I really didn’t want to do this. I really wanted to spare all of us the melodrama of my becoming yet another person approaching my quarter-life and freaking out.
I tried not to do it.
I’m pretty sure I failed.
Cause I’m freaking out.
My 25th birthday is less than two months away. All of a sudden, this matters more than I ever thought it would, should or could.
When I demanded that Twitter (yes, Twitter of all places) provide me with advice for how to handle one’s quarter-life crisis, I was met with every reply under the sun, ranging from “wine” to “prayer.” Clearly if I can just chuck a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon whilst on my knees at an altar, I’ll have the perfect response to all of my misgivings.
I decided to hit up my homie dictionary.com to get a better sense of what a crisis really is. Crisis is a scary and oft-misused word. But, the homie told me that a crisis is “astageinasequenceofeventsatwhichthetrendofallfuture events,especiallyforbetterorforworse,isdetermined;turning point.”
Ok, so really, I’m back at square one because what the hell does any of that even mean? Is the “stage” now? Is the “sequence of events” my life? Are “all future events” the rest of my life? Come on, dictionary.com, you’re fucking up. I need answers and you’ve only left me with more questions.
Everyone’s quarter-life crisis looks a bit differently. Let’s mitigate any confusion by stating that mine is not of the “need to get married and have babies” variety. No disrespect to that crisis; all crises are created equal. That’s just not mine.
It’s difficult to paint an accurate portrait of my quarter life crisis because a fraction of it involves my career and the 9 to 5 hush-hush part of my career isn’t quite up for blog discussion. But, for all intents and purposes, let’s say my crisis is about career, my blog and money–three entities that are related in theory, but pose separate sets of anxiety for me in this case.
I’ve spent the past three years pretty content that I have the basics: housing, food, water, litter for my cat. You know, those things. I have a job. I pay my rent. I can afford independence. When my 18-year-old mind dreamed way back during my days in Easton Hall, the aforementioned list was what I wanted. But, recently, I’ve wanted more. I’ve wanted to live a life of authenticity and creativity. I’ve wanted to stop hating Mondays. I’ve wanted to quit using the phrase “I can’t do anything for the next two weeks cause this is my rent check.” These are the things that bug me now. Just making it is no longer enough. Just scraping by is no longer enough. Just being OK is no longer enough. And, if you want to jump in the comments section and tell me that it is, save yourself the trouble. I moderate the comments in this bitch. Access denied.
I did something about one of my quarter-life woes so far; I decided to move to a cheaper apartment. In fact, a few days ago, I paid the exorbitant, demonic and soul-crushing rent on my current apartment for the last time (shout out to October’s pro-rated rent!) I feel both excited and apprehensive about my decision to downsize; I’m excited because I’m finally getting a chance to hold on to more money every month and I’m apprehensive because I need a legitimate plan to save that money so I avoid squandering it on Yellow Tail bottles of wine. To be continued.
I haven’t figured out how to (wo)man handle the other fractions of my crisis yet. I just know one motif that appeared again and again when the Twitter brigade offered suggestions was that it helps to have a plan. It does not mean the Universe will always move according to that plan, but it still helps to have it. It helps to have some goal, some aspiration, some thing that keeps you anchored during times of mayhem and uncertainty.
So, I guess it’s time to plan. The first plan is to continue to chronicle the makings of my quarter-life crisis intermittently on the blog so that you all can witness my neurosis. Seems like a good start.
Perhaps Brian Tracy said it best when he declared, “People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.” I would probably doubt Brian’s words if it were not for The Timeline Project™.
Dream it. Visualize it. Realize it™. That is what The Timeline Project does regarding your dreams and goals. It is a space that allows you to make sense of all the ambitious swirl dancing through your head by nailing down your goals in a visual and tangible way. The space serves as an online tool, mood board and information hub dedicated to helping you capture, develop and accomplish your goals.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was initially terrified to map out some of my goals on The Timeline Project. I am a goal punk—meaning I am perfectly OK having goals until I have to attach dates and deadlines to them. Then I freak out and worry that I will suffer defeat if I fail to accomplish my goals according to the timeline I set. So, I keep my ambitions tucked away in my head, a false sense of security should I not accomplish what I set out to do.
