Finding her calling in media after leaving the security of Wall Street, Sarah celebrating women.Rizkalla opens up for a New York Minute about doing good, starting over and
Five years ago, on a mission to change her legacy, Sarah Rizkalla created New York Minute Magazine. With a background in banking and finance, she left her cush job on Wall Street behind to dive into an unfamiliar world of websites and headlines.
Starting out as a one-woman show, NYMM is now home to 50 interns and students which Sarah helps groom for other media jobs after graduation. I was very excited to speak with Sarah about her love for celebrating and empowering women.
LM: Tell our readers your story, how did you go from Wall Street to publisher?
SR: I think the way that I see myself, in my professional capacity and in my personal life, is someone who is trying to do good. At the end of my life, I hope I will have contributed to the world in a positive way. I want to have helped people, really, is the essence of it. And you know I had a major career shift five years ago. I went from working on Wall Street to starting my own magazine. And part of that career shift was that I did not want my life to be about making money, or gaining a higher position at work, or networking or any of those things. I wanted my life to be about creating something sustainable that helps people. I would say that's what I'm about.
LM: At what point during your Wall Street career did you realize you had a higher calling?
SR: It wasn't a one-day thing. I had been struggling for a while. I found myself gaining all these great positions, and I was making a great salary, but I just wasn't feeling any fulfillment. I felt like I was just helping the rich people get richer. One day, I was at my desk, and at this point I was in my early thirties. And I had a moment where I thought; "I can't do this for thirty more years. This cannot be my legacy." I didn't want this to be what I left behind, or what I was waking up to every day. I wanted to do something that mattered. Again, I wanted to create and to help people. I felt instant freedom when I left Wall Street. That was my clue that I was on the right path.
LM: How many people started out with you at the magazine?
SR: It was just me; a one-woman show. My friends would contribute content in the beginning. I was doing our social media. I built our website. I did everything myself. And, you know, those were really, really hard times. I would come home from a night out, I would stop at a Seven Eleven and get a big cup, like the biggest one they have, I would caffeinate, and I would stay up until 5 in the morning working on the website. I did that for months.
LM: As an entrepreneur myself I totally remember those days. How have you grown from there?
SR: We are almost 50 strong now. Our company is entirely run by interns, by students. We are giving them real work experience. No one is getting me coffee. Nobody is just working on spreadsheets. They are doing the actual work, and that has been one of the biggest joys of my life. We have opened the doors to interns going on to work for companies like Google, CNN, ESPN, Random House and DreamWorks Animation. And they've gone on to become reporters, journalists and editors. They've gone to work in marketing, really every field. You know, we've had tech people, design people and HR people. And they've gone on to really fulfill their dreams. On our "Join Us" page it says your story starts here because we really do want students to start with us, learn more about what they want to do. It really helps them to start envisioning what their future could be.
LM: I know you are a strong advocate for women. I am curious, what does feminism mean to you?
SR: Oh that is such a good question! That is my favorite question. So, just a little bit of background, I was born in Egypt, a country that does not value women. I saw firsthand how women were abused in the society I lived in. That a man could marry more than one wife, that he could legally beat his wives, that a women had to be covered up, but a man didn't. So even as a child, I understood injustice. To me, feminism means, in simplest terms, that men and women are equal. The things that are offered to a man should be offered to a woman. The ideas of a man are not more valuable than the ideas of a woman. My house was different. My parents very much raised me to be a feminist. They are feminists themselves. They raised me to go after what I wanted; there were no limitations in our household.
At New York Minute, we strive to empower women to help them live out their dreams. That really is our massive goal. We are not anti-men. We believe it is going to take men and women working together to achieve equality. And so we feel very much that men have a role in this. And we are so fortunate that we are surrounded by such progressive men that also believe in equality and also believe in feminism. And our message to men is, we are co-running this world with you, so help us or get out of the way because we are going to get it done, we are going to achieve equality. And our focus is not only on the US, but the entire world. We are combatting human trafficking, sex trafficking. We are battling female genital mutilation, childhood marriage, honor killings, all of these evils that have stemmed from the ideology that women are less than men and can or should be controlled, particularly young girls.
LM: Having come so far, what advice would you have for your younger self?
SR: Don't worry so much. It works out. You're not supposed to have it all figured out yet. I have a lot of interns right now in what I call our talent incubator who are starting their adult lives, who are about to graduate from college, who are interviewing for jobs. They are feeling all this pressure. And my advice is always to let life lead.
LM: Who inspires you?
SR: My mother. She is the biggest badass I know. At New York Minute, we shout out badass women all the time, and my model for that is my mother. She's unstoppable. I've never heard her say, "I can't do that." My mom was a working mom and now that I'm older, I don't know how she got it all done. She ran a house, raised her kids well, was a good wife and she worked. I would never want to attempt to do any of those things in combination with another, but she did them all. I would say she is my measuring stick.
LM: How do you inspire and elevate young women who want to be leaders one day?
SR: Everyday I'm telling them don't box yourself in, you don't have to have it figured out now. And one of the things that I've tried to teach the women on my team - I don't use the word female - is to stop apologizing. Women apologize way more than men, and unnecessarily so. So we have a rule here, don't say you're sorry unless you've made a mistake.
LM: I completely agree and tell my team all the time not to apologize. What's next for New York Minute Magazine?
SR: What is next? That's a good question. We have plans to build on this talent incubator that we've designed. Our next step is to use our partnerships, specifically with media companies, to find work for our students after graduation. Another thing we really want to focus on is doing more good. So we want to continue partnering with organizations that are on the ground doing work. I've had this idea floating around in my mind of starting a New York Minute Foundation to help benefit the organizations that are doing the physical work. The ones that are tackling the issues. I would love that, that would make my heart sing.
Go on with your badass self.