When you were 17, what did you want to be?
Very easy question. When I was 17, I was training to be a ballet dancer. I grew up in Canada, and I started dancing when most little girls start, around three years old. I just stuck with it, and I always loved it. I was always dancing around my house. I was obsessed. It was the only thing that I wanted to do.
I left home at 14 to go and train at the Boston Ballet School. There was a boarding school called the Walnut Hill School for the Arts that I auditioned for and got into. So when I was 17, I thought I was going to be a ballerina. I was definitely not the best in my class, so it wasn't going to be an easy career, but I was going try my hardest to make that happen.
How did you decide to attend UC Santa Barbara?
When I was graduating high school, they recommended that we audition for [ballet] companies. So I auditioned for some companies, but I also auditioned to be a dance major at 12 universities. Because I wasn't the best in my class, my coaches and my teachers recommended that I go to college and major in dance. I wanted an academic fallback plan, so I said, "Okay, this is a happy medium. We'll see how it goes."
I got into UCSB for ballet, and it's on the beach, so I figured, why not? Part of me wanted to go to New York, because that's where most artsy and ballet people go, but I kind of wanted a change. And I think at that time I really knew deep down that it wasn't going to be ballet. But I wasn't ready to give it up.
How did you choose your major?
At the end of my sophomore year, I was struggling with Achilles tendinitis pretty badly. I also started to have other interests. At university, I was surrounded by all these people doing interesting things, whereas before, I was just surrounded by people doing ballet. My friends were all getting internships in Hollywood and New York and I started to think, "Maybe I would be good at that."
So I decided to stop, which my body thanks me for every day. I was in pain every single day at that time, and I still struggle with Achilles tendonitis. It was the end of that part of my life. I also didn't really face it; I just swept it under the rug, because I was scared of being weak or having failed. I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to go to the ballet. I didn't face it or mourn it. I just shifted. But now I feel much happier to talk about it, much more confident in that decision because of where I am right now. Because honestly, even if I had made it, which in my case would've been a corps de ballet member of some small company, would that have been enough?
All in all, looking back on everything, it was an amazing part of my life. It made me who I am. My work ethic is from ballet. My love of healthy living and fitness is from ballet. So many things that make up who I am are from that time, so I don't regret it.
After that, I remember thinking, "I don't know what to do. I'm just going to close my eyes and throw a dart at the board.” No, it wasn't quite that random. I looked at what my interests are. I've always been a creative type, and at the time I was getting into photography. I thought communications seemed broad, and like it could lead to different careers, something in marketing, something in PR, something in the creative industry. So I chose communications, which, looking back on it, I honestly don't think it mattered. I actually wish I’d double majored in foreign affairs,
poli sci, international studies, history, even anthropology. I always want to know more about the world.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
Right after I stopped doing ballet, I was pretty lost. I felt so behind. A friend at UCSB said, "I know somebody who works at NBC Entertainment in LA. Maybe he could get you a summer internship there.” At the time I thought it sounded like a long shot. So I interviewed, and they ended up taking me on as the head of the PR department's intern, and I moved down to LA for the summer. It was the best possible thing that could've happened.
I really threw myself into something new. I learned how to do PR and press kits, and be in entertainment, be at high-profile events. It was exciting, and it had this level of performance to it so it made me feel like I was still in that ballet kind of environment. It was an amazing break for me, and it ended up being where I got my first job.
After that internship, which was the summer between junior and senior year, they said, "Come work for us." And I said, "Well, I've got to go back to school and finish." I kept in touch with them. I would often drive down to LA during the year to volunteer at the Emmy party, or work the check-in desk at press parties.
I graduated in June, but in May they had an opening. The head of PR, who I had interned for, called me, and said, "I think you would be amazing for this role." I went down to LA, interviewed, and got the job. They wanted me to start right away, and I actually, somehow managed to finished my academic credits a quarter early. Which is crazy, because I'd started late because of the ballet thing. So I started working at NBC full-time before I graduated. When I walked in my graduation, I had a BlackBerry and I was responding to emails.
I worked as the executive assistant to the VP of PR for NBC Entertainment for about a year and a half. It was an amazing experience, but through that experience, I realized that I love entertainment and I love content, I love media, but I didn’t want to deal with the press. I wanted to be hands-on with the actual creation of these shows. My boss, who was super, super supportive, put me up for a job to be the executive assistant to the chairman of NBC Cable Entertainment, which was in New York. So I got that job and moved to New York.
