Ha! Look what fortune kicked out just now:
Q: How many journalists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Three. One to report it as an inspired government program to bring
light to the people, one to report it as a diabolical government
plot to deprive the poor of darkness, and one to win a pulitzer
prize for reporting that Electric Company hired a lightbulb
assassin to break the bulb in the first place.
Driving back from San Francisco tonight, I was listening to Po Bronson on KQED. Bronson recently published What Should I Do With My Life?, a book about finding your true calling. During the radio program, he quoted someone else who said your resume should look like your life rather than the other way around.
Another thing he said that stuck with me is that finding your true calling is about forming the story of your life, which tells you what you are about and what your purpose is. He said people sometimes assume that if they have a true calling, it will manifest itself as an unavoidable, intense feeling inside. In fact, it is often a whisper silenced by fear.
I was thinking about work during the drive, and about how I have become frustrated there, not because I do not enjoy my job generally, but because I feel I am failing at certain challenges. There are a number of important stories I know about that I cannot break because I cannot get the key people to talk to me. Already, one story broke that I knew about in advance but could not confirm with the right people, or at least the people my editor considered the right people. Now I'm in the same spot with a few more stories, stories that I would like to break but seem to have run into a brick wall in researching.
Perhaps overcoming these challenges is just a matter of learning more about the job, which I only began in October. But sometimes the difficulties give me doubts about my ability to connect quickly and significantly with people. It seems to always take me a good amount of time to warm up to friends and to get to know people well, and I think I have a more difficult time than most being myself around strangers and new acquaintances. Fear too often gets the better of me. This is partly what I like about journalism -- it forces me to confront fears about dealing with other people. There are many people drawn to the profession for just that reason. In the meantime, I am working on confronting, in my personal life, fears about being myself or defending my own needs when those issues come up. The professional and personal challenges are not distinct.
Still, there are many aspects about who I am and what I have learned over the course of my life that are not reflected in my present job. I do think eventually they will be, and I have great respect for the process of acquiring skills over the long term. I just finished re-reading Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, a thoroughly honest and readable encapsulation of a certain feeling among the writer's generation of what the publishing house referred to on the back of the books as "vanishing illusions," and of a certain place and a certain time. Hemingway is able to convey a gestalt more deeply and poignantly than even Didion in Slouching Toward Bethlehem.
But Hemingway was a journalist and essayist on the way to becoming a great novelist, first telling stories about town for the Toronto Star and then, like Didion, contributing essays to important magazines like Esquire. (See the excellent By-Line: Ernest Hemingway if you can find it.) It was with the Sun Also Rises that he arrived, and he said as much, acknowledging that it was that book that established, both to himself and the world, his abilities an author.
Bronson talked at some length about arrival in his interview, describing it as being like love -- you know it when you are there. He made it sound almost like a Nirvana, in that one becomes far less aware of the passing of years and is able to channel energy previously used to try and build toward fulfilling one's calling into actually furthering it.
Perhaps there is greater freedom in having arrived, as many people seem to think. But maybe one can arrive through freer work. Someone recently said to me, "I have a new goal in life, which is to hopefully never have to work a 9-5 job again. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I think that the Internet is the key." I don't think this is at odds with the idea of arrival as a process -- it is, in fact, right in line with it, because it evinces a certain faith that arrival will happen, especially that it will happen by satisfying one's self -- one's ego included -- rather than bending one's will to the standards of others. Penelope Trunk, Business 2.0's best columnist before she left, wrote a column recently about her husband and his many jobs and his changing passions, and how his drive and enthusiastic spirit enriched both his life and hers greatly, even though some people might frown upon or fear such career agility, might criticize an emotionally-chartered job course.
I think, in the end, it is the only way to live. A steady nine to five, or twenty of them, can be along the path to one's true calling. But one can never trade growth and happiness for comfort.