Dreamer: Ashlee Piper

 Ashlee Piper 

Little Foxes TwitPic 

Age: 31

Lives In: Chicago, Illinois

Current Job: Founder of The Little Foxes (a vegan food + style blog); Owner and Health Coach at All Is Wellness (a plant-based lifestyle + wellness consultancy); Writer at Cheeky Chicago; and, Community Manager and Writer at Vegucated.

Ultimate Dreams: Ah, so many. Where to start? Well, my big, bold dream is to become the hip, vegan version of Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray. I want to show people that veganism is a lifestyle and that lifestyle is easy, rewarding, fashionable, delicious, approachable, and fun. We’re not all a bunch of hemp fanny pack-wearing hippies (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – some of us care about being fashionable, serving mouthwatering food, and also want to do those things while being kind to animals and the environment. I would love to publish books about vegan entertaining and style, and have a television show that covers topics from cooking to fashion to parenting to everything in between – all with a compassionate, fun, and hilarious spin.

Longer-range, I’d like to save money to open a sanctuary. But not just any animal sanctuary. As a former social worker, I have a serious soft spot for youth in the foster care system. Are you familiar with what these brave individuals go through? Older youth, kids with disabilities, and sibling groups have an especially difficult time being adopted because people have the same misconceptions about kids in the foster care system as they do about animals in the shelter system. They think they’ve done something wrong, and that’s why they’re there – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Or, people want babies, the same way that people want puppies instead of older dogs. 

These kids are shuffled from foster home to group home (sometimes up to 6 in a year, can you imagine?) with little consistency in their lives. And when they reach 18 or 21 (depending upon the state), they’re thrust out in to the world on their own with few resources or contacts. That’s pretty crappy, huh? And the outcomes for these kids are grim – homelessness, prostitution, unemployment, unplanned parenthood, addiction, suicide. And what else can you expect when the system fails to give these youth what they need and deserve most: Love, a feeling of belonging, purpose, and security. 

I would love to create a nurturing, rehabilitative, loving group home where foster youth can feel loved and important, while also caring for injured or discarded animals of all kinds. I think kids and animals are such a natural match and, if you’ve ever seen them together, the combination is incredibly healing for both, and in a word, magic. There are wonderful programs out there like this for reentering offenders and juveniles, but few, if any, for foster youth. I think that unwanted animals and youth in the system suffer similar pains from misinformed stigmas and are the right fit to help one another through those to lead happier lives.

What are you doing to attain your dream? 

Well, back in September 2012, I left my 10 year corporate career as a governmental strategist. I just didn’t love it anymore, and I’d find myself watching animal welfare videos or rushing home to cook vegan feasts, thinking, “This is what I should be doing. This is what I love to do.” After much soul searching, I knew that if I didn’t start soon, I probably never would. And I also felt strongly that I just couldn’t start this new journey properly while still working my consulting career (some people definitely can, but I found that wasn’t the route for me). And I’ll say it:  It was FREAKING SCARY leaving my job. I had to have a plan to keep me sane and focused. So, a few months prior, I saved money, paid off any debt I had, sold a bunch of my stuff, downsized my lifestyle significantly, moved to a smaller place, and prepared myself emotionally for trying something new without the security net of a traditional job and a stable income (which was probably the hardest part).

Since then, I’ve done and tried everything. I’ve sold my furniture and clothes to have money for rent. I’ve cleaned toilets at a yoga studio to get free yoga. I’ve babysat. I’ve written for countless outlets for free to get the exposure (which is priceless, really). I’ve studied the world of blogging and cooking, and I’ve reached out to people and networked my tail off. I found Vegucated and it was such a natural match, since I love helping people as they navigate and explore a compassionate, healthy lifestyle. I also started writing for outlets I really believed in. And during all of this, I birthed The Little Foxes, which is probably my favorite place to devote my time (because it’s a labor of love and the product of me teaching myself how to do every inch of it). I adore creating recipes in my tiny kitchen or putting together style guides and sharing them with the world. I’m busier now than when I was managing a $1.1B organization. I’m always working and I’m always coming up with new ideas. Am I ‘there‘ yet? Heck no. I’ve a ways to go. But, I know I’m doing something right when I see a recipe I created featured on a more popular website, or someone comes to me and says, “Your guide on cruelty-free beauty really helped me to find a lipstick I could be proud of.” It may sound silly, but it’s the little victories that add up. My boyfriend, who is the best non-salesy salesman I’ve ever met, taught me that.

What do you think you ultimately need to attain your dreams?

