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How I’m Becoming A Real Person

Last week, I participated in a Web 2.0 panel about trust and journalism with Dan Patterson of ABC News and Jen Nedeau of Air America. This was the first panel I’ve sat on and as I look at the past year or so, I’m starting to see a clearer picture of how I’M quickly becoming a real person. I guess I should explain what I mean by being a real person.

In 2005, I moved into my Brooklyn apartment with my girlfriend (now wife) after leading a pretty sedentary life in New Jersey. I went to undergraduate and graduate school in northern New Jersey, taught at two New Jersey Universities and basically resigned myself to the fact that while all my friends were leading professional lives in New York City I would never leave New Jersey. I still had yet to face responsibility (when I was teaching, my first class was at 11, so I woke up pretty late – compared to the rest of the working world). But now that I was living in Brooklyn and not teaching, I had to find a job.

I figured that with a graduate degree and a couple years teaching at the university level, I’d have no problem finding a job.

It took 9 months.

Finally, after a long search, I found work at a PR firm and thus my path, once again, changed direction. Now, I was a working man; waking up at 7:15 to be in the office by 8:30 with most days coming home way past 7:00 (and when my office moved 40 blocks north, it was usually later).

Over the course of the last year, just like everyone else, I’ve had my ups (got married, saw the Yankees win #27, Phish shows, got laid off from an awful PR firm) and downs (getting laid off from an awful PR firm – yes, same one – deaths, illness). And while I’m no longer working in an office (I work from home) I’m in an eerily similar boat, only my outlook and experience are different.

When I was unemployed in 2005, I was confused and had no direction. I was coming from academia and found it difficult to show to potential employers I was capable of media monitoring and writing press releases in the active voice (personally, I find it perfectly acceptable to write in the passive voice – in fact, odds are most people don’t know the difference), but since I entered the real world, the field, the game, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to flash a little glitter to get your substance heard.

In baseball, there’s an old adage from the all-time hits leader on how to be a great hitter: see the ball, hit the ball. It sounds pretty basic, but as any ballplayer (or physicist) will tell you, hitting a round object with another round object, where one object is coming at you at 95 miles per hour isn’t as simple as “see the ball, hit the ball.” As I build out my communications firm, I’m attempting to approach my work in a similar way: know the message, say the message. This holds true not just for me, but for my clients as well.

Over the past several months, I’ve had the opportunity to put that phrase into practice with my guest posts at Mashable, one of the most influential social media blogs in the world and at Mediaite, a leading industry blog. These posts have directly led to me being quoted in Newsweek, MarketingVox and several other blogs and worldwide publications. It also led to increased followers (and perceived increase influence) on Twitter.

Through Twitter, I met Dan and based on hours of conversation (both online and in person), he asked me to sit on this Web 2.0 panel. It dawned on me, as I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a room with about 20 people, that this is what real people do.

A real person has responsibility – whether it’s taking care of family, working (for someone or for yourself), studying – basically, being productive. When I was unemployed, I had a hard time with my sense of self-worth; I had to rely on my family and friends to support me – emotionally and financially. Now, I just rely on them to keep my head straight. But it was tough waking up every morning and having to answer the question: What am I going to do today? Now, I’ve started my own business and answer that question with: Whatever it takes to build and move forward.

(My wife still asks this question, but I think it’s more of interest than concern, as I’m doing some fun stuff and keeping busy)

A real person motivates and produces based on goals, on dreams. They don’t just sit around waiting for something to fall in their lap. That, unfortunately, was my mentality for way too many years.

When I was in college, I thought I was going to be a rock star. I was in a band and we were good, just couldn’t sing. We thought we were going to do this for the rest of our lives. But we were bad at long term thinking (read: making money).

When I was teaching, I had no real vision other than to teach because I was able to choose my own schedule and have a ton of days off. Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of the days off and just sat around playing video games. I was bad at long term thinking (read: making money).

And while I sit at the same desk in front of my computer, just like I did for those long, pain-staking months in 2005-2006, my whole entire life is different – my perspective, my vision and my confidence. It’s difficult not having a job; society turns you into a pariah and you find out that in order to find a job you need to have a job. And while I may not be making as much money as when I was at the awful PR firm, I have time and happiness: two things money can rarely buy (I mean, if I had billions of dollars, yes, I’d have time and most likely happiness).

So as this Thanksgiving approaches, I’m thankful that I’ve taken another giant leap towards becoming a real person and hope that one day, I’ll matriculate into one.

Here’s my panel and I look like a real person, right?

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


One thought on “How I’m Becoming A Real Person

  1. Josh,From one baseball fan to another, I love this post. Especially the "know the message, say the message." :)But, even more importantly, as someone who is about to follow a path similar to yours — starting my own communications consultancy — I love reading stories from people who have gone out on their own and made it work. There are so many nuggets of wisdom in this post that I know will serve as good reminders for me. Thank you for conveying these important lessons. I'm glad to see that you're carving out a niche … and that you love what you're doing. Heather (@prtini)

    Posted by Heather Whaling | November 23, 2009, 8:07 pm

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