You can go your own way

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I knew early on I wanted to be a writer—obviously when you get a short story called “The Magic Potion” published in the local daily newspaper while in the fourth grade, you know you’re destined for greatness.

 

From the time I was a tween, I subscribed to every magazine aimed at my demographic—Teen, Teen Beat, Big Bop, Big Bopper. As a teen I graduated to YM, Mademoiselle and Sassy—and read the issues so many times while waiting for the following month’s edition to arrive in the mail I could practically recite the articles by heart. In high school I took Creative Writing class and contributed to the school newspaper. I wrote a novel in my spare time. When I told my guidance counselor I wanted to be an author, she said that wasn’t really a job that people got after university so maybe I should study something that would give me a paycheque and then I could write my books on the side.

“How about journalism?” she suggested.

“Like, writing for ELLE? Mademoiselle? Glamour? Cosmo?” I said.

“I was thinking a newspaper,” the counselor said.

“Humph,” I thought.

Still, I applied to all the best journalism programs in the country, got accepted to them all, and decided to go to Carleton University because it had the oldest and most prestigious journalism program in Canada. Then, it hit me: I was going to be spending four years learning the skills to get a journalism job. Hurrah! But wait: shouldn’t it be the job I actually want?

 

Carleton University is in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and a city that’s home to exactly zero national glossy women’s magazines. Mistake #1. If you want to work in a particular industry, you need to live in a city that supports that industry. Thankfully, I realized this shortly into the first term, applied for a transfer to Ryerson University in Toronto, got accepted, finished out the year at Carleton, and then started my second year of university at Ryerson. As it turned out, Ryerson didn’t think Carleton’s program was very similar to theirs, so in the end I had to do five years of school to get a four-year degree. I could’ve seen that as a big fat failure, but instead, I chose to see it as a win: I’d made the right move for my career three years earlier than I would have if I had finished out the four-year degree in Ottawa. Phew! That was a close one.

 

At Ryerson, the program was designed to ensure class sizes were small. No big hall lectures, only 30 or fewer students per class. Instructors actually worked in the industry. And they perceived a desire to write for a glossy magazine as not only a legitimate career, but also a realistic one.  Yet, when I said that my dream was to work on staff at a glossy women’s magazine, my prof laughed. He didn’t think very highly of women’s magazines, and worse, he said it was really difficult to land a staff job at one. Again, I could’ve been discouraged, feeling like I didn’t belong in this group of supposedly serious journalists, but I realized that if everyone else believed the words coming out of his mouth, then he’d effectively reduced my competition for the job I really wanted. Thanks dude!

 

For the next four years, the profs continued to remind us that magazines were dying, that print was dead. There would be no full-time jobs when we graduated. Now, looking back, I know they were just trying to prepare us. To encourage us to look out for ourselves. To carve out our own careers. They were right. I tell my own students, 20 years later, that they’re better off carving out their own independent careers, than trying to land a full-time job with benefits. That’s mostly because if they start their own businesses they can start immediately, rather than scouring job postings and applying for one open position along with thousands of other overqualified applicants. I don’t want them to be unemployed post-graduation for six months, eating Cheetos and getting depressed. Maybe that was my prof’s thought process, too. And while I went on to work at several glossy magazines—convincing my bosses that I loved to file, get donuts, get coffee, and organize products in a closet—I still think that if you really want to do what you love, you’ve got to go your own way. You’ve got to tell people what you love to do, what you want to do, what you know you’re good at. Do what you love, and people will hire you.

Are you doing what you love? If you’re not, can you try, for 15 minutes a day, to do something you love doing, that you can turn into a side gig by the end of this year?