Diary of A Young Pro: Kendra Mitchell
2) How old are you?
3) What is your job title?
Project Coordinator, Executive Office
4) How has the transition been from backpack to briefcase (college to adulthood)?
It’s been an adventure. I didn’t graduate with a job. Instead, I moved to New York City and accepted an associate producing internship at a theater for two months—which turned into six months. My aunt kindly let me sleep on her couch for all six of those. I went in thinking I had found my dream internship, my possible dream job. Then, after three years of producing in college and my NYC internship, I realized that producing wasn’t what I wanted to do. At least for the moment. But I didn’t know what to do next. I thought that I should take my parents’ suggestion and do theater as a side project. Student loans were weighing on me, so I needed something to pay the bills while I figured out my next step. I bought a one way ticket to California to interview for a temp job at Stanford. The ticket left me with $5 in my bank account, and fortunately I got the job and was able to move in with another relative. After three months, the department offered me a full time position complete with benefits. But, I missed theater and turned the offer down for a summer internship in the arts and moved back to Washington, DC where my parents live. At this point, doubts about a career in the arts were creeping in. While I was interning at the arts nonprofit, the Executive Assistant to the President and CEO position opened up. There were a number of people at the organization who had noticed my work, and they managed to convince me to apply. After I got the job, my high school French teacher connected me to a local tutoring company, and I was able to tutor on the side to make up what I needed in income. Fortunately, producing in college had prepared me for long hours and staying cool under pressure!
5) When you were in school, did you imagine your life the way that it is?
In some ways yes, in many ways no. Yes, because I’ve always been committed to doing what feels meaningful and fulfilling to me. As a military brat, I learned that no experience is ever a waste if you learn something from it. Even when things haven’t worked out, they have only served to give me a better understanding of what paths to take and not to take and why. My life continues to be filled with meaningful friendships, some old and some new. But I never imagined that I would be working in arts advocacy or have done some of the things that I’ve had the chance to do and meet some of the people I’ve been able to meet. Nor did I imagine the influence that I could have in an established organization at just 24 years old. My path here makes complete sense but at the same time, it wasn’t always clear where I was headed (or where I’m heading next.) One thing I have learned though–life rarely turns out exactly as you imagined it. If you keep your vision broad, the reality you achieve is usually so much better.
6) What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during these transitional years?
One of the biggest challenges has been not letting my fear of “being an adult” with adult responsibilities (bills, loans, rent, feeling settled, etc.) interfere with my willingness to take risks or lead me to play it safe. I’ve also struggled with trying to balance dating against being career focused. Working in theater can be demanding and consuming, so part of the reason I faltered while interning in the associate producer’s office was because I realized how hard it could be to juggle relationships and work. At that time, I was 23 and had dated only one guy for less than two months. At 26, it’s now up to two guys and a grand total of six months. But after spending two years making myself available to date without anything panning out, I felt like I had lost focus on other goals that I had set for myself and that was hurting my self-esteem. So dating is back on the backburner, for now, and my eye is on some other things that I’ve wanted to do. Like writing! And eating leftover Chinese food in bed while binging on Netflix at 2 am!
7) What is the best advice you have received from a mentor about adulthood and/or careers?
My dad is good at giving career advice (at least I think so.) Just before graduation, he was helping me figure out my next steps, and he told me that there are just two questions to answer: what do you want to be or who do you want to be? If you don’t know what, you probably know who. I didn’t know what, but knowing who–respected, a leader, influential–has helped guide me in my choices since the day we talked. The other thing he insisted was that I develop a brand and be able to sum up what I’m about in a sentence. It took me awhile to figure out what my “brand” was, but since I did, I’ve received several job offers without even applying (or looking), so I guess it was worth time and a tip worth passing along. But more important than what you say your brand is is that you live by it. People should know what you’re about just by observing your actions. This didn’t come from my dad, but I once heard that the traits you admire in others are ones that you already have within you. So if you’re admiring someone and think you’ll never measure up, think again. Look for their reflection in you.
8) What advice would you give a young professional?
-Say yes before you think about it. Then don’t back out just because the going gets tough.
-Find mentors. Everyone needs an Obi Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore, Gandalf, or Miranda Priestly. Maybe not Miranda Priestly.
-Old people know things. Listen.
-Your passion isn’t what you enjoy. It’s something that even at your (its?) worst, you refuse to give up. Passion isn’t always a job or a career.
-Take what you do seriously. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
9) What is next for you and the next 12 months? Do you have any goals you would like to accomplish? How are you going to accomplish them?
More adventures–that’s all I can say for now! As for goals, I want to write more and I’ve been dithering about creating a web series. So if I get behind a camera and brush up on my editing skills, that will happen. Or I might go back to just writing. But I need to get better about making time and staying consistent. Read more books. What happened to being able to read three books to four books in a month?! I need to go back to keeping a reading log. Also, a picture of Oprah and Shonda together made me think, oh my gosh I could be their baby! So figuring out what the baby of Oprah and Shonda does and then doing it.
10) What makes you special?
I don’t know if this makes me special or crazy, but I talk aloud to myself. A lot. I talk through what I’m going to do next, draft to-do lists, tell stories that come to mind (complete with accents for different characters.) The habit’s almost compulsive so I walk around wearing headphones in order to avoid too many weird looks when I’m in public. As far back as I can remember, it’s been a thing. I remember my mom always asking who I was talking to when I was a kid. On a more normal note, my dad was in the Navy until I was 21 and my parents raised me Catholic but I went to very liberal (and wealthy) primary and secondary schools, so I can often see/understand several sides of an argument, especially political and social ones. It helps me to me a connector and diplomatic, when I want to be.