Power Women: Author Darby Baham On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman

An Interview With Ming Zhao

Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine
Published in
18 min readApr 6, 2022


… A personal definition of success: What success means to one woman can be entirely different than what it means to the next. So, I believe part of what you need to be a successful woman is defining what that means for you. Right now, for me, success looks like becoming a best-selling author and knowing that my books are helping a generation of women believe that they deserve love. But it also looks like building a family of my own too.

How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Darby Baham.

Darby Baham is a debut Harlequin author with more than two decades’ experience in communications, working as an editor and contributing opinion articles to The Washington Post, Blavity, and others. Her first novel, The Shoe Diaries, was released in January 2022 with rave reviews, including from the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine, which called it an “emotionally engaging story… that will long resonate with anyone trying to make positive changes for themselves.” Her second novel, Bloom Where You’re Planted, will be released at the end of May 2022.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Sure! I am originally from New Orleans, La, the first girl to both of my parents, but my dad’s second child — which means while I have an older brother who I love dearly, I also have many of the positive and negative traits that belong to oldest children. I grew up watching my dad write songs, my grandparents go about their daily, morning newspaper-reading routine, and my mom serve as the glue/heart that kept us all together. And somehow, all of that came together to form a young girl (me!) who knew at a very young age that she wanted to be someone who told other people’s stories through writing.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

My career path has been a little all over the place, but the one thing that has been consistent is my love for writing and storytelling. When I was younger, I thought the only realistic job of someone who liked to write was as a reporter. So, I went about the business of becoming one. I interned at newspapers, majored in journalism, and basically either assumed I was going to be on someone’s sports desk or their general culture beat. I realized eventually that I didn’t want to work full time for newspapers, and so that was my first pivot in my career. I began freelancing with magazines and websites while exploring some interest I had in politics and government, which ultimately led me to a job as a writer/editor for the D.C. Department of Transportation (with continued freelancing and working as a magazine editor for a local teen program on the side).

During that time, I had an opportunity to write a few pieces for The Washington Post, and a dream I’d thought was long gone when I pivoted from working my way up as a reporter came true — I got 4 bylines in one of the premiere newspapers in the country. My time working in D.C. govt (including in the communications division of the corrections agency) also helped me to better understand what I enjoyed about being an editor, and so when I was looking to make the move to New York City, I was intentional in trying to find a job that would allow me to make a difference in people’s lives and to be part of a team that produces high quality publications. That’s where I am now, working as senior managing editor for a nonprofit that helps to research and reform criminal justice systems. And I’m also now a published author; Harlequin Special Edition released my debut novel in January 2022 and will be releasing my second book in May 2022.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I don’t know if this qualifies as most interesting, but it’s certainly the most full-circle moment of my career. Sometime soon after college, I decided that I was going to try to pursue my childhood dream of being an author while I continued working my day jobs. I figured as much as I love telling stories that people could relate to and connect with, I had to at least try. Plus, I was totally inspired by Tia Williams’ Accidental Diva, and thought that I want to do that, in my own voice, for someone else! I’d also started a personal blog that was not super successful in terms of numbers but had a highly engaged audience that loved reading about my dating woes and my short stories that were centered on the shoes I was wearing in that moment. The problem was that I didn’t know anything about building a plot and storyline for novels. So, I wrote a lot, and I was rejected a lot, but I met people along the way that kept the fire burning (even if only a little). For one, I met an editor at a blogger conference, and he was kind of enough to read my synopsis and marketing ideas, etc. He didn’t like any of it lol… but he told me to keep working on it. Then, I actually met Tia Williams in Union Station in DC, and told her about my idea, how she’d inspired me, etc. She was super encouraging, but it didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t getting anywhere with agents or publishers. So, I stopped writing… for a while. Then, I got that chance to write some first-person op-eds for The Washington Post’s relationship vertical, which at the time was called Solo-ish. And one of those articles was about a dress I’d purchased and deemed a perfect date dress but didn’t wear for three years because of all the pressure I put on myself and the dress. Writing that article was an ah-ha moment for me in my personal life (I realized I was spending a lot of time waiting around for perfection) and in terms of the book, and it ultimately largely influenced a major plot point in The Shoe Diaries, my debut novel. The main character in that book has a pair of shoes that she hasn’t worn because she’s always worried that “the other shoe will drop” if she does, meaning that she’ll be so happy that she’ll let her guard down, and something will go wrong. And that’s also how she has been living her life. Now, I can look back and see how all those experiences helped me get to where I am and informed the writer I am today. But I have to tell you, at the time, each part just felt very distinct and at times defeating. It’s a reminder to me, even these days, that it all works together somehow, though.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’d say confidence in my talent, my curiosity of the world around me, and my ability to be humble but determined have been most instrumental to my success.

