One of the most rewarding results of my time as an American Honors student has been the opportunity to delve immediately into my desired field of study upon transferring to Western Washington University. Being able to spend my days immersed in journalism, covering events, giving interviews, and writing stories leaves me with a sense of pride and accomplishment unlike any other. But something unexpected I’ve learned, especially now, during my first quarter as a reporter for The Western Front, has been that even your passions can push your limits.
Leaving the comfort zone
My second year as a student at Western began three weeks early after I was sent my first potential story assignment for the paper. My first challenge came in the form of the subject… sports. Never in my life have I considered myself any fraction of an athlete. So as I sat staring at my inbox that afternoon in early September, I was torn between wanting to make a good impression in the class by taking a story immediately, and the anxiety that I would fail miserably because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
What was stopping me from taking this first assignment?
I sat on the dilemma for a good 24 hours while I weighed all my options. On the one hand, I could still remember the incredible rush I’d gotten when I’d been a reporter for B-Side Magazine while still a creative writing major. I’d had even less of an idea about what I was doing then, and I still managed to put together a handful of decent articles. So what was stopping me from taking this first assignment from the paper?
I emailed the sports editor back and told her I’d take the assignment. It was much less painful than I’d been expecting. The editor gave me a chance to pick a sport from a list that I’d be interested in covering. I chose volleyball—the one sport I ever actually played outside of a P.E. class.
I had a deep phobia of telephone conversations. I'd do anything to avoid them.
Then came my next (and, in my opinion, greatest) challenge—the interviews. Ever since I could remember, I’d had a deep phobia of telephone conversations. I'd do anything to avoid them. I'd make excuses to miss my doctor appointmetns; I’d run to the bathroom whenever I heard the phone ring so someone else would have to pick it up; I’d only answer calls on my cell phone from numbers I recognized--and even then I'd often leave them to my answering machine so I could text a reply later.
Phone calls put you on the spot. To me, there was a greater chance someone would be rude over the phone than they would be in person. I’d been able to dodge this particular aspect of reporting up to that point; I’d only covered live events for B-Side, and I’d gotten luck in my newswriting class finding sources that were almost always available in person.
No avoiding it
But there’d be no way to get around it for this story. I was set to cover the pre-season of Western’s volleyball team, and the editor had requested quotes from at least 3 different sources. I could get game statistics online, I could read the roster to identify the players, but there was no other way to do the interviews than by phone (for journalism students, email interviews are considered only as an absolutely last resort).
It’s a silly fear compared to some of the others out there, but it had my stomach feeling like a cement mixer. And remembering my looming deadline didn't help.
Looking for inspiration
For two days, I struggled with the panic before I thought back again to my time with B-Side. I hadn’t wanted to do those interviews either. I still remember how I’d awkwardly popped in and out of the room before an event, or pacing around in the back pretending to look for someone in particular. All this and more I did just to delay talking to people.
In the end I’d held my breath, told myself I had a job to do, and walked straight up to the event organizers. And not only did I get the information I needed; I got to meet a group of fantastic people and learn something new about the Bellingham community.
So who says I couldn’t do the same thing now, but over the phone?
It took me, quite literally, an hour of sitting at my desk rotating between staring at my phone and playing mahjong to distract myself before I was able to actually call the first number. But eventually, I just stopped, held my breath, told myself I had a job to do, and dialed the number.
How bad could it be?
Every ring echoed like a fog horn through my chest. But when I looked down and saw my notepad and digital recorder sitting on the table, I felt like someone else. I was a journalist. I was representing The Western Front and doing what reporters have been doing every day for decades. This was the job, and I was doing it.
I felt like someone else. I was a journalist.
From then on I’ve been making calls and doing interviews on a weekly basis. (Thankfully, without the 60 minute prerequisite stress period) While not every source is ecstatic to get my call, and while I still get the occasional swarm of butterflies when I pick up my phone, I’ve come to find peace with their presence.
Even your greatest passion will more than likely come with quirks you find yourself less than passionate about. But what I’ve come to realize is that you have to take your passion and let it drive your motivation to overcome those quirks. The same can be said for a lot of different parts of the college experience.
You’ve got to write the application essay if you want to get into the schools you want; you’ve got to take the classes in the subjects you don’t like if you want to get the ones you do; your dreams have to scare you if you want them to be big enough.
Without a doubt, I will continue to find parts of journalism that challenge and scare me. But I will always keep in mind that no fear can outweigh the love I have for what I do.