Dream. Do.

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.”

Bingo.

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.

Hard work.

4 thoughts on “Dream. Do.”

  1. Jeff –

    This is a really interesting and inspirational article about what it takes to make it in that industry. I myself am a young man who is trying to find his way in the world knowing that writing and be involved in sports media is my calling. Unfortunately my opportunities are few and far between. I frequently find myself discouraged and down about my plight, but reading something like this lets me know that is possible. I also wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed sweetness and appreciate all the work that you put into it.

  2. This is all good information, but a bit of old school. Striving to work for one of the established news or sports organizations is well and good, however those jobs are disappearing daily and they pay less and less.

    If you really want to establish yourself as a journalist, establish your brand first. Write a blog about what you want to cover, but either know what the hell you are writing about or DO NOT write about it. That means, if you want to write about NASCAR, you need to go to races and know the people involved. If its the NFL, or NBA or Washington, D.C. or local politics, get to know the players, you must be there to write about it. Ask the tough questions, but don’t look to embarrass the person. Don’t be the idiot who sits in front of the computer all day eating Cheetos and thinks he’s got an opinion about everything. No one cares! Know your subject, write with conviction and stick with it, even if you’ve got to support yourself with two jobs while you’re working to establish yourself.

    THAT is how you make a name for yourself in journalism. Then, when you get that job at SI or the NYT, you make some decent money, but you have to deal with editors who only care about deadlines and little else, despite your situation on the ground. And often you’re stuck writing about something you don’t want to write about.

    Those big name outlets sound attractive and maybe you will get a gig there. But, be careful what you wish for. Follow your heart, not your ego.

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