Words contain the power to transport you anywhere. No matter who you are and where you are in the universe, reading a story can trigger our imagination and lead to growth.
Today’s guest, Arianna Davis gravitated towards books and stories from a young age, setting the stage for a career that has, in a relatively short time, traversed the media landscape from Oprah Magazine to her current role as Editorial Director of the TODAY Show. Arianna’s love for books created a deep sense of empathy and a keen eye for story.
Arianna recently released her book, What Would Frida Do? The book is a unique lens on the life of legendary artist Frida Kahlo.
Looking at Frida Kahlo’s life as a masterpiece distinct from any single piece of art she created begs the question, “how can we create a masterpiece of our own lives?” This is the concept to keep at the top of mind as you press play and dive into the show.
Other highlights from the episode:
- Embracing both sides of a mixed cultural background
- Why it’s important to talk openly about race and culture
- Story of getting foot in the door in the magazine world
- Difficulty prioritizing your career and work/life balance
- The reality of the challenges involved in working with a big brand like the Today show or Oprah
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Listen to the Podcast
Chase Jarvis: If we see our lives as pieces of art, the question then becomes how do we make our life a masterpiece? That is the through line on today's conversation here on the Chase Jarvis Live Show on CreativeLive, the conversation with Arianna Davis. Now, if you're not familiar with Arianna's work, she is the editorial director of the Today Show and the author of What Would Frida Do?, an incredible book about the legendary artist Frida Kahlo. Now, in addition to being those things that I described, Arianna is an adjunct professor at New York University's digital and print media master's program. She also oversaw digital editorial direction and strategy at the Oprah Magazine, and she launched oprah.com back in 2018.
In this episode, we cover the fact that words are so important to the creative process. Whether you're an author or not, even for visual artists, words are powerful and knowing how to use them will help your creativity, regardless the medium. We also talk about why it's important to talk about race and culture. She tells this story of getting her foot in the door at all of those places that we shared earlier on in her bio. We talked about how difficult it's been to prioritize work-life balance, and we explore, is that a myth or does it really exist or is it more of a harmony? It's a fantastic episode. I can't wait to hear what you think. Enjoy this episode, yours truly, in conversation with Arianna Davis.
Chase Jarvis: Arianna Davis, thank you so much for being on the show. Welcome.
Arianna Davis: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited for this chat. This is going to be awesome.
Chase Jarvis: Excellent. Well, I often, not always, but often like to invite our guests to share a little bit about themselves in their own words, rather than me labeling you with something as I probably will in the intro that people will just have listened to. But I'm curious how you describe yourself, your work, how you spend your time and your energy?
Arianna Davis: I appreciate you asking the question, because I think, obviously, we're usually defined by what we do in a lot of ways, but I guess I would describe myself as a storyteller. So I, by day, am the editorial director of the Today Show, which means I oversee all things editorial on our digital platforms, website, social, all that good stuff. I'm also an author. I published my first book last year, What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly, inspired by the life of the iconic artist Frida Kahlo. So, words in telling stories has always been my jam, whether that's through books or it's through journalism and digital media. So yeah, I think that's probably the biggest label other than dog mom to Leo, my puppy, who's a year old.
Chase Jarvis: Who, if I'm not mistaken, is sleeping at your feet and we may or may not desperately hope that Leo makes an appearance. For those who are listening, you won't get to see see him, but we've got our fingers crossed for those of us who are watching or on video.
Arianna Davis: Yeah. He will most likely pop up. He's very ... He's like attached with the hip, so don't worry, I feel like you'll be seeing him soon.
Chase Jarvis: Awesome. Well, one of the first things I would like to explore is creative process and different creative modalities. You listed about 10 things, right? Editorial director, program for TV, digital, and you're a storyteller which comes in many forms, just lots of different media type to tell a story, whether it's a written word or a moving image or a still image. Do you have a favorite? And if so, how do you ... Again, the listeners and watchers of the show, identify as creators and entrepreneurs, and the creative process is something I'm fascinated by. So, which do you consider your primary medium? And then talk, if you can, a little bit about extending that into these other areas. Is it fun? And is it challenge? You know, why do you choose to do that?
Arianna Davis: Great question. I think my ... I'm a words girl, I've always loved ... I've always ... My whole story starts with reading. It starts with being a bookworm. It starts with being obsessed with books. It all started with the Babysitters Club when I was like seven, eight years old. And, from there, I think I've just always just ... I think I've always been obsessed with the idea that like, just words can transport you anywhere. They can tell you a story. I feel like I've grown up to be a very empathetic person. And I think so much of that empathy comes from the fact that I've always been someone who reads other people's stories and can see myself in other characters as I'm reading. And so, that's always kind of been, I think, where it began. So, eventually that love of reading turned into a love of writing.
I was writing little books for my parents and English teachers telling them, "I think that she is a writer. Like she ... This is her thing." So I'm lucky in that sense, I think. I know so many people, I have so many people in my life who still, in our mid-30s are figuring out their passion or their purpose or what they want to do. And I recognize that I'm very privileged and extremely grateful for the fact that since I was a kid, I've always known like, words is my thing. Yeah, so I think nowadays, fast forward a few decades, I think the art of just storytelling through words, whether that's ... At the Today Show now, what that means is, as editorial director, we're publishing dozens of stories every single day.