My confidence speaks to a belief in myself and what I bring to the table. So, even when I might have insecurities about other things — which we all do, right? — I’m rarely insecure about my talent. I know that I bring my all into everything I do, especially when it comes to writing. And that confidence keeps me steady and assured of my path in life.

In terms of my curiosity, I’d say that it’s almost something inherent in me. My parents tell stories of me asking them “but why” at an incredibly young age any time they attempted to answer a question of mine. And so, the truth is, I’ve just never been someone satisfied with the first answer to a question. I always have follow ups. If you let me, there’s no limit to the number of questions that I can come up with for any topic — and that’s all because I’m genuinely curious about the ways of the world, how things work, what makes something unique, etc. It served me well when I was a reporter, and it continues to serve me as an editor and an author because it informs my ability to be an observer, a listener, and then someone who takes that information and translates it in a way that other people can relate to and understand.

Finally, for my humility + determination, I’d have to say the credit to that goes to my family. I was always taught to reach for the moon and the stars in everything that I do, but to understand that even when I accomplish certain goals — I didn’t do it on my own. For example, I think about even the fact that I’m now a published author. That’s been a goal of mine since I was a young girl. It took a lot of determination and will to keep pushing toward this goal when there were times that it didn’t feel like it would happen. And still, I know that I didn’t get here on my own. It took everyone from my family and friends encouraging me along the way, people in my life who acted as thought partners and de-facto editors, my literary agent, my editor at Harlequin, my publicist and so many more — and because I know this, it informs the way that I serve as a leader to the people around me.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

I think it has a lot to do with the media we consume from children on. I love a good Disney movie, right? But what do you see when you’re watching, say, The Little Mermaid as a kid? Ariel literally chose to lose her voice to be with Eric. Don’t get me wrong; I looove The Little Mermaid. I can sing all the songs in it to this day! But that’s not teaching any kid about the beauty of strong women. There are obviously exceptions to this, but I think there’s something to the stories we tell about women and then how comfortable society is with women who don’t fit that mold. As a Black woman, it can be really interesting too, because society often puts a designation on us as “strong Black woman” that in some ways is meant to be a compliment, but in other ways, especially in the workplace, still penalizes us. We may be seen as aggressive when we’re just trying to get our point across, simply because the notion of a strong, combative woman is already in peoples’ minds. And it doesn’t allow for women to be both — strong and soft — confident in our abilities, but okay being vulnerable when appropriate.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

The hardest part is probably narrowing it down to one story. But honestly, the times when it’s hurt the most is when I’ve experienced this in my personal life. For example, I dated one guy several moons ago who claimed that he wanted to marry me… if only I would be okay with not being so ambitious and changing my goals to be mostly in support of his. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that if it’s the kind of relationship you want; but it certainly didn’t make me feel like he would be happy marrying a woman like me who has own ambitions as well. Clearly, that relationship didn’t work out. But sadly, it’s not the only relationship where I’ve felt less than supported as a strong woman who wants to impact lives in this world.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

