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5 Things Shannon Washington Knows To Be True…So Far

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 Shannon Washington (Photo Credit: Refinery 29)

Do you know the brilliant Shannon Washington? She’s a Brooklyn fly girl who’s smarter than your average, co-founder of Parlour Magazine and Digital Creative Director at Grey Group, one of the largest ad agencies in the country. For those of you familiar with the advertising world, we know this is NO small feat in an industry that has an alarmingly low percentage of Black women in high ranking positions. Today on In Her Shoes, Shannon Washington shares 5 things she knows to be true…so far. Taken from her recent keynote at the Lady Boss launch event, Shannon drops a few priceless jewels just in time for your year end/new year reflections. Get into it:

Earlier this month I was asked (and psyched) to deliver a quick 5-minute keynote at the launch Lady Boss, a new initiative for women in creative industries that are looking to take their careers to the next level. In true S. Dub fashion, I wrote it at 5am the day of the event and realized that there was no way I could fit everything I wanted to deliver in 5 minutes. So while the lucky ladies who were in attendance (a packed house of fly girls!) got to see me deliver this in person, I thought I would publish my talk with a little more context for your reading pleasure.

In the year-end spirit of lists and looking back at the year’s greatest moments, when asked to deliver an inspiring, yet informative message to a group of future lady bosses, I chose not to go the normal route of motivational messaging and opted to instead review the top lessons and truths that I’ve learned in my life and career—so far. As life evolves, so will this list. But right here, right now, this is it.

The Top 5 Things I Know To Be True…So Far

1. Fuck Grinding, Sleep is Awesome.

You’ve seen them. The memes and tweets and tees that glorify the 24-hour grind: “They Sleep, We Grind,” “Bread Over Bread,” and #TeamNoSleep.

Fuck that.

Anyone in your circle constantly spouting this dribble is not your friend and should be fired from your life immediately. Why? Because when it becomes time to really grind…to wake up at 4am for a 6am call time and then turn around and sound intelligent at a client dinner that evening and then work out some decks in between it all—sleep is your secret weapon.

Aside from keeping you youthful looking, sleep will keep you calm, focused, and fortified on the nights when the problem isn’t solved and the presentation is first thing in the AM. Sleep is better than Starbucks and Botox. It’s the sexiest thing you will do for your career. This isn’t to say that you should sleep ALL the time and forgo the necessary early mornings and all-nighters. When the work needs to get done, do it. But if there is one thing I wish I did more of my twenties, it would be to have managed my time better to sleep more.

Figure out how much you need to feel rested, it varies for everyone, and commit to getting that every night. Lack of sleep in my life has led to many unnecessary conflicts, mistakes and even a serious illness that put me in a hospital bed. And you can’t be a lady boss from a hospital bed.

2. You Will Never Have All Your Shit Together

A year ago I sat down on my couch, cut on Downton Abbey and proceeded to build the most detailed and automated budget ever in Excel. I could calculate everything coming in and out, and predict my financial future a year out. It was done. Or so I thought.

And then life happened: family needed help, freelance clients paid late, shoes went on sale. And with that, I had to readjust that document—constantly.

This experience serves as a metaphor of sorts for what has been one of the scariest and most comforting realizations I’ve had: as long as I’m living this life of entrepreneurship and creativity—I will never “have my shit together” in the way I, like many of us, were raised to think.

According to my 23-year old self, by now I should be the head of my own small talent agency, married, living in a modernly designed single family home with at least one child, completely debt free and amazingly fit because by 35 I’d have all my shit together, right?

Nope. None of that has happened yet. But in the 12 years since I’ve built an amazing career, travelled the world multiple times and amassed a set of experiences that really are unbelievable. And none of them were planned. And that’s my life.

Find comfort in what is happening in your professional and personal life in the now.

Allow the expectations that you set for yourself to be flexible, remain proactive but embrace the spontaneity that comes with this life, it’s what makes everything worth it.

