Guest Blogging: Don’t look for the best job. Look for the right one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of my favorite quotes that reflects a good life philosophy comes from the movie “Miracle.” Assistant coach Craig Patrick tells head coach Herb Brooks that the roster Brooks built is missing a lot of the best players available to him. Brooks response is, “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”

Far too often, I counsel students who “chase” jobs because they think it’s what they’re supposed to want or do. They measure their worth by the size of their media market or the cache associated with their titles or the sense of gravitas connected to a publication. They want to be able to say, “I work at the (fill in name of giant media outlet here)” as it seems to codify and verify their self worth. When I talk to these students (and former students), I keep telling them, “Don’t chase something because you think it’s something you’re supposed to want. Instead, find what you actually want and enjoy and do that. You’ll never regret it.” 

When old friend and former student Pat Garvin posted about his experience speaking to students in the same way, I asked him to put his thoughts into a post for you all. The reason? He’s actually doing the media gig he wants. You might assume it’s easy for a professor to say, “I’m sure you’ll be amazing at the Northeast Southwestern Tattler! Who needs the New York Times?” However, Pat walks the walk, lives the life and has a great bit of wisdom for folks looking for “THE job.” Enjoy


Each week, we will strive to post content from a guest blogger with an expertise in an area of the field. This week, we are fortunate to have Pat Garvin a visual journalist at The Boston Globe. Interested in being our next guest blogger? Contact us here.

The end of the fall semester is coming up at many colleges and universities, and for some students, so is graduation. Whether you’re graduating in a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, I’d like to put your mind at ease.

A few times a year, I get to speak to journalism classes at The University of Missouri about what I do. As I went there myself, the class instructor asks me to tell the students about where my career has taken me since I was a Mizzou student.

I look forward to these classes, as I enjoy showing them the work that my teammates and I have done, and I enjoy explaining the reasons behind the choices we made for each package. But I also enjoy being the voice that tells them not to measure their self worth by what publication they go to after college, especially if their friends end up at big name places at 23. I remember how easy it was for me and my friends to compare ourselves to each other based on who got what job and how big the circulation was.

If you’re a few weeks out from graduation, you’ve likely seen this scenario around campus, if you haven’t experienced it firsthand. But try not to get caught up in comparing who takes a job at which publication. To borrow a phrase from Admiral Ackbar in “Return of the Jedi,” “It’s a trap!”

For some people, the huge national papers are part of their path, and that makes them happy. They will do great work, and they will feel fulfilled. And that’s good, because we will all benefit from their work. Others might go to those marquee name outlets, be miserable, and burn out. It’s tempting to say that the people who are happy at big papers are successful and the people who don’t make it there are not successful. But that framing assumes that success for everyone is going to be measured by whether or not they end at the biggest website, newspaper, TV station, etc.

I make it a point to tell students that we need not — and should not — frame it this way. When my friends and I graduated, we naively equated big ambition with happiness. We assumed that once we got to a dream paper, then we will have “made it.” But that ties the idea of success and happiness to the name on the building, rather than who you’re with, what you’re doing, and what you’re learning. In the years since graduation, my friends and I have shifted our understanding of what it means to be a successful journalist. Now, we can appreciate that if you’re happy and your family is happy, and you’re learning and growing, then that is what success looks like to me. And that can happen at multiple places.

I often tell journalism students that it helps to follow five guidelines:

1. Identify what you want.
2. Figure out what you need to do to get that.
3. Start doing those things.
4. Be flexible, and if what you want changes, that’s OK.
5. Never take any interaction for granted. Each person you meet in a building is valuable, whether it’s the editor-in-chief or the custodian.

These are good to remember whether your ambition is to end up at a national news outlet or to become an editor at your hometown paper. These guidelines frame it in personal terms, and that’s hopefully relieving for any journalism student who felt pressured to pursue a path that doesn’t feel right. With these guidelines, the goal isn’t to end up at the biggest place you can, but rather, where you think you’ll be able to flourish. And maybe the biggest place you can be is where you will flourish. That’s OK. But it’s also OK if you find yourself happy and fulfilled at a smaller publication.

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