Southern Living Associate Travel + Culture Editor Lacy Morris

Lacy Morris is the kind of woman you’d want to be your friend. She’s an adventurer, a dreamer, and she would happily share a conversation over a bottle of wine or a latte. She’s also persistent and hard-working, and it was these two qualities in particular that took Lacy along a winding career path, eventually leading to her current role as Associate Travel and Culture Editor for Southern Living.

Lacy started her career in a manner that was anything but ordinary. She knew she wanted to live abroad after college and was determined to find a way to make it happen. After plenty of research, Lacy found a job in Phuket, Thailand, and moved there shortly after graduation. From Thailand, Lacy moved back home and into her parent’s basement until she was hired as an editorial assistant at Marie Claire in NYC. After Marie Claire, Lacy went to Orbitz and after Orbitz she moved on to Southern Living. We’ll let her tell you the full story in the interview below.

From finding a job amidst the recession to working all across the country (and world!) to asking for a promotion, Lacy has learned a lot throughout the course of her career, and she’s here to share those lessons today. Read on to learn more about Lacy’s career path and the advice she has for other women. We’re thrilled to share Lacy’s inspiring story here today!

Full name: Lacy Morris
Age: 30
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Current title/company: Associate Travel + Culture Editor at Southern Living
Education: Associates in Photography, The Art Institute. Bachelors in Journalism/Travel Administration, Metropolitan State College of Denver.

What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
Two weeks after my college graduation I took off for Phuket, Thailand. I knew I wanted to live abroad but I wasn’t sure how to get there. I started researching ways to do it while still making money—teaching English, working on a cruise ship, picking up odd jobs as you backpack. I’m not much for sporadic showers so I landed on teaching. I basically just dove into Google and figured out how people make this happen. I found a message board where expats talked about their experiences abroad, which led me to a school in Phuket that was hiring. I emailed them and had a job lined up in a few short days.

Tell us about your experience abroad. What did you learn?
My experience abroad included some of the most extraordinary memories I’ve ever made, while also some of the hardest times. I definitely thought I was a lot tougher than I actually was. I was homesick and struggled with making friends, as travelers came and went quite quickly. As soon as I’d get close to someone, they’d head back home. I really learned how to be comfortable being alone. But overall, I don’t regret it one bit. It was an incredible learning experience and I’d encourage everyone to be truly on their own at some point in their life.

What was your most memorable experience abroad? When did you know you were ready to return home?
One of my most memorable trips was taking a bus from Phuket to Bangkok. It was about an 11-hour drive and I was the only person on the bus who spoke English. On the way home, they were playing a Thai horror film, and anyone who knows me knows that I hate to be scared. So there I was, on a bus in the middle of the night in the jungles of Thailand watching a horror film in Thai. About seven hours in, the entire bus started to fill up with smoke. We pulled over and everyone was elbowing each other to get off, coughing. I sat on the side of the road in pitch darkness for several hours as the driver popped the hood and let the engine cool down. As far as I saw, no fluids were added, no hoses were replaced. The driver announced something in Thai and everyone, myself included, lined up to get back onto the bus. We made it to our destination eventually but it made me really appreciate the comforts of home.

You were job searching in the height of the recession. What was this like?
When I came back from Thailand I felt like I had all this education behind me and enough life experiences to rival those of an old man. But yet, there I was in my parent’s basement throwing resumes into the air. It was one of the hardest times of my life, but looking back it was also a great learning experience. I learned that job hunting was much more than just checking job boards. I would reach out to companies that I wanted to work for, even if they didn’t have any open positions. I read books about the art of writing cover letters and how to order your resume. I became obsessed with acquiring as much job-hunting knowledge as possible.

What would you say to other women who are also struggling with finding a job?
Persistence is key. I tried to look at job hunting like it was my job. I created spreadsheets to record when I first reached out to a job, and then marked the date for when I should follow up. It’s going to be hard and there will be some seriously low moments but if you keep your head down, something great will eventually come along. Also know that your first job is never going to be perfect. You can’t expect to get your dream job right out of college. Keep in mind that everyone has to start somewhere—don’t be too good to get the coffee.

