listen, understand, and empathize, she exudes confidence and kindness, and the world is a better place because of people like her.
The Woman: "On Alert for the Next Adventure!"
Lizzie has lived in the Eastown / East Hills area of Grand Rapids, MI with her adorable pup Barlow, and is about to celebrate her 30th birthday! The artwork throughout her home is perfectly curated and the interesting places and people behind the pieces were enough for me to ask her why she doesn't offer in-home art consulting as a service. It's a beautiful, 100 year old home where she hosts an array of Airbnb guests, runs her side business, Bike Antlers, and enjoys reading, playing cards, and trying all sorts of new things. Like previously discussed in this post, Lizzie knows A LOT of people. She's met so many interesting people through her AirBnb experience and she gets rave reviews from folks all over the country.
Lizzie's library is the next thing I noticed after the old Grand Rapids charm and such interesting artwork. Some of her most recent reads are Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and Fredrik Backman’s novel, “A Man Called Ove." If you're in the GR area, make sure to stop by one of my fave bookstores, Books & Mortar, to pick up copies of both. She spent two weeks this past summer traveling to Paris, Amsterdam and along the coast of Croatia so her international travel antenna is on alert for her next adventure. New Zealand, anyone?
As with most successful people, there's often a substantial support system motivating and encouraging them to push their own limits, and Lizzie's considers herself extremely fortunate to have grown up in such an inspirational family.
I really lucked out in life, I was born into a family that I’m inspired by everyday. Every member of my family, from my mom and dad, to my brother and sister, cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles, inspire me in unique, but profound ways. Whether it’s their dedication to community, their work ethic, their unwillingness to settle for the status quo, or their passion for bringing people together, it’s shaped the way I interact with the world for the better. For all the ways that they inspire me as individuals, one of the most impactful attributes that my family has, as a collective group, is the commitment to having fun together.
When Lizzie isn't traveling, reading or spending time with family and friends, she can often be seen helping out her community. She's on the Saint Mary’s Foundation Board of Trustees, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County Board of Directors, Williams Distributing/Williams Kitchen & Bath Board of Advisors, and is a Kids’ Food Basket Marketing Committee member. She truly is an ambassador to her community. One of her favorite quotes is, "Everything we are is at every moment alive in us,” by Arthur Miller, and she demonstrates this every day, taking life one big adventure at a time.
The Career: "Fan the Enthusiasm of Possibility"
Lizzie has worked at Open Systems Technologies (OST) for almost 5 years now and last year became their Marketing Insights & Communication Specialist. She had been working in marketing and communication her entire career, and really zeroed in on the IT industry since joining the OST team.
I’ve always enjoyed reading, writing, and talking, so when I found out you could get a college degree in “communications” I was sold. I developed a passion in learning about theories, motivations and the techniques that people consciously, or unconsciously, use to better understand those around them. The fluidity of communication and marketing skills also appealed to me because I knew there would be flexibility in the way my future could unfold.
In 2014, Lizzie was awarded the Athena Young Professional Award, which recognizes women in the Grand Rapids area who have demonstrated leadership in their field, opened doors of opportunities for women, contributed time and talent to the community, and are role models to others —particularly young women—in the community. Then, in 2015, she was nominated for the Grand Rapids Young Professionals “Community Improvement Award.” Although she is highly recognized in the Grand Rapids community, she is still one of the most down to earth, relatable people you'll come across here. She has a way of navigating the professional waters while keeping a humble view on the world and her accomplishments.
I spent a week at a Human Centered Design training in Chicago earlier this year and one of nuggets that really stuck with me, as it relates to finding balance and prioritizing time, was to, “treat your whole life like a design project.” After I let that marinate in my brain for a bit I decided to give it a try. I took a look at my “bucket list” to determine the goals that were most important to me and then I broke down the elements into categories that would help me make the best use of the limited time I have here on this crazy little planet. For the past 6 months I’ve had a monthly “dashboard” posted by my desk with manageable monthly goals that I fill out as I complete them. (Goals include a variety of categories, such as: “Read”, “Visited”, “Hosted”,“Learned”, “Volunteered”, “Thanked”, etc.). It’s been an incredibly simple, but effective, tool for me to feel balanced and to (softly) ensure that the way I’m spending my time is aligned to my higher-vision aspirations - personally, and professionally.
Among the other 20,000 things Lizzie has going on, she always makes time to help others whether it be through volunteering, serving on a board, or helping out a friend with their startup's branding and marketing campaign (thanks, Lizzie!). She offered up some advice to those up-and-comers and aspiring leaders in her industry:
One thing I’ve learned from working in the technology industry, and specifically at OST, is to never default to “no”. Inherently, our industry is future-oriented and, in order to succeed in that space, you have to be open to what’s possible. The encouragement to ideate, to think creatively, and to simply try new things has been a huge source of motivation for me. I think leaders, at all levels, should strive to be that source of energy for others; to encourage new ideas before laying barriers and to fan the enthusiasm of possibility.
The Style: "Comfortable and Confident"
From Lizzie's home to her clothing choices to her work, this girl's got style, and it's none other than her very own. When asked to describe her style, she elaborates, "Casually curated. I appreciate good design and style in all forms but I try not to overthink it. Every time I walk out of the house I just try to make sure I feel two things: comfortable and confident." She is one of those women who you bump into in your yoga pants, dirty hair, and baby formula stains on your sweater, and think, "man, she's got her shit together." While I'm fairly certain that isn't the case for anybody, all the time, she pulls off the put-together image expertly. She enjoys shopping at local boutiques (some of Style Logic's favorites) like Lee & Birch, Woosah, Gina’s, etc. but occasionally mixes in the go-to’s like Loft, Evereve, Gap and Banana Republic.
I had to laugh when I asked Lizzie what the first thing is that she'd add to her closet if she won the lottery, "A bigger closet! My closet is so tiny! Darn old houses!" Regardless of the tiny closet, she had no lack of stylish pieces to choose from, and my help was very minimally needed for this shoot. If she had to live in anything for the rest of her life it'd be, "super soft jeans, a loose tank, an oversized sweater, and my nikes."
Lizzie goes for comfort, both mentally and physically, over anything in her clothes. The style rule she lives by is, "if you're not comfortable in it, don't wear it." Her beauty staples are eyeliner and 8+ hours of sleep; simple, yet effective. While she's currently in the market for a classic trench (here's one of my faves from Club Monaco), and considering getting back into the overalls game (I recommend Madewell's), she makes sure to stay true to her own style.
I’ve always loved wearing hats! All kinds. Beanies in the winter, baseball caps when I’m in lounge mode, floppies on the beach - whatever! Come to think of it, my dad had this crazy hat collection when I was growing up, so maybe that rubbed off on me??
It's important for a person to stay true to their own, personal style. A person's own style isn't just a professional image, a unique wardrobe, or a perfectly curated wall of art, it's an expression of self. Often, the industries of fashion and interior design can gain a superficial image when people's focus drifts too far from the original intent of design. Designers, retailers, bloggers, myself included, can easily lose site of this, and focus on the material aspect of these industries, but when it really comes down to it, personal style is simply, and not so simply, a method of self-expression, unique in that it is, in the words of Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada, "greater than art because you live your life in it." When it comes to people who follow these industries, Lizzie is unique in that she is more interested in representing who she is and what she stands for in her style than following trends or what others are buying, and she accomplishes that with seemingly great ease. She lets her self-expression shine through in everything from her home to her wardrobe, and it truly makes her a wonderful person to be around and learn from.
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