On this episode, you’ll hear from Timka Lockheart, a Georgia native and proud graduate from Alabama A&M University who ended up on Wall Street for her first job out of college and eventually with an MBA from Wharton. As the only Black woman on her team as a first-year analyst, Timka had to quickly learn the ropes and come to grips with her insecurities to perform at a high level. Today, Timka works as a Career Coach helping young professionals make “courageous leaps” and she spills the tea on how she made some of her own leaps.
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Management Leadership for Tomorrow – Career Prep
Management Leadership for Tomorrow – MBA Prep
Management Leadership for Tomorrow – Professional Development
SEO – Seizing Every Opportunity
SEO Career Program – SEO Career recruits and trains high achieving Black, LatinX, and Native American college students for challenging summer internships that lead to coveted full-time jobs
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
Courageous Leaps LLC
Timka: It just took me getting comfortable with the job and saying you don’t have to be perfect. You will not get fired for small mistakes. You have to take the risk to learn. I think that we forget that learning is risky. You’re learning to do something you haven’t done before. And so, that requires a commitment to not being perfect.
Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color, and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration. You’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Hey, everyone, welcome to episode 23 of the Early Career Moves Podcast. Today, I’m so excited to be sharing Timka Lockhart’s story with you. But before I get there, I want to just give a quick reminder that we are going to be wrapping up season one of the podcasts at episode 30, which will air early July. And at that point, I’m going to be taking about 10 weeks off to have my own little summer break. My birthday is coming up in August. I’m also getting married at the end of summer. So really excited to unplug a little bit. But don’t worry, I’ll definitely be back in September. And I have lots of fun exciting episodes in the works and just looking forward to continuing to improve upon and make this podcast the best young professional BIPOC resource out there. So today’s episode features Timka Lockheart, she is an amazing woman who is also in the career space, she is the founder of Courageous Leaps, and she’s also a Wharton MBA grad.
She is a career coach on the side and helps people transition into new roles. But her full-time gig is at American Express where she’s in a leadership development program. On this episode, Timka shares what it’s been like to be an HBCU grad who’s originally from Georgia and was able to crack into one of the most elite industries for her first job in investment banking. I will make sure to link in the show notes the different programs that she mentioned that she was a part of that helped her get there. She talks about what it was like to be the only woman, the only black woman in the room. How she had to kind of get over her own fears, insecurities, self-doubt to be able to perform at a high level. And she also will talk about how her Wharton MBA pushed her to become a stronger version of herself. So really excited to share her story with you. Thanks for listening, y’all.
Priscilla: Hey, everyone. I’m really excited to have Timka Lockheart on today’s episode. Welcome, Timka.
Timka: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to join you today.
Priscilla: Yeah. So before we jump into introductions, I want the audience to know how you and I connected. So Timka and I actually crossed paths this summer before we both started our MBA programs through MLT, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, where they were helping us kind of prepare for the recruiting process that would take over in business school. I’m sure we’ll go into that a little bit later. But it was just really cool to cross paths and we both have a passion for helping people navigate their career paths, especially as people of color. So really excited to dive into this conversation. But yeah, Timka, why don’t you just share with the audience a little bit about yourself, just anything to kind of give the audience a sense of your background?
Timka: Sure. So I’m Timka, everyone. I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia, just where I’m currently recording this podcast. I’m a black woman. I think that’s actually pretty integral to my story and the story we’ll walk through today. I got my undergrad degree in Finance from a really small HBCU, Alabama A&M and HBCU being a historically black university. And then, went on in my career to work in Finance and a couple other things we’ll talk about later today. And yeah, I would say, major theme in my life so far has been resiliency in showing up for yourself, because I believe if you show up for yourself, you literally can do anything in the world, but the half of the battle is showing up. So that’s about me.
Priscilla: Yeah. So let’s kind of rewind a little bit to those HBCU days. Tell us where you went. And also, how did that experience impact you being in a historically black college university?
Timka: First, let me say I grew up in Atlanta and the neighborhood I grew up in Atlanta was actually pretty rare compared to the average American, and that my neighborhood was all black. So we had black police officers, black teachers, black government officials, like everyone was black in this little town. And so, I think that first that shaped my worldview, and that it was an understanding that you literally can be anything you want to be. And so, I think that’s something that a lot of minority black and brown kids don’t see. And I was fortunate enough to grow in this kind of environment, so that’s one.
And then, going to HBCU, I feel like it was just a continuation of seeing people that looked like me and having a level of support that I’m not sure that everyone gets at a predominantly white institution. So my teachers would call my cell phone, if I miss class, right? And say, “What happened today?” Or would talk to an administrator that I was close to and say, “Hey, Timka didn’t come to XYZ.” Right. And so, you knew that you had people looking out for you, and what pushed you to be your best in an environment that was really small and tight knit, which I think is we can’t measure the impact of that.
Priscilla: Yeah, so I went to an all-women’s college and it’s a similar concept of being in this environment that is not really representative of the real world. But what’s really cool is that it kind of flips everything on its head, right? Everyone who’s a leader on campus was a woman. And so, for you, it was like a black person. And so, it’s just so it was freeing for me to be in that environment. And it made me fearless when I did go into the workplace after college, because I was like, “Women speak up, like women are just as capable as anyone else.” Did you feel like you also reap that benefit?