So, it's thinking about in this world of digital media, how to make those stories voicey and fun. And if we're writing a story about news that everybody else is writing about on the same day, what makes our story stand out? What's our point of view? What's the headline or angle that's maybe a little bit of a different take than what everybody else is doing? So, that's always ... That's like where I ended up and how I landed in digital media is, I really started in media as a writer, and now I'm in more of a senior level role where I'm kind of overseeing and editing and helping to shape those stories and those words. So I think that's like my primary medium. And then, I also wrote a book and writing a book is the ultimate form of storytelling and of just wordsmithing and getting it all down on paper. So yeah, I guess to answer your question of like the primary medium, it's just words and writing, that's it.
Chase Jarvis: Well, the application ... That's one of the things that I love. So many people, when I ask that question, they'll wander in the woods a little, and it often comes back to words. Even visual storytellers, like they start off, you have to write a script. Usually, you write a script before a script becomes a television show or a TV or a movie, all those things. It's fascinating to me. You highlight the difference between say, outputting a dozen or so digital stories to that of a book. Now, we have folks who would listen to the show who consider themselves writers.
Is a book just a collection of a lot of articles, or is there something much greater and grander? And I want to then transition into specifically writing What Would Frida Do? which is an incredible piece by the way. It's received all kinds of accolades, for those who don't know, named Best Gift Book Of The Year, Instyle, Oprah Daily, Business Insider, Esquire, Boston Globe, Redbook. The list goes on, but was it just a ... Did you just sit down to create that book as a series of all the other things you've done, or was it a completely different process in itself?
Arianna Davis: Well, the book is really interesting in that the book kind of fell into my lap. So I've always dreamed of writing a book. I always knew ... As I mentioned, big bookworm ... writing a book was always a dream. So, my story is that, I started my career at Oprah Magazine. I was there for many years. I started as Gale King's assistant, and then I worked my way up to being an editor. I left and worked at Us Weekly, and I also worked at Refinery29. And then I came back to Oprah, which is, owned by Hearst Magazines, to launch the website for the magazine. The magazine had never had its own website. So 2018, I was like ... I started from scratch with zero users for the website and had to hire a team and just like figure out, small task, small challenge of launching a website for Oprah Winfrey.
So, that was a very crazy intense time of my life. I was working 24/7 and then one day I get an email from Seal Press, which is an imprint of a Hachette Books. And they reached out because they had been talking about, in this kind of time of women's empowerment and really in encouraging women to tell their stories and to be bold, that they felt like there was an opportunity for something that might revisit the story of Frida Kahlo. And they were looking around for writers who might be interested. And they heard from a former colleague of mine, "You have to talk to Arianna Davis, she's obsessed with Frida." It was like, you know you're a really big Frida fan when people are like, "Word on the street is she loves Frida." So, they reached out and it was a very crazy time, as I said, I was already like not getting any sleep.
And it was a really ... It was a whirlwind, but again, a dream of mine was always writing a book. I do ... I am indeed obsessed with Frida. And I just was like, you know what? There's no way I can turn down an opportunity like this. Like I have to see where this goes." And so from there, it was some meetings and some ideating, and just talking about, "There's been so much done about Frida, what could I do that would be different? And what would I bring to the table with a new project about her life?" And that was how this idea of What Would Frida Do? was born, which was introducing her story, somewhat biography style, for anyone who isn't familiar, for the younger generation, but also, examining her life and her legacy and why she's just still on murals and tote bags, and just everywhere you look, and doing that through the eyes of someone like me, who's a Frida super fan.
So, sitting down for that process was a) just like in addition to my day job, kind of crazy, a very crazy task to take on, but it was a lot of research. It was a lot of outlining. It was a lot of just thinking about, "Okay, I want to tell her story and offer something new to her story in a fresh way." So, yeah, it was a lot of research. It was a lot of writing on the weekends and late at night after my day job. And I also took a week off from my day job to go to Mexico City, which is her hometown. And that was where I did like my own writer's retreat and just completely just lost myself. I went to her house, I went to libraries in Mexico City, and I spent a lot of time just writing, writing, and writing. So, it's kind of a culmination of writing and researching and doing it all in between this other job.
Chase Jarvis: Wow. Well, that's one of the things that I find fascinating about words is they ... It seems like ... I think I heard this somewhere ... that writing something down helps you organize your thoughts because so much of the human condition is oriented around language. And being able to communicate really well, can have its foundation in writing. So, whether you're ... I think this is maybe a note to the creators out there that, being able to write your ideas down is a powerful tool. Did you pursue anything specifically around writing, outside of the desires that you had? MFA, did you just sit there and was it in creative writing? How did you practice? If, indeed, my hypothesis is correct, I want to give a little insight for people, how they can help formulate their ideas through writing. What did you do?
