When I grow up…

I’ve known what I wanted to be since I was in the third grade. It was a definite. No questions asked. Samantha Elizabeth Harris was meant to be a journalist. My career path was one of the few things in my life that was stable; from an ever-changing health condition to just the general turmoil of growing up, things always seemed to be a little chaotic, except for this one aspect of my life. The key word being was (ooh dramatic italics coupled with a paragraph break, hang on to your seats ladies and gents, the angst is on its way).

Since coming to college, I question my career path each day. I struggle to admit this, as it feels like going against a commandment, something that’s been etched into stone since the beginning of time. Journalism has been my rock; it has been a part of my identity for ten plus years. I fought countless battles with my mom over my major, long before college applications were even a thought in my head (although, is there really such a thing as a time before college applications? I feel like college apps have been a presence in my life since I carried a Scooby Doo lunch box and traded colored erasers at recess). “You do realize there’s no money there, you’ll live out of a box”, my mother would yell, frustrated with what she perceived (maybe rightly) as my naivety. “But you’re smart”, my friends would utter quizzically after hearing my post-graduation plans. Despite the doubt, the reproach, and all of the naysayers, my mind was made up. By my senior year of high school, I finally had the world convinced. I was the minority amongst my friends in that I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. And then, I grew up. And then, suddenly, I didn’t seem to know anymore. My unshakeable resolve swiftly deteriorated into a puddle of self-doubt.

When I say I’ve wanted to be a reporter since the third grade, I mean it. Given an alternative assignment by a teacher who recognized my lack of challenge in class, I began reporting at the age of 8. My paper was colorfully titled The Awesomely Awesome News, the best name a socially awkward third grader could dream up. We employed one other writer, my co-editor and one of my best friends to this day (granted it was because our moms forced us, but we grew to like each other eventually), Allison. Allison and I spent hours pouring over news articles, sifting through headlines such as “Gas prices at all time high” and “Iraqi voters ratify a new constitution”, these major world events oftentimes lying outside the grasp of our comprehension levels. Still, we reported the news with diligence and pride (and A LOT of infighting—I mean she wanted to name the paper The Doggy Dish for god’s sake).

As I got older, I began refining my writing and defining my career path. I didn’t want to be any old journalist. Screw the fluff pieces and tabloids; I wanted to write hard-hitting news. I wanted to break Watergate, release the Pentagon papers, and unmask the Vatican’s history of abuse. I would be the voice for the unheard, calling the world’s attention to those who needed it the most. I envisioned myself travelling to remote places on assignment for Time Magazine (I, like the average human being, have had a subscription since the sixth grade. It’s normal. I swear.), The New York Times, or National Geographic. And then college happened.

First of all, it is hard as hell to write for a paper that caters to 60,000 students. It just is. I marched into the newsroom on my second day of school, signed my name up for a freelancing mail list, and waited for a story assignment to appear in my inbox. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. Sure there were story ideas, they were few and far between, but they were there. But they were bottom of the barrel type stuff. I’m not saying I expected to break the Lewinski scandal with my first article, but something other than the fencing team and some mediocre local band would have been nice.

Eventually, a light at the end of the tunnel filled with lackluster news stories did appear. With a little initiative and a lot of luck, I landed a one-on-one interview with country singer Hunter Hayes. And just like that the world seemed at peace again. The dust was shaken from the keys of my computer and my voice memo app christened with an interview that would soon be broken down into quotes, and those quotes would soon make up the backbone of a story. And that story would travel from a measly word document to newsprint in just a few short hours. I swear to god there’s no better feeling in the world than holding a hot-off-the-press paper in your hands: the memory of the printer’s heat like a ghost on your palms and the smell of ink hitting your nose in waves. It’s a high, an unparalleled sense of elation and pride all embodied by 16 pages of mechanically ground wood pulp. But alas, the bliss of breaking my reporting drought soon faded and in its place doubts filled my head. This was not what I wanted to be writing. Sure it was cool (I was shaking with excitement for hours after I left the interview), but whom did it help? What was its purpose? I wanted my writing to have a purpose, to do something. I didn’t want to just have some passing byline that a hungover college student skimmed over a morning cup of coffee. I wanted my words to have meaning. I just wasn’t (am not?) sure how to do that at this point.

I suppose that sort of brings things full circle. There is no real conclusion to this post as I guess I’m still looking for it. Writing is my passion, and I want to use that to help people (wow that sounded lame), but I’m just not sure if that’s the best way to go about it at this point. I have this vision of just buying a plane ticket to some war ravaged area like the Congo or Syria and just reporting on my experiences there while volunteering in some way, but I feel like that’s not the most realistic of plans. Plus, I don’t think I’d make it because my mother would skin me alive before I got within 10 miles of an airport. I’ve been thinking about declaring pre-law recently. I think it might be time to get practical about things. That’s not to say I’ve given up on journalism (I’m far too much of a hopeless romantic to do such a drastic thing), but I want to make a difference in the world, as naïve as that may sound. If journalism turns out to be the way to achieve that, then so be it. But I suppose only time will tell (that sounded nonchalant but please know that I lay awake at night stressing about my future at least 5/7 days a week). Until next time.

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