Fourteen years ago--and no, I cannot believe it has been that long--I spent the first Tuesday in November in a downtown Chicago newsroom covering local and state elections. I called in voting results from a now-forgotten-in-my-mind government office that belonged to the monolith that is the ThompsonCenter/DaleyCenter/CityHall/CookCounty collection of buildings in the South Loop.
It felt strange to be in a government building so very late at night--and with so many other people. I remember realizing that one of the journalists crowded into that room was an on-air reporter for a local TV station, who periodically did a stand-up to update viewers at home on the vote. As always, I uneasily wondered just how friendly I was supposed to be with those who surrounded me--we were all reporters, sure, but we were also competitors.
The next day, after a late night of reporting, writing, and yes, celebrating at a nearby bar, I went back to the newsroom at what seemed like an ungodly early hour after such a short night. I'm sure I suspended my strict graduate school budget in favor of a latte fix to get me through the day: a classmate and I had to write a story about the results for the next day's paper.
As we reviewed our assignment, my classmate, who was smart, thoughtful, and incredibly nice even for a Midwesterner, seemed to get a wee nervous about everything that needed to happen to get our story done. Shockingly, I did not, which would have been far more in character. After all, I'd been waking up at 1:30 a.m. nearly every night for the previous two years, thanks to the stress (much of it self-imposed) of being a schools reporter for a weekly paper in small-town Virginia. Not surprisingly given such lovely work-related sleep habits, I had decided that I clearly was not meant to be a daily newspaper reporter.
Yet here I was, on the day after the election, doing just that--writing and reporting a daily story on deadline like it was no big deal. I talked my classmate off the journalistic ledge. We made a reporting plan. We called people. We shared notes. And yes, we filed our story on time . As we worked on the piece, I realized something had changed during my journey from Virginia to Chicago. Gone was the familiar feeling of white-knuckled dread that had become my very unwelcome but persistent deadline companion. Gone were the doubts that had absolutely plagued me since I left my "safe" job as an associate magazine editor for the opportunity--and challenge--of being a small-town newspaper reporter.
In their place, I found a truly unexpected faith in my abilities to make a story happen, even when so much was unknown and uncontrollable. Maybe my dream of being a journalist wasn't so crazy after all.