The past year and a half has come with challenges for many, and Monica Mutale is no exception. Having worked in the beauty industry since 2018, including at Kara’s Urban Day Spa and now as assistant manager at The Ten Spot Beauty Bar, Monica and her coworkers were hit hard by closures and restrictions during the pandemic. But it’s another type of obstacle that most affected Monica over the last few years.
“When I talk about overcoming challenges,” she says “I went from barely being able to hold a job due to my anxiety being so high to being promoted to assistant manager of a beauty bar.” She continues, “I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about it but haven’t as yet had the platform or opportunity to.”
Monica worked at Dalhousie with the Alumni Program Support team until 2017 before joining the team at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) as a public relations coordinator when her anxiety became more apparent. “That position really brought out something in me that I didn’t even know was there,” she says about the condition that affects nearly 3 million Canadians over 18. While Monica loved working at ISANS and the work she did there, which harkened back to her previous volunteer work as the chair of the board of governors of the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes (ADAM), she ultimately made the difficult decision to step away from ISANS to focus on her mental health. “Leaving ISANS was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” she explains.
She began working as a receptionist at Kara’s Urban Day Spa, but found she was still struggling with her anxiety in such a public-facing role. That’s when a friend and coworker suggested she apply at Ten Spot, and it was a perfect fit. Monica describes herself as a self-starter, a quality quickly put to use in her new role, where she not only acts in an HR-capacity, but also helps with marketing and customer service.
“Every day, the skills that I learned at King’s find a way to be useful,” she says. Social media is a large part of her role, and she says that her courses in photo journalism with Michael Creagen help to give her “a certain outlook that the average person may not have.”. The class helped her better understand composition and framing, colour and value contrast, and other theories to make photos pop. Her coworkers will ask how she’s able to make such engaging social media posts: “I tell them that I’m using the inverted triangle method!” she says through a smile. “There’s so much of my King’s education that comes into play in the funniest little ways. Despite any challenges that may arise, I’m always grateful to have that in my back pocket.”
She goes on to explain that other skills she learned studying journalism, particularly her interviewing and investigative skills, have come in handy with managing the beauty bar and dealing with internal conflicts. “It’s helped me navigate issues among the staff and pinpoint the root of it.” She credits her education at King’s for helping her succeed at work despite personal hardships, thanks to the journalism program which she describes as “incredibly flexible […] with skills that I think are highly transferrable.”
Not only has Monica been continuing to use her journalism skillset during her day job, she’s begun freelancing again as well, primarily writing about sports, one of her biggest passions. Her anxiety has been a roadblock for her journalism career, because, as she puts it, “it’s hard to put myself out there and hustle for sources” but she’s had the chance to work on a long-form CBC piece for web, print and radio that took several months to produce, as well as writing a piece for King’s. For the latter, the topic and interviewees were already set, so the process had more structure, which she found was a great option for someone with a high level of anxiety such as herself.
She has also been working as a freelance e-commerce consultant and web designer/developer for Kosa Wrap Shop, a local family-run business. She credits the Photoshop and InDesign skills she learned at King’s, as well as web design and development experience she gained while working at Dalhousie, for giving her the skills necessary to take on this role.
“When the time is right I hope to start introducing more things, being more social, and definitely getting back into some volunteer organizations, as it’s a big passion of mine,” she says.
She describes her journey as non-linear, and is proud of the challenges she’s been able to surmount over the years. In fact, she thinks the biggest highlight of the past five years is not her job title or work experiences, but rather her ability to overcome the adversity she’s faced and come out stronger and with a different perspective on the other end. She says not to care so much about your LinkedIn profile, and more about your overall quality of life and happiness. “Be flexible, be open. Don’t close yourself off to opportunities, you never know where you can make an impact or know where an opportunity can lead you to.”