January is always a super-important month for me. Not only is it my birthday month (shout out to all the Capricorns and Aquarius sistas out there!), but this year is especially pivotal because it’s a major age transition (Cue all the references to geriatric millennials! I have a love-hate relationship with the term.)
In approaching such a transition, I like to reflect on certain mantras and affirmations that have proven true throughout my more than 20 years as a grown-woman professional who has gone from college newspaper writer and editor, to working for major publishers like Black Enterprise and The New York Times, to working full-time as a media consultant and self-sustaining editorial freelancer, paying my own bills and paving my own lane. I thank God!
While it has not been an easy road, it has been one full of blessings, lessons, and major triumphs, and I’ve collected a few tried-and-true sayings that I thought I’d share with the rest of our Her Agenda millennial massive.
Walk into 2023 repeating these and carrying them in your head and heart. Let them provide a foundation for your own continued success and allow them to help ease those fears and insecurities about the future:
1. Thinking strategically and with vision wins in the long run.
I remember how I burned myself out on the strategic over-achievement path in my 20s. My mother, Granny, and I planned out what I’d be doing and where since I was a toddler. At 9, I knew I wanted to work and live in New York City, and by high school I’d completed honors and AP courses and participated in the pre-college program at Hampton University.
By the time I officially enrolled for my third year in college, I’d applied for, landed, and thrived at internships at top newspapars and magazines. After college, I worked my way up from a small-town newspaper copy editor and page designer, to a getting a chance part-time freelance opportunity at a major New York City publication, to working at my dream magazine, ultimately earning multiple leadership roles and a management position—all before the age of 30.
While I don’t regret any of it (I mean, my resume reflects the amazing fruits of doing so), I now realize that the older I get, the more strategic thinking, planning and vision matter.
I’ve found that when I think more strategically—especially as someone who had to transition from being an employee to handling all aspects of my livelihood myself—I can combat the anxiety and fear that comes with that. For example, I’ve recently been able to find a niche in working with publishers who cater to minority women and women millennials instead of trying to be the every-professional for different types of clients or publishers. In that way, when I’d leverage relationships and apply for opportunities, people knew me for something specialized.
That helped me to strategically use my skills (and upgrade any that needed it), zero-in on the type of content I’m great at producing and editing, and continue working with amazing women who share my vision and want to support it. I finished up my master’s degree in leadership so that I could get more speaking engagements, pursue teaching, or open up opportunities that, while related to journalism, could allow me to step outside of that box and create other streams of income.
I also cut a few of my services that I used to offer that I just hated doing (ie social media management) because, in the long run, it was costing me time, money, and my sanity.
2. Everything always works out as it should. Period.
I am a Type-A, stick-to-the-itinerary, often-stressed-when-changes-happen type of person. I like to control any and everything I can control. However, I’ve learned that as a human being, we cannot control everything (Hey, God. I know! Silly me to think so.) Also, it’s simply not healthy to attempt to. While we can be smart, research, and create plans A, B, C, and D, sometimes none of those plans work out, and they were never meant to.
At one point in my self-employment path, I thought I’d quit that life. I applied for a job that would put almost six figures a year in my pocket in a position with lots of autonomy. I’d find some stability and enjoy the perks of the 9-to-5 life again. I’d be working for a small company that catered to big clients, and among other power women who could mentor and support me as I served in the role. Well, I got the job, but in practice, it wasn’t a good fit. I was miserable, which showed in my work, and ultimately I was forced to part ways. At the time, I’d just invested in a new home, had bigger bills to pay, and had to face my new financial situation relying on meager savings that would barely get me through a month’s worth of living expenses.
I felt like such a failure, especially since I’d been used to thriving and showing out in my career. (Did I toot my own horn enough in No. 1? Yeah.) I ended up connecting with an old contact who offered me a few projects that helped me pay my bills, went back to freelancing full-time, got a whole new set of clients, and never looked back. I have so many stories like this from my life and career.
Trust me, sis. Life works out in the best way if you keep praying, pushing forward, and doing the work. This is a mantra that has never rang falsely for me.
