Whether you want to be a scientist, a stylist, a writer, a professional juggler or you have no idea yet, there’s something cathartic in hearing about the multitude of winding paths. That’s why Man Repeller has launched a series wherein various team members answer your career questions — anything from how they got to where they are to what they wish they’d done differently or what they still hope to do one day. There’s always a lesson to be learned somewhere or, at the very least, relief in knowing that it’s more than okay if you’re still figuring it out. First up was Head of Creative Amelia Diamond; next up is Haley Nahman, Man Repeller’s Deputy Editor. Below, she answers 10 of the questions recently posed to her on Instagram.
How did you first break into the editorial world?
I will respond to this question first because it’s the hardest to answer succinctly and will hopefully explain the perspective from which I answer the rest. (If you’ve heard this story or listened to my recent podcast interview, you’ll be bored!)
In early 2016, I was listening to Monocycle in my car when I heard Leandra mention that Man Repeller was hiring. I was five years into my HR career in San Francisco at the time, and had just told my then-boyfriend that I couldn’t wait any longer to love my job and wanted to move to New York. Working at MR seemed like an outrageous stretch, but when I heard that episode, my heart pounded at the timing.
I’d been casually blogging for almost a decade, and writing more seriously for a year, but didn’t yet consider myself a writer. Instead, I struggled to pick a lane, which showed me I kind of liked a bunch of stuff: graphic design, fashion buying, people strategy… I hoped this made me well-rounded (like a pearl) instead of dull (like an old eraser).
After cold emailing Man Repeller to no avail, I tracked down a loose connection and asked for an intro. She generously agreed. I crafted my email for days; it included links to five essays and a wack-a-doodle 10-slide presentation that explained why they should hire me. I’d gotten turned away from so many “creative” jobs at that point that I was desperate to show that I was worth a look instead of swearing I was in a cover letter.
To my astonishment, Leandra replied two weeks later: “Haley! Took a look @ some of your writing. And that dog in a turtleneck looks really cool. How would you feel about freelancing for a bit? Sent from my iPhone.”
I’ll never forget that email. So casual! The @ symbol!
After another month of back-and-forth during which I pretended I knew what “freelancing for a bit” meant and that I wasn’t full-panicking, I was in for a month-long contract position as a Junior Editor. (Our hiring process has since become more formalized, thankfully.) (You should apply by the way). I cried for a whole day out of happiness and terror. I quit my stable higher-paying job, broke my lease, left San Francisco and came to New York with only one plan. I’ve been here ever since.
Unlike so many one-track-minded hopefuls I’ve met in this city, I did not pursue editorial in a focused way. I pursued a career in HR while also flinging a bunch of stuff at the wall until something stuck. I feel lucky that thing was Man Repeller.
What were the hardest and the best parts of moving from the west coast to the east coast for work?
The best part was learning what it feels like to do the thing that scared and intrigued me the most. I feel very grateful for that experience.
The hardest part was breaking a throughline with my past so intensely. I’m still grappling with some of the side effects.
Advice for recent grads who’ve somehow gotten lost doing jobs they’re not passionate about?
I feel for you! I’ve been there.
My first thought is that most people aren’t passionate about their first job. (Or second or third.) Probably because, just like figuring out who you are, finding work you’re passionate about is a process that usually requires some research. In other words: Soul-sucking jobs can be part of understanding your soul.
The idea of the “dream job” has been so commodified that it’s become this shimmery thing, seemingly only accessible to Forbes’ 30 Under 30, for whom the stars aligned in some freaky way and maybe a rich parent was involved. That’s not most people. I think we need to reclaim and reshape what it means to like one’s job, and be more flexible about what it means to find career fulfillment.
You can be passionate about a lot of things — you probably already are. When do you feel passionate in your current role? How can you further explore that? When do you feel passionate outside of work, and how can you further explore that? Are you giving yourself space to try stuff and learn about the world and yourself or are you just panicking that you don’t know your next step?
It’s not an exact science, but I’ve found that fear is the biggest inhibitor to progress. Work on examining and freeing yourself of that. You can’t rush the process, but you can ease it along by giving yourself the chance to disprove the meanest thoughts you have about yourself. In my experience, interesting opportunities are usually on the other side of that, if only in learning to practice self-respect.
And always remember three things: It’s not over until it’s over, it’s a life-long privilege to seek out passion, and there are always ways to make your life feel more purposeful without landing the perfect job. You’re more than your title.
Have you ever felt impostor syndrome or like you didn’t belong in a role because you felt unqualified, and how did you overcome that?
When I was 25, I was promoted to HR Business Partner at my company. The role was above my experience level and I felt completely out of my depth. I was working with and sometimes advising people many years my senior, and I was supposed to be something of a gardener for the emotional health of my 150-person studio. Why would anyone listen to me? I had no idea what I was doing! Every day, something made me full-body sweat. I spent the first six months running every little decision I made by my VP of HR and doubting I could ever fly her coop. It was exhausting.
Soon though, I started noticing that when I kept my mouth shut, someone else would say what I was thinking five minutes later. Or when something gave me pause, I would ultimately regret not speaking up. At first these things felt like screw-ups, but soon I realized they were proof I’d developed some instincts I could trust. And when my VP announced her departure from the company shortly after, I stopped running things past her like a kid would a babysitter, and starting running things past my colleagues like a good collaborator. Slowly, I felt people return that respect.
Being pushed into that role kicked off a massive growth spurt. By the end of my time in that role I felt like a completely different, self-assured person. As an HR partner, I watched many others go through that exact same transition. Trust that whoever hired or promoted you saw something in you, even if you haven’t put it all together yet.
