Annual Review

Speaking at TEDxNashville was a definite accomplishment of 2015.
Speaking at TEDxNashville was a definite accomplishment of 2015.

Until this year, I had no use for New Year’s resolutions. I thought they were a fabrication of glossy magazine publishers, a sort of “New Year, New You!” myth. Why tie important life changes to an arbitrary date each year?

Recently, however, I found myself reflecting more on what I’ve done in 2015 and want to do in 2016. And that makes sense: For most of my life, goals and accomplishments weren’t measured in calendar years. They were measured in other beginnings — new school years in August, new internships, new cities — but for the past year and a half, my life has been fairly monotonous, beginnings-wise. I’ve been in the same job, same city, without many starts or stops to mark the time.

So even though Jan. 1 still feels a little arbitrary, I see it as a decent time to reflect. And instead of simply making a list of my favorite stories of 2015, which seems a little self-serving, I want to focus on one professional accomplishment that I find truly meaningful, that I want to improve upon next year, and that I hope will also help other young journalists starting in the field: feeling comfortable as a reporter.

***

A few months into my new job in Nashville last year, I called one of my journalism mentors, Matt Stiles, and voiced a fear that had been nagging me since I started.

Here were the facts: Prior to taking this job, I had never been a full-time reporter. I had done reporting and editing, or reporting and producing, but my job had never before depended solely on coming up with story ideas, interviewing sources and churning out reports. For reasons I couldn’t quite pin down, it terrified me. I had near-panic attacks before going into work and sometimes in the middle of the day, especially before interviews. I fantasized about switching to a career where I never had to talk to anyone. I was convinced that I would never get to the point where I was actually happy with a story I finished.

Thus, my admission to Matt: “I don’t think I’m cut out to be a reporter,” I said.

“Oh, I felt that way too,” he said. That surprised me. At the time, he had just started working for the Wall Street Journal. Nothing about journalism seemed to faze him.

But he told me his first job was covering the courts beat in Dallas, where he was constantly getting scooped by a reporter from a rival paper who knew how the legal system worked and had relationships with sources. That got easier over time, Matt said. People in the courts started to trust him and gave him story ideas. He figured out how the system worked and was able to find stories within it. The next time he started a new job, he adjusted faster.

“The first year as a reporter is always the hardest,” he said. “Give it one year.”

So I did. I counted down the weeks when I had to, but I was determined give it a year. (This might seem ludicrous to someone who’s been working for decades, but when you’re used to internships or contract work, a year seems like forever.)

Then, around week 45, something interesting happened: I stopped counting. Little by little, so slowly that I’m not sure quite when it happened, I began to feel more comfortable during interviews. I learned the names of the big players in the city and whom to call with questions. I won some awards, which made me think my stories weren’t so bad after all. A few months later, I launched the Movers & Thinkers podcast at the station — my own creative project, which filled me with a bigger sense of purpose.

I talked to Matt again after my one-year anniversary. “You’re right,” I said. “It has gotten a lot easier.” I paused. “But it’s still hard.”

“Yeah,” he said. “The first three years are always the hardest.”

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