Let’s go back to 2017 for a minute: It was a great year for interviews.
These were so beautifully done that when I saw, heard, or read them, I immediately said, “Dang, I wish I’d done this myself.”
And because I spent 2017 kind of searching for new layers of myself — cliché, I know — I spent some time thinking about the interviews and words that have stuck with me into the new year.
Here are my favorites from the year, how I relate to them, and what the interviewees’ openness brought out in me.
1. JAY-Z in T — The New York Times Style Magazine
“I grew so much from the experience. But I think the most important thing I got is that everything is connected. Every emotion is connected and it comes from somewhere. And just being aware of it. Being aware of it in everyday life puts you at such a … you’re at such an advantage.”
JAY-Z’s been to therapy. And, so have I. But, still, there’s so many people who need it and just won’t go. Bring it up in a conversation and say, “Seriously, I think so-and-so could benefit from therapy,” and watch people start to shut down. Even if in super recent years, black people are less likely to flatout say that they think therapy is stupid, there’s still not enough talk about it in our homes, at brunch, while spending time with family. And those are sometimes the people with the greatest needs.
Honestly, I think we all need therapy. We all need places where we can go and talk about our problems — with a professional — who has no bias toward us, the people we need to talk about, or the situations we’re in. You can’t get that from your mama, your friends, or in my opinion, even your pastor. Those people have a very different purpose in our lives, and no, they’re not trained, licensed, studied professionals who can focus on us and not what they think they want for our lives.
Plus, we’re all hurting in some way. And like JAY said in 4:44: “you can’t heal what you never reveal.” And when we understand why we act like we act and feel how we feel, we can make better decisions — decisions that affect how we feel.
Therapy will forever be a really important subject for me, and I’m glad that my favorite artist spoke about it candidly. It’s a tool. It’s just one that way too many people are afraid to use.
2. Elaine Welteroth at Chicago Ideas Week
“In order for us to be a relevant magazine for teenagers or young people in 2016 … at the time, we had to shake things up, we had to throw out the old formula, and we had to disrupt the status quo. And so, I remember vividly having a meeting with the whole team and saying, ‘Are you guys bored? I’m bored. We have to do something different here, and there’s so much room to explore — beyond fashion and beauty.”
There’s no putting Elaine Welteroth in a box. The former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief became the youngest EIC in Condé Nast history when she took the helm of the publication at 29. Under her leadership, Teen Vogue blossomed — becoming a voice of young (and a lot old) folks who are “woke” and aware of the world around them.
At Elaine’s Teen Vogue, being interested in fashion and beauty didn’t preclude its audiences from being interested in intersectionality, and Black Lives Matter, and LGBTQ rights on top of news, and politics, and history. It sparked the articles that were shared on my timelines from women and men of all ages because it was just that good, having everyone ask in much surprise, “When did Teen Vogue get so woke?”
Before her rise to the mag’s top editorial position, I saw a beauty spread on Instagram that featured a black model getting her hair done in one of those “X Ways to Wear Your Hair for Y” kinda segments — the ones I’d seen a million times on a ton of magazines’ social feeds but very seldom saw: 1. a woman of color, 2. with a beautician of color, and 3. with hairstyles that were actually dope.
Of course, it was Elaine, its then beauty editor, behind all the awesomeness. I was consumed with everything Teen Vogue beauty for a while. And when it was announced later that Elaine would be leading the magazine, I wasn’t surprised. I was ecstatic to see the waterfall of good content that came later shared on Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, and in my email, not to mention hearing it discussed in traditional newsrooms where I worked, and at happy hour, and at the grocery store.
When saw Elaine at Chicago Ideas Week, with her fabulous fro owning the stage, I couldn’t help but think about what ways I’ve let fear slow me down. I’ve been bored at times — really bored — but afraid to shake things up. 2018 is the year to let all of that go.
3. Bozoma Saint John in Essence’s Yes, Girl! Podcast
“The balance is every day. I’ve made jokes about this before, about not having a 5-year plan, not because I don’t think it’s worth it or that other people shouldn’t do it, but because it doesn’t work in my life. I can barely plan for next week. Sometimes I take it day by day.”
I started feeling sort of bad this time last year because I had no idea what I would be doing. I’d started looking for a job again, but what did I want to do? What did I need to do? I seriously had no idea.
And then, I made the decision to skip some of my end-of-year things like making a vision board, because frankly, what was I going to put on it? Instead, I really focused on how I wanted to feel and worked on the person I wanted to be. I did a lot of personal development and tried to build better habits in the areas that I felt weak in. I worked on my passion projects and worked on myself, and that didn’t stop just because I didn’t have specific goals. I knew the type of woman I wanted to continue to grow into, and my profession, job, and projects don’t dictate that.
For a second, I thought I might have formally left journalism. I was exhausted, and not seeing the type of work I wanted to do. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t still write. I love teaching, but I don’t do that for a living. It doesn’t mean I can’t do that either. I learned what I do for a living isn’t necessarily who I am. Sometimes, it’s perfectly aligned, and sometimes, it’s not.
Now, I’m so happy that I let myself get lost because a year later, I’m somewhere that is a perfect match. I wake up ecstatic to get to work every day, and I feel proud about the work I do.
And this past new year was totally different. I see the vision so I can do the board and I can plan on a different level than I could have last year. Every period is different, and sometimes, we need to build that flexibility into our lives. To be more specific, that unapologetic flexibility because we just can’t beat ourselves up for not planning what we don’t know. We need to be more like Bozoma sometimes and focus on moving forward, but take things day by day.
