October 03, 2019
In the 14 years since she walked across McDaniel’s Commencement stage, Jessica Watson has redefined the concept of working remotely.
Sure, Watson has taken her marketing firm, PointsNorth Studio, on the road and worked from 35 states and 10 countries. But the 2005 Communication grad actually lives and works not as a tourist but as a local in a real neighborhood wherever her inner compass directs her.
“McDaniel College taught me that anything is possible and you don't have to be or do just one thing,” says Watson, just back from a six-month, six-country adventure taking her work abroad. “My liberal arts education gave me the freedom to explore in-depth topics that I was curious about, and that's a habit I still practice regularly today.”
The work-travel venture began in 2013 when she packed her Hyundai sedan with her iPhone, MacBook Pro, design inspiration books, paper samples, color guides, a teddy bear for security, a pair of dumbbells for exercise and her bike rack for the bike she planned to purchase along the way.
That way was a year-long cross country adventure that would take her to 10 cities. Plotting a route that kept her ahead of winter weather, she spent a month living, working and making people connections in each city — Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Austin, Boulder, Long Beach, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and Memphis.
She made friends and business connections along the way without missing a beat professionally, keeping up with clients and projects from her mobile office. In 2014, Baltimore Magazine named her one of the city’s 40 up-and-comers under 40. Empowered by her passion to make a difference, Watson envisioned a project that promotes kindness worldwide and her 28 Days of Kindness filled the month of February 2014.
Not long after her return from her cross-country odyssey and just after making the final payment on her college loan, Watson was eating fresh macaroons while working remotely for two weeks from Paris — and all the while adding a check mark next to another Watson life goal.
Back in Baltimore and buoyed by the success of 28 Days of Kindness, she launched the service campaign, Have a Nice Day Project. To wish Baltimoreans a nice day, Watson hosts quarterly events at local bars and cafes — she stocks each table with blank coffee-cup sleeves and plenty of markers. To date more than 6,000 decorated sleeves have been donated to local coffee shops where they have no doubt jumpstarted countless days with a feel-good smile.
Embracing every opportunity she can find, Watson earned a certificate in writing from the University of Washington in 2016 and the same year achieved a few more life goals: she set foot in Brazil, walked on an iceberg in Alaska and took her work on the road again, this time through Canada.
The dawn of 2019 found Watson celebrating the new year in Cape Town, South Africa, where she spent a month immersing in the culture and volunteering in a cheetah sanctuary. She loved the way they purr like house cats but wasn’t particularly fond of chopping the mystery meat that is their meals.
“My little life experiment is to work remotely — this time internationally — in a socially conscious way,” she says, explaining that she thinks it’s important to give back by volunteering in the cities where she sets up shop. “Every place I go I find something in the culture or the neighborhoods that inspires me, and I take that back to Baltimore with me and incorporate into the way I run the design studio.”
From Cape Town, she was off for a month in Marrakesh, then on to Lisbon, where she volunteered with ReFood, an organization that picked up leftover food from restaurants, prepared it in commercial kitchens and distributed the meals to families in need. Also in Portugal, Watson helped to organize a fundraiser for A Avó Veio Trabalhar, a community center for elderly women — she dubbed them “sassy grannies.”
The event, Netos Por Uma Noite (Grandchildren for the Night), included a traditional cooked Portuguese meal, wine and desserts prepared and served by the grannies in a local café. The proceeds went to the center — and both women and their “grandchildren” reveled in the home-cooked meal served with a dollop of granny love.
Spain, Croatia and Hungary rounded out the six-month adventure, landing Watson in Baltimore in time for the final days of summer. Of course, even as the heat of a Baltimore summer refuses to give way to fall, Watson is thinking of winter. Escaping winter, to be more specific.
“I’m thinking Barcelona in January and maybe Lisbon in February,” she says. “One of the cool things about a McDaniel education is that it pushes you to explore what interests you and instilled in me the motivation to go after what I want.
“And not to worry if it doesn’t fit in a box.”