Fueling a Side-Hustle

Nomi Leasure is an Account Manager at New York-based creative agency, Optimist Inc. But her deep passion for writing and empowering women has led her to be the voice of Taylor Magazine’s advice column, among other notable blogs and editorial platforms. She has a fierce desire to see every young girl realize her true potential, become an independent thinker, and take over the world in her own right.

We sat down with her to discuss fueling a creative side-hustle, how relationships feed her work, and what advice she’d give her younger self.

Photos by  @maddytank

Photos by @maddytank

Hi Nomi! Tell us about your day job.

I look at my job as a Project Manager at a creative agency. The end goal of what I work on is normally a live event or experience. My role is client-interfacing—I have to understand from a client/brand what their vision or goal is, and then take that information back to a variety of teams i.e. design, production, fabrication. I then work to distill the client’s goal and vision, give marching orders to internal teams, and collaborate with my coworkers to holistically bring about a brand event or experience. It’s teetering the middle line between client relations and internal project management.

The agency I work at gives a unique opportunity—they let us have a lot of freedom and liberty to chart our own paths. If you have a particular interest or strength in another area, then you’re encouraged to pursue that. I do have creative proclivities, so when I have the opportunity, I sit with and participate in meetings with the creative team and help develop an event identity or concept.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

A lot of emails! I know that doesn’t sound that creative, but I think there’s a lot of creativity required in general communication. Finding interesting ways to communicate basic things is something that can be very valuable. So, a lot of emailing, a lot of organizational stuff like making sure timelines are on track, checking budgets etc., plus taking meetings internally or with clients—basically pushing projects forward. If I’m closer to an actual event, there’s a lot more stress. I’m putting in more hours. It’s like nearing curtains-up on a theatrical production. And once I’m on site there’s a lot more physical work required in terms of literally bringing a space to life. It spans a wide gamut in terms of lulls and desk/email work, to really hands-on production.

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You’re a natural creative. How do you keep your creative juices flowing?

The number one thing I do is read. I read a lot. Lots of different types of things—classics, new books, poetry. I don’t know that I read with the goal of it being creative inspiration, I just read like I eat or drink. It’s something I’ve always done. But what always happens when you’ve read, or as you read, a really great book (especially if you write) is that you feel inspired.

It’s amazing to me that we all have the same words at our disposal, and depending on how you put them together, you can create a world… The exploration that’s at your disposal is fascinating to me.

On a writing course I learnt that good writers have to train themselves to read: you have to digest the information, but also pay attention to how what you’re reading was written. So you read with this double awareness—absorbing the story but at the same time paying attention to how the writer has chosen to put their words together. So, reading is a big one.

Visual art is also important for me. Because I have no visual art skills, to be in front of a painting, multimedia piece, or sculpture, is the exact opposite of reading. I have no conception of how you make it. It’s like a mystical experience. When you find a visual artist you connect with, or who can really tell a story with their medium, you walk away feeling very inspired by what people are able to layer into an image. I think it’s important to put yourself in front of beautiful, awe-inspiring works of art.

Tell us about the other activites/sides hustles which help fulfill your deeper passions.

I write an advice column and I have a blog, which I haven’t given a lot of attention to recently. I love the advice column. It’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done creatively and professionally. I really enjoy it.

Aside from that, sometimes I take Instagram pics for brands, but I’m not really into that. Over the years brands have asked me to wear their things and post a picture. At first I thought it was cool, but then I was like, I’m not good at this, I don’t take good photos, I don’t care enough to actually make it good. Unless it’s a company or a brand that I’m legit into, for example—shameless plug—the shirt I’m wearing is from this brand Shop Allison who offered to send me something. I said yes because I genuinely like their stuff. They’re a local company, a group of young girls doing something cool and interesting, and it will be natural to have a pic in the clothes because I’m actually wearing them.

I’m turned off from so much of that transient influencer thing. The fact that everyone is striving for that seems so wack. I want people to use social media to get something across, like what you guys are doing—social media is the vessel by which you connect to other people and share your message, but it’s not the end goal. We’re not trying to amass likes and followers just for the sake of it.

If you could turn your side hustles into a full-time gig, how would you envision it?

