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Accepting the things I cannot change
May 11, 2014 10:59 PM   Subscribe

I think I'm not suited for my dream career of being a journalist. I'm having a really hard time dealing with this fact. (REALLY long)

I am 24 and three years out of college. I have been interested in being a journalist since the start of undergrad, but I never fully committed to it, due to perfectionism. I'm a very all-or-nothing person. I felt that I could not commit to doing well in my classes and be part of a newspaper staff. Judging from the newsroom simulation exercises I did in a journalism class, I also felt that I wrote too slowly compared to my peers. So I only wrote the occasional article and commentary for my school's publications.

My mother is an immigrant doctor who strongly believes in the value of education. She believes that going to grad school, particularly a prestigious one like Columbia, would increase my chances of getting a job. (She has offered to help pay, with the expectation that I also take out a loan). But after browsing AskMetafilter threads about journalism school, I resisted, thinking that it would be a poor investment of her money and I wrote too slowly to succeed as a journalist anyway.

After graduation, I moved back home and did some freelance writing for a few months. When that folded, I got a job blogging at a dysfunctional start-up that paid me $12 an hour. We were expected to research and write 600-word blogs in as close to an hour as possible. My coworkers had an easier time with this. I eventually sped up too, but my work was less meticulous as a result.

To feel like I was fulfilling my journalism passion, I also kept a blog on the side. I posted film and book reviews and interviewed people for the occasional profile/news story. But it still didn't feel like it was enough, and after getting fed up with the toxic environment of my marketing job, I decided to move to a different city. I figured I could be happy with an admin job and just do marketing writing and personal blogging on the side.

This was not the case--I hated being an admin--so I quit my temp receptionist job, decided I did indeed want to go to journalism school, and landed a four-month internship with an alt-weekly. I admit I went into it with a cocky attitude, thinking that I wouldn't face anything I hadn't done before, since I'd interned at an alt-weekly before and had experience from other writing gigs.

Boy was I wrong. My careless attitude led to mistakes in the beginning (forgetting the orientation time I SUGGESTED and showing up late on my first day) and after trying to shape up, I still made some major errors.

One was that I tried to write quickly, which led to me getting the titles of certain works and the spelling of certain names wrong through the course of the internship. On top of that, however--and this is the big one--in my email communications with my editor (I worked remotely one day a week), I would sometimes completely misunderstand some of the things he was telling me.

For example, one person I profiled asked whether she could see the story before it was published. I sent my editor an email, and he said that generally they don't allow subjects to see stories before publication, though reading some quotes/paraphrases over the phone was okay.

I guess I took the "before publication" part quite literally. I thought he meant we could not show the story in its final form, so I emailed him asking if I could just email her the draft as it was. He responded saying he thought he'd made himself clear: It wasn't an option.

Something similar happened just a few days earlier, after my internship had ended and I moved back home. He wanted to know where a community class I'd written about took place. "Not the exact address, just something like 'an office in X area,'" his message said.

I paid more attention to his "Where did it take place?" question than the part about not providing an exact address, and as a result I was really confused, since I did name the building in the article. Our email exchange went something like this: Did he mean the office of the organization sponsoring the program? No. Maybe he was asking for the specific room in the building where the class took place? No.

He had to literally spell out for me that he just wanted the neighborhood the class took place in. (There was one other instance of me misinterpreting info, but suffice to say, things just did not compute with me sometimes.)

I was already feeling insecure about the many mistakes I'd made during this internship, but this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I emailed my editor later that day, asking him if he thought my need to have things spelled out was a red flag. He admitted that this tendency of mine concerned him at times, but I got more right than wrong, so he thought I had it in me to do the work correctly, if I buckled down more.

But I think that he was probably just being nice. Even if he wasn't, I don't know if this is a trait I can change. For the past few days, I've cried on and off over the situation. After years of telling myself that I couldn't be a journalist, I had finally allowed myself to acknowledge that it was my perfectionism limiting me, and maybe I could be a reporter, if I gave it a shot. But it looks like I literally can't. The job requires understanding and conveying information clearly, and I failed several times on the first part, thanks to the weird way my brain works.

