Life has a way of working out
Earlier this week I had the privilege of visiting my alma mater as an alumni speaker.
I met with a large group of students in the terrifying position we’ve all been in at some point in life, closing one chapter of their lives and wondering, “what’s next?”
While attending Western Michigan University I studied journalism, a natural fit, but I also majored in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, which is ultimately a fancy name for an English major with an emphasis on visual, verbal and written communication techniques.
Tuesday I met with a group of RWS majors full of questions: “Do you ever use what you learned in college at work?” to which I answered, “every hour every day.” “What are employers looking for in young writers?” I answered, “hard workers who know the rules, but are creative enough to break them when necessary.” And, “How do you overcome the anxiety that you’ll never get a job, or even pick the right one?” That one stumped me.
It wasn’t all that long ago I was in those students’ shoes, on the brink of graduation with no idea what I was going to do next, so that anxiety is still a feeling I remember well. And boy, did that bring back memories.
While in college I interned at the Kalamazoo Gazette, and then became news editor at my college newspaper. My senior year I was part of a team that persuaded the student body to enact a tax on their tuition to pay for student media. Now, the student newspaper, radio station and news network are funded by that $5 fee, because students believed paying the extra money was a better option than losing the student voice.
With all this experience in journalism, it seemed an obvious choice to move on to a newspaper job after college, but I was sure to explore my options. I must have turned in dozens of applications, interviewed for a handful of jobs and even explored a number of grad schools. Eventually I took a job at another MLive paper, but before I even signed the lease on an apartment, I panicked when I realized writing metro news in a city I was unfamiliar with was just not my cup of tea.
Of course that “what’s next” panic returned quickly as I had no idea where my career was headed.
On the way back to Niles from an apartment hunting trip scoping out the city, I found a job posting for layout editor here at Leader, and the words “visual rhetoric” were in the job description.
The last rhetoric class I took in college was actually titled “Visual Rhetoric,” so even though I’d never laid out a newspaper in my life, I turned in my resume. This seemed to be the perfect blend of my two major areas of study — rhetoric and journalism.
Still, I remember thinking, “Do I really want to work in my hometown? I’ve been trying to get away from this place for years!” and to be honest, even after I took the job I wasn’t sure how long I would last before exploring other opportunities. But here I am two and half years later, working in my hometown and loving every minute of it.
So to answer that student’s question, I guess you overcome that ‘what’s next’ fear by focusing on the positive, having confidence and constantly reminding yourself that everything will work out in the end. When making those next steps, view your options with an open mind.
Sometimes the options you didn’t want to pursue turn out to lead you exactly where you belong. At least that’s how it worked out for me.
Ambrosia Neldon is the managing editor at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7713, or by email at email@example.com.