By Caitlin Kelly
Two young friends of ours — both in their early 20s, both talented, ambitious photojournalists — have faced major life and career decisions this week.
The safer path or the one that, literally, is more dangerous physically and emotionally? (Of course that’s the one that will propel him further professionally.)
The more fun, adventurous one — or the one that is more difficult and annoying in some ways, but offers a chance for her to polish needed skills and solidify useful connections?
Jose and I are fortunate to be among the older people they have turned to for advice, fielding their urgent texts, calls and emails as our younger colleagues grapple with which path to choose.
We have given them both our ears, and whatever wisdom we’ve accumulated in our combined 60 years working in news journalism. We don’t have children of our own, so it’s a real honor to be asked for our advice and input. I’m really fond of both these people and wish them only the very best, in their work and in their private lives.
One of the many issues that ambitious young journo’s grapple with is that the best stories, and opportunities, may exist in a city or country that places you at serious risk of injury, even death. Or one that’s a five or 10 or 15-hour flight away from your parents and best friend, let alone your boyfriend.
Jobs are hard to get, hard to keep and even harder to figure out what happens after that…
It’s also difficult for bright, ambitious women to juggle their admirable and ferocious desire to achieve professional success — which likely demands long hours and the ability to deny other emotional needs (see: a boyfriend or girlfriend) — with the very human wish for someone to hug you and hand you a stiff drink at the end of a harrowing day or week.
So, we gave them our best advice, and are crossing our fingers that it will work out well for both of them, whichever path they choose.
But, we all know…
There are no guarantees.
There is no job security.
No one has the right answer.
I’ve made a few momentous choices along the way — leaving behind a live-in boyfriend/dog/career/apartment for an eight-month Paris fellowship; leaving my native Canada to follow a man I loved to rural New Hampshire; arriving in New York City with no job, contacts or American education or work experience, just in time for a recession.
But things worked out — eventually. The fellowship was the best year of my life; I married the man and he walked out after two years of marriage but I now have a much nicer second husband; I’ve since survived two more recessions, but have achieved most of my career goals anyway. It just took longer than I’d hoped or expected.
I think the single most essential tool in your toolkit today is flexibility. If you must only live in one city or work at one company or use one set of skills, you’re toast. If you’re willing and able to pivot, decisions aren’t quite so dire.
Also, low overhead! When you’re crushed by mountains of debt — whether student loans, credit card bills or a huge mortgage — you’ve lost your flexibility.
Here’s one of my favorite songs ever, Father and Son, by Cat Stevens, about making life choices.
And this one, another oldie, by Harry Chapin, Cat’s in the Cradle, about a man now deeply regretting his.
What’s the biggest decision you’ve made?
How did it turn out?
Speaking of decisions — please decide to sign up for one of my blogging, interviewing, essay-writing, freelancing, idea-developing or thinking like a reporter webinars.
Details and testimonials are here: We work via Skype, May 10 and May 17.