In previous columns, I've mentioned how, before I became Acupuncture Today's managing editor, I had a brief career as a sportswriter, covering the Indianapolis Colts football team.
Since this is the September issue, and since September is the start of the football season, I figured this would be a good time to tell you how I got that job, and how it led to the job I have now. While it doesn't have much to do with acupuncture, if you're going to graduate soon or are just starting a practice, there are some good lessons you can learn from this story and apply to your own life.
In July 1997, I came across the Web site for what was then the Indianapolis Star-News. The site had a section devoted to the team, with some nice features (for 1997): a discussion forum so you could talk to other fans, a schedule for the upcoming season, statistics from the previous year, and a copy of the team's roster. What it didn't have was content - "inside" information, like interviews with players and coaches, or commentaries and op-ed pieces on what the team was doing right (and wrong). That's what I wanted, but that's not what the site had.
I visited the site every day for the next three weeks. Only two or three new stories about the Colts were published during that time, and they were laughably bad, canned pieces that could just as easily have been written by some high-school kid. I couldn't believe people were being paid good money for that kind of writing, and I knew - or thought I knew - that I could write better than the people at the Star-News, even though I lived 2,000 miles away.
It was now mid-August, and with no apparent change in the site's coverage, I'd had enough. I e-mailed the site's content manager and gave him a piece of my mind. I said I thought the people who wrote about the Colts were doing a disservice to the paper. I then boasted that I thought I could do a better job covering the team sitting at my computer all the way out in California than those "hacks" in Indianapolis; in fact, if they wanted, I'd write a couple of articles and send them in just to show how much better I was. I sent the e-mail and went to bed, feeling good about letting off some steam, and safe knowing that the Star-News would never be crazy enough to take me up on my offer.
They were that crazy. Two days later, the content manager e-mailed me back. He admitted that the online coverage of the Colts wasn't quite up to par, and that he was trying his best to come up with better stories. He then mentioned that, by the way, the Colts were playing a preseason game against the Chargers in San Diego that Saturday, and would I be interested in covering the game? The offer was simple: If he liked my article, they'd publish it online; if it generated enough interest, I could write a column for the Star-News every week, at the rate of $25 per article.
So, there it was. Put-up or shut-up time. I was now faced with three choices. I could: (a) act as if I'd never received a reply and not respond; (b) reply back and say thanks, but no thanks; or (c) accept his offer and give it my best shot. I chose option C, and spent the next two days trying not to panic.
As luck would have it, a friend who had season tickets to the Chargers decided he didn't want to go to the Colts game, and gave the tickets to me. I drove down to San Diego Saturday morning, watched the game (writing down notes and observations between plays), drove back home, wrote something I honestly wasn't too happy with, and sent it off at about 2:30 Sunday morning.
When I woke up and visited the site Sunday afternoon, my article was there, on the front page of the Colts section. They actually liked it! I read it from start to finish, then read it again. At the end of the article, I noticed the content manager had added a paragraph with a brief introduction about me. It ended with the statement that my column would be a regular weekly feature on the site.
That's how it started. For the next two-plus years, I wrote continuously for the site, growing more comfortable with my writing style and audience each week. Within a few months, I was writing two columns per week (at $50 per article), and getting a pretty constant stream of positive e-mail from readers and fellow Colts fans. By October 1999, when I stopped writing for the Star-News so that I could devote my time to getting AT up and running, I was writing up to four columns a week, and had established contacts with several players, agents, and people in the Indianapolis media. Many of the things I learned writing for the Star-News I have been able to translate to AT, like how to write against a deadline, how to write different types of articles, how to get background information on a particular person or topic, and how to conduct an interview.
So, what's the point of this article? Simply this: There are lessons you can learn from almost everything you do, and while they may not seem apparent at the time, those lessons can lead to better things down the road, and make you a better practitioner - and a better person. Had I not learned from my experiences with the Star-News, I wouldn't be as good at my job with Acupuncture Today. I might not even be here. And even if I hadn't taken the job at AT, the skills I learned writing for the Star-News could serve me well in other lines of work.
I hope I haven't bored you to tears by now. If I have, I'm sorry. So before I go, there are three points I want you to take away from this article and my experiences.
Don't be afraid to speak your mind. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have been as critical of the paper as I was. On the other hand, if I hadn't e-mailed the Star-News, I never would have gotten the opportunity to write for them, which leads to my next point.
When an opportunity comes your way, make the best of it. I was this close to not responding to the content manager's e-mail, but I did. As a result, I have all of these wonderful memories and experiences (trips to Colts games, getting to meet players and coaches) that wouldn't have come about otherwise. And I built a lot of new relationships out of my column; there are Colts fans all across the country that I still talk to and trade e-mails with, based on what I wrote six and seven years ago.
You can do just about anything if you believe in yourself. When I e-mailed the Star-News, I had very little writing experience, other than a few dozen exams and essays I'd written in college. I didn't know I could write a column once a month, let alone once a week, but I believed I could, and my friends believed I could, too. You have to believe you can do something before you can actually do it.