Humor Equals Power. When I first started getting sick back in my early twenties, I was terrified. I felt like my old world had been ripped away from me and I was left struggling to find my place in a new world made entirely from quicksand. After some time, I realized that I couldn’t afford to get overly-invested and negatively-fixated on every little thing that was even tangentially related to my health. And I found ways to laugh at myself instead. Like when I discovered that a strange, unexpected perk to having an autoimmune disease was my new uncanny ability to sense the weather. One day, while sharing an apartment with some friends in Brooklyn, I felt the unmistakable weight in the air that meant rain. I told my roommates to grab an umbrella. They looked at the clear sky, looked at the sunny forecast, looked back at me and laughed while they walked out the door umbrella-free. Sure enough, later that day the skies opened up. After sending mea culpa texts, my friends decided that my new mutant weather powers were worthy of the moniker “Stormbones.” From then on, whenever they wanted a forecast, I’d get a text with a skull and a lightning bolt. A huge grin would break out over my face and I’d start laughing uproariously about the very thing that used to terrify me.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Edry.
A second-gen American and proud Jewminican, Nicole grew up wandering the world and learning from many different people. As a result, her international career spans nearly a dozen different industries. Now, Nicole is an agency chameleon by day, and a professional writer and aspiring novelist by night.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I don’t exactly have the most glamorous origin story, but I love it just the same. My career truly started after I watched How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days for the first time. When I first saw this delightfully ridiculous Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey rom-com, I was just another wondering teenager who wasn’t really sure what her future looked like. The core premise is that McConaughey’s character is tired of getting the same old accounts at his ad agency. He wants to win the new diamond account, instead of having it automatically go to the women who work there. Honestly, my fascination with the film wasn’t with the contrived plot or the one-note rival female “villains.” It was from seeing this conventional alpha male character try to put himself in the mindset of women so that he could better understand his potential client’s primary demographic. I realized that you could make a career out of being an imagination detective and walking a mile out of someone else’s shoes. I thought about what it would feel like to get the chance to endlessly connect with people who were different from me. To find a career that empowered me to always keep an empathetic, open mind, because that’s part and parcel of constantly considering things from other points of view. This dream resonated so deeply with me that I instantly went out and joined my high school’s marketing and communications club. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Absolutely. Sometimes, you have these moments where it’s almost as if you’re standing outside your own skin, watching something extraordinary happen to you. I had that moment back when I lived in New York City and ran the social media accounts for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra. For an Instagram story special with Desus and Mero, my team and I partnered with VICE, the NBA and Madison Square Garden to go film behind the scenes at a Knicks vs. Warriors game. We went all the way up with our whole crew and settled in to watch the game while also filming the guys riffing, drinking Bud Light and doing their thing. Desus and Mero were awesome both on- and off-camera, and they were approachable enough that halfway through the game, I began chatting with Mero about the best Dominican joints in the city. At that moment, while part of me was still talking with him, the rest of me had this surreal, almost out-of-body experience. Here I was, a mixed-race Latinx and Middle Eastern child of immigrants, one of the first in my family to graduate from college. Here I was, climbing up the ladder as a woman of color working to secure a leadership position in an industry dominated by men. Here I was, in the center of a major shoot, a Dominican woman behind the camera working with a Dominican man in front of the camera. Here I was, in that very moment the living embodiment of the American Dream.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think the two biggest pieces of advice I have are all about identifying and respecting your limits, both as a human being and as a professional. My first suggestion is to advocate for yourself, always. That is true now more than ever as we deal with COVID, since we are the ones ultimately responsible for our own safety. In work, as in life, understand what you want versus what you need. And make sure that your comfort zones are clearly communicated and respected by all. Basically, know your lines, draw your lines, share your lines and hold your lines. My second piece of advice is to find a way to physically or mentally clock out at the end of the day. A long time ago, I was stuck in a less-than-ideal situation where I was really unhappy with my job but unable to leave for multiple financial and health-related reasons. I felt like I was permanently in a miserable mood whether or not I was working. Finally, one day my friend Natalie gave me some tough love. She sat me down and said, “you’ve got to stop letting this swallow up your entire life. As long as you let it continue to dominate your focus, then misery will be all you’re really allowing yourself to feel.” She helped me realize that I may not be able to control my work situation, but I didn’t have to choose to let it affect my everyday mood. So now that I’m working from home, once I sign off for the day, I give myself a decompression window to help me mentally and emotionally shift gears. I’ll physically move from one space to another, take a walk, change my clothes or otherwise engage in some tangible cue that I am no longer in work mode.