My freshman year in college, I attended a colloquium in which first-year journalism students gathered to hear from mentors and experts in the industry. I spent my freshman year attending Southern Connecticut State University—I transferred to Assumption College the following year—and so these experts included a mix of figures from both local and prominent print and broadcast news outlets.
About 10 of us showed up to hear from people who we looked up to; who we expected to inspire and motivate us to become the next great forces in the field. We were ready to be moved and encouraged with tales of hard yet equally fulfilling work. To be handed tricks of the trade that would give us a competitive edge. To be enriched with knowledge obtained over the course of more years than we had been alive.
So, there I am: 17-years-old, clutching a cup of complimentary punch in one hand and a pen in the other, expecting this to be the first of many exciting endeavors along my journalism journey. What I didn’t expect were the words spoken by the first person to take the podium:
“Don’t get into journalism. It’s a dying industry.”
I was shocked, confused and saddened to say the least. Here are people who I aspired to be like, telling me it’s not worth it. I continued to pursue journalism at Assumption College; however, I kept hearing those words in the back of my mind: “Don’t get into journalism.” I spoke with my parents, my sisters and countless others who advised me on what I could do. I thought maybe I’d become a psychologist; I could get into a career that would guarantee steady, predictable income. Perhaps I’d become a teacher. They can get tenured, right?
I decided to find out halfway through my sophomore year at Assumption College, when I changed my major from journalism to primary education. When I returned from winter break, I began taking child development and 101 education courses. It didn’t take long for me to realize that 1.) I was not at all interested in pursuing a career in education and 2.) I felt completely out of place in this field. I didn’t feel like me. My ultimate moment of clarity came when I was working a retail job that summer. I had just finished my first semester as an education major (feeling more lost than ever) when a college friend walked up to the counter to purchase some items. After exchanging hello’s and asking how each other’s summer was going she asked, “How’s your writing?”
She had no idea, but just then a wave of embarrassment washed over me. I was ashamed to privately admit that I was standing on the edge of completely abandoning my passion for something that appeared more financially stable. Even worse, that financially stable option was one that I had absolutely no interest in. I was on the brink of folding. Giving up. I just smiled and told her, “It’s going great!” I decided then that something had to change.
After an experimental semester pursuing education, I switched my major back to my original field: journalism. At Assumption, this translated into a degree in English with a concentration in writing and mass communications. I began studying 18th century British literature. I took classes on fiction composition. I learned about different writing theories and the relationship between text and meaning. I studied modern day adaptations of Shakespeare. Saying I was in love with these studies would be an understatement.
Thinking back as I write this, I have such fond memories of those courses, the people I met and the professors who challenged and inspired me along the way. At the same time, however, countless people subtly warned me about the dangers and risks of getting involved in the seemingly vague field of “writing.” I always had this feeling that people looked at me and thought to themselves, “There goes another student who will become a starving writer.”
I ended up graduating cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in English, Writing and Mass Communications. Somehow, I not only managed to get an entry level position at an online media firm, but I arranged for it to be waiting for me as I finished my final semester. I started work five days after graduating, just long enough for me to move home and unpack all my belongings.
I entered the corporate world full of tenacity and with a sense of ambition that only few who know me well understand. I was not there to make friends; I was there to become the very best. And that’s exactly what I did. In just four short years, I had climbed the corporate ladder from an entry level editor to Director of Brand Strategy for the company’s content marketing division. Over the course of those four years I had received three promotions and $43,000 in incremental raises. I had six people underneath me. I was finally on top.
It was then, after I had gotten to the top, that a new season of my career began; one I never expected would come so quickly and with such success. Shortly after being promoted as Director of Brand Strategy, I unexpectedly (albeit gladly) left the world of corporate and started my own business as an independent content marketer, consultant and brand strategist. I performed the same job duties using the same skillset, only now I worked hard for myself verses a handful of executives who viewed me as nothing more than a salary.
I celebrated my business’ one-year anniversary last month, and I brought in a higher annual salary my first year as an entrepreneur than my first year in corporate. Sure, it’s not as much as when I was at the top, but it’s more than enough to pay the bills and live comfortably (there’s truly NO price point on making your own hours!) Work no longer feels like work because I do what I love. I’ve tapped into this other dimension that most people don’t—can’t—believe exists. But it does, and it grows sweeter every day.
Today, when people ask what I do for a living I proudly tell them that I’m a writer. For as long as I can remember, I have loved writing. I wrote my first (very bad) book when I was 10-years-old. I am an exception to the rule that young people have no idea what they want to do in life, yet I almost threw it all away because of other people telling me I likely wouldn’t succeed or profit from it.
For as long as I can remember, one of my biggest goals in life was to be able to make a living doing what I love—writing—and nothing more. Today, I can say that I have achieved this and so much more. I have learned so much about myself in this process. I have proven so much to myself. I am truly enriched, satisfied and fulfilled (and financially stable). Hard work really does pay off. Sacrifices do not go in vain. You can become exactly what you wish to, if only you believe you can.
Ten years ago, I was placing my hope and future in someone else’s words. Today, I now realize that the greatest lessons come from personal experience and the greatest wisdom will always come from your gut. No matter what anybody tells you, the single most fulfilling feeling will always come from learning firsthand. Through making decisions in times of uncertainty. Through massive failures. Through prickly moments that are hard to swallow. Through moments of sheer joy where you triumph and press forward.
So, to the college students who aren’t sure if their degree will be financially practical; to anyone who thinks they can’t make a stable living off their passions; to anyone who has a burning desire to go after something full bore but is hesitant…I say do it. Do it right now. Do it confidently, unapologetically and without looking back. If you are that passionate and that driven, you will succeed.