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Christine Morrison: “Despite earning a Journalism degree, I had never written professionally”

Despite earning a Journalism degree, I had never written professionally. As I loved to write and longed to be more creative, I wanted to pivot into freelance writing — ideally crafting copy for fashion and beauty brands, as well as contributing editorial to magazines. Between the death of print and lack of a portfolio, it was a […]

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Despite earning a Journalism degree, I had never written professionally. As I loved to write and longed to be more creative, I wanted to pivot into freelance writing — ideally crafting copy for fashion and beauty brands, as well as contributing editorial to magazines. Between the death of print and lack of a portfolio, it was a slow start. Then, thanks to the proliferation of the personal essay, my first published piece ran in The Boston Globe’s “Coupling” column.


Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Morrison.

Christine Morrison is a fashion, beauty, wellness, and fitness writer. She has contributed to The Boston Globe, Elysian Magazine, The Fine Line, The Fold, and KDHamptons among others. Her first book, a fashion memoir featuring essays about coming of age and finding her authentic self as told through the lens of what she wore, is currently in development.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born in Baltimore, Maryland in the heyday of preppy. My mother was a fashion-forward secretary whose style I admired — her Jackie O. headscarves were a thing of beauty, and unique among the popped collars and Lilly Pulitzer. As an avid reader, she also heavily influenced my love of reading and took me on frequent trips to the public library. I was hooked on Judy Blume and Nancy Drew. My father, an insurance salesman, was quick with a joke and inventive; I was the envy of my sisters when he painted a black chalkboard wall in my bedroom. I did not decide to attend Journalism School until a decade later, but I believe my writing journey began in that room. While initially used for Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 lists, the chalkboard eventually captured my school outfit ideas and haikus.

My parents were unconditionally loving, always supporting our dreams — While my oldest sister swam year-round at NBAC (where Phelps trained decades later) until she had to decide between college and Olympics, I expressed my creativity through dance classes and, once older, was chauffeured to jobs and internships throughout the city. Given my family’s commitment to winning in the water and ambitious educational goals, I was raised with an indomitable spirit to believe I could fulfill any — and all — of my dreams.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I vacillate between two: “Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you want to say” and “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” In both cases, the emphasis is on knowing yourself, and being authentic — This took time as I matured slowly, but without these mantras, I would not have had the courage to start over in new cities, pivot my profession, and take on new (and more service-oriented) roles outside of my career from Boy Scout Leader to Sunday School teacher. As a writer, knowing yourself is essential to finding your voice; As a mother and wife, there is nothing better than living your truth to share yourself fully with others.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Determination

I believe determination is the root of my success. While I have always worked hard, pivoting to freelance writing cemented the need for even greater perseverance. I have found it invaluable to: 1. Consistently do the hard work (For instance, I took evening writing classes at Parsons and NYU while working full-time), 2. Establish a plan yet not let ego get in the way when facing the inevitable rejections (I reflect on “rejection is redirection” every time I get turned down), and 3. Believe it can happen, even if it doesn’t meet a self-imposed timeline.

Creativity

There are so many ways to express creativity — For me, it has run the gamut from writing and performing skits for my family as a child to creating an organizing company called “Living Room” to help friends (and post 9/11, colleagues) who sought comfort in order. When I shifted to freelance, I taught myself how to design my own website, which provided another enjoyable opportunity for self-expression.

Enthusiasm

A positive outlook is essential for me to remain motivated and confident, even when there are the inevitable obstacles and rejections. When interviewing at Calvin Klein, I was asked to return thrice for an interview, as my new boss had an erratic schedule. Rather than see this as a slight, I returned each day with even more enthusiasm, ready to impress her.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

Following graduation from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Journalism School, I moved to Chicago to pursue an advertising career. Given the recession (it was 1991), and shortage of jobs, I answered phones at a mid-size ad agency hoping to ultimately be hired. I wasn’t, nor was I deterred. I moved onto a recruitment agency (creating help want ads), before persistence paid off — and I was hired at Leo Burnett. While at Burnett, working on legendary brands like United Airlines and Marlboro, I learned everything about Account Management and was exposed to brilliant creatives. I left several years later for a fantastic promotion at J. Walter Thompson, but my desire to move to NYC — and work in the fashion and beauty businesses — had intensified. I was hired by Saatchi & Saatchi who not only moved me to New York but ultimately gave me a foothold into beauty working on the Olay account. That confidence emboldened me to get into fashion, and I was hired as the Vice President of Marketing at Calvin Klein, Inc. a few years later.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

Despite earning a Journalism degree, I had never written professionally. As I loved to write and longed to be more creative, I wanted to pivot into freelance writing — ideally crafting copy for fashion and beauty brands, as well as contributing editorial to magazines. Between the death of print and lack of a portfolio, it was a slow start. Then, thanks to the proliferation of the personal essay, my first published piece ran in The Boston Globe’s “Coupling” column.

