This article was reposted on xoNecole.com!
A lot of us grew up believing the key to success was as simple as DJ Khaled’s major key alerts on Snapchat: Stay in school. Get good grades. Get your degree. #MogulTalk. But we were never really given any guidelines or play-by-plays on how to successfully navigate the ins and outs of young adulthood. We were sort of just thrown into it — a whirlpool of expectations and unexpected circumstances — with little to no warning.
26-year-old Tomeka Kolleh, Associate of the Chairman’s Office at Combs Enterprises, can personally attest to the Twentysomething Struggle — that horrifying stage of adulthood when you have no frigging clue what your next move is gonna be. That crucial moment in life where you either choose to step out on faith or fall by the wayside.
For Tomeka, a first-generation Liberian American from Detroit, stepping out on faith meant quitting her $10/hour gig at a small coffee shop — her first job after graduating with her bachelors degree in public relations from Bowling Green State University — and moving to New York without a job or dollar to her name. It meant going hard or going home. Literally.
Starting from Ground Zero
Tomeka’s older sister Deconte, who was living in New York at the time, agreed to help her get on her feet under one condition: Tomeka would have one month to find a job in New York, and if she didn’t, she would have to return home to Detroit. Within a month of moving to NY, Tomeka held up her end of the deal and landed her first job as an admissions counselor at a post-secondary school called Plaza College. A few months later, she wound up picking up an internship at a small PR firm.
“It was a start-up agency, but they had big accounts… We had the money (and) we had the budget, but we had little manpower,” she said. “So I was an intern working maybe 11- to 12-hour days.”
That small amount of manpower gave Tomeka just enough room to shine.
“I knew Photoshop from back in college,” she said. “They didn’t even know I knew Photoshop until one day (when) they needed these edits. I’m like, ‘Hey, I know how to do it!’… And so that’s when I first learned how to build corporate equity — you have to bring something to the table, or they won’t even think twice.” #MajorKeyAlert
Tomeka had saved up enough money to move into her own place right before she turned 23. But just when things were starting to look up, her situation took a turn for the worse.
“I got fired from Plaza College a week before my birthday,” she said. “That was the same time I moved into a bed bug-infested apartment in Brooklyn — the worst experience of my life.”
Frustrated and defeated, Tomeka decided she would leave New York and move back home. But her sister convinced her to stay another week and she wound up picking up a temp job at a media company. Her career took a major turn not long after that.
Working Her Way Up
Tomeka was offered a position a few months later at Remy Martin Cognac as a PR Assistant. While working there, she attended numerous industry events to familiarize herself with industry leads. One of the events she attended was honoring her now boss and mentor Ericka Pittman, who was Vice President of Combs Wines and Spirits at the time.
“I knew who (Ericka) was before she could even speak to me. Back then I was obsessed with the industry and what the women of Ciroc had done for the brand,” she said.
A huge admirer of Pittman, Tomeka took the opportunity to congratulate her and introduce herself. After chatting briefly, Pittman gave Tomeka her card and informed her that Ciroc was always looking for new talent.
Tomeka came across a job posting from Ciroc on Instagram not long after that. She immediately sent Pittman an email expressing her interest in the position and was invited to come in the following day to interview with Pittman and a few other executives at the Bad Boy headquarters. After three months, Tomeka was finally offered the Marketing Coordinator position at Combs Wines and Spirits, the company that houses Ciroc Vodka and Deleon Tequila. She got straight to work on her very first day.
“Literally as I was signing my paperwork on my first day, Ericka came in like, ‘Hey, welcome! So glad to have you. You have a conference call in two hours — can you wrap this up?'”
Tomeka channeled her inner Yoncé and fell right into formation. Under Pittman’s direction, she helped manage the company’s national accounts and new business. Then, in January of 2015, Tomeka was called into Pittman’s office to speak with her about something important. Pittman had just been awarded a huge promotion from Mr. Combs himself and accepted the position on the terms that Tomeka would be promoted as well. But there was a catch — the new position would be based in LA.
“At the time I had never even been to LA, and now there I was, being presented an offer to pack my things and move,” she said.
Although she had no intentions of ever moving to the West Coast, Tomeka accepted the offer right on the spot. She figured it was the biggest risk she could take that was safe.
