It is often interesting when people’s current job has no direct link to their college degree. How did you end up in your field of work? Was it a direct path from your collegiate coursework and/or ensuing internships? Did a mentor inspire you or supervisor recruit you away to something different from what you initially planned?
For me, it was a combination of choice and mentors. I first fell prey to the writing bug at Clarence High School (north of Buffalo, N.Y.) during a journalism class in my junior year. It turned out to be one of my favorite classes in high school as we produced the student newspaper, The Advocate. When I was trying to figure out a college major during the application stage, I zoned in a communication degree as the journalism classes fell under that department at Cornell University.
My sophomore year I attended an orientation meeting for the oldest student-operated daily college newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. I wasn’t really interested in being an apprentice news reporter and working my way up to a managing editor. However, I was intrigued by the formation of a new weekly arts & entertainment supplement called The Red Letter Daze. It was brilliant and became our campus version of The Rolling Stone.
So I signed up to be an entertainment writer. It was my creative escape from writing academic papers and I indulged in heavy alliteration, non sequitur-laced prose and pop culture nonsensical allusions. I became an enthusiastic music critic for the campus concerts and multitude of complimentary advance CDs that were sent to the office. The most notable performer I reviewed was The Notorious B.I.G. He really didn’t know where he was, despite Ithaca being just four hours due northwest from his hometown NYC.
I was hooked on writing and sought out other avenues to broaden my experience and audience. Upon returning to campus in August for my junior year, I walked into the Cornell Sports Communications office at Schoellkopf Field and basically said, “I’m a writer, do you have any jobs here?” I had never been a very assertive person, but this turned out to be one of the greatest moments of my campus experience. The long-time Sports Information Director, Dave Wohlhueter, was there and said he just happened to have lost his best feature writer to graduation and may have a spot. Armed with my booklet of writing samples from Rich Products, the Buffalo Bisons and The Daily Sun, he took me in and gave me the first assignment – writing a 1,000-word feature of the star senior linebacker for the home football game programs they sell at the stadium. It was an honor to work with Dave and he helped make me a better writer. For two years, I was fortunate to interview many of the Big Red athletes and coaches while garnering many bylined features for the developing portfolio.
One summer I stayed on campus and explored freelance writing with local publications such as The Cornell Chronicle, 14850 Magazine and The Ithaca Times. It was a thrill back then to pick up the morning paper and see your work and name at the top of the page and hope that others were enjoying your articles.
It was at this time that the sports public relations career field officially grabbed me. It became my dream to work with my favorite team, the Chicago Bulls. With great timing, patience and a solid portfolio, I was hired by the Bulls in June 1997. It was my dream job at 23. After 14 months, I moved to Seattle for a higher public relations position with the SuperSonics and became so focused on professional basketball media relations, that I neglected to be cognizant of all the other great industries and disciplines out there.
What I say now is that the writing bug was apparently always within me and that I benefited from great teachers, mentors and supervisors in my formative years. I chose a career direction in sports communications at the time and the opportunities seized my interests and passions at those stages in my life.
What I would tell students and young professionals now is this: there are several dream jobs that will meet you along the route, so embrace the possibilities that you don’t have to pour your heart and soul into just one of those options so much that you lose the peripheral perception of what else could be around the corner. There will be other dream jobs, or ones that suit your personality and ambition, and they may sprout out of nowhere from what once was your dream job.
If you are looking for a job, don’t always be distracted by the organization name, brand prestige or the dogmas of position titles, take a closer look at the functions and possibilities of the scope of work that speak to you the most, and a position could grab you when you might have overlooked it at first glance.