Before I was a writer by trade, before I even knew I could be one, I was obsessed with my professional complacency. It was all I ccould think about. On a bad day, How can I do this forever? On a good day, But can I do this forever? In search of wisdom, I took in as many career stories as I could: essays about peoples’ jobs before they “found themselves,” podcast interviews about the early failures of business owners, books by successful people about their winding, chaotic paths to now. I found comfort in their stories, certainly, but what I hoped to find was an equation — a set of steps I could retrace. But over and over, I’d come out empty-handed. There were no patterns, no steps, no answers. Every story seemed to inhabit some little twist of alchemy, some moment of luck I couldn’t possibly recreate. I was frustrated. How had everyone else seemed to stumble upon the right path?
It took a while before it dawned on me that these stories weren’t just about luck, or even persistence; they were about generosity — the willingness of friends, mentors and bosses to put the ladder down for people with gumption, and help them up. Maybe, then, all I needed was some gumption of my own. As I continued down my winding path and gained confidence from heeding my curiosities, I finally stumbled into my own “luck.” Her name was Chelsea.
Below are five stories from the Man Repeller team, including mine, about the one connection who came into our lives and gave us a push we needed. It’s something we put together in celebration of the launch of Bumble Bizz, an app that links up ambitious people and seeks to make these very connections happen faster and more often. The impetus of the app — the idea that one person can change the course of your career (a phenomenon the app has dubbed #OneConnection) — is something we immediately recognized in our own paths. Read on to hear our stories and, more importantly, our thanks, because without these women, none of us would be where we are today.
Haley, Digital Editor
I met Chelsea, oddly enough, on an escalator at the mall, but I’d been a fan of her blog and YouTube channel for years before that. When I finally found myself shaking her hand, I didn’t realize how serendipitous the timing was: I was neck deep in emotional, creative and professional uncertainty, feeling disconnected from the women and community I engaged with online, and unsure of how I fit into it. To my surprise, we became fast friends.
Before long, we were swapping jokes, ideas and interests, and soon she asked me to be a guest on her YouTube channel. Even though I was an internet “nobody,” or felt like one, she never treated me that way. She invited me into her world with open arms. She was always quick to bring me on when I asked to contribute to creative pursuits she’d built from nothing, particularly her e-commerce business, Anomie, which she was in the process of bringing to brick-and-mortar. Soon I was spending nights and weekends helping her with the store, going on buying trips with her to New York, flexing my amateur graphic design skills for the brand’s Instagram and modeling for her website. I was having so much fun.
I didn’t know what I was doing, but she knew I was looking for outlets and gave them to me willingly. When I started a new blog, she told me I was a great writer, and hyped it on her channels. After I met Chelsea, my creative world blossomed. What’s more is, she acted as if I was doing her the favor, but I always knew it was I who benefited from her generosity and willingness to let me into her world. And it was she who introduced me to Carlye, the writer who so generously introduced me to Leandra, which lead me to Man Repeller.
I shudder to think of where I’d be if I hadn’t run into Chelsea on that escalator, and I feel grateful every day that I did.
Matt, Head of Operations
I met Jeanette my sophomore year of college in my business communications class on public speaking (yikes). She was the teacher. I was drawn to how she offered direct candidate feedback while maintaining an encouraging and warm disposition.
Beyond what she taught me in class though, Jeanette was one of the earliest people in my life to encourage me to factor my feelings into the decisions I made about my career. I’m a rather pragmatic and rationale-oriented person, so to have someone I respected encourage me to value and pay attention to my emotions, and in turn give them legitimacy, so early in my career was wildly helpful.
I ended up asking Jeanette to lunch when I was evaluating a job offer. I received one for a pretty competitive position at a well-known company in Louisville where I lived, but I was torn. It was a great offer and I didn’t have anything else lined up, but as a gay man, I had reservations about accepting a job at a company that wasn’t necessarily LGBTQ-friendly.