 When I first started out, I thought, “All I need is for someone to believe in me and give me my break.” But then I went through networking, meeting people, knocking on doors, and found that, while some people are incredibly helpful, nobody is going to give me that fantastized-about ‘big break’ unless I have a product or concept I believe in 100%. And it took me awhile to realize that that product was me. Over the past few months, as I developed The Little Foxes and became more recognized as a writer and a recipe creator, I have more confidence in my brand and promoting that brand with pride. Would I still love it if Ellen DeGeneres called me up today and said, “Come do a cooking demo on my show!” HELLS YES. But, while I believe in the fruitfulness of the universe, I also believe in hard work. What I need to continue to be successful and make this dream a reality is to put material out there that people believe in, relate to, need, and appreciate. But yeah, Ellen, if you wanna call me, BRING IT ON! 🙂

Have you attained any dreams? If so, what were they and what did you do to attain them? 

In the past and present, yes. When I was younger, I wanted to go to transform myself from a public high school student who barely graduated because I skipped so much class to an Ivy League graduate. I took a lot of pride in working my ass of to get in to Brown and attend graduate school at Oxford. When I graduated, I wanted to work for a high-level politician to see what that world looked like, and I made that happen when I was just 22. How? I’m tenacious. If someone tells me no, I find another way.

And I am a firm believer in networking. You have to have people know who you are. And not just a facade of who you are, but a real sense for what you stand for, what you care about, what makes you laugh. I love connecting with people in an authentic way, and those touch points have always been the most effective way for me to actualize dreams. Hard work, confidence, a good support network (my family, boyfriend, and friends are incredible), and the tenacity to network and pick yourself back up and do it all over again are key.

Oh, and asking for what you want. For years, I was so demure about what I wanted. I would never say it, for fear that people would say, “Well, you’re xyz and you can’t do that.” Now, after experiencing what it’s like to live life without a net, without money, without a job-dictated direction, without an easy elevator-pitch response to the dreaded question, “So, what do you do?”, I call bullshit on that crap thinking. It’s a bit cliche nowadays to say, “You can do anything you want to do,” but it’s true. My only caveat is that you have to proclaim it and own it, and then you need to wrangle a support network that will help you to get it. 

What’s your advice to other dreamers? 

The time is right freakin’ now – don’t wait for the perfect time. I used to sit in my apartment and cry after work thinking about all of the things I never did. I used to want to be a professional opera singer, a broadcast journalist, a whole host of other things,  but I never actualized those dreams because I was too scared that I might not be good enough. I would reenact these scenarios over and over again about leaving my job, doing something different, and then I would stop myself for fear of what others might think of me or how I would survive. I would do this for YEARS (and I know plenty of other people who still do this). But what if I had just started, done something, right then?

As with all things in life, there is never a seemingly perfect time to do anything. Life’s like that; you just have to flow with it and go. So, start now, right where you are. Even if it’s something as simple as writing an outline of what you might want to do. That’s a start to be damn proud of.

And then, once you’ve started something, be proud of it, dammit! Nurse it, kindle it, promote it, protect it, beam about it, allow yourself to get excited about it, entreat others to get excited about it, put your all in to it, and be brave.

I’m open to believing lots of theories about life, but as far as I know, we have this one for now. And time flies by. Don’t waste that precious commodity frittering around doing something that you loathe. Of course, if you have a family to support or other obligations, you may have to stay at your job, and that’s fine. But if you’ve been at the same job for 10 years and you’re crying every night because you really want to be a dancer or work in fashion or work at an animal shelter, for fuck sake, give yourself some relief and muster up the courage to make a plan and do it. Maybe your plan doesn’t involve quitting your job or doing anything radical, but small steps toward actualizing your dreams are sure as hell more soul-brightening and life-affirming than no steps or the status quo. If you’re looking for permission, here it is: Now is the time. Start right now. You’re worth living a life of your dreams. 

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12 thoughts on “Dreamer: Ashlee Piper

  1. This is the first “dreamer” post I’m here for. I’m going to love these! Just the inspiration I need to get me going on a Monday morning. Thanks for sharing your story Ashlee.

    1. Thanks for commenting Maggie! I’m glad you’re being inspired, especially on a Monday. Mondays can be the worst. Let me know if you’d ever want to be a Dreamer too!

  2. Ashlee you are amazing! It’s wonderful to see another person who has drive and determination to follow their dreams! Thank you for sharing! You go girl! 🙂 Oh and I love the message of this site! Glad I found it!

  3. What a great article about Ashlee! She is such an inspiration – thanks for the wonderful story about a beautiful dreamer.

  4. I can relate to a lot of this! I lost my job a while back when the organization I was working for closed and my girlfriend recently left her job as a corporate lawyer because she wants to open a vegan food cart. We’re in the planning stages, but you’re right, it’s just about taking the first step!

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