Timka: I did. And I do think that on the flip side, I also was very naive in terms of going into internships and being like, “Oh, this is what the real world is.” And realizing that you, in fact, will probably be the only black face in the room. And dealing with that reality, I think was something else I had to kind of tackle. And I joke and say that while I was in college, I worked at a local mall, and I worked at the Ann Taylor store. And working at that Ann Taylor store gave me a much bigger viewpoint of the world and allowed me to experiment in a different way. So I think that, yes, HBCU life, absolutely, 1,000% would do it again, do not regret. And I’m grateful to also have some of those other experiences that helped prepare me for the world too.
Priscilla: Yeah. Okay. So tell us about your first job out of college. How did you find it? How did you end up going in that direction?
Timka: So my first role, full time role out of school, I actually went into investment banking. So I worked at Barclays full-time where I worked in debt capital markets and I covered tech media and telecom companies. And so, my journey to investment banking was one of– was very interesting. We mentioned MLT earlier in this conversation and I want to plug MLT again because I did management leadership for tomorrow’s undergrad program just called Career Prep. And that program, you apply the summer during your sophomore year, and you start before your junior year, and they kind of carry you through graduation. But that program, on top of a couple of others that also mentioned really opened up the world to me, so I did MLT. I also did another program called Thurgood Marshall College Scholars, and that program focuses on public HBCU students and opening up internship opportunities for them. So I did that program.
And then finally, I also did SEOs, career prep program, which is SEO standing for sponsors for educational opportunity. So I guess a real quick thing there is I found places and resources to help me and I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know that investment banking was working on and where I was going to end up. However, I was like, I know I need to get out of Alabama, and I need to find places to help me do it. So I went through those three programs. And I think that game changer for me was having intense mentorship and in some ways sponsorship across those three programs to support my career and thinking about what I wanted to do after school. And so, investment banking came up as something that my MLT coach, Valerie Griffin was like, “You should actually, I want to challenge you to apply to do this.” The way she did that was applying to SEO, I got into SEO. And at the time, SEO, if you got into SEO, you were guaranteed an investment banking internship. And so, they don’t do that anymore but back then that was how it worked.
And so, I got into SEO, I got the internship and SEO gave me a network of mentors who literally held my hand throughout the summer experience. And I was also fortunate enough to get placed on a desk with another black woman which was very rare. And so, all of these forces came together. I got the full time offer. After graduating, I moved to New York City and joined the investment bank full-time. And that was an entirely different experience. I think being an intern versus working full-time is two very different things. But that was my journey into getting on Wall Street.
Priscilla: That is such an incredible journey because those spaces are so elite and closely guarded. Like, I remember when I was in college only, like the top of the top, like GPAs could even be considered for ibanking. And I’m sure you encountered that when you finally started full-time, it’s just like, your peers were coming from these probably very elite institutions, maybe there wasn’t a lot of diversity. And so, I just remember in college being like, “Wow, that’s intense to try to get into ibanking.”
Timka: No, I think that’s exactly right. So I will say SEO did an excellent job preparing the interns like we had to move to New York two weeks early before our internship, and they put us through like a boot camp. And it was like, “This is what you have. This is what you’re going to expect.” And so, I feel, like even that preparation gave us a leg up, right? Like, we knew how to use Excel. We knew the basics of accounting, like they were ensuring that all of these black and brown kids knew exactly what was going to happen. And, of course, I was prepared for the fact that I probably would have been one of the few black women in the room at that young of an age. And so, I think that preparation did carry forward into full-time. But I underestimated how different it would be, right? So an investment banking, the culture really depends on the group you’re placed in. It’s not necessarily the bank, it’s really about the team that you’re on. And so, one team could be very different from another team and I think it was something that like, bopped me upside the head, when I started working full-time.
Priscilla: So there are a lot of things that are very challenging about working in investment banking and working in finance, and so some things that come to mind are the hours. I’m sure you worked weekends, there’s just an incredible amount of time you’re putting in. And then, secondly, the fact that it’s not only a white space, but it’s also a heavily male dominated space. So I’m curious if that played into at all your experience. And then, of course, just like all of the skills that you had to probably develop really quickly to be successful. So what was the biggest challenge for you?
Timka: I would say, so when I joined full-time, I was joined a team that was majority white in all male. I was the only one on the team. I was reportedly the first five woman that had been on that team in five years. And quite, frankly, it really was a boys club, really. And so, this was back in 2013. So this was right before some of these regulations that they have around investment banking were coming into place. And I said regulations like, no Friday staffing, right? You can’t get put on a new project on a Friday or you have to sign out X amount of times a week or something like that. And when I joined, those regulations weren’t necessarily in place. And so, the team was really small, and we worked really hard.
