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The absolute worst reason to turn down a job

Seven years ago, I interviewed for a job at a digital news publication in Manhattan.

The job was beat reporter. The pay was nothing to brag about, and the demands were intense. I would be responsible for three articles a day. I would have to cover community meetings and protests, fires and crimes, scandals and human interest. And it was expected that I would be out on the street every day — rain or shine, snow or steam — finding the stories that needed to be told.

After two rounds of interviews, the offer came. I had the job, if I wanted it. The question was, did I?

My first reaction was an unequivocal ‘hell no.’ It was too much. I’d always been a feature writer, not a hard-core news reporter. I could very easily be a complete disaster. And I was scared.

I have some very legitimate fears: cockroaches and ghosts, choking when nobody’s home, something bad happening to someone I love.

I also have some not-so-legitimate ones: rejection, not being liked, being liked but not being respected, failure.

In this particular instance, I was scared that I would try the job and fail.

As I thought through the offer, I realized one important thing: Fear is a terrible reason not to try something new — particularly when that something is the stuff journalistic dreams are made of. I was staring at a job that could change the entire course of my career, and I was thinking of turning it down because I was scared?

So I decided not to back away, tail between my legs, toward a cushier, more 9-to-five sort of gig. I took the job, and the first six months were absolute hell. I worked 14, 16-hour days. My editors dressed me down on a near-daily basis. I had to chase people down the street for comment, call the families of those who had suffered tragic accidents, endure the particular frustration of trying to get New York City cops to answer any of my questions.

And after those six months, I realized something: I wasn’t a total disaster. I was doing the job, and sometimes doing it really well. For the first time in my journalism career, I felt like I had earned the title of reporter, that my work was making an impact on the community I covered.

I have to remember that story every so often when I come up against something that scares me. And I remind myself: Being scared is a terrible reason to walk away from opportunity. When we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, that’s when all the good stuff starts to happen.

You just have to take the leap.

Except when it comes to cockroaches. Never when it comes to cockroaches.


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