What happened to dreaming small?

CAREER, LIFE

Ireland is just over there my grandfather said to me as we stood on the shores of the Atlantic, when I was about six years old. I strained my eyes but hard as I tried I could not see Ireland, just an expanse of water and thin blue line where ocean met sky.

As a child, the “end of summer” always seemed just as far away. If June was the shore, September was land on the other side – and an ocean of time and space lay between now and then.

To fill this mass of time I took on what I call “small challenges”.

One of my favorites, and in retrospect most ridiculous, was the Pogo Stick Challenge of 1999. I’d gotten one for Christmas and enlisted my good friend and neighbor Annabeth to join me in the challenge of reaching 1500 consecutive hops. In the heat of August, using a toy that had rusted over the winter months, this took some perseverance. But all summer long we worked on our goal, stopping only to refuel on cookies and lemonade.

Bounce. Creak. Bounce. Creak. At the end of August I finally hit the magic number – 1500 HOPS! We shrieked and clapped and moved on to a much quieter hobby – making jewelry. I’m sure the neighbors were thankful.

Two summers later, when I was 11, my challenge was writing a book of poems. Looking back, I’m amazed at my productivity before self-criticism got in the way. I’d wake up in the morning and write a poem in my notebook, then type it up on the old Dell after lunch. At the end of the summer I printed out all my poems, brought them to school to be bound and considered myself “published”.

I always dreaded running in gym class, so the summer I turned 13 my challenge was to build endurance. It started as two laps around the block that became three, four and five. I liked the way running toned my body and decided to pair exercise with a diet. At our Labor Day barbecue I refused to eat dessert, and my “small challenge” turned into an obsession that grew cancerously through fall and winter and spring.

That summer I realized it’s possible to take challenges too seriously, self-improvement too far.

Wonderful as they were – summer has always been my favorite season – they’d never again be vast as an ocean. Future summers were filled with reading lists, sports practices and college applications. Read 10 books! Learn to code! Write five short stories! Small challenges got bigger and I started feeling guilt for everything I hadn’t accomplished, rather than pride in what I had.

Now, as a young professional in New York City, summer months aren’t technically different from any other part of the year. I am working five days a week and time is limited. But I still associate the period from June to August with self-reflection and goal-setting. The thing is, because there’s so little time, every challenge feels like it should have some greater purpose. If your friend is going back to school for a Masters degree, you don’t want to be working towards the mid-20s equivalent of pogo sticking. In this city, there are no isolated goals, only goals that help you become a more successful version of yourself.

What happened to small challenges, of taking on random endeavors simply for one’s own enjoyment? Is it possible to do something entirely for you and not for your Instagram?

I’ll always be ambitious. But in a city that constantly shouts think big! dream big! I want to go back to dreaming small, just for one summer.


Image of Atlantic Ocean by jfleischmann

Advertisements

Lessons learned from my college newspaper

CAREER, JOURNALISM, NOTRE DAME, PUBLISHED WORK

Late nights. Early mornings. Not enough coffee in the world to keep you awake during that morning calculus class. It’s a story most college newspaper editors know well but would never change. We’re willing to put in the hours not only because of the close-knit community, one of the biggest draws, but because the skills you learn working for a college newspaper are invaluable across professional industries. Here are five reasons why.

You meet a wide range of people.

College is a bubble, but working on the paper exposes you to a wide range of people and viewpoints. During my four years on The Observer at Notre Dame, I interviewed a British literary scholar, the Chief Marketing Officer of Subway, the University president and the only Orthodox Jewish student on campus. Reaching beyond the bubble has huge value later on in the working world.

You get used to criticism.

Most professors at Notre Dame weren’t outwardly critical of my writing, focusing on what I could do better instead of what I did wrong. While I appreciated this approach in my classes, criticism is an unavoidable aspect of the professional world and life in general. My freshman year, I remember the first article I received back from my editor was completely covered in red ink, entire sections crossed out. I probably went home and cried that night, but soon learned not take things so personally (and that criticism helps you improve).

You master the art of succinct writing.

I used to think the phrase “writing is an art” meant I could use an unlimited number of words to make things sound beautiful. Now I believe that regardless of the writing form, every single word needs to have a purpose. Working on the paper taught me to boil down stories to their very core, write conversationally and include only the most powerful quotes. All of this prepared me well for a career in digital media.

You get comfortable leading conversations.

Most people love talking about themselves. Once you learn that, asking questions and leading conversations isn’t all that hard. When I started out as a reporter, I was scared to even place a call to a stranger. I read and reread my emails 10 times before requesting an interview. But with experience, I gained the confidence to assert myself during interviews, pursue contacts and ask the tougher questions.

