Imagine having a career in which you called the shots — you were your own boss and you set your own rules. For many of us, that idea is just a fantasy. But for Dontaira Terrell, lifestyle and entertainment reporter and communications strategist, it’s just a day in the life.
As the author of her own career story, Dontaira proves that you can work for yourself and still be the boss (And a total boss in general, am I right!?). Dontaira chatted with us about life as a journalist, what it takes to make it in the world of freelance, and, of course, her favorite celebrities to interview. Want to feel inspired? Read on.
Name: Dontaira Terrell, Lifestyle/Entertainment Reporter and Communications Strategist
Location: South Florida
Education: Florida A&M University, School of Journalism & Graphic Communication, B.S. Public Relations
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
My first job was at ESPN in Sales & Marketing. A few weeks before graduating I completed an elite media sales training program called the Media Sales Institute. It was a great opportunity! Although I had recently graduated and I knew I needed to continue honing my skillset and perfecting my craft. The class lasted over six weeks, in sessions on a daily basis from 8 am – 5 pm. The workshops and seminars offered provided me with extensive training in broadcast media sales.
At the end of the six weeks, we (the students) had to prepare and present a sales deck to pitch to prospective employers. Following my presentation, I was approached by ESPN executives who had been in the audience during my sales pitch, and I was asked to fly to New York for an intense round of interviews — and the rest is history! I was selected as one of two associates chosen from hundreds of applicants in the inaugural year of the Sales Development and Marketing Program.
Your passions for both writing and entertainment started early, but did you ever consider pursuing any other career path?
Writing and entertainment sparked my interest early on but I was unsure of how to transform my passion into a career. One thing that has remained constant was my passion for the entertainment industry. As long as I can remember, I’ve always felt most comfortable expressing myself through poetry, writing my most coveted thoughts in my journal, as well as reading books and magazines. I’ve pursued quite a few career paths, from television ad sales and media research and analytics to lifestyle modeling. And to be honest, fear of pursuing my desired career trajectory, challenges, and at times not knowing how to move forward all discouraged me a great deal. This caused me to focus more on what seemed right at the time instead of putting in the required work and effort needed to excel in the field of journalism and communications.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Having the opportunity to mentor young men and women from all walks of life is one of the professional accomplishments I am most proud of. There is nothing that makes me happier than to receive emails from people around the globe because my work has resonated with them in some way. After all, that is what being a storyteller is about. Personally connecting with your audience, having your messages resonate with others while simultaneously serving as a source of inspiration and guidance along their career paths is a great accomplishment. In a sense, I am paying it forward by helping others in the way other media professionals have helped me along this journey.
This work is meaningful to me for a variety of reasons, especially that I’m able to expand my horizon and share the insights I’ve learned with others who may not have direct access to these amazingly unique individuals.
You get to interview a lot of celebrities. Do you ever get starstruck? What’s your favorite interview you’ve ever done?
I don’t get starstruck in front of the actual person but prior to the interview, I definitely have my moments. If I’m a huge fan of someone, I will let them know once the interview is complete because then I’ve established a rapport with the person and they won’t completely judge me for fanning out — at least, I hope not!
This is a tough one because I’ve had a lot of favorite interviews! I’ll narrow it down to my top three: Anthony Anderson, star of ABC’s hit show Black-ish, because he was hilarious; Adrienne Bailon, one fifth of the hosting panel on The REAL, because she literally kept it real about love, dating, and life in general; Eva Marie of WWE because she was personable, encouraging, and seemed just like the girl next door.
Not only do you cover fun entertainment stories, but you also get the exciting opportunity to share the stories of other unique individuals as well – from Michelle Obama to winemaking women in South Africa. Why is this work meaningful to you?
This work is meaningful to me for a variety of reasons, especially that I’m able to expand my horizon and share the insights I’ve learned with others who may not have direct access to these amazingly unique individuals. Everyone has a story to tell, and I have a responsibility to help shape the narrative and articulate significant dialogue on a broader scale.
What do you hope to get to cover in the future?
