The magic of the misfit: how I went from the social media intern to the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 2 yearsFeatured

From a very young age, I knew that I was a misfit. I was a misfit in my black community as the half-white girl. I was a misfit in my white community as the half-black girl. At university, I was a misfit amongst the Economics Enthusiasts, Banking Bros, and History Buffs. I graduated with three majors in, well, none of those categories. In my early career, I was a misfit wearing the hats of the marketing intern, program manager, editor, and team therapist — simultaneously. And like any good misfit, I decided that I would find my elusive calling/dream job/career path if I simply tried harder to make myself, well, fit.Somewhere on the other side of half-read self-help books and several unsuccessful attempts at implementing 8 morning routines of highly successful people, I finally accepted that my efforts to “fit” were not yielding any results. The reason? Every one of those efforts required fundamentally changing myself. Cue: James Baldwin. “The place in which I'll fit will not exist until I make it." — James Baldwin Over the course of a few months, I shifted my focus towards making my place — my own definition and model of success and fulfillment and being — and away from fitting into existing places and models that were not made for misfits like me. Three months ago, I made my place: I started as the first Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Webflow. Up until this point, I’d experienced success in spite of being a misfit — instead of feeling proud, I felt lucky for getting to where I was being, well, who I was. And for the first time, I’m able to attribute my success to my misfit. So I want to share and celebrate the magic of misfits. Whether you identify as a misfit or want to learn how to unlock the magic of the misfits in your life or on your team, this piece is for you.

The Life Changing Magic of Misfits

Embrace the sh*t out of your misfitYes, “easier said than done.” In fact, I got this wrong for 24 years of my life, which I spent believing that to be successful, I had to make myself fit into the model of success. I worked tirelessly to fit — whether that meant relaxing my curly hair, wearing JCREW sweaters that I neither liked nor could afford, or pretending to like whiskey so that I might land the critically acclaimed role of, “one of the dudes.” That all changed when my CEO approached me with the offer of becoming the first Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Webflow. In that moment, I realized that my misfit — the pieces of me that didn’t fit neatly into any job description, social group, or established version of “success” — was my secret to success. The lesson for my fellow misfits? Embrace your misfit — and surround yourself with people who champion your difference, your brilliance, and your creativity. Say “hell no” to the status quoAs a misfit, you might find that the unconditional “can-do” attitude doesn’t work as well for you as you think it should — especially if you’re in your early career. I learned this about myself during my first internship program, where I sat in-between the I Have All The Questions intern and the I “Work” Late Taking Buzzfeed Quizzes but I Care intern. What we all had in common? The same abominably low intern stipend, and absolutely no interest in the “work” we were doing — ”work” that a literal child could finish within 2 hours. Where we differed? I spoke up when I cared, not when I wanted my boss to think I cared. I stayed at work late when it mattered, not because I thought it mattered to my boss. And at the end of the summer? I received the only full-time offer of my intern class. I also learned that the “can’t do” attitude I had when it came to the status quo - to doing things for the sake of doing them or caring because I was naive enough to think someone cared whether I cared, didn’t reflect a grossly absent work ethic. It reflected a stronger purpose, a genuine drive, and a level of sincerity that would continue to earn me respect from my peers throughout my career. Being “too much” is completely underratedOne of my greatest fears, whether it’s in relationships, social circles, or the workplace, has always been being too much. Too sensitive, too involved, too feminine, too outspoken, too black, too white, too young…the list goes on. The result? I drew into myself. Embracing my misfit meant expanding and embracing my excess. I harnessed my sensitivities, my differences, and my too-many-shits-given attitude about things that were so-not-in-my-job-description — and as a result? I expanded my potential and created a new job that allowed me to give too many shits about the things I genuinely cared about. As a misfit, your greatest strength is your excess. Resist the urge to shrink the pieces of yourself that no one else feels, no one else notices, or no one else seems to give any shits about. Resist the urge to shrink to your container, whether that’s a job description or a social environment. Your power, your innovation, and your creativity will not be realized when you’re sitting in a room of people saying, “this is just how we do it.” It happens in a room where you, in all of your difference and excess, is saying “I mean, we don’t have to do it that way. And, in fact, there might even be a better way.” I became the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion because I saw a better way — and I made it known.The grass may not be greener — but at least it’s not dead?One of the greatest ironies in my young existence is that I am simultaneously terrified of change and incredibly impatient when I find myself feeling stagnant, unchallenged, or worse, uninspired. The result? An unconventional, accelerated, and surprisingly successful career trajectory. I joined Webflow as a Content Producer (a sophisticated social media intern) and in less than two years, I joined a team, left a team, joined another team, and left that team to create an entirely new role on a completely different team. By the age of 24, I became the Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — and I did it by harnessing my inner misfit, moving, failing, moving again, and never settling for dead grass. When I started my diversity and inclusion work at Webflow, I was still on the marketing team. I worked on D&I initiatives with my CEO in my “free” time for over a year, watching Ted Talks during happy hours, and perfecting my navigation around HBR paywalls on the weekend. Was that work helping me grow my role on the marketing team? Of course not — and I knew that. But I trusted that the work mattered to me for a reason, and though I didn’t know it yet, I was fertilizing a new patch of grass that wouldn’t be dying anytime soon. Embracing your misfit requires a lot of trust. It requires trust in yourself, your gut, your motivations, and your unseen, undiscovered potential. It requires trust in your ability to take a wrong turn and learn from it. It requires trust from and in those around you who empower you to pursue your passions and create your own version of success.