3. Faith is the foundation for long-lasting career fulfillment.
I was raised in the Baptist church, and while I still struggle with a few things related to religion, my faith and spiritual foundation that includes believing in something bigger and more powerful than me (God, of the Bible) has always stood strong. Thinking positive and going inward for prayer and quiet time are habits that have empowered and sustained me throughout the ups and downs of career development.
The 9-year-old me, who knew she’d be in New York one day, went to school in a small Virginia town where most people’s dreams were limited to what they could see and touch daily. I’d literally create scenarios in my head for what I’d be, the people I’d meet, even the clothes I’d wear when I got to New York. I’d pray, in my Granny’s bedroom mirror, and ask God to make my dreams a reality. It would be simple prayers and visions for myself, and every single one of them came true.
Whenever it was time for us, my siblings and I, to spend summers in Brooklyn, Harlem, or the Bronx, I’d study the people, take in the smells, and pray some more. I’d sit and daydream in my aunt’s Williamsburg apartment window that I’d be her neighbor and once I knew I wanted to work in magazines, I’d constantly write about them in my journals and pray over the books as well.
Years later, taking in the sights and sounds of my first Brooklyn apartment (not far from my aunt’s neighborhood when she lived there). I’d laugh and remind myself that faith is an amazing thing. I’ve lived in and visited friends’ apartments all over Brooklyn (from Bed-Stuy Do Or Die, to East New York, to Flatbush and back) and the Bronx. I worked in Times Square (at the old Times Building) and on Madison Avenue (another street I’d walked with my aunt and uncle to their doctor’s appointments or while shopping in Manhattan). I’ve interview celebrities, business leaders and entertainers in venues I’d been in awe of as a little girl.
Faith is powerful, it’s transformative, and when paired with prayer and action, it works.
4. You are as strong as your network, so cherish and nurture great relationships.
It seems like, in your 20s and maybe your early 30s, you have so many friends, whether it’s to party, link up for happy hour, network, or chill. The older I’ve gotten, the more my circle has gotten smaller. I can admit, there are a few friendships and relationships I could have handled with more care, and the more life experience you collect, the more realize that good friends (whether it’s the work bestie, your confidante, or your best sister-girlfriends) are divine and not a commodities.
At the lowest points in my career (ie a slow-down of clients, a career rut, or a financial dilemma), my network is what saved me. Having a track record of putting service at the forefront, constantly supporting the advancement of women, checking in from time to time, and genuinely connecting when I can (whether it’s on social or in person) has been helpful in sustaining relationships that have spanned decades.
This year, I want to build even more connections with other women (and those who advocate for us), help many more advance (in whatever that looks like for them), utilize the organizational leadership skills I honed during my master’s degree studies, and share experiences that aren’t connected to the spirit of “what can you do for me” (which is not one I readily embrace or welcome, by the way).
5. A soft life still requires hard work, and that’s OK.
Listen, I’ve lived all kinds of versions of the “soft life,” and trust me, there was “hard” work involved in them all. Whether it was having my bills taken care of (due to a very generous weekly allowance) or being able to travel for free (through work, but still), I learned hard lessons about life, work, and fulfillment. Oftentimes, when I’m the most at ease financially, I am afforded opportunities to do the “hard” self-work of actualization. Looking myself in the mirror and recognizing hard truths about myself is a gift. The more time I had on my hands, or the more disposable income I had, or the more enlightening experiences of privilege I had, the more I had to face difficult truths about myself and the direction of my life.
Our career journeys are rewarding, but it’s always a good idea to embrace the challenging parts and be deliberate about documenting the lessons learned. A “soft life,” for me, is not about sitting on my laurels. It’s all about having the mental and spiritual space to truly deal with what’s foundational important in order for me to be the person God has made me to be. During the “soft” times of my career, I could only focus on what more I could be doing since I truly had no excuse to fail. It’s great to reflect, luxuriate, and enjoy, but it’s also good to learn, develop, and push boundaries.
As many of us seek our own versions of the “soft life,” there’s hard work to be done that is required. It is challenging, engaging, and necessary for our true growth. As women who are go-getters, bosses, entrepreneurs, and leaders, called toward a purpose, called toward great things, we embrace the hard work, whether mental or physical.
In this new year, let’s all continue to speak life into ourselves, look toward truths of sustainable success as examples, and remember the mantras that have kept the power women before us charging forward and onward.