One of my friends, a fellow journalist who professionally has climbed heights I’ll probably never survey the world from, is slowly being driven crazy by her job (undocumented, but you learn to recognize the signs). In fact, since I’ve known her she has had three jobs and every last one of them has made her that little bit more unbalanced.
She’s a better-than-average journalist, but she has a wild case of imposter syndrome, which means she’ll work twice as hard as anyone else in the room because she feels she has to continually prove she even has the right to stand in the doorway. That work ethic has certainly served her well on paper — and it’s why she has her current job. But having established early on that she’ll work like a fiend, she finds herself constantly called on to do so. That, combined with her family obligations, leaves her with little time to enjoy her husband and kids and the other fruits of her labours.
Which is why, whenever the two of us talk, the conversational circle will always come back around to “if we didn’t do this, what would we do?” It’s almost a heretical question for true believers — those who live to serve the news, and are in turn nourished by it. And some parts of our souls will always be faithful to the cause.
Our apostacy is rooted in a number of causes: for both of us it’s disappointment in never having, for whatever the reason (and they are legion, and at least some of mine are my own fault) done the jobs we dreamed about doing when we entered the profession. For me there’s a lot of frustration at not being able to pass through closed doors and low ceilings; for her, it’s exhaustion and never being able to admit she’s exhausted (her world is far more cutthroat than mine). And that’s just for starters.
So if not this, then what? I don’t know what it’s like in your workplace, but I suspect this is also true outside of my own profession: when you’ve trained to do a certain thing, and your very training for that thing teaches you to put on the blinders of the faithful and not to consider doing other things (journalists are continually warned against the evils of the public relations field which tempts with better hours and pay) — well, you eventually stop being able to see over the walls of your box.
Another friend is a guidance/career counsellor and a few summers ago when this question was once again making my head spin, she took me through the exercises she gives her clients to determine what they’d be good at. Mine came up “newspaper reporter/editor” but that’s at least in part because I weighted my responses so that it couldn’t be anything else in top spot. Other potential careers for someone with my skills included politician (ha!) researcher, public relations agent, book editor — the list went on.
It was mind-opening in some ways, because as I said, once you’re in that box it’s hard to see over the sides to the bigger world — especially, I might add, if you’re a desk jockey, as I have been for most of my career, with limited professional exposure to the public. Working nights, as I did for years, limits your exposure even more.
But just having the list wasn’t the answer either, particularly in this day and age when it’s nearly impossible to walk into a workplace, claim you have skills and a willingness to learn more and get a job. A B.A. is the new Grade 12, and a Master’s is the new B.A. For every kid with a dream and a desire to learn from the ground up there are a kazillion others with credentials who get first pick. Given my own disdain for “citizen journalists” I have to be careful of hypocrisy here, but I will admit — and argue — that credentials aren’t everything. And even if you took the time, did the work, to become credentialled, there’s no guarantee of employment in your chosen field, especially if you still lack experience.
All this leaves me back in the circle with my friend, who’s starting to suffer physically from the stress she’s under. If not this, then what? How? When?