We had a lot of volume coming through this desk. And it often felt like, I was– and they’ll describe it to you this way, joining an investment banking or starting this career is almost like drinking from a firehose. There’s so much coming at you. And on top of that, I was the only woman of color on my team, I was the only woman on my team. And so, I often felt isolated in a lot of ways. And some of that being, my own self-isolation, right, not feeling confident in my abilities. And I think on top of that, some of that was just understanding that I wasn’t necessarily as prepared as I could have been or should have been to take on such a large role. And, especially being a woman, I often felt like I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, they probably think I’m dumb, I can’t laugh at their jokes, I don’t know anything about football, like all of these little things that compounded upon themselves, and I think really affected my first year in terms of performance.
Priscilla: Yeah. So what ended up helping you overcome some of that? Was it like a specific coach or a sponsor? Or like, what helped you get out of your head a little bit?
Timka: It definitely took me– let’s say, it wasn’t a six-month learning curve for me. It was like an eight- or nine-month learning curve, I’ll be completely honest. It just took me getting comfortable with the job and saying, “You don’t have to be perfect. Right? You will not get fired for small mistakes. You have to take the risk to learn.” I think that we forget that learning is risky. You’re learning to do something you haven’t done before. And so, that requires a commitment to not being perfect. I felt like in my career, I was trying to be perfect so much that it was holding me back from actually learning what I needed to learn, because I was so worried about doing the things that I actually knew how to do. And it was almost like, analysis paralysis. So for me, it was time that helped me get up to speed. It was time and it was having other women, even the women at Barclays and some of the folks that I knew pour into me and say, you can do this, right, just relax and listening to that advice.
Priscilla: Yeah, I like that term analysis paralysis, because, yes, I think that when the mindset is not there, our minds can go into panic mode. And then, when you’re panicked, you actually start making more mistakes than you would normally have, right?
Timka: Yeah, that’s exactly it is. We allow panic to literally override our common sense and we have to be able to calm ourselves down and I think the other piece too, was like, am I able to ask for help, right? I should be able to admit that I don’t know something, I think that was a huge thing for me, was that when I was learning new things, I was so focused on being perfect, that I would then forget what I learned three or four months later, and it was like, we’ve gone through this, right? And you learned it the first time, but you were so nervous, so afraid that you didn’t really marinate on what you were taught. And so, I think that also hindered me a lot in those early months was, the fear held me back from even growing into where I wanted to go.
And I’ll add this, I think that the game changer for me was when I started in the group, I had a co-analyst, and we were on the same level, and a year into the so this was technically a two-year program, in the analyst program, and he left a year early. And so, when he left, it was literally like a sink or swim situation, where it was like, well, Timka, you are it? You either have to give up the program or not. And at the time, of course, I was really upset that he was leaving, because I felt like I was just getting my sea legs, I’m just now getting it. And at that point, it was like, this is the point where you have to turn it up, he there is no option here unless you want to quit too. I think that was it was really what caught and put the battery in my back in terms of you can do this. And I proved to myself, I was able to do it. And so, I left the bank feeling great about my performance, and I’m not sure that would have happened if he had stayed, because I would have been able to rely on him.
Priscilla: Okay, so tell us about your decision to leave ibanking. I know that a lot of the times people try to go into private equity and like hedge fund work or whatever. I’m sure there were lots of options you could have considered. What did you decide to do maybe at the end of those two years?
Timka: Sure. So I realized that I’d spent two years learning a lot about capital markets, a lot about debt and bonds and any kind of Treasury work. And I wanted to learn more about overall company’s like, what is the company’s strategy, right? And so, I realized that I started to look for jobs and like strategy development, ultimately, because I did not see myself continuing to work, as hard as I was working in investment banking, I just couldn’t, I wasn’t in love with it. And I also did not want to get what they call the golden handcuffs. So when you start to get a certain amount of money, it’s harder to walk away, right? It’s the feeling of, well, I can’t leave, right, because this is the amount of money I’m making, and especially being that young. I started to look for strategy roles. And I’ll tell the story of how I got into my next job. Basically, I was like, I’m willing to take a pay cut and just to learn. And actually, one of the jobs I applied for was with MLT, I applied for strategy partnership role.
And so, when I interviewed with for the job. And I interviewed with this person, this amazing mentor of mine named Marcus Shaw, and he’s a mentor now, but at the time, I didn’t know him. And I interviewed with him and I explained my story and what I was looking to do, looking to learn, and he basically told me during the interview, he was like, “Listen, I don’t think this is the right role for you.
However, I know the right role for you. I know somewhere where you can go.” So he connected me to some folks over at a firm called the Brunswick group. And the Brunswick group is a small crisis management and corporate public relations firm. And at that firm, I was able to really grow and learn about corporate strategy, overall. Corporate PR, how do we respond to these broad issues companies are facing. And in that connection, I was able to immediately get a first round interview and really apply some of the skills I learned in banking and a completely different skill set. And it wasn’t something I ever thought I was going to do. didn’t know that I was interested in it, but it was this is an opportunity to learn something new and to grow your skill set, don’t turn it down.
Priscilla: Wow. And it’s great that you were open to something different, right? Like, I think sometimes people get really caught up in like having this very linear path about, oh, well, this is what I should do next. But it sounds like you were pretty open to exploring and that’s what took you to that next opportunity.
Priscilla: Okay, so was this like a Olivia Pope type situation like, what kind of century are you working on?
