“When I’m 60 years old and reflecting on my crazy life stories, I want to enjoy knowing that they haven’t all been publicized across social media. I like being slightly in the shadows.” Natalie Guevara may be the most private publicist you’ve encountered, and she’s OK with it. Recently taking on a role as in-house communications director for Brooklyn-based startup Genius, Nat is learning how to set her own standards, taking cues from the grace of others and the everlasting wisdom of Mariah Carey.
“I originally wanted to be a journalist, but got into public relations and media (the so-called ‘dark side’) because I couldn’t find an editorial job to sufficiently support me. Sometimes I still feel a pang of guilt or shame that I’m not writing ‘real things,’ but I think, ‘How can I avoid the typically superficial PR route and still get the job done?’ I think communications can be either white magic or dark arts, and I try to use my powers for the better.
A lot of people perceive tech as a very closed-off world, and rightly so. The representation of women and minorities is deplorable. That said, I do think there have been strides towards improvement. There’s a genuine need for companies to hire thoughtfully, not just to fulfill diversity numbers.
When you’re doing something that’s never been done before, the only way you’re going to succeed is if you get a range of people to do it with you.
I sign my e-mails as ‘Nat Guevara’ and have felt people’s surprise when we speak on the phone for the first time and they realize I’m a woman. I think they’re even more surprised to learn that I’m a Latina woman, especially when it’s public knowledge that Genius was founded by two guys who went to Yale. Even though it wasn’t a calculated move for me to work here, I think representing the company has been a powerful thing. You read about skeptics from the outside world who are always saying things like, ‘Be careful not to be tokenized!’ But I can honestly say that’s not my reality and I don’t feel that way at all—I bring my whole self to work and I know that my counsel matters to our founders and the rest of the team. It’s a very encouraging, supportive environment.
Working at a startup, you go from the highest of highs to ‘Oh god, what do we do?’ in one day. You have to accept it for what it is. If I had come into this role a year ago, I would have been too rigid to handle it. But I’m coming to understand that I can choose to be a control freak or I can give in to the senses and the spirits and do the best I can. Ever since I took the latter approach it’s been way more zen. I’m working on my perfectionist tendencies, because they can lead to a really shameful existence. Sometimes you have to be like, ‘I did the best I could and it’s good enough.’ I’m in awe of people who know their boundaries and are able to express them in the most elegant way possible. They’ve established a very peaceful line you cannot cross. Whereas I naturally want to react immediately. Sometimes I’ll pour all of my feelings into a draft email which I’ll never send. I learn so much from the standards to which other people hold themselves. You can think you’re killing it, and then you observe how other people live and have to check yourself and reevaluate.
Some people in my orbit are so full of grace. I’m sure life is not easier for them, but they’re a little more forgiving of themselves and other people, and I find that really inspiring.
I’m learning that life is seasonal—that there are going to be moments when my family life is going well but romance is in the shitter. It’s the situation I’m in now, where work has become this very central thing, but I’m trying to be less hard on myself and to chill out. Constant sacrifice is hard. In order to do one thing, there are other parts of my life that must drop. I haven’t been to birthdays or weddings for at least a year—I’m still trying to figure that part out. Things aren’t going to get less crazy, so I need to start prioritizing. I’m also learning that sacrifice is not always worth it. I don’t want to be constantly missing out on a ‘life moment,’ as Mariah Carey would say.
Despite being in PR, I prefer to be in the background. I used to be at odds with that, because I thought I had to be this media power player. But I truly get no enjoyment out of that, and I’ve crafted my role into something that makes sense for me. I’m often in positions where, if I wanted to, I could power trip. I’ve tried it on for size a few times and it feels ridiculous. I’ve never gotten business done when I’m fronting like Harvey Weinstein or whatever. It just doesn’t work. In a way, it’s harder to be kind but also let people know when things aren’t OK. But it’s a choice I make every day so that when I go to sleep at night, I feel good about how I conducted myself. I might not be a traditional bad-ass leather jacket chick, but I am steely undercover.
If nothing else, I will have a weird and buoyant life full of contradictions that are all true to who I am.
I work in tech but only have three apps on my phone, and my idea of fun is cage-diving with Great White sharks. Owning that weirdness makes me respect myself. My shark dive is coming up, actually. I’m diving off the coast of San Francisco, and will be in a cage with a fellow diver and cameraman. I think sharks are fascinating: the fact that if they don’t stop moving they die, and how they seem to have no emotions, yet we project our own onto them for better or for worse. Honestly, diving with Great Whites isn’t as scary or as exhilarating as working at a startup or living in New York City. I don’t know what tomorrow will hold, but I do know that if I dive with sharks, I will probably live to tell you about it.”
Photographed by Amy Woodside
As told to Amy Woodside, October 2015