About Those Leftovers

Ahhh, Thanksgiving.

A time when I am reminded how proficient other people are at cooking and muse once again about a domestic future for myself far in the distance.

At the moment, the reality of that future goes about as far as my reading this roasted cauliflower recipe.

Luckily, I will be going home for Thanksgiving this year where my parents will have selflessly cooked everything in exchange for the brief return of their only daughter and the entertainment my brothers and I provide whenever we are reunited. And our love, probably. I have a flight headed home to Florida this afternoon and my to-do list for the long weekend includes “eat chick-fil-a, visit the beach, text Gerty a photo of an alligator” but not much else.

Last year, my youngest brother visited me in New York City and we enjoyed a very hectic morning preparing to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. I totally recommend doing this if you ever get the chance to but make sure you line up to wait in a spot with maximum balloon visibility. See, we did not do this because my research towards these sorts of things is forgotten when I have to wake up at 5am in the morning and I only realized my mistake after the parade began. This prompted my brother and I to run along multiple avenues in search of a better spot along with all the other suckers that did the same thing.

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We looked like the pack of wildebeests in The Lion King, you know, in that scene where the plot takes a turn for the worst (NO SPOILERS) but alas, we were determined to watch a televised parade of large balloons pass us by in celebration of a holiday that preserves a fictitious historical narrative surrounding our country’s history. New Yorkers enjoying Thanksgiving from the comfort of their expensive mid-town apartments probably watched and laughed from the comfort of their heated homes.

And then I wondered… Are we their parade?

(I didn’t really, I just saw an opportunity for a Carrie Bradshaw impression and I took it.)

I also took this photo.

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Our hands and noses froze in the 30 degree weather.

The balloons look much smaller in person.

And we had the greatest time ever.

What are you and your family doing for Thanksgiving? Do you have any traditions? If you don’t, I have a suggestion for a new one where you save me a piece of pie.

In A State of Emergency: Why Trump 2016 Isn’t A Laughing Matter Anymore

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Dystopian plots have interested me since I was a kid.

I like thinking through the social issues presented and considering their impact on humanity as it is explored through character story-lines. Contemplating how humans might respond to one another when confronted with a lack of resources is an endlessly fascinating subject. Just consider that the last movie of The Hunger Games installment is projected to make $121.5 million in box-office revenue this opening weekend. The Twilight Zone, a show I’d often watch growing up, explored dystopian communities and cultural norms in many of their episodes and in high school, I dog-eared the pages of 1984 and Lord of the Flies. Most recently, I’ve followed The Walking Dead series week to week because their attention to character development within the dystopian narrative is extremely compelling.

Lately however, I don’t have to watch tv or pick up a book for this kind of entertainment. I can just observe our current political atmosphere and reflect on Donald Trump’s increasing popularity in the polls. I’ve hesitated to write or share any content referring to Trump’s run for presidency because I know contributing to his visibility ultimately benefits his campaign and I didn’t want to give Trump the value of being taken seriously.

After reading the xenophobic comments he made in a Yahoo News interview published yesterday however, I’ve begun to take him seriously.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures, including warrantless searches and identification registries, in his plans to increase surveillance on Muslim Americans and mosques. His comments cited that “we’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.” When he was later asked to clarify his interview comments and distinguish how Muslim databases (a system he “would certainly implement” upon election) would be different from requiring Jews to register in Nazi Germany, he evaded the question by repeatedly saying “you tell me” several times before finally walking away.

Prior to this moment, Trump’s hate-speeches against Latino communities and his obscenely reductive platform on immigration issues were guised as a patriotic call for nationalism and called good sense by Conservatives. His recent comments surrounding how the US should respond to Muslim communities in light of the recent terrorist attacks committed by Daesh, however, are so blindingly racist and xenophobic that any semblance of a nationalist or patriotic guise no longer exists for Trump or his incendiary statements. Trump is a grim example of someone using a combination of their privilege, ignorance, and wealth to postulate hate speech and encourage white supremacist ideology. Hate crimes across the US have been directly attributed to Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric with increasing frequency.

Conservatives can’t cling to Donald Trump as a pillar of American values when he rejects the protection of individual liberties and rights that all Americans – Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew, or otherwise – are entitled to. He rejects basic foundational principles the US was founded upon; principles the Constitution is purposed to uphold today.

History is going to look back on this time and ask why we didn’t hold Donald Trump, a widely popular figure within American culture at this time, more accountable. How did we allow presidential campaigns to get this surreal? And why did we, the American public and media, remain complacent in addressing and silencing hate?

Will this be our shame?