Journalism was the one career path I was actually excited about. The thought of letting it go and facing the uncertainty of millenial career angst is terrifying, but so is the prospect of having my mom fund my education, only to find out that I'm ill-suited for the field. And what little self-confidence I had in my professional abilities has really plunged. In my worse moments, I wonder if I should pursue any type of writing job at all, journalistic or otherwise. And that just leads to me feeling even worse, because writing is the only marketable skill I have. I fear that I'll never get a salaried job and will be doomed to admin work forever.

Yes, I need therapy for my anxiety and perfectionism issues. But until I find a good therapist, how can I come to terms with the fact that, no matter how enthusiastic I am about being a journalist, it probably isn't the right job for me? How can I not feel so inadequate?
posted by dean_deen to Work & Money (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You are 24. Your peers made similar or worse mistakes, you just don't know about these mistakes!

Source: I was an aspiring journalist at your age working in broadcast in NYC

If you think you can't - you won't.

If you think you can - YOU WILL SUCCEED.

----

Notes to my younger self...

- Only socialize superficially at work, journalism newsrooms are rife with partying. Play at the game, but resist imbibing and falling down the hole of addiction. I saw lots of promising folks screw up their careers this way....

- Ditto on office gossip. Do. Not. Go . There.

- Traditional Journalism is NOT the gig for you if you have integrity. It's your job to parrot the "party line" that promotes the political and financial agendas of the folks that control whatever entity you get a paycheck from. Your personal integrity and opinion gets in the way of their agenda. How can this work for you? Answer: It Does Not.
----

And so we've reached the crux of the real conundrum here.

Are you a crap journalist? Or are you unable to perform the role in an ultimately corrupt fashion, as is surely expected of you should you choose to work in a corporate structure??

PS - That last is why so many journalists have trouble with drink and drugs, self medication.

Meh. The internet is so wide open right now, you could start your own online alt weekly with a free wordpress app and by-pass all of the bullshit, if only you could pick a niche and find an audience to support you!

I have so much more to say on this subject, including the fact that you are considering HUGE school loans and that you are 2nd generation immigrant, because those loans are a passive form of enslavement that will keep you in an abusive-but-adequately paying job reporting on things you don't believe in and supporting the agendas of folks who are using you, but as an immigrant you want to be "successful"...

It's a terrible cycle, and your gut is WISE to make you feel anxiety about hitching your fortunes to that dynamic.

I already gave you ideas. I don't know about Journalism School, necessarily.

I do know the basics of any article are Who, What, When, and Why.

I will urge you not to become a Professional Liar for a living, no matter what industry you choose, ultimately.

Go forth and do no harm.

That's my advice.
posted by jbenben at 11:28 PM on May 11 [8 favorites]


I work in publishing and journalism and I've learned a few key lessons along the way.

First lesson: journalism is not for perfectionists.
A key quote from one of my favorite journalists goes something like this: "sometimes we forget that our editors pay us not to put together the perfect story, but to put together the best story possible within a set of constraints." In journalism and publishing, people who are perfectionists just don't pan out. Instead of focusing on putting together a painstakingly perfect piece of work, your priorities are to A.) meet your deadlines, B.) meet your editor/front office's requests as efficiently and effectively as possible, C.) put together a story that is clear and coherent, and D.) put together something you enjoy that is engaging, fun, creative, fascinating, "perfect." In that order.

But I've come across coworkers at my job who couldn't get past this. They were so obsessed with making their work perfect that they'd forget to focus on communicating a clear story, much less on meeting deadlines and being 100% clear on assignments.

And jbenben is quite right about your "voice" in what you produce needing to be your company's voice first... then your own. In no field is this more challenging than in journalism. If you're very lucky, you'll work for a publication or a company that largely shares your goals and views. If you're unlucky, you'll be given assignments that seem stupid or even repugnant. Tough shit... you're going to do the assignment, or you're out of a job. Such is life in journalism. That's an aspect where perfectionists struggle- they can't accept that they have to let go of their work in that kind of way.

It sounds like this has been a big challenge for you, and will continue to be one. If you know you are a perfectionist, that is not necessarily some big personal defect! It just means that other professions or careers, where perfectionism is helpful or even necessary, might be a better fit.

