Dreams Deferred

Adult ISH hosts Nyge Turner and Dominique French dive into what happens when dreams don’t meet reality. “Stop Waiting for Perfect” author and journalist L’Oreal Thompson Payton brings her wisdom.

Dreams Deferred

In our first episode for Season 10, we expand the phrase - "Plan your work, work your plan" - with advice to keep your options, mind, and heart open. Nyge Turner and Dominique "Dom" French talk about lessons learned from journalist L’Oreal Thompson Payton and her book “Stop Waiting for Perfect.”

Adult ISH is produced by YR Media and brought to you by PRX’s Radiotopia. Be sure to follow all our socials @yrAdultISH!

Episode Transcript


Nyge: Welcome to Adult ISH produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I'm Nyge Turner.

Dom: And, I'm Dominique French.

Nyge: And, welcome to Adult ISH's 10th season!!

Dom: Oh, Adult ISH is growing up! (laughter) I got to say, it has been an honor and a privilege to be able to join you for the last couple of seasons and be a part of these amazing milestones. And to you listening, you have welcomed me with such open arms. You've let us live my personal dream to bring some fun fictional episodes like our Halloween Spooktacular.

Nyge: And, you've trusted us to go deep with major issues that Merk, Davey and I dreamt up at the beginning of this whole show, like the Weed episode last season and our Award-nominated special together about what it means to be Black Enough.

Dom: You’ve even got me and Nyge recognized by the Signal Awards as one of the country's best co-hosting teams in all of podcasting.

Nyge: I am incredibly humbled and grateful for all of the love that you've been showing us, even bringing our youth-inspired, youth-led, youth-produced podcast well past one million downloads. (Dom: One million!!!) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Now, without further ado, let's get back to our first episode of Season 10: Dreams Deferred. 

And the reason that I wanted to get into this show is because there's so many young people just trying to figure out what they're going to do with their life. I mean, not even just younger, quote unquote “young people” but a lot of people just in general are trying to figure that out. And so many people don't talk about that journey. So many people don't talk about all of the rejections, all of the career changes, mind changes, life changes that you go through in that process. So I really wanted to just break that down and talk about that with someone who I really look up to and respect.

L’Oreal: Hi, my name is L'Oreal Thompson Payton, and I'm the author of “Stop Waiting for Perfect: Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Into Your Power.” And I'm also a freelance lifestyle health and wellness journalist, as well as a motivational speaker. I live outside of Chicago with my husband and my two-year-old daughter, and that's me in a nutshell.

Dom L'Oreal is a proud former YR Media staff member who had her perfect life all planned out before she had even left grade school. But she found success living a different life than the one she thought she wanted. And Nyge connected with her to talk about the book she wrote, about the real life lessons she learned along the way.

[YR MUSIC transition]

Nyge: Can you tell me why you wrote your book “Stop Waiting for Perfect”?

L'Oreal Yeah. So I love — there's this Toni Morrison quote where she says, if there's a book that you want to read that hasn't been written yet, you have to write it. And I really took that message to heart. I love self-help books. I've been reading them for years, literally since I was a little girl and like reading “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” and all the other iterations that they had. (Nyge: Oh my gosh.} But, right, like, throwback to Chicken Soup.

Nyge: Nah, I read that book, too. (laughs)

L'Oreal: We all — it’s a coming of age… And that obsession kind of influenced my own writing. What I've done over the years, throughout my time as a journalist and a staff writer at numerous publications and my journaling that I do privately, my newsletter, blog and so forth and so on. And, it’s essentially “Stop Waiting for Perfect” is this collection of those ideas and those life lessons that I've learned over time in switching careers multiple times and letting go of this idea of what I thought my life would look like and realizing that there is no such thing as perfection, right? It’s this lie that's been sold to all of us. And it tells us that once you do this, that and the other, you'll be accomplished, you'll be successful, you'll have everything that you want. But what I find a lot of times, especially with creatives, is that we wait for that perfect moment to feel inspired. We wait until we have all of our ducks in a row to take action on whatever project or goal it is that we have in our mind, whether it is to write our own book or launch a podcast or start a blog, whatever that might be. And so this is that like virtual pocket-sized pep talk to all of the overachievers out there, all of the aspiring and recovering perfectionists — everyone who’s like had a dream, but has convinced themselves that they have to be perfect in order to go for it. This is your permission slip that says, No, you don't. You are perfect as you are, and what you have to bring to the table is enough. And you don't have to overexert yourself to go after your dreams.