Arianna Davis: That's a great question. I think for me ... It's interesting, I came of age during the earlier days of the internet. And I remember, when I was in high school, that was like the very, very early days of blogging, and I had a little ... I think it was called like Live Journal. It was one of these kind of early online blogging platforms. And I think, honestly, that was really where I found my voice. I was like very emo teenager, who was kind of just like writing about this crush or this thing that happened to me. And that was kind of, I think, the first early days where I started writing in a way that wasn't just like in my diary, but it was like as a storyteller telling stories and sharing them with the world.
And then, I went to college and I studied journalism and obviously learned the craft there as an undergrad at Penn State. And then it was, really, I think where I got my writing chops was working in media and working in journalism. I started, as I mentioned, at Oprah Magazine. And, for anyone who isn't familiar with the magazine, the magazine is really known for its lots of really beautifully written, intentional stories and storytelling. It's one of the things I think that sets it apart from many other magazines. So that was where, I mean, I was going through rounds and rounds and rounds of edits from an editor who was just really teaching the craft of writing. And it's interesting now that I, fast forward some years, work in digital media and it's a little harder, I think, to have that kind of hands on writing, editing experience.
But, yeah, I think for me, the craft was really learned through working in media and magazines, having editors who worked really closely with me, eventually working my way up more and more. I worked at Refinery29 eventually, and I was a senior writer there. And that was where I got to just have fun and write about everything from like Beyonce, to the effects of what it's like as a black woman working in media, to ... Like, I was writing about everything and that was where I kind of had learned to hone my voice. So, that was like the professional way. But I think in my own time, I've always been someone who likes to write just for myself and who just likes to have a little fun. And I think that the best writing is you can feel the you in it, whoever is writing it.
I think if there is ... Anyone can write, I think, and there's so much writing out there, especially with the internet now, but what makes a story, a story and what makes it unique is the person who wrote it and what they're injecting into it. So, I would say anyone who's looking for advice on honing that craft, just the more you can write for yourself, the more you can write for fun. I always like to just reread things I've written, like a couple days later, and it's always interesting to be like, "Wow, the me, three days ago, really used the word like a lot." And just kind of reading what your own words and thinking like, "Here's how I would change this now. Here's how I would edit it. Here's how I'd perfect." Sharing with friends, having friends give you feedback, and I think that that is also really key in the craft of writing for sure.
Chase Jarvis: Is it ... It's not ironic ... I'm making an assumption ... your passion for Frida and her fierce spirit. I can feel that in you, in your writing, in clearly the work that you did at Oprah, for example, and now the Today Show. Is there something ... Do you feel akin in orientation or passion? Or, in what ways, rather, does the work that you did writing about Frida, mirror your own vision of yourself, or does it at all?
Arianna Davis: I mean, I think there was so many differences and so many similarities, in that, I think at the core of both of us, there was definitely this passion for storytelling, the buzzword of the hour. I think that she did it visually through art, and I think that she also was someone who didn't necessarily think that like the traditional ways of thinking should be applied. So she was a woman, she was married to a very famous artist, Diego Rivera. She was someone who had many accidents in her life, so was always dealing with health issues. And she was Mexican, she was Latin American, so there was cultural roadblocks there. And yet still, she was painting the story of her miscarriage and painting the story of what it was like to catch her husband cheating on her, and really just breaking barriers and not really caring about the expectations of what it meant to be a woman, what it meant to be a Latinx woman, what it meant to be all the labels that were given to her.
So, I think we definitely share a similar want of just like thinking outside of the box, and also, a similar love of just creativity and passion. But, there's many ways that Frida was way bolder and way more fierce than I am, and where ... A question I get a lot, from people who have read the book, is about Frida and Diego and how she just put up with so much from him, including he cheated on her with her sister and they still ended up getting back together. And people were like, "How?" And I'm just like, "That's one way I think Frida and I are probably very different."
But, at the end of the day, I still even admire her in her decisions that she made when it came to Diego, because she was very unapologetic. Like, he was known as not being attractive. And he was a womanizer and he treated her in different ways. But at the end of the day, she was like, "This is the man that I've married and I've made this decision and I'm sticking by, and I don't care what anybody says." So, she was very bold and unapologetic in that way, and that's something that I think I am as well, or at least aspire to be.
Chase Jarvis: Incredible. I read an article that you wrote online, I'm Black and Latina: How I embrace both sides. I would love to hear a little bit about the genesis of the article. You've referenced, obviously, there's a justifiable awakening that is happening. It is not enough, and there is much work to do. It's ... The piece was incredibly inspirational. You mentioned some identity of Latinx with Frida. I'm wondering how you take that responsibility in your own life, and it's clearly ... You articulate it so well in the article. I'm wondering if you can share a little bit about it here in the podcast for those that haven't read that piece?
Arianna Davis: Yeah. Thank you for bringing that one up. Yeah, so, my mom is Puerto Rican and my dad is black. I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland where it wasn't the most diverse of places. And I went to a private school. So identity is something that from a very young age, I've always struggled with and always been very aware of just knowing that I look different than other people. My sister and I, both, to most people look like black women, but we would be with my mom, who's Puerto Rican with blonde hair. And it would be like, "Is that your nanny? Is that your babysitter?" And then with my dad and his side of the family, we would get like jokes and just get teased.
