Interview 002: Mack Nielson

For the second installment of Infrequently Asked Questions, I interviewed Mack Nielson, a Chicago-based (for now) writer and generally spirited young lady with the emotional maturity and wisdom of someone twice her age. I've known Mack for less than a year, but in that time, I've been blown away by her hustle, and the thoughtful way she contributes her talents to the world. I think she's magic. Here's Mack.

What character stuff have you had to actively work on over the past several years?

Over the past several years I've struggled with confidence--whether it's confidence to show up somewhere alone, share my ideas at work or wear something unusual.

Being reliable is also a work in progress--not so much in a professional sense because I'm a totally devoted employee--but more so with friendships. I'm a bit flaky when it comes to social gatherings, and I'm often quick to RSVP yes, but when the social hour strikes I'm more likely to hide out in my apartment.

How are you doing on that stuff now?

My confidence is always growing, and it helps that I have an amazing support system of friends, family and coworkers who push me outside my comfort zone on a daily basis. Reliability? Not so much. I think I've gotten worse at being socially reliable over the last few years, but I like to think that's just a result of having more confidence in my introversion?

Define your career...then tell us how it's different than you thought it would be.

I am working in social media at a tech startup that analyzes data for the industrial space. It sounds kind of sexy, right? But I am so, so, so vastly far away from where I thought I would be. When I was in college (lol, last year), I believed I would graduate, jump on a plane to New York City and work 80 hours a week trying to break into the fashion writing scene. I even had a plane ticket! But sometimes life just happens. Today, I'm still in Chicago, and I'm pretty happy about it. But don't worry--even though I haven't made it to NYC, I've still had a taste of 80+ hour work weeks. Unfortunately, though, I don't work in fashion or even in writing anymore. I hope that will change soon.

Do you feel like you've made it yet? Have things clicked? Explain.

In some senses, I am really proud of myself: I live in downtown Chicago, I have a full time job, I'm paying off my student loans on my own, and I have an amazing apartment that I share with my boyfriend. So on a personal level, I think I've totally made it, and it can only keep get better. But have I made it professionally? Absolutely, positively, 100% no, I haven't made it. I couldn't feel further away from making it. There is so much I have to do! I'm going to start a project of my own! I'm going to write copy for a fashion brand! I'm going to contribute to a major fashion magazine! I'm hopefully going to make a lot of money... because I'm going to own a closet full of Céline--I mean you need to make a lot of money to have a closet full of Céline!!!!

How do you think others perceive your life path? Do you care?

I'm really not sure. I know my family and friends are proud of me because they tell me so, but maybe they're supposed to do that. I think caring about what others think is useless because no one else is living my life. No one else feels the defeat when I don't succeed, nor does s/he experience the elation when I do. So at the end of the day, I don't care how others perceive my life path as long as I meet the standards I've set for myself.

Speaking of others, how have your relationships shaped you?

I am my mother's daughter. She taught me that there's value in working just a little bit later, pushing just a little bit harder, questioning just a little bit more. And there exists no better role models on earth than my grandparents. They've taught me to work harder, be kinder and love deeper. My mother and my grandparents are my rocks, and I know they'll be there to support me no matter what happens.

My friend David has taught me to be more creative. He pushes me to think outside the box more than anyone else I know, and he's quick to question my ideas, but only to make them stronger and more refined.

My friend KP keeps me grounded and shows me that taking risks is scary but always worthwhile. She is also proof that if you want something enough then it's yours for the taking.

(My boyfriend) Reed has taught me to be more patient and responsible. He forces me to question my motives and to think through the decisions I make, ensuring that I'm both responsible and reasonable in my endeavors. He's also helped tremendously with my confidence because he lets me be myself all.the.freaking.time. He's also taught me to be more selfless and empathetic. 

And two women who have provided the best advice, mentorship and leadership in terms of forging a creative path in the city: Jessica Murnane and Jourdan Fairchild. Not only have they showed me that it's possible to attain personal and professional success, but also that it can be achieved in a graceful and thoughtful way. They're positive, strong willed and intelligent (and they look good, too). I couldn't feel more grateful for their existence in my life. Whether it's a coffee date, an invitation to an event, a referral letter, some serious copyediting, a professional introduction or just a friendly chat, Jessica and Jourdan have helped me in ways that are beyond imagination. I've referenced them more than once in conversation about the kind of person I strive to be, and I can't imagine that ever changing.

What's your perspective on life like now as opposed to 5 years ago? 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, I was just starting high school. I was nervous and self-conscious, and I didn't want to go. I wanted to be homeschooled. Life seemed daunting. Not a lot changed in five years, because just five years ago, I was living in Iowa City and studying pre-dentistry at the University of Iowa. I felt really unhappy and defeated, and sort of like everything was scary and unknown. Today, everything still seems just as scary and unknown, but I'm much more optimistic, and I know there is so much opportunity to be had. Life looks like a long road filled with hard work, change and perseverance, but I'm interested to see where the road takes me.

What are you most looking forward to?

Honestly, I'm most looking forward to paying off my student loans because I feel like that is when my life will really begin! Isn't that horrible? I hope that when I have less debt, I will be able to make professional decisions that increase my happiness not just the numbers in my bank accounts. I'm also really looking forward to moving to New York (once my loans are paid back).

In your daily life, when are you happiest?

I am the happiest when I am in my home. Even if it's just painting or cleaning, I'm creating a place that is truly my own. I have time and space to be selfish in my thoughts and activities, and I feel totally safe to be my true self, surrounded by all of my favorite people and things.

On the other hand, how do you pull yourself out of a funk when you're in one? And how did you most likely wind up in said hypothetical funk in the first place?

As much as I know that a person's job doesn't define him/her, I somehow can't escape the feeling that in my life, what I do defines me. So when I think about work stresses or discontent, I get really down. It can be tough to recover from those thoughts, but usually just venting to Reed or my mom does the trick, or at least helps me see another perspective. Running really, really helps take my mind off things and forces me to transform negative energy into something positive. Reading helps, too--it's sort of like an escape into another world.

Any other questions you wish someone would ask you?

I'm not sure that I would want to answer these, but I think asking about a person's distresses, fears and failures is as important as his/her desires, dreams and projections. 

*Editor comment: Noted.

Rose TruesdaleComment