Nyge: I love that. I love that so much. I want to rewind and start early in the life of L'Oreal. When you were a little girl in school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

L'Oreal: It's so funny because I write about this in the book. My trifecta, if you will, was a doctor, an astronaut and Janet Jackson's backup dancer. That was the list that I had if anybody asked. And as time goes on, I realize, okay, math and science are probably my worst subjects, right? So that kind of goes — there goes the doctor and astronaut thinking. And I still love dancing to this day, but I've never been formally trained, I've never taken ballet class or anything like that. So that kind of went — the dancing one. But there's a picture of me and my sister and we're super little. I'm maybe three and a half or four, and I have this spiral bound notebook on my lap and a pen in my hand, and I'm writing.

Nyge: Hmm. I think I'm looking for that specific moment when things changed for you. How did you, what were your first steps in becoming a writer?

L'Oreal: Yeah, it was like six years old and I had homework paper at my grandparents house, but it was the summer, so I didn't have any homework and I still wanted to write. I was writing these stories. I wrote a story about dinosaurs in outer space, and the title was “Dinosaurs in Outer Space” and, very creative. And my dad came to pick me and my sister up from my grandparents house, you know, like, “Oh, what did you do that day?” And I showed him my book and I was at the time enrolled in the local reading challenge, the summer reading challenge at the local library. And he was like, “Well, you should add that to your reading list.” And I was like, “No, I'm a kid and I'm not a real writer.” And I'm six like, what do you? That doesn't even make sense to me. But his reasoning and something I couldn't argue with was, “Well, if you wrote the book, then you read the book. So you're a writer, you're an author.”

And that permission to me really encouraged me because I think of how many times, you know, we have adults in our life who discourage our dreams, right? Or tell you, especially when it's the arts, that that's not going to make any money. You can't do that. You need to choose a more financially lucrative career, profession, something that you know is more stable, if you will. But at a very young age, what he instilled with me was that confidence to say like, yes! I'm a writer and this matters, my words matter. And so I got older and I wrote this, like, fake newspaper at my grandparents house and always had adults around me encouraging me, believing in me and showing me that, okay, this is possible. 

There aren't, to my knowledge at least, any other writers or authors, journalists in my family. So I was the first one to do this. So there wasn't a blueprint or a roadmap or someone to look to, to like, show me the way. But they still believed in me. And that was like, so fundamental.

Nyge: You talk about being a perfectionist. You talk about being an overachiever. So I mean, I guess to say it's safe to say that you did feel some pressure about and around figuring out your career. Can you talk about that pressure, how that felt when that sat with you and then how you went about it and how it affected you in finding your career? 