Second lesson: communication is everything.
You must, must, must, must be a great communicator to be a great journalist or great publisher. Or, you must be willing to work at it. It also sounds like this has been a big challenge for you. Being a great journalist is about being a negotiator... you are constantly negotiating with your editor or your desk, the people you are interviewing, your deadlines, your own needs, your own voice, what you're supposed to accomplish on your assignment. The only way you can do this effectively is to develop the skills a great diplomat has... to communicate clearly, to know which hills to die on, to recognize and accept unwritten and unspoken communication, to sense when changes are needed.

A coworker I am working with now struggles to do this. He simply cannot communicate verbally (or in writing) in a clear way. Trying to give him an assignment or trying to hear his ideas is like pulling teeth, because he simply cannot form thoughts quickly, roll with the punches in a conversation, sense when changes are needed, or ask effective questions.

It's hard as hell to do this and it is not for everyone. It is something you can improve at doing, though.

Third lesson: a job is just a job, a career is first and foremost an avenue to make money, and you are not irreparably or irreversibly defined by your success or failures in your so-called "dream" job or career.
One thing I have learned as an adult is that the idea that there is one "dream career" for all of us is toxic. It's an especially awful byproduct of the sometimes overly touchy-feely helicopter way that millennials have been raised by their boomer parents. The idea that we are all supposed to have a career we have always aspired to since childhood, and that we just "love" every day of, is a dumb idea. That's not the way the world works for 90% of us out there.

You shouldn't feel like a failure if you are figuring things out, or if things don't always come naturally to you. Careers and jobs aren't perfect. Everyone has to learn the ropes, and everyone has days where they wish they were doing something else. If you have to quit and do something else, there's no harm in that. If you have weaknesses, think about solving them... don't sit back and lament them.

Think about each of these three principles. Is journalism for you? Maybe you can work through some of your challenges. Maybe not- and if so, you need to realize that life moves on. The world will continue spinning on its axis. Time marches forward, and it's up to you to seize the moment and look for a different career path. And you are NOT inadequate if you find that a career path is not for you!

In fact, I applaud you for thinking critically about your own areas for improvement, and your own needs and qualities. Great job. A lot of people your age aren't able to do this yet. They float along expecting the world to cater to them, rather than thinking carefully about what they do well and what they don't.

Now it's time for you to take it one step further. Don't allow yourself to sit back and lament your perceived shortcomings. Take them and turn them into assets. You can do it.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:49 PM on May 11 [21 favorites]


I think you're probably catastrophizing. You're getting faster, and you know you need to double-check names and titles--that's about all I'm hearing that's specific to journalism. Your other failure anecdotes pertain to situations that would arise in basically any workplace. You need to double-check appointment times and take a few extra minutes to contemplate what someone is saying to you via email before you fire off a reply or follow-up question--that's about all I'm hearing that's important in other jobs.

Everyone makes minor mistakes. These particular mistakes all sound like things you could learn from and adapt to, not intrinsic problems with "the weird way [your] brain works." Try to imagine how common this kind of thing really is. Allow yourself to be ordinary and decent, at least while you're still basically a noob. You are way on top of this just by recognizing the problems and asking for help and looking for a therapist and whatnot. Your brain probably isn't that weird. There are probably thousands of successful journalists coping with similar issues--maybe not even as well as you are, in terms of looking for better ways to handle it.

Your feelings of inadequacy may well be a cause rather than an effect of this stuff. Try to attribute more of the bad things that happen to circumstance--accidents, not fundamental qualities of who you are. And try to take more pride in the successes you do have under your belt. Whether or not you stay in journalism, you've probably done a lot of interesting things that will matter as you go forward. You're likely to build on this stuff, whatever you wind up doing. Take it from someone who's undertaken multiple radical changes of direction: it's going to be fine.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:14 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


OP, I really think that some of your feelings on your job performance is based on general anxiety, and that you will get control of this.

I also think that I would continue to work at this skill, whether it be in journalism or another field, because communication is an important skill for most jobs.

Like Monsieur Caution, when I read your list of errors on the job, they really seem either minor errors or consistent with a person new to a job/or new to a field.