And there was always kind of this feeling of not necessarily always fitting in. And that's still something, even to this day, I still think about a lot and have had to evolve my thinking around identity as we're, as a culture, and in general, in this country, also evolving conversations about identity. So, it's always been something that I've been aware of, but the older I've gotten the more comfortable and confident in my skin I've gotten. And the more I've realized that it's a blessing to come from two cultures, to have my mom's side of the family, and to go to spend time with my grandmother here in New York and to really celebrate that culture. And then, the same goes with my dad's side of the family. And I've always embraced both of those sides, which I wrote about, because for me, if I were to just say one or the other, it's like picking a parent. It's also very complicated because it's like there's race and there's ethnicity and there's nationality.
And it's like, there are black Puerto Ricans and there are ... It's all very layered. And I think the conversation is evolving. But as I continue, as a storyteller and someone who now is in a position of power where I can hire and I can open doors for other women and other people of color in this industry ... There's not a ton of people of color working in media and there's still a lot of doors that need to be opened. So, it's also something I've felt ... As you mentioned, I do feel a responsibility to try to open those doors more and to also try to educate as much as possible, whether that's through the work that I do or through conversations like this one or just through mentoring and advocating for more people who are younger than me, to get their foot in the door. So, it's something I'm thinking about all the time.
Chase Jarvis: Well, yeah, that was where my thinking was going or my questioning, rather, as the world of the diversity and the inclusiveness that our culture has had, and where it needs to go, there's so much work to be done. And would you say that's a central pillar to the work that you're doing? Is that just a byproduct of who you are? You've mentioned identity. I'm curious if you could share a little bit more on that?
Arianna Davis: Yeah. It's interesting, I think last summer, when the Black Lives Matter movement started to have a resurgence and after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, there was a lot of conversation in newsrooms and at companies, like the one that I used to work for, about how do we get more diverse? People were coming to me asking, "You've hired a really diverse staff. How did you manage to do it?" Or, "The content that you're putting out through Oprah is really diverse. How do you do it?" And for me, it was just like, it's just second nature because it's who I am. And it's, I come from the perspective and this is why I do think it's important in media and any storytelling business or any business really.
But I think if you want diverse perspectives in your workplace, whether that's a website that you produce, or you're an editor looking for authors, or you're an entrepreneur, and you want your product to resonate with all audiences, I think the people who are working for you need to be diverse too. And that doesn't even just necessarily mean race. I always wanted to make sure that we had queer perspectives on my team and that I had writers that I could go to if we wanted a plus size perspective for style stories. I mean, there's just ... If you have a team who all looks the same, or you're surrounded by people who all look the same, you're not going to have diverse perspectives or diverse stories.
So, I think that it's just like intrinsic for someone like me, who is a person of color and has grown up always thinking about race and always thinking about what it means to be other and realizing that that's not necessarily how everyone thinks, was an aha moment as I got older and realized like, "Wow, so you are really just not ... Like, race doesn't even cross your mind?" Or, people who say they're color blind and it's like there's really no such thing. So I've even had to learn on that end of things. To your question, I definitely think it's part of who I am and it's always intrinsically part of the work that I do.
Chase Jarvis: Oh, and you ... That last comment that you shared reminded me ... I can't say friend, I'll say acquaintance and former guest on the show, Emmanuel Acho. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Emmanuel, but-
Arianna Davis: Oh yep. Yep.
Chase Jarvis: He talked about, it's actually antithetical to the preferred solution to try and teach your children to not see color. It's actually about seeing color, embracing it and understanding it. And I was wondering how that manifests in your work? Is that a ... Would you agree with that statement? And, if so, how, and if not, how?
Arianna Davis: I definitely agree. I think that at the end of the day, race and culture, it's all part of who we are. And I think celebrating that is important. I'm incredibly proud to be a black woman and I'm incredibly proud to be Puerto Rican, just like I'm sure Emmanuel is proud to be a black man. And it's like, if everyone around you kind of talks around the issue or never acknowledges that that's who you are, that's not being authentic and that's not being realistic. And if you have ... For me, being a person of color, who has had white friends and we never ever talk about race, but as I just mentioned, race is something I always have to think about. And it's something that's part of the work that I do.
So, if we're truly friends and we truly have a connection, if we're never actually talking about it, it's kind of like, we're just ignoring a big part of who I am. Just like if someone that I'm friends with is really proud to be Italian, I'm probably going to be like, "Hey, I want to know Italy. Tell me about it." You know, I just ... I think that it's just normal and I think that this ... I do recognize that people who say they want to be color blind, or that they don't want to think about race, I think what they really mean is that they don't want to believe or see ... they don't want to believe or perpetuate the idea that if you are of a certain race, that you are less than others or that they believe in any stereotypes, and they don't believe in the problematic things. And that's one thing and that's fine, but not being racist doesn't have to be being color blind. I don't think the two have to go hand-in-hand.
Chase Jarvis: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I want to shift gears and talk a little bit about career. Obviously, you are on a meteor. You've covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. I think there's ... If I was to survey the listenership of the show, there are ... Everyone feels like they're not doing enough, myself included. Like, "Oh, I could ... I should be doing more. I could be ..." How have ... And I don't know if you feel that way as well, but hopefully in your answer you can share ... as I'm sort of meandering around the question here, the punchline ... what has been your central instinct? Because it seems like most folks that I have had on the show, there's two steps forward one step back, and you can sort of see that in their career a little bit.