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Avoid the blame game at all costs. This is a lesson that has been reinforced to me over and over, in every single industry that I’ve worked in. Transparency and communication needs to be supported by listening, empathy, understanding and realistic expectations. Publicly or privately reinforcing that your priority is meting out blame instead of focusing on a solution is the hallmark of lesser leadership. All it does is drive home to your employees that they don’t hold any value beyond their best contributions. When somebody makes a mistake, it’s far better for everyone if they feel they can speak up without undue consequence. If they think that they have to cover for their mistake so they don’t get publicly reprimanded or even lose their job, then you’ve created a climate of fear that’s not conducive to a good work environment. Personally, I’ve found it’s most effective to focus on problem-solving when something goes wrong. I will work with the employee to identify the problem, the risks and the repercussions. Then, we’ll work with the team to decide the best way to communicate the situation to the client and find a solution. If anyone gets tense, frustrated or starts pointing fingers, I’ll remind them that the client ultimately won’t care who did what. All they’ll care about is that the finished product lives up to the promised potential. Afterwards, I may privately speak with the employee in question so we can assess if there’s something we can do to prevent the same problem from occurring in the future. Emphasizing this message with actions as well as words will make for a stronger foundation that better supports a happy, productive and honest work environment.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This is essentially the hardest question you could ask a bookworm like me. I’d say that one of the first books to make a significant imprint was The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint. Ever since I was a kid, I was always drawn to stories set in other worlds, other realms and other times. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I connected so strongly with The Onion Girl. Not only is it haunting, powerful and beautifully written, but it also grounds fantastical, world-stretching storylines around a character experiencing real mental, emotional and physical trauma. As the novel unfurls, we witness Jilly Coppercorn flitting between reality and her friend’s dreamworld. She tries to find sanctuary in her art and her body while also being tortured by both. She’s constantly torn between running and hiding or standing her ground and protecting her people. And when she does face her demons, she doesn’t necessarily emerge intact. This very, very necessary exploration of mental health, PTSD, coping and escapism helped me realize that all our stories carry darker as well as brighter colors. I don’t know if I can fully express how rewarding it was to catch the tiniest glimpse of myself in Jilly. Representation matters, truly.
Strangely enough, Peeling the Onion by Wendy Orr tackles similar themes of a young woman recovering from trauma and a physical accident. Unlike The Onion Girl, this book doesn’t really contain any fantasy elements. Instead, it focuses on the obliterating lows and painful highs of recovery from a major physical trauma like a car accident. We see the young protagonist, Anna, struggle to do everyday things that she did with unconscious ease before. We see her growing frustration as she’s treated like a porcelain doll or a petulant toddler by everyone close to her. We live with her through the heartbreaking range of emotions that comes when your life is uprooted by physical illness or trauma. On a personal note, I’m grateful I read this book as a teenager, because it helped me cope with my own traumatic health experience nearly a decade later. I also love that the accident is the catalyst that changes who Anna is, but it does not ultimately define her or lessen her.
Both onion-lovin’ books contain deeply poignant life lessons that have stuck with me to this day. They help me remind myself to appreciate what I have instead of fixating on what I lack. To search for light even in the darkest places.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
Step One: Clementines Are Your Friends. My friends and family have made fun of me my entire life because, well, I’m addicted to clementines and can eat an entire bag in one sitting. Also, because it takes me up to ten minutes to peel a single piece of fruit. Once I’ve got all the peel and white, fluffy pieces off, I finally sit and savor it. Only to start the process all over again with the next one. After enduring years and years of good-natured teasing on the subject I saw this article about how the smell of oranges helps to relieve stress and felt disproportionately vindicated. All joking aside, I’ve often found simple, mechanical rituals that engage your hands but relieve your brain genuinely do help you to de-stress in the moment. Peeling a fruit like this engages multiple senses in a positive way, and offers a tangible, delicious reward at the end of a low-stakes action.
Step Two: Humor Equals Power. When I first started getting sick back in my early twenties, I was terrified. I felt like my old world had been ripped away from me and I was left struggling to find my place in a new world made entirely from quicksand. After some time, I realized that I couldn’t afford to get overly-invested and negatively-fixated on every little thing that was even tangentially related to my health. And I found ways to laugh at myself instead. Like when I discovered that a strange, unexpected perk to having an autoimmune disease was my new uncanny ability to sense the weather. One day, while sharing an apartment with some friends in Brooklyn, I felt the unmistakable weight in the air that meant rain. I told my roommates to grab an umbrella. They looked at the clear sky, looked at the sunny forecast, looked back at me and laughed while they walked out the door umbrella-free. Sure enough, later that day the skies opened up. After sending mea culpa texts, my friends decided that my new mutant weather powers were worthy of the moniker “Stormbones.” From then on, whenever they wanted a forecast, I’d get a text with a skull and a lightning bolt. A huge grin would break out over my face and I’d start laughing uproariously about the very thing that used to terrify me.