Let's take not knowing that one doesn't send interviews to be reviewed by the interviewee; this is common for your field. But how would you truly know that if you are new to this type of job? I guarantee that you will never forget it, right?

There are minor things that you can do to try to improve the communication/small errors. If you repeatedly make consistent spelling errors, make a checklist for yourself. Or if you think working from home is the barrier, then work in the office until you get to know your supervisor.

But at the end of the day (I'm saying this as a person who has worked with many types of people), a person who is conscientious and is aware of potential weaknesses and tries to improve them is a plus in any job environment. Trust me, those are very rare skills.

Try to come up with a list of things to try at jobs in the future, but don't give up.
posted by Wolfster at 12:23 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]


If you google the phrase "why do what you love is bad advice" you'll get a boatload of articles and blog posts. If you want links to my favourites, me mail me! I keep them handy because I've struggled with this too and re-read them from time to time.

It's not just you, either. For a myriad of reasons, my 'dream job' is also unattainable... It really sucks, but life goes on, I swear! I think it's particularly hard for millennials... We were brought up to have very high snow flakey expectations (which is hard anyway!) but combined with the GFC and crappy job market, a lot of us are struggling for very basic lives.

Also, doing something you're genuinely good at that suits you - and not *struggling* - will do wonders for your sanity. (I am an awful waitress. Awful.)
posted by jrobin276 at 12:34 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


My read of what you've written agrees with that of Wolfster and Monsieur Caution; it sounds like you've been trying hard to please people - coworkers, your editor, your subject - in a context in which you just don't yet know the rules. A lot of your communication issues seem more related to worry about getting things wrong than anything. Everything sounds like noise right now because it's new - with time and experience, you'll discern the signal more clearly. The rules can be learned (that's why you're an intern :) ). Also, you're young, and not used to maintaining firm boundaries (as with e.g. your interview subject, whose interest may not be in perfect alignment with your editor's). But that is a habit that can be learned, too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:19 AM on May 12


What you're saying doesn't make much sense. Are you trying to say that you shouldn't be a journalist because sometimes you have been sloppy, and sometimes you have had trouble understanding this particular editor's emails? Because that doesn't seem like a great diagnosis of your situation to me.
posted by sockanalia at 1:45 AM on May 12


But I think that he was probably just being nice.

Editors don't do "just being nice". Ever. If he thought you had rough edges but enough innate skill to brush up into a decent journalist with practice, take his word for it. After all, he's seen hundreds of people in your position, and knows which ones succeeded and which didn't.

It seems the question is not whether you have the potential skills to become a good journalist, but whether you can temperamentally stand going through the learning process that will get you there.

Some things that might help:

* Treatment for anxiety. Do NOT go into journalism with untreated anxiety. You'll be minced to pieces within a year.

* Nailing the basics: A colleague of mine (of many years' experience) had a checklist of fundamentals stuck to the side of his monitor - name, age, profession, where, when etc.
So there's no shame in needing help to remember that. The only shame in journalism is in getting important things wrong, not in needing help to remember them. Check EVERYTHING before you file it. Print it out if you have to. Check it even if you think "Oh, I know I spelled that name right."

* Take your time when reading and replying to emails. Sounds like your panic and anxiety are making you skim over details and miss the point.

* Ask your colleagues' advice if you don't understand what the editor is asking of you. They remember what it's like to be new, and it's better to reveal your lack of understanding to them than straight to your editor every time.

* Bear in mind that if you go and study journalism, you won't come out of college making all these minor mistakes. They will drill into you again and again and again and again and again to check spellings, facts etc, and will explain common conventions like not showing copy to interviewees.

But mostly - get help with your anxiety before you make a decision.
posted by penguin pie at 2:05 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


I'm in the middle of reading psychologist Carol Dweck's very interesting book, Mindset, so this question really struck a nerve with me. The main premise of this book is that people tend to have two generally opposing viewpoints about their abilities: some people think they're essentially innate or have a 'fixed mindset' and others think they can be changed over time or have a 'growth mindset'. This in itself is not a fixed trait however; people can switch back and forth between fixed and growth mindsets depending on the circumstances, what they've been told, the particular area of life they are operating in etc. Reading this question, it seems clear that you have a 'fixed mindset' about your journalistic abilities (particularly your title -- 'Accepting the things I cannot change'). Try to think about this using a growth mindset. It is not true that great journalists emerged fully formed; they had to work at it to get where they are today. Being a perfectionist, not noticing small errors, misinterpreting your boss's requests -- these are all things that you can change! In fact, you're already ahead of the curve, since you've noticed that you're doing these things.

