As the pandemic summer of 2020 was moving to an end, from the outside, the building of my professional home looked to be on track. However, if you moved in closer and peered in the gaps between the blinds of a window of that home, you would see chaos and confusion brewing inside. Clarity came when I was teamed with the right mentor.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING
In July of 2020, the same month it was publicly announced that I was selected to be a fellow in the second cohort of the Gwen Ifill Mentorship Program with the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), I was promoted to a multi-platform anchor position at the television station I spent nearly seven years serving as the morning traffic reporter. My new responsibilities encompassed not only reporting traffic but also anchoring our early morning newscast, producing and anchoring news updates for our social media platforms and reporting and producing enterprise stories. On the outside, the professional home I built looked pristine and put together, but the inside was a mess.
Mentally, I struggled. I had no idea how I was going to successfully manage all of these new responsibilities or how my supervisors would measure that success. For years I hesitated to clearly articulate my professional goals because I feared those in positions of power would write them off as too ambitious or unattainable.
In August, IWMF paired me with network anchor and reporter Linsey Davis. She would be my mentor for the program. I invited her into my professional home and here are the three ways she elevated the space I occupied.
One of Linsey’s first questions to me was “where did I want to be in five years?” My answer was all over the place. It included management, not reporting traffic, anchoring, reporting and being a good wife and mother to my husband and two children (the latter would be teenagers in five year). As I spoke, I realized if I could not clearly and concisely answer this basic question, I was in trouble.
As tidying expert Marie Kondo would help her clients declutter and organize their home, Linsey began to probe, encourage, and challenge me as we began to declutter and organize they way I thought about my career. She encouraged me to focus simply on what I wanted next. I learned what I truly desired for my next professional season was to move into a position that allowed me to focus solely on being an anchor and storyteller in a city where my family could thrive. From that moment, I gained the confidence to clearly articulate my goal without fear of judgement.
WORKING FOR THE NEXT LEVEL
With a goal set, Linsey began to give me the essential décor to fill my professional home. She reviewed my work, challenging me to take my writing to the next level.
“Words have meaning,” she drilled into me.
Linsey refused to accept scripts with writing full of what she called “empty calories.” She wanted every word to be meaty, powerful, and thoughtful, bringing the audience into stories in a deeper way.
In February I produced a piece on racial healing with Linsey’s guidance echoing in my mind. One of the managers critiquing the newscast in which the story aired summed up her thoughts on my work with these words, “Danielle Wiggins: Really powerful writing and editing. Great storytelling, Danielle in this ‘Power of Healing’ piece. This really impacted me.”
My manager’s words became a testament to the impact Linsey was having on elevating the environment of my professional home.
What’s the use of living in a home that is not authentically you; a home where you don’t feel comfortable being yourself? Inviting my mentor into my professional dwelling showed me that occupying an environment not true to who you are drains instead of promotes vibrant life.
Before meeting Linsey, I spent years in voice coaching trying to erase any presence of my cultural dialect. Although I did need to refine my speech so the audience could clearly understand and comprehend what I was communicating, Linsey showed me that I should not erase who I am in the process. In her review of my on-air presentation, she noted that when I would simply be myself, that’s when she connected most with me as a viewer.
Over the last few months, Linsey has consistently invited me to be an authentic communicator instead of a perfect anchor. In other words, it’s an invitation to create and live in my own home instead of mentally taking up residence in someone else’s model house.
Eight months after being teamed with the right mentor as a Gwen Ifill Fellow, I’m learning how to impact the environment within my professional home in ways that will produce clarity so I can fill that home with items sparking joy. Yes, that’s another Marie Kondo reference.
Clarifying my goals and articulating them well, always striving to elevate my work to the next level while authentically being me are the gifts Linsey left me as my mentor so that I may become more comfortable occupying the space that is mine.
Danielle Wiggins is a multi-platform anchor at WKYC Studios, the NBC affiliate in Cleveland, Ohio.