If I could relay one piece of advice to my younger professional self, it would be this: Not every career has a ladder. In fact, some of the best ones don’t.
Early on in life, we’re drilled with the idea of “the path”—the notion of a series of incremental steps you follow to achieve success in any field. You study hard in school, get accepted into the right program in university, apply for the right job and work your way up—a steady, predictable climb to the top.
A different aspiration
Only that wasn’t working for me. In my late 20s, I’d wandered off the path, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d made a serious mistake. I’d always thought of myself as a writer. I had studied English in university, then gone on to get a master’s degree in journalism. But as graduation approached, and my classmates were securing jobs at TV stations, newspapers and PR firms, I couldn’t bring myself to apply. I had a different aspiration—one that didn’t fit into a neatly defined career trajectory.
I wanted to be a freelance journalist: to choose my own assignments, to pursue stories I found compelling in as much depth as was required, and to work in other countries and amid other cultures. But there was no class in my master’s program on freelance journalism. There were no internships in freelancing. Suddenly, the path that had seemed so well-defined disappeared.
Becoming a freelance journalist
So, I tried to find my own way—blindly at first, but earnestly. I moved abroad. I hunted down interesting stories. I looked up editors’ email addresses and barraged them with ideas for articles. Not surprisingly, of the dozens—maybe hundreds—of pitches I sent out, not one was accepted. In fact, most proposals didn’t even receive a response.
But then, one did. One editor was willing to give me a shot. I took it.