Timka: So I think that everyone external thought of it as Olivia Pope, but in reality, maybe the partners at the firm were Olivia Pope think, you know everything. But at my level, it was more of writing documents, drafting talking points, doing a lot of research, supporting, especially C suite executives from across industries. In terms of– I need to get my CEO on CNBC, for example. What does he say, in response to Bill Ackman trying to take over his company? What exactly does he say? Or my CEO, their company is releasing earnings next week. What does she say to CNBC host about their earnings performance? What a reporter saying? What is the general news that these companies need to be aware of? So in a lot of ways, I’ll be honest, I worked just as hard as I did in investment banking. But it was just a different kind of work. I think it was the kind of work that required a different brain in terms of critical thinking, and especially around being able to write and write well. I don’t think that I really learned that ability in banking. But, of course, in corporate PR, you’re talking points need to be perfect. The press release needs to be on point., you have to be really on top of the details, and it taught me a different skill that I did not get in banking.
Priscilla: Okay, so now let’s transition over to the MBA journey chapter, which I’m sure was like a whole thing for you, as it was for me, were you always sold on the idea of going to business school and getting your MBA?
Timka: I did not realize business school was an actual thing until I started working in investment banking. And my director, at the time, Luke was at Harvard grad, he was ex-military. He left the military, went to Harvard, and then worked in investment banking. And I think he was one of the first people that I ever met, or was really like, oh, whoa, this is actually an option. So for me, it was always curious to me that he was always so close to his Rugby Club, he was like, “I’m going out to drinks with the rugby friends.” From his Harvard Business school days. And I think that was something that really made an impression on me was like, Oh, he’s still really close to these folks from grad school. That’s interesting. And then, I felt as I met clients from both investment banking, and even in the PR world, a lot of them had these really impressive grad schools. And then, finally, when it came time to kind of really get serious. I had done investment banking, right, I had worked in PR. I was like, I need to continue the through line, right? If I want to do something different, how do I get there? And so, for me, it was going back to school.
Priscilla: Yeah. So I’m assuming you did MLT’s MBA prep program. Is that right?
Timka: Yes, I did MLT MBA prep, correct.
Priscilla: Yeah. Like that’s like a two-year program. Is that right? Or is it a year and a half, almost, or–?
Timka: Similar to the undergrad program? It really– I think, I would say is two years, I guess all in and I kind of joke and say that was actually one of the hardest points in my career, was being great at the PR job. Because I’ll be honest, I think, again, just like investment banking, it took me a while to get up the learning curve, and to be really good at the PR stuff. So doing PR, responding to clients, working on a client schedule, right? So it’s not like a regular nine to five, you got to be up at six, you’re going to be up at six, right? And studying for the G mat while working was just incredibly difficult for me. So I’ll share this. I took the GMAT five times to get to school.
Priscilla: I believe you, yeah.
Timka: My goal was not just to get into school, my goal was to get in with a scholarship. And, yeah, maybe the third time I could have gotten into somebody’s school, but was that good enough to get some money? No. So it was just really, I think, it really came down to time management and being extra disciplined about how I did everything. So I think when I got really serious about the G mat, those last couple of times, I stopped going out. I stopped drinking. I would show up to work early, to do my work early, to be finished with work by five so then I could sit at my desk for three extra hours and study like, it was no joke because I knew if I did not leave the firm, I probably would have been kind of pigeonholed into PR forever. And that’s not what I necessarily want.
Priscilla: Yeah, it’s I had a similar experience. So I did not take it five times but I took it twice. But there was like a pretty significant difference between those two scores. And you’re right, it’s the balance is so hard. I remember getting up early, doing two or three hours before work, doing work. And then, in the evening, you’re doing that, again, the weekends, it’s a lot.
Timka: Yeah. And so, there’s actually– I’m reading this book called Win the Day by Mark Patterson. And he said something in the book that I wanted to call out, but I don’t know if you’re religious, or anyone out here is religious, but I’ll say this in the book, it’s a book about the top seven habits we need to develop, so on, so forth. And one of the habits he has, it’s called eat the frog. So doing the hardest things of your day, first, ensuring that you’re really intentional about these hard things. And the tagline for Eat the Frog is if you want God to do the super, you’ve got to show up in the natural, you want the university, the super, or whatever you believe in, right? If you want these super amazing, awesome things to happen, you still have to do the work to get there. And I feel that kind of beam is underlining during that that period in my life where it was like, I have to be really intentional about where I want to be. And I don’t want anything that I’ve done to hold me back, right? I want to control all my controllable. So I can control how well I do on the test. Right? Like I can control my effort. I can control how well I write my essays. I can control the people are after recommendations, I can set them up for success to write really positive things about me. And so I had to take the mindset of I don’t want to count myself out the game by not giving my best.
Priscilla: Yeah, absolutely. So you made it to Wharton and congrats. I’m sure that was such an amazing milestone to hit for you. What was it like when you like were making your decision? I remember you were feeling a little split between Wharton and another school. I don’t remember which one it was.
