‘It is OK to not know exactly what the hell’s going on right now’

Madeline Coleman, one of my former students and now an intern with Sports Illustrated, described Jourdan Rodrigue as “the pep talk queen.” And she is that. Jourdan is a writer for the Athletic, covering the L.A. Rams. At Madeline’s suggestion, I asked Jourdan to speak with what I call my post-grad class. (I started this informal group of grads in an effort to keep their skills fresh and spirits up as they search for jobs. This could be the coolest thing I’ve done.) Jourdan’s topic was maintaining sanity during a job search amid a pandemic. And she did not disappoint.

Here are some edited excerpts from her talk.

The job search

“First and foremost, I want you guys to know that it is OK to not know exactly what the hell’s going on right now. Every single editor that you’re going to talk to is very aware that what you are experiencing as sort of a graduating generation is so adverse. Now you’re facing newspapers dying, the digital landscape changing, and some companies changing more rapidly than ever before. I mean, it’s like, what the hell, and so it is absolutely OK to not know what comes next.

“It’s OK to continue to give yourself the patience of finding your path. There are a ton of different paths and a ton of different twists and turns that your own path is going to take you on. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to have that fear of the unknown, and it’s OK to understand that your path is not going to look like everybody else’s, particularly right now.

“When I started my career, I was being told by all of my professors at the at the Cronkite School at Arizona State that ‘newspapers are dying. Good luck.’ And I panicked. I took the first job that I was offered. I was covering the Seattle Storm, the WNBA team, but I was doing it from an in-house perspective. I wasn’t doing real beat reporting, which I knew for forever that I wanted to be a beat writer. But I was making it work because here was a job that was getting me writing reps. It wasn’t the way that I ever thought I would start my career. I thought I was going to start my career like, ‘OK, I’m going to cover college football for five years, then I’m going to become a columnist on a college football beat, then I’m going to go national.’

“But it’s never exactly what you think it’s going to be. When I started out, my writing reps as a professional were in a PR space. I leveraged those articles into covering all the events that nobody wanted to do and that more established writers wouldn’t take and that was freelance. And then I was assembling emails for Fox Sports. Like, literally, I was writing lists for emails for Fox Sports from 4 a.m. to noon every day to pay my rent and then going and covering like the garbage-time articles that nobody wanted to do.

“And that’s OK because it led to more and more clips piling up and more and more resumes getting sent out, and one day after another of me really freaking hating what I was doing, but then it leading into things I love to do.

“You just never know what’s going to take you to where you feel in your soul that you’re supposed to be. And so, yes, the anxiety is very, very, very strong. Yes, the unknown is very, very strong, but it’s OK to sort of deviate from the path that you always thought you were supposed to be on. every success looks different to everybody.”

Dealing with imposter syndrome

“That voice in your head: ‘Why should I apply for that job? They’re probably looking for more experience. They’re probably looking for someone with X, Y, or Z on their resume.’

“What if I just went out and did it anyway. What’s really the worst thing that could happen? Could they say no? Could someone not like your story? What’s really the worst that could happen because if you reframe it in your mind at the end of the day, you still are succeeding. Because you went out and did it anyway.

“Being told no really stinks. It really, really stinks being told you suck. But at the end of the day, you’re always going to hear that from somebody. You’re not getting like your fingernails peeled off or anything. So if that’s really the worst thing that can happen, then what the hell? Then why don’t we just try and why don’t we just do and why don’t we kind of give the finger to that voice and and just go out and try to be who we are, anyway.

“I think my generation’s job to make sure that your generation understands that it is OK to fail. It’s OK to feel sometimes like you’re not good enough. It is not OK to let it control your life. The secret is, you don’t have to let it control you. It doesn’t own you. It doesn’t have any power. It’s not paying your rent for you; it’s not putting money in your wallet. It’s not bringing joy to your life. It doesn’t have any power over you.”

Dealing with trolls and harassment

“It’s like an ever-evolving process. Some days, you’re able to laugh it off, and then other days, you’re like, oh my god. There were days where things are really, really quiet, and  there were days in my career where I couldn’t stay at my own house. For me, it’s like, ‘well, why don’t you lose weight in your face’ or, ‘you know, why don’t you make an effort, like the TV reporters.’

“I think an ongoing process of growth and learning how to tune out those voices. What really helped me was being very intentional about some of the conversations that I would have with editors, or with colleagues, and developing support groups in that regard. And I’ll tell you, like the women who cover the NFL,  we’re all in one massive text thread.

“What do we think this person is doing, sending me this nasty message? I can either let what happened two minutes ago control my entire day, or I can, say, seek out a voice that matters to me, have a sip of this really good coffee or go pet a dog. I would  say, find a support system like a place where you can just vent it all out, a safer space where you have voices that you trust.”

Dealing with layoffs

“Am I ever going to feel safe in what I’m doing and am I ever going to be secure? Am I ever going to be comfortable? The answer is no.

“If you are seeking this profession because you want to be safe and want to be secure, those jobs are very, very rare in sports journalism and and in regular journalism. You have to attack and approach every single day, like, here I am, this is what I know I want to do with my life. And this is why I’m here. You start to stack enough of those days all in a row where you just give it what you have. Despite chaos and noise and scariness of the uncertainty, and all a sudden you have this massive body of work that you’re really proud of. Even if you are let go, you’ll find something else, because that’s the kind of work ethic that you have. And that’s the kind of talent that you’ve displayed.”

Dealing with no jobs

“There is a tendency, particularly as young people leave into the job market, to look around and see a lack of opportunity and a lack of jobs and sort of this decline in what the opportunities are that we always dreamed of doing. There is a habit that young people fall into as ‘this is my fault, somehow. I chose wrong. I studied all the wrong things for four years, all of these things that are happening around me, I did the wrong thing.

“The number one thing you need to make sure you’re reminding yourself is what’s happening right now is not your fault. And you didn’t do the wrong thing by deciding on what you want to do and for working toward that. You did not do the wrong thing by making the choice you did for what you wanted to do this is outside of your control, you cannot control this.

“The second part is focusing on what you can control, and the things you can control are providing structure for yourself and your life. So that you can literally feel at the end of the day, I know that everything around me is outside of my control but I accomplished this thing on my checklist and for that I am to be celebrated. And I can celebrate myself because I’ve done that for me what it was was I’m going to send out five resumes per day.

“It could be anything. I’m going to send out five resumes per day. It could be incredibly lofty aspirational things. It could be something completely outside my what I thought was my field of interest. It could be something that you know would be a very entry level position. It could be anything. 

“And if I can check that off my list. I am to be celebrated. Because with all of this happening outside of my control. I have accomplished this, and setting up structure for yourself. For me, it took eight months of doing that before I got my job covering Penn State football. Other people around me, it was two resumes, a week, and it took them two weeks. Other people around me didn’t find anything and they realized they wanted to do something outside of journalism and were happy doing that.

“The act of providing structure for yourself and reimagining that conversation that you have, instead of ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t control this. And I’m just going to be swept by this riptide that’s that’s coursing through our economy right now, OR I‘m going to create this task for myself. I accomplish this task and I have done what I can today to make my life better for myself and that should be celebrated, absolutely should be celebrated.”