L'Oreal: Yeah. I mean, I'm a planner. I'm the person who has the five, ten, fifteen, twenty year plan, right? And that was very true in high school even. I knew where I wanted to go for college. So backing up to middle school, I had interviewed for this summer camp at Loyola, which would become my alma mater. But it was like Loyola leaders and scholars, and they did a lot of community service. I knew that this is where I want to go to college. Had to reverse engineer. Okay, what high school then is going to help me get to that college and found this college prep school — actually, my dad found it. He worked around the corner from the school and knew about it. And immediately, like as soon as I was on campus, I was like, okay, I want to join the newspaper and then found out that you have to be a junior in order to take journalism classes. So I was a little annoyed, but as soon as I could register, I did because I had the plan, right? I'm going to go to high school, become editor in chief of the student newspaper, go to college and work on the student newspaper, get a ton of internships. I did work at a magazine, a teen magazine for girls — Girls Life magazine — when I was a senior in college. And it took me three times to get that internship. I was rejected twice, but I am like the human embodiment of “nevertheless, she persisted” and was really excited to land the internship, finally. I was doing what I wanted to do, right? I was at a teen magazine. The dream was like, within reach. It was so close. And then the recession happened, so they had offered me a full-time position January of my senior year. And literally I think it was like four weeks before graduation, they rescinded the offer. I graduated into a recession. Thank you, 2008. I felt very discouraged because I have this dream. I followed all the rules, right? Like I did exactly what I was told to do. I got all of the credits. I graduated magna cum laude. I have a really impressive resume, right, for a college graduate. And it still wasn't enough. Which is something I learned growing years after that, how white privilege exists in the world. Right? Because I had colleagues, we graduated into the same recession and had the same classes and worked on the same projects. But I saw some of my colleagues getting opportunities that I didn't because I didn't know the right people. I didn't know people who worked in the publishing industry, who worked at magazines. And so it was real grassroots bootstrapping, like whatever you want to call it, too, like to finagle my way into media and my first was a reporter position at my hometown newspaper. Not glamorous at all. 

And a couple of years after that, I segued into the magazine division which was writing like home and gardening sort of stuff. But it was before, you know, I was really that into HGTV. And so I was blogging on the side, started freelancing on the side, putting the “free” in freelancing, which I (Nyge: Oh no…) do not recommend to any of my mentees or people listening to that now. But that was then and I needed the exposure. I wanted to write about stories I cared about, and that often centered around Black women and girls. So I had the day job that paid the bills, helped me pay off my student loans because I was still living at home at the time because I couldn't afford to move out. But on the side, I was starting to explore more of the stories that mattered to me. And that's kind of how I forged my lane as the freelance writer and author that I am now.


Nyge: So you had all of this pressure, you had all of these expectations. Life happened. Kind of threw you for a loop, and then you rallied and still were able to pursue your dream. But, you still had other dreams, other thoughts, other ideas, other visions for your future. I wonder, do you still miss those dreams? Does your mind still visit those places? And, how have you come to terms and how are you working towards finding peace with that to this day?

L'Oreal: I'm still making peace with it to this day is the honest answer, especially I remember in 2016, because I had left journalism for a period of time after working at JET [Magazine] and covering sort of the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. I didn't know what I know now about therapy and wellness and self-care, and so I was really burnt out covering these back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back murders in such a fast-paced environment because, you know, it was the same story, essentially, but a different name or a different city. And I didn't take the time to process that, right? I was just going through the motions and I became numb. I was burnt out and I realized, like, this is not why I got into journalism. Like I want to help women and girls. And so how can I do that without, you know, the detriment to myself? And it was honestly shout-out to Pedro, creative chief director [Chief Creative Officer of YR Media]. I forget what his official title is now because it’s so fancy.

Nyge All of the above.

L'Oreal: So much fancier there from where we started back in the day. But he shared this wisdom with me and he said, you know, the method can change, but the mission stays the same. And so my mission has always been helping women and girls through my storytelling. And how that has looked has evolved throughout the years. It was journalism at first. I took about a five year hiatus and I was doing nonprofit PR and communications, first at a nonprofit for girls, then at an education nonprofit. I've done volunteering, I've done mentoring. I took some time away and did freelance writing, and I went back into a newsroom environment, and now I'm back into full-time freelancing again. And what he shared with me helped me realize, like, okay, this isn't linear. This, you know, life is not linear, success is not linear, and our careers certainly aren't linear. And you can take time to pause, to pivot, to figure out what is best going to serve me in this season, right? And I have done that multiple times. But going back to 2016 and I’d just left full time journalism. I'm in nonprofit PR and I see Elaine Welteroth now as editor in chief of Teen Vogue, and I'm like – crap! Like if I had stayed the course, then could that have been me? Could I have been editor in chief of Teen Vogue if I didn't take this time away to pursue nonprofit PR, if I had stayed the course right? But if I had stayed the course, then what would that have looked like? Because I was still burnt out. I was still suffering, like mentally, you know, health wise and everything like that. So would it have been worth it, you know, knowing all that it would cost me? And I still think about that to this day, right? Especially like Teen Vogue is putting out some really great journalism. And I'm like, where was this when I was a teen? So there is part of that. And I've also like, I'm 35, you know, like I'm not a spring chicken as my mom would say. I'm definitely not a teenager. I'm not even close to it anymore. And so maybe now the dream doesn't look like editor-in-chief of a teen magazine. But stepping into my purpose as an author, as someone who does a lot of speaking engagements and workshops with young people and talking to them, who does these different freelance articles and things like that, like the mission is the same. And I think it always will be. 