Timka: Yeah, so I applied to seven schools. I got into six, in all six that I got into I got money to go, whether it be a full ride or half ride or some kind of scholarship amount. And so, I think for me, it really came down to the deciding factor was where will I be challenged and pushed the most to grow? Because I knew, for example, I came to a school in Atlanta. Well, I’m from Atlanta, I could just go home every weekend, right? Like, I needed to be sure that I was going to be pushed. And I felt like Wharton was really the place that would push me, and it did. I’m not going to lie to you. It really did. And I absolutely do not regret my decision. I think it was the best decision I made for myself.
Priscilla: Yeah. While you were at Wharton, did you ever feel like imposter syndrome come up for you maybe as you were like recruiting or in the academic field. Did that come up?
Timka: Definitely came up. I would say in the summer before Wharton. So, summer before Wharton, I really was like, I’m going to be a human capital consultant. I wrote my essays about it to get into business schools. I was like, that’s what I’m going to do. And then I realized, Oh, actually, since you don’t have the skill set that you need to be good at that job, right? And this was pre-Wharton. And so, I think that was my first run in with Oh, maybe I’m not as smart as I thought. And then, even at Wharton, there are some classes like microeconomics, where I was felt completely underwater. And I have a finance undergrad. And I was like, “I have a Finance degree. Why is this so hard?” But the reality is, it’s just hard, right? And I had to get comfortable with the fact that you might have been a big fish in a small pond, but the pond will get bigger, right? And so, you will not necessarily always be the big fish and you need to get comfortable with not being the expert all the time. And so, I felt like imposter syndrome just came up a lot in the classroom. Not to say I didn’t get pretty okay grades but that also goes to show that I just had to work really hard to get those grades and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Priscilla: So tell us a little bit about Courageous Leaps. Tell us how it started and what you do now with clients?
Timka: Sure, so Courageous Leaps is my side baby. It’s my little side project where I run a small boutique career coaching business supporting clients across the country, and helping them think about transitioning their careers, positioning themselves and really focusing on the near-term detail in our resumes or cover letters, and even on LinkedIn and how we present ourselves in the digital age.
And I started this business because as we mentioned earlier, I’m the product of like SEO, MLT, Thurgood Marshall fund, like all of these different programs, which have helped me really pushed me along the way. But those programs aren’t necessarily open to a lot of people, right? You have to apply, you have to be selected, and you have to know about it. I feel like there is a lack of knowledge around our careers, around the stories we tell, and how we tell them to other people. And so, I feel like that is one of my purposes is to help people tell their stories, right? And help people figure out what is the next step. So that’s Courageous Leaps. That’s why I started it and I’ve been able to help 50 something people so far in terms of resumes, cover letters, narrative development, digging into what is it that you want to do and why do you want to do it?
Priscilla: And it’s that work is so needed, especially for people of color that are navigating this space, or when they’re like the first in their families to be doing career stuff, right? I think that’s great that you’re doing this. Where can people find you online?
Timka: Sure. So I am on Instagram @courageousleaps. You can also find me on my website, www.timkalockheart.com and then I’m also on Twitter at timka_lockhart and, yeah, those are the major places.
Priscilla: Thank you so much, Timka, for being with us today, really appreciate you.
Timka: Of course, thank you so much for having me.
Priscilla: Thanks for tuning in to the Early Career Moves podcast. Be sure to visit ecmpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes and become a part of our newsletter community. And if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.
You may have bumped into one of Evelyn’s hilarious videos on the Internet, ranging on varying topics like beauty, travel, social justice, and Beyonce. Born to immigrant parents from Kenya, Evelyn always wanted to be a storyteller – and today she’s exactly that – a humor writer, digital storyteller and successful YouTube star with over 240K subscribers. On this episode, Evelyn tell us how the vision for her career evolved, how she followed her creative passions and eventually made the scariest move of all – to go freelance and work for herself.
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Evelyn of the Internets
YouTube invited me to interview Margaret Atwood. And so to sit down next to the person who wrote Handmaid’s Tale and talk about storytelling and talk about writing about the dystopian future, that was super cool.
Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host, Priscilla Esquivel Weninger – proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat each Friday, as we dive into a special guest’s story, and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started.
Hey everyone, today you get to hear from Evelyn from the Internets, also known as Evelyn Ngugi or Evie. Evelyn is a humor writer. She’s a digital storyteller based out of Austin, Texas.
And in her own words, this means that she posts funny words and videos on the internet, but I would add that she’s wildly successful at doing so. Evie’s YouTube channel has blown up since it started back in 2008, as it’s had nearly 18 million views and has over 240,000 subscribers. On this episode, Evie guides us through her early career years, as she figured out what she wanted to do with her journalism degree, as digital content and social media blew up. She also tells us what it was like to go out on her own, leaving her corporate job behind, and freelancing as a self-employed boss.
Priscilla: Hey, Evie, welcome to the show.
Evelyn: Hey, y’all, thanks for having me on, Priscilla.
Priscilla: Yes, I am so excited to have you here today and to get to dive into your career story because, you know, a lot of my guests tend to come from more traditional career paths, but I love that your story is a little more non-traditional and I’m just excited to share your story with everyone. So Evie, why don’t we start with having you just tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, how you grew up, anything that we should know about you.