4. Joanna Coles in Corner Office from Marketplace Podcast
“There is no secret sauce, apart from deep passion for women’s journalism, which is always underestimated and often overlooked. And I was lucky enough, I think, to coincide with this new feminism and this new awareness that women weren’t getting on as fast as they should have been. I mean, there were more women going to college and yet fewer women in leadership positions, and that didn’t make sense. And young women were becoming animated by that and millennial women were becoming annoyed by that. And I was able to reflect on that in both magazines.”
There’s been a lot of times in which I failed to take advantage of a movement, a trend, something I could connect with, but didn’t.
But, then, there are the times when I followed my gut, when I let instinct take over, and when I was focused on what I was good at and the things I knew. In those cases, I won in some way every time. There are a lot of things in our careers that involve difficult decisions, but a lot of it is just instinct.
As a magazine junkie, I’ve seen Joanna’s work as a fan, as an admirer, as someone who is in that market and as a multifaceted woman who wants to have a vibrant career. I can seek leadership opportunities while falling still in love with my new Fenty Beauty makeup. I can read about humanitarian crises here and thousands and thousands of miles away and talk about it over Saturday brunch. Joanna is — and has been — one of the magazine execs who know that women aren’t monoliths and who understands how we’re misinterpreted, misrepresented, and talked down to.
And so, if you are the one in your industry who gets it, that part doesn’t have to be complicated. There doesn’t have to be some confusing explanation. What I loved about Joanna’s interview, aside from the fact that she’s an absolute go-getter, is that she made so many things sound simple: find a need and fill that need. And, if you’re skilled enough and the right person for the job, you’ll have the right solutions. You’ll have the answers. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.
5. Solange in Interview (By Beyonce)
“For this record specifically, it really started with wanting to unravel some truths and some untruths. There were things that had been weighing heavy on me for quite some time. And I went into this hole, trying to work through some of these things so that I could be a better me and be a better mom to Julez and be a better wife and a better friend and a better sister.”
For me, 2017 was that year — the year to face all the stuff that had been buried deep inside. Year after year, I’d pushed a lot of it aside, but it started to bubble up so much that I knew I had to face it. Your thirties are supposed to be the time you realize who you are and can be confident in that, I told myself. But, I knew I just wasn’t there yet.
I did know, though, that I was fed up with a yearning that I didn’t quite understand. I didn’t know all that was there, but I knew that it was holding me back. You just get to a point where you have to deal with it to be a better you.
So I started unraveling things. I stayed in the house and secluded myself. I did a lot of long runs where it was just me and my mind. I journaled, I read, I cried — Actually, I cried a lot. I wrote stuff I wanted to get out, and then, I deleted it.
But most importantly, I thought a ton about who I was and who I wanted to be. I confronted issues I’d had since childhood, like really accepting me for me, and I stayed the course. I ended the year in a much better place: happier, more centered, aware.
6. Idris in Esquire
“I had forgotten what it is to feel that burn on your tongue, when your adrenaline is going so much and you’re in fight or flight. I was like, I’ll be tired when I’m dead … ”
Idris Elba is not only the finest man in Hollywood. He’s also fighting to be the most hard-working. And in his 2017 Esquire cover interview, he talks about how the death of his father left him depressed, in a midlife crisis, and scared to live a full life. It wasn’t until he really thought about his father’s advice to “fear nothing” before he started to try to feel life again and get back in touch with reality.
That’s tough — when you’re just going through the motions in life and not really living. I’ve been there, and even when I wasn’t fully down, there were still times when I felt like I was just moving through life but not enjoying anything.
And, listen, life is just way too short for that. Tragedy and trauma can pull us down, but whenever we can get back up, we need to. We need to remember the things we love and find passion in our purpose again.
I’m spending 2018 holding tight to the fire in my belly and I’m living this thang out loud, because we only have this one life.
7. Lupita in Vogue
“I got such a head start in this industry that it is not in my best interest to look for struggle. That’s such a powerless place for me to think about: what is working against me,” she says. “I don’t think of what I don’t have; I think of what I do, and use that to get the next thing.” She is adamant about protecting her creativity. “It’s a finite reservoir, so it’s important that I safeguard it with my life.”
Technically, this one is out of the 2017 timeframe, but magazines come out a month early, so I’m adding it anyway. This is Lupita’s third Vogue cover in two years (she also graced the October 2015 and October 2016 covers) and it came just months before Black Panther — a.k.a. the blackest movie of superhero movie of our lifetime — will be in theaters.
I started 2017 in a challenging state. I found myself back in the job market, which sucks, and after having a temporary job that I really loved, found out that I couldn’t stay. I had great times, but for most of the year, I was filled with anxiety and uncertainty. When I was working temp jobs, I never knew how long I’d be there and how soon my paychecks might dry up.
And during that time, I wanted to just complain, but what good did that do? How did I benefit from adding more negativity in my life? Nothing good has ever come from me wallowing in self-pity, so I decided to go into 2018 with an open mind and a content heart.
One thing that I’ve learned about myself is that being happy and being content are two separate things. I can be happy in a season: happy about my job, about my man, about my family and friends. But being content? Being content is something that’s on a whole different level.
It’s being OK with my life and what I have, regardless of what that may be. It’s being content with my career because I know that if I don’t have a job yet, I will. It’s being content in my relationship — or very often, the lack thereof — because the good ones, the ones I really want, happen when they’re supposed to happen. It’s being content with how I look even as I improve my diet and work out more. It’s feeling like I am enough — like my life is enough.