It’s easier said than done, but I say you have to be who you are and trust that the people who are supposed to be around you will get it. That’s not an excuse to not look for improvements in yourself, but I’m learning that when I’m able to show up as my full self in work and in my personal life, whether people are initially uneasy or not, I bring so much more creativity and purpose to the table. And if that’s what I’m there for, it’s worth it to ruffle a few feathers sometimes.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

This needs to happen at so many different levels. Part of it is releasing the box, so to speak, of what we compliment the women in our personal lives on. So, it’s looking inward as a society and questioning, what are the attributes I lift up when I’m speaking positively about my mom, my sisters, my aunts, whoever… and would those be the same attributes I’d say about the men in my life. And if they’re not, maybe it’s evaluating why that’s the case. Then, from a macro-level, there has to be some sort of reckoning where we all ask ourselves why powerful women make us uncomfortable. Is it because it feels like it’s taking power from us? Is it because we are envious of their strength? What is it? Without confronting the hard questions about where the unease comes from, we’ll never change it. And to be clear, I don’t think it’s just men who are uneasy about powerful women. A lot of women also need to confront the question too.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

Oh, absolutely! I can remember working for a company wherein the other writer/editor was a man. And let me be clear, this is not about him — because I think he’s great — but he would tell you even then that I had more experience than he did when we worked together. Yet, we came in at the same level, same salary, and same title mere months apart from each other. Ultimately, it’s one of those tricky situations where you find yourself wondering if that discrepancy is because I’m a woman and/or a Black person, and he’s not, or if I’m overthinking things. I have found that a lot of times men, especially white men, don’t have to ask themselves these same questions.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The perfect example of the stigma that women leaders face is the exclamation point phenomena. Have you noticed that women tend to use a lot of them in emails and other written correspondence? Well, that’s because, somewhere along the lines, we were all conditioned to think that if we didn’t add one after “Thanks,” for example, then someone might think we’re being rude or we’re a b — . And the last thing you want as a woman is to be considered either. Ask Hillary Clinton. Ask Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who just last week, was having to keep her composure during her confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. This is not something men face as leaders. They don’t have to be mom/comforter to their employees and be a leader. They don’t have to find this tricky balance of being unflappable and somehow also the nicest person in the room. They get to be as ambitious as they want, often with little consequences, because it’s expected of them.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

I would say the biggest struggle for me is always finding the balance between what’s important in my personal life and what’s important to me in my career. Unfortunately, cloning isn’t an option yet, so there are often times when I have to choose between one or the other, and I always feel bad no matter which decision I make. There have been times when I missed a birthday celebration for someone I really care about because I had a deadline looming and needed to write 4000 words that day. There have also been times when I decided that I couldn’t miss the personal event, but it meant that I had to stay up late the rest of the week to catch up on work. I imagine that this balance only gets harder as a wife or as a parent, but it is a constant struggle for me.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

At a certain point, you realize you genuinely cannot do it all. For me, this happened in a major way when I ended up in the hospital in 2015 with large blood clots in my lungs. Now, this had stemmed from an injury to my leg, but part of the problem was that my life was so “go go go” at that time, that even the injury was a manifestation of how I was living. You see, it started with me running to get to something in my apartment and injuring my foot, then even with a boot on my foot and leg, I was constantly still trying to run everywhere and fell in my boot attempting to catch the subway one day. Then, with that injury, I was put on bed rest for a week and was so intent on getting back to work that I didn’t listen to my body when I felt sick until it got to the point where I almost passed out. Turns out bed rest, leg injury, plus birth control is an incredibly powerful cocktail for blood clots. So, 2 weeks in the hospital plus another 2 weeks working from home and then years of complications turned out to be the tipping point for me to start therapy and begin working with someone who to this day still helps me balance my personal and work life. It’s still not easy; I will say that. And I’m not sure that I get it right all the time, but I am thankful that I have my therapist because she’s able to objectively tell me if I’m tipping one way or the other at any point and help me figure out how to get the balance back. Just recently, she reminded me that I cannot physically say yes to every opportunity presented to me, and not in a judgmental way, but in a way that we were able to sit down and plot out what I could and couldn’t do and to feel comfortable and secure in those decisions.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

