It’s true. I was.
Back at the University of Delaware, I was really good. For real. I was editor of the student newspaper, lined up sweet internships, was hired by The Tennessean (a large metro daily) out of school at age 22. Hot shit.
In Nashville, I was even more of a hotshot. The newspaper’s editor, Frank Sutherland, used to hand out monthly awards for the best work. I probably won 11 or 12 of those things. I was even sent to New Orleans to write 3,000 words on this young college quarterback named Peyton Manning. Yeah, I was cocky and walked with a strut. But, hey, I was hot. Sizzling.
At 24, I was hired by Sports Illustrated. Shot up the masthead … senior writer by 26. Damn! Senior writer at SI. My dream. I was the man. No, The Man. Covering Major League Baseball, hitting up the World Series and All-Star Game; John Rocker uttering racist junk, Will Clark screaming at me. Book deal. Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot shit.
Here’s the thing, though: Hotshots don’t last. Really, they don’t. We all get older; we fade away; we all settle in. New hotshots come along, thinking they’re the greatest ever invented. Long-ago hotshots die off. The bills mount, the family grows, the concerns change. It becomes less about being the best and winning awards, and more about finding elusive happiness and contentment. You understand that being a hotshot wasn’t actually that hot. You were smug and holier than thou and of the belief that what you did (what I did) mattered. Day’s end, it’s just writing. Just writing.
Whereas once fellow hotshots were cause for scorn, now they garner, well, sympathy. You look and think, “I hope they come to realize that being a hotshot isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; isn’t all that’s important in the world.”
I know plenty of 22-year-old hotshots who, in their 40s and 50s, still think themselves to be hotshots. It’s an ugly phenomenon, because it suggests a lack of perspective that, at this point, may well never come. I can’t imagine, at 40, ever pining for awards or recognition or fame. I just can’t.
I still care about doing excellent work; still want to be read and enjoyed. I just refuse obsess over it.
I’d rather play with my kids.