A note for managers of misfits

Managing a misfit? Lucky you. They are quite possibly the greatest untapped potential on any team — and you’re lucky to have them on yours. They see things in ways that you can’t, have a boldness that will drive innovation, and an unparalleled care and commitment that can only be realized when you keep them off of dead grass. To unlock their potential in full, make sure to give them the trust, mobility, and support to contribute their greatest potential — no matter how well it “fits” into a job description. A few ways to start: 1. Identify (and celebrate) your misfits. It’s not always easy to identify a misfit, often because it’s not always safe to be a misfit. To create an environment that allows misfits to shine, constantly ask your team to challenge the status-quo. Prompt conversations about how you could be doing things differently. Encourage “hot takes” and embrace the fact that the greatest gift your team can give to you is perspective.2. Check your assumptions. Don’t immediately assume that a lack of interest equals a lack of motivation. If you notice that a team member is less engaged, ask them which parts of the job they find engaging. The best productivity hack? Giving a shit about what you do. Cultivate trust and communicate that you care. This goes for any of your reports, but the more you trust and care about them, the more they care about you and your work. Make sure that they know you’re committed to their professional growth — no matter what that looks like. Without the trust of my many managers and my CEO to pursue the work that I felt was important, challenge the status quo for the higher good, and move between teams to contribute my full potential, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Celebrate the magic of your misfits.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Mariah! If you have a good story to tell, or know someone who does, let me know via DM.
From one misfit to another, I love your story! A friend of mine recently interviewed at Webflow, and I was super impressed that one of the top 3 things they mentioned as a main driver of accepting the offer was Webflow's clear and authentic focus on D&I. It's not something I hear often about companies, even today in SF. You're clearly doing an amazing job there.
Loved reading your story, Mariah!" I harnessed my sensitivities, my differences, and my too-many-shits-given attitude about things that were so-not-in-my-job-description — and as a result? I expanded my potential and created a new job that allowed me to give too many shits about the things I genuinely cared about."You really capitalized on this and I absolutely love it!
Loved your story! I especially loved how leaning in to the part of your internship that you felt mattered most (instead of relying on outside expectations) is what helped you stand out and landed you the full-time offer. Sometimes believing that our own instincts are valid is the hardest part of trying to do valuable and meaningful work. Congrats!I'm especially inspired by the fact that hands-on exploration in your internship and your first few years of work are what lead you to this new role where you've finally feel "fit" and inspired. My org believes in the power of hands-on experiences to bridge the college to career gap, and we do work in the D&I space. I'd love to connect and learn more about your story to continue to inform our work! Let me know if you'd be interested. :)
I love this SO much. I've also spent so much time (to the detriment of my mental health) stressing myself out to fit in, when I could have been excelling by just being me and standing out!