What People Don’t Tell You About Following Your Dreams

This is part 2 of a series sharing my journey to land my dream job. I look forward to sharing this process with you as the days unfold it, thanks for reading!

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Currently, I’m sitting at a Gregory’s Coffee in the Financial District awaiting my final series of interviews this afternoon. The cold brew is great, I was complimented by the ladies behind the counter on how polished I look (yaaasss), and I had a great chat with my mama this morning so I’m feelin’ 100.

That was NOT the case earlier this week.

Given that this interview was scheduled for later in the week, I had a wealth of time between Monday – Wednesday to think of reasons why this opportunity might not work out. I began asking myself, who am I to deserve it? Who am I to believe my talents should be recognized in this way? To be completely transparent, anxiety has kept me in ill company this week as my thoughts have run through a gamut of professional and personal insecurities. In light of this, I called my mom a lot. I put on my favorite songs and forced myself to dance (in my bedroom, by myself – it’s a thing) to get endorphins going. And I reflected on a few things I learned that people don’t tell you you’ll experience once you decide to go for your dreams –

1. How uncomfortable you’ll become in the process:
Earlier this week, I was struck by how publicly I’ve been showcasing this journey and efforts. Hello there. You’re reading about it. On a public blog. And that’s been the whole point, you know, to invite others on this journey and share what works while learning from what doesn’t. But it didn’t hit me until recently how painful it will be if these opportunities don’t work out.

Out of all the articles I’ve read about the merit of following your dreams, none have mentioned the point when your voice will falter as you tell others about what you’re doing. Or how you’ll have to remain your own biggest encourager because if you don’t believe you can do it, other people will be hard-pressed to convince. However uncomfortable you may get, return to the reasons you took the leap in the first place and look to your prior accomplishments to remind yourself of your abilities. Anyway, it’s only when you’re outside of your comfort zone that the stuff of life can present itself.

2. The support of others may surprise you:
Alternately, you may be surprised by who shows up to cheer you on. I’ve had several friends check in with me each day for updates. Their day by day encouragement and presence in my life has reminded me that others believe my success is possible and that’s a pretty great counter to insecurity.

Surround yourself with your biggest encouragers. When you need a pick-me-up, text your best friend and ask for their vote of confidence. There’s nothing wrong with needing others to remind you of your talents. They most likely see talents in you that you aren’t even aware of yet.

3. You’ll surprise yourself:
As you guys know, I applied for several jobs that I may have seemed under-qualified for at first glance. By writing a proficient cover letter and making connections between my prior work experience and future opportunities of interest, I made the narrative of my professional career one that hiring managers could understand. In doing so, I was called in for a management opportunity I’m superrrr excited about. One I am interviewing for this very afternoon!

Everyone has a starting point.

One of my personal heroes in the media industry, Nancy Gibbs, began at Time magazine as a part-time fact checker in 1985. She’s now the Managing Editor of Time which reaches 50 million readers worldwide. Imagine new milestones for yourself. Challenge your dreams to widen. And then, put in the work necessary to reach them.

4. How hard the work is:
And work it is.

Y’all, I’m gonna get real with you for 2 seconds and say this has been an exhausting week. Although my schedule is flexible and I’m not reporting to an office, being my OWN manager and industrious each day has been an investment of energy in and of itself. In addition to that, I’d be lying if I said there isn’t an emotional component impacted. It can be taxing to be “on” for interviews and put your best foot forward in a series of meetings with professionals you admire and respect.

If you’re considering taking on a new project or going for your dream job opportunity, make sure your schedule is set up for it. Life will never be put on hold for the sake of your timeline but if you’re volunteering, going through personal challenges, and working 70 hours a week, you may be setting yourself up for failure by taking on a new venture. Think critically about what is demanding your attention and eliminate the items that aren’t wise investments. Be resourceful, be ruthless with protecting your resource of time and energy, and beyond that, be ready pick yourself up in the face of rejection.

Resilience is work.

5. Your access to opportunity is largely based on the generosity of others:
Make yourself available to opportunity long enough and some incredible things are bound to happen. I love this article by Bruce Kasanoff which impresses the value of telling people what you WANT to do rather than what you’re currently doing. I love this because he has a point; telling people what you want to do gives them the opportunity to contribute to your story. I’ve learned that nobody reaches their dreams by operating as an independent unit. In contrast, the value of your professional network is incomparable. In her book The Defining Decade, Dr. Meg Jay stresses the importance of “weak-tie” connections.

“Weak-ties are the people we have met, or are connected to somehow, but do not currently know well. Weak ties are also our former employers or professors and other associations not promoted to close friends … Weak ties give us access to something fresh … like bridges you cannot see all the way across, so there is no telling where they might lead.”

