“Career Diaries” is a column from Step Up Magazine where we feature established professionals on what it’s like--and what it takes--to enter their field. Today we are excited to learn from L'Oreal Thompson Payton.
Job title: Director of Communications
Years of experience: 10
Where L'Oreal went to college: Loyola University Maryland
L'Oreal Thompson Payton is a blogger, freelance writer, and public speaker who's passionate about empowering women of all ages. When she's not busy writing -- which, to be fair, is not often -- she can usually be found reading the latest self-help book, dancing to Beyoncé, or eating cupcakes. Learn more at LTintheCity.com or follow her at @LTintheCity.
In a few sentences, please tell us what you do and what your job involves.
As the Director of Communications for OneGoal, a national college access and success organization, I’m responsible for increasing brand awareness, establishing our credibility as a thought leader within the college access and success sector, and elevating the voices of our community -- which includes everyone from the CEO to the students we serve and everyone in between.
My role involves developing a comprehensive public relations strategy for our entire organization, as well as our six regions across the country. This includes pitching stories about OneGoal to the media, writing op-eds on behalf of our board members and senior leadership team, creating talking points and drafting statements on external issues, and interviewing our community members for our blog.
What is something you wish you knew about your industry before you entered it?
The importance of self-care. Interestingly enough, I spent most of my career as a journalist, but switched to nonprofits because I was burned out. I quickly learned it’s also possible to suffer from burnout at nonprofits because you’re so committed to the cause. Now I have an established wellness routine that includes meditation, journaling, and prayer, and that has helped me create balance in my life.
What has surprised you about your industry?
I’ve noticed that sometimes working at a nonprofit comes with this sense of martyrdom – that the purpose and passion is more important than the paycheck. And, quite frankly, that’s not an ideology I subscribe to. I believe that people should be fairly and competitively compensated for their time and talent, whether it’s a nonprofit or for-profit. But some nonprofits seem to take advantage of people’s goodwill by paying way below market rate.
What does an average morning look like for you?
Most days, I like to start my mornings with some much-needed quiet time. This typically includes prayer, meditation, journaling, and breakfast. Then I check my emails and work on my weekly newsletter or whatever freelance story I’m writing at the time. I read during my commute, and the first things I do when I get to work are review my calendar and make my to-do list with my top three must-do items so I know where to focus my time. Afterward, I check my email and read various education newsletters to stay on top of current events.
What does an average afternoon look like for you?
I’m a morning person through and through – it’s when I do my best creative work. So I try to save my afternoons for more administrative work that doesn’t require as much brainpower. Usually there’s a meeting or two, or I’m prepping for the next day and wrapping up items on my to-do list.
What are some of your favorite parts of your job and what are some of your not-so-favorite parts?
My favorite part is the people – my colleagues and the students. They make it all worthwhile. I also love our organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. More than half of our staff identify as people of color and we have various affinity groups for different races and ethnicities.
What breaks my heart is whenever I have to write a statement on behalf of our organization in response to the latest school shooting. It’s important to express solidarity and advocate for safe schools; however, I pray there comes a day when such statements will no longer be necessary because these shootings will no longer exist.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The best career advice I’ve ever received was from a former boss who told me to “have the confidence of a mediocre white man.” I didn’t quite understand when she said it at the time (this was back in late 2014), but after the 2016 presidential election, I get it now.
As a Black woman, I often have to work twice as hard to get half as much as my white counterparts. So when the hiring manager during my most recent job interview asked me to rank myself on a scale of 1 to 10, I proudly said, “12 … and this is why.” Needless to say, I got the job.
What is your advice to a student who is interested in entering the industry you work in?
Find a cause that is close to your heart. Nonprofits are not all rainbows and butterflies. This is a business like any other, except you’re often asked to do more with fewer resources. So when you’re putting in those long hours, it helps to know that it’s for something you believe in -- something you’re passionate about. And don’t think you have to be a martyr and do it all. There’s nothing wrong with saying no. You have to establish boundaries to preserve your sanity. Don’t neglect self-care in the name of “being a good employee.”
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
I would be lost without the Google Calendar app and those handy 10-minute reminders. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t happen. I also love the Pocket app for saving stories to read later. I curate a weekly newsletter and it’s a great way for me to keep track of the articles I want to share with my followers. And the Buffer app for scheduling social media – it’s such a timesaver!