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To succeed as a journalist, one must first accept the you’re going to lose your job a lot.
To succeed in journalism, one must possess two key traits: (1) the ability to shape every thought, interaction, and possibility into a story, and (2) the strength to transform the words “we’ve eliminated your position” into an opportunity for growth.
Often. So much more often than you want to believe.
Every aspiring journalist has the same vision of their future daily routine. You probably wake up early. You definitely drink coffee. You’re always on your laptop scrambling to meet a deadline. There’s always that one source that may or may not have forgotten to turn off their out-of-office auto-replies. You know you’re never going to work for any of the Timeses, but what if enough typing and cold-emailing actually did the trick?
Perhaps, for you, only a few of these dreams actually became realities. If you’re even still in the game, that is.
The thrill of printing my first cover story when I was 21 had me chasing that adrenaline rush (and nearly overdosing on caffeine, I wish I were exaggerating) for the next eight years. I migrated to features writing and rode on nothing but burnout all the way up to senior and managing editor positions, but I was still living the dream! Until! I wasn’t! Anymore.
At 24, being a journalist was my whole world. I survived a major round of layoffs a year later and kept hanging on at the same company for years.
Then one day I told my boss I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t fulfilled. I wasn’t reaching the milestones I thought I’d have blown past years ago.
And I said, “I’m burned out, I love this job but it’s too much all the time,” and my unlimited paid time off was supposed to fix it, and my promotion was supposed to fix it, nothing fixed it. I lasted almost five years, but I left, because I thought that would fix it.
I gave up my weekends, I did everything right, I cried almost every day for over a year until my new bosses pulled me into a meeting and they said, “You’ve done everything we asked, there’s just not a place for you here anymore, you can go.”
This happened not once in the same year but twice, and it’s not personal, it’s never personal, but just because it’s not personal doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like you’re the one always on the sharp end of the breakup and no one wants you no one needs you all that work it was for nothing, nothing matters nothing ever did.
You can be tough, you can apply for every job hopeful you’ll hear back, you can wear a smile and say, “I’ve got this,” but we all do all of that, and what if the reality is that only some of us have it, and the rest of us never actually did?
Because all the things we dreamed about — even if some of those dreams came true — don’t cover the things that really happen as we desperately try to escape being let go.
I’ll never forget the editor who changed every ounce of my story — except for the quotes — and, after half a page of corrections had to be printed, ruined my relationship with that source forever.
I’ll never forgive the writers who filled my inboxes and DMs with so many increasingly unprofessional gripes and demands that I ended my work week early in tears because I was nothing but a spelling and grammar tool to them. Not a person. An asset.
And I will never give space to the managers who squeezed everything they could out of me not because I was good at my job, but because they resented my talent and punished me for asserting it.
There is nothing I fear more intensely than spending the rest of my life putting my faith in the system, only to feel it tear me apart time after time, year after year, until there’s nothing left of who I used to be.
When you’ve been doing something long enough to know a lack of skill, experience, or knowledge is not the problem, every time the industry fails you, the harder it is to stay in it.
So why have I stayed?
Scroll back up to my first paragraph. Read the first part again.
I am living a life. But I exist to turn living into stories that will outlive me.
I may have chased the high of that font-page byline, but not because my name was on a piece of paper. I’ve spent all these years chasing my dreams because everyone on campus saw that story, and that meant it mattered.
There will always be burnout. Jobs will come and disappear. There will be bad bosses, rude employees, and people who will try to take advantage of you because you possess things they will never have.
You will walk into work some days only to discover you’ll never set foot into that building as an employee ever again.
It will hurt.
You will wonder if it’s worth it to try again.
The truth is that no matter where you end up, if you know you are meant to be a storyteller, the only way you’ll ever fail is if you stop telling stories forever.