How were you able to finally land a position with Marie Claire?
I think I’d just have to credit it to hard work and persistence. I made sure my cover letter was tight and sent it off. The next thing I knew, I was flying to New York for an interview and a few weeks later I was moving to the city for the first time.

You are such a good example of how persistence pays off! Tell us about living in the big city and working for Marie Claire.
I will never forget this era of my life. I moved into a room-for-rent at 181st because it’s all I could afford. I lived in one of two bedrooms in this tiny apartment—two kids slept in the other room, and their mother slept in the living room. All I brought with me were two suitcases full of clothes. And at one of the largest fashion magazines in the world, it’s a bit distressing to be constantly underdressed. My internship was unpaid and I worked from around 8 am to usually no earlier than 8 pm. After work on Friday I would go straight to the jitney and head out to the Hamptons to work the weekend as a nanny. Late Sunday night I would head back to Manhattan, getting in bed around midnight. Monday morning was back at my internship. I was so broke that eating was a splurge. Usually I’d get a $2 bagel from a street cart in the morning, eating half for breakfast and the other half for lunch. For dinner I mastered all the cheap meals that could be made in batches and warmed up for a week—black beans and rice, spaghetti, ham hock with brown beans and cornbread. I learned so much during my time at Marie Claire, but above all else, I learned how to survive.

Next, you moved on as a travel editor with Orbitz. How did you land this position? What excited you about it?
Ah yes, my first real job! I was elated to land this position. I took the interview on my cell phone, huddled in a quiet corner at the Hearst Tower in New York. A few days later they flew me to DC to interview in person. I got up at 4 am to make my flight and carried on the only outfit I had that was appropriate for a job interview. I changed in the bathroom of the office before heading in. After the interview, I flew straight back to New York and by the time I had landed, they had made an offer. I called my mom crying. It was my dream job. I would be writing and traveling, exactly what I had been working toward for the past seven years of my life.

Unfortunately, your position at Orbitz was eliminated in February 2013. What was this like? How did you overcome this obstacle in your career?
I was laid off on Valentine’s Day, nonetheless. I went to work and by 10 am I was home with all my boxes. Orbitz had decided to cut my entire department. It was a small office and I had worked there for almost four years, so it was like losing family. But looking back on it now, it was a great push to pursue something else. I was unemployed for about two months, then accepted a position that I wasn’t all that excited about. I kept my head down and continued to look for my next dream job. About six months later, I flew to Birmingham, Alabama, to interview with Southern Living.

Staying motivated, you landed your current role at Southern Living magazine as an assistant travel editor. How did you land this position?
I applied on a whim, not expecting to be taken too seriously since I wasn’t local. One email led to one phone call, and then I was given an edit test. I worked really hard on it for several days, coming straight home after work and writing until it was time for bed. In the end, I think it was what made my application stand out from the group. They flew me down to Birmingham to interview in person. The interview process was grueling. It was literally the entire day, including breakfast and lunch. They thoroughly vet their applicants. I remember getting in my rental car around 5 pm and laying the seat back to close my eyes for a minute. It was the longest I had ever had to be “on” in an interview. I went straight to the airport to fly home and two days later I got an official offer. In less than three weeks, I had an apartment in Birmingham.

After ten short months you moved up to associate travel and culture editor. Congratulations on your latest promotion! How did this opportunity come about?
I had technically taken a step down to accept the position at Southern Living, but it was such a great brand and a different industry (it was my first magazine to work for) that I decided it was worth it. And it was. I was doing a great job and I really wanted to move back up to associate level at my one-year mark. I scheduled a meeting with the editor-in-chief to discuss the projects I had been working on and get feedback on my performance. I reiterated my desire to get promoted at one year and asked if there was anything I should be doing to ensure that happens. This was the first time I had actually gone in to a professional setting and fought for what I believe I deserved. I’m not a shy person, but I do tend to be quite mellow and laid-back. A few days later, I was promoted, two months before my one-year anniversary.

What advice do you have for women who are looking to move up within their company?
You just have to ask! If you don’t ask, chances are it is never going to happen. You’re the only one that is looking out for your career; trust that no one else cares. Build a solid case, state your desires, and follow through. I’m fascinated with this whole idea of women in the working world. Study after study shows that women ask for raises and promotions considerably less often than men. If you’re quiet and reserved, you get run over. If you’re assertive, you risk being labeled as a squeaky wheel. Know your value, record your accomplishments, and schedule a meeting with a clear plan in place for your future growth.

