I first announced that I wanted to be a journalist as an eager 17-year-old discussing potential career options with my classmates. Journalism intrigued me because I liked knowing that I could leave my mark on the world with my stories.
While I strayed from my chosen field for a few years, graduating with a media degree that required me to focus on advertising in my final year, I eventually moved to Hong Kong to pursue a postgraduate degree in International Journalism in 2013.
I found the university on a list of highly ranked journalism schools in Asia, and was confident that it was the right fit, as I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. It was an experience unlike any other, and the lessons I’ve learned from this profession continue to shape my life today.
Journalism taught me to be empathetic
I felt a rush of adrenaline every time I stepped out to look for a new story, talking to strangers in a bid to discover perspectives I’d never considered before. It felt like a lot of responsibility at first, knowing that people trusted me with their stories.
The stories I picked up as a student in Hong Kong weren’t easy to pursue. I had to convince strangers to speak to me and spend their time and energy helping me with an article for class that they may never get to read. I consciously tried to touch base with every source later in my journalism career, sharing links to published pieces that highlighted their experiences.
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It was hard work, but worth the effort — every conversation helped me grow and appreciate life’s complexities.
For example, while working on a profile of a single mom from the Philippines, I learned that she was forced to leave behind her entire life to make money in Hong Kong as a domestic worker to secure her son’s future. This meant sacrificing time spent with her son who stayed with his grandparents back home. We ended up chatting for a long time in the middle of a busy street in the city, while she lamented that her son didn’t know who she really was. It was an insightful conversation and I spent several days thinking about the interview.
Since then, I pursue other stories with more empathy and patience, spending quality time with my interviewees to allow them to feel at ease as they slowly opened up about their lives.
Journalism taught me to stay resilient
It didn’t take long for me to pick up another important lesson: Persistence is an important life skill that can help you grow and thrive in your career.
Consider this — most of my peers left the media industry for alternative fields such as public relations, while others chose to pursue a second master’s degree. Meanwhile, I tried to stay optimistic as I chased one byline after another, working with editors I admired and forcing myself to stay awake on long night shifts.
I learned to be patient early in my career, knowing that I would have to curate the news and transcribe long interviews for older and far more experienced journalists who would eventually help me network and listen to my story pitches.
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Once in a while, the best ideas would get approved, and I would excitedly write these stories, rereading the drafts until the articles made their way to the published sections of newspapers and magazines.
Sometimes, I got lucky and received sweet emails from readers who expressed their appreciation for a particular story that struck a chord. There were other perks as well: At parties, I never ran out of interesting anecdotes thanks to the nature of my job.
Journalism helped me find ways to stay optimistic
Journalism has allowed me to appreciate diverse perspectives and chase different stories, but it hasn’t always been an easy path to follow. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a former employer decided to move company operations to a different country and offered me an alternative position at a lower salary. This made it necessary for me to hunt for freelance opportunities. I found a long-term gig that kept me afloat for nearly two years as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc across the world.
That’s when another lesson from journalism came in — if you stick around long enough, you’ll learn to rely on your passion. There are days when I don’t hear back from editors and my story pitches go unanswered, and I worry about never making a long-lasting impression. And yet, I remain hopeful, reading stories from other journalists who inspire me and motivate me to chase new story angles. Seeing a new byline never fails to put a smile on my face especially if it’s a story that I am particularly proud of covering.
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On days when I’m plagued by self-doubt, I consciously reflect on the stories that have stayed with me. For example, in 2016, I got the opportunity to interview a social worker battling schizophrenia — he works for an NGO that rehabilitates homeless individuals living with mental illnesses and reunites them with their families. His story was unique: his family had abandoned him and he had to start from scratch, resurrecting his career and making new connections at the NGO. His determination to stay optimistic is something I often go back to.
On most days, I realize that I’m on the right path because I’ve had the chance to tell stories that would’ve otherwise gone unheard. It’s tough to be a journalist but it’s a decision that I embrace every day.