On an unseasonably cool DC summer morning, Tracey Johnson walked briskly into a familiar Starbucks. She was looking comfortable in a white Givenchy-esque top (complete with bold mono-colored geometric pattern) the likes you’d see in a G.O.O.D Music video, blue jeans, and an unruly head of what she would classify as “black girl hair”. Minutes later, she would reveal that the top cost 80 Euros and was purchased on a research trip to Spain that she accompanied her professor on. This was just one of the many interesting tidbits about herself she would later reveal.
She wasn’t there for coffee or to work on her brilliant million dollar business-plan like so many Starbucks-goers do. She was there as a favor to an old high school friend, as a favor to someone struggling like so many other twenty-something’s trying to figure out their lives out – as a favor to me. She was there to answer questions about her life and her interests by a fellow twenty-something going through the cliché quarter-life crisis that so many young adults go through nowadays, a crisis that we discovered we both shared. Over a short thirty minute period, thoughts, advice, and laughs were shared between me and a truly creative person.
Tell me a little bit about your background?
Sure! Well, I’m from Springfield VA where I went to West Springfield High School which is where you and I meet in show choir – BEFORE show choir was cool before it was on GLEE! On TV – and now I go to William and Mary, where I’m about to be a senior studying History.
Why’d you choose History? Did you intend to use it to go to grad school?
Well, my school doesn’t have a communications program, and history – I’m really good at it. As far as grad school, I was thinking of going to school for Broadcast Journalism… I’m looking at Syracuse which has a really good Broadcast Journalism program, which has a lot of high profile reporters at companies like CNN and ESPN. There is one girl at my school who has a website called HerCampus.com, and you can write for it she just graduated from Syracuse on a one year program so I’m super interested in it.
I’m sure you’ve gotten this question a thousand times by now, but do you have any idea what you want to do after school?
I guess because I’m a history major the question most people ask me is “What are you gonna do with your life?” Right now I’m in a quarter-life crisis and I’m not really sure what I’m gonna do with my life, so I’m looking at jobs with communications and public relations stuff in it, but I’m obviously gonna look at museums and stuff and all the History related things in DC, but my dream would be to get into Broadcast Journalism.
Is Journalism what you’re passionate about?
I’m still trying to figure out what I’m passionate about. I guess I’m passionate about writing, more so than journalism and reporting things. I just think it’s something I would be good at, or that I would enjoy doing. I know I don’t want a typical job – I cannot do a desk job – my parents have offered to find me a job and it just sounds awful. Worst case scenario, I’ll take it if I don’t have anything else to do, but I would hate my life. I went to New York twice this summer and it was the best, it showed me that I need to do something creative.
Do you feel like being in the DC area or being a Northern Virginia/DC Native influenced that decision at all? Going to school for History or even broadcast journalism?
My dad was a history major so mostly, that’s where I get it from – being into history at least. He always told me important stuff… being older and having been through a lot – he was in the Vietnam War and he’s from Alabama so he really went through a lot of civil rights issues… so from that I just grew up loving history. Also, since we’re from DC, I watch the news all the time ever since 9/11 so [Broadcast Journalism] kind of came from that.
Would you consider yourself career-driven then? Just knowing the general direction you want to go in?
I know people at my school that have a set points that they want to get to, and they are very career-driven, almost militant, and very driven when it comes to resume-building and stuff, and I want to have a career, but when I compare myself to them I would say that I’m not as militant about it as they are. It’s like they know exactly what they want, and for me it’s almost like I’m just gonna do different things and see different things, which I think is really just me as a person. I’m just more free-spirited and go with the flow.
So do you have any advice for people trying to find themselves? People going through that quarter-life crisis.
Just don’t compare yourself to people. It’s something that seems obvious, but it’s not, especially when you’re in the process of trying to find yourself, especially if you have friends that seemingly know what they want to do, or are already doing big things, it won’t help you telling yourself, “I need to be doing all these things” – of course you need to be setting yourself up for your future- doing things, getting internships, being proactive- but do things to find yourself, do different things, your mind always changes. That’s one of the things I wish I had done. I wrote a blog post about this with my friend Harper Yi, who is a very career-oriented person. [She] gave me that piece of advice, which is a great piece of advice.
Do you find yourself comparing yourself to people a lot? Do you work at it or is it something you get better at with age and maturity?
When I first started going to William and Mary, I was comparing myself to people a lot because everyone is so crazy smart, and I was just like how the heck did I end up here? My freshman roommate was the valedictorian of her high school, and from freshman year of high school till now, always has straight A’s and that’s so hard to do at William and Mary, especially if you’re pre-med which she is. There were days where she’d some in and was like “Oh I got another A in blah blah blah” and I was just like “oh…well I’m struggling through my government classes” but now I just don’t compare myself to people, there’s really no point in it, everyone’s different.
Really, I just learned not to care. A lot of my friends are in the Business School which is very stuffy and pretentious and hoity toity and they all wear suits and stuff to class, so it’s hard not to feel sort of bad like, “oh I’m a history major, wearing my jeans and whatever to class” but you just can’t worry yourself with it, it’s just not good.
This is a bit of loaded question but, your dad was in the military, and he witnessed a lot of civil rights events, having heard his stories and learning from him and also your school work do you feel like at this point in time race is still an issue for African Americans?