The woman I worked for was responsible for the development and marketing and the creative process of all of the shows on every single cable network under the NBC umbrella. I worked for her for almost four years. It was intense. Flying around the country, going to events with her. It was a crazy, crazy job. I've never learned so much from anyone in my whole life.
I became a lot calmer as a person when I worked there. She had more on her plate than anyone I know, but she never dealt with something in an anxious or intense way. Even if she felt that, she came off just so on top of it and in control. Before that, in PR, I was putting out fires every day. Then I learned this level of calmness from her. There can be fires, and you'll put them out. You'll be able to control the situation more if you are in control yourself. That's helped with any job I’ve gone into.
She promoted me to a creative development job at Bravo, the reality TV network. That seemed like a natural move, because I was really into creative development while I worked for her. I also developed a massive hobby of photography and filmmaking that I did on the side. I started watching less TV, which is ironic because I worked in television, and doing more side projects by myself. Watching YouTube videos that were more alternative and artistically creative than linear television that was on every day at 8:00. I started thinking, "Should I even be working in television?"
So I went to Bravo, and I felt like a square peg in a round hole. Everyone there lived, ate, breathed Bravo. "Did you see what happened on The Housewives last night?" And I was like, "No, I was shooting with a friend. We're doing this cool new project.” I loved that team, they're amazing at what they do, but I was not good at that.
What I did learn is that I had a huge love for content development. I started my own website, and I started putting my photography up there, putting my videos up there. It was just for fun. And then people asked if they could buy my photos. That was exciting.
I really did it as a side passion. I'd never wanted to be a photographer. Then the creative director of Bravo, who did brand marketing, saw my website. He asked me to come on a shoot for Bravo to shoot behind-the-scenes. There were actors, and the big studio, there was a professional photographer there. I was terrified. But he ended up using three of my images for an on-air commercial that ran internationally for the show. He told me, "You have an eye. You should pursue this."
I started to feel like I needed to shift and find a career in creative development for a brand or concept that I loved, whether fashion, or a lifestyle company, or a travel company. Sure enough, two people I know, [Nathan Yates and Sean Harvey], started a travel company and needed a content person. I started helping them out on the side, doing social media and photography.
So I was running the Instagram with Nathan and Sean. I had another job, but I loved this one way more. I went down to Buenos Aires, and shot real coworking spaces and real apartments. I shot like 1700 photos in four days. And I wasn't just shooting photos. We came up with ideas for Roamer profiles, to tell the story of the people who were doing this trip, to conceptually and visually sell this in a beautiful way.
I found myself really caring about it, not just doing it as a fun thing. When I left BA, I went for lunch with Nathan and Sean, and they said, "We realize that we need somebody doing this full-time, because it is an important part of the growth of this company." In the last 10 years, I’ve gotten away from mainstream media and become so much more interested in how brands are taking their content to a new level and reinventing media. I just wanted to get out of traditional media. I wanted to be part of the game-changers, doing interesting things, different things.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
Part of me wishes I had quit ballet earlier, because it was so hard as a 19-year-old to feel like, "Oh my god, what am I going to do with my life?" But that's not true, because I think at 17, knowing what you want to be, even if you're not going to be that, is so special.
One thing I will say is don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I went through many years of my life thinking, "It's ballet or nothing." So when ballet didn't work out, that was really scary, because I literally fell into thinking, "I'm not good at anything. I don't have any interests." Have an open mind to other things, because something could happen in your life that you need to change. Know that there are multiple paths that will make you happy, not just the one.
The other thing is if you sense that something's not right, don't convince yourself you should want to be there. If you're not happy, or if you don't feel like it's a fit, it's probably not a fit. I think work is work, but everyone should have some sort of love for their job. Don't be afraid to make a change. I did it, and I wish I had done it earlier. If you're unhappy, you're the only one that has the ability to make that change.
And see the world. Seeing the world and being immersed in all these different cultures has been almost as fulfilling as being on stage and thinking I was going to be a ballerina, which was the most fulfilling experience of my whole life. I think everyone should take some time in their life to put themselves in an uncomfortable situation, to learn about a different culture, because you can get really wrapped up in your bubble. I think it makes you a smarter person. I think it makes you better at your job, no matter what you do. I think it makes you a better person in relationships, it makes you a better friend, makes you a better human being.