Work is a constant conversation. It is the back-and-forth between what I think is me and what I think is not me; it is the edge between what the world needs of me and what I need of the world.
— David Whyte


I’ve never been someone who could or wanted to separate career and personal goals. My work is my passion and deeply personal. As I started 2018 as a first time mom, I spent many sleepless nights (literally, pacing around the house with a baby over my shoulder!) pondering my goals and intentions for the year.


I'm deeply in love with my daughter and excited to be a mama. I also love the work I do, unearthing what makes people tick and diving into cultural changes. I don't want to "balance" these things as if they were separate components of my life. These are all part of me, and I want them together, in conversation with each other, in a dance that build off each other, in a journey that pushes me to grow as a creative and as a mother.

Here's my 2018 goal: to continue to build my consulting practice and kick off production on my next documentary—and do so by drawing strength and grace from my new role as mother to a mighty little girl. With my next documentary focused on matriarchal communities, this new intertwining of my creative and personal lives is particularly powerful for me.


A key aspect of my goal is to change the script on how we think and talk about working mothers. Working on The Big Flip for the last 5+ years means I've spent a lot of time talking to lots of people about motherhood and work. And I realize, I don’t want to be trapped in the same old conversations about sacrifice, compromise and guilt.


Page from izzy's bujo journal


Instead of sacrifice, I want to discuss how motherhood has fired me up and reinvigorated my commitment to doing good work. As a parent, time is precious, and I want to spend it doing work that thrills me, that makes this world a little better, a little brighter for my daughter, and with people I want to be part of her life.

Instead of compromise, I want to talk about the new perspectives and creative opportunities that my little girl has opened my eyes to. I feel a ripening and maturation in how I work. Instead of jumping right into action, I take more time reading and conversing. I listen more, write more, question more. So that when I do act, the intention is sharper and clearer. All of which adds complexity and depth to my work.

And I'm done, done, done with the topic of guilt—I want to start a new conversation around the unique experiences that working mothers bring to their children. I love stories of other creative parents and the magical childhood memories they gift to their children—the field biologist whose boys spent a summer in the rainforest with her on a work expedition; the photographer on assignment with a baby in a sling; my own fond memory of helping my father with an ocean-themed mural commission at an amusement park. Other mothers can bake cupcakes. Me, I shall bring my daughter stories of warrior queens in the desert and a mountain goddess who created a kingdom of women.


I’m not saying that sacrifice, compromise and guilt aren’t part of the story of a working mother. I’m just tired of how they’re often the only things we talk about. I’m ready for a new conversation.



So next time we meet, don't ask me about sacrifices I've had to make to my career. Instead, ask me how being a mother is tranforming my approach to work. Not that there aren't sacrifices. But I'd much rather think and talk about all the ways being a mother has fired me up, and injected a new sense of purpose and thoughtfulness in the kind of work I do.

Don't ask me about the compromises I've had to make to my work. Instead, ask me how motherhood is opening up new perspectives. Not that there haven't been compromises, but it's so much more exciting to talk about the discoveries and new delights that parenthood opens up. 

And please, do not ask me about whether I'm going to continue to work, and who's going to take care of my daughter if I do. Instead, ask me what kind of adjustments my husband and I have had to make to our lives and our work with the addition of a child. Because while there have been adjustments, my husband and I embrace the responsibility of parenthood equally, and I will not let anyone make me feel guilty for doing work that helps sustain my family and make the world a better place for my daughter.

It really comes down to this—don't ask a working mother what you wouldn't ask a working father.


So what should you say, if someone were to ask that innocuous but loaded question about whether you plan to go back to work, and who's going to take care of your child if you do? My natural instinct is to breathe fire when someone asks me something annoying like that. But thanks to a few other friendlier working moms, here are some suggestions on what to say to encourage more constructive dialogue.

  • Interesting question. Why do you ask? (Keep turning the question back to the person, so they start to think about their assumptions.)
  • (If they know your spouse) Funny you should ask. Have you asked my husband/partner that question?
  • (If they don't know your spouse) Before I answer, I'm curious—have you asked a working father that question before?
  • It's fascinating, how often I'm asked that question, yet no one has asked my husband/partner if he planned to go back to work. Rather, the question he gets is whether his wife—me—plans to go back to work. What do you think this says about us as a society?
  • Your question reminds of an interesting Pew Research poll, where they ask people whether they think children are better off with mom at home or at work. What's your response to that question? (After they answer.) Did you know that over 50% of Americans believe kids are better off with mom at home than at work, but only 8% believe that kids are better off with dad at home than at work? What do you think about the gender disparity in the results?

Here are a few other questions to ask yourself, working moms, and have your answers ready.

  • What are the different ways motherhood has had a positive impact on your attitude or approach to work? Talk about these the next time you get tired of talking about sacrifices and compromises to your career.
  • What are some elements of your work and/or passions that you're excited to share with your child? What are some unique or magical experiences that you dream of sharing with your child, to give them a taste of what you love about your work? The next time someone asks whether you feel guilty about leaving your children when you work, celebrate these unique gifts you'll be giving your children.