Or if you can't see it on the surface, a simple question will reveal that, "No, no, I'm not super human. I'm just like you. We're all sort of figuring our way through this." But I don't ... I'm struggling to see that. It just seems like you went from self-proclaimed bookworm or book nerd, I don't remember how you described it, and now the editorial director of the Today Show, which I don't even know the reach and the impact that position or the show has. I know it's significant. So can you help us make you seem human? And-
Arianna Davis: I have ... No, I was going to say, I have no problem doing that, because I could tell you. And I think this is really important conversation to have. And one of the things, as I've surprised myself in finding a small social media following ... And one of the reasons that I think I enjoy social media is that I do think that so much of social media is just only showing the highlights and it is only showing the good parts. And I try my best to show both and to be open throughout my journey because I do think it's really misleading, especially in this like social media driven culture that we're just seeing highlight reels of people's lives. And it's like you listen to a podcast episode about somebody and it's like, "Wow, listen to all the great things they've done." That's not realistic or real. I think, for me, I mean, I've definitely encountered a lot of challenges, but I would say the biggest ones that I'll talk about here is that ... Yes, I started my career at Oprah, which is like dream job, which is amazing.
And it's funny because I thought I was going to be in newspapers. When I was at Penn State, I heard about interning at magazines, but it was always something. My family couldn't afford to send me to New York City to pay extra for summer credits so that I could pay New York rent and intern at a magazine. And everyone I knew who worked at magazines was, to be frank, white and knew somebody who knew somebody and had a certain level of privilege that I didn't have. So, my second choice was always newspapers because that was a little bit more accessible and it felt like it was an easier road of journalism to break into. So I actually actually started my career at the New York Daily News as a postgrad intern as part of a scholarship program that I got into.
And the only reason I got my foot in the door at Oprah was because I went to Penn State and there was a scholarship dinner where the publisher of Seventeen Magazine was speaking. And I, afterwards, was just like so enamored and was like, "Oh my God, this woman works for Seventeen. And I want to work in magazines, and this is my shot." And something within me just pushed me to follow her into the bathroom and pretend I was washing my hands next to her. And I asked her for her business card. Looking back, I still really don't know what overtook me. I think it was probably a crazy thing to stalk someone in the bathroom, but she was perfectly nice and she gave me her card. So, when I moved to New York and I was interning at the Daily News, I reached out to her. We had lunch and she luckily didn't think I was crazy and became kind of a mentor to me.
And then, when I saw online that there was a job opening for a postgraduate intern at Oprah magazine, which is also under Hearst where Seventeen is, I reached out to her. And she was like, "Let me find out who the best contact is." She was able to connect me, and that was kind of how it all started. Again, it still was a who you know. It was like, I lucked out that I was at the scholarship dinner and that ... I mean, it's just crazy when I think about it. So anyways, that was kind of how I broke into the business and how I got into magazines. But I mean, when I tell you there aren't a lot of people that look like me in this industry, that there are so many meetings over the years where I was like, "How did I end up here? I don't know what I'm doing. I feel like I'm speaking up about ideas and no one understands me because I'm black and they're not, and they don't understand what I'm talking about," or like for a million other reasons, that was a struggle. And it was very lonely.
When I first started as an intern, I was making like minimum wage in New York City living here for the first time. And none of my friends were here and it was a grind and it was a struggle. I think my early years in New York really taught me a lot. And that was kind of the make or break of realizing, you don't get into this business to make money. You don't ... Even, magazine sounds glamorous, and I know all of the places I've worked sound glamorous, but you're not in it for the money. A lot of my friends became lawyers and doctors for a reason. And I think that ... But that also really taught me about passion and taught me that like, if I really love storytelling and love words, and I love that passion, that I'm going to have to be willing to grind it out for as long as I can.
So, there was a lot of late nights, there was a lot of eating ramen because to, in order to afford my rent. There was a lot of that kind of stuff. And the other thing I'll mention is just that through the years, as I was grinding and as I was working my way up the ladder, slowly but surely, there was a lot of nos. There was a lot of dream jobs that came along that I interviewed for, that I got to the final stage or I got to references, or I had my heart set on them and then there were nos.
And so there were a lot of times where I felt like, "This is the perfect next step," or, "this is what I want to do next," or, "wow, this is an incredible opportunity," and then that rejection happens. So, I guess that all that is to say that, yes, I've been really blessed and I've had an amazing career and I thank God every day for it, but there's been a lot of hustle behind the scenes and a lot of grinding and a lot of loneliness and a lot of no sleep and a lot of like losing friendships and losing relationships because I have to be so obsessed with my job. I mean, there's been a lot of sacrifice there too.
