VELA Game Changer: Zaynab Issa

Zaynab Issa is one of those girls that fit a week into a day. She self-published the cookbook Let’s Eat, filled with delectable looking East African Indian recipes all while working and studying full time. Game changers are those who inspire us to go after our dreams. And we are so inspired by how Zaynab has gone after hers, already having interned at After Pay, Time Magazine, and The Knot. Read on to find out how she balances it all and the importance of a good morning routine.

What inspired you to write a cookbook? 

My mother and grandmother were always cooking. My family could always be found in the kitchen, so I never really played with dolls, instead you would find me playing with a rolling pin. Growing up in Jersey, I didn’t appreciate my culture for a long time, I always kept it to the house. It wasn’t until I got married that I decided I wanted to know more. And then when preparing a political thesis, I realized that people aren’t listening to one another, but through the medium of food it’s less awkward, a connection happens. So I put a piece of myself out there in the form of food. Both my parents were born in East Africa, my father in Zanzibar and my mom in Songea, and there are hundreds of years of the two cultures, African and Indian, influencing one another. I ended up learning these centuries old recipes over Facetime and using my interest in photography to take all the photos - they were meant to be taken using film, but the pandemic had bigger plans. 

Your TikToks where you show a day in your life are so inspiring: How do you balance it all without burning out?

Social media is the fun part of my day - it’s a lunch break kind of thing. And I’ve been working for a really long time, so I’ve learned with a full semester to alternate days. Some days are dedicated to school while others are dedicated to work. I’ve also found having a good morning routine and planning ahead with the Full Focus Planner makes all the difference. This way at 8 pm you can find me watching Gossip Girl. 

What makes a good morning routine?

When I plan my day ahead of time, I can get so much done so much faster, and I spend less time thinking about what I have to do - I just do it . Having a good breakfast is always fun and I like taking my time to make it. Starting my day with a walk to get the energy flowing in the morning. I used to be a night owl, but now I realize that the morning offers a lot of time at a slower pace (if that makes sense). It also depends on how in control of your schedule you are. Now that I have my own space, I’m less distracted by family requests.

What would you tell girls who are trying to pursue a career and work on their passions on the side?

Do your best to make sure that there is some overlap there. I always like to create things and learn about things that I care about. I work in editorial, which I really love. My cookbook overlaps with my editorial work, because it’s taking photos and writing. I put all these things together. I love painting too, I painted in my study abroad in Florence. I painted two paintings, I really love it, but I already have things that I love more. I ask myself what needs me the most right now and I fulfill that. There’s a sense of accountability, and that’s what the planner does, it makes you accountable to yourself. If you only do the things that you love, then you don’t burn out. It’s easier to say no to yourself if you’re saying no to the things you don’t care about. I’ll give each thing it’s own time, so I don’t multitask. 

What would you tell girls who are pursuing internships?

Stat immediately on something, whatever that something is. I started in 8th grade, and I started really small. One internship led to the next and I slowly built my network. Also, pay attention to where you want to be. When my two older sisters were getting internships, I also wanted one. When my older friends went to a career fair, I tagged along as a freshman. Side note: if you’re interested in working in editorial check out Ed2010 for internships and resources. They give you a direct shot at the hiring manager's inbox.  

What do you think makes a VELA girl?

Somebody who does what they want. They have that air of confidence. They’re driven by passion not just expectation -  which is powerful for women. If I could pick three words: confident, empowered, fearless. You think of Marwa that way, so you think of VELA that way too.

Thank you Zaynab for your always inspiring us. This interview has been edited for grammar, but are the thoughts and sentiments of Zaynab Issa. Follow @zaynab_issa to keep up with her work and her amazing recipes. Stay tuned for more features from our amazing community!

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