Learn to take criticism seriously, but not personally (I shamelessly cribbed that from a recent speech I heard Hillary Clinton give at a women's conference). It's not a reflection of your entire net worth that you made a few mistakes -- only that you, at this moment in time, tend to make a few mistakes, but changing that is entirely within your control. Start thinking about how you can change your work processes to reduce the number of mistakes you make. In fact, since you've already had this open discussion with your boss about it, tell him that you're trying to do that and enlist his help. In the long run, people are impressed by those who admit to their mistakes and try honestly to be better. Since no one is perfect anyway, a capacity for positive change is what is most important.

Finally, I'd like to echo what jrobin276 says above about doing what you love being bad advice. It's not that you shouldn't love what you do, but that this is generally a gradual process, that comes out of growing into a particular role, and not necessarily something that will be apparent in your first day in a new job. Obviously, if you completely hate what you do, try to find something else to do, but it seems clear that that is not the case with you, just that you're feeling anxious about your abilities. As your skills improve, you will find that you enjoy doing the work more (we generally like doing things we're good at). But none of this is going to happen without time and work.
posted by peacheater at 4:29 AM on May 12 [6 favorites]


how can I come to terms with the fact that, no matter how enthusiastic I am about being a journalist, it probably isn't the right job for me? How can I not feel so inadequate?

By realizing that journalism is generally a crappy career field that is economically fading away.

All is not lost-- if you re-adjust your mindset and work extra hard, you might be able to carve out a niche for yourself in journalism. But then what would you gain? You'd have an unstable, poorly paying job.

What is it you like? Is it journalism itself? Or is it the act of writing? Is it seeing your name in print, or is it mastering the topic of a field very quickly before moving on to the next topic to master?
posted by deanc at 5:30 AM on May 12 [6 favorites]


How much time do you spend reading and analyzing other people's writing (particularly modern every-day writing like standard newspaper and blogs)? Also, same thing with other pop-culture media. It seems like your formal English is fine, but a lot of the communication trouble you're having with is catching the overtones from colloquial patterns. Writing at speed works the same way--a lot of this style of writing is very formulaic, so speed is about having a pattern to use and then coloring inside the outline. Finally, really analyzing every-day work will show you that everyone does make little mistakes, and good enough is more important than perfect.
posted by anaelith at 5:38 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming there are other examples of communication problems between you and your editor, but the two you cited don't seem bad to me.

The first one does seem like a misunderstanding on your part, but nothing crazy. When you're new to a culture (like journalism) there are a lot of unspoken understandings that it takes a while to learn. To him it was probably really obvious that you don't show unpublished articles to their subjects, so he didn't feel the need to explain thoroughly, and you clarified the instructions he gave you.

The second example, where he (repeatedly?) fails to just say "what neighborhood was this in" and instead uses unclear, roundabout phrasing, seems to be his problem, not yours. And if it really took a few exchanges for him to communicate his intention clearly, that looks to me like he was having trouble understanding the situation, not you.
posted by trig at 5:47 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


Focus on the work. Do you enjoy writing? Researching? Interviewing? Do you get personal satisfaction in seeing something you've written or produced in print or on air? Then, do it. If not, not. Your over analyzing description of the problem leads me to think maybe journalism is not for you. Graduate school might help in learning the profession, but unless you enjoy doing the work and being published, go to Vet. school.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 6:44 AM on May 12


When I was in undergrad, I had my heart set on going to Medill and was miserable when I didn't get in. It's been 10 years and I've been working in the field of communication for 8.5 years. Writing is most of what I do.

