If you asked any millennial to describe their dream job, we’re pretty certain you would find being paid to watch Netflix and writing for BuzzFeed among the top answers. Well, guess what? Tracy Clayton is living your dream, and she’s dishing on how she did it. As a writer at BuzzFeed.com, Tracy’s words both entertain and educate while discussing important topics like black culture and feminism. Her articles are filled with humor, grace and honesty, but her story doesn’t start there. It begins back in Louisville, Kentucky, where she had to search for the courage to pack her bags and move to New York City become a full-time writer. Tracy shares her story of bravery and how she decided to “go first” and take a chance on her dreams.
Twitter/Instagram Handle: @brokeymcpoverty
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Occupation: Staff Writer at BuzzFeed.com
University: Transylvania University in Lexington, KY
Secretly Obsessed With: Tom Hanks, snacks, ‘The Walking Dead,’ and 90s R&B
On My Nightstand: My Kindle, a tube of tinted Carmex, and the jewelry box my father brought me from Afghanistan
Last Thing You Read: ‘Untamed State’ by Roxane Gay
How did you get started?
I’ve been a writer since I was eight years old; the first original piece I ever wrote was a poem about Halloween. I’ve always known that I wanted to write for a living. After college, I took a series of administrative jobs that paid the bills, but they didn’t make me happy, so I began a bunch of blogs on the side just to keep me writing. I also contributed to PostBourgie.com, an amazing website started by a good friend of mine.
I happened to get laid off from the last administrative job I had, and I used that time to get into freelance writing for some sites like Madame Noir, Uptown Magazine, and The Urban Daily. Between freelancing, blogging, and tweeting, I created an online presence impactful enough to get noticed by TheRoot.com, who hired me as a social media editor of sorts. A few months after accepting that job, I was offered a job at BuzzFeed on the day that the hashtag #BlackBuzzfeed broke, and the rest is history!
What key elements played into your success?
I think consistency, openness, support, and my obsession with social media really helped me get to where I am today. Blogging gave me a foundation, a starting place, and through writing and updating regularly I was able to build a readership. Though change is often scary, I was sure to be open to new opportunities when they came along.
Graduating from blogging to freelancing, from freelancing to working part-time at home, and from working remotely at my home in Louisville, KY to upending everything to move to New York City to be a full-time writer—all that took a degree of openness and bravery that I at times was unsure that I had. In those moments, the support of others became essential; I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who believe in me 1000 percent more than I do, and when I couldn’t be sure of my abilities, they were.
And finally, social media is a priceless tool when it comes to being heard, being seen, and making connections. It wasn’t just Twitter that got me my job, but I’d be a fool to think I’d be where I am right now without it.
What’s the best piece of advice you received?
When I was in high school, if I had a presentation or a report to give, I was so terrified—I was a huge introvert, and public speaking made me want to die. My mother said to me, “Go first and just get it over with so you can relax—the worst thing is having to sit and wait to have to do something that scares you.”
From that day on, whenever I had a report to give, I volunteered to go first, as shy and terrified as I was, and it has now become a habit. When I have something tough and uncomfortable to do, I do my best to push through it quickly, keeping my eyes trained on the moment that I cross the finish line, which makes it all worth it.
What struggles did you face getting to this point?
I am the biggest hurdle that I have ever faced. I have anxiety disorder and ADD, which work together to make me believe that there’s very little on this earth that I am capable of doing and doing well. My own insecurities, fears, and anxieties have all threatened to derail me at some point. I almost gave up on freelancing when the money was low because I was worried about failing, financially.
I almost didn’t take the job at Buzzfeed because change sends me into a tailspin and I didn’t want to move to New York City. And everyday I have to remind myself that I am good at what I do because it’s so easy to forget when you’re surrounded by so many talented people. My biggest enemy is that voice in my head that tells me that I’m not good enough, that it’s too dangerous, that I’m not prepared, that I can’t do it. I’ve been lucky enough to push through, but I’ve had some close calls.
Who was the biggest influence in your professional life?
There have been so many. Roxane Gay makes me want to be a better writer. Shonda Rhimes is blazing a trail that I would love to follow. Maya Angelou taught me that my voice and my story as a black woman matter and deserve to be heard and are worth listening to.
My women’s studies professor taught me that no matter where I choose to go in life, there will be hurdles that I’ll face as a woman of color, and helped prepare me to jump over them. And I would be absolutely nowhere without my mother’s endless support. She gave me to the world when I know she would have rather kept me near, and I owe every single thing I have to her.
What accomplishment are you most proud of? When do you feel most successful?
On a large scale, I’m most proud of being able to say that I am a black woman supporting herself in New York City, not because that has always been my dream (it hasn’t), but because it truly is a remarkable thing, for a myriad of reasons.
On a smaller, more intimate scale, I’m also most proud of making my family proud of me, as corny as that sounds. That is when I feel most successful—when the people I love most on this earth tell me that they are proud of me. Nothing feels better than that. Not a paycheck, not an article that gets a million views. I’m not saying those things don’t matter, but I measure success in happiness and personal fulfillment. Making the people I love proud of me makes me feel so full.
That was a tough question to answer because I don’t feel like a “success;” I’m definitely in the process of figuring this whole life thing out and getting to where I want to be. I’m right here in the trenches with everyone else.
What advice would you give to girls looking to enter your industry/space?
Go first! Commit to doing things that make you uncomfortable and dive into them head on. Be open to new opportunities. Allow yourself to feel scared and hesitant but don’t allow yourself not to try. Say yes as often as you can. You never know when the next great thing will present itself to you.
Also, remember that the Internet isn’t “just the internet” anymore. It’s a tool; learn to use it to your advantage. So many doors in the writing/journalism industry can be opened based on who you know; use social media to network and make connections.