Read and Reflect: My journey to become a #GirlBoss

Our residents are helping us kickstart our journey of reflection on the topic of mental health as we research and gather perspectives for our winter spotlight. Our team will be reading How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, and Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs.

Written by Stephanie Smith.

I used to be an office assistant at Hebrew Union College, and one time, the fourth floor staff decided to order Chinese food from Red Pepper for lunch. We ate in the Block, talking and laughing and joking around, and fortune cookies were eventually passed out. As I always do, I peered into the paper bag as if some psychic power would guide me to the fortune of my dreams. I’d come into a lot of money; I’d find the love of my life; friends long lost will return to me. I picked out a cookie, cracked it open, and was cursed: “Your path will be long and arduous, but amply rewarding.” When we went around the conference table, reading our fortunes out loud, the room went silent after I read what would become my life sentence. I then begged for someone – anyone – to trade with me. No one would. Instead, I taped the small slip of paper to my computer monitor, where’d I stare at it every day as I did data entry, unaware of just how long and arduous my path would be.

All good stories have a plot twist, and mine does as well. I got the same curse, err, fortune years later. I don’t remember where, but I do remember thinking, “Oh, Jesus Christ, not again.” I could’ve left my fate on the table, so it’d get tossed with the Kung Pao Chicken I didn’t finish, but I placed it in my wallet, behind my driver’s license where I’d see it on the rare occasion I’d get carded or pulled over.

That happened in my late 20’s. I’m now 43. My path has been long and arduous. I’m still waiting for the amply rewarding part.

I’ve spent most of my life living in the moment, and not really planning for the future. I was engaged, which led me to have adventures in Philadelphia and Savannah, Ga. While in Savannah, I tried to start a home bakery – and bombed. The engagement also bombed in 2010. I moved back to Cincinnati in 2011, and found myself sporking my eyes out as an office temp doing mindless data entry at $10 an hour, 40 hours a week. Tired of drinking too much beer on Sunday nights because the week ahead loomed and crying in the shower on Monday mornings because I had to go back there, I returned to the University of Cincinnati in 2014 as a full time student to finally finish my degree in journalism. This has been a 20+ year journey for me, having flunked out in 1994.

For the first couple semesters, I’d walk into a classroom and the young’uns would give this “old” person this WTF stare. Now I do the same to them whenever I’m in a class, and I hear some 18 or 19-year-old talk about their photography, audio production, video production, graphic design, or web design business that they started when they were 12. (That’s sarcasm, but with technology nowadays, that’s probably true.) I’ll give them this WTF stare, and then fire off bitchy text messages to my boyfriend: How can they start a business, but not us?? We’re smart! We’re creative! We have ideas!

No one tells you how to build a business. They only tell you about it after the fact – when they’re successful – and they always make it sound easy-peasy.

And I want that business, something of my own, something that is me. Maybe partly because I’ve had zero interest in getting married and having spawn, so I need a legacy of sorts. Maybe partly because, while I love journalism, I don’t love the short-term career aspects, so I want a back-up plan. Mostly because I’ve always found authority and the corporate food chain smothering, and I’m struggling with the realization that what I wanted to be (a reporter, a digital editor) maybe isn’t what I want to be anymore, and I’m fearful of being stuck again like how I was as an office temp.

But I have no idea how to go about building a business. No one tells you how to build a business. They only tell you about it after the fact – when they’re successful – and they always make it sound easy-peasy.

Enter this little pink book called #GIRLBOSS.

Sophia Amoruso, founder and former CEO of Nasty Gal, documents her company’s beginnings operating as an eBay store out of a pool house with no kitchen in Pleasant Hill, California, when she was only 22, to a cult-like brand with 200 employees and over $100 million in annual sales at its peak. (Amoruso stepped down as CEO in 2015, and Nasty Gal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2016.) It’s almost as if Amoruso could see into the future when she writes, “You shouldn’t idolize anyone. And I’m telling you again, don’t idolize me. I don’t know shit. And neither do your parents. But if I can pull any of this off, so can you. Take that and run with it.”

Words I need to hear because I was subconsciously raised with the belief of how I should just settle and make money, money, money.

I’ve often believed my life would be easier if I was “normal.” If I had done college when I was supposed to, pursued a business degree, and got a job at Kroger or Procter and Gamble.

