I met Emmy Favilla in high school in social studies class.
“Cool K-Rock sticker” she said and pointed to my binder.
After that we were besties.
Twenty years later, Emmy and I continue to be close, and through all of the years I’ve known her, Emmy has always inspired me. More recently, I’ve been blown away by her approach to career growth.
Emmy is a Senior Commerce Editor at BuzzFeed, and the author of A World Without “whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age.
Emmy joined BuzzFeed before it exploded into the media empire it is today, and quickly rose up the ranks. Prior to joining BuzzFeed in 2012, she was the copy chief at Teen Vogue, and also had roles as copywriter and magazine copy editor.
Like Emmy’s approach to life, I’d say her approach to career success is pretty non-traditional. Yes, she works hard, but more importantly, she follows her voice, gut and pursues what makes her feel good.
We don’t do this enough. We’re taught success comes with a price (often our health and happiness).
However, it’s Emmy’s openness and go-with-the-flow approach that has led to her growth and to her becoming a published author.
In this interview, Emmy and I talk about:
- (1) What happens when you follow the flow and don’t let the definition of your day job restrict you,
- (2) What it looks like to approach your day from a place of possibility whether you work in corporate or for yourself, and
- (3) How to move forward when you’re feeling stuck.
Meet Emmy. (At the end of the post you can also access our live video call that we hosted for the Work Bigger Community)
Give us some background. Where are you from, and where did you start out?
I grew up between Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, and attended NYU for my undergraduate studies, where I completed a BA in journalism with a minor in creative writing.
I always wanted to work in media — magazines, specifically — so during my undergrad years I interned at a variety of publications, from small, independent magazines to major national publications to trade mags.
I realized I was good at and enjoyed copy editing thanks to two internships in particular: one at a small, independent women’s magazine called Grace Woman (that was only in existence for a few years), and another at Stuff magazine, which was my last internship before I graduated.
Upon graduating, I landed my first full-time job as a copy editor at Seventeen magazine, where I worked for about two years.
From there, I went on to work in a series of roles as a copy editor or copywriter, eventually moving up the ladder to copy chief at Teen Vogue, and later copy chief at BuzzFeed.
What is your mission, the work you want to do?
I aspire to inform and to entertain via the work that I edit and write. (And as a copy editor, specifically, to improve and to polish the words of others as much as possible.)
I love forging connections with others and spurring dialogue — be it about language and how it’s evolving, about cool new products, or simply about a funny or relatable scenario.
Outside of my professional life in media, I work with animals and animal rescue — and so improving the lives of animals is also a dual passion that I try to pursue in my spare time as much as I possibly can, via volunteering, fostering, and making connections in that sphere.
What led you there? Can you recall any experiences you had that pushed you to your mission?
I’ve always loved writing — it’s been a passion of mine since I was probably five or six years old and would write short stories and make little illustrated “books” out of pieces of paper.
So I always knew I wanted to work with words in some capacity, and in college I remember taking a copyediting class on Fridays at 8:30 a.m. and realizing – Wow, I must really love copyediting to commit to a class on a Friday, especially at such an ungodly hour (for an undergrad student!).
That, coupled with my experiences helping staff copy editors at my internships mentioned above, really pushed me to the realization that being a copy editor could be a viable career path for me.
As for my personal mission re: animal rescue and welfare, I’ve always grown up around pets — my parents are big animal lovers as well — and it’s simply been an innate mission for as long as I can recall.
My parents often took in stray or abandoned cats, and it was instilled in me from a very young age that you have to do what you can with your resources to help creatures in need that don’t have a voice and the means to help themselves.
What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?
One challenge that I faced — and it’s one that I’ve heard other copy editors struggle with as well — is balancing my creative passions with my day job where I would exclusively edit others’ work.
Finding an outlet in which to flex my creative muscles has always been a priority, and I’ve always been able to make it happen in copy editing roles, in between the demands of my day-to-day.
I have simply asked, “Hey, can I write?” and it was honestly as easy as that! In prior positions I’ve done as much as I reasonably could creatively, and in addition to fulfilling my personal passion I think it did double-duty in terms of bolstering my job security.
I also started teaching copy editing classes about seven years ago, both to challenge myself and to break up the monotony of my day job when I was working as a copywriter for a fashion retail brand.
I had to overcome the fear that I wasn’t qualified enough or hadn’t racked up enough years of experience to teach a formal class, especially because many of my students were older than I was. Call it a classic case of impostor syndrome, but it was very intimidating at first!
I just reminded myself, “You know about this topic more than these students do, which is why they’re taking this class.” I’d repeat this in my head over and over — and remind myself that I’d been hired as a copy chief, so of course I was qualified!
And most recently, pushing myself out of my comfort zone — from editing to actually creating content on a regular basis and strategizing (while also editing) — has been a challenge, but I’ve been patient with myself and the learning curve, and constantly strive to learn from my manager and other managers on the team.
I had to acknowledge that I wouldn’t seamlessly glide from one role to another in a completely different department with a completely different set of goals, and that I might not be killing it in this role until at least several months in, and that that was okay! In time I’d create a system for myself and learn from my mistakes and reevaluate my goals.
What does living from a place of possibility mean to you?
It means that you shouldn’t feel stifled by the parameters that have traditionally been set for someone doing the type of work or living the kind of life you’re living.
It means creating your own role by finding a system that works for you and your lifestyle and by pushing boundaries and experimenting — and feeling okay if the experiment doesn’t work well or as planned and just going from there and improvising.
It means not being required to follow a linear path in your life or career, and being excited, not fearful, when you veer off that path, and knowing that you may not always have the answers but through trial and error you’ll find them and get to where you need to be.
Can you recall a time when you shifted from making a decision(s) out of fear vs. possibility? What was that like? And why did you feel the need to make that decision?
I recently changed roles because after 12 years as a copy editor, I was feeling many things: I was a bit bored, I felt I’d hit a plateau professionally and in terms of learning, and I wasn’t feeling creatively inspired.
While I was a little concerned about shifting roles after being so comfortable and confident in my ability to copy edit and lead a team of like-minded “word nerds,” I realized that taking on a completely new role with a new learning curve — one where experimentation was encouraged and one that incorporated analyzing and strategizing — might be what I need to feel excited and passionate about my day-to-day work again.
So I took the leap, and it’s been incredibly exciting and fun, and I’m learning so many new things about a part of the digital media world I had very little prior knowledge of.
What advice do you have for 20 to 30-somethings who want to make an impact through their work but are currently feeling stuck?
Carve specific blocks of time out and set a schedule to focus on the work you want to do if it’s not something that aligns with your current day job or work situation.
Envision what that impact you want to make looks like, and then connect with the people who are doing the work you aspire to do and living the kind of lives you aspire to live — follow them on social media, read about their stories, and maybe even reach out to them and ask them to have coffee or a drink for an informal chat. (The worst they can do is not respond, or say they don’t have time.)
Create a cohesive brand for yourself on social media, have a presence, and self-promote. It’s never been an easier time in history to have your work seen and make sure it’s seen by the right people!