Leviana: Grow with the Flow

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Leviana Coccia, 24, is a communications coordinator for an event planning company by day, and the Managing Editor of her own lifestyle website and blog for 20-somethings, A Quarter Young by night. I must say, that in Leviana I believe I have truly found a kindred spirit. She, like me, is a woman in her twenties living in Toronto, working in public relations, who runs a website on the side that is catered to millennials. She even looks like me (thick framed glasses and curly brown hair FTW)!

Naturally I was ecstatic to meet up with Leviana to chat about her professional journey and her many passions. Here’s what we talked about.

R: How did you get into Communications?

L: In grade eight we had an assignment where we had to write journal entries and read them to the class. I chose to write about a five year old boy who lived on my street and who passed away from cancer shortly after his fifth birthday. I was selected to read my story about this boy and how special he was, and at the end I looked up and everyone in my class was crying! It made me realize that what I had written had effectively touched another person, and I discovered that I really liked storytelling. So by the time I got to high school I became very focused on becoming a journalist. I had a clear vision in my head. In grade 11 I took a media studies course and my teacher told me I’d be much better in public relations. I thought it wasn’t for me. When I was finishing high school I didn’t end up getting into the really competitive journalism schools I applied to so I chose to go to the University of Guelph-Humber for media studies, with an area of emphasis in journalism. I loved every minute of it.

After my undergrad I applied to do my masters of journalism. Even though I knew I had developed other skills in presenting, social media, events… in my head I still wanted to be a journalist. While I was waiting for the results of my applications to come in I was doing an internship at the CBC. During that time I had a bit of a change of heart. I decided to apply for a postgraduate certificate program at Humber College in event management. In the end once again I didn’t get into journalism school. I was super upset, but I do think everything happens for a reason. So I ended up doing the postgraduate event management program. I realized early on that I hated the logistics that go into events. You know, volunteer coordination, t-shirt colours, and the nitty-gritty details. Other people thrive on that stuff but it isn’t for me. For my projects I kept offering to do stuff like social media, event listings, media relations, marketing, public relations. It made me realize that that’s what I should focus on. So as much as my path changed, I knew it all along I just had to experience it. I always laugh and think about how I should have listened to my grade 11 media studies teacher.

I think the two areas (journalism and PR) are very interchangeable. I think if you know how to share a story and be a storyteller, you can be better suited to pitch a story. And anyway at this point in time there’s no money in journalism and very few job opportunities. In the end I’m still doing something that I love, making a difference, but on the other side of the spectrum, which is OK by me.

R: What was the most important thing you learned while at school?

L: My life is in my control, not in the control of the school. I didn’t get into any of the journalism schools I initially wanted to go to but I still ended up in a good place. I think it doesn’t matter what school you go to, it’s what you make of it. That’s a huge problem today because people make an assumption that they have to go to a ‘good school’, or that they have to do a masters even if they don’t want to.

R: Where did you start working?

L: I did my internship at the Canadian Cancer Society helping with major fundraising events like the Colon Cancer Gala. Later I got hired as an administrative assistant there. I was one of the few people I knew who was working right after university. I liked it but I kept thinking about how I had gone to school and discovered what I love, but here I am sitting in an office as an admin assistant. It’s not that I felt entitled or like I was too good for the role, it was a question of whether this was going to help me reach my goals. I did really like working with the people and I learned a lot in that position. Everything is a stepping stone even if you don’t realize it at the time.

Now I work for the event planning company behind The Ride to Conquer Cancer, the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers and several other major fundraisers. I’m the communications coordinator for Toronto events. I pitch stories and aim to spread media awareness about these events while driving fundraising dollars and registrations. The best part of it though is the participant stories. To give cancer survivors and their loved ones, along with people who have lost friends and family to cancer an opportunity to share their stories with major news outlets is extremely rewarding. I’ve met a lot of people who were hesitant to share their stories with the media and then called me afterward to thank me because they were so happy when they saw it published. Nearly all of the participants at these events have been in one way or another seriously impacted by cancer. There’s a really strong community and you can really connect with a lot of the participants.

R: How did you get your most recent job?

L: To be honest I think I just randomly applied on LinkedIn. I was just casually applying to jobs to see what was out there and ended up getting an email back. I almost felt guilty when I did the interview there because I was thinking about how I had a really good job at the time that a lot of recent university grads would give anything for. I didn’t want to be that stereotype of the entitled 20-something. But really I just wanted to challenge myself. I got offered the job almost immediately after my second interview and I was given less than two days to get back to them. While I was super excited, I was really scared because I had developed great relationships with the people that I worked with at the Canadian Cancer Society. The day I handed in my resignation my boss and I were both very emotional. But she was very supportive and told me she was proud of me. She told me that she herself had stayed in positions just to keep other people happy, and was glad that I wasn’t doing the same. Her support was the validation I needed that this was the right decision.

R: Tell me about A Quarter Young.

L: I started a few blogs in which I would write about personal stories and passions, but I kept getting stuck. I would write a few posts and then they wouldn’t get any views. So I couldn’t get any real momentum going. When I started my postgrad in event management, something I never thought I’d be doing, I decided to blog about the experience and the journey. I came up with the name after playing around with a few different word combinations and thinking about where I was in my life at the time. In the end A Quarter Young was born. Shortly after that I knew I could expand the website. I had developed some more confidence since starting my postgrad and felt like I could really make something. So I put a bunch of ads out looking for volunteer contributors. A lot of the contributors are people I went to school with. I’m really enjoying it so far. I’m not concerned about page views so much as providing a space for other writers and creators (some of whom are in journalism school) to write and share stories. Basically it’s a space where young aspiring writers and artists can get exposure they otherwise wouldn’t, while A Quarter Young can share stories that other news outlets might not.

R: What advice do you have for young professionals?

L: Don’t think that you’re not going to get to where you want to go just because somebody tells you that it’s going to be really hard. You can still do what you love and make money, and you can still do other things you love and not make money at the same time. Don’t lose focus of what you want. If what you want changes, embrace that. Just know that you’ll get a lot of backlash for it. When I was in high school people laughed in my face when I told them that I was going to the University of Guelph-Humber. But I’ve learned that there are different paths you can take to get to an end goal.

A Quarter Young is full of lots of juicy content including the weekly favourites Photo Fridays and Poetry Sundays. Be sure to check them out on Facebook to keep up to date, and contact Leviana if you want to join her growing team.

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