Put your time in. It will eventually get you to where you want to be. One moment, one introduction, one decision can completely change the course of your life. That’s why you should try to never say no to an opportunity.

Tell us about working in the print world! What skills do you rely on that you learned from college? Previous jobs? What did you have to learn that has been completely new?
I absolutely love what I do right now. I was such a huge fan of magazines as a child. I saved every issue and would have stacks of them in my room. I’d hole up for hours, flipping through the pages and daydreaming. To be able to actually produce them is a dream come true. From previous jobs, I had the writing and editing part down, but it was the actual process of physically producing a magazine that I had to learn. Fortunately, it came rather easy to me. It is certainly a whole different world than web, but the fundamental steps are the same. You’re just on a completely different timeline.

You relocated to Birmingham, AL for Southern Living. How was this transition? What would you say to other women who are facing similar transitions in their careers?
I’ve always been game to just pick up and relocate. This move though was particularly hard because I was finally feeling settled in DC. I felt like I had been living out of a suitcase for the past few years and to feel at home was a major accomplishment. I had friends and a boyfriend. I knew where the best grocery store was and alternative routes to work. I wasn’t ready to move, but I knew that this transition would be worth it in terms of my career. If you’re unattached to a spouse or kids, my advice would be to never turn down a job based on location. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture and see how other people live. It also forces you to figure out how to make new friends, a skill I think is very important and useful outside of the social arena.

Help us understand the main factors that have gotten you to where you are today. What would you attribute your success to?
I think my work ethic is the main factor for how I got to where I am today. If I want something, I work hard until it happens.

What is your favorite part of your job? What inspires you in your daily work?
My favorite part of my job at Southern Living is getting to see a new place and then coming back to the office and finding a way to put the feelings I had while there on paper. I’m still learning so much about the art of storytelling, and people who do it well fascinate me. The written word is a powerful tool. For writing inspiration I usually start by looking for similar topics in other publications. I like to see how they approached it, and then apply my voice to my own piece. My other favorite part is seeing a story that I’ve been sweating over for months for the first time on paper. It never gets old.

Give us a glimpse of your schedule on a typical day at Southern Living.
A typical day starts with me checking my emails on my phone in bed. Then I’m usually in the office around 8:30. And that’s about where the normalness ends. Some days I’m glued to my desk writing, other days I’m sitting on the floor putting together story boards, and another day I’m running around to endless meetings. I’d say about 50% of the time I’m on the road. When I’m reporting a story, I’m eating lots of food, drinking drinks, browsing stores, taking scouting shots, making notes. I’m talking to random people at hotels, restaurants, bars, and having lunches with people who are zoned in on the community I happen to be in that day. If I’m super productive, I compile the day’s information in the hotel room that night so that pulling the story together when I get back to the office isn’t such a chore. There isn’t one bit of monotony to this job, and I love it.

What advice do you have for other women who would like to work in the magazine industry?
It’s a competitive and volatile industry. Be prepared to work long hours for little pay. The only way you’ll make it is if you’re truly passionate about the field. But if you are, it’s the most rewarding job you could ever have.

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
When I was at Marie Claire, an editor named Lea Goldman mentored me in ways I’m sure she doesn’t even know. She was strong, smart, and knew how to get things done; I was in awe of her. She gave me a chance to write when I was just an intern and sat with me and edited my measly five sentences with grace and skill. I grasped on to her mentorship and studied every word she said. Her actions were the best advice I have received. It’s a true skill to be a good leader and I learned so much just from watching her. In short, find and latch on to good mentors; they’re rare and important.

Second, one of the other editors at Marie Claire had “SYM” taped to her computer. When I finally asked what it stood for, she told me, “shut your mouth.” It resonated with me (and I have it taped to my computer to this day) because when it comes to office politics, it’s usually best to just keep your head down and shut your mouth. As Jay-Z says, “Don’t argue with fools. Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who.” Well said, Mr. Beyoncé.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m such an adventurer and have so many dreams; I can’t possibly pinpoint where I’ll be in five years. I know that I could feel accomplished and proud doing a number of different things. Wherever I end up, I just hope that I’m happy, healthy, and fulfilled.

