Leadership Gracelight: Mackenzie Leigh Designs
Conversation with an educator, leader, and small business owner on how she taps into a spirit of grace to take on new adventures.
Mackenzie from Mackenzie Leigh Designs leads both through her business and career in education. Nominated for Teacher of the Year, Mackenzie leads young people through her work as an English teacher, speech coach, and leader of a local Young Life group. She serves on various professional development committees, leading trainings in the area of cultural and linguistic responsiveness. Active in her church, she has traveled to Romania for mission work leading lessons at a camp for orphans. Now she sets an example to those around her as a business owner who shares her love and talents for all things wedding and crafts. Born and raised in Minnesota, Mackenzie married her senior year prom date, Mark, and they raise two dogs, Neville and Schmidt. As a social, type A person, she never stops moving!
“I love to take things that I can do (teaching, crafting, organizing, planning) and use them to help others achieve great things.
A bubbly group of three high school speech students circle around their favorite teacher at the end of the school day, chatting and laughing with a witty banter as speech kids do. Presentation boards and easel in hand, one asks if she can quickly stop at the cafe to get a muffin before speech practice begins. Mackenzie agrees, but quips back, “Hurry, I don’t want to be here later than six. And get me one too!” Witnessing this interaction, it is clear to me the connection Mackenzie has forged with her students and speech team members. As she walks down the hall ready to lead her speech practices after a full day teaching English, I reflect on how Mackenzie goes for the things she wants in life, whether that’s her business or in this case a muffin, with a fun-loving assertive power, inspiring others to do the same.
Mackenzie Leigh Designs
Mackenzie Leigh Designs is a Twin Cities-based business that specializes in wedding, party, and home decor. As a crafter, calligrapher, and photographer, Mackenzie’s eye for a simple, natural beauty informs her creations. Appealing to the same aesthetic as Joanna Gaines and Magnolia Farms, now less-crafty people like me can have our own source of personalized grace-filled decor! Her whimsical, fun-loving spirit shines through her designs, and her wit and love of words can help inspire the perfect gift for your friends and family.
Mackenzie’s passion for this new venture stems from making people happy. She explains, “I love to take things that I can do (teaching, crafting, organizing, planning) and use them to help others achieve great things. If having a beautiful wedding is going to make someone's heart sing, I want to make that happen.”
First Steps to Action
I can’t help but wonder what drove Mackenzie to take her hobby to the next level? So many of us would think about the idea but then not actually take action. We would talk ourselves out of it before we even begin. Mackenzie explains her transition process: “I have always loved designing, home decor, crafting, and weddings, and you can only be told ‘you should be paid for this’ so many times before you decide to make it a reality. I started making signs for friends and gifts, and I planned my best friend's wedding. That brought me to this past winter where Mark told her, ‘you better start doing this for real.’” How valuable it is to our own growth to have others who recognize potential in us and call it out with encouragement and maybe even a bit of a push.
The Value of Early Support and Encouragement
Even with the thought that this could be a viable business, Mackenzie credits her mom and dad as two of her early key supporters to encourage this dream into reality. Mackenzie explains that her mom “ has always been up for all of my ideas, supported things that I wanted to try(and perhaps been the voice of reason to some of my crazier ones), and works harder than anyone I know.” Likewise, her hard-working dad inspired her by his example of being self-taught when he established his own business. She explains, “his sense of humor and passion for creating the best possible work has created that passion for me as well.”
Allowing for Grace
Even with the support and encouragement of her parents, she still wrestles with self-doubt at times. How many of us can relate when she explains, “I simply didn't want to look ‘stupid.’ I didn't want to post something that others could easily do themselves. I have doubted my skills, and because I haven't been technically trained, I have hesitated before posting things I have created (or my thoughts) on my website and instagram. It took my husband and father to tell my for the 100th time over Christmas that I really could do it for me to believe in myself.”
As a teacher who encourages, supports, and rallies around the accomplishments of other, Mackenzie struggled with the transition to promoting her own services. She reflects that “I had to learn to brag about myself. That isn't something that I have ever been able to do.” Likewise, comparisons can also sabotage early efforts, but she explains “there are always going to be people that are better than you, and I had to get used to the fact that that's okay.”
No one knows better than an educator that learning is part of the process. She celebrates the success of creating a website, especially since she confesses that “Technology isn't necessarily my thing, and while I would like to have a more sophisticated one at some point, simply making one in the first place is a big step for me.” First steps, building as you go, learning by doing, and celebrating successes along the way help keep her moving forward.
Building Skills that Build Businesses
So often as people transition into new areas of growth, they begin to question if they have the necessary skills. However, previous experiences in other areas often translate well to new ventures. Mackenzie’s mission work helped her become a risk-taker who is open to uncertainty in new experiences. She reflects, “My trip to Romania helped encourage me to speak to those outside of my social and cultural circle. I had to be prepared to share my thoughts and ideas with people that were different than me, and because of that, I am much more comfortable to share my thoughts and beliefs with those around me. This trip also encouraged me to surround myself with people that are different than myself, as it gives me a full world view rather than just one perspective.”
Mackenzie also credits her passion and joy as a fundamental driver to continual daily action: “My enthusiasm is what keeps me going. I have to really make time for my business AFTER I complete all of my grading, lesson planning, and everything else I do every single day. This passion for planning and organization seeps into everything I do at school as well. All of these opportunities allow me to make connections with those around me to help give them the best day or best experience possible. My passion for others has enabled me to listen to what people really need and want."
My passion for others has enabled me to listen to what people really need and want.”
Choosing Strong Verbs
Based on the leadwithgrace.net challenge to identify our own strong verbs to guide our life’s work, Mackenzie reflected on the verbs she lives out:
Hosting is one of my spiritual gifts, and I don't think there is anything more personal than inviting someone into your life, home, etc. to grow and support with them. You can't make a difference if you don't invite someone into your life.
I am constantly trying to grow as a business person, planner, and person of Christ. I read, pray, and I am constantly seeking out different ways to help myself be a better version of the person God intended me to be.
I strongly feel that if you want to be successful, you need to plan out action steps to be that way. I realize that plans have to be held loosely, as they need to be adjusted and redirected as needed, but without plans and goal-settings, there isn't anything pushing you forward. We all need to be pushed forward, even if it is just planning a day in your life.
Self-Care and Renewal
Lastly, when asked about self-care and renewal, Mackenzie laughs, and says, “This is something I am working on, as it is not a part of my life. I've been told over and over again that I am going to burn out.” She recharges by surrounding herself with those she loves: “My husband, friends, and family are a part of that process. However, I have a serious case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), so I rarely just ‘relax.’
“I also read my Bible and pray every day, even if it is just for five minutes. This helps me at least take a breath.”
"I also read my Bible and pray every day, even if it is just for five minutes. This helps me at least take a breath."
You can order your own personalized home decor or special signs for your next party, baby, or bridal shower at https://sites.google.com/view/mackenzieleighdesigns/home. Check out a gallery of some of her work below. Surround yourself with more beauty, grace, and whimsy!