Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Thursday evening, in between wrapping plates in recycled newspapers and stacking limited-edition hardcover books into a dresser drawer (I moved into a new apartment over the weekend), I took three suit jackets off their racks and slipped them on, one-by-one. I had recently purchased each coat for $5 apiece at Junior League Jumble at the beginning of February, a steal. They fit well enough, not too tight around the chest, and the sleeves were the right length. However, when I looked into the mirror, my reflection sighed back at me.
Let me rewind. Earlier in the week, I decided I would visit colleges and universities in the Jackson metro to put up some flyers. We are welcoming the chance to work with new freelance writers, and after joining the Jackson Free Press straight after graduating from the University of Mississippi, where I held editing positions with The Student Printz and had many talented colleagues, I knew that college students branching into journalism held enormous potential.
Since stepping up into my current position of deputy editor in September, I have become well acquainted with the Jackson Free Press' pool of freelance writers. I offer them story assignments, help them get connected with their sources and schedule interviews, edit and give feedback on their articles and more. I enjoy cultivating cordial, professional relationships with them, so the idea of recruiting seemed like it would be fun. Plus, I was ahead of my workload, so I had the time.
That said, I am self-aware of how youthful I appear. I am barely over 5-foot-3, and I have a somewhat rounded face my dear friend Aaron likes to describe as "cherub-like" (sigh, my future best man, ladies and gentlemen).
Anyhow, my various traits together make me appear far younger than I am, as people point out at least a dozen times per year. I usually don't mind it. I often just chime back with, "Hey, that just means when I'm older, I'll still look good for my wife," which usually elicits a chuckle.
While I have had a lifetime in my nearly 24 years to grow accustomed to this sort of thing, I do sometimes struggle with accepting how others may perceive me. I end up self-conscious when I suspect others may not take me seriously on a professional level because I look like a teenager. Now, practically speaking, I know I will meet many professionals who will treat me as a peer—my current co-workers already do—but that paranoia likes to nest in my brain. And when it comes to approaching people around my own age, my tendency to overthink kicks into overdrive.
I see them and wonder whether they will see me or if my secret superpower of social invisibility will kick in again, and they just walk past me while I am trying to catch their attention. I already have a somewhat meek personality and occasionally have difficulty asserting myself, but I also have resolve to do what I know needs done.
Thus, I decided I would do my best to dress for success. I figured if I spruced myself up and wore some extra-nice attire, then I may better convince the college students with whom I would be speaking to listen to my pitch.
Which brings me back to the suit jackets. Guess what? My stubbornly short torso makes them drape well below my waist. Looking in the mirror, I felt more like a kid playing dress-up than I did a professional editor seeking out new coworkers. Re-racking the coats, I decided the rest of the ensemble would just have to do.
Dressed in an ash-gray button-up, charcoal gray slacks and my fiancee's black dress shoes (yes, she and I are the same shoe size), I stepped onto each campus a mixed bag of nervousness, nostalgia and, honestly, excitement. Taking in the sights of the fountains and flowers and gazebos, I enjoyed the adventure. Of course, I sighed once more when I saw a group of touring high-school seniors who looked years older than I do, but I brushed the thought aside. I was on a mission, after all.
After pinning flyers on as many bulletin boards as I could find, I visited English, journalism, and communication professors and other campus representatives to let them know about the freelance opportunities that the JFP offered so that the information could be disseminated to even more students.
Lo and behold, all my worries were misplaced! Everyone I met accommodated me and made me feel welcome. Students looked me in the eye as we discussed the details of what all the freelancing positions entailed. No longer feeling out of place, I never once sensed a shred of annoyance or dismissiveness.
I should have known better. Time and time again, I find myself uplifted by those I encounter while working in my chosen field of journalism.
Instead of burdening myself with unnecessary, self-imposed concerns that weigh me down, I have come to better realize that I should have more confidence in myself and more faith in others. As long as I carry myself as a professional, I believe others will be more likely to perceive me as a professional—coat or no coat, regardless of my cherubic face. That said, I understand that not all lessons can become fully ingrained in the course of a day. As such, I challenge myself to not let my confidence wane. I may still be a little green in my journey into the editing sphere, but I am here. I am an editor. I am a working professional. And I should remember that. I look forward to seeing how this job continues to shape me. As a matter of fact, I'm also challenging myself to see just how much I can evolve over the next several years. After all, I do not have to look especially grown to continue growing up. Thanks, Jackson!
For anyone interested in joining the Jackson Free Press as a freelance writer, send an updated resume along with some writing samples to [email protected]. Additionally, anyone with tips on possible feature stories can send them along to the same address.