But, I chucked my fear in favor of adding five goals to my Timeline on The Timeline Project. And, there it was, staring me square in the face the moment I clicked on the “Work and Education” topic: Get Out of Debt.
I’ve secretly held this goal in the confines of my brain for about a year now. But, seeing it there on my screen in such a plain yet non-invasive way finally made me take the plunge and commit to it. I was grateful to The Timeline Project for making it easy to dedicate myself to this goal without forcing me to conjure up all the ways in which I’ll do it, nor pushing me to attach a date to it other than “age 30.” The Timeline Project makes it simple for you.
I added four more goals to my Timeline—unplug, stop using credit, start a side hustle and avoid negativity—and I already feel like I’m on a path to achieving this vast array of things. They are now on a screen and that is a start. I’ve wanted to do many of these things, but up until now, they have just resided in my head and heart. Now, they’re on my very colorful and awesome Timeline!
While goals are for everyone, The Timeline Project places a special emphasis on women, the many choices we elect to make and the myriad of paths we choose to follow. The Timeline Project was developed by Bayer HealthCare, a leader in women’s health for over five decades, and a proud supporter of modern women everywhere.
And, when it comes to the paths we forge and the decisions we make, one of the significant choices is what we do with our bodies and when (or if) we opt to create a family. Goals aren’t just about career or personal relationships, but they are also about making deliberate decisions about important things. To help you take control and decide where and when (or whether) you’ll build your family, The Timeline Project will also share some information about birth control options to discuss with your doctor. It’s your path, your body, your mind, your choice. Like anything else, it is your goal.
It’s your turn. I encourage you to visit The Timeline Project so that you can also visualize your goals. What’s one thing you would like to do this year? Next year? In the next five years? Let us know what that goal is and then head to The Timeline Project to map it out!
Author’s note: On New Year’s Day 2013, Evette Dionne tweeted about Twenties Unscripted and, in short, the entire universe shifted. Evette has been beyond instrumental to my writing career. She has been a support system, advocate and unofficial mentor to me for some time now. In this Q&A, she opens up about her own writing career, how to best manage money as a freelancer and what she uses as an outlet when she needs to escape the grind.
Describe a typical day in the life of Evette Dionne.
My schedule varies depending on the length of my daily to-do list, but I almost always pitch between 6 and 6:30 a.m. I currently reside on the West Coast, so I have to be mindful of the two-hour time difference between Mountain Standard Time and Eastern Standard Time. While I wait for editors to accept or reject the pitches, I go for a quick walk to achieve some semblance of balance and then I’ll cook breakfast. I usually write from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., but sometimes I’ll write late into the evening. It just depends on the amount of work I’m required to complete that day. I usually respond to emails from 2 p.m. until 2:30 p.m., and I’ll tweet and Facebook during that time as well. After 2:30, I put the computer away, so I can enjoy life away from the writing grind. Anything goes after 2:30.
You’ve written for some pretty well-known publications including Clutch Magazine, Madame Noire and xoJane. How do you maintain your individual voice as a writer when writing for a variety of publications?
This is an excellent question. Honestly, I sometimes struggle with maintaining my writing voice. Graduate school significantly altered my writing voice, since academic writing requires a different lens and voice. I’ve been battling to resuscitate my writing voice in both scholarship and public writing, and I’ve been losing that war.
Every publication has a different need and a different readership, so I’m always mindful of how I can remain true to myself and my voice, while also insuring the publication’s readers are nourished. I always read an article out loud after I’ve completed it. That technique allows me to catch errors, like run-on sentences and such, and it also forces me to notice when the writing isn’t flowing as it should. I always say that my writing should read like a conversation between two friends. I know my voice isn’t coming through if the writing doesn’t flow like a convo. Sometimes I succeed at keeping my writing voice present in my work, and sometimes I fail.
