Two hours ago I was sitting on a bench along Manhattan Beach’s main pier. I had just finished taping my final segment of Jim Rome for the week, and there was some time to kill. The sun was shining. The temperature was, oh, 80ish. A bunch of young teens were surfing, riding miniature waves toward the shore. The last few bites of a delicious Nutella-flavored ice cream rested in a cup to my right.
“Man,” I thought, “I’m a lucky dude.”
Then, without pause, I thought back to a conversation I’d recently had with my neighbor, Andy Dallos. Andy is a producer for Rachel Maddow’s show. He’s worked for myriad networks, has traveled the world, has interviewed fascinating people from all walks. Great guy, great career. “People wonder how you survive in this profession,” he said. “The secret is hard work.”
I am lucky. I was raised by parents who supported me; who paid for my college tuition; who allowed me to take their car to Urbana, Illinois in the summer of 1992 for an internship. I chose a university (Delaware) with a strong journalism program; I’ve met wonderful people who have gone out of their way to not only help me, but protect me. Again, I’m lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.
Luck, however, isn’t enough. Wanna make it in journalism? Wanna write for SI or appear on ESPN or announce Redskins games every fall Sunday? Here’s the big secret (don’t tell anyone): Bust. Your. Ass.
Bust your ass. I used to tell this to my Manhattanville students alllllllllll the time, and I mean it. Work hard. Harder than hard. Set a goal, find a dream—then pursue it like no one else out there. I recall, vividly, covering the 1992 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, when Delaware played Cincinnati in Dayton, Ohio. I was given a spot on press row, right alongside a fellow college journalist who had interned at Sports Illustrated. I remember him telling me about the experience; bragging about connections and his Ivy League background and how the magazine doesn’t just take anyone.
“To hell with that,” I thought.
Following my sophomore year in college, I applied for 105 internships. I was offered one.
Following my junior year in college, I applied for 150 internships. I was, again, offered one.
I didn’t give a shit. I covered everything for my college paper; drove out to Urbana and snagged a solid 60 clips that summer; spent the next summer in Nashville, again winding up with about 60 clips. I wasn’t just eager—I was manic. I would pitch story idea after story idea. I would write about anything. Literally, anything. If you were an editor, and you needed something written, call me. Not only that, I studied my head off. Not text books, but articles. Sports Illustrated was my Bible—ledes, transitions, phrasing. Mike Freeman, who came before me at Delaware, was a beat writer for the New York Times, and I never missed an article. “How does he do that? What’s the order of those words?” Etc.
Quite simply, there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to become a sports writer. And every time someone told me to be realistic, or think about law, or say, “It’s really hard to break into,” I’d put my head down and go harder, faster, stronger.
And here I was, earlier today, on a beach.
For the record, I am not writing this to brag. I’m far from the best writer in America, or the most successful writer in America. Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” sold more than my six books put together. I’m not especially good looking, or smart, or dashing. I’m 100-percent aware of this.
I just think too many up-and-comers today miss the golden concept. They seek out advice, and internships, and wisdom, and resume stuffers, without committing to the one ideal (hard work) that can take almost anyone toward a dream. If you know what you want—and you’re sure you want it—stop sitting around, hoping.
Chase the dream.