Evelyn: Yeah. So I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the Fort Worth Texas area. I moved to Texas when I was in seventh grade and that’s where my parents still live today. My parents are Kenyan, so I am first generation American. And, you know, I moved to Austin to go to journalism school. So that’s me.
Priscilla: When you were growing up, what did you think that you wanted to become when you would get older? And how did that lead you to UT and studying journalism?
Evelyn: So when I was younger, like elementary school, I thought movie director, because that’s the only thing I knew existed besides the actress. So I was like, “Yeah, movie director,” didn’t really know what that meant. And then in junior high, I was on the yearbook committee, I was on the newspaper staff, so it turned kind of into, “okay, journalism,” and that’s when I knew I wanted to go to college for journalism. And so I did, I chose magazine, not because I particularly know many things about magazines, but because I wanted to learn how to research a story for a long period of time. And I thought I would grow up and follow some rappers for Rolling Stone and then just write these big stories about what happened. I always thought I would become a reporter and just be dispatched to all these places. I really saw myself as a culture writer, so not like, “There was a fire down the street,” but writing feature stories and really getting to know different cultures, different types of people, and traveling the world and doing that. I didn’t know how that would happen, but that’s what I thought.
Priscilla: That’s so cool because even though you didn’t land exactly where you thought you were going to land, you are doing those things now. And in many ways you sort of are a movie director, right, with your video work and your YouTube channel. So, yeah, very interesting. So tell us how you first got involved with starting a YouTube channel in college.
Evelyn: Going into college, I knew that I would have to diversify my skillset just because I entered undergrad around the time where the recession was kind of ending. And so I was like, “Oh, there’s not going to be many journalism jobs because newspapers and publications rely a lot on advertising.” And when we’re in economic downturn, advertising is the first thing to get chopped. So I was like, “Okay, let me continue this hobby that I have for making videos and using an actual camera and hopefully that will make my resume and my skill set a little more diverse. So I am the journalist and reporter who’s not just writing but can also make a video about it in case that is what’s required. So I didn’t make that definite decision when I was in college, to keep doing YouTube on the side. I started using YouTube maybe in 2008 when I started school. And it was just a hobby on the side whenever I had time, since I’ve always been like a media type girl even from the times of like cassette tapes and burning things onto DVDs, YouTube was like that next evolution and the technology of creating your own media.
Priscilla: Yeah. You were definitely ahead of the curve with the whole YouTube thing back in ’08. How did it start out? What kind of videos were creating? What did that look like?
Evelyn: Yeah. So it was just my thoughts. It was more like a diary in a way. Over time, I realized that people would post videos talking about themselves, because at the time everyone thought YouTube was funny cat videos, bloopers. It wasn’t really like a place you go to watch things as much as it is now. I started following these Black people who are around the world and doing interesting things, and for me, I had only ever traveled to Kenya. So I wanted to travel a lot more in my adult life now that I was in college. And so I started watching all these people and it really inspired me to keep making videos of my own and talking about my own life.
Priscilla: Yeah. And so, as you were working on YouTube and being creative and expressing yourself, I know eventually you graduated from college and you had to find a job. So how did you approach your first job? What was that like figuring out what to do next after you graduated?
Evelyn: It was so difficult. I graduated a semester early and so I wasn’t prepared at all. I kind of just showed up to my advisor and she was like, “Okay, go ahead and order your cap and gown.” And I’m like, “For what?” She was like, “Well, I mean, you have no more credits.” And I was like, “Oh, all right.” So, it kind of threw me off to to be done with school on December, so I ended up moving back home to Fort Worth and I was doing some freelance copywriting online. I was trying to get freelancing writing gigs and I was playing around in Photoshop and just doing things for myself, trying to keep myself busy because I wasn’t full-time employed. And then I applied for a fellowship and I got it. I went to Arizona, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, and they paired us with the local publication, and so we worked there while taking classes at the school. And so that’s what I did right before I moved back to Austin, because the whole point of that fellowship was that you would get placed at your hometown’s version of that publication. So for me, that would have been the Dallas Observer. So I was excited to be moving to downtown Dallas and live that whole life, but that didn’t end up working out. So then I got an opportunity to be a social media manager at a place I interned at in college, and that is what led me to Austin.
Priscilla: So social media manager is a pretty common title nowadays in 2021, but back in 2012, that wasn’t as common. So what did you do in the role at the time?
Evelyn: It really was all about getting people to engage, whether that means an Instagram strategy for increasing comments or writing tweets. We used to have giveaways because I worked with the hair and beauty space. It was also kind of customer service because we had an online shop. If people want to complain, they usually do it on social media, so managing all of that. So it was a lot of creativity but also a lot of strategy and looking at numbers and being able to make presentations to the CEO about that. It was a lot of copywriting, a lot of working with a designer to make any visuals that you want to make. And it was a lot of presentations because you have to convince the higher ups that it’s worth it at the time. But now I don’t think anybody needs convincing that social media is important.
Priscilla: Yeah, definitely not. So, Evie, how did you evolve from a social media manager at this company to doing more video production and then ultimately becoming a freelancer slash having your own business? Or how do you define what you do? How do you describe it?
