WORKING THE DREAM
An interview with ellie from Dezeen
By Emily Parker
She moved home, ended up taking a job in a bakery and admits "I just had no idea what I was doing". Now Ellie works for Dezeen magazine in New York. Emily talks to her about the less-than straight-forward journey of landing her dream job.
So let’s start with your day job - what do you do everyday?
I source and report on news stories about architecture, design, interior design, and technology. So I write these and also get them ready to publish, which includes sizing images, uploading content into the website and getting appropriate links.
And you would also interview influential architects and designers for stories?
Yes exactly. Pieces could be an interview with an architect. Or we might run more feature-length articles interviewing a few different professionals on a wider trend or theme.
Nice. And speaking of interior design, give us a look inside your “office”. What’s your day-to-day working space like?
So we have an office in a WeWork space, which is a co-working building, in New York’s meatpacking district. The building was actually one of the very first WeWorks, which now has locations all around the world!
And how does it suit you?
I need to have routine day-to-day I've realised. I’ve had times where I’ve worked from home for long periods and I found that doesn’t work so well for me in retrospect. I like getting up in the morning and getting dressed and going into the office, and bouncing ideas around with my colleagues. I like that there are people from other companies in our co-working space that I can have a chat with.
What do you tend to do on your commute?
I go through various phases...sometimes I’ll read a book or an article, sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast, sometimes music… Sometimes the subway is so busy I can’t even get a seat, and so in those cases I’d just listen to something. The journey tends to be pretty quick on the way in but the way home seems to take forever.
Is there any sort of morning routine that you’d swear by?
I think it’s just whatever works for you! I’ll have a cup of water and then a cup of tea. Sometimes I’ll wake up earlier and go for a run, sometimes just up and out in 20 minutes.
So you’re not one of those people who swears by a really intimidatingly productive morning routine that no one else can hope to keep up with?
I’m not. I think the key for me is just having at least a bit of time in the morning so I’m not rushing. I hate that feeling of rushing so whatever I can do the night before I’ll do it to leave me more time to make the morning chilled. But I don’t really have a set routine. As long as I have some time for a cup of tea and I’m not rushing, I’m happy.
And what is it you’d be looking forward to on the way into work?
Well I’m interested in Architecture and Design, so that certainly helps! I also like the fast-paced nature of the work...like when you have a story you have to turn around in a short space of time it can be a real adrenaline rush which makes work quite exciting. But then on the other hand there’ll be longer pieces I have to work on over a long period of time and are more crafted. I also get to travel and meet really interesting people to interview, which I really enjoy.
Is there anything you don’t enjoy? Or don’t look forward to?
I think for me it’s just feeling like I haven’t done a very good job on something or knowing I could have done something better.
And that was a bit of a theme in your life before you started work wasn’t it?
You could say that.
Can you talk a little bit about your degree and the impact it had on you?
I studied architecture and, while I enjoyed the subject matter itself, I really struggled with the pressure of the working environment. Architecture courses are known for being particularly intense. I ended up taking a year out and returning in a better headspace.
So I bet you never thought at that time you’d end up where you are today?
No I really didn’t. But looking back, I always enjoyed the writing side of my degree, rather than the designing. I’d also often got a bit carried away reading up on stuff rather than practical things… I’ve also always wanted to live in New York and have been very lucky that that opportunity arose with my company.
And what would you say to students who are in a similar position with their degree to what you were in?
I think there’s this tendency when you’re a student to look at the end of university as this precipice that you’re about to drop off, and that the moment you leave you need to have something planned and a flat and city ready to move into. But the real work actually only happens once you get that degree. In reality I just wish I’d been far more chilled about the whole thing. Like I wish I’d felt less pressured to follow the architecture path just because I was studying it. I was so stressed feeling like I had no idea what I enjoyed or what I wanted to do.
And how do you think you found out what you wanted to do eventually?
Meditation!!! No...I think I came out of my degree having lost myself a little bit. I’d given up all my hobbies. And I remember reading this book which was all about how what you loved doing as a child is an indicator of what your true passions are, so for me it was going back to those and really working on those for a bit, and then...you know...because at that time after uni without a job those things were the only things that I could have access to.
And then what did you do next? To get to the job you’re in?
