One of my favorite parts about traveling is the amazing people that I meet along the road. You never know how a certain phrase or story can resonate with someone. Sometimes it is weeks or months before I hear from someone but I love when they has the courage to connect. It’s scary, right? You draft an email, hoping for a response, send it into the Internet abyss and wonder if your message will even be read. I have certainly had that experience before, where my email has fallen on deaf inboxes, and it’s disheartening.
I make a pointed effort to reply to every email that I receive because I know the courage and tenacity that it takes to hit the send button. I wanted to share a recent email conversation that I had with Christine, a student from Roanoke College in Virginia. I spoke there this past spring and it made my day to hear from her. After getting her permission, she agreed to let me share her email. Why am I doing this? Because I think Christine’s ability to reach out and connect is remarkable—it sets an example for other college students. Also, she’s asking some questions that I thought would be valuable to share with all of you. Enjoy!
Here’s is Christine’s original email:
It was my pleasure meeting you a few months ago when you spoke at Roanoke College to my Chi Omega chapter. I apologize for how delayed this email is, but I thought you should know how much you touched my life that day. You came and spoke in the middle of one of the hardest times in my life: trying to decide what to do with my life in the post-grad world that was looming in the distance. I still try to use the methods you talked about that night in my day to day life now. What I took away that night was not so much your message of choosing happiness but your method of not allowing or accepting defeat.
I’ve always known that I didn’t want a cookie-cutter life or career, much like it seems you imagined by interning with E! and Disney. I’ve always loved writing and found it to be the one thing in life I feel truly fulfilled doing. I interned at local newspapers and magazines in college, setting myself up for what I thought would be immediate success in the world of journalism. Instead, all I received the months leading up to graduation and the months I’m living in thereafter has been a resounding no after no or just complete silence from different companies and magazines. It’s hard not to get discouraged.
It’s in these moments of sadness that I feel like a failure for not doing what I’m meant to do or what I feel passionate about that I remind myself that God has a plan for me that’s bigger than anything I could imagine, and that you also heard no and turned that no into your own brand and book! As silly as it may sound, you’re my role model.
Which is why I turn to you, at what feels like as low a moment as it did when I first met you after feeling continuous defeat and confusion about how to turn my dreams of having my own business and well known blog into reality, to ask for your advice. How did you have the courage to create the no you heard about collaborating to make the teen version of the Happiness Project into your own yes? How did you know where to start? How do you avoid feeling self-conscious about what others may think about your dream?
I look forward to hearing your advice about how to continue a life with meaning, happiness, and the Chi Omega method of being “discouraged never.”
Thank you again for touching my life and inspiring me to chase my dreams or at least get the ball rolling on them!
A pretty amazing young woman, right? Christine is a member of my sorority, Chi Omega and she is a shining example of The Symphony, which you can read below.
In return, here is my response to Christine:
Wow! Thank you so much sending such a thoughtful and heartfelt email. I am so happy to see that you are pursuing your goals and not giving up easily. I can sense that you are not faint of heart and that will be one of your strongest assets as you move forward.
Journalism is an especially challenging industry to break into and it takes persistence. In my brief time working at NBC News (which I loved), I saw the kind of sacrifice that people in news are willing to make. You have to be willing to travel, prepare a story at a moments notice, and learn how to do it all—write, produce, and speak on camera (if that is your goal). If you are looking to do strictly print journalism, keep writing. I love how Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly skilled at something—professional. That equates to about 10 years. That’s no small measure of time but making a daily effort to practice your skill will make all the difference.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback—and honest feedback at that. So many of us are scared to learn about our flaws or areas of improvement. But ask, especially when it comes to your writing. The best way to improve is to take a critical eye to your work and always challenge yourself to be better. Go to writing workshops, meet other writers, read—none of these efforts will be in vain.
So, when you ask me about where I found my courage, here is my answer. Approach the world fearlessly. Don’t look back at what other people are saying about you because it will break your neck. It’s no secret that I love Pinterest and a quote that I read the other day was poignant: “Don’t be afraid to do something just because you’re scared of what people are going to say about you. People will judge you no matter what.” Perhaps it’s a sad reality but it helped me realize that what other people think about me is none of my business. My business is creating meaningful work and inspiring others to find happiness. You have to find out what your business will be.
I believe the way that we hear the word “no” is all about perception. For some people, they are crippled by it and often cower in fear, afraid to even ask questions. But others hear no and it motivates them even more, it gives them that drive. That’s what it did for me. And if you feel like every door is slamming in your face?
Build your own door. This is one of the biggest keys to success as a young Millennial. People expect us to be lazy, entitled, selfish, etc. Show them that you are different by creating your own work. Show others that you have the self-motivation to create your own job. If you can prove that you can teach yourself and that you are willing to voraciously learn, others are going to be much more inclined to work with you. They won’t need to hold your hand—instead they can high five you.
How did I know where to start? I used my resources. Five years ago, Facebook was in its heyday. I used that platform to interview hundreds of young adults about what made them happy. I felt like that was a central question that was not being asked of this generation and so I made a concerted effort to find out the answer. Find your own niche that is currently untapped—offer a new perspective that hasn’t yet been shared.
As a young author, I felt like the central judgment against me was be my age. Ultimately, I learned that this was my greatest advantage. Don’t let your age intimidate you. Let your work surprise others and it will speak for itself. With your age and your life experience, you offer a unique take with your writing that others will be curious to read. I believe in that.
And how do I avoid feeling self-conscious about my work? I own it. I have certainly had times when I’ve felt embarrassed or not “cool” enough, especially when I’m speaking with teens who know what’s on “fleek.” Still grappling with that word. But I accept who I am. As I’m sure you know, inauthenticity as a writer is one of the greatest disservices that we can do to our readers. They deserve our genuineness, our flaws, our humanity. It’s hard to put ourselves in that vulnerable place but I often that it is in that place that our best work flows forth.