Evelyn: I just had my own YouTube channel there on the side that I had since college. That was really the only thing I did until we started making videos at my full-time job, just a couple of us with who had some free time at work. And so slowly but surely we created this new job position, a new section, new department of the company to produce videos. And one by one, we got promoted to that. So I was there from 2012 to 2017, so five years full-time. And then the time I realized it was time to move on was when I’ve been doing so many things for my YouTube channel on the side, I might have to take some paid time off or I would always be having to leave my job to go do this YouTube thing on the side. And so I was like, “What if I just freed up my whole time to do this thing?” And it felt like a good time to do that. I think I was 27 at the time and I was like, “Yeah, I can ride out my twenties doing something new, I guess.” So that’s when I decided to just resign and take a little break. So then I started freelancing even more and I still struggle with calling it one unified business. I feel better saying like self-employed or like a freelancer versus an entrepreneur. So right now I’d say that I’m just self-employed, working for myself, and I’m a video producer. So back then is when I realized that it was time to take this step.
Priscilla: Yeah, which we’ll get to in a little bit what that was like for you to become a freelancer. But before that, I’m curious, when you were balancing your full-time job, just starting to do more video production but also doing your own thing on the side, were these purely creative projects that you were developing that you were not getting paid for, or were you actually starting to be able to charge for some of that work that you were doing?
Evelyn: It was both. So in order to get the projects where people pay you to do it, you have to do a lot for free or not even for free. You have to have a body of work already. Yeah, just uploading videos because it was a fun thing to do and it was my hobby, but also because I was starting to become involved in different projects or maybe work with sponsors, so I would have ads in my video. So it was a mixture of both.
Priscilla: Yeah, that must’ve been so exciting to see that starting to grow, right?
Evelyn: Yeah. It’s weird because it happened so gradually. I really don’t think I appreciated it at the time because people always ask me like, “How did it feel getting your first hundred subscribers?” And I’m like, “That would have been like over 10 years ago.” I don’t remember when, so I didn’t really appreciate things as they were happening because it was happening over such a long period of time.
Priscilla: That’s also a really good piece to pull out of your story, Evie, is that you are not like an overnight a YouTube star, right? Like, you have put in work over a long period of time. I think that’s really important and how much consistency is required to be able to really build a brand and a platform and to be well known for it. So I’m curious on a personal note, did you feel shy when you started to create YouTube videos and put them out there into the world?
Evelyn: I did not feel shy and I have this video about the difference between being quiet and being shy. It’s really about where your energy comes from and where your energy goes. And so for me, I’m quiet because I am people-watching or I’m just observing things, but we’re Leos, Priscilla, okay, we’re Leos, so there is that part of us that’s like, “get me onstage, hand me the mic,” we’re just ready. So there’s a little bit of that going on but also when you’re making these YouTube videos, I’m still in my room by myself. So it’s not as an extroverted of an activity, it’s probably the most introverted activity because you’re just by yourself recording videos.
Priscilla: That is such a good point. I think that’s so true. I’m currently in a room by myself, essentially talking into the air with you, but I totally agree and we definitely have that in common, although I’m definitely a baby podcaster at the moment. But yeah, so Evie, you’ve probably had so many cool experiences like connecting with people all over the world now that your YouTube channel has gotten to the level that it’s at. What has that been like for you, to connect with strangers all over the world?
Evelyn: It’s been such an amazing experience and experiment, just because you never know who is watching. You never know what things mean to people. I have gotten emails from women who were like, “Girl, I am old enough to be your grandmother, but I love your videos.” I’ve talked to dads who are like, “Hey, my daughter watched,” and so it’s just been really interesting to see and meet the different types of people. So it’s always so funny to see who’s watching.
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Priscilla: Totally. And at the same time, you’ve also created content that can really impact people’s lives and the way that they feel in the world. And what comes to mind when I say that is the video that you made in 2015, Calling in Black, where you basically talk about the ongoing trauma that Black folks deal with as they hear about more and more Black death that goes unchecked. So that video, you have nearly 170,000 views on that video. Was that something intentional that you thought through like, “How do I make videos that are speaking to some of these other more serious topics”?
Evelyn: It was never a decision that I made. It was more just the nature of the videos I was making. So if I’m making videos about my life or telling stories about my life, there are certain stories that I can’t separate from the news or current events or whatever is going on at the time. So I don’t talk about every single thing just because that’s exhausting. But whenever I do feel especially passionate about something, I will make a video about it.
Priscilla: Yeah, very cool. So let’s move into talking about what it was like for you to become a freelancer and so what it was like to leave your full-time job, the security of that, and joined this world of freelancing, what was that like for you?
Evelyn: Yeah, so the suckiest thing was that first year I didn’t have health insurance just because it is so expensive. Even this year, I have health insurance this year and every time I see that money leave my account, I’m just so pissed. So that was a con to the whole experience. It was just making sure I’m not spending more than I’m making, but I also had saved money from all those years of side hustling while I had a full-time job. So I’ve had a lot of savings that allowed me to extend the time that I took off. And I did move out of my apartment just because I had to make sure I had the money so I was like, “We need downsize,” and I rented out a room at my friend’s house. So, yeah, just trying to minimize my bills while I’m making this transition, and I did have a lot of savings though.