Besides you’d be bored.

3. Friendships Get Harder, Fewer, Better.

I grew up a bit transient so I have very few childhood friends. But through college and living on my own in New York, my social circle grew, and my true friendship circle got smaller and tighter.

While I don’t believe in the #nonewfriends state of mind, I realize that as I’ve gotten not only older but way more serious with my career and personal choice, my friend circle has shifted to reflect the things that I value, and it’s been edited down tremendously.

My core crew is very diverse, but we all share the same spirit for self-creation and that, to me, is the one thing that keeps us friends when we are all going through our respective bullshit. These are the people who will tell you when you’re not on you’re a-game, who understand why you can’t make that party but will also let you know when you’re being a hermit and remind you that you are a) human and b) like to have fun. These are your truth tellers even when it’s the last thing you want to hear. These are the people who will save your life in ways you don’t even realize. You’ll be hurt by or will hurt some of these people and their names may change and that’s ok. And as you grow, their numbers will drop and what you are left with is what you need.

4. Find Your Personal Passion, Guard It With Your Life.

I have a passion for great design and creative narratives that bring ideas to life. That’s why I work in advertising. But I also have a real passion for traveling and lately, cooking as a form of meditation. I don’t care what I’m doing in my work or personal life – I will always find a way to travel. This passion even led me to creating a website for women of color who love to travel as much as I do. With cooking, I am starting to set aside at least one night a week and weekend afternoon to plan and cook a meal. Cooking allows me to think on my feet (literally) and in the process, meditate on the four million other things happening around me. I can go into my thoughts alone and have a mini-vacation. Truthfully, a really crazy lasagna incident led to the creation of Feminist Enough.

In short, it’s either cooking and travel or depression and therapy.

Whether it’s painting, motorcycle repair, sculpture, hiking, etc—your personal passions are what keeps you sane and true to whatever your vision is professionally, which benefit your career in ways seen and unseen. For example, because of travel I’ve met a never-ending variety of people and have found myself in the craziest of situations abroad. This allows me to look at any situation through an expanded set of lenses, to speak with authority about different cultures, break down language barriers and add a fresh perspective to any project.

Carve out time for your personal passions. And no matter what, stick to them – there is nothing more important valuable than the time you will spend getting to know yourself.

5. Identify Your Flaws. Then Remix Them Or Save Them For Later.

Newsflash: I have a tendency to over talk people when I get excited.
(I can name about 12 people who just rolled their eyes reading that sentence. Hi.)

It’s a horrible trait and it often leads others to think that the only voice I’m interested in is my own. Now, I could call bullshit on about 10% of those who have voiced their displeasure at my (admittedly) bad habit because there will always be that person who is not accustomed to a woman, a Black woman, speaking with confidence and commanding attention but that’s not always the case and I know it. It’s a bad habit. It’s a flaw. And while I work everyday to keep it in check and become more self-aware, I’m never letting that side of myself go. I just save her for when I need her. I need her for assholes. I need her when I’m tired or when I’m not feeling as confident as I should. I need her for when the woman next to me can’t speak up but I can. But not everyday.

We all have a flaw that in some way holds us back, that other people can’t STAND, but is built with good intentions, out of survival, etc. I became a loudmouth because for so long that was my only way to stop being invisible in a sea of white tattooed men with even louder voices. It’s become a part of who I am. However, there is a time and place for everything.

Rather than erase a part of your personality, approach your criticism with objectivity and see how you can put those bad habits on a shelf (to be used in case of emergency) or manifest them into something else that works out in your favor. The growth that comes out of this is process is some of the best you will ever have, and you will see it work almost immediately.

And if this bad habit in any way is exaggerated with alcohol, a) rethink the need to drink and b) talk to someone about it.

Merci.

As a New York City storyteller, filmmaker, digital content creator, and PR strategist, Renae Bluitt created "In Her Shoes" to empower and enlighten women committed to realizing their dreams.

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