Step Three: Recognize Your Limits. Names hold power. The less substance or definition a thing has, the more nameless dread it will invoke. So as unpleasant as it may be, you have to name your fears and put a face on what stresses you. This is something that is best accomplished with the help of a trained professional. Personally, I’ve always performed this exercise under the guidance of my therapist. Together, we discovered what induces mild discomfort versus active avoidance versus a full-blown PTSD attack. Together, we also figured out the most effective coping mechanism for each of these situations. We identified what felt best to me in the moment I was negatively reacting to something. Was it physically shaking it off or moving around? Trying a breathing and stretching exercise? Unpacking the issue and talking about it? Shelving the conversation until a later version of me was ready to handle it? We worked through all this together until we found the right answers for me. And fair warning, when you do seek answers for yourself, be careful not to fall down the rabbit hole of “I must name a thing and then solve it immediately in order to feel better.” Years of therapy, honest self-evaluation and being willing to give myself a little grace has empowered me to walk this tightrope even when stressed, triggered or dealing with a pain flare up. And my quality of life is so, so much better for it
Step Four: Be Honest When You Need A Break. Now that you’ve identified your limits, you have to make sure you back them up with your actions. Think of it like taking care of a car. If there’s a minor stressor to your vehicle, like being low on gas, you take an appropriate minor action to fix it yourself. If it’s a more intense but still manageable stressor, like an oil change or a flat tire, you can either deal with it yourself or work with a professional to solve it with minor delay. If it’s a bigger issue, like something wrong with your engine or your brake pads, then it has to go to a professional who can help but likely only over the course of days. Now, apply the same line of thinking to our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. When I need some minor relief, like when I’m in the middle of a workday and the stress is starting to build up, I take 10–15 minute breaks. I’ll step outside and get some sun, dance around, solve a puzzle, or doodle mindlessly. When I need deeper relief but am not feeling overly urgent, then I wait until the weekend and deliberately keep my schedule clear of as many responsibilities or plans as possible. When the weekend comes, I find various ways to re-energize, pamper myself or indulge in self-care. If something is stressing me out to a severe, unavoidable degree, then I request time off and talk openly with my supervisor. By being honest with myself like this, I can take comfort in the knowledge that no matter what is stressing me out, I’ll be able to handle it.
Step Five: If There’s No Light At The End Of The Tunnel, Make Your Own. Even when I’m at my lowest, I don’t let myself succumb to my fears. Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary (looking at you, entire year of 2020), I refuse to believe in the worst in myself, my future or humanity as a whole. I hold closely to my hard-won faith in myself and my abilities. I nurture this little spark of mine and feed it with constant reminders of our world’s wonders. And because of that spark, when I’m having a depressive episode or am feeling particularly anxious, I can just bide my time. Instead of fixating on why I can’t instantly find a way to feel better and beating myself up over it. When I need to have an off-day and crankily eat cookie dough in bed, I can do so without feeling guilty or bad about myself. Because I know that someday soon, I’ll pick myself up and be better. So when everything is dark and I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, I just hang in there. Trust in my own ability to eventually make that light, even if I can’t just yet.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Step One: Pass Along The Hula Hoop. We all have moments where we feel scared and overwhelmed. When you can tell that someone is in need of help, pull them aside and do the hula hoop exercise with them. This simple-yet-powerful exercise was taught to me several years ago by a counselor in a physical therapy clinic. I’d had a particularly bad day and was fixating on how my life felt like it was just constantly spiraling out of control. After hearing me out, my counselor told me to stand up, and take a deep breath. She made me lift my hands up over my head, and told me to imagine that I was holding a hula hoop. She then told me to drop the imaginary hula hoop. And then said that everything inside the hula hoop (me), I could control. Everything outside the hula hoop (the rest of the world), was beyond my control. The sooner I accepted that, the easier my life would be. Weirdly enough, having it framed in this way calmed me down immediately. I encourage you to share this exercise with others in a moment of need — I promise, it helps.
Step Two: Be An Active Listener. There are times when we all need to purge or vent without judgment or comment. To speak our mind and air out our emotions without worrying about the other person actively steering us one way or another. If you want to help others in life, make it clear that you’re willing to step up and be the sounding board they need. Show them with words and with actions that you can listen attentively without feeling the need to immediately offer your own two cents. This doesn’t mean that you won’t try to give them guidance if and when they’re ready to hear it. However, it does mean that you will remain as empathetic and supportive as possible no matter what they tell you (within reason, of course).
Step Three: Level The Playing Field. You can’t inspire trust without giving it in turn. The only way to encourage others to be vulnerable and seek your company in a time of stress is to make sure they know you are willing to share your own confidences. Your own strengths and flaws, losses and victories, hopes and horrors. This will accomplish two very important things. One, it will help others feel that you see them as a peer and an equal in our shared humanity instead of a victim or failure. Someone to share experiences with, not someone to shame or pity because of their own struggles. Two, I’ve personally found that the more you share your own private scars, the more you heal from them.
