This Week’s Featured Interview is Juliana MacDowell, Musician, House Builder, Renovator

 What/who inspires you? People inspire me! All kinds of people. Here is an example of someone with literally half a brain who inspired me. I once went to a church where there was a couple who adopted a boy named Manny. Manny was born without half of a brain… maybe even just a quarter of the normal size brain. He only grew to a few feet long and never developed the ability to think, speak, see or move. Most of his functions were generated mostly from his brain stem. He could breathe on his own, but his parents carried him every where. They fed him through a tube in his stomach and so on.  Manny’s parents inspired me with their tireless commitment to caring for someone who could give them nothing in return.  They inspired by their pure love.  Manny inspired too. He was a precious being – a “soul” in its purest form.  And really, every one I meet in my daily routine who shows kindness inspires me.  Ultimately, I am inspired by grace in any one who expresses it.

What’s been the most surprising thing that has happened on your journey to Wisdom?  The most surprising thing to me is how my greatest pains have become 

My greatest blessings – and also that life remains both complex and simple at the same time.  We must all travel our own paths to find out just how simple life really is. Like Dorothy’s trials on her way to see the Wizard of Oz.  She had the power to go home the entire time but didn’t know it.  The journey was critical for her to gain a full understanding of her capabilities and see the big picture.  Dorothy also learned gratitude along the way.  It surprises me how much joy one can cultivate in one’s life simple by focusing on gratitude. When we learn gratitude, a certain humility takes over and we can find internal peace even in chaos.  One begins to see “all” as simply part of the critical human experience.  And when one learns that one’s greatest agonies beget a greater wisdom and subsequent peace, then one begins to embrace “every” experience as a blessing…as the saying goes, “taking the bad with the good.” 

What’s your typical day like now? How is it different from your daily routines in the past? My typical day now involves more time feeling the softness of my cotton sheets when I awake, watching how clouds move across the sky, or taking time out for a phone call with a friend – not just a text. Now that music is a big part of my life, I spend a significant amount of time opening my mind to what the energy around me has to say.  This is where the songs come from.  But a great deal of administrative work also goes into what I do too – countless hours on the laptop and smart phone, coordinating, booking, negotiating, planning, rehearsing, etc..  In construction, I had far more daily stress…up early, long days, problems on job sites, deadlines…MAJOR STRESS! Now, my stress is more periodic and less “daily grind.”

What do you enjoy most about what you do? These days, I enjoy performing music and touching people’s hearts through song.  In my previous career, I renovated old houses and I loved that too.  There existed always a thrilling sense that I was preserving history and adapting homes to modern uses for families who would make important memories there.  I thought of the homes I worked on as living, breathing entities that deserved care and respect. A job well done meant feelings of peace and joy for the end user.  Now, I enjoy stage performance and connecting with others through music.  

What advice would you give a woman over 40? “Over 40” or “under 40?” Either way, I would say, “Focus on forgiveness and love. Let your self feel the healing peace that comes from letting go and letting life take its course. Be brave, daring and innovative but do all with humility and grace. Keep a sense of humor. Dream big but be practical too. Above all, accept your self.  You are enough, just as you are! (as I remind “my” self of these things…LOL)

What, if anything, would you have done differently in your life?  I am not prone to regret, so this is an interesting question.  Wisdom comes with the passage of time and experience. Every thing we endure, from our tragedies to our triumphs, adds to our wealth of knowledge and makes us who we are.  If I could do one thing differently, it would be to not hold on so tightly. I would have begun sooner to let go of the impulse to control my environment and the people in it.  From cradle to grave, it seems like “letting go” remains the biggest challenge we face as human beings. And as a self-starter, alpha female/Type-A, letting remains a real challenge. But “control” remains an elusive concept. Going at a more patient pace allows many things to fall into place with minimal energy expended.  Getting too wound up can also do irreparable damage to one’s relationships.   

Tell us about any community projects you are involved in and why you support them? As a musician, I am honored to be invited to perform for a number of charitable fundraising events.  One of those is for Friends of Loudoun Mental Health in Leesburg, VA..  As someone who battled anxiety for the better part of her life, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.  I know, first hand, the struggle of battling paralyzing pain and fear. I am one of the lucky ones who had access to professional help and a strong family network.  I always hoped the day would come when I could reach out to others who feel trapped under the weight of anxiety and say “I promise you can overcome this! And there will come a day when you will be free of it altogether.”

If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be and why?  I would save every one from emotional damage!  Damage begets damage. Pain begets pain.  Love begets love.  I would want to heal every emotional wound in the hearts and minds of every one who exists and replace damage with only love – love that propels us from darkness into the light.  

