I’ve had a steady job since I was fourteen. I’ve changed sheets, waited tables for the rich, nannied hippy brats, invoiced fuel orders for jets, given whale-watching tours, washed poodles, delivered catering orders to Shania Twain, taught English.
Since age sixteen, I’ve also landed fairly steady freelance work in media. I’ve sat in snowmobile trailers to report on sled dog racers, photographed rattlesnakes in backcountry sixteen miles from signed roads, written and edited TV script, repurposed video content, chased urban goat farmers by bicycle to land a story. I’ve always been pretty proud of what I think merits a fair amount of gusto. And, for the most part, it’s been fun.
After moving to Missouri, that all essentially stopped. I knew no one and had no connections, and learned very quickly that the working culture of the region is very much a “not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know” and it left me gridlocked and depressed for months. Everyone I sent my resume to ignored me. Paperwork was “lost.” Hiring directors refused to answer calls or call me back. It was terrible. Terrible.
Some people told me it was the economy, and that might be true, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing. I’m a pretty avid NPR listener (and supporter! Yes! I donate! If you live in Oklahoma, there’s a good chance you’ve heard my eager, chipper voice on KOSU talking about why I support NPR during member drives!) and there have been a lot of wonderful stories about millennials and unemployment and disenchantment and the new economy and the search for meaning. I’m right there experiencing it with all the rest of ’em.
But I’m also learning what, I suppose, every working person eventually learns, which is that persistence and humility pay off.
Fast-forward nine months and I’ve got a steady writing gig at a regional magazine, which is wonderful, and editors who are patient and supportive. Every month, my name is on the masthead and I get a nice stack of bylines to add to my repertoire. Yesterday, I picked up a writing paycheck big enough to pay all of my expenses for my insane gardening project that this whole blog is supposed to center on.
Assignments send me into the houses of strangers, where I eat homemade apple cake and listen to stories about how they quit their day jobs to raise pigs in their front yard, or took up winemaking in rural outposts, or have walked wooded trails since before roads were paved; met the mayor, spent mornings with people making art for tornado recovery. There are times when I’m so busy with writing and photo work that I can barely keep up. There are times when I miss having “down” time, because even when I’m on the go, I’m somehow working. But it’s nice.
Here’s my big, big point:
If you want to work in media, work in media. If you want to write, write. Write, even if you’re not getting paid. Take pictures, even if they aren’t published. Blog, even if no one reads. At the very least, you’re keeping your flint sharp for the day you actually need the spark. Eventually, you will get paid, your work will get published, and people will read the words you put down. So never be too good for work. Never turn down a job. Never miss a deadline. And be persistent.
You’ll get there.