Yeah, yeah. I think it’s a huge problem right now, that’s what I write a lot about on my blog – the theme that black people in general have a real problem with themselves. I wrote for my internship the difference between being light skin black and dark skin black, which is like a subtle problem within itself, and even your blog post where you talked about black stereotypes, and the whole Trayvon Martin thing and even little things like Twitter. If you read twitter every day, these Republicans will write horrendous messages. Like the hashtag #MockObamaDay… they’ll write terrible things, N-word this, N-word that behind a keyboard… so yeah I definitely think it’s still a problem.
Do you feel like as a society, we should have a discussion about it? Or is it something that we as individuals should look within ourselves to figure out?
That’s a tough question. I think it starts with your parents, they teach you first, and then you internalize it and look within yourself. My dad is from the South, was in the Vietnam War, and he’s seen the civil rights movement first-hand, you know what I mean? There are things my parents said when I was growing up, and sometimes even now, that weren’t exactly politically correct and I’m always like “ugh, guys!?” you know what I mean, things were just different then and now. I went to school with Asian kids, white kids, all kinds of kids really, so I think I’m a lot more open to the discussion of race and stuff just growing up in a diverse area.
You mentioned being in show choir and your passion for writing. Where do you think that passion came from?
I don’t know, I was never…what do you call it left brain, or right brain? The people that are math-y and science oriented? – You should Google that – whatever that is – I’ve never been that. I’ve always been creative, just painting and dancing and stuff, so I think it’s just inherent.
So what are you up to now? Any cool internships this summer?
Right now, I’m working for a realtor, but she’s actually kind of a socialite with money to blow, and she has this blog and a radio show in addition to being a realtor, and a billion other things, but I do social media management, and I’m her blog manager, it’s a start up and it’s a lot of work, just trying to get adults to get their acts together, but it’s fun. I got to talk on the radio once, AM radio but radio nonetheless. I was a little scared, but we always drink wine before the show, so my fears were elevated.
Does anything really scare you? Like professionally or creatively?
I wrote a blog post about the fear of success, but I guess it’s about the fear of failure too. When you succeed so many times and you feel like you have to live up to people’s expectations of being funny or smart or whatever and not being able to replicate it every time. I’ve learned that you have to be authentic with yourself and not try to be those things. I’ve learned that especially with my writing, when people are really receptive to one blog post and not the other one, I always wonder what did I do wrong… and the truth is, it’s not necessarily me, it’s just what people are receptive to at that time. It’s really just about being totally honest with each thing you do, and at the end of the day, just be yourself.
What did you want to accomplish with your blog?
I started it as a portfolio, almost for people to look at, but at first it was a huge secret, I wanted to get ten posts or something so people would think that it was legit. I would write about a lot of different things, like fashion and other stuff, then I shared it with my immediate group of friends and they were really receptive to it, so then I started sharing it with other people and decided to start making it into something bigger than something just for me and my 5 friends.
What are you working on now?
For my blog, I’m currently working on two posts: one about being passive aggressive, and another about why I love Kanye West so much. I’m very passionate about Kanye West and a lot of people just don’t get it. I love him, he’s, great, he’s an artist, he’s got a beautiful mind, so I just want to write this great blog post about why I love him. A lot of people don’t like his album Yeezus, but it was experimental and that’s why I love him. I intend to write about how he gets compared to Jay-Z who’s rich and is super influential and stuff but for the most part stays in his own lane while Kanye’s more willing to push the envelope and deviate.
Professionally I’m ending my internship now, but I have another internship starting up soon with this website called rent the runway which is a website where you can rent designer dresses for like 10% of the cost and then send it back and they take care of the dry cleaning and everything which is really cool. I’m doing social media for them, so I’m excited.
Do you feel like creativity plays a big part in what you’ve done up to this point both professionally, and creatively?
I don’t know. When I think about my biggest accomplishments in school, I was asked to go to Spain with my professor to do research… so I guess that’s kind of creative in a way. We went to Pamplona Spain and we were reading documents from 1619-1621 and they were the real documents written on like parchment, so we were reading them and our eyes itched the whole time and there were old Spanish men everywhere, reading the scrolls trying to figure out their lineage. I also went to a medieval conference at my school like a big nerd, so I guess it’s a big part of me. I spoke at this conference/renaissance fair-renaissance, sounds a little cooler than medieval – which I guess is creative in a way, I don’t really know. It was just like 20 history nerds showed up with their professors and our parents so it was actually kind of lame. It sounds really cool on paper, and it was a really cool experience, but it was pretty lame. I’d totally do it again though.
Do you have any hobbies? Or is it all professional and creative stuff for you?
I don’t really know what my hobbies are. I’m into listening to music and I’m still into singing, not for a choir or anything, just in my car and stuff. I auditioned for an acappella choir at school but I’m terrified of singing in public. I actually did great the first round, because I did two shots before – and the second round I was overconfident, thinking I didn’t need the shots and I got so nervous and bombed. So I didn’t make it.
For my sorority, I’m the Vice President of Communications, so I guess that lines up with doing social media marketing for my internships, but I don’t necessarily love every second of Vice Presidency. I started doing it just because I just wanted to have a leadership position, and that was just an easy way within my sorority. I’m a Pi Beta Phi because the sorority I wanted to be in wasn’t at our school at the time, they got kicked off for hazing years before I got there, but it worked out because they’re all just like me and they’re not one of those head nod fake smile, kind of sorority.
Special thanks to Tracey Johnson for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. From one amateur writer to another, I hope I did a good job conveying just how unique and funny this eclectic Gabrielle Union look-a-like really is. You can find more of her stuff at her blog Tracesofspace.com. Her twitter handle is @traceylala.