Personally, I always feel better when I start from a position of strength. Sometimes, a slight shift in the frame of reference can change the tone of the conversation, allowing you to come out of it feeling energized and empowered instead of defensive and resentful.

This is my intention for 2018: show my daughter, by example, how to embrace her place in the world as a woman with a purpose while being a mother full of love.

Izzy Chan is the director of The Big Flip–Stories from the Modern Home Front, a documentary feature about the rise of female breadwinners and at-home dads. Click here to learn how you can bring the film to your community for an inspired discussion on gender equality at home and at work.


Redesigning Fatherhood: How Brands Can Turn Their Vision of the Modern Dad Into a Reality

The Author's husband and their four children.  Photo from   The Big Flip

The Author's husband and their four children. Photo from The Big Flip


It's time to rethink how we work, and how we live. 


By Bonnie Wan

Fatherhood isn’t what it used to be. My own dad came from a generation of fathers as nouns—figures to be respected, revered and, at times, feared. They were tireless workers measured solely by their career success and ability to provide financial stability, rather than by their caregiving.

My husband, on the other hand, is part of a new breed of dads for whom fathering is an active and engaged verb.

As the stay-at-home parent of our four young kids, he is the emotional center of our family and the CQLO (chief quality-of-life officer) of our lives. He also happens to be a trailblazer of modern fatherhood, challenging traditional notions of masculinity while expanding the definition of fatherhood. I’m proud that his example is showcased in the documentary film The Big Flip (www.bigflipdocumentary.com) alongside that of three other fathers as lead parents.

Photo from  The Big Flip

Photo from The Big Flip


But public opinion and culture have yet to catch up. Fifty-one percent of Americans still believe kids are better off with moms at home instead of at work. And only 8 percent feel the same about dads, according to the Pew Research Center.


Even the acronym for a stay-at-home dad, SAHD, sounds like “sad” when said out loud. These are deeply ingrained values and cultural views that are hard to overcome. Even I struggled in the early years of parenting with shaking off the belief that I was more equipped to be the primary (aka, “better”) parent.

The truth is that good parenting isn’t a question of gender, at least not scientifically. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has found that “the neural underpinnings of the so-called maternal instinct aren’t unique to women … but can be developed by anyone who chooses to be a parent.” In addition, as Live Science has found, “taking care of a child reshapes a dad’s brain, causing it to show the same patterns of cognitive and emotional engagement that are seen in moms.”

But while millennial men are eager to be deeply engaged fathers, “the workplace is keeping men from achieving their goals as fathers” (Lisen Stromberg, Work Pause Thrive). Our expectations for men to be “all in” employees who exhibit high levels of competitiveness and ambition continue to limit men and women alike. There’s much ado these days about gender equality and the need for more women in leadership and the workplace.

But to realize this vision, we must champion the other side of the equation—to see, celebrate and support men as equally capable caregivers.

Photo from   The Big Flip

Photo from The Big Flip

So, this Father’s Day, as a way of honoring my husband and active, attentive dads everywhere, I’m calling on companies to redesign their policies, workplaces, products and services in support of modern fatherhood.

In recent years, big-name brands have stepped up to the plate with “dadvertising” that captures this shift. Cheerios proudly showed the world #HowToDad in 2015, and HP featured real conversations between fathers and daughters as part of its effort to reduce “unconscious bias.” Getty Images launched a new stock-image collection to redefine masculinity, showing men as involved caretakers and caregivers. Target and Dove are also paving the way. But not all brands get it right. Amazon was petitioned by a relentless and vocal group of dads before renaming its Amazon Mom program as Amazon Family.

Yet while words and images have a very real impact in shaping our reality, they aren’t enough. It’s time to radically rethink how we work and how we live so that our realities can match our emerging ideals and intentions.

The opportunity to lead is now. The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989. And the number of dual-income households has exploded. All of this results in the convergence of roles between mothers and fathers.


According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Study, 57 percent of dads say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Yet 52 percent of working dads find it hard to balance the responsibilities of work and family (something working moms have struggled with for decades). As long as men are held back from full and equal participation at home, women will continue to feel limits at work.


Tech companies like Netflix, Spotify and Facebook are designing the way forward by creating work cultures with paid parental leave, workplace flexibility, on- or near-site daycare, childcare/tuition subsidies and returnships (for both men and women).

Consumer-facing brands have the chance to win families over by re-envisioning how we eat, cook, shop, invest, commute, entertain and set up home, with dads at the (shared) center of it all. Because when we empower dads to “lean in” at home, we liberate both men and women to feel unconstrained in the roles they play and the interests they pursue.

So this Sunday, let’s celebrate Dad by replacing outdated clichés of disconnected dads with the full spectrum of what vibrant and modern fatherhood looks like today.





Repost of an original piece by Bonnie Wan on adweek.com in 2017. 



