We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalee Deaette and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Natalee, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I love the work that I do, so I’ve always struggled to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I get so deep into my projects that I have a hard time stepping away. However, this past year I saw many friends and colleagues struggle with burnout – even those who, like me, loved their jobs. Paired with the anxieties that came with a sudden shift to working from home, I knew that I had to make a change. Without a daily commute to clear my head of the day’s projects, and without a separate office space to maintain clear boundaries between “work” and “home,” this past year could have thrown my balance even farther off. Knowing that, I made it a priority to be proactive about avoiding burnout so that I can continue to love my job for as long as possible. I’ve created daily routines for myself that replace my commute and keep me offline until my workday begins, and gets me offline when it ends. Although 2020 did bring many challenges, I am grateful for the time I have had to create this balance for myself, and I look forward to continuing my routines when we do return to a traditional office setting. I believe this is an important lesson for anyone doing equity work – if we don’t take care of ourselves first, and allow rest when needed, we cannot effectively serve the causes and the people we care about. 

Please tell us more about your career. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally? Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way? What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
My professional journey has really just begun, as I just graduated from college in May of 2019. However, getting to college in itself was not an easy task. As a junior in high school, my family was evicted from our home for late rent payments and did not find a new place for nearly a year. No one we knew had the space to house all of us, so we spent that time separated – my mom and step-dad in one place, younger sisters in another, and me in a third. In arguably the most important year to prepare for college, I spent my days missing my family, without a permanent place to call home. However, it was my college dreams that kept me going. I knew that I had no space to falter, no one to catch me if I fell. I held my head as high as I could and continued pushing forward. Although getting to college was its own hurdle, succeeding once I got there was a challenge of its own. I went from a community where my circumstances were the norm, to a place with more wealth than I had ever encountered. I was flooded with “imposter syndrome,” feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy, but I eventually learned to let those feelings drive me instead of holding me back. Knowing that I had a group of students who looked to me as a gauge of their own potential, I made space for myself on campus and thrived in college despite the odds being stacked against me. It was not until I was awarded the Truman Scholarship in 2018 (a national award for public service leadership) that I began to truly believe in myself and my potential. I spent my first few years of college feeling like I was accepted not because I outshined other applicants on my own merit, but rather because I “defied the odds” and achieved more than what is expected of low-income kids like me. Receiving the Truman Scholarship was an acknowledgement that I belonged, and that was truly empowering. These experiences taught me the importance of the work I do now at Access Opportunity – supporting students not only through their college applications, but through their entire four-year college experience. My message for the “world” is really just a message for young people like me, who have all of the potential to succeed but lack the support or the resources; those who may not see themselves and their identities represented in the spaces they want to enter; those who have been made to feel as though they are not worthy. To them, I say: You are worthy. You do belong. And most importantly, you are not alone. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You and your voice are urgently needed in these spaces. Recognize your worth and know that you are deserving and capable of achieving each and every one of your dreams.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If my best friend were visiting, they’d be rather disappointed by the trip I could put together, as the majority of my time in Colorado has been in quarantine. For that reason, my itinerary would be an eclectic collection of the places that have brought me the most joy this past year: Crosscut Pizzeria & Taphouse (Nederland), Great Bark Dog Park (Lafayette), The Boulder Bookstore, Old Town Longmont, Alta Lakes (Telluride), Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Twin Lakes Off-Leash Dog Area (Boulder), Tacos Aya Yay (Lafayette), Scratch Kitchen (Longmont), Lafayette Collectibles & Flea Market, and St. Vrain Creek (Longmont). As we look forward and the COVID vaccine becomes more readily available, I am excited to create a more robust list of stops!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’ve had a lot of mentors, but the one who has had the greatest influence on me is my Upward Bound director, Tony. I got involved with the TRIO Upward Bound program as a freshman in high school, where I spent the better part of every summer vacation living on a college campus, preparing for and learning about college with other first-generation, low-income kids. Once I got to college, nostalgia led me back to my Upward Bound program as a summer Resident Assistant, and later, the Residence Hall Director. For three years, I (quite literally) followed in the footsteps of my Upward Bound director, discovered a true passion for education access and equity, and ultimately decided to spend my career helping students like me reach their dreams. This is exactly what I do now at Access Opportunity. Tony never once doubted my abilities; instead, he encouraged me to pursue more than I ever envisioned myself capable of. I credit Tony, and my entire Upward Bound experience (both as a student and a staff member), to getting me where I am today. I wholeheartedly believe that mentorship is the greatest gift I have ever received, and I continue to seek out new mentors in every phase of my life.

Website: https://www.accessopportunity.org/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/accessopportunity/
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/access-opportunity-colorado
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/accessopportunity

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutColorado is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.