Breaking out of my comfort zone, into journalism

A student reflects on his experience reporting while being an introvert.

When I decided to study journalism, the decision initially brought me mixed feelings. For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to breaking news stories, read intriguing articles and studied iconic photos, with great awe. The field was always something that interested me.

But I had some doubts and concerns about my chance at participating in it because of my personality. Last year, I wrote an essay for The Temple News about my initial fears studying journalism as an introvert. Since then, I feel I’ve grown into the role.

As an introvert, I spend much of my time alone, thinking and not really socializing a lot with other people. Even among a large group of people, I often feel isolated, alone and distant. I’m usually quiet, not very vocal, and I don’t normally interject myself into situations unless I’m called upon. A potential career in journalism, which would require regular interviews and conversations, wasn’t one that seemed like a natural fit for me.

But I’ve always enjoyed writing, learning new things and storytelling. The thing that intimidated me about journalism, however, was the thought of going to places I’d never been and having to approach people I’d never met.

I can remember an assignment for one of my first journalism classes: go out into the city and interview random strangers. I immediately started to overthink and stress myself out.

That stress and anxiety overwhelmed me for several days, as I contemplated which topic to choose and what questions to ask. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I felt that I owed it to myself to at least give it a try.

After some of the anxiety subdued and I finally decided on my topic — sports — I wrote everything out: how I was going to introduce myself, how I was going to explain what I was doing and my list of questions to ask. I practiced my approach alone dozens of times until I felt comfortable.

Finally, on a cold December evening, I stood outside the Wells Fargo Center, a couple hours before a Philadelphia 76ers game. After getting rejected by the first few people I approached, all those feelings of stress and anxiety intensified.

But once I found someone who was willing to talk to me, I felt some relief. My knees weren’t shaking so much, I wasn’t stumbling over my words and my heart no longer raced.

After a while — and some more class assignments — interviewing people and trying to make conversation didn’t feel like such a chore. In fact, I actually enjoyed listening to people’s opinions about topics they’re passionate about.

Last year when Writers Resist, an online journal focused on democracy, was hosting events across the country, I was assigned my first event coverage as a student journalist. I sat for hours at the National Museum of American Jewish History and listened to dozens of journalists, authors and poets read excerpts from various literature.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect at the event, but I actually really enjoyed it. Afterward, I interviewed a few participants, including Nathaniel Popkin, a Philadelphia-based writer. It was the first time I interviewed someone in the profession I hoped to have someday. Despite the dread I often feel when talking to new people, I’m glad I was assigned to cover this event.

Studying journalism has allowed me to hear interesting stories and learn from people. It has encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and explore. I’ve been able to push myself and interact with society, when I might not have otherwise because of my quiet demeanor.

As an introvert, the practice of initiating conversation still presents a challenge for me. With each assignment or event that involves interviewing people, I still get nervous. That remains a learning process for me. As I’ll likely never become an extroverted, outgoing person, I work hard not to let it stop me from doing what I love to do: journalism.

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