Priscilla: Yeah, that can be super scary. So how did you deal in those moments when you were just freaked out?
Evelyn: Definitely crying, definitely happened. Just letting yourself freak out is the best thing you can do, because if you try to hold it together, you’re not going to hold it together very well for very long. So just allow yourself to feel the feelings. And I think those freak outs are what led me to never really take a true break. I was always working on something for that fear of not being able to do this long-term, yeah. I guess the long and short of it to that question is that I’m still, every month I’m like, “Oh, okay. We did it, we did it.”
Priscilla: Yeah, and how do you figure out balancing your personal time and then your work time, especially since you’re your own boss, basically you direct your own time and how you spend it. Has that been a challenge for you?
Evelyn: Yeah, I still haven’t found my balance. I do work weekends so for me, it’s that the days themselves don’t mean anything. I can have my weekend in the middle of the week if I want, but Saturday doesn’t automatically mean it’s my weekend. I also work random hours. I try to work regular nine to five hours, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, just because that’s the way the rest of the world works so that I can be up when everyone else is up and sleep when everyone else is asleep, but that doesn’t always end up working. And sometimes I’m up till 4:00 AM, but that’s because I didn’t get started until maybe 3:00 PM. So it’s flexible in that I can make up for my mistakes whenever or however I want.
Priscilla: Yeah, and when you started freelancing, you went from working on a team, seeing co-workers, having people around you, to suddenly being a lone wolf. Was that a hard transition for you to go from a big team to basically being a little bit isolated? Was that a challenge for you?
Evelyn: No, it was very difficult. I joined a co-working space just to get out of the house, just because I was like, “Dang, if I don’t go grocery shopping or something, I’m in the house all week.” So I got a little spot at a co-working space, but that was just to get out of the house. It wasn’t much like socializing that took place. And so even at the beginning of the year, I was actually looking for part-time jobs so that I could have co-workers, but then the pandemic hit or we realized the pandemic hit, and then I was like, “Dang, back to having no co-workers.” So it’s something that I’m currently trying to understand how to acquire, how to be on a team. And that might mean like changing up some of the work that I do so that I get to be on teams.
Priscilla: Okay. Tell me about some of the coolest moments that you’ve had so far in your career as a YouTuber.
Evelyn: So there have been many that all of them feel ridiculous. YouTube invited me to interview Margaret Atwood. And so to sit down next to somebody, the person who wrote Handmaid’s Tale and talk about storytelling and talk about writing about the dystopian future, that was super cool. And then on another occasion, YouTube asked me to speak at one of their events and they just threw in casually the day of that I would be speaking after Malala. And so the purpose was for me to give more laughter to the crowd after listening to her talk about super heavy stuff, and I was like, “No pressure.” So I got to talk after Malala, and then having my video shown on Beyoncé’s world tour definitely takes the cake. It’s what everyone talks about, so.
Priscilla: Yeah, so for the audience who’s listening and may not know this, Evie actually created a video reviewing Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, and in 2016 during Beyoncé’s world tour, Evie’s video made it to the video collage into the concert. And so her video popped up on the big screen and I’m sure millions of people saw it. So, anyway, Evie, what was it like finding out? How did you even find out that you were being featured in Beyoncé’s concert?
Evelyn: So my college friend, actually, he texted me in the middle of the night and I was like, “What are you–” because he was just texting random stuff and I’m like, “What’s wrong with you?” And so then he texts me a video and he’s screaming and I’m like, “Are you at a concert? Where are you?” And it was my face on the jumbotron.
Priscilla: That is truly wild and amazing, Evie. And of course, indicative of just how talented you are. So anyway, what would your advice be to someone who is looking to make a similar early career move, like, leave your corporate job to become a freelancer?
Evelyn: Oh, yeah. I would say work at finding the balance between being prepared, but also accepting that sometimes to begin, you can’t wait until you know everything. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but it’s this feeling of sometimes we get scared because we’re like, “I’m not knowledgeable enough.” But if you wait to become quote-unquote “knowledgeable enough” you’ll never start. So it’s being responsible enough to prepare and do your due diligence when learning about taxes or things like that. But at some point you’re just going to have to press start and go, and then you learn on the way
Priscilla: That is great advice, right, because we learn as we go, we get better as we go. And if we stay paralyzed, then nothing happens, so great advice. Okay. Very last question – tell us what you’re up to. What are some upcoming projects? What are you working on? What’s next for, Evie?
Evelyn: Yeah. So right now I’m producing videos for my own YouTube channel, but also working with other organizations and other channels to either host shows on their channel or contribute in the way of writing a script. It’s fun to collaborate with people. And then moving into 2021, I’m hoping to start season 2 of Say it Loud, which is a PBS digital studio show on YouTube. And then I would love to be more diligent about screenwriting and learning how to write TV shows. So that’s what my next plan is.
Priscilla: I love that and I can’t wait to check out all of those projects. Evie, thank you so much for being with us today.
Evelyn: Thanks for having me on.
Priscilla: Thanks for tuning into The Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit ecmpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community. And if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.