Imposter syndrome is founded on the idea that everyone else has figured it out except you. My career has shown me so far that people and experience can teach you a lot — but one of those things is that everyone is just figuring it out, too. My best tip for overcoming self-doubt is breathing through that lesson. You will find your confidence; just don’t rob yourself of the opportunity before it presents itself.
Tips on strengthening your writing? Any advice for an aspiring journalist in college?
If you’re currently unpublished and practicing, just read and write a lot. Write essays that a fake editor assigned to you. Pretend you have a big audience. Explore your mind and learn what it means to put an opinion or story to words. You can’t conjure a voice and perspective out of thin air; it’s the fruit of iteration.
As for published writing, here are some things I’ve learned so far: Read good writers. Learn to edit your own work. If something isn’t working, you probably need to “kill a darling” or change the intro. If your point feels wandering to you, it will seem ten-fold to others. If you suspect you’re skirting around your point, you are. Look up that thing you’re kind of guessing about. Don’t give up on that paragraph you think isn’t really saying anything yet — but know it could. Read people who have written wisely on the topic already and try to say something new. Ask yourself: Why would anyone read this? When you’re done, cut the word count; this will bruise your ego, but writing can always be more efficient. And finally, reread and tweak it until you’re prepared to defend your choices.
Self-editing is the hard part of writing, and I can always tell when writers haven’t done it.
Do you have any tricks for pushing past writer’s block?
Give yourself a night or at least a couple hours away from it. Restart it. Write your stream of consciousness on the topic and see where it takes you (Anne Lamott called these “shitty first drafts”). Kill the anecdote you keep insisting on using but is just not working. Write down any little snippets the moment they occur to you — pull over on the street if you have to. If you are on a deadline and have to push through it right away: simplify and narrow your point wherever possible. Explore the part you could explain easily to a friend — write a version as if you’re doing just that. Better yet, talk it out with an actual person. And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions or express uncertainty in your writing. That’s part of being human.
I still deal with blocks all the time. There’s no perfect solution; writing wouldn’t be satisfying if there were. I’ve been proud of pieces that flowed and proud of pieces that took loads of rewrites. I’ve also been dissatisfied with both. For me there’s no equation beyond not abandoning it. (Except on the occasion that working it out on paper has made me realize I don’t have anything worthy to contribute on the topic, at which point I kill it.) Sometimes, I settle for a piece I don’t love and move on.
Do you feel that you have a definitive style as a deputy editor? If so, what is it? What kinds of stories/opinion positions do you tend to find compelling?
That’s an interesting question I will probably be able to better answer when I have more hindsight. I will say that I am currently learning the importance of pushing writers even if I know it’s not what they want to hear. I’m also exploring what it means to say no — and yes — as an editor. As for what stories I tend to find compelling, I’d say those that I haven’t heard before but feel sincere (i.e. honest examinations of something unconventional), or have heard a million times but never in that way (i.e.unconventional examinations of something honest). Or anything that makes me laugh. We all need more joy right now.
What are your favorite websites/bloggers/journals when you want to entertain and educate yourself about anything?
I respect/read a lot of the big institutions like The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, GQ and other digital media pubs like The Cut, Vox, Racked (RIP!), Vulture, The Outline. I’m not much of a loyalist when it comes to these titles though and tend to read the biggest stories coming out of each of them. As for specific journalists/internet writers I seek out and read: I love Jia Tolentino, Caity Weaver, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Heather Havrilesky, Bim Adewunmi, Jon Caramanica, Rebecca Traister, Ashley Ford, Amanda Hess, Doreen St. Felix, Amanda Mull, Jamie Lauren Keiles, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tavi Gevinson… there are obviously more but those are top of mind. (Also, I don’t listen to a ton of podcasts, but I love Longform and, more recently, The New York Times Popcast. Both offer enlightening cultural commentary through people and art and neither makes me despair.)
This is probs a “rude” question but how do you afford all of the designer clothes? It’s like Carrie Bradshaw in real life. I don’t mean to be uncouth — I’m just downright curious. And I guess this isn’t really directed at Haley. More of everyone at MR.
This is a really fair question, and one I wondered about too before I joined a fashion media brand myself. The answer, I’ve learned, is that discounts and gifted items are a huge perk of this industry (which isn’t exactly known for its take-home pay). A lot of the clothes you see writers and editors wearing are either samples, items they’re trying out to write about (which can mean borrowing it from the brand’s PR, too), or garments sent to them for coverage consideration.
At MR we don’t promote anything we wouldn’t otherwise, but access to new releases, especially from small up-and-coming brands, helps us cut through the noise and give better suggestions to our readers. The upside of this process is a lot of cool clothes, accessories and makeup coming through the office, which is really fun. The downside is I couldn’t afford a lot of it otherwise, and I worry that makes some women feel left out. That’s an incongruence I continue to grapple with.
Also, this isn’t as true for me, but there are a lot of The Real Real and eBay experts at MR, and I’m always blown away by the deals people are sniffing out on designer stuff.
Have you ever not written something because it encroached too much on someone’s privacy? How do you draw the line between respecting your own/your friends’/your ex-boyfriend‘s/your family‘s privacy and sharing something because it is a valuable epiphany?
That line feels very implicit to me. If a point feels really important, I think there is usually a way to broach it that is respectful. If I can’t find one, I don’t write about it. Making a good point is never worth betraying someone. I don’t run up against that very often though; I’ve been really lucky to have people in my life that offer me free reign and have expressed trust in me to fairly represent them and not disrespect their privacy. I still tend to run stuff by them though, just in case.
Photo by Edith Young.