You learn to work well under pressure.

Some of my most stressful days in college, I was under deadline for an article on the same day I had a major test. I spent free moments calling sources and writing while simultaneously trying to memorize history or statistics formulas. The Observer demanded everything of you, and you had to figure out how not to let your grades slip. It took years, but I learned to stay calm and trust that everything would get done (and that the world wouldn’t end if it didn’t).

I loved being an English major at Notre Dame. But truthfully, none of my classes stand out to me years later the way my days and nights spent in The Observer office do. While I nurtured my love for literature through my major, the newspaper that gave me the hands-on, practical education I needed to jump into the real world after graduation.

In the end, I’m thankful for the sleepless nights and overconsumption of chocolate. The Observer was the best (free) course I took at Notre Dame.

*This column was originally published in The Observer 

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Enoch Wu

CAREER, JOURNALISM, NEWS, PHOTOGRAPHY, TECHNOLOGY

Photo courtesy of Enoch Wu

Enoch and I met two summers ago while I was interning as a reporter for The Toledo Blade. He is a photojournalist for the nearby Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune, and we ended up on the same assignment out on an airport runway in Millbury, Ohio. I noticed he was holding an iPad (back then they still seemed pretty scarce!) so while waiting for our interviews and photo opportunities we began discussing technology and the future of journalism.

Enoch is a talented photographer who is also technologically savvy. He says his interest in technology goes back to childhood, when he was exposed to computers at an early age and “always had a sense to tinker [with] things and break things.” When he used a computer, Enoch said, he would dig into the software to see what he could change or manipulate. As a child, he even mischievously figured out how to subscribe to PCWorld Magazine and have it charged to his parents’ credit card. Today, his morning ritual includes keeping up-to-date with the industry by checking various photography and technology sites.

In addition to his work for the Sentinel-Tribune, Enoch shoots event photography for Toledo.com. He is also a freelance wedding and portrait photographer. For Enoch, whose primary passion was music before college, photojournalism is more than the act of capturing a moment with a camera.

It’s about telling a story through an image.

“Henri Cartier-Besson, the father of photojournalism said it the best: ‘Photography is nothing — it’s life that interests me,’” Enoch said.

Here are the highlights from my Q & A session with Enoch, including some of his work from the Sentinel-Tribune. And make sure to check out more of his photography at enochwu.net!

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

SF: We’ve all heard the common expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  To what extent do you agree with that? What do you think a photo can portray that a written story cannot?

EW: I tend to think that in today’s world, with technology and mobile phones, a picture has become a commodity and there is not enough emphasis put into making a photo worth a thousand words. The process is so instantaneous that people don’t think about how and what they are photographing—a proper photo is worth a thousand words. 

It’s hard for me to say what a photo can portray that a written story cannot. Both photos and stories can evoke emotion and thought; both can open doors to new ideas and take people to new worlds. I’d say the main difference is that in reading, people must imagine a scene and a moment, whereas with a photo, that information is provided in a condensed visual form and does not require as much imagination.

SF: Who are some interesting people you’ve gotten to photograph or work with through your job?

EW: Oh, there are so many interesting people with interesting stories. Perhaps too many. [Recently] I photographed a smart 10-year-old, deemed the youngest developer with an app in the Apple App Store. It was exciting for me to see such a young “geek” doing something cool. It was also exciting to associate a little one with technical jargon and to see the wonderful support of his father, who is an intellectual property lawyer. What a perfect team.

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

SF: Dream subject to photograph?

EW: I don’t “dream” to shoot anyone since I believe that it’s about my subjects, I care more to hear their story and to photograph them the best way to tell their story. My subjects are on level ground, whether it is a three-year-old or the president of the United States.

But now that I think of it, it would be interesting to photograph Paypal/SpaceX/Tesla founder Elon Musk, or Jonathan Ive, the lead designer at Apple. There are musicians, too—it would be interesting to shoot Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian classical artist, or Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, or Björk, for that matter.

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

SF: Clearly, the newspaper industry is in a state of rapid change, and must transform drastically to survive. If you had the power to revolutionize the industry, offering different forms of digital content, what would you do? 

EW: I would use my entrepreneurship knowledge to find a way to raise the bar for journalism once again, to bring long-form journalism back and to draw people to enjoy reading again. Some of us still love reading, but I have a sense that it can be made enjoyable for those who may not necessarily enjoy it at the moment, and for those who are glued to the television.

