Monday, June 30, 2008

If the shoe fits ...

When I was 7 or 8 years old my mother bought me the first pair of shoes I ever wholeheartedly fell in love with. They screamed LOOK AT ME, I AM SO COOL, and I wore those shoes everywhere — to Girl Scout meetings, out on the bike trails and to church (much to my mother's distress).

I was a tomboy and didn't care that they were boys' shoes. I would have slept in them if I could. They were me, and I rocked those fabulous black-and-white checkered Vans.

Those shoes also gave me ambition. For so long, I had reluctantly answered, "nurse" every time someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. All of my aunts were nurses, and it seemed to be the thing to do in my family. It was my lot in life, and I'd accepted it.

Until those shoes.

In a matter of seconds I had become thoroughly convinced that I would be a "shoe salesperson" when I grew up. I would outfit the world with uber cool black-and-white checkered shoes.

I proudly announced my chosen career path to anyone who would listen ... as I bopped around in my new kicks to illustrate my great taste in footwear. It was my calling, and no one could stop me.

No one. ... That is, until that newspaper reporter visited my seventh-grade journalism class four years later.

In my middle school world he was the definition of hip. I could almost picture him wearing a fedora with his press pass wedged beneath the ribbon. He talked about covering trials, visiting crime scenes and interviewing all sorts of interesting people. His name appeared at the top of every story that MILLIONS of people probably had the pleasure of reading.

That reporter played the role of society's watchdog by fighting injustice with his pen, and that man became my hero over the course of the one-hour class he lead. He challenged us to write every day, to pay attention to the news and to speak out against the wrongs in society.

I was hooked. Anytime I saw a newspaper I read it - front to back. I began paying attention to the evening news, and CNN became my channel of choice. Forget "Beverly Hills 90210," I had a date every evening with Peter Jennings on ABC's "World News Tonight."

When it came time to apply for colleges, I had no problem listing my intended major. My friends struggled to figure out what they wanted to study, but I was firm in my decision. I would be a newspaper reporter, and that was that.

At my university I was the managing editor for our student newspaper. I loved it most days, but the stresses of maintaining a good enough GPA for my scholarship and working what essentially became a full-time job at the paper really wore on me. I chalked it up to everyone's experience in college and, in addition to my other job, accepted a freelance position with the local newspaper covering agriculture. I would win a Pulitzer Prize someday, and it would all be worth it.

After college I took a job covering higher education for a couple of years in South Georgia. I truly loved my job. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the politics of higher ed., and learned a little about photography as well.

Since then I've had two other jobs in newspapers. There are times when I wish that reporter had never visited my seventh-grade journalism class, and I wonder what I would be doing now had I not gotten bit by the journalism bug. I think I'd be some sort of designer - whether it be graphic design or interior design.

But don't we all wonder where we'd be had someone — or something — not influenced our decision to become what we are today? I like to think so.

Who knows what I'll be doing 10 years from now. Maybe I'll still be in newspapers, but then again maybe I'll be running my own shoe store. You never know when my inner 8-year-old will emerge.

Maybe, just maybe, you'll see me strutting down the street in a pair of black-and-white checkered Vans again.