I agree that perfectionism is usually not productive. Most of the time, you just need to cover your bases and get out of there. Savor the occasions when you have time to be clever or witty. Also, I've learned that when possible, write the details first. I cover a lot of events so I usually know who will speak, where the event is taking place, what the context is. I literally type who, what, where, when, how, why in my notes and try to fill in as much of it as I can before the event. I'll start looking for the speakers' contact info so I can connect with them later and if I can't find it, I can try to talk to them before the event or contact the organizer for the speakers' info.

When it comes to things like whether to show people their interviews, I think it's okay to ask your editor a lot of questions about it. Some editors are okay with some things, others are not. When an issue like that comes up where you just want to be super duper clear, I'd encourage you to talk to your editor about it in person or call. You want to get it right and hopefully only have that conversation once, not start a back-and-forth.

It concerns me that you describe your need for your editor to spell something out for you as "the straw that broke the camel's back." If I accept your version of events, it doesn't seem like a big deal - your editor might be a little annoyed with you, oh well. Being a professional in any field - not just journalism but especially journalism - means being able to handle criticism (which this wasn't but you seem to have interpreted it at such). Don't wring your hands and cry on and off when stuff like this happens. Slap a big smile on your face, even if it's fake, and thank your editor for clearing that up, saying you'll remember that for next time.

It sounds like you take things people say literally. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm pretty literal myself It's much better to ask your editor a zillion questions up front than to assume he meant something when he did not, especially early in your career. I have said to managers, "I'm really sorry if this is a stupid question but I just want to be 100% sure that I'm clear on this - when you said X, did you mean X all the time or just X when also Y?"

I think you can work in journalism. But know that if you choose to do something else with your life, that's okay too.
posted by kat518 at 6:50 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


I don't have much of an opinion about whether you should or shouldn't continue to pursue journalism. I'll leave that to those who know more about the field and whether you seem like a good fit or not.

What I would like to say, however, is that 24 is REALLY young. There's a panicked quality about your post that is simply not warranted at your age. You have time to find your way.

With very few exceptions (dance, gymnastics, and classical music are all that come to mind), your career options are still wide open. It is NOT incumbent upon you to decide exactly what you are going to do with the rest of your life at 24.

Relax. Live your life. Try to enjoy it more. Your life may or may not end up being in journalism. But please don't spend these years beating yourself up for mistakes and pressuring yourself to know, do, and be everything right this very second.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 6:51 AM on May 12


I think 24 is way too early to throw in the towel on this career that you have been interested in for several years. The reality is that there is a learning curve for even the most talented of people- if everyone were to try something out for a short time, encounter obstacles, and then give up, there would be no experienced and seasoned experts in any field.

It sounds to me like your missing these details is due more to an anxiety about perfectionism than a true inability to understand. With time, if you keep at it, you will learn to balance working faster and keeping things as accurate as possible. You are in the process of learning that now, and it feels awkward and uncomfortable, but if you want to learn, you have to stick with it.

I think many people make the mistake that because they like something and have some talent with it, it should come easy, and that's just not the case. I speak from experience. I am a translator, and I had some let-downs when I realized that I made some mistakes that prevented me from getting some jobs. I started to think that translation was not for me. But then I realized that quitting now is giving up to soon- I owe it to myself to try to get better. I think all experienced experts in the field were once like you, or me. Keep going at it, and don't be so hard on yourself.
posted by bearette at 6:52 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


First off, I've got to disagree with jbenben: after a quarter century working in local journalism, I have NOT encountered any sort of continuing party atmosphere; I've seen exactly one person with a drug problem (an ad rep, not a writer), no more than the normal amount of people with alcohol troubles. And as for integrity: you'd damn well BETTER have a LOT of integrity, because otherwise you can forget working for us.

We don't expect perfectionism; we DO expect honest, truthful, balanced reporting of the facts --- and unless you're writing an editorial, 'opinion' has no place in journalism.

And if I may address one of your errors: that interviewee who asked for a preview of your article.... this is one of the things you would have learned if you had worked on your student newspaper: no-one other than your editor EVER gets a preview, of a rough draft OR a finished article.