How do you balance your public online persona with your own individual privacy?
Achieving balance has been one of my greatest challenges, especially since I do a lot of digital work. One of the coolest and creepiest things about writing publicly is that people tend to think they know me based on what I’ve written. I’ve had strangers call my personal phone number, which I didn’t realize was listed on the resume I posted to my website. I’ve experienced the death and rape threats, and had strangers leave threatening comments about my family on an Instagram post. I’m an open person, but I’ve learned that being open and writing about the subjects I tackle makes me vulnerable. So, I’ve created strict boundaries around my personal life. My Facebook and Instagram are private, and I don’t add people that I don’t have relationships with in real life. I’m also strategic about what I share. For instance, I experienced a break-up about two months ago. I shared that experience publicly because it was affecting how I was communicating online, as well as the work I was producing at that time. I felt compelled to share what was happening in my personal life because it impacted my public work. However, I’ve learned that everything isn’t meant to be shared publicly. That guiding principle has definitely helped me sustain my individual privacy.
What is the biggest misconception people have about working full-time as a freelance writer?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that a writer has to work within the industry and establish contacts before becoming a professional freelancer. While both of those things can be helpful, it isn’t especially necessary. The Internet is one of the best tools available for writers. Establishing a following through a blog or social media can catch an editor’s eye, and open doors that were previously guarded by gatekeepers.
You mentioned on Twitter that you often times feel saddled with guilt when you feel burned out from writing. What do you do to remind yourself that it (your freelance writing career) is all worth it?
When I am feeling burned out (as I am now), I remind myself that my words mean more to others than they can ever mean to me. Every time I receive a “me too” email or a tweet from a Black girl or woman who can relate to what I’ve written, I know that my purpose is bigger than my burn out.
What money management advice would you offer to freelance writers?
Never write for free, unless it’s a publication that will open bigger and more lucrative doors. I wrote for free and took unpaid internships, but I also had middle-class parents who could afford to support me as I pursued a writing career. Now, I refuse to write for free. Words are valuable, and writers deserve to be paid for putting their ideas on paper. I’d also tell freelance writers to create budgets, and stick to them. When I don’t write, I don’t eat, so be sure you’re writing enough to cover the basics and some of the luxuries. Lastly, I’d advise freelance writers to hire an accountant to handle taxes.
How have you learned to deal with negativity directed toward you online?
It has been a process. I didn’t have an online presence when I first began writing publicly, so I rarely encountered negativity. I was also able to ignore it because it wasn’t directed at me. I began being bombarded with criticism, threats and overall craziness when I began tweeting and Facebooking; it was so bad for a time that all I did was argue with folks on Twitter. I became consumed by the negativity, and even had spats with writers and editors who I respect and admire because I couldn’t differentiate between hate and constructive criticism. Now, I block out negativity. I don’t engage with folks intent on insulting me. I’m all for engaging about what I’ve written, but I know it’s time to disengage when I become the target. Constructive criticism sent from a space of love will always get a response from me, but hate never will.
Because you write for a living, do you ever find it difficult to write for fun? Is writing still an outlet for you?
Writing for fun? What’s that? Oh God, I miss writing just to write. I used to write fiction, but I can’t even muster up the energy to do that. I’m so exhausted by the time I’m done writing for profit that I can’t even begin to formulate an idea outside of that. Writing is no longer an outlet for me, unfortunately. Traveling is my outlet.
What advice would you give to young women looking to break into freelance writing?
I’d encourage young women to use the Internet to build their brands. Create a blog or a website; write and publish excellent content; and use social media to promote that work. Engage with editors and fellow writers on social media. The other doors will open on their own.
What’s next for you?