I initially relied on fashion contacts for small copywriting projects — first for Calvin Klein, then as former colleagues moved to new jobs, French Connection and Juicy Couture. Being incredibly resourceful helped me break in as well. I wrote for free (or a pittance) for a film site, a fragrance blog, and a new Hamptons lifestyle site. I grew as a writer, learning how to craft and edit pieces, as well as interview subjects.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

I got engaged to an Investment Banker as the 2008 market crash began. When he had to move to Boston, I accompanied him — I did not want to start a marriage in two different cities. Leaving my NYC job helped force my hand at freelance and writing.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

When working on queries, I tapped into things I loved, that I felt would be interesting to readers. I had not realized, until then, that being an early adopter of products, consummate fashion magazine reader for decades, and a wellness devotee was going to give me all the material I needed to pitch stories.

As I found my stride, I identified a new online magazine (the now defunct “The Fine Line”) geared toward women over 40. Their goal was to break the mold with pieces about cutting-edge wellness, fashion, and beauty. It was the ideal platform for my work, and thanks to a growing portfolio also led to additional writing.

The irony is that I did not need to do much to manifest for this dream to become a reality. Everything I needed was already within me; I believed I could do it and had been preparing for this moment for years. The key had been to set realistic goals and be true to myself.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

When asked what I do, I now confidently say “I am a writer.” This is, in part, a result of now being approached to write stories such as two features for the 2019 Fall Issue of Elysian Magazine: One about the iconic model/entrepreneur Iman; the second, an article for which I interviewed the visionary sustainable fashion company Rêve En Vert.

Two years of consistently writing about fashion, beauty and wellness for “The Fine Line” led to offers from new sites. Without pitching, I was given assignments for well-researched pieces that expanded further into fitness, nutrition, and hormones.

My greatest challenge to date began in early 2020 as I began writing my fashion memoir, a book of essays about coming of age and finding my authentic self as told through the lens of what I wore. It’s funny and poignant, just the levity (and fun fashion stories) I believe women are seeking. I had been toying with this concept for nearly fifteen years; finally having the confidence to make this happen coincided with signs that it was time — Freelance budgets had evaporated (due to the pandemic) and I kept hearing about a book agent’s class. I decided to take the dynamic 8-week course with Paper Overboard, which was just the turning point for me as a budding author; I am planning to begin pitching book agents this spring.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

While my stylish mother sparked my fashion and reading interests at an early age — and has been my editor on everything from a 3rd grade essay to chapters in my upcoming memoir — it is my husband that I need to thank for the courage to turn the page and enter into this Second Chapter. While discussing our options about moving to Boston, my ever-supportive spouse said with genuine enthusiasm, “Now you get to be a writer!”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I was thrilled to publish my first piece in The Boston Globe “Coupling” column. The best personal essays expose vulnerability, and this piece about prenuptial agreements was no different, but I was not prepared for the overwhelming backlash of comments. Rants calling me a “Gold digger” and an “opportunist,” along with snide remarks about our marriage, stung. But I knew the truth. And, more importantly, saw that those critics had missed the point of the piece entirely; It was not about a prenuptial agreement, but rather a love story. The best part is that I still drink coffee with my adorable husband twelve years later from the Au Bon Pain mug the company sent in a gift basket after my article appeared.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Initially, I felt I should not turn down work. When I received a call from a Brooklyn indie beer company who wanted a tagline, I should have taken pause — I have never written a tagline; Beer is not in my wheelhouse (as a drinker or a marketer). Instead, I dove into the assignment. Rounds and Rounds — encompassing hundreds and hundreds — of creative taglines were presented over the course of months, but instead of getting closer to a concept, my taglines only encouraged the team to frequently change creative direction. I questioned my capabilities when they opted to write a tagline themselves. In hindsight, I realized our collaboration had inspired them to forge ideas not previously considered; I needed to let go of my ego for not having authored the tagline.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

Having grown up feeling fully supported, which was further solidified in my marriage, I was less nervous about being successful and more concerned I would not get the opportunity to show my capabilities. I shared my intentions with a few close friends, many of whom were also my colleagues from Calvin Klein. Having been encouraged by these well-wishers — who gave me a small assignment for Calvin Klein, and then recommended me to other fashion brands for copy development — was the greatest gift I could have received. My former Calvin Klein boss, Ellen Rodriguez, continues to shepherd my writing career today, having just recommended me, yet again, for a luxury brand writing assignment.

