Powering up with positivity in all her endeavors, today’s #RealLifeWonderWoman is a supporter of local small businesses and a creative. Ashley Biggar is the Director of Downtown Brookings (South Dakota) and is both artist and owner of Creative Impressions. Ashley has carried her passion for helping people in all her affairs – be it at work, in the community, volunteering, or to strangers that she will never meet. Everyone has a past, and she hopes by sharing some of hers it may paint a light in someone’s future.
KR: Hi Ashley! Would you please tell us about what brings you joy and fulfillment?
AB: I am so passionate about small businesses. I grew up working for some that did not make it, and it really bummed me out. They were great people and offered amazing services and products but did not have all the tools they needed to succeed. It pains me to see any business go out of business, like really, really hurts my heart and soul. I am a huge supporter of small business – weather it is patronizing, complimenting, sharing a post, consulting, cheerleading, befriending, or helping in other way, I am all for helping in all ways possible. I am so grateful I get to combine my passion for small business with my job. It is not really a job when I love what I get to do.
Nothing really gives me fulfillment and joy like events – planning, teamwork, organizing, executing, and problem-solving at events. I was an Event Manager at the Swiftel Center prior to my previous role as the Director of Downtown Brookings. Although I do still get to run events (yippee 😊), nothing quite compares to walking into an arena with 6,000 people and the feeling of awe that, “wow, I get to be a part of this.” I do get the same feeling when I get to organize a bridal shower for my niece, a birthday party for my kiddos, a networking event for a group of professionals, a training event for a team of leadership, or a fundraising wine gala. There is something magically of bringing people together to be entertained, educated, or to celebrate. The energy in the room is something that I live for. The connection of people coming together to add value and make memories is so very special. It seriously ignites my soul to be a part of a gathering of any size.
I really, really have a hard time sitting still and always have. My mom was told by doc when I was a kiddo that she would need find a way to positively channel my energy. Thank goodness I have found several. Additionally, I am a person who loves people – I especially love serving and helping people. I have poured my abundance of energy primarily into giving back and weaving my servant leadership style in all I do. I love to serve and can be found volunteering as the Chair of the Public Arts Commission, Vice Chair of the City of Brookings Planning Commission, President of the Board of the Humane Society as well as anytime, anywhere that I am asked to serve and have the capacity. If that means dressing up, showing up, and singing a silly karaoke song to promote a good cause on Facebook Live and the radio, I am all in and have done so. I believe we can do so many great things together as we work towards bettering our communities for today and tomorrow. Sometimes that community starts with just one person – I love to mentor as well and find joy and necessity in being mentored. I also love working with students.
Also, since I was a youngster, I have been pretty darn creative. My medium of choice is paint, but I have got a knack for being quick to learn just about anything. Out of necessity at our summer music concert series, Downtown at Sundown, I taught myself how to face paint and love to do it. I also seriously enjoy teaching and have put together painting classes that are pretty darn fun. I was asked to paint “A World of Hearts” inspired mural at the beginning of COVID that lead to several more and a permanent mural to complete the series. I have painted the windows of 15 amazing businesses to share hope, a feeling of connectedness and positivity, and gratitude.
KR: I know you are being modest here. I’ve seen some of your artwork. You’ve got such talent! Please tell us more about what drives the artist in you, the pieced you’ve completed, and what the creative process has taught you.
AB: Art connects and reaches in a way that is understood beyond words, to both the artist and viewer. After devoting 180 volunteer hours, I am left with so much I’ve taken in from this passion project. I have so much gratitude for our businesses, the community, and my family.
There has been so much good during this darkness that I have seen and felt. Though I understand it can be easy to be smothered by it all, stand up. Stand up and act. Even the smallest of actions can make a difference. The difference may only be within you, but that matters. Change matters.
I have pushed through fear – yes, I too get blocked and worked up in my head. Afraid of what may happen if I try, but what is worse is if I do not. I am a recovering perfectionist, among other flaws, recoveries, and issues. This act of love has taught me to push past my fears and give all I have. In the end, love is not perfect, but it matters no less that it is not. Love is love.
