The great English transition


I didn’t start out as an English major.

Wanting to follow in my dad’s footsteps, I started college planning to go into journalism — be a reporter, work at a newspaper, become as intrepid and adventurous as he is. I spent my first year in community college wading through the prerequisites before transferring to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2004, where I learned I’d have to apply to the College of Journalism.

And then I kind of panicked.

When I imagined my lofty journalistic goals, they had nothing to do with . . . well . . . real journalism. In my daydreams, I imagined myself typing self-righteously on a keyboard in a busy newsroom, covering some explosive local news event. I saw myself at the end: polished, professional, well-respected. I visualized all the sparkly, exciting parts without any sense of reality. I never thought about the hard work. I didn’t think about muddling through the middle, working hard to rise to the top.

Isn’t that how it always goes?

Between my sophomore and junior years of college, I actually interned for our local newspaper’s community section. I answered phone calls and emails, tried my hand at laying out pages and wrote a few features on local folks doing good in Southern Maryland. I’ll never forget seeing my name in print for the first time: the extreme thrill, the pride and awe. I still remember my first article on a local theatre director and his immense collection of costumes. I remember my lead, too.

By the time I started schlepping up to College Park every day that fall, I was a little burnt out on the newsroom. I love to write, of course — I’ve always loved to write — but I had an immediate, sinking suspicion that reporting wasn’t going to be my bag. I bonded more with the copy editors and editors themselves: those who craft their own sentences from time to time, yes, but mostly tinker with others’ words.

I like tinkering.

But reporting? I’m not a reporter. I lack the edge, the finesse, the dedication of a real journalist. Between my summer at the local paper and the following year’s internship at a D.C. daily, I accepted something I might have known all along: I’m better behind the scenes. My favorite week at the Examiner came when I left the Washington office to proofread pages in Virginia. I’m just better at tinkering.

My journey into the wide world of English came when I was finally honest about that. Though I was nervous to tell my dad I wasn’t planning to get into the newspaper biz, my parents were very supportive as I changed my plan. The same sunny afternoon I called with my idea about switching to a Bachelor of Arts, I marched over to the English building and declared a new major. It was the first time I felt really excited — and not anxious — about the future. I never looked back.

That was the first of many “adult” decisions I made in school: these little transitions that put me on a different path than the one I’d first started marching down. It was a scary moment to veer off a course I felt had been laid for a long time, but I’m proud of having made the decision — especially because it was the right one for me.

Of course, ironically, I did still go into journalism . . . though not as a reporter. I was hired as an assistant editor in 2007 and have spent all of my young career here. In 2009, I was tapped to write a local personal column that has evolved into more than I could have ever expected — and despite veering into English rather than journalism, I’m still living the dream I had as a kid: writing. Writing for a living.

So life takes us where we need to be, I’d say.

Linking up with Blogtember today on a time my life took a turn.

13 thoughts on “The great English transition

  1. Actually, that decision you made was well beyond where most people get. So many just trudge along, following a path that they THINK they should be on, and don’t even question it. Until they are 45 and burnt out in a career that they never really liked in the first place.


  2. It is amazing how that can happen! My first major was music education and I switched to political science ha šŸ˜‰ of course, I’m not really using that now (or that law degree). Life is full of twists and turns!


  3. I also was originally a journalism major. I loved working in newsrooms (I was a copyeditor) but was TERRIFIED to approach people I didn’t know for interviews. Sophomore year I switched my major to advertising ā€” still get to write, but don’t have to talk to people unless I want to!


  4. So cool! I almost went to University of Maryland. If I had, I probably would have gone for journalism. I’m happy for you, that you made your own choice and went for what you wanted! I’m happier editing and “tinkering” too, so I totally relate ; )


  5. I began college as Pre-journalism, and then got nervous about being accepted in J school, making a living etc. I changed to business, a safe route. I wanted to work for a newspaper, or magazine, I did see myself writing novels too. Some 30 something years later I’m happy with my blog…and you never know what will happen.

    I really enjoyed this post!


  6. Isn’t it crazy how life works out for the better! Someone once told me its the surprisese that get thrown your way that makes life interesting. So true! Great post!


  7. Love the article! Also, I was an English major in college, but in case you do read some of my posts please forgive my word bulimia throughout my posts. I just so desperately wanted to get my story out there plus more. Thanks again! -Miriam (unlikelyawkward1985)


  8. I love this post. And I think that it is safe to say that most people have a similar experience. Life takes us where we are ultimately meant to be. Or at least, that is what I choose to believe.

    I definitely didn’t picture myself where I am today. And yet, I know that I have found something that fits for me. And I also found my little passion through declaring myself an English major much to the chagrin of my family who worried I would be eternally penniless because of my decision.


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