Every new year, Jackie Kai Ellis picks a word. She’s almost religious about it.
This word becomes her theme for the year, her direction and her focus—the lens with which she interprets the world and her place in it. Last year the word was “receive,” which taught her to let go, to loosen control. The year before that was “power,” which helped her discover her own strength in some of her lowest moments. So it makes sense that there would be a lot riding on her word for 2021. But 2021 isn’t getting one.
“I'm so tired,” Ellis shares, chatting with me via video from her home office in Vancouver. “I don’t want any more lessons. I just don’t want anything. Oprah used to create words herself, and I saw this clip recently where she goes, ‘Oh, I don’t make words anymore. Because you’re just inviting lessons, and lessons hurt.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god, maybe I’ll be like Oprah and not have a word this year, just to take a break.’ So I’m going to test that out.”
It makes sense that she’s tired. We are all tired. Last year was a lot. And while self-improvement is always important, so is stopping and resting. So is saying, “not today.” So is checking in with yourself and figuring out what you really need, even if it means veering off course. It doesn’t mean accomplishing less—it means accomplishing different.
Ellis has actually lived this way for as long as I’ve known her (which is something around six years). We all contain multitudes, but she’s uniquely primed to tap into hers, and it has resulted in a dynamic spider web of careers. She’s an interior designer (one look at her second home, an apartment in Paris, will prove that she knows a thing or two); a Paris-trained pastry chef (and founder of Beaucoup Bakery in Vancouver, which she’s since sold to former employees); an author (The Measure of my Powers, her memoir, became an instant bestseller); an advocate for women in business (she’s currently co-chair of Yes! Vancouver, a philanthropic networking organization for women); a travel and food journalist (she’s written for multiple newspapers and magazines); and a style expert and brand ambassador (when Nordstrom opened in Vancouver, for example, the team tapped Ellis for the launch campaign). She’s used to being busy, used to creating, and acknowledges how much of her identity is shaped by her work. But the last few years have been decidedly different. After her book tour was done, after her bakery was sold, what was next? She wasn’t sure. She still isn’t.
“I spent the last few years not knowing what I wanted to do next,” Ellis says. “Really spending that time exploring and playing, just dabbling in things and trying to get my creative juices going. And trying to stay in the mindset of having fun.”
She left her Vancouver apartment and moved to Paris full-time—the city that made her fall in love with pastry, with beauty in the mundane. But that was BC, as we say now: Before COVID. So she’s currently back in Vancouver, where she has, among other things, health insurance and her parents.
“It was really unexpected to come back to Vancouver,” she says. “Although I didn’t realize how much I had missed the community here, and how easy things are in Vancouver because I grew up here. Even little habits are so easy. But I think the best part about being back is that I get immersed back into the community of entrepreneurs and creators.”
Being back also meant outfitting a new apartment. Vancouver dwellings don’t have the marble fireplaces or intricate moldings of Paris; there’s not a lot of charm in apartments here, which presents a unique set of design challenges.
“I've been relying a lot on artwork, carpets, big mirrors, and huge plants,” says Ellis. “I know that artwork can be quite expensive at times, too. So I went to an art supply store and got a beautiful linen canvas and oil paints and just did my own.” She focuses on texture, mixing light, gauzy curtains with thick alpaca throws for a feel that is both cozy and airy. She also loves putting some Bergamot (the ultimate mix of warm and bright) in her Stone Diffuser or Move Diffuser to set the mood. “It’s a ritual,” she says of using scent in the home. “When you put on the diffuser, you’re actually consciously doing something to heighten your enjoyment of a space. And even that act alone, I think, is key.”
Ritual has been a big deal for Ellis, helping her find moments of peace and clarity in a very isolating, confusing time. She lets herself sleep in on the weekend, she takes baths, she watches knitting shows (really), she eats what she wants—which lately has been very basic, like scrambled eggs and cherry tomatoes on toast. Cooking, which she normally loves, is “just for sustenance right now,” she admits. Like she said before, she’s tired. The world is tired. Last year was messed up. This year, honestly, who knows where it’s going. But taking a cue from Ellis, maybe we don’t need to put so much pressure on it. Maybe this year we don’t need a word with which to see things. Maybe this year we just carry on, and that’s enough. Maybe that’s always been enough.