In my work, quality is key, and I stand firm in the matter that my work should speak for itself. Therefore, I would expect the same had I the power to “revolutionize” the industry.

Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

It’s more complicated than just digital content and pay walls. We need to reevaluate newspaper business models and practices that rely on a world when print journalism was at its peak. We need to bring the right people in—visionaries who are concerned about the future of editors, journalists, photojournalists and other newspaper staff rather than people [only] concerned primarily about monetary gains, finding Band-Aids to put off bankruptcy. We need to include people who look at the web seriously in all aspects: security, intellectual property, design and digital content, of course.

Solutions must be concrete, not half-baked ideas that fail. This is no time for failure as the jobs of so many great newspaper staffers are at risk. The medium of written journalism and the importance of reading are at stake, too. Written journalism is an imperative part of our future—our democracy and its success depend on it.

SF. What are your goals for the future?

EW: Right now I’m taking life as it goes—taking advantage of my full-time position at the paper and freelance jobs in Northwest Ohio, with the goal of building my ideal collection of gear and continuing to meet new people and create connections.

One of my personal goals is to return to music with a greater passion towards it. My standing long-term goal, lets say a period of five years, is to utilize my entrepreneurial sense to develop something that will secure my future as a photojournalist as well as the future of many other newspaper staffers. I’ve always wanted to run my own design firm too, but that is a tabled goal until the ones above come to fruition.

SF: Interesting fact about yourself?

EW: I secretly aspire to be Steve Jobs, to change the world…and photography is a cover.

*This interview was condensed and edited.

Header photo: Copyright © 2012 Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune. All rights reserved.

Standout Tips from NYWICI Career Conference

CAREER, NYC

View of Washington Square Park from New York University’s Kimmel Center, location of the NYWICI Foundation’s 2012 Career Conference.

I walked into Washington Square Park that Saturday morning feeling anxious but excited. It was a beautiful day in New York City, crisp but warm, and only a handful of people populated the normally bustling park. Attired in a pencil skirt and heels, folder in hand, I mentally prepped myself as I circled the square. I was on my way to the New York Women in Communication Foundation’s (NYWICI) annual Career Conference.

The day-long conference at New York University featured over 40 communications professionals speaking on topics ranging from social media marketing to news reporting to producing video for online platforms. One panel, “Secrets to a Successful Job Search,” was dedicated entirely to resume and job networking do’s and don’ts from four recruiters. Keynote speakers for the event were Kate White, former Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan, and Jenna Wolfe of NBC’s Weekend TODAY. Both were fabulous. While I practically filled an entire notebook with tips and tricks from these ladies, I’ve listed the SparkNotes of their speeches below.

Kate White

Kate White, former Cosmopolitan Editor-in-Chief. Photo courtesy of NYWICI Facebook page

KATE WHITE
Standout Quote: “Listen more than you talk. Contact + curiosity = opportunity.” 

Go big or go home
-Make your boss say “wow” on a regular basis. If you’re not doing that, you’re not doing enough.
-Ask yourself once in awhile, is this as gusty as it could be?
-Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want

Manage your success
Be a relentless architect of your career
-Step back periodically to “drain the swamp” of your personal and professional lives and think about the next step
-Actively “adopt” your mentors by developing relationships with key people. They won’t come to you.

Dare to set boundaries
-Refuse to let your smartphone control you
-Don’t bite off more than you can chew
-Make time to do what you love

Weekend TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe and me at the NYWICI Foundation’s Career Conference on Nov. 17.

JENNA WOLFE
Standout Quote: “Make as many mistakes as you want — just don’t make the same mistake twice.”

-Be comfortable in your skin
-Stop being nervous and anxious. Everyone makes mistakes. You don’t want to seem insecure.
-Appreciate where you are in the journey. Look ahead but don’t forget to enjoy the moment
-Believe in your potential

Show what you can do
-Do something great and then let your superiors see it, don’t just tell them what you can do
-Work harder than anyone else
-Meet as many people as possible, and always look for networking opportunities

If you’ve got a personality, use it
-Carve out a niche in the business. Lots of people can do the job well, but what can you do that’s different?
-Don’t change to fit the mold; you might regret it later on
-Just. Be. You.

***

To be completely honest, I left the conference feeling invigorated by their stories, but also a bit discouraged– most of these women had accomplished so much at such a young age, and I had to wonder if I could ever near their levels of success. If so, what should I be doing now to get there? With the future so uncertain, those competing emotions — hope and discouragement — seem to characterize the lives of young professionals.

But I’ve tried to internalize exactly what Jenna Wolfe emphasized to us– and that’s to enjoy the ride.