‘Self-made’ an unreachable, undesirable goal

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Awards banquets in the journalism community have always felt like high school reunions to me – the odds of running into people who have seen me crying on a college newsroom floor at 2 a.m. is high, conversation is steady and superfluous, and there are a lot of people there who are just more successful enough than me that it makes me nervous.

Perhaps you can relate.

Sometime or other, we all find ourselves facing check points. Our lives run into that great standard that delineates how we have measured up so far.

Awards banquets in the journalism community have always felt like high school reunions to me – the odds of running into people who have seen me crying on a college newsroom floor at 2 a.m. is high, conversation is steady and superfluous, and there are a lot of people there who are just more successful enough than me that it makes me nervous.

Perhaps you can relate.

Sometime or other, we all find ourselves facing check points. Our lives run into that great standard that delineates how we have measured up so far.

Maybe, for you, that measuring stick actually is your high school reunion. Maybe it is your quarterly job review or that big birthday coming up or meeting up with your far-away relatives over the holidays.

When I was running cross country at Southwestern, and easily the slowest member of the team, it was a daily struggle not to become discouraged by the great times my teammates were clocking. They seemed to have endless energy and speed I could only dream of. Sometimes, midrace, I would wonder what I was even doing on the course if I was just going to fall across the finish line, exhausted and in last place.

It is hard not to compare ourselves to others. What an easy way to define our own success.

If comparison was indeed the only measure, then the East County Californian had a very successful night at the Society of Professional Journalists awards banquet on Tuesday night.

Our newspaper’s sports coverage of El Cajon Valley’s boys soccer team’s 2017 state championship run took first place, and a feature story on a former Mount Miguel Matador thrower who is now shaking things up on an international level placed second.

ECC reporter Ana Nita took home a third place award for her story on the eagles at Lake Jennings.

As editor, it was a proud moment to see our publication recognized for the work we do to share the stories of our community.

But I could not help examining the people gathered to celebrate the Excellence in Journalism awards.

Both my faculty advisors from Southwestern College’s student newsroom as well as San Diego State’s The Daily Aztec were present, accompanied by a slew of former classmates, some of whom have moved on to jobs at the Voice of San Diego and the Union-Tribune. Other classmates, some that I once trained in those newsrooms, are now assuming student editor positions. The looked so cool and confident in their black tie attire, ready to take on the world. In many ways, some of them already have.

Around me, also, were mentors. I am lucky to have many, and luckier still to be able to run into them often at events likes these. I see these men and women who took me under their wing as a journalist, a starving college student, a new editor or just someone who did not know how to fill out a valet service card.

Remember to tip, folks.

Even more prominent a presence were the people I have not yet met but know by reputation. That room was filled with great journalists and I hope one day to serve my community with the steadfastness and aplomb with which they do.

Getting awards for non-daily sports reporting is exciting until you listen the Journalist of the Year give his “thank you” address and hear his charge to be better at what we do for the sake of nation and our neighbors. Then you think, “boy, do I have a long way to go.”

Or maybe that is just me. Maybe I am too competitive and no one else compares themselves to their friends and family, ticking off the number of kids or figures in their salary like some kind of checklist for success.

If you have been following pop culture, you will have seen that Kylie Jenner has been proclaimed a “self-made” woman by Forbes. She is on her way to becoming the world’s youngest billionaire, or something exciting like that.

The internet, of course, had a field day.

“Self-made?” Really? It hardly seems fair to say that she is so much farther ahead of everyone else in a race where she was pretty much born on the finish line, wealth and fame already in her lap.

Self-made means coming up from nothing, all on your own, right?

One tabloid article of Jenner framed the 20-year-old’s success with a question to its readers: What are you doing with your life? The online discussion included the testimonies of people who have become public defenders, teachers, librarians and grassroots political activists, all pointing out that they view themselves as very successful people who contribute immensely to society and have found personal fulfillment. One person even went so far as to admit that probably none of us are really self-made. No one can really make it from the ground up without any help.

I am not a Kardashian fanatic – I would rather be Googling pictures of Prince George of Cambridge than watch a show about “America’s royalty” – but the whole issue has set my thoughts to pasture.

What do I consider success to be in my own life, and can I get there on my own?

Whatever small measure of achievement I have been able to claim up to this moment I owe in great deal to others, not the least of which is the former editor of this paper, Albert Fulcher.

Certainly, I could not have become the journalist I am today without the help of my faculty advisor at Southwestern College, Max Branscomb, who went to bat for me as a woman in sports reporting when not everyone on campus was excited about the idea of a girl trooping around the school dugouts. I also have to thank him for teaching me how to write a lede and kill a semicolon.

Lyndsay Winkley, who now writes for the U-T, has been my fairy godmother in this community of journalism since the day I stepped into my first newsroom. She showed me how to write and interview and all that good stuff, sure – but she also showed me how to be a journalist, how to suck it up when things get tough and tell the hard stories.

My friends and colleagues, Mirella Lopez, Andrew Dyer, Cristofer Garcia, Alberto Calderon, Brian del Carmen and so many more, ought to get a little credit, if for no other reason than for all the days they covered my lunch when I was broke and hungry or drove me to campus when my car was totaled or insisted that, for my own mental health, we all drop what we were doing and watch a Spanish-language comedy flick instead. Even more often, they have challenged my thinking, encouraged my work and supported my efforts with investments of their own time.

None of us are really self-made. Every step of our lives is guided by dozens of people who love us in different capacities, helping us from behind the curtain.

What a responsibility that puts at our feet, then, knowing that we also have the power to help others succeed to heights yet unknown.

If life is a race, we are racing together. We are a team, pushing one another on toward the finish. And, ultimately, it does not matter who finishes first or fastest. What matters is that we all complete our own race.

The awards are simply a bonus.

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