Who’s in your network? Think through it. Ask friends, co-workers, family who they know that might help you get where you’re going. And most importantly, respect any access you gain to these connections by communicating effectively, being punctual, and takin’ all the notes. Read The Defining Decade if you haven’t yet.

6. How stubbornly you’ll have to stand beside your work:
JK Rowling was rejected 12 times and told not to quit her day job before the Harry Potter series was picked up by a publisher. I ha-ha-hardly think my musings on this blog or any article I may pitch is in comparison to Harry Potter BUT Rowling’s journey was a comfort to reflect on when I received “no’s” or silence from editors.

Honestly, I don’t think my writing is particularly exceptional. It’s okay. I enjoy the process of it. I do my research. And quite frankly, it’s an area in my life I am willing to be a student to for the rest of my life. My commitment to learning and improving is what distinguishes what I have to offer. A large part of being excellent is showing up consistently and putting in the work. So, work, improve, and stand by your work when others don’t see the value in it (yet).

7. You’ll survive if it doesn’t work out:
Whatever the outcome of this next interview or the ones from earlier this week, the truth is I’ll survive if they move forward with someone else. My ego might bruise but luckily, my ego isn’t what’s carrying me forward. This won’t be the last professional opportunity I have and the fact that I’ve made it this far is an extremely positive reflection of my talents and candidacy.

Similarly, whatever project you’re working on, whatever place on the team you’re hoping for, know that it won’t be the last opportunity or shot at success. Opportunities are boundless if you’re committed to crafting them.

Now, go on and create your own.

The Legacy of Harris Wittels: Comedian, Writer, Friend

Have you ever heard of Harris Wittels?

As I was reading through my open browser tabs this morning (my lazy way of bookmarking sources around the internet I want to return to), I rediscovered an episode of You Made It Weird, a podcast series hosted by Pete Holmes that Wittels was featured in last November. I didn’t recognize Wittels’ name until I read the description and remembered that one of the writers of the popular NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation, had passed away earlier this year. That writer was Harris Wittels.

From onset, the conversation between Holmes and Wittels is unapologetically dark and honest. The podcast feels like an invitation into their conversation as friends, one of familiar ease peppered with inside jokes and personal details. They’re both engaging as they discuss their attempts to grapple with the reality of death, finding purpose in life, and the tyranny of addiction while skillfully using humor to break the tension time and time again as the discussion progresses.

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Wittels shares his engrossing journey as an addict at length and brings depth to the retelling of his experience with addiction as a son, artist, boyfriend, and friend. You get the sense that Wittels is speaking about his experiences from the safety of his distance to them but learn that he’s a month into the infancy of his sobriety at the time of production. Yet he explains how he became a part of drug culture and progressed from recreationally using prescription painkillers to shooting up heroin with ease.

I’ve never been a witness to addiction in another person’s life.

I recommend listening to this episode if only to hear a first-hand account of the complexities surrounding addiction and the journey to sobriety. However, if you already understand this from personal experience or in witnessing someone you know live in that reality, you don’t need a podcast to associate you with addiction’s capacity for destruction.

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Throughout the episode, Wittels remains disarmingly candid in the way he shares the decisions he made under the impetus of drugs; a will born out of the resistance to experience withdrawal or the emotional fatigue of life. He also shares the financial, relational, and emotional tolls that the fight for sobriety would cost him. Wittels would continue this fight until his overdose earlier this year.

Wittels’ laughter, as it bursts throughout his conversation with Holmes, reminded me of a friend I used to spend many of my high school days with; someone I used to share jokes with while exchanging adolescent loneliness for the comfort of friendship.

They both have the same easy giggle.

I didn’t personally know Wittels and I’m not entitled to any memory of him.

Still, I am saddened by his loss and the thought of the people he brought energy, laughter, and the comfort of friendship to. Professionally, Wittels was an integral contributor to crafting the familiarity that so many audiences felt towards the Parks and Recreation cast, the same magic that made my friends and I fans of this clever and often heart-warming show. He engineered many of the jokes we retell to one another to make each other laugh or remind ourselves of the outrageous enthusiasm with which Leslie Knope would live her life. The impact that Wittels’ instinct for humor and creativity had reaches further than he could have possibly imagined.

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The loss of any person to the tyranny of drugs is terrible. Listening to Wittels’ experiences as shared in his own voice, however, is not a legacy to the way in which his life ended. Instead, it is an intimate reflection of the value the people in our life hold and our endless responsibility to reclaim our purpose, as well as that of others, from the damages or discouragement we’re subject to as members of this world.

