The Vulnerable Entrepreneur, Vivian Nuñez: When Writing Keeps You Alive
You may have seen her shedding light on trailblazing Latinas in Forbes, you may have caught feelings reading her work on Medium, or perhaps you found a safe haven in Too Damn Young. Vivian Nuñez is nothing short from a badass girboss that paved her own path and planted flowers along the way.
A father out of the picture, losing her mother at just ten years old, and later losing her grandmother at the peak of her senior year of college during her internship at Cosmo, writing was Vivian's savior. In the midst of grasping her own life, she created Too Damn Young to create a community and a safe space for people undergoing grief. She also was one of the creators of a Forbes' podcast titled Creating Espacios that showcased Latina entrepreneurs that then led to her writing for Forbes after the first season. Her digital strategy and marketing freelance work may her bread and butter, but you'll get to Vivian's heart via her writing, may it be on Medium, Popsugar, or MTV. Oh and did we mention that she's also spoken for the United Nations?
In our conversation with Vivian below, you'll find insight on how her entrepreneurial path came to be, what a writing career focused on grief is like, the biggest lessons she's learned along the way, and more!
I feel like there’s this common thread of entrepreneurship, self-care and vulnerability that lies between all your work. Being someone who is passionate about the same things, I’ve been so excited to have this conversation with you!
You’re definitely not wrong! It is entrepreneurial, and at the heart of it all very vulnerable and very to the core of who I am. I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to have that play out so organically and also, bottom line, profitable for me. I’ve actually been able to make this a living and not many people get to do that. I don’t take it for granted for sure.
For me to be able to relate to you so much, from my end and my perspective, it seems like all your work comes full circle for you. I wanted to start by asking you where you feel like your journey with all this has started. Was it your mom passing away at such a young age of ten years old?
I experienced my mom’s loss the way any kid does. I think that my teen years weren’t about finding purpose, they were about surviving. I say that with a lot of understanding that I also had a support system around me but it was definitely about finding a way to survive and understanding what being a kid without a mom was. There was nothing about my teenage years that in any way made me feel like I had found the thing that would bring it full circle for me. That wasn’t my “aha” moment - grief or loss or that feeling that this is literally as empty as I could be and wondered what I could get from it.
Going through high school I was a really good kid. I was probably the best kid that my grandma could’ve raised. I didn’t like going out. I wasn’t really a social butterfly. I graduated top of my class and went to college. I went the very traditional route. I think it started going left for me (and I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean more so very untraditional) once my grandma died. That was the moment that, for me, I consider a defining moment that brought it all full circle. I had an inkling that eventually I would want to do something that had to do with grief. But I also, as a teenager, thought it’d be something I’d do when I’d retire - like open up some kind of organization to house kids.
I had been interning at Cosmo my senior year of college and my grandmother had started getting sick the fall of my senior year. I ultimately had these two worlds pulling me. It was this world of everything that magazine life is: glamorous at times, a lot of hard work, and a lot of low pay. Then it was the reality I was living. I was someone’s primary caretaker legally. I was taking care of my grandmother, spending more time in the hospital than I was in school. It was my senior year so I had to figure how to manage it all to graduate. We were in and out of the hospital from November 2013 to March 2014. When she passed away in the beginning of March, I had this moment a week or two after she died of, “What am I? Who am I? I don’t know who I am outside of the person who took care of her.” Growing up she was my legal guardian. She was older when she took me on. She was 75 when I was 10. I took care of her a lot. I don’t regret any of that but at the same time my identity was so tangled in what it meant to be her granddaughter and then to be her caretaker. So when she passed away, I was left figuring out who I was. That is ultimately what pushed me down this road.
Instagram featured me a couple months ago and you have these really cool moments where Instagram features you and you get all these followers. From the outside perspective, it looks so cool. From where I’m standing, yes it’s cool and it’s an honor but also… I get to do this because literally someone died. For me to have my story, that isn’t a comfortable narrative, it pulls you into different directions. I brought purpose out of this but also, I would give this all up in a second if it meant I could hang out with them.
I lost my father the summer going into my first year of college and looking back at it now in comparison to who I am today, I feel so much older. Becoming this woman without my father has felt like a different grief than when I initially lost him, you know?