Please get yourself therapy, you don't need additional schooling and debt, you need a therapist to help you sort out your anxiety.
posted by easily confused at 7:03 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]


Depending on where your actual passion lies, you may also want to consider that you can be a journalist without being a writer. Perfectionists tend to make better copy editors, for instance, than writers. And while there are certainly fewer copy editors than there used to be, they are still around. See also: page design, graphic design, news librarian.

Data journalism is also a hot field right now. If you know or can learn statistics or web development, you can still do journalism and be in (relatively) high demand.

This is the boat I'm in, and it's worked pretty well for me over the last decade or so (including both while I was in school and in my career since).
posted by brentajones at 7:59 AM on May 12


Sorry you're struggling with this. I don't see it so much as an issue with perfectionism as anxiety. If you were a perfectionist, it seems like you wouldn't make careless errors, you'd be having trouble ever finishing articles, unconvinced they were correct.

What is it that you love about journalism? It's possible that there are other jobs that have the same elements but that are more predictable, which could help lower your anxiety. But obviously treating the anxiety will help as well. I think when your brain gets in an anxious state it can be hard to slow down and think about what someone's saying—whether it's your editor asking you a question or an interviewee telling you something.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:18 AM on May 12


I would caution you against going into massive debt in order to try to get into journalism. The industry is healthier than it was but it's still in big trouble; layoffs, furloughs, cutting benefits, and pay freezes are still the order of the day; and over all there's a race to the bottom. Check out some of the quarterly financial reports from the big publishing companies.

Project and proposal management might be fields that a perfectionist streak can be a benefit in. You might also look for something like an advocacy group that needs some journalism in order to tell their stories and research new information.
posted by Candleman at 8:39 AM on May 12


I wonder if you have a clear idea as to what a journalist really does, or if you've been nurturing a more generalized ideal (a bit romanticized) about writing as your calling and way of making a living? Yes, a Columbia J-School degree will open doors that might be closed to you, but it won't guarantee that you'll be happier.
Judging by your previous questions, I agree with the people asking you about anxiety, and I also think that you're quite concerned with making mistakes and being wrong. Making a mistake isn't the end of the world--that's why newspapers have correction columns, and sometimes, messing up is the best way to learn.
But your cautiousness and insistence on getting everything right narrows your vision and that could be a stumbling block to your future success. Your boss didn't ask where the class was because he's detail-oriented, he asked so that readers would have an idea where to go if they were interested in the class (name of the building isn't as useful as "the Palms neighborhood".)
You've had two internships at alt.weeklies. Have you been pitching stories to other outlets? Are you looking for stories that interest you? Maybe daily deadline news isn't your thing--longform is harder to sell, so if you go that route, you need a day job.
I think what you need to give up is your own vision of yourself as a journalist and replace that with what you actually can do and do well. There's a zillion ways to make your living as a writer.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:59 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


Thank you very much for your responses. Some more information about me:

Journalism appeals to me because as someone who's pretty shy and probably suffers from social anxiety (surprise), it's fun to interview people. I like that I get to talk to folks whom I would never speak to otherwise. I like that I get to tell their stories. I like the thought that I might be reaching people who didn't know about this cool thing the interview subject is doing.

But performance anxiety aside, I have wondered if I'm really committed to journalism as a whole. For one thing, though I do like to write and interview, I don't read as nearly as much as someone who wants to be a journalist really should. (Free time is spent on the Internet. Some of this time I have spent reading a news story here and there, but mostly it's Netflix, AskMe or the TWOP forums)

I don't follow the daily news, because I've always found politics to be uninteresting and frustrating to follow. I much prefer softer news, or less breaking stories like those found in alt-weeklies or publications like Mother Jones, which are ideally the kinds of outlets I would write for.

I subscribed to Time magazine to try and be more informed. I enjoyed it when I made myself read it, but sometimes I would find myself getting a new issue before I'd read the previous week's. I also made sure to read every issue of the paper I interned at during the course of the internship, but I found myself doing the same thing with it.

I've chalked this tendency up to being too glued to the Internet, and if I really worked at it, I could become a more avid reader. But I keep putting it off, which in itself may be a telling sign.

