How Not Having It Figured Out Helped Me in the Long Run

Micaela English '08, a digital and social media strategist, discusses the power of the Holy Cross network in her NYC success

Reader beware: This is not a traditional job story. There wasn't one magical internship that paved the way for me. There was no shiny offer that I had entering my senior year. The lingering, complicated question of "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  was always a  challenge for me, as there was never an answer that immediately presented itself. In fact, I still ask myself this question monthly, weekly, daily. I still want to be so many things. I still want to learn so many things. I still want to contribute to so many things. At the end of the day,  I'm a creative thinker, and not having my future written in stone has actually helped my career.

So where does a degree from Holy Cross, and the alumni network fit into this backwards fairy tale? Holy Cross helped me feel confident that I didn't need to fit into a box. Holy Cross made the real me bubble up to the top, and the network of women I have met in my alumni journey have emotionally carried me on their shoulders to help me shine brighter than I ever imagined.

Let me backtrack for a moment, to when I was a first-year moving into Mulledy at Holy Cross. I unpacked my trunks of eccentric clothes (luckily, there was no Instagram to document these "looks" in 2004), wore sky high heels to class (that prompted many falls in front of Dinand), and proclaimed that I wanted to be a lawyer when I graduated. Any student/faculty/human could have looked at me, my strengths, and interests and quickly realized that I probably was not going to be a lawyer. But at this point, I craved a clear understanding of who I was going to be. I felt this self-imposed tremendous pressure to have it "figured out." After a summer internship at a law firm that made me feel like I was putting on a costume of who I was supposed to be everyday, I quickly realized that while the legal path was the right career for many of my fellow classmates, it wasn't highlighting my inner strengths, and I was back to the career drawing board.

I had a very clear "aha!" moment my sophomore year on Mount St. James. I'll never forget, my mom sent me this email: " Hi Micaela, first of all, I hope you are doing your laundry. Second of all, you need to read this month's Holy Cross Magazine, there's a profile on an alum named Carolyn Risoli and she is the president of Marc by Marc Jacobs."

My eyes lit up, my heart started booming — there was an alumna who was slaying the fashion scene in New York City. Instantly, I was inspired and wanted to learn everything about Carolyn Risoli. I Googled the heck out of you, Carolyn, in a socially acceptable stalker-ish way. I think I even memorized some of your quotes from that article my mom sent me, and might have used them to answer questions in upcoming interviews. "Why a liberal arts education?" I proudly recited your words,"I was taught to think, to speak and to write."

With Carolyn's career as my North Star, I started applying for summer internships that felt more like me during my time at Holy Cross. Also, as I got deeper into my philosophy major, with the help of my female mentor and professor May Sim, I became more open-minded and felt more comfort in the discomfort of not having it figured out. My one regret? I never reached out to Carolyn when I was a student at Holy Cross. I was intimidated and wasn't sure what to say. I didn't want to be one email in a sea of emails that she got from HC students just like me. Are you a student or alumnus that feels that way? Write the email.

When I finally did get the chance to meet the mentor who didn't even know she was my mentor, I was wowed. Carolyn offered me career advice. I told her about my struggle to unplug in a digital world and in a digital field. We laughed and instantly bonded. And I have to say, that is the gift that keeps on giving to me professionally post-graduation from Holy Cross. The purple network of strong women that I have surrounded myself with. From my own friend group and peers (I text and email my Wheeler roommate, and St. Andrews abroad bestie, Courtney Hakanson, an unhealthy amount on job advice) to the insanely influential  brand consultant Erika Bearman who will take a call with me whenever I have a question to CNN social superstar Ashley Codianni who has kindly introduced me to her professional network. As women in business, we help each other out, offer advice, help with introductions, and most importantly, friendship.

So want to know where a dream of having a career like Carolyn Risoli got me? It didn't quite land me a big job at a fashion house. But it did take me to some cool places. After jumping around to a few positions in publishing post-graduation, I found my home at Hearst. First on the print side of publishing and then moving over the Hearst Digital Media group, launching the digital footprint for the brand TOWN&COUNTRY. There I learned the inner workings of "the internet" and had a blast exploring the ever-changing landscape of social media, algorithms, engagement and growth.

That position eventually got me working in digital and social media on the brand side of things, first for the brand Anthropologie and now as a consultant for beauty and luxury brands (while still flexing my writing muscle as a freelance writer). As a Crusader with an untraditional career, I am so grateful to those that have helped me, feel so lucky that I didn't have to fit into a box in order to feel gratified professionally, and can't wait to provide mentorship for those students and alums that need hand holding throughout their process. We're here for you. No matter your career path, a Crusader is a Crusader through and through.

Written by Micaela English '08, a digital and social media strategist, and freelance writer based in New York City.

Carolyn Risoli '86, who serves on the College's Board of Trustees, the Board of the International Pre-schools in New York City, and on the Advisory Board for Comprehensive Development, Inc., will be honored at the New York Leadership Council Annual Dinner on May 14.