I hope to cover more untold stories from other perspectives. For instance, young men and women from my hometown of Youngstown, or from other areas throughout the country such as Detroit, New Orleans, Miami, and Baltimore who are making strides within their perspective fields and communities, despite strenuous circumstances that may or may not be stacked against them. Unfortunately, these are the stories that are either silenced or overlooked, and I would like to expand my reach to include more investigative journalism.
I hope to cover more untold stories from other perspectives. For instance, young men and women who are making strides despite strenuous circumstances that may or may not be stacked against them. Unfortunately, these are the stories that are either silenced or overlooked.
What skills do you think are necessary to succeed in journalism?
It’s necessary to have a tenacious willpower to push through in challenging times because success doesn’t happen easily or overnight. Dwelling on your weaknesses won’t get you very far, but leveraging your strengths, optimizing opportunities, and staying consistent will. Also, producing great content starts with transparency and staying abreast of the world around you. Most importantly, you have to be a problem solver, because sometimes you have to make the impossible possible. If “PLAN A” doesn’t work in your favor, no need to take it personally — just take another route that will still land you at your final destination.
Tell us about being your own boss. What made you decide to pursue this type of career, and how has the journey been for you?
Honestly, being laid off from one job and let go from another as well, as well as being bullied by a former boss who intentionally and constantly set me up for failure. I should really consider writing a book about the whole ordeal! It was a painful time for me because I definitely felt like a failure and as if my future was in everyone else’s hands rather than my own.
I turned to my safe haven of writing and began learning the ins and outs of the freelance world. I will admit, at first, I had to write a few articles without pay, but soon after, I began to receive commissioned work. The journey has been very complex and was extremely difficult at first. Actually, it still is more often than not, but I love it more and more each day because I’m able to share my voice with the world, interview great people, and travel extensively to cover amazing events.
Never underestimate the power of owning your voice and investing in yourself. There is no greater value than reaching your greatest potential by maintaining true to who you are.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers, storytellers, and communicators?
Never underestimate the power of owning your voice and investing in yourself. There is no greater value than reaching your greatest potential by maintaining true to who you are. Also, transparency is key to not only establishing but also building a lasting relationship with your core audience. Because we live in a digital era, it’s important to utilize your immediate resources including social media as a marketing tool and bridge connector.
However, at times, the downfall of social media is the inability to remain focused on your career ambitions and mastering your skillset instead of focusing on others progression. Don’t fall victim to the hype! As cliche as it sounds: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Be mindful of comparing your journey to someone else’s and understand there’s no standard formula or format to follow in the pursuit of your personal success story.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
At 23, I was fresh out of college and instead of living in the moment I constantly stressed about what was next. Oftentimes, we are our own worst critic, not realizing that making mistakes along this journey is part of the road to success. You can’t grow or evolve without trial and error, and challenges tend to serve as the greatest lessons. You will receive many “NO”s, and although it will be difficult and discouraging to hear, just stay the course and surround yourself with an amazing tribe of people. Live more freely, create meaningful relationships, and be kind to yourself. At 23, you do not have all of the answers, and you should not believe at this age your life should be picture perfect. Life is unpredictable and doesn’t always happen as planned.
You can’t grow or evolve without trial and error, and challenges tend to serve as the greatest lessons. You will receive many ‘NO’s, and although it will be difficult and discouraging to hear, just stay the course.
Dontaira Terrell is The Everygirl…
Best way to work out?
A good playlist and 30-45 min cardio but I should probably start changing up my routine to incorporate weights.
Worst date you’ve ever been on?
I’ve been on one too many, so I generally try to block those from my memory!
Most played song on your Spotify?
Although I don’t have one particular song, my music selection usually involves anything Beyoncé or Mariah Carey. But I also listen to all genres of music (literally).
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
My mother. She passed away in 2014 and since her death, there have been so many thoughts that keep me up late at night because I want to share them with her. Not only that, I miss her endless wisdom, encouragement, the sound of her voice, and priceless advice. I still dream about having a conversation or lunch date with her just one more time, where we’re able to talk about any and everything from politics, career, dating, to the latest reality shows.