Jeanette was one of many people I spoke to about the situation, but her advice and support was by far the most influential. I don’t know that I was so much seeking “help” as I was looking for someone to tell me exactly what to do. Instead, I got a sounding board and, in essence, a bit of a mirror. Jeanette listened attentively, asked probing questions, and ultimately repeated back to me what she was hearing. She was in the process with me, helping to work through the decision and weigh the pros and cons (both factual and emotional).
As cliché as it sounds, Jeanette was one of the first people to encourage me to prioritize living authentically and this has colored my perspective on career (and life, really) ever since.
Jasmin, Senior Partnership Strategist
I met Kim at work. We both worked at a digital design agency: I was an intern on the strategy team, she was the Director of Production and the most senior woman in our New York office. She was also a ton of fun, always made people feel involved and brought a lot of energy to the office. After I got over my initial shyness, we became friends.
I was interning at this agency throughout the second year of my master’s program. As graduation loomed, I was thinking about my position at the company in a more permanent capacity. I knew I wanted to join the team as a full-time strategist but at this point in my career, I didn’t have any experience with salary negotiation and I had absolutely no idea what type of figure I should ask for.
I went to her office to ask, as a friend, what she thought I should ask for. The answer I was expecting was a ballpark figure, but she ended up giving me more than I bargained for. She said that one of her former bosses (also a woman) had given her some great advice that she now shares with everyone she manages: You should always have a clear understanding of what exactly you bring to the table, the value you add to every project you’re involved in, as well as your contribution to the company at large. It’s a practice she makes sure to do every year, as well as one she does with each member of her team. She taught me that having a clear understanding of your value will not only make you a more confident negotiator but will put your contributions into perspective and help you map out where you are, how far you’ve come and where you want to be.
I still didn’t know what salary to ask for when I left her office, but I had a far better idea how to ask for it, and it worked! I really “fought my corner” among the all-male senior leadership team in my department and received the offer I wanted. However, before my official first day, the stars magically aligned with Man Repeller and I didn’t end up accepting the offer. Nonetheless, the experience of that process, and Kim’s words, remain really important professional (and personal) moments for me.
Nikki, Director of Ad Operations and Product
I met Di when I was an intern supporting her team on a project. I was intimidated when I first met her because she was so smart and I didn’t want to make a mistake in front of her, but I soon grew more comfortable and was able to watch and learn from her.
After my internship, I got a position on her team full-time. As I was transitioning to take over some of her reporting responsibilities, I noticed something interesting. Whenever I asked a question, she didn’t answer it. Instead, she would show me how to figure it out on my own. At first I was frustrated by her lack of knowledge-sharing, but by the end of my training period, I understood what she was doing: training me to be self sufficient. Through that, I learned when and how to figure things out on my own and when to ask for help.
Ultimately, she taught me to be resourceful and how to teach myself something new. This is now the third time (in my nine years of working) that I’ve shifted into a completely different role, and these lessons are helpful every day.
Louisiana, Photo Assistant
I found Hannah’s Tumblr through an article online, saw that she was looking for an intern, e-mailed her to apply for the role and then met her a few weeks after that. This was in the winter of 2015 when I was still a freshman at the School of Visual Arts. I wasn’t familiar with Hannah, her work, or being a photo assistant in general, so I had no idea what to expect. She seemed really cool (which turned out to be true).
When she became my boss, she brought me to shoots and events and showed me what working those jobs would be like if I were a photographer, and introduced me to a lot of people. She also passed along small retouching jobs here and there, which helped me improve my skills. She showed me what it meant to be a freelance photographer and manage your own small business.
She was always forthcoming with help and advice, even when it felt like I was asking 500 questions. No matter what I would ask, she would explain it to me. Over the course of our conversations, she showered me with bite-sized words of wisdom. A lot of what she taught, especially in terms of retouching, I couldn’t have learned in school, and for that I’m eternally grateful. She also showed me how important it is to stay organized and have fun while doing your job.
Download Bumble Bizz here to connect with your future mentor, mentee or your next big break (Man Repeller is already on there!). Then share your story on social media using #OneConnection.
Photos by Edith Young.