No Bag is Worth My Sanity: A Memoir
So it has been four months since I last shared a blog.
My absence was intentional because I needed to take a break and be still. Still so I can listen and be present in everything changing around me.
Over the last few months, I started at a new global communications firm, assisted BET’s Corporate Communications team at the BET Awards in Los Angeles, made my first Harvard Business School visit and signed on as a Brand Ambassador for Apple.
Publicly, and on paper, this sounds amazing and they are. As always, I am grateful for each and every opportunity life sends my way. However, I started to notice that my quality-of-life was on the decline.
50-hour work weeks, 18-hour work days, freelancing and traveling started to take a toll.
I was crying in stairwells at my job randomly because I was so stressed out.
I rarely knew what day of the week it was, my sleep was inconsistent and I was forever on-the-go.
My path was not the straight-line trajectory that I had initially envisioned but instead a continuous maze full of twists, turns and surprise characters.
I felt as if I was succumbing to the pressure of doing what made sense versus exploring what I was truly passionate about. After a while, doing things that did not bring me joy stopped making sense to me.
Whether you are on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter or any other social platform – you are likely to see people promoting what I begrudgingly refer to as “hustle-harder propaganda.”
It is often targeted towards people in the early stages of their career and encourages unhealthy habits such as going without sleep, viewing networking as transactions versus relationship-building moments and strongly suggests that people put their careers over their sanity.
As time progressed, I saw myself falling back into that culture. I would forget to eat, was beholden to my outlook calendar and never turned someone away when they reached out.
People often believe that being a publicist is all glitz and glamour. I remember working my first Super Bowl campaign, a highlight of my career thus far, and having to travel to the office during Chicago’s polar vortex. During this commute, my toenail froze off and I did not realize it until I got home.
Or I can recount my first trip to Harvard that required me to take a red-eye flight out of Chicago to Boston on a Friday night so I could attend a conference early Saturday morning. From there, I would wrap up the conference and take the midnight train from Boston to Harlem for another unrelated engagement. Less than 18 hours later, I was back on a flight from New York to Chicago so I could make my 9 a.m. agency meeting.
72 hours, 3 states, 2 flights, 1 train, a conference and entirely too much coffee. Crazy.
I share these stories, not for shock effect or to flaunt, but instead to be truthful about the physical and mental realities of being a young professional.
Living this way did not strike me as a problem until my peers and mentees started to reach out asking for advice as they get started in the industry.
I started to ask myself a series of questions.
Do I be honest? Do I give them the REAL? What if I scare them from getting in the business? Am I being overly pessimistic? As the happy hour requests, brunch invites and coffee meetups started to file in, I had to pause and reflect.
I felt an obligation to be honest with them about my journey because I wish someone had told me what to expect before venturing into the corporate world. I did not want them to be blindsided or feel the need to completely neglect themselves in order to have what their heart desired.
But in order to be honest with them, I had to be honest with myself and accept the fact that I cannot push myself that far anymore. I can still have high expectations, hopes and dreams for myself but I cannot run myself into the ground in order to make it happen.
So, as I try to do, I leave you with some tangibles:
Learn to Say “No”
I have to remind myself of this once a week. I know sometimes it may feel that you have so much coming your way. Professional opportunities, friends depending on you, family who misses you and it can get overwhelming. Learning to say no is a muscle that has to be flexed. I have noticed that when I do not say “no”, I am overstretched and exhausted. When this happens, I am being a disservice to myself and the people relying on me because I am not able to commit in the manner in which I should. You know your situation best so be honest, graceful and fair with yourself.
Breakdown Big Goals into Small, Tangible Steps
Becoming overwhelmed by my goals is a recurring theme in my life. In conversations with mentors, peers and bosses I would express my desire to fuse corporate communications, sports, entertainment and law. This was until one day one manager asked me if I had broken the big goal into tangible action items. During that same conversation, he pulled out a piece of paper and told me to write down goals that can be accomplished in three, six and nine months that would help me get where I wanted to go. For example, I knew having issues and crisis experience would offer a chance to develop skills and tools that would last me my entire career. So I applied to a six-month issues and crisis training program and started in June. I think you all are catching my drift here. Write it down and make it actionable.
Get It in Writing
Before starting any new project, whether at my full-time job or on freelance gigs, I ask for some form of an agreement be put in writing. By doing this, we are able to be clear on scope of work, payment, deliverable deadlines and doing this helps me determine if I have the bandwidth to take on the assignment. Additionally, if there is ever a misunderstanding or disagreement, we can always go back to what was originally agreed upon. As a freelancer and a professional in general, this is a great way to cover your own derrière.
Put “Me” Time on the Calendar
Making “me-time” a non-negotiable date with myself transformed my life for the better. Setting that time in my calendar was my way of being intentional with taking care and checking in with myself. Sometimes I spend this time catching on a good book, sleeping, cleaning my room, grocery shopping, going running, etc. It depends on what I need during that given week and is always subject to change. What I know for sure will not change is the need to slow down and breathe.
As always, I hope this has been helpful and informative. Let’s keep the conversation going.