Nyge: You gave such a beautiful answer to this. And so excuse me for pushing even further on it, but I'm really curious what does the work of mourning those ideas, plans, dreams look like? And what is the work of making peace with that look like for you?

L'Oreal: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of jealousy still. I'm not going to lie and sit here and act like I'm super evolved and I'm beyond that, which has helped me really in therapy, doing a lot of that inner work. I look at the feelings wheel and I reference it before every session, right when my therapist asked me, Well, how are you feeling? What's kind of going on? I literally have this chart of a wheel, and I don't know exactly how many emotions are on there. It's like these six core ones, and then it builds out from there. So there's like, there's jealousy, there's anxiety even still, right? Like, I've checked a lot off of my list of what I wanted to do in the world, like become a published author and I'll go on Twitter or X or whatever we’re supposed to call it these days. (laughs) (Nyge: Twitter (laughs)). Right! And see, someone got a seven figure book deal, And I'm like, That's amazing. And I want that. And there's like, I don't even know, say, a nanosecond, maybe a few minutes where I'm just like, Oh, damn it. I want that for myself. So that's some of the grief work, too is being honest with yourself about your feelings. I think there is sometimes a lot of shame and taboo that can come with admitting that we are maybe jealous of someone else's work because we're all supposed to be rooting for each other 100% of the time. And I saw this card that so eloquently summed up how I was feeling toward a friend who published her book before me, and I was like, I am 97% happy for you and 3% jealous. (laughs) And that's real. That is real life, and there's nothing wrong with that. 

So I think getting honest with myself first, figuring out what my feelings are. I'm an Enneagram Three Achiever through and through. Like feelings get in the way sometimes, right? Of the work that I'm trying to do. Feelings are inconvenient to feel truly and deeply requires you to get still and get honest with yourself. So that is part of the work. And then like giving yourself permission to feel those feelings. I think sometimes, especially in our society, we're in this rush to brush past, to get on to the next thing and move on without really taking time to meditate on that and allow ourselves that grief, right? 

Like the dream back then was editor in chief of a teen magazine or bust. I wasn't even thinking about being a speaker, an author, and now it's like, Oh, look at what you have manifested, what you've worked toward and how this has all come about. And there is beauty in that as well of letting go. Because I think too, if you hold on so tightly about like, what you want to happen and try to “make fetch happen,” which - shout out to my Mean Girl fans out there - you can miss other opportunities that are meant for you. And I think about that a lot – what my mom told me when I was really young, you know like, “what's meant for you won't miss you.” And so it wasn't necessarily meant for me to be editor in chief of Teen Vogue back in 2016. And there have been so many other beautiful things that have happened in my life since then that were part of my journey, right? Like you can't get distracted by what other people are doing and let that jealousy eat at you like it's great for them and that they've had that success. And that's amazing. And you have something that is worthy of your wonderful, beautiful life as well. And there's beauty in that too. It may not look like this other person and it may not look like what you thought it would, but it's still yours. And so, like - there is, there's you know - we have to honor that, too.

Nyge: Yeah. Thank you for being so, like, open and honest about all of that. Like.

L'Oreal: That's the only way I know!. That's the only way I know.

