Class of 2015, let us give thanks for the patience we have practiced as we prepare ourselves for the deluge of well-meaning-yet-nosy aunts, out of touch high school friends, and prying parents who will ask “What are you going to do after graduation?” The verb “do” has literally never felt more charged since my fifth grade introduction to sex-ed. Is it because we doubt that what we want to do is even possible? Are there people who are passionate about what they do, or is that just the stuff of urban legends?
Barnard alumna Jenna Matecki (BC’11) doesn’t think so. Moreover, her short documentary series, Notes on Doing, focuses on individuals that demonstrate how recreation can transcend occupation. Matecki is the creator, interviewer and editor of the series, which officially launched November 15, 2014. She graciously allowed me to ask her a few questions about NOD, pre-success and pursuing passion.
Introduce yourself! (Where are you from, current job, what year did you graduate from Barnard, what you studied, etc.)
I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I graduated from Barnard College in 2011 with a degree in Political Science (comparative politics), a minor in Italian, and a bunch of oil paintings from visual arts classes. I've lived in New York ever since. I love this city.
For work I'm a strategic communications consultant at the Glover Park Group. At GPG I have the opportunity to work on issues I care about and work with and learn from some incredibly smart and talented people everyday.
After hours I work on an interview series that I started called Notes on Doing. NOD is a series of short documentaries on real people who are passionate about, talented at, and completely original in what they do.
What you were passionate about during your time at Barnard and does it relate to what you are doing now (either with GPG or NOD)?
I have always been passionate about traveling, news, politics, and art. I'm fortunate that I get pieces of each of these things in what I'm doing now.
Was there a particular moment or experience that inspired Notes On Doing?
I've noticed that there are a lot of people who are feel incredibly unfulfilled in their jobs. There's something seriously wrong with this. Life is short.
I'm also a part of an alumnae mentoring program at Barnard and I really wanted to be able to articulate what I wanted to say about the real world in a way that wasn’t just “do what you love and you'll be fulfilled." I wanted to give them proof.
Notes on Doing showcases the real stories of real people that took something they love and made it their work.
What motivated you to turn the idea into a project?
I love following the news and watching great documentaries. I wanted to learn more about the process of interviewing someone and how that develops into a story. I like the idea that a great conversation can last beyond just where it originally took place. So I picked up a bunch of books on interviewing and did some research and found that I wanted to give it a shot.
Over dinner one night I told my boyfriend that I wanted to start an interview series and have it be a legitimate thing. He said "Great. Now go be one of those people that actually does it."
Are there times when working on NOD isn’t fun? How do you push through those periods?
The first thing that comes to mind is editing with Final Cut. I'm still getting used to it. I growl at the computer a lot.
During the frustrating moments I try and remember that this project is bigger than just me now. I wanted Notes on Doing to achieve a certain level of quality and that just isn't possible to do alone. There's so much more to an interview than just asking someone questions. You need people who can shoot, colorists, sound designers. Professionals at these things. And through some magic these people wanted to be a part of Notes on Doing. Every person working on the series so far has been devoting their time, effort, and mad skills because they believe in what we're doing. This means that the second that I start an interview I can’t stop working on it, even if something is frustrating. I can’t just tell these amazing people that I’m "too busy." They weren’t.
And our interview subjects – they give so much of their time to sit and pour their heart and soul out for hours, make their funny faces on camera, and tell it like it is. They trust me enough to then take that, respect their story and try to edit together something good.
I feel indebted to a lot of people for this project. So if there's a not fun moment I'm sticking through it. Luckily the project is so much fun.
Have you discovered any misconceptions while interviewing people for NOD about what success means when following a passion? For instance, I think Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement address encouraged people to pursue their interests and redefine what a successful career path looks like, but still romanticized idea that following your passion will led to a fulfilling career and happiness. Not that these are bad goals by any means, but I’m curious if your work with NOD or personal experience would say no, success isn’t that straight forward, or yes it is but it takes a lot of work, or something in between.
I think success is something you define for yourself, it's not defined by professors, clients, bosses, parents, or friends. That's a bit unnerving because it means being honest with yourself about what you want – which usually results in taking big risks, trying something new or changing things you don't like. It's always easier to just let other people tell you you're doing well or to stay still.
I think it takes a lot of work to be happy with where you're at. I also think it takes a lot of research, exploration, and trial and error moments before you make a big decision or go off in a certain direction. Everyone always romanticizes the "jumping off the cliff moment" but real success comes from all you do and all the things that come together and all those mini realizations that happen before the jump.
It seems rare today that people–especially recent college graduates– have a straight career path. You mentioned that you didn’t either. Did you ever feel like you had to compromise what you wanted to do with what opportunities were available?
Before graduation I was playing around with the idea of going into political/issue-based/communications campaign consulting or, on a completely different wavelength, going into the art industry and working in galleries. I had done internships at a digital advertising agency and an Italian broadcasting company. After graduation I did a bit of freelance work and helped people with small businesses figure out their websites, marketing materials, etc. I also volunteered for curators on art shows. With time and a lot of conversations with people in different fields I started leaning more towards trying to find a way to blend politics and all things digital.
When I found a full-time position as a public affairs consultant two months after graduation I was so excited. From there I've pretty much stayed in the realm of communications except for when I wanted to dive into tech a bit and went over to a tech start up and pitched new business for a year. Now I'm a strategic communications consultant and focus on digital initiatives for our clients at GPG.
I haven't had to compromise but I also don't believe in compromise. Every story starts with either 1) a person goes on a journey or 2) something happens to a person. I think its better and quite frankly way more interesting if your personal story falls into the first camp. Opportunities are something that you make.
What was some of the best, worst and/or funniest advice (on careers, friendships, etc.) you were given when you graduated Barnard?
My senior year I met with a recruiter who told me that if I worked for this one company that "I'd find a good husband." I had a fun time saying no to that one.
Here's the top three:
1. Be human. Everyone else is and if you are you'll connect with people more easily.
2. Always define what winning means to you in whatever situation you are in. One of my mentors told me that and I think it applies a lot to the working world.
3. Be the calm one in an intense situation.
Are there any books, movies or artists you think every college student should be familiar with before they graduate?
Music: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill
Movie: In a World – Lake Bell
Books: The Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
Keep up with Notes on Doing: @notesondoing
Follow Jenna Matecki on Twitter: @jennamatecki