I love writing. Though I often feel burned out, writing is my gift, and it has made room for me. So, I’m going to continue writing about culture, race and gender. I’d also like to see my words on larger platforms and in magazines with wider readerships, so I’m preparing myself for those opportunities as well. At some point, I’d like to create my own magazine, and write a few books or a memoir. Those projects will take time, so I’m being patient with myself and with the process. Lastly, I’m preparing for my first round of Ph.D. applications. I’m a critical media studies scholar who examines the ways Black womanhood and Black female pleasure is constructed in media texts, like romantic comedies and hip-hop music videos. Immersing in theories and all of that other academic shit keeps my writing sharp. Plus, it’ll be dope to have an “expertise” of sorts, so I can use my dissertation to continue branding myself and my work. Other than writing and being a scholar, I’m simply living, loving and hoping I can overcome this burnout.
Evette Dionne’s work about race, gender and culture can be read in multiple publications including the New York Times, The Root, theGrio, xoJane and UPTOWN Magazine. She’s also served as daily editor of Clutch Magazine. Dionne is also a critical media studies scholar who examines black female sexuality and pleasure in media texts like romantic comedies and hip-hop music videos. She is based in Denver.
I recently acquired a new GChat buddy by the name of BHB. For those who know BHB, there’s really only one important thing to note: she doesn’t take shit. For those who do not know BHB, there is also really only one important thing to note…she doesn’t take shit. Yesterday, I found myself engrossed in a conversation with her, spilling the many thoughts I have had about the past year and my increased awareness of people’s good and bad intentions. That’s also just a nice way of saying I’ve learned who is real and who is absolutely not.
BHB said something in that conversation that stuck with me: “When you know what you have, you can’t let others dictate how you feel about where you are going and what you are doing. No time, no energy.”
Success is a strange island, a place that is paradise on land but surrounded by sharks. And, I think particularly as women, we’re conditioned to balk at our own success. It’s hard for me not to let out a nervous laugh when someone says they love my blog. I have yet to learn how to just say thank you and keep it moving. Nonetheless, once you’ve somehow made your way onto the island, there is very little room for bullshit. I mean duh, it’s an island. It’s small. Once you’ve stopped balking at your own success and have instead decided to live in it, your tolerance for bullshit has to be at zero. And, it has to be at zero because you have to spend pretty much every waking moment working your ass off. Otherwise, the sharks come biting.
I am now at that relentless and neurotic point where anything I do that is not advancing my work is directly or indirectly detracting from it. Anyone who is not supporting my work is directly or indirectly detracting from it. I have never been good at math, but those are very simple equations that I can understand. Either you’re on the team or you don’t get a uniform. The end. (Well, not the end because there are still paragraphs left in this blog post, but you know what I mean.)
However, as easy as that all is for me to say, I have admittedly allowed a lot of bullshit into my life. Bullshit comments, bullshit people and bullshit energy. Bullshit comes in many forms–Internet trolls, passive aggression, biting sarcasm, jealousy, unwillingness to support, bad vibes and side eyes to name a few. And, while I am learning how to shove the bullshit out once it has made its way in, I have yet to learn the fine art of building an impenetrable wall so that it never gets a chance to infiltrate in the first place.
Perhaps some of my inability to create impermeability speaks to the fact that I’m human. I’m a hard-wired ball of emotions. I’m vulnerable. And, I also assume people are innocent until proven guilty. I try not to live life with my guard up because I find that’s a rather exhausting and unhappy way to live. So, I have let and continue to let people in, assuming that they have my back and my best interest at heart. But, having to readjust and reset my emotional sails if they prove me wrong is often times a pretty taxing task.
I also believe as women, we’re taught that jealousy doesn’t exist. We’re taught that those sorts of emotions are entirely in our heads and we are crazy and think far too highly of ourselves if we sense that sort of venom coming from someone else. But, as I’ve written before, jealousy is a snake of an emotion. It’s a quiet killer, silent until it decides to sting you. Most people don’t go around parading that they are jealous and miserable fucks. Those things come out in small, subtle doses and instead of thinking we’re crazy, we should probably listen more to our intuition as it tells us to run far and fast from certain individuals.