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Oh girl. Just breathe. Keep going; just put your head down and go. But my goodness, breathe. It gets better. Life has a way of working itself out.

This tiny little bubble you live in is just that—a tiny little bubble. Remember to see the bigger picture. Learn to disconnect.

Be careful with other people’s hearts and when someone isn’t careful with yours, bow out gracefully. Graceful is the key word there.

Spend your money on traveling instead of shoes. OK, maybe just a few less shoes.

Put your time in. It will eventually get you to where you want to be. One moment, one introduction, one decision can completely change the course of your life. That’s why you should try to never say no to an opportunity.

Learn how to invest your money. Pay off your credit card every month, or better yet, just don’t have one. Trust me, things don’t just disappear. Credit scores actually matter.

Passionate people tend to overreact and overanalyze… accept it.

It’s great that you work out daily, but don’t get used to being able to eat whatever you want.

Culture yourself—engage, explore, be curious. Read old books, watch foreign films, and listen to different music. You’ll be glad you did when you can participate in conversations about classic cocktails, jazz musicians, foreign foods, a celebrated novel.

You know what’s sexier than a sexy woman? A sexy woman who doesn’t need to be sexy.

You’re going to do a lot of really stupid things, but you’ll do a few extraordinary ones as well.

It’s OK to get butterflies from someone else’s words. But babe, when you get them from something that you’ve accomplished yourself, they’ll feel 100x more wonderful.

Drink too much and sleep too little. I’m saying that because I know you won’t listen and because I truly mean it. Don’t worry, you won’t regret it too much when you’re older.

You know those beautiful women with perfect bodies you see in the magazines you’re always looking at? They don’t look like that in real life. It’s called air brushing and you could look like that too.

On that note, take care of your body. You’ll become more and more aware of it the older you get. Listen to what it tells you. You know how women always say that they like their bodies better at 30? That’s true, and it’s fascinating. You’re going to love it!

Never turn down an interview; you’ll be glad you had the practice. If it’s terrifying, do it. And it’s okay to cry. In fact, go ahead and cry more.

That pit in your stomach? It never goes away. You’ll always be one to push the boundaries.

You’re not the smartest, the funniest, or the prettiest, but your mother thinks you are. And you should think that you’re pretty darn close.

Speaking of, if you can master those first two, the last one will come naturally. I have a feeling you’ll be working on that one forever.

Yes, that one night really did ruin tequila.

Sit up straight.

You’ll always be petrified of not succeeding. And that’s OK. But give yourself a break. You’re going to mess up; you’ll still be messing up in your 30s. And by the way, 30 isn’t old. Neither is 40.

Stand up for yourself. You’re an incredible person. Don’t settle for anything less than extraordinary.

That last one is important, but if you can only pull off one of these, let it be to breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. The rollercoaster you’re on is scary but a pretty fun ride.


Lacy Morris is The Everygirl…

Favorite book?
The Rapture of Cannan by Sheri Reynolds. It reminds me of my strict Christian upbringing in the hills of Kentucky. Another favorite is I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb. Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis and Larry Sloman is an engrossing read. And Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is truly moving.

Dream vacation?
This question is impossible to answer. I want to go everywhere and I know that there are places I want to go that I don’t even know exist. But if I had to throw some out there, I’d say Croatia, Papua New Guinea, and Iceland are at the top of my current list.

Go-to coffee order?
Vanilla latte.

I wish I knew how to _________.
speak a different language, play the guitar, and quit after one drink.

If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Dorothea Lange was a photojournalist who rose to fame due to her images of Native Americans in the 20s and coverage of the Great Depression in the 30s. Her photographs are so stirring and truly tell a tale. One of her most famous images was of a pea-picker mother and her children in Nipomo, California. I’d love to go back there and picnic with her as she tells me stories of traveling the US during such a volatile era. Nowadays the area is known for their acres of vineyards, so we’d chat over a bottle of local wine and an amazing spread of charcuterie and fine cheeses, of course.