I enjoy hearing inspiring stories about how people chose their professions—how they knew, sometimes at a very young age, what they wanted to be when they grew up.
The teacher who used to line up her dolls and instruct them in her childhood bedroom comes to mind, along with the healthcare worker who went through a medical crisis as a teenager and got such wonderful care from her nurses that she decided to become one herself.
I wish I had a similar anecdote, but I don’t. My answer to, “Why did you decide to go into journalism?” is actually sort of pathetic, if you want to know the truth.
I started thinking about this when I read Donald Miller’s take on the same question. In Scary Close, the bestselling author bluntly reveals the driving force behind his career choice.
“Today, when people ask why I became a writer I try to answer honestly,” he says. “I’m a writer because, at an early age, I became convinced it was the one thing I could do to earn people’s respect. It’s true in the process I learned to love words and ideas and these days I actually like to get lost in the writing process. But the early fuel, the early motivation, was all about becoming a person worth loving.”
I appreciate his honesty, and, in a roundabout way, I also can relate to it.
I didn’t become a writer because I loved words so much or because the writing process held irresistible appeal to me. Instead, it was fear that led me into writing.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a hole in my schedule. I could either choose newspaper class or Spanish. I didn’t know if I would be able to learn Spanish—OK, I was afraid I couldn’t—so I chose newspaper. I stayed with it the next year, and the year after that.
I enjoyed writing for my high school newspaper. I developed decent reporting skills and even won some awards at the statewide journalism contests my classmates and I went to each year.
When the time to choose a college major, I had no idea what to pick. So I decided to go with journalism—partly because I was good at it, but mostly because it was safe and familiar.
I didn’t want to fail at something new, so I chose what I knew.
I wrote for the university’s student newspaper for a couple of years, and then moved to the media relations office, where I had to conjure up every ounce of courage I possessed to call professors and university staff members for interviews. I even considered changing my major during my junior year—to something related to health and nutrition, I think—but once again, I decided to stick with what I knew.
All along, I had one stated career goal: I never, ever wanted to work for a newspaper. (Writing that now, I realize this makes no sense at all, given my college major and all. But that’s how I felt.)
I started off keeping that goal, too, as my first job out of college was doing communications-related work with a large engineering firm in Kansas City. But when I got married a year later, the only position I could find in the area where Randy and I settled down was with the hometown newspaper in Bentonville, Ark.
My work as the paper’s business editor, then later as a business reporter for the statewide daily, was interesting and educational. While I enjoyed learning about local companies and extracting information out of people I interviewed, though, I did not enjoy the competitive nature of the media industry. At times, the fear of being scooped by a reporter at another area paper literally caused me to throw up in the morning before I left for work.
I also was obsessed with accuracy, which is not necessarily a bad thing unless it causes you to check and recheck stories a dozen times, constantly worrying that you are going to make an error. Perfectionism co-mingled with fear does not make for a peace-filled life, let me tell you.
After about five years in the newspaper business, I went to work for a magazine devoted to the subject of theology and work. It was there that I first sensed a passion for writing about faith-related topics, which is primarily what I’ve focused on ever since.
In retrospect, it’s apparent that one job prepared me for the next, and that people I met in one workplace opened doors at future workplaces. I am so grateful for this.
But over the years, I’ve sometimes struggled with the fact that fear was, at least initially, such a motivating force behind my career choice. That’s not just uninspiring; it reveals a lack of trust that still makes me squirm.
Lately, though, I’ve started looking at it through the lens of God’s grace and mercy. And here’s what I’ve found.
I may have majored in journalism because it was the safe and easy choice, but God knew the plans He had for me. Maybe my motivation was weak and flawed, but He used it to direct my steps.
He’s God. He can do that.
He used a dear journalism professor to provide wise counsel when I was contemplating a different direction in college. He used editors along the way to mold my skills and—as I will share in a few weeks—even expose weak spots in my character.
I see all that now. I’m glad for it.
And—despite my early struggles—I’m not sorry I became a writer, even though I don’t have an inspiring story to explain why.
How about you? Can you spot evidence of God’s direction and redeeming power as you look back over your life and career?
Note: This is the second post in my “Faith, Fear & The Life of a Writer” series. If you missed the first one, you can catch up here.
Also: I’m linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Lyli Dunbar at ThoughtProvokingThursday, Crystal Storms at #HeartEncouragementThursday, Crystal Twaddell at FreshMarketFriday and Jennifer Clarke at Grace & Truth.