Nyge: For me personally, like, I've only been in a few different conversations, interviews, work meetings with you, but like, every time I see you and I'm around you, like everything is together. Like the plan, the mission, all of that. Everything seems so clear. Like, looking like I definitely, like, look up to someone, a creator like yourself. And so it's really nice and refreshing to hear that. Like, you have those same feelings and stuff too, where it's like I’m still figuring it out.

L'Oreal: Oh my gosh, yeah.

Nyge: So, I really appreciate you just being so, so honest.

L'Oreal: And, we're all figuring out. Like anyone who says they have it all together is a liar. And you can make, like, tell whatever story you want on social media. And I think that's where some of us, especially as creatives, can get in trouble because we're comparing our behind the scenes and we know our own mess, right? But when you're looking at someone else's highlight reel that has been Photoshopped, face-tuned, you know, like, very much curated. And it can make you feel like, ‘Okay, well, what am I doing wrong? What am I missing?’ And you don't know all of the work, the literal like blood, sweat, and tears that has gone into the success that seemingly is overnight, right? That someone else has. And so that's why I'm very transparent about the journey, because I know how it can look on social media, right? That, ‘Oh, I have it all together.’ And it's like the furthest from the truth, literally, like figuring it out every single day. And that is again, but it's about progress, not perfection. And we slip and we fall and we get up and we try again because that's all we can do.

Nyge: It's cliche, but the conversation is leading us here. If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were trying to plan out your career when you were younger, when you were starting off or whatever stage you want to go back to and tell yourself anything, what would it be?

L'Oreal: Girl, relax. Have a seat. A stadium full of seats. Because it's really not that deep. Right? Like, you can have the plan and you can follow it to a t and like force it to manifest. And there are these pit stops and other things along the way. Like, for example, Chicago was never part of my plan. It was New York or bust, because that's where all the magazines were. So in Baltimore, start dating this guy and he moves to Chicago and I'm like, Okay, that's fine. Long distance, whatever. And then move here because I'm thinking, Okay, like two years tops and we’ll move to New York. And like, it was a way, a means to an end, right? Chicago, a much bigger market than Baltimore. And it's going to help me get to New York and ten years later, still here, right? Got married, had a baby, bought a condo, and like, you know, I'm here. And that was never part of the plan. And if I were so rigid in sticking to what I thought I wanted and what was best for me and everything like that, I could have missed a lot of life along the way. 

And so that's my encouragement to everyone listening, to my 16 year old, even 26 year old self, like, yes, you can make intentions for sure. I'm all about, you know, like setting goals and going after them. And allow life to happen, allow life to surprise you, to come up with some really incredible things that you couldn't even have thought of when you were putting together your five year, ten year plan and everything like that. So, yes, have the goals, shoot for the stars, but leave some space. Leave some light space to allow life to surprise you in some really wonderful ways.

Nyge: Do you have anything else that you want to say about the journey of finding your career, pressure you felt or people who might be feeling the same thing?

L'Oreal: Yeah. Not to be afraid to take a chance, right? I remember reading Sheryl Sandberg's “Lean In” back in 2013, and I know it's a little controversial now and is very, you know, like White Girlboss and everything like that. But something that she talked about in the book really resonated with me because especially in media, there was the masthead, right? And you want to climb that ladder and get to the top, be the executive editor, the big boss, right? Because that's where you can make all the change. And she talked about approaching your career in more of this jungle gym kind of mentality. So instead of always shooting for this upward trajectory, maybe stepping over here and climbing on that spot and moving around the jungle gym to figure out what's working and what's not working for you. And that really gave me some permission because especially in journalism, it's like, up, up, up, up, up. And that's the only way, right? You have to keep striving for the top. 

And in recent years, as recently as last year I believe, actually I was kind of having this come to Jesus moment where I was like, I don't even know if that's really what I want anymore, right?

