With wide eyes, filmmaker Ivi Lewis made the move to New York City from St. Louis, Missouri shortly after graduating college. To her surprise, the concrete jungle metaphor proved to be true, complete with beastly corporations, feverish impostor syndrome and mirages of the perfect job floating around. Ivi learned that "perfection" isn't as important as staying open-minded, nurturing important relationships, and most of all, staying true to yourself. Read on to see how she leveraged the skills, grit and drive she possessed within to navigate her journey.
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO MOVE TO NEW YORK?
I knew that I wasn’t going to live in Missouri after college. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to move, though. During my last semester of college, so many signs kept pointing to NY. There were lots of job opportunities, my boyfriend at the time lived on the east coast, so it just made sense. I started saving money and two weeks after college I moved to the east coast. I couldn’t wait!
WHAT QUESTIONS DID YOU ASK YOURSELF BEFORE MOVING?
Of course I wondered if I was rushing and if I even had time to move. Could I afford it? Was I being responsible? What if it didn’t work out? In addition, I was planning to room with my friend from school, but she backed out at the last minute and it made me second-guess myself even more. By this point, I was in too deep to turn back. I had booked my ticket to New York and was staying with my boyfriend in Philly to save money and search for jobs in New York. During that time, he was my biggest supporter. I stayed with him for about a month, and he helped me find my first place in New York.
YOU'RE A STEPHENS COLLEGE GRADUATE. HOW DID YOU REACH OUT TO THE ALUMNAE NETWORK AND LEVERAGE THESE CONNECTIONS TO FIND OPPORTUNITIES?
The Stephens network is off the chain. It’s amazing. I joined the NYC alumnae group on Facebook. I reached out to every Black Stephens woman I know. We all wanted to see each other succeed, so they were there if I needed anything. A lot of them would send me screenshots of job postings they saw or events they thought would interest me. Literally most of the jobs I've gotten came from Stephens women. I would say that the only downside is that a lot of Stephens women are here for fashion rather than film, but it's still nice to have familiar faces around (I live with two of them!).
"NEW YORK IS NOT AS EASY AS PEOPLE THINK IT IS.
THEY DON'T CARE IF YOU HAVE A DEGREE."
WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT MOVING TO NYC OR MOVING AWAY FROM HOME IN GENERAL?
One of the biggest things is that coming from the Midwest, you think ‘I am going to take New York by storm. I’m going to make 50k, I’m going to make Viacom give me a job...’ No. That does not happen at all. I’ve been here 2 years and I have not had one corporate job. New York is not as easy as most people think it is. They don’t care if you have a degree.
The only thing that’s easy is getting a slice of pizza. (There's like 3 pizza shops on my block). You really have to know someone who knows someone. I thought by now I would have a corporate job. When I moved here, I thought I had it made, but now I realize it's going to take much more work.
HOW DID YOU PREPARE YOUR RESUME AND OTHER PERSONAL BRANDING MATERIALS BEFORE MOVING?
I had mentors and professionals view my resume, and they told me it was perfect. I thought I had everything right. I was so confident, I even applied for jobs I was overqualified for. For a while, I still didn’t get anything. It was hard to accept that, especially since I thought the experience I had in college would help me out, for sure. [I learned that] you just have to figure out another loophole.
WHAT TACTICS DID YOU USE TO FIND JOBS AND SECURE FREELANCE GIGS?
I would meet people and take advantage of [getting the most out of] the opportunity. For example, I looked into Weeksville Heritage Center, a museum in Brooklyn, NY. When I heard they were looking for tour guides, we met up and I shifted the conversation over to me (possibly) making video content for them, and it ended up working out. Another example, I was the production assistant for a music video and I pitched my film skills to others on set, [which resulted in a more involved role in the project]. If it wasn’t for me speaking up, they would not have given me more responsibilities.
New York is so random, you can even get on Craigslist and find a freelance job. You can even do free stuff. I worked on a web series for free; they know so many people and because I was willing to work with them, it shows my dedication. You never know where things could lead.
"I REALIZED THAT MAYBE I DON'T WANT TO WORK FOR A COMPANY THAT DOESN'T SEE ME AS VALUABLE."
HOW DID YOU NAVIGATE THE INTERVIEW PROCESS? WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU DIDN'T EXPECT?
When I first moved out here, I applied for a production assistant position with a HUGE network on a popular daytime show. I thought my time had come. We set up a time for the interview and then a few hours later she asked to reschedule. I wasn’t available at the time she selected and they never emailed me back! It ate my heart up. At the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck so I couldn't skip out on work to do the interview. I couldn’t skip out on a guaranteed paycheck on the possibility of a new job. When all was said and done, I thought I blew my chance on getting to the corporate world. I knew that being under that network's umbrella could lead to other opportunities. After this experience, I learned that if it’s a top company, you are replaceable to them and if you won’t budge for them, they'll move on to the next person. In retrospect I realized that maybe I don't want to work for people who don't see me as valuable.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE THE BIGGEST REWARD OF MOVING AWAY FROM HOME FOR YOUR CAREER?
I guess it would be gaining respect for my industry and realizing that people see you differently than you see yourself. When I think about where I want to be, I wish I was in a corporate office, but when I speak with other people, they think I'm doing great. My siblings think I’m amazing for living in a big city. People from St. Louis are proud of me for making the move. It’s a reminder for me to keep going. New York is a big place and there’s a lot of people and opportunities. At the same time, it’s easy to be alone. You can become a straight introvert. I’ve learned to be my own best friend, know that I’m a great person, trust myself and stay true to myself.
WHAT KEEPS YOU MOTIVATED IN SUCH A FAST-PACED, EVER-CHANGING ENVIRONMENT?
Seeing my friends succeed reminds me that they’re just like me and they’re just taking steps, too. I’m around other people that bust their ass. For example, my friend Charell does so much stuff and she does it so gracefully and you’re just like HOW?! Seeing people the same age as me pushes me. There have been times when I dragged my feet and I hear others' good news and it motivates me. I need to be doing the same thing.
"IF THE FLOWER'S GROWING, KEEP WATERING IT!"
WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?
I’m just trying to do more and more things. I want to branch out and grow. I want to host events. I want to create documentary films. I want to start writing editorial content and contributing to other websites. I want to start producing my own content. I don’t want to sit around and wait for clients. I want to create my own story. People like Issa Rae and Franchesca Ramsey inspire me to do my own thing. I just want to go into other bubbles and meet other people. Maybe I’ll be in the corporate world or maybe I’ll be independent out here like Chance the Rapper. I've learned that I may not be exactly where I want to be, but as long as I'm gaining from [what I do] it’s what I'm meant to do. If the flower’s growing, keep watering it!
CORRECTION AUGUST 18, 2017: An earlier version of this article stated that Ivi Lewis worked as a tour guide at Weeksville Heritage Center and later pitched her media skills to earn the content producer role. This is incorrect. She met with them regarding their need for tour guides, shifted the conversation to pitch her video content skills, and this proved to be successful.