Chase Jarvis: If I say the words, work-life balance, especially juxtaposed to that sort of final sentiment of losing friends and making the decision of you're going to prioritize your career ... And just to disclosure, like, I don't know of the, say there's 500 people been on the show, it's probably less than 10 that were able to articulate any sort of a work-life balance. Harmony is one thing that I can identify and understand, which is like for every time you're way over here, you can make a little bit of time way over here, but it doesn't happen on a small sign wave basis. It's not predictable and simple. So, if I say work-life balance, for someone who's aspiring to hit the same trajectory that you have, or take a similar path, or if there's someone of color who's inspired by your story, what do you have to say about work-life balance?
Arianna Davis: I mean, it is really hard.
Chase Jarvis: And, let's be real. Let's be real. Okay?
Arianna Davis: Yeah.
Chase Jarvis: I want to be real.
Arianna Davis: No, I will always be real. And I will say-
Chase Jarvis: Okay.
Arianna Davis: ... I think that now, I'm at a place because I feel like ... I know you're not really supposed to say this, but I'm going to say it. I do think that you have to pay your dues. And I do think that at least for ... This is coming from my perspective, and this is coming from where I work. I do think and what I've been loving to see, I do think that especially gen Z and I think people who are just now starting out in the workplace are a lot more vocal about work-life balance, and are ... There's so many places that are unionizing. Unions in magazine and digital media didn't really exist until like the last couple of years. So, I think a lot of people are a lot more vocal now about like, "No, it's not okay to overwork us or to expect to stay late in the office or to have expectations of these crazy hours."
So, I think that things are changing. And I think the idea of paying your dues is not going to always exist forever. But I do think, to an extent, especially when you're just starting out or if you really want something and you know that there's a lot of building that's going to be required, whether that's starting your own business or your entry level at a job, I do think that setting yourself up and realizing that like for a certain amount of time, you're going to probably lose sleep. And you're probably going to be obsessively figuring out whatever it is that you're doing. I think that's just part of it. And I think that anything that you really want, does require some sacrifice. I'm a big fan of therapy. I started going to therapy in the pandemic because I live alone and it was just a crazy time, but my therapist talks a lot about the different domains of your life.
There's your professional domain, there's your personal domain, there's your relationships domain. So, I kind of think of it a little bit like a scale. Sometimes, work is going to weigh more than like your relationships do. And then there might be times when finally work slows down a little bit and you have more time to dedicate towards your time with your partner or your kids or whatever it may be. But I do think that like balancing the skills is tricky and I don't know that there's ever going to be a perfect balance of everything. But, one thing that I do that I feel like is very helpful for me is that I always try to find a little bit of time every day, where I just like put my phone down and do not look at it.
That's like just a little bit of time. I think if you are constantly working, whether that's ... Whatever you do, if you're constantly working, that means you're constantly plugged in. You're constantly on a screen. You're constantly ... Like, your brain's just going, going, going. So for me, to have a little bit of that balance and to feel a little bit like I have some me time is really, really key. I also like ... I actually just posted about this on Instagram.
I like to take if I can, like a day or two, at least once a year, if not more, where I just take myself on a little solo retreat and I turn my phone off and I take my dog and I walk in nature, or I like wander around in a city. Or, even if it's here in New York, I'll just go for a day, a Saturday, and I'll just put my phone on airplane mode and go to a library or somewhere I've never been. But I think if you can have a little bit of solo time, to just completely unplug and not think about work, take a break from your partner or your kids, if you can, and just have that time to yourself, I think that that goes a long way.
Chase Jarvis: Well said. It's so true. Unplugging, especially, I'm ... There's the idea, especially that was accelerated during the pandemic, of from anywhere. And when you can work from anywhere and then you take that, literally I can work from the kitchen table, the couch, my lap, the floor, it sounds great. But what I realized is that my work is, I can literally swipe up and then I'm at work. And that can be very, very dangerous for all of us, to be able to do that ... You know?
Arianna Davis: Yeah.
Chase Jarvis: ... instantly. And I found that I can't ... It's not natural to program against that. My nature is to do that. So I have to work expressly hard to get out of it. And you're talking about a few days to do this, and I'm sure that's the bare minimum, right? My gosh, we should probably have a lot more than that.
Arianna Davis: Yeah. I mean, I think like, especially ... I mean, this ... Everyone listening to this is a creative, and at the end of the day, any of us who are in a creative field, we're not curing cancer, right? So it's like, I think that any crisis or emergency or breaking news moment or whatever it is that pop up, it's like, of course the expectation is we need to be on it immediately. But, it's also, like, if you miss an email and you don't get back to it for three hours, it's going to be okay. It's going to be fine. But I do think that culturally, we're just trained, especially with having a phone and having our laptop and working from home. It's like, everyone can access you at all times, but it doesn't always have to be that way. You can take breaks and you can unplug.
Chase Jarvis: Truth. You spoke about being inspired by Frida. There's something I'm really aware of, especially in this time and culturally, it's emerging and it should be obvious, but it's difficult to be what you can't see. So, I'm wondering who are people that inspire you? Clearly, Frida is one, but who are people in your career that you look to and who gave you a sense of inspiration, a belief, maybe even a set of values that you've taken to heart and used in your life? I'm always looking for ... to find out who were the inspirators behind, what has been obviously an amazing, amazing trajectory you've been on.
