Y'know, Life,  Youth Work

How One Compliment Changed Literally Everything

I’m sitting here torn between wanting to cry and wanting to moisturize my goosebumps. You ever get that? Let me back up.

Out of pure and procrastinate curiosity, I was scrolling through my unpublished WordPress drafts when this precocious title caught my eye: The Greatest Day of My Journalistic Life. Last edited: June 24, 2010.

Oh. Dis ’bout to be gewd. Cringey, precious, I’m sure, and so gewd. I settled in to LOL, but what I actually found made my breath catch. I had stepped back in time to an incredibly intimate and pivotal life moment for baby-me.

It was the first day I ever felt seen.

Allow me to set the scene.

 

Summer 2010: A Whole Mood.

 

Once upon a time, in shorts far, far too small for business casual

In June of 2010, I was 20 years old, sweating it out as an intern for Glamour Magazine in New York City. Poor thing wasn’t even old enough for happy hour. Every trope you can imagine of the suburban whippersnapper taking on the big city? It me, but brown and big-haired. (Don’t lie, you probably imagined a white girl. Ruined it for all of us, Anne Hathaway.)

My life-long dream was to be a magazine editor, and I wanted nothing more than to be a part of the editorial elite. So you can imagine my holy-shittery when a miracle happened: Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour and Wizard of my Oz, stopped by my lowly-intern desk, looked me in the eye and told me I was a good writer.

Reader, I fell apart.

I thought it was pivotal then because it felt like God — in Cindi-form — was booping me on the nose going, “You are now baptised into the church of Magazine Editors.” She freakin’ knighted me! I was in the Order now! At least, that’s what the shine of the moment meant for me then.

 


Summer 2010: Newly-minted Glamour Intern, geeking out in front of my new office.
Oh, bb Berna. So much I wish I could tell you.
…But first, tell me what we did with those shorts, because they cute.

 

Small acts of kindness = giant confidence

But reading this old draft, I realized something. Even though I’ve pivoted, moonwalked and body-rolled far from the path of magazine editing, this moment still brings up so much emotion in me almost a decade later. Even though I dropped that whole appendage of my life, what happened that day still has a direct line to my guts, and I think I figured out why.

In that moment, for the first time, I felt totally and completely seen.

As a Millennial child with tech blooming around our ears, it was weird to want to chase print journalism. As a child of Asian immigrant parents, it was weird to want to write for a living. And as a brown-skinned human, it was weird to always be one of the Only’s in every editorial office.

I didn’t know what else to do but keep my head down and do my work. I didn’t realize I was dying to be acknowledged, to be told, “Hey — what you’re doing? It’s good, keep going,” until someone did it.

All Cindi did was approach a human whose work she noticed, and say kind words. But if my trying, my writing, my striving to impress any and everyone around me was me gathering sticks and pinecones, Cindi acknowledging that hustle was the match. Aflame, man. I couldn’t be talked down from any of my crazy dreams after that.

 


Summer 2010: I get the distinct memory of feeling very much like, “Guuuuyyys we’re partying on a rooftop in New York, we all work at a magazine, we’re doing iiiiiit!” MY HEART. 

 

Empowerment lasts a lifetime

Cut to today: Zamn, talk about a plot twist. I left the editorial path a long time ago, and here I am, 8 years and two careers later — traveling the world creating personal finance videos for young people and shadowing teen non-profits in Vietnam. But tonight, I’m thinking about Cindi and every incredible mentor I’ve had who has “seen” me with her words, her thoughts, her time. I’m thinking about how immeasurably powerful it is when one woman reaches down, lifts up another, and makes her feel so goddamn validated.

Because someone saw me, I developed the audacity to believe my writing could pay my rent. Because someone saw me, I developed the nerve to think I can walk away from two dream jobs to follow the simple sh*t that sets my soul on fire. Because someone saw me, I gathered the gumption to believe I could step out of the rat race; I could pay off $50,000 in debt and travel; I could take this career thing by the ladyballs and do it my way.

I have this entire incredible life because someone(s) saw me, and made me believe I’m worth it.

 

Summer 2010: Nope, never saw an episode of Sex in the City, but I did see Wicked three times, so…?

 

What I’m saying is: Go see someone today. Matter of fact, go see a young person.

Tell them what’s special about them, what you appreciate about their work. Tell them to keep going, and that their creativity could lead to incredible things. Tell them you see potential in what they do, and for extra points, tell them you’re around if they ever want advice to grow.

I’m living, breathing, banh-mi eating proof that it can change a whole life.

 


 

And now, I present, wholly unedited:

The Greatest Day of my Journalistic Life

Originally written: June 24, 2010; 4:36am


A quote I tacked up in my NYU apartment that fateful summer. 
Which is also a quote from The Wedding Planner. But you knew that.

 

It was about 6:35pm today, Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010. I was getting ready to log the f*** out and skip away from one of the busiest days I’ve had at Glamour so far. I didn’t eat lunch until 4 and had to help write the intro for the Engagement Chicken… Lord. I was the only intern left and one of the only people left on the editorial side of the office, besides Ranya & Jessica, Cindi’s assistants.

Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour and She Who I’m Terrified To Talk To Even Though She Seems Lovely, was getting ready to leave, passing by her assistants’ desk and rattling off a couple last-minute stuff. She walked by and pivoted to leave the office.

Then she turns around.

“Bernadette.”

…Yes.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ve been reading your work and I really like your writing.”

…What.

“Yeah! You wrote the intros for the Engagement Chicken menus, right? Which ones did you write?”

…Oh…dfh;l..as;dlkfjd…. the other intern and I split them, I wrote 5 and she wrote 5.

“Oh, I know, but which ones did you write?”

…. …. …. The last five?

“I knew it. I barely touched it, I didn’t do anything to them. You have this really great hold on the Glamour voice; I really enjoy your voice and I’m really impressed by it. You’re doing a great job.”

…;adslkfjaw;eof.

She walks away. I die.

Her assistants called me over and they were freaking the f*** out, too. They were like, what’d she say?! I told them.

“She never does that. She’s super nice but really busy, so she hardly comes and talks to the interns like that. That’s a really big deal.”

“This is a really big moment.”

“What are you gonna do?”

…. Cry?

“Call your mom. This is big.”

“You have to send us what you wrote. We want to follow you and cheer you on.”

“You really need to get on her calendar, too, and have coffee with her. She really likes bold, go-get-em interns so if you ever have a question, don’t be afraid to pop in and ask her something.”

I die.

Today is the day that I, as an intern and blooming magazine writer, have been waiting for my entire life.

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