Anyone within a 10-mile radius of me in the last decade has probably heard me wax quite poetic about my desire to become the next Susan Taylor in the editorial world. (If you don’t know about the AWESOMENESS that is Susan Taylor, the former, fantabulous editor-in-chief of Essence, I need you to stop reading this post immediately, search the Internets, and get schooled. Otherwise, our relationship is just a sham. Really.)
After hearing her speak during a lecture series at my beloved Morgan during my junior year, I was pretty much focused on one mission and one mission only: to be become Susan Taylor, The Sequel. Every road and turn in my life for the next 10 years was solely focused on becoming an editorial phenom in New York. When I moved to the DC Metro area during the Spring of 2003, I was pretty resolute that DC would just be a minor pit stop on my way to my ULTIMATE mission in New York.
This dream was further fueled in 2006 by two separate but very related events–my admission into graduate school at GW to earn my Master’s degree in Publishing and the debut of the film “The Devil Wears Prada.” Child, not only did my mission have a focus and soon a swanky degree to go along with it, but it now had a wardrobe and soundtrack. I wore KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See” out on my iPod, and I found the closest fluffy girl equivalents to Andi’s immaculate wardrobe that my peasant book editor salary could afford. (I’m still waiting for a reputable designer to recreate Andi’s brown crocodile leather outfit in a fluffy girl size. Calvin? Donna? Michael? Dianne? I’ll wait.)
September of 2006 through July of 2008 were pretty much a blur in my life as I subsisted on nothing but Starbucks, my old HP desktop, and faith for 22 months. But that was OK. The goal line was just around the corner. Or so I thought. If you’ve been remotely alive in the last five years, you are probably well aware of the downright challenging economy that we’ve had. So trying to get out there and use my newly minted Master’s degree to get to the next level in the DC Metro area, let alone New York, was pretty close to impossible. To say that I was depressed that my decade-long dream was crashing before my eyes was the understatement of life. Hello, Funk, I’m Leah. Let’s be friends for the next two years. Me and Funk were so closely intertwined that I’m now just discovering that my beloved Sisterhood had quite a few e-mail chains circulating about my mental and emotional well-being at the time.
While I was blessed to eventually move on to my third and now my fourth career opportunity, there was a word lingering in the back of my head: FAILURE. Forget about the 28 magazines, 11 journals, 23 books, 47 e-newsletters, and countless tweets and FB posts that I created over the last decade (yes, I count my editorial publications—Don’t judge my OCD!) I was judging myself on this harsh yardstick that said that any editorial success other than in reaching a finish line in New York just wasn’t worth it.
But…what if was OK that my success was centered in Virginia instead of New York? What if it was OK that I could actually afford a living on my own without five roommates? What if it were perfectly alright that I created this life where I could be an editor AND have a life that includes being an active member of a church I love and life development community that pushes me to new heights? What if I gave myself permission to recognize how incredibly blessed I have been to have gained amazing friends along the way, travel far beyond the boundaries of my girlhood dreams, and really become the woman who I always knew I could be? There might not be a lot of concrete jungles, subway tunnels, sewer rats, or glossy magazines in my story but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that surviving Beltway traffic, overcrowded Metro cars, and the tough, soul-building world of association publishing is a definition of success that I can be proud of.
That New York dream will always have a special place in my heart. But instead of being sad that it didn’t happen (or that it’s still yet to come!) I’ve realized that dreams are the very fuel that keeps me getting up in the morning. Some dreams will meet reality and some won’t. But the important thing is just keep on dreaming.