Mel Safford.


Edited by Nada Abdelrahim

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect is an interesting word...every genuinely happy, energetic, soulful person I’ve ever encountered is so deeply imperfect, it’s refreshing! Happiness is... peace. My mom taught me that happiness is grace, for the world around you. Happiness is genuinely listening to people and caring what they say. Happiness is the first day of a new season...first snow, first day you can wear sandals, first day you see leaves change, I mean c’mon. Happiness is transparency (to yourself and others). Happiness is taking everything minute by minute. My happiness is getting up early a.f. to have moments to myself before the city wakes up. It’s creating as many habits as possible with things that don’t matter so that you free up brain space to create and ENJOY life and be a good friend, daughter, sister, cousin, neighbor, lover, citizen. Happiness is confidence that you’re enough <3.

What is your motto?
I come from a long line of enthusiastic, hard working women. There’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson piece that my aunt will leave on countless notes to me: “Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success.” Social media and metropolitan environments can create a culture of cool...what life are we living if we are too cool to be excited about our work? Too cool to be excited about our culture, where we’re going to dinner, who our best friend is, where we’re from? My motto right now is enthusiasm is the new cool :).

What is your current state of mind?
What Oprah said ;). Truly, what an energizing and monumental time for women. Every day I read a new think piece, hear another brave woman coming forward to say #MeToo and #TimesUp. Every day I’m learning that complicated and difficult (and seemingly utterly ordinary) experiences we as women have in our personal, professional and everyday life no longer need to be norms. We are in a moment of cultural reckoning as a result of some spectacular sisters (and brothers) near and far, and I truly believe “a new day is on the horizon.”

How would you like to die?
WOW. Hands down, I have never been asked this in an interview. 1000% I’d like to die in my sleep. I love sleep (yet admittedly get so little of it) so what a way to go. Fingers crossed I have on my favorite jammies and washed my face before bed. Hopefully there’s music playing. Maybe I happened to clean my house that day. Definitely, I told all my loved ones what an impact they made and how much I adore them. 

What is it that you love most about what you do?
As cheesy as it sounds, I can honestly say a day doesn’t go by that I am not humbled by the work and impact of the Chicago Ideas team and community. Out of a bit of luck, good timing and serious work, I got a seat at the table to create for a living. I’m so earnestly grateful to build public programs for my favorite city in the world, programs that might make a difference in a person’s life. It’s hard, but fun and fulfilling work. 

If you could have a conversation with anybody (alive or dead), who would it be?
I managed to score big time in the friend department. BIG time. They are the smartest, gnarliest, funniest, most interesting group of girlfriends in the world. They are dolphin trainers, marketers, educators, refugee advocates, writers, bloggers, twerkers, lovers, just stupidly fun and epic women. Every time we get together I learn something new about myself and the world. I want to have endless conversations with them until the day I my sleep!

When did you realize that you wanted to be a creative?
I think that creativity is at the core of so many, if not all, lines of work. I knew I liked working with people. I like storytelling. I like problem solving, fast deadlines, crazy ideas. All of that came together into a creative role. I still feel like I have work to do before I’d be comfortable enough to call myself a “creative” but I certainly feel honored to be able to create.

What motivates you?
I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so certainly not competition. I’m motivated by energy. Surround yourself with positive people, be a positive person, lift people up, and the work will get done and hopefully be great. 

What do you love about being a woman?
I saw a poster at the Women’s March in Chicago that pretty much sums it up...”I AM A WOMAN, what’s your superpower?”

What is your experience of being a woman, while also being a creative?
I am one of the lucky ones who has worked for organizations run by empowering women. My experience within my organizations has been inspiring, a hell of a lot of work, and transformative. With that, a huge part of my career is working with hundreds of different individuals and fostering relationships which, yes, has lent itself to incredible connections, but also far too many #MeToo moments to discuss in this forum. But overall my experience is: being a woman who creates is fucking dope. 

I think that creativity is at the core of so many, if not all, lines of work.