Before closing the show, Holmes extends a genuine word of comfort to Wittels, one that is almost awkward in how authentic of an attempt it is to reach across the divide and say to someone who has just shared their experience of extraordinary struggle, “please feel included, and welcomed, and loved in this reality… you’re not alone.” He explains how he’s observed that his efforts to create, do stand-up, and tell stories are collective attempts at communicating this same eternal message to another person, and reminding himself of this message, too.

Wittels’ embraces the moment and adds in his own reach across the divide by reminding Holmes of that time they played music at his party, “one of the most fun memories ever”, when Holmes was on bass.

As you listen to his story, and even read these words now, may you be reminded you’re not alone.

Life Lately: Feeling Like Bradshaw or Something Like It

November has treated me well.

To begin with, it’s currently 68 degrees in New York City. Given that I lived 20 years of my life in Florida (don’t hold this against me now), weather between 65 and 90 degrees feels optimal. I’ve totally evolved to adapt to humidity and sweltering temperatures; bring on heat waves and I’ll pass on the snowstorms. But currently, it feels like Spring which I’m 100% kosher with, too.

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I’m not a fan of small talk but if you know me already, this doesn’t count as small talk, right? SO can you believe November is almost over?

(This is where you emphatically say, “I know, right!?” and contribute an anecdotal story about how quickly time is passing.)

On the subject of small talk, have you watched Chelsea Peretti’s stand-up comedy special on Netflix, One of the Greats? She has a bit where she talks about how exhausting it is to maintain interest in a dinner party conversation or small talk when you’re among a group of people you don’t know very well. She makes the excellent point that small talk would be a much more tolerable experience if you could just make a pterodactyl screech in between the bits of exchange, you know, to openly acknowledge how awful it is for all parties involved.

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I’m with this idea so if you hear me make a pterodactyl screech the next time we’re chatting, I’m just trying to spice up our convo. If you’re unsure what a pterodactyl screech sounds like, you should Youtube that immediately. Or screen the Jurassic Park trilogy, you know, whatever. I’m full of great suggestions so let me know if you need more.

As far as what I’ve been up to lately, life feels like Bradshaw levels of luxury lately (um, minus the Manolo Blahniks) in that I don’t have any responsibilities between Monday – Friday, at least none that require me to commute or report to an office. I’ve been filling my days with networking meetings and personal errands, including a couple of coffee dates with folks at Time Inc. tomorrow. It’s not cosmos with Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha but good enough.

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Beyond that, I’ve been interviewing and enjoying how quiet New York City is during the day when the masses are at work. I walked around Lower Manhattan earlier and got to see a few monuments I’d never visited before like the African Burial Ground Monument or the NYC Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza. I’ve also had a lot of brunch but that’s due in part to the fact that on weekends, I work doubles at a restaurant that feeds me a meal during each shift I work and provides a generous menu discount at other times. This used to be my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood to dine at before I began working there so it all worked out prettyyyyyy favorably.

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I know it can’t last.

I mean, I’ll keep the restaurant gig even after I get hired because I work with a really interesting and kind group of creatives who are working on writing their own scripts, novels, or comedy routines while they moonlight. And you know, the aforementioned food. But I know the luxury of these days where my time is not fixed to a schedule can’t last. I don’t want it to, though.

I just want to do good work, that I believe in, amongst good people. I’m idealistic enough to believe that’s possible, as I’ve already written about at length.

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From Selfie to Imposter Syndrome and Pursuing Your Dreams In Between

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This is part 1 of a series sharing my journey to land my dream job. I look forward to sharing this process with you as the days unfold it and thank you for reading.

Earlier this month, I posted this selfie (heh) to Instagram.

A few of my friends commented that I looked sad in it. I deleted the first comment because I was embarrassed by it but I decided to leave the second one up, along with the photo, because doing so felt honest. As a result of this particularly unusual meta Instagram experience, I realized my friends were right. 

I was sad.

I hated my job and the lack of agency I felt in not being able to do work I was passionate about was making my day-to-day disposition pretty bleak.

The day after I posted that selfie, I quit.

I requested a meeting with the Managing Director of the office I’d been employed at for five months and I told him, after weeks of being asked to reflect on the possibilities of my future at the company, that recruiting just wasn’t for me. I had taken the job because I valued the company’s vision and leadership, and it provided me with an exit from the non-profit space I was burned out by. I also knew it would be an excellent way to build my professional network in the digital media industry given the company’s specialty. My functional role in recruiting, however, left little opportunity for strategy-building, driving change, or program development – areas I had loved and thrived in prior to this role. I thanked my boss for the opportunity, applauded his talent for building a hard-working, friendly team of colleagues I didn’t want to leave behind, and packed my desk in order to be on my way by lunchtime.