One hundred percent! I’m going to turn 25 in December and I feel like this is probably a moment in my life where I’ve felt the most adult. I’m making a lot of adult decisions for myself and have been putting myself first. It’s difficult in the way that they don’t know who I am right now. They didn’t get to meet me as an adult. They didn’t get to see me grow up into this person that I am now. There are still parts of me that are that sixteen year old kid, that ten year old kid. There are parts of me that aren’t! To grow up and become an adult when you don’t have a parent is a particular kind of loss and grief. My boyfriend is the first guy I’ve introduced to my family and is what I consider my first real adult relationship. I don’t have a parent to introduce him to and that’s hard. That had me reliving grief all over again, like at the end of last year when I met his parents for the first time. Those are experiences that you can’t prepare for.
What I find so honorable about you is the fact that you’ve turned this into safe space for others. You found a strength where you can write about this and create relatability for others who have experienced the same thing as you. I’m a writer and to this day, six years later, it’s so hard for me to write about my traumatic experiences. I really want to create relatability for others and share my story but for some reason I just can’t get myself to be able to do it. I don’t know if it’s because of my fear of someone changing the narrative or the conversation of grief itself being taboo so it’d be pushing boundaries. Could you tell me how opening up happened for you?
First, thank you so much, that’s really sweet that you said that. I appreciate you saying that. I think sometimes I forget people read my stuff to be honest with you because I really just write it for me. That has probably been the biggest reason why I’ve been able to write so openly is because I genuinely write it for me. It’s how I started Too Damn Young. I’m one hundred percent alive because I can write. That’s just my truth. There were so many moments where things were super hard and rock bottom was a place I lived in. In those moments, I would write my way out. I still do it to this day. Any day that I have really bad anxiety or my depression is kicking in, I’m really lost in my own thoughts and I write. You can see it in how my essays are formatted. I write and I almost start where I am in my head, really confused and tangled. Then I end in a clearer place. It’s therapy for me.
I don’t know the secret to getting to that place. Trust me, I talk about it in therapy all the time. When I just started writing about two/three years ago about grief to the degree that I was writing it, I would always go in there and wonder how it’s possible. I’m with a really great guy right now but there are really not great guys out there. I remember this was always a thing that came up. I always felt like I was being too vulnerable. My ability to reach back and not necessarily feel… this is not to say that I don’t have confidence or I have self-esteem issues but I’m able to reach back and I’m able to write these stories. It doesn’t necessarily affect me the way it would someone else. It doesn’t hurt as much for me to put them down on paper as it does someone else. For so long, that was a thing for me where I’d question myself as to why I’m able to do this. Should I not be able to do this? No one else can. In therapy is where I worked out being okay that I can reach back that far. Being okay that I can do it and someone else can’t because it’ll help them. That’s the perspective that I’ve taken on it.
I think a lot of it happens too where you have to create safe spaces for yourself to do be able to do that. For me it was Too Damn Young and another community of people that’s just like me. When there was nobody else writing for it, it was me writing with the anticipation that there would be other people.
Then Instagram… I never cared about numbers on Instagram to be honest with you. If you look back at my Instagram posts I was writing the same kind of captions four months ago when I had 500 followers. What I always cared about was that I want to put this on somewhere because I want to remember it and I want be able to go back to it. It’s always been about the story for me. It’s always been about creating those safe spaces. Instagram was that for me. It was a safe space where I could write and that’s how Instagram found me.
When you create safe spaces for yourself, it becomes easier to write the things that hurt. I had to learn how to do that outside of myself at first. I did it on Too Damn Young and then I did it for myself. I wrote a lot for myself before therapy and then I would go in and tell her what I would write. Now, I’m in an interesting place where I’m doing a lot of the writing for Tyler, my boyfriend. I write with him in mind and it gives me the freedom to write because I trust him so much.
This is a good place to segway into Too Damn Young because when I was reading about it, you wanted to created that safe space where people who are going through the same thing can go on there and not feel alone. So was that your first project that sprouted your writing career?
Yes, I started my career with Too Damn Young. I think more than anything else it’s what I’m most proud of and where you can see my growth. Honest to God, ups and downs. Things haven’t been published on Too Damn Young in a really long time. It’’s older content and I think that that is a huge indicator of how much I needed to step back. It got to the point where it was really awesome and created this community but at the same time was draining me. It hurts to read other people’s stories like that. I was so close to it and I was so in it as well.