As someone who has tried to start an eBay business herself as either a way to get through college or to create a small emergency fund – no one wants to buy my Beanie Babies, Vera Bradley, or Longaberger – I appreciate seeing how Amoruso started out. But sixty-plus pages in, it gets a little redundant hearing her reminiscence about trolling MySpace for customers, paying her models in hamburgers, and doing photo shoots. Yet the little nuggets of motivation and inspiration that I need are hidden in Amoruso’s eBay journey.

”I don’t want you to look up, #GIRLBOSS, because all that looking up can keep you down. The energy you’ll expend focusing on someone else’s life is better spent working on your own. Just be your own idol.”

Easier said than done.

When I’m at school, when I’m in the newsroom, when I do anything related to journalism… I believe I suck, and I’m stupid, and I question all of my life choices, and I wish I could change my major. I get pissed because no one sees how amazing I am – never mind the fact that I don’t do anything to show how amazing I am because I don’t want to call attention to myself.

Yet I see the journo-favorites getting called out on Twitter all the time for snagging an amazing internship, or landing an amazing job, or writing an amazing article, and I let myself feel like shit. I’ll waste valuable energy sending more bitchy texts to my boyfriend almost every single day about all the opportunities the journo-favorites have that I’m never offered, and how skeptical me thinks it’s because either I’m too old (so I’m not a good investment to send off to a conference that could benefit my future career); or I’m not a journo-go-getter living and breathing journalism 24 hours a day, seven days a week; or I don’t butt-kiss the journo-faculty (which will supposedly hurt me when it comes time to job hunt because – as I found out a few weeks ago – supposedly getting a journo-job is all about WHO you know and not WHAT you know, so I guess these past four years have been nothing but a waste.)

”If I, and this book, have anything to prove, it’s that when you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you, too.”

Therein lies the problem.

I’ve often believed my life would be easier if I was “normal.” If I had done college when I was supposed to, pursued a business degree, and got a job at Kroger or Procter and Gamble. Instead, I played with Strawberry Shortcake dolls and had so many imaginary friends when I was little, and made up my own bedtime stories (only told to myself, never to anyone else). I’d churn out 20-plus page short stories for English assignments in the eighth grade, which earned me A’s and notes from the teacher saying how I should be a writer. In high school, I’d spend class time and Friday nights writing novels. When I went online for the first time in 1993 and found a writer’s forum on America Online where I could post on message boards, and hang out in chat rooms, and talk about fiction writing, I was surprised that there were others like me who had voices in their heads and wrote down their stories – and could make a living from it.

The older I get, it’s easy for the noise and negativity to drown out my inner voice. I was once hopeful and optimistic and bubbling full of ideas for stories and business concepts, and would wake up excited and stay up late pursuing doing what I loved. But I only go through the motions now. When I don’t believe in myself, it’s easier to do what is expected of me, nothing more and nothing less because it doesn’t disappoint anyone. It’s easier for me to send those bitchy texts to my boyfriend rather than force myself to figure out what I need to do to be truly happy, or to prioritize my life where I can do the things that once made me smile. (At least I don’t drink to numb myself, or cry in the shower anymore.)

Not believing in myself is also protection. If I don’t write, or if I believe I’m not a writer, then there’s nothing to share with friends and family, so then I won’t be hurt when I send them links to what I write – after they’ve wanted for years to read what I write – and then I’m met with the sound of crickets.

”Abandon anything about your life and habits that might be holding you back. Learn to create your own opportunities. Know that there is no finish line; fortune favors action.”

The irony of my situation is that I’m an editorial resident here at Women of Cincy where they say “the women of this city get shit done.” (Yeah, everybody but me.) I’m supposed to set some goals for things I want to accomplish this semester. I’ve had two meetings so far and both times? “I’ve got nothing.” I’m supposed to develop a capstone project. No ideas there, either. Unless my capstone is my journey to become a #GIRLBOSS, pushing myself out of my very comfortable comfort zone, and documenting ditching my bad habits, and passionately pursuing my ideas instead of always asking Why can’t I? and being frustrated that I’m not doing whatever it is because I know I can do whatever it is better.

Stay tuned.