“I had a company that was paying for me to move, I had a place to stay because my best friend had just moved out there, I had a car, and I was working for Sean Combs. So I was like, okay,” she said.
A day after returning from her 25th birthday trip to the Dominican Republic, Tomeka said her good-byes, packed up her things and moved straight to LA to begin her new role as the Associate of the Chairman’s Office for Combs Enterprises. In this position, she assists Pittman on a daily basis to synthesize the vision for all of the brands housed under the Combs Enterprises portfolio: Revolt TV, Sean John, CWS (Ciroc Vodka & Deleon Tequila), Blue Flame Agency, Bad Boy Records and Aquahydrate.
“As cliché as it sounds, every single day is different,” she said. “Some days we’re updating Mr. Combs on the activity of his companies and other days we have two weeks to plan and execute an event.”
Dating in the Industry
“Dating as a Millennial and a woman in the entertainment industry is super hard because now, I feel like guys in our generation — the good ones — have more options, so they treat everybody like options. And if you’re headstrong, and you know what you want, they’re like, ‘Um, you can either play by my rules, or you can get on.’ And so I’m like, ‘No, I’m not doing that with you.'”
Tomeka says a lot of men have a tendency to be intimidated by her career, which can be annoying.
“I work for Mr. Combs — I am not Puff Daddy. I am not Ericka Pittman. I don’t have a whole bunch of money. So it’s like, don’t be intimidated by me, because I’m just a regular old girl that’s just corny and fun. It’s not that big of a deal,” she said.
But when you’re constantly grinding and making moves, maintaining a love life can be tough. Tomeka learned this firsthand from a previous relationship.
“I was 23 at the time and he had to be maybe 28. He could work from home and he traveled for work. He was well into his career to where he had that power. Me, on the other hand, there were days I would work like 14-hour days, 15-hour days, and I would forget (we made plans). He would say, ‘Let’s go to dinner tonight.’ And I’d tell him, ‘Okay.’ And then it’s 8PM and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I have to cancel.’ It was one of those things where I didn’t have a choice but to choose the option that was gonna feed me.”
Even though things didn’t work out, Tomeka says that experience helped her understand why so many women in the industry don’t have successful relationships.
“(Men) are okay with empowering you and supporting you, but at the same time, if you’re picking your job over them consistently, they’re like, ‘Yeah, this is pointless — I’m dating a girl, but she’s barely there.'”
Although Pittman is Tomeka’s boss, as her mentor she makes it a point to encourage her to make time for her personal life. “She’ll sit me down and be like, ‘You have to date, date, date.'” Tomeka said.
While she’s not looking to stay single forever, she’s also not willing to settle for just any guy that comes her way.
“I’m conscious about my worth; I’m really conscious about who I give my time to, and I don’t want to settle just to have somebody… I’m cool with waking up and it’s not one text message on my phone. I’m used to it — I’m cool with that,” she said. “I think the biggest thing about dating in this age is don’t just know your worth, but play your worth. Because yeah, you can know your worth and you can have morals, but if you’re not exercising your morals and sticking by them, then you’re not living out your morals… So I just gotta do what’s best for me. ‘Cause some of these guys are adult-sized boys that won’t lead you like a man. So it’s like, I gotta be the (person) that I wanna date.”
Stepping Out on Faith
In addition to the love and support of her family, Tomeka attributes her inspiring journey to her faith in God. Her personal mantra is: “When the universe wants you to succeed, walk by faith and everything will fall into place on it’s own time.”
“My belief [in God] didn’t get 1000% until I moved to New York,” she said. “And it’s just like, you have to stand by faith… You couldn’t tell me when I graduated from college I was gonna work for Puff. You couldn’t tell me I was gonna work for Remy Martin. Like I didn’t know what was gonna happen when I moved to New York. All the time I was in New York I used to be like, okay; God is not gon’ play you. God got me this far, He’s gonna work it out. I used to have to tell myself like, God will take care of it. God will help me get a job. And it’s been times when I realized in my career that I’m scary. So if it wasn’t for God, I would’ve settled a long time ago.”
Tomeka closed with some wise words of encouragement for other Millennials who are embarking on the unknown path to success.