How to Be Alive: On Career Advice -The Toast

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Two people wrote advice to young journalists, one at Fusion and one at Vox. I don’t have anything to say about either of those offerings, though there are plenty of opinions to be found on Twitter.

In general, people love giving advice. It allows us to feel wise. It allows us to feel like we are effecting change, if even in only one person. It can also be satisfying to say, “This is what I have learned,” or you can be the killer of dreams when someone is too bright-eyed and eager and you’re experienced and cynical and it is uncomfortable to face just how cynical you have become.

Writers, or really anyone in any profession who achieves some modicum of success is regularly asked for advice. We are asked: how do I get started? How do I get published? How do I get noticed? How do I persevere in the face of rejection or failure or silence? How do I get what I think you have? How do I get everything I have ever wanted?

We will answer these questions in a variety of ways, but the truth is, there’s nothing definitive we can offer you. How do you succeed as a writer? How do you succeed in any field? Most of us have no idea. The advice we offer is well-intended but there is no definitive secret to anyone’s success.

Sometimes success is just getting by.

I don’t really know how I’ve succeeded, such as the case may be. Last year I had a good year but it might be my only good year. You never know. I would be lying if I could offer you a specific course of action. I do know I work my ass off. I have been ambitious and I have been relentless and I have been lucky and I have been defeated and I have been inspired and invigorated. I know that I didn’t wait for anyone to give me permission to be a writer. I wrote and I write because I want to and I love it.

You don’t need permission to be a journalist or a writer or a doctor or a dancer or whatever it is you want to be. There will always be people who are cynical or “realistic” and who tell you that it is no longer for possible for you to have your dream job. You can listen to those people if you want. They might be right.

What if they are wrong?

Be what you want to be. If you really love what you want to be, don’t let yourself be dissuaded by anyone. Put in the work. Don’t believe in conspiracy theories but believe in conspiracy theories. Common sense goes a long way. Ask questions and actually listen to the answers you receive. Be willing to fail because sometimes, you are going to fail. Be willing to succeed and know that success is fucking terrifying.

Either things are going to work out or they won’t. That’s life. That’s how to be alive.


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