I used to believe that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Find your passion and make that your career. But now I don’t know that that’s right for everyone. It was a freshman in college who changed my perspective on this. A friend’s little sister’s friend. We’re at a party talking about it, and she says: “If my passion becomes my job, will I still be passionate about it?”

If I have to write every single day, with deadlines to meet, turning in multiple pieces, knowing that I’m not just doing this because it’s nourishing my soul, but because this is how I feed myself and my family, I don’t think I’d have the same relationship with it as I do now. Right now, writing is purely a creative outlet, something that feels so amazing to do. It’s this private, special thing I have that’s mine and I can dictate what it is, and do it in my own time. So I’m a bit protective about it! Maybe some of that is the fear of going after what we love, trying to convince myself I don’t want it... Writing for me now is a journaling type of thing rather than a money-making thing. But at the same time that’s what I love to do, so maybe there is a way to bridge the gap.

I would love to write a book. Eventually. Virginia Woolf said you should never publish anything until you’re 30, which is so true. What the fuck do you have to say until you’ve lived a certain amount? We have strong convictions, but when you look back at stuff you’ve written, even journals, you realize you thought you had it all figured out, but you really didn’t. When I read my journals back, I’m so annoyed by myself and what I’m saying—thank god I didn’t try to go and turn it into a book. There’s value in waiting. My master plan is to be this amazing older woman. I want to be like Harper Lee, who published one book when she was 40-something, and it was a masterwork that lived on for the rest of time.

What questions that you’re asked for the advice column do you most enjoy answering?

It’s interesting with the column because I feel like the questions I answer always follow the path of my own life. I like to find the questions that relate to something I’m going through. I like to be able to tie it into something that’s relevant and timely. This also helps me get as much out as writing these responses as I would hope people get from reading them. It’s a self-healing thing too.

At first the questions were all about boys and relationships. This is when I was in college. Basically: “How do I keep a guy into me?” Or: “My boyfriend broke up with me, life is over, how do I get through this?” I don’t know if the readers have gotten older as I’ve gotten older, or if there’s a shift in what women care about (which I think it’s a lot of). Now it’s more: “How do I chart my own path?” “How do I develop unshakeable confidence?” “How do I figure out what I want to do?”

I like to see women being so introspective and putting value on who they are rather than how to achieve a relationship. How do I do this inner work to set myself up for success? I like that the perspective has shifted towards that. The questions I really get into are the questions about friendship. I think those relationships can be just as complicated as romantic or familial ones, and we don’t talk about them as much.

A lot of the time, when a girl writes in talking about a shitty relationship it’s like yeah, that’s shit, leave them. They’re not right for you, you know that. The answer is pretty simple. But with friendships it’s not so simple. It’s not like, oh, well, fuck her. This is a person you’ve been friends with for years and they’re causing you some sort of pain or confusion or frustration. It’s not so easy to untangle, because you shouldn’t just leave your friends by the side of the road. It takes more to figure it out. I think the stakes can be higher and the pay off is bigger when you’re working through friendship issues.

My core best friends have gone through very interesting growth. I’ve known my two best friends essentially as far back as I can remember (one I’ve known since kindergarten, the other since sixth grade). Girls can be really awful to each other—especially in high school—so we have a lot of not-so-pleasant memories together. But, to have two really strong friendships, that you can call upon and that go back years and years, definitely helps inform responses I give to people.

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We’d love to touch on your past relationships and how they’ve affected your creative and professional life. How do you think they’ve shaped you into who you are today?

There’s one relationship I’m going to focus on here. I wrote about it for years, and I continue to. It was a massive source of inspiration, but at the time of writing about that relationship, I wasn’t writing because I needed inspiration, I was writing because I was trying to figure it out, to get through something, or to emotionally understand something. The goal of my writing (I think this should always be the goal) is just to be honest, to live in the moment, and to write as honestly as possible. It’s going to be healing and cathartic for you. And it’s likely going to be interesting for other people too. I don’t think you have to embellish or exploit anything. That particular relationship lasted so long (it started when I was 18 and went well into my 20s), so the beginnings have those intense, profound, young love emotions.