What advice would you give your younger self? CHILL OUT! THIS TOO SHALL PASS! EXCITING THINGS ARE COMING YOUR WAY….just keep working your dreams with passion, patience and perseverance. All in good time!

What do you do for fun/relaxation? I play guitar/piano and sing. Or, I sit by the pool and do a whole lot of nothin’.  I also LOVE country drives! 

What’s next for you (or what’s left on your “bucket list”)? The next thing on my bucket list is to play larger stages.  But the most notable thing on my bucket list, given the agoraphobia of my younger years, is to travel to Europe.  I visited Germany as a pre-teen, with my grandmother, who was strict and unyielding.  It was a mostly unhappy experience being so far from home for almost the entire summer.  To make matters worse, I was stricken with terrible air sickness on the return flight.  At that time, I swore off flying altogether. Now, I travel by air, but haven’t been transatlantic since. I’d go to England, Scotland (my father was born in Newcastle) and would also like to see France and Italy – especially Rome…sing songs, eat fresh local food, drink local wine.  

What’s your ‘secret’ indulgence? My “secret” indulgence isn’t any thing worthy of actually “being” a secret. I love to watch British period dramas on PBS.  Like so many, I was crushed when Downton Abbey ended. Oh, and that episode where Matthew Crawley died? Can’t even think about it without welling up. Call The Midwife; Poldark…and now Sanditon.. My absolute favorite thing to do at the end of a long day is to make a salad, toast a piece of bread and slather it with butter, grab a yogurt, plop my self down in front of the TV and watch one of those gorgeous mini series in which scenery, costumes and characters remain utterly breathtaking.  

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why? “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” by Shel Silverstein.  It is a brilliant little book about how we can learn to fill our own needs and that true happiness, and healthy relationships come when we realize our own wholeness.   

Is there a question you would like to answer that has not been asked? And what is your answer? No, but I would like to thank you for posing such thought-provoking questions.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business? I am a professional musician who gravitated toward music from birth. My grandfather, whom I lived with during a critical period of my youth, loved music and also passed his passion on to me.  As for my prior career in design and construction, my love of construction came from hanging out in the woodworking shop on my grandfather’s farm, smelling the sawdust and watching plain chunks of wood become marvelous creations. I also visited my grandmother’s job sites with her when I was a wee one.  She took row houses in the city and turned them into apartment houses. I loved watching her transform those spaces. 

When and why did you start your business? I started music as a business when I was encouraged to strike out on my own as a solo musical artist just about five years ago.  But prior to that, I built a solid reputation as a competent architectural and interior designer and construction manager for my own company. I began my construction business in 1992 when my grandmother sold the farm I grew up on to a developer who built the, now widely hailed, neo-traditional town development known as Kentlands (named for my grandfather: Otis Beall Kent). I always loved architecture and the Kentlands project took it to a whole other level. I met architects and town planners from all over the world and thought: “Hmm, they can design and build a whole town…I can surely learn how to design and build a house.” I then set about learning basic drafting, borrowed money to buy an old house (in partnership with my then-boyfriend) and hired tradesmen to teach me how to renovate.  Subsequent projects taught me to build a house from the ground up.  I do not mean to say that I actually swung a hammer on these job sites, but I did oversee construction from beginning to end, boots on the ground, as the General Contractor.  I have carried some darn heavy construction materials in my day and have the arthritic hands to prove it.

To what do you attribute your success? Destiny, dedication and doing the right thing, even when it isn’t easy – “especially” when it isn’t easy! Finding answers, solving problems, keeping an open mind, staying focused and believing in the mission. 

What is unique about your business? I am a woman over 50 who only recently learned to write, record, market and perform music…and one who has developed a solid fan base in a short time. 

What made you choose this type of business/career? I dreamed of being a singer from the time I was a little girl but never had the courage to do it as a profession.  I thought my voice was unbecoming and thought people would reject it. It wasn’t until mid-life that the invitation came, out of the blue, to sing backing vocals in a band. Within a few years, I struck out on my own – started my own band and learned to write music and perform.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Paying close attention to what the audience wants and remaining sensitive to their desires – always bringing them some thing authentic, honest and fresh…also, embracing social media.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it? Not knowing my true worth. I tend to give too much away…still working on that. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting out? Above all, be authentic!  At the end of the day, no matter what you wish to sell, you are ultimately selling your self.  When you believe in your self, others will too.  Find the thing you LOVE and pursue it with passion and joy! Study it. Master it. But do it all with gratitude, humility, decency, integrity and respect. 

What’s been the best advice you received as a business owner? There is no free lunch!  My father used to say this to me all of the time.  Don’t expect to get some thing for nothing. Always be prepared to work hard and ante up.  The money will come.

Learn more about Juliana at https://www.julianamacdowell.com 


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