While surrounded by support, freelance writing can be isolating and require you to often lean on yourself. I always remember that Maya Angelou said, “I got my own back.”

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

I had to take a leap of faith. While I was pursuing categories that were my passion, and had been marketing for over a decade, I had never been so vulnerable; writing leaves you incredibly exposed. Two assignments — one, to create a brand book for a well-established, whimsical fashion label; the second, to create a brand identity for a celebrity makeup artist seeking capital to start his own line — were beyond my scope but I did not let fear disrupt the momentum. I asked myself, “What if I never get another chance to show what I can do?” While neither came to fruition, I felt confident to say yes when asked the next time.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Replace Fear with Excitement

We cannot grow without new challenges but fears inevitably accompany the unknown. Rather than looking at fear as a bad thing, I think of my jitters as enthusiasm; I will not let fear rob me of new experiences this way. Science shows fear and excitement are the same thing, as both create your body’s agitated response. It’s the brain’s reaction that transforms it into a positive or negative. You have the power to make that choice. Recently, when assigned research-laden articles for a women’s wellness brand, I envisioned breaking through the science to write engaging stories for readers. I wanted to make a difference in their lives, not pass along hard to follow studies. I wasn’t trying to convince myself I could do it; I simply reframed how I saw the project in order to replace fear with enthusiasm. Let your mind work for you with excitement, not against you with fear.

Perfection is Unrealistic

Admittedly, I have perfectionist tendencies. They drive my ambition — while working for others as well as advancing my own business — and motivate me to produce quality work, yet can be a hindrance, stalling creativity and inhibiting success. Creativity requires free thought and being open-minded; perfectionism often shuts down ideas and takes a toll on your ability to generate new ones. Not known for flexibility, perfectionism can keep you from successful collaborations. In Journalism School, I would railroad a team to my approach — in an effort to earn the A. I have come a long way. Recently, while developing brand identity for a new beauty product, collaboration was critical to success. Ideas were far superior while working as a team, and it was far more fun.

Dare to Dream

I believe Dale Carnegie said it best, “The person who goes farthest is generally the one who is

willing to do and dare.” As a writer, it’s employing visionary fundamentals — being willing to look

at things differently, act as a change-maker, and make people feel (or do) better — as I select

projects and topics, that I believe make me successful. As part of the over 40 million (and

growing) 50-ish women with power, style, and something to say, I love collaborating with brands breaking ground to meet our needs.

Never Stop Learning

While I took writing classes prior to launching my freelance career, I have continued to look to education as a source for growth and inspiration. As the competitive landscape changes, and our old approaches become antiquated, there is never a shortage of classes, online training, and more that can strengthen your skillset — and with it, your confidence. As a writer, I thrive in a class setting where I gain constructive feedback on work I am developing. I transformed my fashion memoir over the course of the 8-week class with a book agent, and I will continue to workshop chapters as needed.

Remember how far you have come

This just might be my favorite lesson to pass on. We too often focus on how far we have to go and in what we are lacking, but it’s imperative to look back to see how far we’ve come. I find myself reviewing my portfolio in moments I need a boost of motivation or just want to celebrate a win. You should take great pride in your achievements, as it may incentivize you to forge ahead or, at minimum, remind you how great you are. In addition to patting yourself on the back and celebrating the small wins, showing gratitude to others who have helped your journey goes a long way toward success.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I wish I could teach young people to not only write, but to find joy in it. Between social media and short-handed texting, writing is a lost art. It has been scientifically proven that writing — whether it’s journaling or crafting stories — reduces stress, boosts mood, increases confidence, unlocks creativity and then some. We need more of this in our lives! Perhaps this becomes my Third Chapter…

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

While fashion designers Diane Von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, and Cynthia Rowley are incredible businesswomen who have played a role in my development and style (and are prominent in my fashion memoir) it is my fellow Baltimorean, Oprah, who has always been my North Star. I welcome any opportunity to learn from her spiritual journey and extensive commitment to others, while better understanding how she found courage and faith in hard times.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Website: www.writinginblackandwhite.com

Instagram: @writinginblackandwhite

Fashion Memoir Instagram: @clothesminded.2021

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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