Arianna Davis: Well, I mean, the obvious answer is Oprah obviously, but, I think a lot of people don't ... So, I ... For anyone who doesn't know Gayle King, she's Oprah's best friend. She's also an anchor on CBS This Morning and she is also the editor-at-large of Oprah Magazine. My first job, as I mentioned, after I was an intern at O, I was Gayle's assistant for about four years. And Gayle King is ... I mean, she wakes up at three o'clock every morning to get ready and go over to CBS and anchor CBS This Morning. She then comes to the office. This is pre-pandemic times, obviously. She does it now because they're back in the office, but pre-pandemic, that was her schedule. After to the show, and after her post show meetings at about 11:00 AM, she was going to the magazine every single day taking lots of meetings.
She, essentially, as editor-at-large, was in every single meeting and was kind of, essentially, like the editor-in-chief. And then, at like 7:00 PM, she would go to this event or that event, or this philanthropy thing, or do this late night interview for CBS. And she did it all with a smile. She knew the name of every single doorman or security person. She never got snappy or rude. She was always just like the sunniest, kindest, nicest person. And she was ambitious and a go-getter. And she's just ... I mean, I couldn't even tell you all the lessons that I learned from working with her and witnessing firsthand, just like that kind of drive and work ethic. And she's at a place, financially and age-wise, where she probably could just retire and like live her life and enjoy being a grandma now and like go hang out with Oprah in Hawaii and just do her thing.
But she also loves storytelling and she loves being on the news and she loves the magazine and she loves meeting people. And I think that I learned a lot in that I saw so much of myself in her and wanting to ... having that same kind of passion and drive and dream, but also doing it all with a smile and being nice and being kind. There's a lot of people in my industry who are not very nice and not very kind, and who think that the way to get to the top is trampling over other people or being really mean when you're editing a story or using your ego to like get on top or be competitive. And that's never been Gayle.
And even a lot of people are like, "Oh, being Oprah's best friend, and she must be in Oprah's shadow," but that's never bothered her. She's never cared about that. She has her own career. She does her own thing. She's not bothered by being called Oprah's best friend. She just is who she is and she loves life. And I've learned so much from watching her as like a powerful woman, a mother of two amazing grown children, someone who's done so much. So, I will always scream from the rooftops, how much I learned from Gayle and how much I admire her, and also, just how much I think she's underrated as a journalist and as just a human being in the world.
Chase Jarvis: It's amazing how far that goes, right, being a kind person?
Arianna Davis: Yep. I mean, it's very small things where, I think I didn't really come to appreciate her in that small thing so much as when I left Oprah and I worked at other places. And I saw like how there were people in positions of power who were just not nice people and who mixed up people's names or didn't bother to learn people's names or who just were, you could tell, using their positions of power to make themselves feel better about any issues that they may have. So, I think just that small ... It sounds very cheesy, but I think that small just goal and that idea of just being kind and being nice, and not ... Obviously, in business, sometimes you have to make not very nice decisions and there are moments where we have to be cutthroat and you have to be straightforward. But I think that there's a way to do it while still being respectful of people and being respectful of your colleagues and always remembering that everyone that you work with is a person at the end of the day.
Chase Jarvis: What's an unexpected challenge for being you? It looks ... What's an unexpected challenge? And I think you've done a great job of helping us understand the grit required that you have put into pursuing your dreams. And you've talked about it in the sphere, the journalism degree and media, and I think the same thing applies to ostensibly, any industry or any vision one has for oneself, yet we're often ... Everyone's got their own stuff, and so, what is a challenge that you wouldn't see from your Instagram? Wow, your dog is very cute, by the way. Wow.
Arianna Davis: Well, you know what? He actually just woke up, so now, right before I talk about challenges, he can say, hi. Say hi, Pooky. Say hi, Pooky.
Chase Jarvis: Oh.
Arianna Davis: He just woke up from his nap, so he's like half asleep.
Chase Jarvis: Oh my goodness.
Arianna Davis: Okay, you could go back to sleep. You could go back to sleep.
Chase Jarvis: That is very cute.
Arianna Davis: He's like half knocked out. But, okay, an unexpected challenge, it's a good question. And I think ... I mean, the first answer that comes to mind is although, of course, it's a dream job and it's amazing, but working for a brand like Oprah or for a brand like Today, there's a lot of pressure. There's a lot of weight on my shoulders. There's a lot of things that keep me up at night. There's a lot of, the expectation that I'm the boss, so if something goes wrong, the execs at NBC, or back when I was working at Oprah, Oprah herself, they were calling me. Or, if there was a story that had an error ... If there's a story that has an error in it, or we get sued because of some libelous statement that I didn't catch or that my editors didn't catch, that falls on me.
And there's a million perks to working for a high profile brand and names. And I'm so grateful for those opportunities, but it is a lot of pressure, and there is ... This idea of unplugging is very hard for someone like me, who I feel like I'm constantly having to keep my eye out for like every little thing, whether it's a typo or an error, or it's like, "Oh shoot, we didn't cover that story. And that story would've been perfect for us." There's a lot of that pressure and those are the kinds of things that can keep me up at night. And there's been a lot of times where I've been out with friends on a Saturday and everyone's drinking and just like letting loose. And then it's like the middle of the day, and I'm getting a call from someone about something that happened. And it's just like, "Sorry, guys, I got to go. I got to go deal with this crisis or put this fire out."
