Akili is a recent graduate from New York University (NYU). She is now the Beauty Assistant at Vogue Magazine and a freelance writer in New York City. We talked with her about the struggle of incorporating your passions into your career and postgraduate life in New York City.
Akili, tell us about growing up in Chicago.
I grew up in Chicago and went to Lab School on the South side. As a child, I was always very creative. From as early as I remember, I was writing poetry and songs. I was also doing gymnastics competitively six days a week, which took a lot of time and energy, so I do not think I realized how creative I truly was until I stopped doing gymnastics. Being active was always a part of my life. Once I kind of stripped away that gymnastics schedule, I was able to be creative in other ways,. with music, writing, and dance.
What did you study at NYU and did you continue writing?
I went to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU. I created my own major. I focused on creative writing and Africana Studies. I did journalism, songwriting, poetry; I explored all mediums of writing. The Africana Studies classes were my way of learning more about my personal history in order to have more in-depth topics to write about. I think a big part of being a writer is to really know your history. Then, in my senior year, I took an independent study in which you work one-on-one with a teacher of your choice. My goal was to edit and write and finish my book. So, the teacher I worked with really helped me edit and write my poems. I ended up with a poetry book that basically spans from my high school experiences through my college experiences.
Are you continuing to write after graduating?
I recently interned at The Wing for the brand director. I helped with social media and content creation, and I helped with writing a lot of the copy for Twitter. It was fun. Now, I’m the Beauty Editorial Assistant at Vogue Magazine, so soon I’ll be writing and pitching there. I also write freelance. I started freelance writing my senior year of college. I first wrote an article on AFROPUNK for DROME Magazine. From there, more and more people started reaching out, such as Fashion Fair and Milk Makeup. I also wrote for a Los Angeles-based brand called The Fullest. Most consistently I have been writing for Milk Makeup.
Is it challenging balancing a day job and freelance writing?
Yes, it is tough to balance, and I have moments. For a while I took a break from freelance writing because balancing DJing, writing, and working during the day was a lot. I also helped my boyfriend shoot his feature film that he’s working on. I’m learning that there is a chapter and time for everything and sometimes you have to sit down and think about what your focus is at the moment and what can you can come back to. I think as a creative person you have to remember that you don’t have to fit everything into your schedule. You can focus on a few things at a time and put others aside. It’s super important to make time for self care as well.
What does it mean to you to be powerful?
Being powerful means a lot of different things, but first owning yourself and recognizing that your differences are what make you you, and you can really capitalize on these differences and use them to be confident. When you really own that sense of self and use it to uplift other people, that is true power.
What challenges have you faced as a recent college graduate living in New York City?
I mean in general my first year out of college, which was just last year, I was pretty sad and lost. I was anxious because I am someone that has a lot of interests and passions. Coming from an environment like NYU that embraces multiple sides and then sort of being released from that bubble and into the world and having to choose one thing and a path, that really got to me at times. My first job was a production assistant for a show, but I wasn’t really passionate about it. I felt pressure to take a job, but I was honestly miserable because it was 12-hour days. I think if you are going to spend that much time on something, you have to really love it because time is precious. I think I really struggled finding things that make money that I also like at the same time. But it all comes with time.
I also struggled with being okay with slowing down and taking breaks. I always did so many activities as a kid, and I have realized it is also important to slow down and take a step back. Most of my life, I was very scheduled from going to gymnastics and school. Or dance and school. Or whatever it was. My first year out of college, I had to be okay with slowing down and taking a break. I also now value self-care and making sure I don’t burn out. It is easy to subconsciously start placing your worth on what you’re doing when it should come from inside.
I am still figuring things out and growing. I feel more comfortable and confident in myself. I have moments where I doubt myself, but I know I create my own path. At the end of the day, no one does one thing, and it is powerful to own all your passions.