I’m writing this post after recently finishing a year-long stint at CityLab — The Atlantic magazine’s website on the urbanized world. Amid covering everything from Kanye’s visit to Harvard’s design school and a birth on a D.C. metro platform to wild architectural proposals and all the maps the Internet could ever want, my first year of post-MIT life flew by just like that.
This past year was full of big changes—new city, new friends, new line of work. In the first few months of adjusting to fast-paced Internet #Journalism…between trying to pitch and write articles as quickly as I could and observing web traffic data as soon as my articles are published, I noticed that I’ve quickly ditched all the ways I’d been distilling my thoughts over the last 4-5 years. That is, in addition to no longer blogging on MIT Admissions about what I’m thinking/going through, I’ve also stopped updating the Tumblr I’d kept since my senior year of high school (the one I included in my MIT blogger application).
The station manager speaks about the birth on the metro platform — he walked away exclaiming, “The metro delivers!”
This past year I wrote a great many articles for CityLab. Yet it feels as though I’ve lost (at least part of) my voice. In the process of learning how to put together an effective piece of magazine-y Internet article with a hint of viral potential, I’ve forgotten how to share thoughts and information…without latent concerns for how the content will perform, how it stacks up to other people writing on the same subject, how commenters (!!!) will respond.
Sometime last fall, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent/senior editor at The Atlantic and former professor of mine (he was a visiting scholar at MIT these past two years) was taking care of some business at the office. We obviously chatted about writing. At one point, he asked, “Do you have a blog where you can write about whatever you want?” (TNC himself is famous for “thinking out loud” on his corner of the web.) In that moment, I took the question lightly. Yeah? Maybe? Does it matter? I don’t have enough time to think of things to write for CityLab as is.
Of course, now I realize it matters a lot.
Three shots I took during a D.C. summer storm — this Instagram pic is here because I like it, also this posts needs more pictures :)
It turns out, the “What are you passionate about?” question, which can be exciting for some and awfully stress-inducing for others, comes back time and time again after college apps. Over the last year, whether in pitching story ideas to my editor or seeking advice from other writers/editors, a lot of the discussion boiled down to: what are you curious about? My editor always pushed me to chase after stories I’m deeply interested in—and over time, I also began noticing that awesome writing stems from the author being passionately curious about whatever he or she is writing about.
In the context of college admissions and everything ambitious young people apply to these days, the word “Passion” just feels so worn, with so much pressure attached. It feels like the expectation is that not only should you know what your Passion is, but you should also be reasonably well-versed in it. For me recently, the goal has been to kick that expectation— heaven knows where I got it came from—to the curb. For one, I’ve made a vow to revive my Tumblr and resume jotting down Whatever…all the things that I like and don’t like, that make me think, that make me want to smash my keyboard.
I’m convinced that if I’m living a truly passionate life, where I’m earnest and courageous about the questions that intrigue me, then I’d also be comfortable with working in the presence of people already much more experienced/knowledgeable/accomplished; I’d feel compelled to reach out and connect with peers interested in the same things; I’d feel at peace with being able to add just a little bit more to my mind and soul at a time.
For a few weeks this summer, my church in D.C. replaced sermons with a talk series called “My Most Important Question”, during which church members are invited to discuss the major issues challenging their faith. One speaker this time around was a NBC News senior political reporter who goes on TV regularly, gets recognized on the streets…basically, pretty successful. Yet his Most Important Question still revolves around whether his job is actually what he’s been called to do.
One thing he said has stuck with me: We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period of time and underestimate what we can do in a long period of time.
Here, he reminds us that a career is 40 years long—it will take a long time to accomplish a lot, so live into it. Be present, persistent, patient, and take one step at a time.