BHB is right. I know what I have. I know what I’m working toward. I know what I’m trying to do. And, I now know that I’ve spent a little too much time and energy giving way to the bullshit that other people want to dump on me. So, now, new motto: Great Wall of China to the bullshit.
There is not anything inside of me that is inherently better than the next person; I have just decided to live a life of action instead of reaction. I have opted to make shit happen instead of letting shit happen. I have decided that it is worth the risk of the sharks circling me if I get a chance to spread my blanket out on the island of success. I like this island. I like this place. Fuck the sharks. I think I will stay awhile.
On Saturday night, I got to hear one of my favorite spoken word artists in person for the second time. I’ve admired Rudy Francisco ever since I stumbled upon him by chance three years ago when I attended the National Poetry Slam finals in Cambridge, MA. Suffice it to say ever since then, I’ve probably listened to his YouTube videos more times than the appropriate amount.
Rudy featured at the Louder Than A Bomb DMV Teen Poetry Slam Finals this past weekend (where I also got to reunite with one of my little boyfriends from the showcase). During Rudy’s set, he mentioned how he used to perform statistical analysis before he became an artist full-time. The anecdote stuck with me as it mirrored many of the anecdotes I’ve heard from artists and writers whom I respect. Demetria Lucas and her exit from her coveted role as the relationships editor at Essence. Necole Kane and her move to NYC. And even women close to me like my writer kin GG Renee Hill who shared at “Brunch, Blogs and Books” how she left her job after a nervous breakdown and realized that she wasn’t doing the right thing.
All of these stories give me hope, but they also scare the shit out of me. Because, I know deep inside at my core, I will eventually arrive at one of these leap of faith moments. I do not know if my leap of faith will come in the form of a move or a career shift or the courage to begin a new project. Hell, I don’t know; it could quite possibly come as as all of the above. All I know is that given my passion and the direction of my life, I will undoubtedly reach that sort of fork in the road.
Leaps of faith both encourage and frighten people who have yet to take them. Because, for every leap of faith that results in someone landing successfully in a place where they are meant to be, there are 10 other leaps of faith that result in someone going splat. What’s that statistic about 90% or something of start-ups failing? Yeah, that.
I’ve always been someone drawn to practicality. Security. Assurance. Structure. In the few post-grad years I’ve secured under my belt, I know that bills and loans and obligations are very real things. They do not vanish; they sit right there and wait for you to tend to them. And, if you do not tend to them, they transform into screaming beasts littering your credit report. In that regard, security (namely financial security) is a very beautiful thing.The flip side of that is that I dream really big, I love really hard and I nurse another half whose success relies on blind faith.
The two halves constantly compete, but there is a large part of me that knows if I want the kind of life I’ve always craved, the dreamer side will have to win. I told my sister last week that I’m willing to do what other people won’t to get to where other people can’t. I don’t know if that was just the most audacious statement I’ve made in awhile or if it really hosted some truth. Probably both.
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since my fingers had enough strength to grab a pencil. In my freshman journalism class, they divided us into four groups based on why we chose journalism as a major and, like the overzealous freshman I was, I stood in the group that said we wanted to change the world. I dropped out of the major a semester later. Some days I wish I had the gall to still stand in the group that says it wants to change the world. Some days I’m still naive and overzealous enough to believe that I can. But, as I’ve gotten older, I have started to wonder what does being a writer really look like? Do I have to mold and adapt my perception of that career? Will it always be just my side hustle? I wonder if I am or ever will be good enough for writing to sustain me full-time. I’m not sure. I don’t know. All I know is that when I arrive at the fork in the road, one path may lead me to security and one may require me to leap in faith. I pray to every possible deity that I have the balls to take the latter.