It’s wild how much can change in a year.
One year ago today, I was living in LA (Vine Street, deep Hollywood) trying to make my way as an on-camera host. I had been there for eight months, and had four months to go in my apartment lease. In other words, I had four months to make it. At that point, I had enjoyed some pretty cool achievements — like working on CBS’s Undercover Boss, covering a dizzying number of red carpets, and scoring a Snapchat commercial.
When I returned to LA in January post-holidays, I was totally ready to take on the city (and industry) in a way I hadn’t in the previous months. I was going to show ’em what I’ve really got, seize the day, blah blah blah.
Enter April 2014. Aside from more red carpets and a few modeling gigs for a handful of up-and-coming brands, I had yet to get a gig that was financially stable enough to re-sign my lease with confidence. Feeling very Iggy Azalea — no money, no family, 23 in the middle of West Holly — I resolved to return to my home state of New York, and regroup. I missed my family, I missed east coast culture, and I really missed New York City (where I went to college). Besides, LA would always be there if I changed my mind (unless California breaks off into the Pacific Ocean). It was official — I was leaving LA.
I packed up and said goodbye to the many wonderful friends I had made, and though I felt generally secure in my decision to leave, I was indulging in a natural level of self-pity. However, there was one day in particular that I recall feeling remarkably conflicted (Is this the right decision?!), and as I walked to the store, I spotted one of those chalkboard signs outside of a coffee shop on Cahuenga. It said, “Don’t worry about the could haves — if it should have, it would have.”
Whether divine intervention or mere coincidence, it was exactly what I needed.
This, of course, isn’t to say — “Don’t try, because if you’re supposed to make it, your dream job will fall in your lap!” It means, if you try your hardest, and something’s just not budging, maybe you’re supposed to take a different path to get to where you want to be.
Upon my arrival in Rochester, NY, I promptly got in touch with the local Top 40 radio station about an on-air host/producer job I’d seen on LinkedIn. I had absolutely zero radio experience, but HEY! I’m a host — I can talk on any medium!
I didn’t get the job (because I had absolutely zero radio experience), but the Programming Director wanted to meet with me anyway. He thought there could be an interesting fit, as he was looking to implement video, and that was my whole thang. Two weeks later, in late May, I was brought on as “Whitney the Web Chick” — 98PXY’s one and only video personality. At the station’s annual summer concert, “Summer Jam,” I performed video interviews with Jason Derulo, B.o.B, R5, MKTO, and more. Shortly thereafter, I conceived and launched the station’s first-ever video web series, the “98PXY Weekly Wrap-Up,” a [weekly] music and celebrity news online feature. Consequently, I did more hosting and celebrity interviews in one month in Rochester, NY than I had done in six months in Hollywood. It was completely insane. And ironic.
The caveat? I missed big city life. All I’ve ever wanted is to live (and thrive) in one of the big cities — New York or LA. But I was being more productive than ever imagined back home. So I couldn’t complain as much as I wanted to. Furthermore, some of my fellow hosting friends in LA were complaining to me about not getting enough/any hosting work, or not being able to do hosting because of their time-sucking day job. And here I was, in Middle America, doing exactly what I wanted to do. So, I said to myself, “Slow down, you crazy child. Vienna waits for you.”
I shot the Weekly Wrap-Up series until September, at which point my boss said he wanted to get me “on the air.” Things were changing drastically at PXY. The morning show hosts (of 15+ years) were transferring to another station, and a new, younger pair of hosts were taking over. It was fresh and exciting, and my boss wanted me to be a part of it. And I wanted to be a part of it.
But I was wary of neglecting my on-camera aspirations. If I pursued this radio thing, would my TV dreams go to the wayside? My boss put it well. He said, “We all know you can be on-camera — it’s second nature to you. That won’t go away. But I think you should try this, because I think you could be good at this, too.” He was right. When something — a skill — comes naturally, it doesn’t go away. And radio was something I could add to my repertoire.
