Pressure of being one of the best

Columbia Journalism MSc Class of 2016. Photo: Rebecca Castillo

Columbia Journalism MSc Class of 2016. Photo: Rebecca Castillo

There is a lot of pressure that comes with being at “the number one journalism school in the world”. Arguably so, but whatever; we believe we are the best and so when you are here you feel like you are the crème de la crème and so everything you do or say must be crème de la crème material.

On Sunday I submitted a pitch on a story and to be quite honest I knew when I had suggested it as a story idea that I had made silly assumptions on how the story would work. I knew it was not going to work so after submitting the pitch, I started to think about other story ideas. On Tuesday, we received feedback on the pitches. I was right. My story idea was not going to work. Instead of starting on a new story however, my Professor suggested ideas to make the story work in other ways. He said one you have pitched an idea you have to stick with it and find other ways to tell the story and do it well. The fact is many of the stories we will pitch will either make it or not and that is part of the process of being a journalist. We won’t always get it right and we need to stop thinking that we will. It’s not an art that can be perfected – no matter how long you do it for. The quote Professor De Palma uses is a comparison to a game of Roulette: “It takes seconds to learn but a lifetime to master”.

I was upset about my pitch being so shitty and I was upset because I felt like I had not tried hard enough – like I had failed myself. What is amazing to me is that I had all this internalised pressure that I had put on myself and to be honest I didn’t know it. I’m a quiet perfectionist who hides behind a carefree and stress-free attitude – this is something I am slowly learning about myself and something I’m learning to work through. None of our professors actually expect us to be brilliant journalists who need a bit of a tweak on their stories here and there. If that were the case, then we would not need to be here.

Then I realised that I came here because I am well aware that I have so much to learn in this profession. I realised that all of us are here because we have a love for story telling and we have a sword that needs to be sharpened in order to serve its powerful purpose. I took my Professor’s advice and reworked my angle and I even though it’s not the story I wanted to tell initially it’s a story worth telling for the community I serve.

The fact is people will always share the happy moments, the achievements and moments of success but they won’t share the hardships and the challenges they face along the way. I think many of us are here and we are too afraid or proud to tell one another what our fears are and what challenges we are facing. We are too afraid to tell one another that sometimes we find ourselves feeling lonely and so alone in a city with more than 8 million people and even closer to us – a class of more than 200 people. I think we look at each other from afar, see confident people and shy away from sharing our deepest fears because we have convinced ourselves that we can’t be weak or that there is no time to be weak. What I think we may be failing to realize is the strength there is in numbers. Having the support of others and feeling like someone out there who knows exactly what you are going through is so important. It gives you a sense of security and a sense of brotherhood because you know someone knows your pain and shares your insecurity at times.

I’m hoping some of my classmates will read this because I’m hoping that we would all realize that making it in the program was already validation of the fact that we are all very smart individuals with the potential to become amazing journalists. I’m hoping that we would start getting to know each other on more than just a surface level because there is so much to learn from someone when you know what informs who they are. I read one of my classmates blogs the other day and I was wowed by how much he went through to get to this program.

We do not need to have super pseudo intellectual conversations with one another so you can scan and see who is worth your time and who isn’t because you could easily skip past a gem of a human because you’ve set some silly standard for the type of people you hang out with.

I’ve started having conversations that go further than “so what have you done” and I have learned so much and started making true friends and colleagues.

It’s so important to be in a place with such diverse individuals and take advantage of that in more ways than one.

Learn, learn, learn.

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