So again, I'm always grateful for the challenge. It's a good problem to have, but you know, it is a challenge and it can be hard. And sometimes I have to make decisions just based on gut without knowing if it's the right thing or without having any precedent. Digital media is moving so fast and there's just so much change and there's no real rule book or playbook. So, a lot of times I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping that I'm doing the right thing and making the right decisions. But, it can be a lot of pressure for sure.
Chase Jarvis: Is your intuition something you trust?
Arianna Davis: 1000%. I think ... Well, knock on wood. I'm like, let me knock. But, so far, so good. Listen, there's definitely been times where I've second-guessed a decision or a second-guessed something. But at the end of the day, I try to look at it as any decision that I make, that maybe wasn't the right decision, hopefully I'll learn something from that in the end. And, there's been people I've hired or stories that have green-lit, or stories that I've written, where looking back, I'm like, "Maybe I wouldn't have made that decision," or, "I wouldn't have done that," or, people that I didn't hire where I'm like, "Shoot, that person would've been great." But at the end of the day, all you can do is trust your gut. I think that that's all any of us can really do.
Chase Jarvis: I'm very grateful for your time. Last question, before we let you go.
Arianna Davis: Of course.
Chase Jarvis: In the What Would Frida Do book, it's ... Her paintings have earned admirers from around the world. And taking from the marketing on the copy, the back of the book, but perhaps her greatest work of art was her own life. So if you could articulate, what's currently missing from the work of art that you are making of your life? And what plans do you have to address it?
Arianna Davis: That is a really good question.
Chase Jarvis: I'm a professional.
Arianna Davis: You've done this before, a time or two, I can tell. I don't feel like anything is missing right now, but I do think that I ... I think what's really exciting is that I don't know. I really don't know what the story and the art of my life is going to be. And I think that that is really ... I mean, when I even first started, when I graduated from school and I was trying to get into magazines, like the job of running a digital website didn't even exist. I mean, it was like I had no idea that I was eventually going to pivot to digital journalism and that I would be running the website for the Today Show. I mean, are you're kidding me? Like, that wasn't even a thing. So, it is really ... Sometimes for someone like me who is very ... Like, I love to know what's next, and I do want to plan out my plan, it's also exciting to think like, "10 years from now, who knows what there could be?"
But, I do know one of the big goals that I have is ... As I've mentioned several times now, I'm a bookworm, I love reading, but fiction is my first love. I love ... I mean, if you could see my apartment, there's just books everywhere. I've been dabbling here and there with working on a novel. And I would love to publish some fiction sometime within the next few years, because as I mentioned, I love being a storyteller, but I've mostly been doing that in journalism. And I would love to just have a little fun and tell some stories. I think a lot of the kinds of books that I like to read, don't normally star protagonists who look like me, the like light, romantic comedies that are just fun and escapist. So I want to dive into that a little bit, but I'm like, "Okay, let me just focus on the Today Show for a now." Enough ... Like, big job and a book, I can't do it again. I can't, so I need a little time.
Chase Jarvis: Fair enough. Thank you for sharing your time. Speaking of time, thank you for sharing it with us. Grateful to have had you on the show. Obviously, the listener will pick up What Would Frida Do? Is there anywhere else on the worldwide internet universe that you would send people who want to know a little bit more about you or have admired your career path or your take on life? Where would you steer people?
Arianna Davis: Sure. Yeah. I'm a big Instagram girl, always on there. So feel free to follow me on @Arianna with two N's, Ariannagab, G-A-B. And yeah, I'm always there. I love connecting with people. I'm a such a fan of the podcast, so I really appreciate you having me on and yeah, I'm looking forward to listening to future episodes.
Chase Jarvis: Awesome. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time. And for all those out there in the internet, you've got a couple of homework assignments to pick up that book. Internet feed is ... I mean, you got to see this dog. I mean, this is ... He is very cute. Do you know Roxane Gay or Debbie Millman? They have a dog. They're a couple-
Arianna Davis: Yes.
Chase Jarvis: ... they have a dog, it looks just like-
Arianna Davis: He does.
Chase Jarvis: ... Leo. Yeah.
Arianna Davis: He does. Yeah, Leo's my pandemic puppy. He's a pandemic puppy. I got him in like the peak of the pandemic last year. He's now my best friend. He's now ... He just fell asleep again. He's on my lap, but-
Chase Jarvis: I mean ...
Arianna Davis: ... he's the best.
Chase Jarvis: I mean, cute overload here. What kind of dog is he?
Arianna Davis: He's a Cavapoo and he's a year old and he is just ... He's super sweet, but also like got a little mysterious, mischievous side, so got to love it.
Chase Jarvis: Who doesn't? Who doesn't? Thank you so much-
Arianna Davis: Yes.
Chase Jarvis: ... for being the show. And to everybody out there in the universe, thank you for tuning in. Until next time, we bid you adieu.
This transcript was exported on Jan 05, 2022 - view latest version here.
20211216_CJ_LIVE_Arianna_Davis_PV02_REV (Completed 12/29/21)
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