Our series “How I became a …” digs into the stories of accomplished and influential people, finding out how they got to where they are in their careers.
Sharing stories and cultivating inspiration is no new thing for Danielle Doby, who began giving people a space to be vulnerable on the internet with her Instagram account I Am Her Tribe. Years later, her social media community has expanded into a place with a massive following where Doby posts her own writings and poems through the grid. Doby’s writing reached bound form with the publishing of her book “I Am Her Tribe,” which explores humanity and life through her poetry.
USA TODAY caught up with the poet and artist to talk about everything from astrology and road trips to the power of social media and the importance of continuing to connect with your audience.
Question: How did you get your start?
Danielle Doby: I grew up with an artistic background, and that’s always been how I’m able to make sense of the world around me. My path is so messy and it’s so beautiful, and even to this day, there are so many ups and downs and twists and turns. I didn’t finish college until I was 25 – I took a couple of years off during that – went for marketing, and ended up cocktail waitressing for a while, worked at a hair studio as a receptionist for a long time, and after that started to do yoga and ended up coming into contact with a retail company that primarily sells fitness apparel.
I was hired as a seasonal employee and ended up escalating in the store very quickly, taking on a community management role within seven months. I was managing a multi-million dollar store in Dallas, and I learned a lot but also was consistently told on our business recaps that my words were way too fluffy, not meant for business, too extravagant, that no one understood them. It was throughout all of my work, just the way I wrote things, which was not very black and white for people to read. Eventually, I got goal-coached out of the company and we made it sound fun and exciting, like I was going to be this creative entrepreneur, but I actually had no idea what I was going to do.
At the time, I also had my other artistic mediums besides just writing. I do photography and art and painting, so I left my corporate job with the benefits and all of those things to be an entrepreneur. That was one of the highest points of my life and the lowest points of my life at the same time.
I decided to create my Instagram account, which in the beginning was the storytelling of local people in Dallas. I was sharing their stories with a big sign that had “I am her” and “I am he” on it. It was beautiful, it was amazing, I wasn’t making any money off of this, and it was completely led from the heart. At the same time, I was selling my clothes off eBay to make my ends meet and a complete typical starving artist. I was doing anything and everything and taking on the weirdest creative projects I could so I could fuel my passion project. Over time, through listening to all of these people step into their truth and share it with other people, it grew and people saw themselves in other people. I think of it as the definition of being connected to something so much bigger than yourself, and that’s what this was creating. Through these people’s truths, I stepped even deeper into my truth and started writing more, sharing more, and getting more courageous.
Now, we’re here. I wrote a book, and it’s just taken on so many twists and turns even on this platform. My editor found me through Instagram, so many great things have come through social media for me. Now it’s such a big community, and it’s so gorgeous. I can share my writing, and can also bring in other people’s stories and share those, and it all just makes sense together.
Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?
Doby: Whenever I first started, the idea of being a writer was so beautiful and amazing and I wanted to fit the part. But, I will never be that person, where you would imagine this huge desk and writing a certain amount of words each day, coffee and tea in hand. That’s just not me.
I wake up, take my dog outside and hang out in the sunshine, and I do my Headspace meditation app to get clear. I come into my room with all of my sprawled out sheets of paper and notes and try to connect things into poems. Right now I’m writing my second book, so a typical day looks like waking up and trying to write things down, and if my creative channel isn’t open and flowing, it’s going out and doing things that inspire me. It’s through that space of being inspired that I’m able to write more, and write more authentically.
Q: What is your favorite part about your job?
Doby: It’s the “me too” moments, where someone says “me too, me too, me too,” when they see themselves in something either I’ve created or I’ve shared or through somebody else. Just being connected to something bigger than myself, hands down, is my favorite part of being an artist – being that bridge between people.
Q: What do you credit your success to?
Doby: My parents, and myself for doing the work on myself to be able to be in a space where I can share the things that I’ve written. My parents and my sister and my two best friends have been my solid ground, and my grandparents. Just my support system. They’re so amazing, and so much of my work comes from doing internal work on myself. My support system is constantly encouraging me.
Q: How do you balance work, life, and such a busy creative schedule?
Doby: I have started to have an allotted time where I will sit down and write because I tend to be very last minute on things. Throughout my whole life, it’s really worked for me, until it doesn’t. Being on a book deadline is so concrete, and I can’t really wiggle my way around this. What I’ve noticed is that when setting downtime each day to write, it can either be awful, it can be one of the best things I’ve ever written, or I can scratch it and redo tomorrow, but [I’m] just making sure that I have time for it to just let it flow (hopefully). I listened to one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcasts where her late wife said that sometimes you have to create really (expletive) art in order to make really great art. It’s the prerequisite to getting where you want to go, moving that stuff out of the way so that you can create something beautiful behind it.
Q: What have been some of your career highlights?
Doby: Even when I first started, [it was] just doing something so completely out of my comfort zone. And then, having people outside of my circle asking to tell their stories out of the blue. I got people from over in India, in Mexico, in Canada, and it was outside of the Dallas area of people within my reach. It was just social media doing its own reach.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Doby: I was once told that in this day and age with social media and numbers and likes and followers, to continue to serve the people who show up. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people one day or a thousand people one day or a million people and it goes back to 10, continue to show up. The people meant to hear your message will find you. It’s always stuck with me.
• What is your favorite book? “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho
• What is your favorite song at the moment? “Immunity” by Jon Hopkins
• Who have been your biggest mentors? Definitely my mom and my nana. Since I was born, they have fostered a safe space for creativity for my sister and me. When I was really young, my mom worked at a local art studio and I would spend my weekends there and hang out, draw, and paint. That just became a safe space for me, and the teachers always taught that whatever you created was wrong or broken or needed fixing. I took that sentiment and spread it out throughout my life with everything that I create. My grandmother has this green old shag carpet that I will never forget, and always had fresh incense, would collect crystals, and taught me about astrology. That’s where that seed got planted for me, and those two people have always created such a safe space for me to own my feelings and create with them. They’re both artists too, so it kind of comes in my family.
• What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done? We live in a day and age where we can connect with anyone around the world, and almost five years ago I met a girl through a couple of mutual friends named Lindsey. We hit it off in Instagram land and before we ever met in person, decided to go on a road trip together. We drove from Los Angeles to Whistler, Canada, in a van with no fan. If you ever want an expedited growth experience, go with a stranger on a huge road trip because I learned more about myself and the way I communicate, and our friendship just grew in that. In April she asked me to be her bridesmaid, so me and Lindsey have spent less than 13 days in person together but she’s one of my absolute best friends.