Picture this: young college sophomore striving to produce news articles and stories at par with professionals who boasted decades of experience. Needless to say, my first few articles were horrible. I’d take an entire week to produce a one or two page article. All my documents came back covered with red ink for edits. Worse of all, my brain was still functioning on British english, so I wrote “colour,” “spelt” and “dustbin.” And seemed silly as heck!
Let's backtrack a little.
In the fall of 2014, I took my first on-campus job. I’ve been at that position till date and I have a few things to say about my boss.
That semester seemed like everything was going pretty well. I was about to declare my International Relations and English majors, and was doing well on the prerequisite courses. I had friends and I was generally okay.
Somewhere down the line,I realized that I needed a personal source of income, so I decided to get an on campus job. The naira wasn’t doing very well and elections were coming up. Things could get worse. Some of my friends worked at the library, mail services, dining halls, and administrative offices.
I wanted a job which would require some brain effort and add to my qualifications and skills in some way. I was a beggar with a horse.
On the online portal, I found this position for a media relations intern at the office of communications. I read the job description and I fell in love with the position. I applied and submitted writing samples.
I was invited for an interview, which I took most seriously. Really though, the interview was just a conversation with my boss to be. We spoke about a lot of things; ebola, my heritage as a Nigerian, my potential majors, and my qualifications for the job. Sure, I liked to write, I was going to be studying english language after all. I had done well enough in my writing and literature classes, but that was about it.
The Sunday after the interview, I “sowed a seed” at church. I made a financial offering to God and asked Him to receive my offering by giving me the job.
On Wednesday, shortly after my Economic Development class in Gamble 116B, I received an email that I had been offered the job. Sure, it seemed like just an on-campus position writing for my college website, but to me, it was much more than that.
It was a prayer answered, and a promise fulfilled.
But here’s where it gets even more interesting.
I had the most amazing, patient, and encouraging boss I ever could have asked for.
My boss, Julia, would call me into her office, sit me down, and teach me how to write. This surely was not part of her job description as a boss. If anything, it was my responsibility to improve my writing and bring it to par with the job requirement, but Julia always reminded me that she had hired me for an “internship.” The stakes were the same but she also really wanted me to grow. She gave me notes, tips and recommended books.
With every article that came back with red squiggly lines came a ton of encouragement. It took years for her to learn how to write according to journalistic style, and it took kind bosses who believed in her, she often told me.
She knew that I could do it. I only had to be careful and patient with myself.
Often, I got frustrated because I believed that I knew how to write. At that stage in my life, I expected that I would be able to produce an excellent article or news story. Not that my writing was horrible per se, it just wasn’t the style that the job required. It was verbose and flowery. It was more English major than IR major. Haha. But Julia taught me how to tighten my sentences and maintain one voice/ thought throughout any given piece.
When last year, I started staying up pretty late to complete readings and prepare for classes, such that I was waking up late and showing up late to work, Julia remained patient.
She did once or twice remind me that I was an adult, who was expected to be responsible for my life choices and show professionalism at work. She kept me at my job nonetheless.
Last week when she told me that she was leaving to a higher position, I reminded her of all the kind things that she had done for me in the past, but in true Julia fashion, she was full of praise for me. She told me about how I had grown as a writer, how I always took feedback without grumbling, and how I always paid attention to her instructions.
I laughed with gratitude because at some point, my job literally was a prayer point. I was struggling to understand all the feedback and I felt really dumb. Like, was I slow to learn? Or hard of hearing? Or was I just living in denial about my basic grammar and composition skills.
I once heard that when looking for a job, especially early on in your career, look for a great boss, and not a great position. Although you may not be able to determine from an interview who a great boss will be, take the chance with the person who you believe will build you and improve your skills.
Julia did not babysit me and my writing. She gave me tough love a lot of the time, and boy am I grateful for that. She did not set the standard lower because I was a student or a young writer, she groomed me and helped me improve my skills. I have become more confident that tough times will pass, and that with hard work and tenacity, I truly can improve myself as a writer, a scholar, and even an employee.
This summer, my boss at my internship asked me to summarize an article. I asked for feedback after she read it. She told me that I am a very strong writer. Very strong writer. American colloquialisms. Strong writer. I know in my heart that it’s mostly thanks to Julia, who taught me to write and rewrite, edit and re-edit. Get to your point and stop dancing around it! Believe that you can, and will improve.
I’ll miss Julia immensely. But I sure know that I’ll never forget the one person who sat me down and taught me the art of writing. Especially journalistic writing.
If you’re curious, please check out Mount Holyoke College website, search my name, and you’ll see some of the articles I’ve written.
Featured image from giphy.