Bonnie Wan: "The Most Important Brief I've Written"

Bonnie gives a talk about her life brief at the 3% Conference in New York in November, 2017


The brief. It’s the essence of a brand, distilled to a single page. It’s the starting point for every project, whether it’s an ad, a product or a brand experience. And ultimately, it’s a North Star for future direction and a springboard for action. 

As a veteran advertising strategist, I’ve spent over 25 years writing briefs for world-class brands. Then, in a moment of personal turmoil, I stopped and wondered, why not write one for myself?

I wrote my first life brief in 2010. Married to a wonderful man and being a mother to three, I had just returned to a senior role at the agency I loved. Yet as my sense of achievement grew, my sense of fulfillment faded. Strained by the pressures of dueling careers and the challenges of raising a young family, our marriage skidded close to free fall’s edge. By April of that year, I fell deep into a crisis of meaning. So I did what I’ve done for countless clients. I wrote a brief.

I took stock and asked myself four vital questions: If we could change one thing, what would it be? If we could have more of something, what would that be? What do I fear? What do I crave?

What emerged was clear and surprisingly simple: More time with our kids and with each other. Work with greater purpose and a progressive education for our kids. A creatively inspiring home for our expanding family anchored in a vibrant and value-driven community. And finally, to explore the world, exposing our kids to the many facets of humanity.

Action is a byproduct of clarity. Once the brief was written, we saw our lives with a sharpness and clarity that had not existed before. And once it was clear, it was impossible not to act.

Change was scary and not without risk. We left California and moved to Portland, where I began commuting to San Francisco while pregnant with my fourth child. This move made it possible for my husband to pause his career and stay home with our three kids plus the baby, a decision recently featured in the documentary "The Big Flip."

Creatively and courageously, we made it work and, within months of writing it, manifested everything we envisioned in our life brief.

Here are six things I’ve learned to help kick-start your life brief:

Find your quiet. Tuning into you requires tuning out life’s distractions. The good news is that it doesn’t require a summer sabbatical or even a weekend getaway. Our most mundane moments can be our most meditative. Take advantage of mindless routine to let your insights and ideas bubble up. 

Start with questions. Creative briefs use questions to stimulate ideas. The same applies to the life brief. Here are a few questions to play with: What’s your ambition? What makes you leap out of bed? What’s your enemy? What do you fight for or against? What’s your edge or superpower? If you could be remembered for only one thing, what would it be? Write the answers down, especially the stuff that makes you squirm.

Interview your fans. It’s hard to see for ourselves what’s obvious to everyone around us. Make a list of eight to 10 people who know you best, from different corners and stages of your life. Ask them the following: What three things make you you? What (situations, people or things) energizes you? What (situations, people or things) drains you? What’s your superpower?

Look for patterns. Life is a tapestry. It’s easier to see the patterns when you step back. As you review the feedback from yourself and others, highlight the themes, recurring words and ideas. What are they telling you?

Sharpen your words. Words matter in briefs. When used well, they capture the essence of an idea while evoking emotion and inspiring action. Getting to the heart of your life brief takes time and practice. Your first attempt will probably suck. But once you get a draft down, you can experiment with words to help you drill deeper, get sharper and be braver. Be honest with yourself. Don’t stop until you nail what you truly want.

Let go. Allow your brief to realize itself. Focus on what matters instead of how to get there. Clear intentions are enough to unlock and reveal the path forward. And when you release yourself from self-doubt and limiting narratives, you make space to see opportunities you would have otherwise overlooked. Changing your story changes your life.

Over time, our life brief has expanded and taken on new iterations. With every evolution our lives follow suit. After moving to Portland six years ago, we moved back to the Bay Area, with our latest chapter unveiling a different version of the same yet expanded brief. 

Through it all my husband and I have become co-creators and collaborators in life, growing the awe and admiration we have for each other and for our life together. We’re doing work that lights us up, stretches us and makes us better.
BonChipPortraitTestWeekend - 1.jpg

We’re each carving a path of fulfillment, not just achievement. Most importantly, we’ve become more present and patient parents—as well as more generous and compassionate friends.

The life brief has become a new year’s ritual, an annual reimagining of what’s possible while reconnecting to what’s true.

I have shared our brief with others and now teach a workshop about it at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, encouraging purposeful, creative living for our employees. In doing so, I hear about the fears and limiting thoughts holding people back from living with intention. It’s no surprise in the era of social media, where envy, inadequacy and regret have become commonplace.

It’s my hope that the life brief can help free people from the shackles of comparison to craft a life anchored in what matters most. In the book, "The Great Work of Your Life," author Stephen Cope observes, "In knowing what truly matters, we are liberated from our striving to be somewhere else or someone else." 

The life brief is a practice in reimagining what’s possible while reconnecting to what’s true, freeing us from envy, confusion and regret. In answer to the common debate question about if whether people can have it all, I say, you can’t have it all, but you can have all that matters.



Repost of an original piece by Bonnie Wan on campaignlive.com in 2016.