I should also note the many signs throughout the course of about three years that pointed toward radio. During the fall semester of my senior year at NYU, I auditioned for an MTV VJ position. They were looking for college student hosts for mtvU, and I made it pretty far into the casting process. About halfway through my on-camera audition, the casting director asked me if I’d ever considered radio. He said, “Not that you’re not good at this, but you have a distinct voice.” Two years later in LA, I randomly started getting the voice compliments again with notable frequency. At bars, at Starbucks, at gigs… people would tell me I had a good/distinct voice. It was weird and arbitrary… until I got the radio job. Then, it all made sense. Now, I’m on the radio six days a week, and keeping my on-camera skillz polished with frequent videos and celebrity interviews with cool peeps like Nick Jonas, Lil Jon, and Jesse McCartney. #TurnDownForNOTHING
In addition to hosting, I finally launched the blog I had been talking about for a year. And guess what — you’re reading it RIGHT NOW. Congratulations!!!
Recycled Novelty was a notion that came to me randomly. I liked the way it sounded, I could picture it in writing, and the concept resonated with me. It’s the idea that — amidst the utter idea pollution induced by the digital space — everything we consume is recycled. It’s something that’s been done before in some way, and is now being renewed or restructured — like a pop star making a comeback with a different sound, style, or image (i.e. Miley Cyrus, Nick Jonas), or a fashion/beauty trend resurfacing on runways at Fashion Week. I knew that, in creating a lifestyle blog, I wasn’t doing anything remotely original. So, in a way, Recycled Novelty is tongue-in-cheek. It’s me saying “Yes, I’m just another style blogger.” But it’s also a play on the recycling of pop culture.
At first, Recycled Novelty was lots and lots of street style posts. And I knew I had to do something more if I wanted to stick out in any way. There are a bazillion street style bloggers out there with better wardrobes, better cameras, and better backgrounds (hiiii, New Yorkers). I had to do something meaningful and inclusive if I wanted people to seek my website out of the clutter.
I had just read Sophia Amoruso’s #GIRLBOSS, and — still reeling from its plain-worded profundity — I was full of entrepreneurial energy, ready to take on the world with my own creation. I had also recently watched an ABC News interview with Taylor Swift, in which the pop princess said, “We live in a takedown culture. People will find anything about you, and twist it to where it’s weird, or wrong, or annoying, or strange, or bad.”
And it hit me. Hard.
As someone who was bullied by “mean girls” throughout middle school and high school, the quote was extremely evocative. It was my life experience as a female. I’ve been a victim of takedown culture, and, at low times, I’ve shamefully perpetuated it. Typically stemming from jealousy, takedown culture is judging, criticizing, shaming, mocking, and hating on our fellow woman. It’s giving another girl a dirty look at the club. It’s saying your love interest’s girlfriend “isn’t that pretty.” It’s saying a female celebrity looks “gross” in her swimsuit. It’s not wanting another woman to do better than you in the workplace.
It’s being a bitch just to be a bitch.
It’s an epidemic, and frankly, it’s the only thing keeping women from running the world. We’re exceedingly intelligent, competent, capable beings, but we struggle to unite, because we’re too busy trying to take each other down at every turn with dirty looks, malicious words, and vindictive actions. So, after years of being a participant in this rabid culture of girl-hating, I broke free.
Enter #ImAGirlBoss — a nomination-based series born to inspire, motivate, support, and celebrate; a series that gives amazing women a platform and a megaphone to tell their stories and share their successes. With the #ImAGirlBoss series, I simultaneously launched the lift-up cultural movement — a movement for which my ambitions are lofty and my aspirations endless. Instead of “taking down,” as Taylor Swift put it, I want to inspire women to CELEBRATE each other. Because we’re all doing some seriously badass stuff, and should be damn proud.
Through the generosity of the friends and connections I made living in New York and Los Angeles, I was fortunate enough to launch the series with a bang. I have to give a shout out to the first ladies of the series, without whom this little idea of mine may not have lifted off the ground. So, thank you to Asha Dahya, Katie Corrado, Chelsea Briggs, Stuart Brazell, and Zoya Biglary. I’ve been consistently inspired beyond words by each and every one of the extraordinary women featured in the #ImAGirlBoss series, and am lucky to know them.
As 2014 comes to a close, I am hopeful and excited to see where this totally insane, sometimes crushing — but always extraordinary — journey takes me. I encourage you to follow your dreams, be cognizant of signs, and don’t be afraid of detours — sometimes they get you where you want to go faster. And if you have a killer idea, give it life.
Plan. Be kind. Be intentional. And enjoy the ride.
See you in 2015.