The next day, I laid in bed absorbing the shock of what I had just done.

I reflected on times in the past where I’d taken similar leaps of boldness and landed on my feet. I encouraged my instincts on as I cycled through waves of anxiety that I had made a huge mistake. That day, I became my own cheerleader and coach, developing a strategic game plan while also delivering the most inspiring locker room speech of my life… to myself.

Between watching episodes of Being Mary Jane and picking at containers of take-out, I reflected on the job titles and responsibilities I wanted, regardless of whether I believed I was qualified for them or not. Managing Editor. Senior Writer. Associate Editor. Editor in Chief. I allowed myself to dream a little and all of my dreams lead me to a place where I would employ my leadership abilities, my research savvy, and my love for discourse within the internet community into an editorial position at a digital media company or news organization.

The following Monday, I reached out to several friends who are especially talented at writing cover letters and resumes, and asked for their best tips and examples. I took several ideas I had set aside for this site and began creating an aggressive editorial calendar to cement this place as one I could freely write in as I learn, develop my voice, and make (many) mistakes. Finally, I took a long look at my resume and capitalized on the communications experience I’ve had thus far, pivoting the breakdown of my skills in a way that would allow hiring managers to connect the dots between my previous roles and the direction I was newly determined to head.

I applied to over 25 jobs that day and immediately received three emails requesting follow-up interviews in return. Allow me to digress and point out that this kind of turnaround is HIGHLY unusual. I’ve been in the job market on and off for six years and have never experienced anything like it. In speaking to people much wiser than I am and reflecting on this experience, I’ve realized that a huge factor that determines success – one that we have very little control over – is timing. The paradox is that you won’t know when the time is right but if you keep waiting to act until you do, that moment will never come.

Friends who have witnessed my career trajectory unfold throughout the years have asked for insight on my ability to shape the experiences and opportunities available to me. It’s been absurdly encouraging to receive texts from friends this morning, sharing that my example has lit a fire under their own feet in the direction of their dreams. I realize the problem with “follow your dreams” philosophy as it’s repackaged to us in our modern world is it doesn’t account for how much work it takes. Not the cliches, or well-meaning “Top Ten Entrepreneurs Who Followed Their Dreams And Hit It Big” lists on Forbes. And by sharing this process with you, that’s exactly what I hope to communicate – that there’s no such thing as an overnight success or flash in the pan.

The reality of my experience is I make my mind up about what I want (admittedly, this one took a while), seek the advice of people who are smarter than me, and I start knocking on doors hard and long enough for people to hear me and open them. I figure if the timing is right and I’ve done my research, it’ll work.

This is the philosophy I used in securing a lunch date with the Vice President of Innovation and Engagement at a company I admire after I emailed him in interest towards a project they’re launching exploring opportunities for youth empowerment within journalism.

This is the philosophy I used when I reached out to a coach at my gym who also owns a restaurant and got the hostessing gig that’s keeping me afloat until I return to a traditional office space.

And this is the philosophy I used when I reconnected with the local alumni chapter at a national organization I’m a part of and enlisted to support in their rebranding efforts to gain more exposure to their network.

I have an interview in a couple of hours and an interview on Monday, in addition to a follow-up meeting with the CEO of another company I am interviewing with scheduled next Thursday. It would be easiest to keep this process to myself and let y’all know when I finally snag a job I’m excited about. Yes – it’s easiest to share the milestones in our life online when we can sum up the process without mentioning all of the tedious effort, moonlighting gigs, research, and strategic networking it took. But I wouldn’t be okay with perpetuating the lie of the #Luckygirl. It would be dishonest to say “got the gig! #blessed” and put a big bow around the delivery of the news as if it didn’t take a daily dose of humility, a stubborn sense of self, an eagerness to learn, and grace.

All of the grace.

To face rejection with dignity, ask for help, and have the courage to say (when necessary), “I don’t know but I’m going to learn at any cost.”

I’ve always held positions that specialized in a communications capacity but editorial is the untapped frontier for me. And over the course of five years, imposter syndrome has kept me from entertaining my desire to break into it or invest in my professional development within this area. After I posted that selfie, I decided – if imposter syndrome was going to continue terrorizing my energy and confidence in myself, then I would just embrace it’s presence in my life and become the best “imposter” I could possibly be.

Anyway, I couldn’t give any more attention to all of the reasons my dreams couldn’t possibly be realized.

I had work to do.