It’s interesting that you ask this. I have a friend who is a stylist, and she says that your closet is a reflection of how you feel about yourself. And that doesn’t mean you have to inherently be a fashionista, but that if your wardrobe is overflowing with clothes and items that no longer serve you, it’s likely that’s how your life is, and I would add that it’s also how you’re showing up as a leader. I think she’s right, and I think that the same could be said for how you take care of your body and your skin. I don’t believe that every woman has to wear makeup every day or anything like that, but I do believe how you take care of yourself manifests into how you take care of others. I also know that I show up differently in spaces when I feel good about myself, and for me, that usually includes loving what I’m wearing, how my face looks, how I smell, the whole nine. When I love what I see in the mirror, it just gives me that extra boost of confidence to go out and impact the world.

How is this similar or different for men?

Well, I don’t want to fully speak for men here. But my guess is there are probably internal similarities even if there are external differences. I have male friends who tell me that they feel more confident when they are wearing a suit that they had tailored to perfection, or they took the extra time to moisture their whole body that morning. At the same time, however, we know that the external expectations are not the same. Take Hillary Clinton again, for example. There were full magazine spreads about her outfits when she was running for president. Did we see the same for any of her contemporaries? The answer is no.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Confidence: you can’t be a successful woman if you’re not confident in what you bring to the table and in who you are. For some people, this might be based in their faith, but regardless of the foundation, it’s important to know your talents and skills and to not question whether you belong where you are.

Determination: No successful journey is without pitfalls, whether big or small, because most people learn from failing and then are able to succeed based on what they gleaned from that experience. But if you don’t have the determination to keep going when something in your plan doesn’t 100 percent go your way, it will be easy to just stop. And as I say to every writer, your job is to never stop. If you don’t stop and you keep perfecting your craft, it will pan out for you.

A personal definition of success: What success means to one woman can be entirely different than what it means to the next. So, I believe part of what you need to be a successful woman is defining what that means for you. Right now, for me, success looks like becoming a best-selling author and knowing that my books are helping a generation of women believe that they deserve love. But it also looks like building a family of my own too.

A flexible vision: I remember growing up people would ask what’s your five- or ten-year plan, and then somewhere along the lines, it became a little passe to have a long-term vision because it implied there was no room for veering off your plan. Well, I think you need both to be successful as a woman. You need to know what you’re aiming for and have a vision for what this looks like — but you also need to be flexible enough to let life (and if you believe in a higher power, God) show you along the way where that vision can be refined. Being too stuck in one way will likely leave you falling behind and watching others pivot and succeed, but not having a vision at all will mean you’re not grounded in something to keep you moving toward success.

A village surrounding you: I said it earlier, but I do not believe that I am where I am without my village. And I don’t believe any successful woman can thrive without people around her encouraging her and holding her up when she needs it. A village can be 1 or 2 people, but she can’t do it alone. She can probably succeed alone, but thrive? Thrive to me means you are succeeding, and you have joy in that success, and I think that requires community.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Absolutely Shonda Rhimes. I think she is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation, and I love how she continues to come up with plots and characters who define television. I can remember how life changing Grey’s Anatomy felt when it first aired and to this day, my friends and I still text about what happens every week and use iconic quotes to explain our lives to other people. But she hasn’t stopped there. Over and over, she has built worlds that people across the globe can relate to. And she has also been very honest about what it has taken her to do this while also maintaining personal priorities. As a storyteller myself, and as a woman just starting to build a career in this way, I’d love to be able to sit down with her and just learn as much as I could from her.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.



Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.