Thursday, June 20, 2013

Advice For Young Folks, From a Middle-Aged Man-Child.

I've been teaching journalism full-time for more than six years now, which means many of my former students are now real adults, some of whom are in the working world. For some reason, I've been inundated recently with emails from former students who are now unhappy in their worlds, mostly because they hate their jobs.

Now, I'm no expert on anything. As I've grown older (which happened surprisingly fast), I've realized that I have absolutely no answers to any of life's questions. And my life is by no means anything that should be emulated by anyone.

But in responding to the kids, I've come across some commonalities.

Complaint #1: My job is not fulfilling.

Well, that sucks. But so what?

Your job shouldn't be what fulfills you. Your job is, well, your job. I know that everyone wants to feel valued and that their work is important and relevant. We all want to make an impact, to be recognized for our good work and to have people come up to us and say, "Thank you."

The reality is that jobs are how you make money to get through/enjoy your life away from work. That's what is really important. Your life should be devoted to living, not working.

Some people will say that they don't want to waste 40 hours per week while working crappy jobs they hate. Then do something about it. Start looking for other jobs. Look for ways to make your job better.

I started as a photojournalist. I got bored. So I moved into writing features and then news. Then I became a magazine writer and photographer. Then a teacher. Then a freelance multimedia journalist. Then a magazine publisher. Who knows what's next?

I have had at least six or seven mid-life crises over the years. I get an itch every few years to try new stuff. I don't think it's a bad thing.

I love being a college professor but it's not my whole world. I've filled my life with other stuff I enjoy: Mookie, baseball, music, reading books, family, etc. It's exhausting, but I'll get to that later.

Complaint #2: I don't know if journalism is for me.

Journalism is in an awful state. Everyone is scrambling for an audience, for relevancy, for financial sustainability, for a sign of hope. Because of the desperation, journalism outlets are doing some pretty ridiculous things: laying off staff, making those who remain do more work (and often humiliating work), cutting wages and benefits and lots of other terrible things.

But just because the industry is suffering, it doesn't mean it isn't important. Journalists are needed to keep a check on government (hello NSA!). Journalists are needed to rally communities around important issues (hello Philadelphia School District!). Journalists are needed for basic information that lets everyone know what's going on in the world.

If you have a journalism job and you are miserable, suggest changes. Be a rabble-rouser in the newsroom. Go beyond what is asked of you and show them how you think things should be done. And don't get frustrated when they ignore you (because they will). Fuck them. The industry is suffering because for too long, people refused to innovate and adapt.

It won't be easy. But guess what? It's not easy in any business these days. The Internet/digital world has changed the way everyone does their jobs - whether you are talking about lawyers or plumbers or wait staff. There are no digital norms yet, which means that everyone is trying to figure what will be the standard of their industry. When I was a kid, there were VHS and Beta videotape players. Some people gambled on Beta decks. A few years later, Beta decks were obsolete.

Most of what we see in the digital world will be obsolete very quickly (facebook seems to be losing relevancy already). Until we develop standards within our industries, journalism included, we will continue to stumble along.

Bottom line - they way journalism is today isn't what it will look like forever. You have the ability to change it and establish the future standards.
Complaint #3: I'm exhausted.

Yeah. I hear you.

I launched the music magazine in January 2011 and I haven't had a decent night's sleep since. I needed a new challenge and it's eaten my life. Literally. This year alone, I pulled at least four all-nighters working on the mag.

So what? It's fun and rewarding. It makes me absolutely zero money (and sometimes I lose money) but I love it. It forces me to go out, see the world and learn about stuff.

By the way, I usually have around 250 to 300 students every semester and they call, email, text, tweet and facebook me constantly, at all hours of the day, every day, even after the semester is over, after they graduate and beyond (I actually enjoy staying in touch with former students).

It's not like I have a lot of free time to do the magazine.

I have other obligations away from the mag and school, and I also try to have fun (baseball, basketball, hanging with friends, etc). I have a very full life, which is different from having a fulfilled life.

I know exhausted. But I'd rather go out and have fun with friends, then stay up all night reading a book, then wake up early to play baseball, then go to a concert, then wake up early the next day to play basketball, then visit family and then go to work the next day ... than sleep. I'll sleep when I'm dead. Life is too short.

After my baseball game the other day, we had beers with the other team and a guy told me I was among the oldest players in the league (turns out I'm tied for second oldest).

I always forget how old I am. In my mind, I am still the invincible 25-year-old who can accomplish anything. I am hopelessly idealistic, defiant to the bone, anti-authority and I still think I can change the world. I wear red shoes, I obsess over my dog and I hang out with people nearly half my age.

I am a 42-year-old man-child. Am I really a person who should be giving advice to anyone?

I don't know. But here goes:

• Run into burning buildings to rescue people and/or their pets. Don't think. Go.
• If anyone ever says, "Let's go grab a drink," go. Always. Whatever time of day. Life is too short to not make time for friends.
• Hug your dog/cat/rabbit/whatever. They bring joy to life and they are only around for a short time. Enjoy every moment.
• Don't let work get you down. It's just work. It's not life. Life comes after work.
• Don't take no for an answer. If someone shoots you down, rework your proposal and come back again. And again.
• Never be embarrassed. Who cares what other people think? They'll forget soon enough anyway.
• Fuck people's crappy advice. They're all full of shit and really just talking about themselves, trying to convince themselves that they are fine. Instead, go experience life and learn your own lessons.

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