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Don't freak out about the future and don't be afraid to take risks

Lesley is an associate social media editor for She’s a news-junkie with a passion for queso dip, multimedia journalism, social media and a good bottle of red wine.

1. What's your story? What makes you unique?

I feel like I’m filling out an online dating application right now. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Growing up, I was always that overly-curious child who wouldn’t stop asking questions in class. Why is the sky blue? Who decided it’s blue? How did it get that way? The line of questioning could go on and on.

I love the fact that everyone has a story and I found different ways to explore that idea throughout different stages of my life. Growing up, it was through theater. I relished being able to step away from my regular life and step into the life of another character. When I was going into college, I fell in love with journalism. Deciding my major seemed like an obvious choice -- here was a career where I could get paid to do what I love -- meet new people and tell their stories.

Originally, I had my heart set on becoming a news anchor, but I soon realized that what I enjoyed the most wasn’t being in front of the camera, but rather, behind the computer screen.

My big realization came when I was interning at my dream job -- CNN. There, I was able to focus on news-gathering and social media engagement. I would try to find stories from all over the world that had the potential to go viral, and then pitch those stories to CNN to cover. I remember the first time I saw a story I pitched wind up on CNN vertical and being covered by every major news outlet.

I decided to set my sights on digital producing, unlike many of my classmates. I always loved social media and saw a huge opportunity to tell stories in new and exciting ways through various social and digital platforms. After I graduated, I was lucky to get a six-month fellowship at AOL.

I quickly packed up my bags and headed to New York City, not knowing how long I was going to be there.

As a Social Media & Trending Content Fellow, I writing five to seven articles a day on viral news content, helping manage the AOL Facebook page and other various social media accounts. It’s a great feeling to have that freedom to see your own content go viral and have the freedom to write about any story you want. Now, I strictly manage social media, focusing more on creating viral video content, rather than writing articles. If you asked me one year ago, where I’d be now, I would have never guessed this -- but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

2. What motivates you?

One thing I love about my job is how it is constantly changing. There is always some new way to engage audiences on social media-- whether it’s a new app, a website, you name it. No day at work is ever the same and so it constantly motivates me to keep experimenting and trying new things in order to succeed.

3. Who is a hero of yours?

Besides my wonderful, loving, supportive, intelligent and perfect parents?

I’d have to say that a long-time inspiration of mine has been Brandon Stanton, who is the person behind Humans of New York. Originally from Georgia, he graduated with a degree in History before becoming a bond trader in Chicago before leaving it all to become a street photographer in New York. He’s since become famous for telling the stories of thousands of individuals with just a photo and a quote. The portraits are simple but the stories they tell are striking.

His work is a constant reminder that everyone has a story to tell, you just have to find out what it is. I also think his life shows that sometimes it’s okay to bend the rules. Who knew that a guy with a history degree would end up running one of the most powerful and popular photography blogs in the world? He reminds me that sometimes the biggest risks are the most rewarding.

4. What's your future plan? Your goals?

I try not to think too far ahead when it comes to the future.I think it is important to be present and focus on being happy now before you start to think of the future. However, I want to continue working in digital media, but I would love to venture back into more news-related content and hopefully begin writing more and possibly venturing back in front of the camera again. I think there are some really great creative opportunities in my current role at the company and I would love to see what the future has in store for me.

5. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t freak out about the future and don’t be afraid to take risks. If you asked me one year ago where I’d be, I would have never guessed I would be living in New York City working for AOL. I took this job and had to move to a brand new city with no friends within two weeks. It was terrifying, but I am so incredibly thankful I did. I feel so lucky to be here, but I know it was because I was willing to take this huge risk.

Don’t stress too much if things don’t go exactly according to plan. I believe if the passion is there and you remain calm, everything will work itself out in the end.

6. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?

With the 2016 election season really ramping up, I think it’s really important for young people to exercise their right to vote. Your vote is one of the biggest ways you can make an impact on this country. This is an opportunity for your voice to be heard and have a say in important issues that not only impact you, but every other citizen as well. It doesn’t matter who you want to vote for. In the end, all that matters is that you exercise this important right.

7. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?

In terms of work, I covered the red carpet for Heidi Klum’s Halloween party this year and it

was one of the craziest events ever. All the celebrities showed up in elaborate, off-the-wall costumes that took hours to put together. It was insane to see all these A-list celebrities dress up as someone else, for a change. Because it was such a hot event, we were able to post content of the craziest costumes on social media immediately and got a lot of engagement because of it. It was a total out-of-body experience.

I was also able to go to the Peabody Awards this past May as part of the Peabody Student Honor Board. We helped with the production of the award show and escorted the winners to where they needed to be. It was so unbelievable to be able to talk to some of my idols and people I've looked up to, like Serial's Sarah Koenig and Amy Schumer. These are some of the most influential people in the media industry and I felt so honored to spend the evening with them.

If you would like to contact Lesley, email her HERE.

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