It is graduation season, and this year's crop includes my brother (congratulations, David!), several friends who are finishing masters degrees or medical degrees or job contracts, and many students I've got to know from King's College.
They are all doubting and worrying about their careers. This seems to be the congenital disease of our generation. I wish there is some way I could tell them to stop giving themselves ulcers.
Fortunately, Robert Krulwich, an American science blogger and journalist, says all the things I want to say more eloquently in a commencement speech to this year's Berkeley Journalism class. It's a long speech, but I highly recommend you read it.
Essentially, he suggests if it's in you to write, then write. If it's in you to report, report. Whatever it is you are called to do, explore it. If you cannot get anyone to hire you to do what you want to do, do it anyway and let the hiring take care of itself.
Naturally, some readers of Krulwich’s speech do not agree. One called it “pie-in-the-sky nonsense.” Another said it was “playing into the hands” of others.
“Stitching together piecemeal assignments and Waiting to Be Discovered is exciting and fun when you’re in your 20s and early 30s. It’s not sustainable when you’re a grown-up making mortgage payments,” wrote a third. (I would like to point out that “stitching together piecemeal assignments” is not exciting and fun at any age. I don’t think this man has ever done it, or he would know better).
In my view, this is not about selling your services for nothing. This is about practice.
Even if you come out of school at the top of your class, you need experience. You will make mistakes, and you want to make them when you’re practicing so they will do the least amount of harm.
Let’s think of it this way. Imagine that instead of being a reporter, I play the violin. My dream is to play with a symphony. Perhaps if I’m lucky, and very talented, I land that gig right away. But it’s more likely that I don’t. What should I do then?
Maybe I wait tables by day, and at night I practice. I practice three hours a day, four hours a day, maybe more. We expect this from musicians. This is perfectly normal.
It is no different for a writer. James Michener said he was constantly telling his students, "You can be a writer. Now get to it." He said he had no time to waste on “people who want to have written a book.”
I've talked to other young journalists who have said wistfully, "If they would only give me a chance to try.”
My friends – I can’t say it better than Robert Krulwich did.
“There are some people, who don’t wait,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what's going on inside them; but they have this…hunger. It’s almost like an ache. Something inside you says I can’t wait to be asked, I just have to jump in and do it.”
These people don’t have a clue what they’re jumping into, but I think it’s clear that if you’re not being given a chance, you might as well just go take one.