I feel like people forgot that the reason why I created it is because I had lost someone. I’m experiencing it in real time and I’m also managing other people’s feelings. It became this hard thing and I stepped back. I’m starting to get back in it now. I think I’ll get back to it better than I would’ve a couple months ago. It’s one of those things where you can’t be ashamed (this is coming from someone who was literally so ashamed about this for the last three months) but I’m learning that you can’t be ashamed about needing to take time for yourself. You need to step back and feel good and happy to be able to come back to this. It’s not like there isn’t content on the website for someone who needs it. There’s still really good articles on there. I just couldn’t put on new stuff and I couldn’t innovate because I needed to be in a better place. And I am! I couldn’t be more thankful. I’ve put in so much work in therapy over the last year to be able to get to a place where I feel good about myself. I feel good about how I’m controlling my anxiety and depression.
Too Damn Young literally saved my life. I think it taught me how to package my pain into something I can consume in my own time. It makes it manageable for me. It did it for me when my grandmother died by giving me a place to write and it did it for me when my anxiety was at my worst. It reminded me to take the time for myself.
From Too Damn Young where does your writing career go from there?
I wear many hats. Personal essays will always be where you find me. I mean that literally. You want to get to know me, you read my essays. I love the content that I write for Forbes about amazing Latina trailblazers and I love the articles I write for Popsugar but the heart of me and who I actually am, you find that in my essays.
I’m going back to Too Damn Young and am building that out to be bigger and better. I’m hoping to continue that journey and continue writing. I mean the ultimate goal is to write a book. A book about my twenties is what I’m aiming for. Not a memoir because I think a memoir has a lot of finality and for me it’s not that. For me it’d be a collection of essays about growing up in my twenties and my teen years. That’s the ultimate, ultimate goal.
But when it comes to my writing, I just want to write. I started my own blog a couple weeks ago and I just want to keep on writing. I want to get a better pace of it and continue to be the same writer with the same voice. The thing is that I don’t try. Not to sound cocky but I don’t sit there and think what’s going to make my writing relatable. I think that’s the best way you can write. When you don’t write for an audience, when you don’t write with what others will like in mind, you’ll write something others will like. If you just write from the perspective of, “this is what I’m experiencing,” there’s a very high likelihood that someone else is experiencing the same thing. Versus the perspective of “let me pick and choose what someone else is writing or feeling” you’re just running into the risk of being like everyone else out there, not having a distinct voice, and not being able to capture an audience because you’re not being honest.
A lot of the work I get comes from two pools for me. It’s my digital strategy and marketing skills that people hire. That’s my biggest bread and butter, the digital work I do. I was a Marketing major. I graduated with a Bachelors in Business Administration and Digital Marketing. In regards to writing, the writing that I do for myself has opened doors for me. I do like the listicle stuff too but my editors will pull personal essays from myself about my mental health and things like that. She knows I’m cool to write about that stuff. It hasn’t closed any doors for me and it hasn’t made me feel like I need to hide any parts of who I am. That’s a very fortunate place to be in and I totally understand the privilege of that because that’s not to be said by everyone. Someone’s job could be at risk because they’re talking about their mental health, or something along those lines. That’s almost why even more so I do it. It’s the same reason why I have Creating Espacios and why I write about Latina trailblazers because it’s this opportunity where if you have the platform and you have the ability and the voice then you do if for someone else, someone who can’t.
Before I delve into Creating Espacios and your work with Forbes, I wanted to touch on the privacy aspect of you beginning to have more eyes on you because of your multiple platforms. Have you found yourself needing to practice more self-care because of your audience growth?
When you have more of a following it’s not necessarily that you feel any differently or that you need to be doing anything specific but it does make you more cautious, at least for me, of what you do share. It makes me more cautious about what I share about the people in my life. Not about what I share about me. I got into the game because I was writing about this stuff, so I’m not going to stop writing about it because I have more eyes on me now. There is a different way I approach the relationships in my life in terms of social. Nobody is owed any part of my life but I do feel responsible to share as much as I feel comfortable when it comes to my depression and my anxiety. I have also been living by the rule of: just because I shared it once doesn’t mean I have to keep on sharing it. If there’s ever a moment where I feel like I don’t want to anymore and it’s not where I am and it’s not what I want to talk about, I always have the right to pull it back. No one is owed my story other than me. I feel like that can kind of be a tricky path to be on when you feel like other people are owed it and that’s honestly probably one of the biggest mistakes I made with Too Damn Young. It’s probably why I needed a break. I felt too many people needed my attention and it drained me.
