When I applied online to write for Odyssey, I had no idea what I was getting myself into - and I mean that in the best way possible. I'd seen Odyssey articles floating around social media for years, but I wasn't compelled to apply until one of my service fraternity brothers gushed about her experience with the platform. I wrote for my own benefit on the side, so I figured I could apply to see what it takes to become published. Within a week of applying online through the Odyssey website, I received an email from the then-Editor-in-Chief who singlehandedly led my campus' team. We emailed back and forth about my background, then we established a time for a phone interview. The Editor asked me a series of questions, like what my time management strategies look like, what my writing experiences entailed, ideas for article pitches and so forth - I was invited to join the team!
This all happened on a Monday, and she asked me to produce an article before the following Wednesday, so I had about nine days to settle in and write over 300 words on one of my pitches. But I was so eager that I wrote my first themed article in one night so it could go live in time for Earth Day. Looking back, it definitely wasn't among my strongest pieces because I wasn't yet acclimated with the best formatting protocols, and I hadn't yet found my voice, but it's very endearing to revisit as a reminder of my growth. I like to think I became more relaxed and confident in my writing style over time, and I tried to write about things that were more meaningful to me as the months went on.
Let me pause here to explain Odyssey's structure and dynamic for those unfamiliar and likely having questions at this point in my article. Odyssey is headquartered in New York, but there are hundreds of teams across the nation, mostly based at college campuses with a few general communities in large cities. Each team has at least an Editor-in-Chief, but more established teams also have a President to help oversee smooth processes, bonding, recruitment, maintenance of a positive campus image, etc. Until recently, articles were due every Wednesday night, but the HQ shifted to a rolling, monthly basis. With both systems, each writer would have at least four articles by the end of every month. Our articles are crafted in a singular content management system called "Core," where we draft and format our content. You send your content onto the next step where your local Editor-in-Chief makes minor edits to either move onto the final review or send back for revision. After that's all said and done, content goes to a designated, full-time Content Strategist from New York who repeats what the Editor-in-Chief does. After edits and revisions are made here, content goes live! Every creator is required to share content a certain amount of times to help Odyssey collect revenue. We can view our page counts in Core to see how our articles are progressing.
With that, the thing I admire most about Odyssey is that we can pen to our hearts' desires. It was very empowering to exercise my freedom of speech on a national platform. To date, I have well over 7,000 article views because of the network Odyssey provided for me. Now, I was only featured once, but over 70% of my views to date are organic. With hundreds of writers, the HQ can only feature a certain number of pieces per day in their email newsletter and on their Facebook page, so what you put into your production and advertising is almost always what you get out. I had to do my own self-marketing in niche social media groups to up my views beyond my own personal account shares, but the outpouring of feedback was so encouraging, so I kept on it.
For those considering joining, know that Odyssey's also an extremely flexible commitment because you can carve out a large chunk in your week to write or you can find little spurts of downtime to gradually build a piece, as opposed to coming into a campus office from 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. once a week. I almost never missed an article because of this leeway, but the schedule format also meant some weeks weren't as inspired as others. Still, I did my best to produce high-quality content each week, which was a great lesson that trained me to persevere through writer's block and other obstacles. After all, you can't just go to your full-time boss one day and say "Sorry, I can't write the press release today. I'm drawing a blank. Can we scrap it for a new topic?" Yeah, that doesn't happen, and your work will, without a doubt, be tweaked by editors to better it, so this was great exposure to work demands and practices.
Okay, back to the main story now! I was just a Content Creator, or more simply a writer, up until July. At this point in the year, we went from about 15 girls to a tiny number I can count on one hand. We were without a responsive leader to both motivate the remaining writers and edit our content; our team was essentially dead and on the way out. I decided to take matters into my own hands, elevating the inactivity to the HQ level. It was daunting to confront someone senior to me about my own local boss, but HQ applauded me for speaking up and demonstrating leadership. So, the Editor was asked to step down, and HQ began looking for someone to fill the Editor-in-Chief opening. I was encouraged to interview for the position, and I was brought on to lead the team, focusing on team connectivity, team acquisition and a needed push for new, creative content.
Berkeley, my Odyssey mentor and now friend, pushed me each week for six months to reach ambitious goals. We communicated through one-on-one through weekly video chats and email debriefs. With Berkeley's encouragement, we brought on over 30 new people during the fall semester, some of which left, but we went from near extinction to a thriving, top-three team in our division of over 20 communities. We grew so rapidly that we needed to introduce an executive board with a Social Media Manager, a Circulation Manager, a Recruitment Chair and a Community Health Manager. I moved up into the President role while one of our top writers was promoted to take on my role as Editor-in-Chief. It wasn't all rainbows and sunshine, though. These accomplishments were met with challenges. Lauren, my Editor-in-Chief, and I juggled time management across 30 different schedules, enforced standard training and initiated difficult discussions with team members we had to let go. It wasn't easy, but there were so many more positives that made the treads through the mud worthwhile.
In this wondrous Odyssey UIUC big bang, we applied to become an RSO ("registered student organization"), and we kept the momentum going, enthusiastically planning our first external event: a philanthropic pink bake sale to donate to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. This experience was unique to our Odyssey team, which is why I want to highlight it. We had about three weeks to plan, which involved flyer design, mass printing, and social media advertising. The week of the event was compromised of bags on bags of groceries, poster decoration, one messy kitchen turned upside down with pink power, pink chocolate, and ten plus ladies, and, of course, three hours of persuasive selling on our campus quad. This wasn't an easy accomplishment to execute, but I'll always remember how our team came together for the prep and sales to make this event a success. Moments like this make me sad to leave this experience behind with my graduation, but I know I've set the team and next President on a positive projection.
On that note, I want to thank Odyssey for giving me one of the most pleasant surprises of my college career, especially Lily and Berkeley at the HQ for their dedication and continuous hard work. In following these two great examples, I became a more confident communicator, but I also evolved into a leader with new experience in copyediting, outreach, recruitment, content strategy and much more. And thank you, too, to my team. I picked each of you because you're creative, talented and inspiring young women passionate about making an impact. It's been such a pleasure to see you spread your wings and fly. I'll be a cheerleader from the sidelines, keeping up with the stellar content I've come to love so dearly.