Step Four: Put Up The Bat Signal. I’ve lived a lot of life in just thirty-three years, but even I know when I’m out of my depth. There are times when no matter how much I want to improve a situation, I have to accept that I cannot be the person to make it better. I may need to involve a significant other, a family member or a mutual friend. Or maybe it’s a more serious situation and I need to seek professional help by using a hotline, going to a doctor, or consulting my own counselor. Because at the end of the day, this is about more than me and my ego or even my relationship with the other person. As scary as it can be to think of the fallout from putting someone else’s personal life on blast, if your gut is telling you to escalate something, then you need to listen. Trust me. Recently, my gut screamed at me that my dad, who lives three hours away and had just been diagnosed with COVID, needed help. After some counseling, I decided to follow through and called in his local emergency services. Sure enough, he had to be rushed to the hospital because they had caught his COVID but missed the fact that he also had pneumonia. When in doubt, it’s always better to seek trained help instead of figuring that you know what’s best. And don’t assume it’s not an emergency until you know for a fact that it isn’t.
Step Five: Grace Isn’t Just For Others. In this dark, intense, volatile world of ours, it’s so easy to feel hopeless. To feel restless, lonely, unhappy and anxious. As we’ve repeatedly seen, in times of crisis like this many people give into their worst instincts and lash out at each other. But all this does is pour salt into a gaping wound. It does nothing to help heal it. So before we lash out at others, let’s look closer to home and ask ourselves — are we punishing ourselves for circumstances beyond our control? Are we trying to reclaim power by lowering or lessening others? Do we need to stop and give ourselves a little grace, a little forgiveness for not being able to make things better? The answer may surprise you.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
I think it depends on what the best coping mechanism is for them in that particular moment. If they need to relax, the Calm app has some pretty helpful features and tips that can offer instant insight. If they need to feel productive, I’d say take a break and make something with your hands — building, crafting or gardening are all great outlets. Pinterest is still one of my favorite go-to sources of unexpected inspiration. If they need a distraction, it’s best to try and shift gears entirely. One of my shiny new tools is the HitRecord app, founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s a stress-free creative environment where you’re encouraged to follow intriguing prompts, contribute to other’s works, and offer positive feedback whenever you resonate with a particular post, or “record.” Since it’s a low-stakes, completely digital social environment, it helps you feel connected to others while remaining safely distant. Plus, you might get inspired to think outside the box and possibly even create something of your own. My last suggestion would be to create music playlists. The simple act of creating something completely under your control within clearly-defined parameters helps you stay on an even keel. When you’re finished, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and even positively influence your entire mood.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“In order to rise from it’s own ashes a phoenix must first burn.” The incredible Octavia E. Butler said this in her book Parable of the Talents. This one is especially personal for me, seeing as I have a phoenix in shadow tattooed on my hip. It’s lived on my skin since I was nineteen, home on break from college, and in search of a way to mark a new chapter in my life. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been grateful to have this fiery reminder of second chances emblazoned on my being. When I’m feeling down or close to despair, I look at my phoenix and remember that even if I flame out, I can always discover new layers to myself and be reborn. I can forgive myself, have patience with myself and trust myself to always find a way through. And above all, I know that even if I’m not my best self right now, it doesn’t mean a better version of me isn’t just waiting to rise from the next pile of ashes.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Since it’s impossible to choose a single cause to favor above all the others, I’d actually like to start a brand-new movement grounded in the concept of a “refuge.” There was a time in my own life where I would have given anything for a kind of welcoming, non-profit safe haven for someone in need of breathing room. A social and community center oriented around offering and receiving help without agenda. A place that recognizes that the lost souls of the world come in every conceivable shape and form. So anybody who shows up is welcome, no matter how weak or strong, anxious or calm, rich or poor they are in appearance. In this refuge, no matter what you look like, how you identify or what language you speak, you’re welcome. If you just want to have a safe space to be, you can come here. If you need some privacy or room to work without feeling hassled to purchase something, you can come here. If you need a sympathetic ear, a lack of judgment and an extra dose of humanity, you can come here. To me, having a refuge like this in every single community would help teach us all to look beyond first impressions and make room for space beyond our own assumptions.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
I’ve actually been way more active on Twitter lately…product of the times, I guess! My handle there is @NicoleEdry. I’ve also started posting sneak peeks of my upcoming debut novel under my Instagram handle as_we_unravel. And if you like snarky, restless and occasionally insightful commentary on politics, society and pop culture, then you’re more than welcome to come check out my author archives at Pajiba.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!