Self-care was taking a break from Too Damn Young. Self-care is spending Saturdays at home with my boyfriend not doing anything sometimes. Self-care looks like different things for me. Right now I’m in this really weird growing stage in my life where my friendships are changing, and my boyfriend and I are growing together, and my writing is different. So much is changing that I’m really gravitating towards the things that make me happy. There are just things that I’m trying to build into my life that provide me an escape because the thing is that when writing becomes your job, the thing that you’re known for, it stops almost being your escape anymore. So you almost have to replace it with something else.
I noticed that you have a niche or big interest in writing about Latina business-owners and entrepreneurs. What is it about Latina women that you gravitate towards sharing their stories?
It actually first came about as a podcast. The podcast started with Forbes a year and a half ago almost and it was honestly because I’m Latina, I’m an entrepreneur, and doing all these things. I didn’t really find other Latinas doing the same thing but I knew it existed. I wanted to have a conversation with them. As I talked to my mentor about it, and she at the time was building out Forbes’ podcast network, I thought it was going to be just one episode and it ended up being a whole season. I started it with Barbara and we built it out really, really cool. As time went on, the second season didn’t get picked up by Forbes but I knew there was something there. I decided to take it on on my own. I had #WeAllGrow as the sponsor and my goal was just to tell stories that aren’t really told. You don’t really have other publications telling Latina’s stories as we were at the time. I wanted to give the framework or groundwork for other Latina’s out there that want to do the same. It’s ultimately what extended beyond the podcast and into me writing for Forbes.
From what I see and how I feel, you enjoy creating things that don’t exist. I congratulate you for having the courage to do that!
That’s going to be my new elevator pitch! “I create things that don’t exist.” (laughs) It’s not like I’m going out there and saying I want to create something that doesn’t exist. I see the gap there and wonder why it doesn’t exist. Too Damn Young started with thirteen dollars and Creating Espacios literally started with just a pitch. It’s awesome what you can do by just asking and creating something out of nothing.
What would you say are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned in your growth and entrepreneurial journey?
You have to be fearless. That’s not to say you’re not scared but you just have to go for it! You can’t wait until there’s a perfect moment because there’s never going to be a perfect moment. You have to act on it when it feels right and when your gut tells you. But do it by doing your homework. Yes I started Too Damn Young from a place of that but I also researched! I made sure there was nothing else like it and I learned about what colors I should be using on the site, how I should be framing everything, etc. So I did my homework but I also jumped. I didn’t wait long before I did.
I think that people are really scared of vulnerability and it’s honestly the biggest driver of my entire career. My ability to be vulnerable and practice that has helped me incredible amounts when it comes to my career and also my relationships in general. It’s really strengthened things for me.
My third one is to surround yourself with good people. There are people in my life who have been here way before anything started going well. They were here when my grandma passed away, things were falling apart, and I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with my life. I was so confused and figuring out my life, figuring out who I was, was the biggest thing on my to-do list. They were there! They knew me then and they are there now. It’s awesome to have people who know your history. On that same note I would say to not be afraid to teach people your history. My boyfriend wasn’t around when my grandma died and he wasn’t around when things went to hell. My life was pretty okay when he came into my world but I haven’t been afraid to show him those parts of me. It gives people a fuller view of how human you are. That’s one of the things that I try to do on social media. Everyone is so great about the nice pictures I post but the captions are super heavy and really sad sometimes. Really uplifting other times! That’s just who I am. I like nice pictures but my life sometimes is hard and things get tough. That’s fine, we’re human. It’s okay to let people into those things. Not everyone is going to be comfortable doing that on Instagram and that’s fine but figure out ways where you are comfortable because it’s very freeing to do that.
Since you are going through so many changes and shifts in your life, where’s your tunnel vision at right now? What are your goals at the moment?
At the top of that list is to be happy. Staying happy is really hard sometimes, at least for me. I suffer from anxiety and depression too, so a lot on my mind is challenging my mind to be happy and to stay there and really embrace it. The top of my list is definitely to learn to be happy. It may not be something that someone else has to learn and that’s fine but it’s something I have to practice. That’s what I’m dedicating a lot of my time to.
I want to feel (and this is across the board) like I have control over my life. It’s not control in the sense of I want to control every little thing but I do want to feel like I am the owner of myself. I grew up in a Latina family and it’s a hard dynamic to break out of.
Career-wise, I want to write more. I just want to feel financially secure and completely, creatively challenged. I want to keep creating and doing things that make me happy.