After studying architecture I had no idea what I was going to do. I’d suspended my studies out, gone back again and finished with a 2:1 and then I moved home. I ended up taking a job in a bakery and I just had no idea what I was doing.
I didn’t think I could really do anything, and I got pretty miserable. I eventually got a three-month internship in Seville which was so great and really shook things up and made me realise how many opportunities were out there for me. And then when I got back from Seville you and I started an online magazine, Foci Magazine, with another friend, and that was so enjoyable and we all got such a buzz from it. That reassured me that there was something out there that would make me happy and that I would be good at and that I could enjoy doing with my life, and that was so, so reassuring to realise.
Good old Foci! Those were good times. And then Dezeen came along?
Well I'd applied for roles at Dezeen before this one, but once I had some experience through Foci, which was then effectively an online CV and portfolio, I was in a much stronger position to get the internship at Dezeen. I got that in the September - a year after finishing uni.
And now you are where you are how does your job title make you feel? You must feel pretty proud to have got yourself to where you are after all of that heartache?
I think it’s that funny thing that you never identify with that job title you’re given in your 20s. I think lots of people have it where they don’t really feel like they’ve earned the title...but then when I do think about it, it makes me proud that I’ve made it to the position I’m in.
Well particularly after what you went through at uni?
Yeah. I’m so much more confident in my own abilities and what I can achieve now. I feel so much more capable than I did then.
It’s such a huge transformation from the person I knew several years ago. What do you think you did to break the cycle and get yourself on a more confident and happy track?
I think taking the pressure right off and going much easier on myself. And also now I have much more respect for my own boundaries. Holidays now are a real sacred time to me where I just don’t think about work. And I’ll invest lots in things I love outside of work...like reading and running and...just relaxing is really important.
Particularly in a big city like London or New York!
Yeah completely. I mean when I was a student my life was just one seamless thing where...there was no distinction between what was work and what was personal time for me. And whilst I do think you should enjoy your job and I do enjoy my job, I can’t live with constant pressure of work because I’ve learned that that’s just not good for me or my wellbeing.
It’s good you’ve learned what works for you since joining Dezeen. What was it like being a junior compared to what your job is like now?
It feels totally different I’d say when you become a point of call rather than the person always looking for someone to call upon….yeah...just more established in my own position. But being a junior at Dezeen...I loved it so much. I remember when I started my internship I enjoyed its so much, especially after how much my degree had destroyed my confidence and how wrong it was for me in some ways.
What did the people around you do to make it so great from the get-go?
Everyone really encouraged me to find something specific that I personally was really interested in. I was given the freedom to go away and try things and make mistakes and then come back and find out how I could have done things better. My time was really well protected as well by my manager which helped me, as I’d obviously struggled to draw my own boundaries and manage my workload for several years before.
Amazing, and what advice would you give to people interested in getting into a similar field to you?
I think creating your own opportunities is the most important thing. Like if you want to get into the creative industries there’s so much you can do off your own back and within your own limits without necessarily having access to your dream job.
Yeah I think it's a really good shout that if you can't get an opportunity create your own. And if someone won't employ you to give you the experience you need, almost employ yourself. Just make something and put it out there to practice and develop and prove your talents to employers so you've got something to show and talk about when they ask what experience you have.
Yeah definitely. But then on the other hand I’d also say, that the time I’d left uni and moved home and was working in the bakery was a really low time for me. And I think now I wish I could go back and tell that person...literally...go travelling...do anything. Don’t stress, because things...really...all my friends are now in jobs. But there was a time I remember when we were all searching desperately for jobs, and you think it’s the worst thing in the world and you’re the only unemployed person in the world and you will never get a job. But just keep going. Because...yeah you’ll probably end up getting a few rejections but the right job will come along. Without being corny all those cliches are true. I now just wish I’d chilled out and taken a few more crazy chances.
And we’ll probably be wishing we did the exact same thing in our 20s when we’re looking back on them in our 30s! Ok, so finally, any advice for juniors in the workplace?
I’d just say be a yes person. Be really keen and do everything you can...take every opportunity.
But I also think just make sure you’re confident - loud about what you want, not getting frightened by things. I always get annoyed that I didn’t just push something harder or say something when I really felt it. Be willing to get stuff wrong. And if you don’t ask for something or say something you feel no one else is going to do it for you.
Image by Ellie Gibson.
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