And I think once I made permission with myself, especially because our industry is like, you know, that's where you make the money too, right? Editors make the big bucks. And so that was also kind of that driving force. But then I had to think about, well, what makes me happy? What is my superpower? Where does that strength lie? And I was like, It's in writing and it always has been. And so I just need to be true to that. And the money will come, the opportunities will come, but I don't have to be the one in charge. I don't have to be the big boss in order to implement change like writing, as it is and on itself like, is enough. And it sounds very woo woo. And there's a lot of, I feel like, truth to that as well once you stop trying to, “make fetch happen.” Personally and professionally.

Nyge: I love that. Thank you so much for all of this, L’Oreal. You are amazing, as usual, as expected.

Thanks to author and journalist L'Oreal Thompson Payton for sharing wisdom from her own experiences and her recent book, “Stop Waiting for Perfect.” You can find her website and all her socials @LTintheCity.

Dom: So this episode made me wonder if I've ever told you the story Nyge of me auditioning for professionals in the acting field at Northwestern.

Nyge: No. You’ve never told me this story.

Dom: Well, I had a perfect little life that I thought I was going to live as an actor in New York. And I did this thing called Showcase, which I had wanted to do since I was a freshman. I set this goal and I was like, “This is going to be my life.” I'm going to audition in front of all of these industry folks, and then I'm going to have an acting career and live in New York and be a big star or whatever. But I got there, and despite all of the preparation that I had done, I sort of choked. I didn't do what I thought the perfect version of me was going to be able to do in that moment, in that time, in front of all those people. And it completely changed my life path. I realized I couldn't maybe pursue this perfect ideal of the thin young actress that was going to defy all racial stereotypes and get cast in everything. And so I had to find a different path that blended together my love of people and my want to talk and have people listen. And that ended up being podcasting. So listening to all of your conversations with L'Oreal really made me feel thankful that I allowed myself to be open to that path because I truly love what I do.

Nyge: Well, I'm glad you allowed yourself to be open as well, or else we would not have this show right now. But nah, like, I definitely feel what you're saying, like, it’s hard. Life planning is so overrated. Highly don’t recommend it, at all. Because it's, it's just — plans don't work out. And even if they do work out, like a lot of times they don't work out the way that you thought that they would. And it is just so much pressure. It's so much pain letting go of certain dreams, certain paths in life for yourself. And it's really I don't think it's really not how we're taught. Like we're taught to have this plan and then work your plan. You know, plan your work, work your plan. And that's really just not how life goes. It's good to have something — to be doing something. But just, I'd say my little bit of advice is just to keep your options and keep your mind and your heart open. Because as you grow, like, allow yourself to change, allow yourself to want different things and allow yourself to be shaped and moved by the life and the path that you do go down. And then, that's how you take that pressure off and still find your way to doing what you want and what you love.

Dom: And forgive yourself. You're not perfect. And that's cool. (laughs) (Nyge: Yeah.) But that doesn't mean you can't find a path that makes you happy.

Nyge: I couldn't agree more. 

Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network for young artists and journalists creating content for this generation. Our show is produced by shaylyn martos, Dominique French, and by me, ya boy Nyge Turner. 

Our engineer is James Riley, and our audio engineer fellow is Christian Romo.

Dom: YR’s podcasting director and EP is Sam Choo.

Nyge: YR’s senior director of podcasting and partnerships is Rebecca Martin.

Dom: Our interns are Menelik Ransom and Jalen Black. 

Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR: 

Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza and David Lawrence. 

Music Direction by Oliver Kuya Rodriguez and Maya Drexler.

Nyge: Art for this episode was produced by the youth co-led design team at YR Media.

Creative Direction by Pedro Vega Jr. Design by Marjerrie Masicat and Brigido Bautista.

Dom: Project Management by Eli Arbreton.

Nyge: Special thanks to Jazmyn Burton, Shavonne Graham, Danielle Conley, Kathy Chaney and Kyra Kyles.

Dom: Adult ISH is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, a network of independent creator-owned, listener-supported podcasts. Discover audio with vision at Radiotopia.fm.

Nyge: And if you haven't reviewed our show on Apple podcasts, please be sure to do so. Five stars is much appreciated.

Dom: You can follow us on all the socials @YRadultish and on that note, we'll see you next time.

Nyge Later!

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