Also, Ideefixe, I hear what you're saying. If I'm going to write for an alt, it may just be better to stay put, soak in the local flavor really well, then pitch a story when inspiration hits while I work a more stable, better-paying job. (As it so happens, I'm going to be covering an event for a local paper this Thursday).
posted by dean_deen at 9:12 AM on May 12


Well, ok, but you don't have to do "journalism as a whole". There are people who cover municipal politics - you don't have to be that person. Human interest stories sell, too, those get written. There are people who get paid to recap Dr. Who episodes. I am pretty sure people from all those groups get sucked into the internet, because everyone does.

Right now you're drawn to and curious about people, and your intuitive focus is on that connection. That is fine. It is fine to write about that; people want to read it, and it seems you're good at it, as per objective feedback. Your interests and scope may change, too, as you develop as a person and professional. So far you've been relating to the world from the psychological perspective, at the level of the individual, because that's what you know, and that's where your own concerns are. You may find yourself becoming more interested in e.g. municipal politics with time, as you see how those issues affect and intersect with individual lives; you may be drawn into that point of view through work. Nothing wrong with that either.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:50 AM on May 12


I have a book for you to read. I really wish I'd read it when I was your age: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. If you don't want to read the whole book, read this article she wrote for New York Magazine that covers many of the same ideas.

Basically, the gist: there are roughly two ways to think about talent and intelligence. Some people think that we're born with certain talents, and that we'll be successful if we focus on things that feature those talents. Others believe that talents are developed through practice and persistence.

Here's the problem: I'm picking up from your question that you are very much in the first group. But people with the first "mindset" tend to be discouraged more easily and are thus less likely to be successful.

The good news is that you can control which group you are in. Realistically, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I bet you can solve a lot of your problem by consciously trying to move your thought processes and behavior to be more like the second group.

What does that mean? Someone with the "talent is developed" mindset doesn't think, "I'm having these problems in my career, maybe that means I'm not the type of person who should be a journalist." They would think something more along the lines of "I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but I'm finding these certain things more challenging. What can I do to overcome these challenges?"

I'm not necessarily saying you should stick it out with journalism - that's up to you. But the problems you're actually facing seem pretty small, relatively, and are the kinds of things that most people face early in a career as they figure out how to do their jobs. Even if you do switch to another career, you're not going to be 100% wonderful at everything at first - that's why there are internships and entry-level jobs.
posted by lunasol at 10:07 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]


Is there any way for you to meet some veteran journalists and seek out a mentor? It's easy to look at people in professions and say that because you aren't like them somehow, you're not cut out for this profession. It's not true nearly as often as we think it will be.

Either don't worry that you don't read as much as you should or try to find better stuff to read and get reading. I also feel like I should read more but reading stuff that interests you - any stuff - is better than nothing. And for the love of god, don't judge yourself for not finishing the last issue of Time before a new one arrives. I used to subscribe to The Economist and maybe read five issues cover to cover. It was still valuable, even when I just flipped through and read the stuff that interested me. My husband gets two weekly magazines and it's rare that he'll have read either of them before the next one comes. It's okay, I promise.
posted by kat518 at 11:53 AM on May 12


Print journalism may be fading, but the internet consumes a ton of content. The field of find something out and write about it will never die.

I wonder if you would be helped by developing a specialty rather than being a generalist. Being a bit more sophisticated in your approach might reward your perfectionist streak.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:23 PM on May 12


I think there's plenty of ways you can still write online without being an official journalist. I speak as an ex-journalist and nearly everyone I used to work with is out of work/freelancing/scrambling by now: it's not worth trying to get in officially any more. You should probably look for a boring day job and do writing on the side--which might help if you're gentling yourself into it rather than freaking out and panicking.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:50 PM on May 12


Thank you all so much for helping me put things in perspective. I'd realized in the moments before I asked this question that I really need to work on my anxiety and seek therapy, but I also thought turning to AskMetafilter would also be a good way to get input from established journalists.

You didn't disappoint. Thank you.

Mindset is the next on my to-read list.
posted by dean_deen at 8:20 PM on May 12


Don't discount your internet time. It's not a full substitute for reading work of the same type as you need to produce, but it can still be useful if you turn on your critical brain while reading/watching.
posted by anaelith at 4:26 AM on May 13


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