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Meg Donohue profile picture
Original photo by Paige Ganim
Career > Her20s

Meg Donohue: The Intriguing Tale of a Precocious Novice

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

Meg Donohue is not what you might expect. 

At only 24 years old, she started her current position as the associate fashion commerce editor at one of the most prestigious fashion magazines, Elle. It was a level of lightning success that could easily lead to brazen hubris and aloofness, especially in an industry with a reputation of being flooded with divas. But as Donohue, now 26, plops down into a wooden chair at the cozy Dot’s Cafe on 52nd Street with a disarming smile and a Starface pimple patch on her chin, she begins to subvert any entrenched stereotypes about her.

It is a rare, sunny 70-degree April day in Manhattan–a much-needed respite from the deluge of rain the city has faced. The bright neon orange booths and walls at Dot’s are fitting, given the approachable charm effortlessly exhibited by Donohue, who may or may not be carrying one or two miniature bottles of chocolate milk – one of her favorite treats – in her purse. She wears a Banana Republic linen polo, black tailored pants, a whimsical charm necklace and a pair of chunky black sunglasses perched on her head. 

“Self-deprecation is always good,” Donohue says right off the bat. She’s specifically referring to her method when conducting interviews, but Donohue is remarkably self-effacing all around.

She has a slew of vast accomplishments under her belt that would presumably cement confidence in her talents and potential. Since graduating from the University of Missouri-Colombia in 2020, she has written over a hundred articles for leading publications, from Town & Country to Elle. She has interviewed prominent cultural figures, including Paris Hilton, Drew Barrymore and Cardi B. She has attended fashion shows for brands like Tory Burch. She has traveled to destinations like Rome to review ready-to-wear collections. And she has her own column, Same Same But Different at Elle, where she piles together the best products based on the month’s focus trend or theme.

And yet, Donohue is grossly disillusioned by her impressiveness, especially having internalized the “no pain, no gain” lifestyle. Fictional heroines like Tiana in Princess and the Frog battled literal demons before achieving her dream of opening a restaurant, while historical figures like Malala overcame an assassination attempt before receiving the Nobel Prize.  

It’s true that her path to prosperity wasn’t pervaded with the same hardships as other icons of success. After almost a year-long period of unemployment following her college graduation, she landed an editorial fellowship at the lifestyle magazine Town & Country–a position that opened a myriad of doors. Shortly after working her way up to become a contributor for the outlet, Donohue’s manager at Town & Country suggested she apply for her current position at Elle.

“I wish it felt more monumental than it does,” Donohue says, munching on a turkey sandwich. “But I just didn’t have to kill anyone to get the job.”

However, Donohue’s journalistic aptitude spoke for itself. 

“Her voice is just so versatile that she really can do any genre, which I think is very hard,” says Bianca Rodriguez, the fashion and luxury commerce manager at Hearst magazines and Donohue’s peer at the University of Missouri-Columbia who recommended Donohue for her role at Elle.  

Still, she doesn’t see herself as being specially chosen to help represent one of the go-to sources for women seeking purpose, as the oversaturated and competitive nature of the industry she landed in intensified her imposter syndrome. 

“I think when you’re [in] an industry where everyone writes, it doesn’t feel special that you can write,” Donohue says with vulnerability. “I think when you’re insulated by it, you don’t feel like you’re particularly good at it because there are other people that are better than you. Especially being in the fashion space and going to events and talking to celebrities, I’m like, ‘Who’s letting me do this?!’”

Donohue purposely undervalues her work to circumvent seeming self-important. She laments that praising her work would endorse her faith in herself. 

“That feels embarrassing somehow, which is so backwards,” she remarks. 

Her glaring humbleness is reinforced by her complex relationship with being a writer, especially because the profession was never her innate calling in the first place. 
“I didn’t know what else to do,” Donohue says. “People would be like, ‘Oh, well, you’re so good at writing. That’s what you should do.’ And I didn’t know any better.”

Famous writers throughout history – from Maya Angelou to Taylor Swift – have described the art of using one’s life as a way to process what is happening in the world – a “protective armor.” But for Donohue, writing is no lifeline. While she enjoys making other people’s stories shine, she freezes when there’s a black page in front of her. 

“I don’t feel creatively fulfilled by writing,” she says. “It makes me nervous. I do it for my job…To be honest with you, my mind has been broken by the machine that is having a job and the mechanics of it.” She says that the need to constantly generate stories and conjure fresh ideas subdues the gratification of her craft. 

However, Donohue’s intrusive thoughts about her unfledged abilities and lack of purpose and self-adequacy are strikingly normal, especially in the context of her age. Despite her early success, she is just a 26-year-old human battling insecurities and stress.

Rodriguez, who is 27, shares Donohue’s anxieties about whether she is on the “right path” and pursuing what she is “meant to” do. “Especially at that age, I think the growth process [for journalism] can be a little bit slow compared to other fields,” Rodriguez says. “It does feel like the whole quarter life crisis.”

What makes Donohue a rare gem, nevertheless, is her choice to embrace the unknown rather than cower in fear and toil through her pessimism in order to grow. 

Donohue’s drive to hone her craft is the hallmark that distinguishes her from her peers, says Rodriguez. While most people who get their “dream” job cease any effort to increase their expertise, Donohue “has that sense of self-awareness and knows that there’s never not a time to improve and learn.” 

She’s working to sharpen her interviewing skills, insisting she gets anxious and talks too much when she asks questions. Most importantly, she is trying to better appreciate each finished product before moving onto the next story. With a glimmer in her eye, she says she is still “figuring it out.” Figuring out how to be a stronger journalist, figuring out how to engage in self-satisfaction from her work and figuring out her exact role – in her professional life and the world. 

“The people who are newer to the industry haven’t quite found their place,” she says. I think that’s where I am.”

Donohue is an anomaly. Not just because of her early success, but her earnest underestimation of her power and transparent optimism to keep trying, failing and growing in the great abyss of navigating her 20s. She is riddled with insecurities about being a little fish in a big pond and graciously trying to do everything to keep blossoming and prove herself. What she creates in the process, regardless of what lies at the end of the rainbow, will be prismatic. It already is.

Paige Ganim is a writer at the Her Campus at the New York University chapter. She is currently at junior who is majoring in Journalism and Sociology. Beyond Her Campus, Paige writes for NYU's fashion sustainability magazine, FFZine. She interned at Trill Mag from March to September 2023 where she wrote for the beauty, wellness, lifestyle, and culture sections and edited the lifestyle section. In her free time, Paige enjoys doing Pilates, drinking matcha, and reading rom-coms. She is passionate about writing stories about fashion, beauty, culture, and gender equality. She is obsessed with Taylor Swift and is the biggest "Out of the Woods" stan. She also loves re-watching Gossip Girl and wishes she was Blair Waldorf.