I am not always positive, but I am always in search of solutions. Sometimes I am saddened by all that is happening and tear up. Sometimes it all just seems so overwhelming that I cannot move. Sometimes I get angry and cry. I feel it all and sometimes it sucks. It all seems like a lot…a lot of energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed but I can choose to shift it into creating a solution. That solution for me is connecting through art.
Here are some of the other lessons I’ve learned along the way:
-Choose to grow the good
-Be the light in the dark
-Don’t let anyone cloud out your ray of hope
-Power up with positivity
-Yes you can
-Don’t give up
-Patience makes miracles
-This too shall pass
-Action and more action
-Give freely – for fun & for free
-Focus on what you CAN do
-Push through fear
-Plan, but know when & where to pivot
-Enjoy the experience
-Embrace the little things
-You can’t pour from an empty cup
-Don’t just tell, show
-Channel your inner unicorn
-Love transcends all
-Be kind always
I finalized the temporary mural series with a permanent mural, Sisu – a Finnish word that has no exact English translation. It is a combination of extraordinary determination, courage, and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity. It is seen as an action mindset which enables individuals to reach beyond their present limitations, to take action against all odd and transform barriers into frontiers. I’ve meditated on this concept as I’ve painted the other #aworldofhearts inspired donated temporary murals and wanted this permanent piece to serve as a calling to dig deep, not give up, and keep moving forward together. I have never been more grateful for an opportunity to give back with a labor of love.
During COVID, I felt a calling to donate another permanent mural to celebrate diversity called Prism. I selected triangles as they represent humanity – no two are alike within the piece just like people. Brookings has a beautiful color branding palette, just as we do diversity. No matter your gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or talents, you are welcome here in Brookings. Our differences are what makes each of us unique, and together we come together to make a beautiful mosaic.
KR: As a recovering perfectionist myself, I appreciate your unique blend of positivity and vulnerability. Where does it come from?
AB: I am very passionate being vulnerable regarding the road I have traveled to help other heal. I am 35 years old and very blessed, but not without years of adversity, mistakes, pain & heartache. For years I made the wrong choices. For years I struggled to overcome. For years I felt less then. You see, the road to positivity for me has been paved with overcoming one brick, one day at a time.
For years I struggled with an eating disorder. I will never see myself the way you do. There was a time I was 90 pounds – I am 5’11”. I always thought if I could just be thin enough, I would feel good enough. My weight was the one thing I could control, until it controlled me.
Then I found the almighty cure all – alcohol. I drank until the drink took me. It took ALL of me. When I hit my rock bottom back in the beginning of 2012, I had nothing left to live for. I drank one last time. As I wondered how I got there again, I picked up another bottle – one filled with pills. I welcomed death. I was sick of hurting and causing those around me so much pain. I was so tired. Somewhere at the darkest of bottoms, I found the light. Though it was always there through the faces and voices of many I had known in recovery, it finally hit my head and connected to my heart. After recovering in ICU, not the first time there either that month, I started on my road of recovery. I made the decision to start a journey and have not had to have a drink ever since.
I have battled with anxiety, depression, and a host of other issues. I have talked through hours of counseling and have been on several medications. There have been times I could not get out of bed. There have been times I have had panic attacks in the middle of Walmart. There have been times I have struggled to do the simplest of tasks. There have been times perfectionism has held me back from even trying and trapped me in thought. I can overdo anything and everything, become addicted to practically anything and go to the extreme.
I am not the person today that I once was, but those experiences and overcoming have created the person I am today. So, you see, positivity for me does not come from a place of unrealistic optimism but realistic hope, faith and overcoming. I did not get to where I am today either by chance or without a village carrying me and loving me until I could love myself and continuing to fuel my tank. I am deeply grateful for those in my life that go the way and show the way. In fact, I draw inspiration and courage from all who enter my life. You never know who is watching and how you can impact someone’s life.
The past is no longer an open wound for me but a place that I have healed and taken strength from. Regret no longer follows over me as the dark cloud of the past. It has been transformed into light and hope that I can help others from my experience, strength, hope and positivity.
I am by no means perfect. I have so many flaws and I am sure I’ll have a lifetime of opportunities from them. Life is also life. It continues to happen with its seemingly difficult moments. These are the moments that shape us. I am my no means fearless, but I have courage. I choose today to look those fears in the eye and say, “ok, what CAN I do.” Though it may be after a while of sitting in my emotions, today I choose to walk through fear and take action.