I always wrote. I always kept a journal. I started a blog because my hand would cramp when I was writing in my journal. My ex encouraged me to make my blog public, to put it out into the world. A lot of young people were interested in it and found value or entertainment in it. Looking back, I’m grateful that that person always encouraged my creative pursuits, always believed in them. He was one of my early champions.

Love is an endless well of shit to talk about. When you’re talking about love, you’re also talking about pain. Love doesn’t exist without pain. The differences are just how extreme each end is. In my current relationship there’s love and pain, but the pain is less extreme than that previous one. It’s more of a healthy, consistent thing. My past relationship was filled with extreme adventure, excitement, romance, sexual attraction… But also extreme jealousy, fear, pain, insecurity. When you’re emotionally going through extremes, you’ve got more juice to write about. You’re lifting heavier weight when you’re writing because you’re feeling things that are more extreme. There was a lot of distance in the relationship, and when you’re not spending time with the person, you explore the relationship in different ways i.e. by writing about it. He also did that through his creative outlets—he essentially did the same thing in his own medium.

What is one major lesson you have learned through that previous relationship that made you approach the current one differently?

That honesty and trust are essential. That’s not so sexy or super interesting. I didn’t really care about it much in the past—I thought it was all about being fun, engaging, attractive... Stuff that was good to write about. But trust and honesty are so important. I didn’t have much of that in my previous relationships. After that relationship ended, I swore to myself that in all future relationships I’d be 100% honest, because it’s a burden when you’re not. When you’re not honest about what you’re doing or thinking, it’s shit you have to carry and keep straight. It weighs on you. I don’t have the energy to do that anymore. It takes too much cunning to sustain a relationship where the people aren’t being honest with each other.

The only time I ever lied to my current boyfriend is when he asked me: “When girls use tampons, how do you not pee on the string?” I was just like: “You don’t, you just don’t pee on the string. It isn’t a thing that happens.” I don’t even know why I said that. I didn’t want him to be grossed out, I guess. And later I literally confessed. I said that’s the only lie I’ve ever told you: “You do pee on the string. You can’t avoid it. It happens.”

If there was one legacy you could leave behind in the world, what would it be?

The extreme importance of individuals prioritizing self-reflection. I’d love to leave a legacy where people spend one to three hours a week alone, with no stimuli, just with their thoughts, writing or journaling… I can think of no more important process than being alone and understanding how you feel about yourself and why.

So many of the issues in the world are due to people being unable to sit in a room by themselves. They’re uncomfortable with silence and with themselves. People who are assholes or idiots, like, say Donald Trump… you just know he never kept a journal. Because if he did, as a child, he’d have worked out all this shit that he’s now figuring out with us, the American people, as his tool. You encounter people where you can tell this isn’t about you, this is something that they’re carrying from their past or their psyche. But now they’re your boss/roommate/landlord/President, and you’re working all your internal shit out in this world you’ve been put in. If people could start developing a strong, trusting relationship with themselves at a young age by journaling and self-reflection, we’d be in a different society.

What one piece of advice would you want to give your younger self?

The point of time I’d do things a bit differently would be college. I would tell myself to have faith in my ideas and the things I think are interesting and valuable. There’s many things in high school and college that I thought were interesting but put on the backburner because I thought I had to achieve something else to be successful. If you have a natural interest in something just lean into it, just do it. Don’t worry about what other people think.

What are you not sorry for?

I’m not sorry for not picking up other people’s shit. Not carrying other people’s baggage. This is something I learnt from a Reiki healer in Tulum. We did this whole spiritual cleansing thing, and part of the exercise was about people close to you who emotionally weigh on you. It’s this whole visualization where you imagine each person and you imagine what they’re stuff looks like, and what it would be like if you were to hand them their shit. Thinking of relationships like that has been pretty transformative for me. It has been tough because sometimes the people who hurt us the most are the people who love us the most, or who we love the most. Close relationships are emotionally complicated.

But it’s not my responsibility to help other people with their emotional shit. It sounds callous and cold, but that’s why I have to say I’m not sorry about it. I’m known by my family and friends as someone everyone can tell their problems to, but there’s a difference between listening and taking on their stuff. When you start to not take on people’s stuff, when you previously had, they don’t like that. They don’t like that they’re not having the same emotional effect on you. So all your shit, I’m not taking it. And if that hurts your feelings, I’m not sorry.