Journalism, with Style

We are excited to feature Freelance Journalist and Creative Consultant Mekita Rivas (@rivasraves) for #workitwomxnoftheweek. Mekita is a first-generation Filipina and Mexican womxn based in DC. She is the daughter of immigrants and is originally from Nebraska. Writing has always been her passion, which led her to major in journalism and English.

Currently, Mekita is a fashion features writer at @bustle. Her work mostly covers culture, fashion, travel, and wellness “through the lens of gender, race, and ethnicity.”

Mekita’s work has been featured in prominent publications, including Glamour, The Washington Post, Food & Wine, Architectural Digest, Teen Vogue, and Refinery29 to name a few.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m a freelance journalist and creative consultant based in Washington, D.C. I’m originally from Nebraska, the daughter of immigrants. I studied journalism and English in college, and have had all sorts of professional highs and lows. It feels like I’ve done a little bit of everything. In non-covid times, I enjoy traveling and getting out there. I can never stay still for too long, so this entire year has been really challenging in that respect. I’m a newlywed, too. My husband and I just celebrated our first anniversary — it’s been quite the ride already, as you can imagine.

What do you currently do?

I have a full-time day job as a copywriter and content strategist on top of my freelance business. So work is a huge part of my life — it’s usually pretty nonstop.

What important steps did you take in your career that has been instrumental in helping you get to where you are now?

In 2016, I decided to take the leap and try freelancing for the first time. I had no connections to the industry. I didn’t know any editors. I hadn’t done any fancy internships. I started cold submitting to publications, hoping someone would see my work and give me a shot. Eventually, I did get my shot. Then one byline led to another, one opportunity would open the door to another opportunity. My entire career is a testament to the power of the domino effect. But it all comes back to that singular decision of taking the leap in the first place.

What is an important skill to work on if you want to be successful in your industry?

In media, in particular, the world is very small. That surprised me once I got on the inside. Even if you don’t know someone directly, odds are you’re connected to them by a few degrees of separation. That means your relationships with people in positions of power/authority are a form of currency. So it is critical to be friendly, dependable, and communicative with everyone you work with. You just never know how that’ll pay off in the long run.

What are three habits to cultivate to thrive in this industry?

  1. Be able to do good work quickly — that’s especially key in this media landscape when the news cycle moves so fast.

  2. Network as much as possible, but be mindful of coming across too aggressively.

  3. Last but certainly not least, make time for yourself no matter what’s on your plate. The work will always be there. Your health and well-being should never come second to a deadline.

Have you ever received work-related advice that you felt was misguided?

My first job out of college was as a web producer at a local TV news station. I worked the early morning shift, 4 am to 1 pm, and I was just miserable. Nine months in, after much deliberation and doubt, I decided to quit. I remember the news director, a well-meaning old white guy, was leaving around the same time. Essentially, he told me that he was in a stronger financial situation so his decision made sense. But as for me, a twenty-something fresh out of college making $29,000 a year, he said I should probably reconsider leaving a stable job. I understood where he was coming from (I’d had all those same thoughts myself), but I knew in my gut how unhappy I was. It just wasn’t worth it. And in the long run, it all worked out. People always say that — “Oh, it’ll work out” — but I can tell you from experience that it’s true.

As a Latina, what is a valuable lesson you can offer other BIWOC who are interested in what you do?

Do your research. Have specific, tangible goals. For me, it was the difference between, “I want to write more and get published,” and “I will write five stories a month and send 20 pitches to these 10 publications.”

The progress happens when you start to get into the details. Know that you will likely have to work that much harder for your voice to be heard and for your contributions to be valued. It might take longer than you’d like. But you have to trust the timing of your life. Lean on other women of color and those in your community for support and to amplify your work.

You’ll be amazed at how far that encouragement and good energy can take you.

Are there barriers that BIPOC women face in your industry?

Women of color face barriers in every workplace, across all industries. It’s just part of the professional landscape. In my experience, it’s looked like being second-guessed, misjudged, and stereotyped. There’s also the dreaded instance of having to be the “token” WOC who has to speak for an entire community. That is a lot to carry in a work environment. Set boundaries and push back, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Know who your allies are, who’s got your back. When you’re early in your career, it can feel like you don’t have a lot of say.

I wish I had stepped into my power in the workplace a lot sooner. Your voice is just as relevant and critical — if not more so — than anyone in the C-suite or on the board of directors.

How do you prioritize your mental, physical, emotional wellbeing to avoid burn out? What tips can you share with our community that has helped you recharge?

Truthfully I am not the best person to answer this question as I have long struggled with workaholism and being susceptible to burnout. I hit what I call my rock bottom in 2019 after consistently working 70+ hours a week while trying to plan a wedding, stay in touch with friends and family, work out, get some regular sleep, etc. There were many breakdowns and crying sessions in my parked car. I arrived at the conclusion that what I was doing just wasn’t sustainable.

To be honest, I sort of went into 2020 falling back into those similar patterns, but then the pandemic happened and everything changed. I was forced to slow down in a way I hadn’t in years. As scary and unsettling as this time period has been, it’s taught me the importance of stillness. Of taking a step back to take inventory of your life and your priorities. I am continuing to figure it out in my own way. Whenever I need a quick recharge, I put down my phone in another room, turn on some zen music, and do a couple of stretches. I love to just hang in a full-body fold or stretch out my wrists so that my fingers are pointing toward me. It feels so good after typing on your computer all day! Or I’ll do a workout to get my heart pumping. Just getting outside, especially in this year where we’ve all been mostly indoors, is so crucial. Even if it’s a brisk walk around the block, it really is an instant mood booster to breathe fresh air and feel the sunshine on your face.

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