My best today looks different than it did yesterday and will tomorrow.
If you feel alone, feel not good enough, feel afraid of what you are or what you have done, know that you are not alone. I love you where you are, who you are and am here for you. I am your friend. We all need friends in this world. Remember not to judge a book by its cover and always be kind. Positivity comes from all kinds of colorful experiences. My life is proof of that. Today I get to be healthy, happy, and whole. I hope my good graces never spoil me so much that I forget where I come from.
KR: We all have inner superpowers. Can you tell us more about yours?
AB: I totally power up with positivity – I am always bringing solutions, optimism, and a cheerful disposition into every situation. I am super flexible and adaptable. I have a go-with-the-flow like attitude, but it is more due to my strategic nature and having already worked through plans A-Z in my head, plus a whole lot of life lessons that have taught me it all works out in the long run. I also have a knack for cultivating relationships. I love not only to meet new people but grow and strengthen current relationships. I love getting to know and understand people to best serve them and know how to connect them to others. Watching people grow and develop is a fav and I will be your biggest cheerleader with you on your journey. Honesty and vulnerability are other powers of mine. I am a real person and am okay today sharing that with you. Kindness is key for me as well. I will treat you the way I want to be treated with a smile and a friendly disposition almost all the time…except sometimes if you are my husband and I am hangry or tired. We all have our weaknesses and not so great moments at times.
KR: Can you tell us about an influential woman in your life and how she inspired you?
AB: Wowza, how do I pick just one? I can summarize several of them though. I have been so very blessed to be surrounded by so many women from all walks of life. I am both a people watcher and connector, so they may or not know that they fill my cup, fuel me up, support me, challenge me, and give me grace. I am so very grateful for women that have been vulnerable with me, shared their stories and time, mentored me, and told me what I needed to hear and not wanted to hear – I love the women that do not co-sign my B.S. When I was in a very dark place, a woman kept sharing her light and did not give up on me. She taught me how to treat people, give back, love unconditionally, that it was ok not to be ok, get busy, and that I could become a light as well. She has continued to walk beside me for many years, and I am so ever grateful for that. That woman also extends her helping hand to anyone and everyone that needs it and is always available to help regardless of other life circumstances. My friend is not by any means perfect, but perfectly shares her past and her humanity with me.
KR: If you could have one super-human power, what would it be?
AB: The power to heal people – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually heal people. There are so many people hurting that I would love to take that pain away, to make them whole, so they can live their best life possible and help others.
KR: What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?
AB: I make just about everything I do fun – life is too short not to enjoy what I am doing. I LOVE going to live music events with my husband, or even just cruise around the block with him. He is 100% my rock to my waving sea personality. I also enjoy spending time with the kiddos – I have 14- and 8-year-old boys. I love, love, love cuddling with our 2 little fur baby girl yorkies while watching Netflix at night. Baking and cooking are therapy for me. I enjoy creating a sweet treat to celebrate or reach out to a friend and healthy meals for my family. I’m all about selfcare as well – working out at group fitness classes at b.well brookings, having my sauna and spa time at Blu, or having a cup of coffee and catching up with a girlfriend. I have a thing for shopping too. I do not even need to buy anything. I love to look at things and get ideas, or just get out of the house.
KR: Knowing what you know at this stage of your life, what words of wisdom would you give to your 20-year-old self?
AB: Do not give up until the miracle happen. Eat AND enjoy the chocolate. Slow down and enjoy the moments. You really do not know what is good for you, or what you want, so just do the right next thing. Do not be so darn hard on yourself – no one is perfect and being perfect is not what matters. Life is about the journey. Just try, fail, learn, succeed, and embrace the process. It always works out in the long run. Make lots of relationship with amazing women. They are your tribe and will carry you, not your competition. Relax, pause, breath, think, then act. You CAN do just about anything. Don’t give up.
Kelly Radi is an international speaker and award-winning author who celebrates and empowers women! Order your copy of her book, Wonder-FULL: Activate Your Inner Superpowers (No Cape Required), today.