College Connect: On finding fulfillment and a living wage

Posted By David Wilhite

@akimbelsannit

By Arren Kimbel-Sannit

I come from a family of hardworking people who have done well in professions that don’t typically take home big paychecks. They are English professors, artists, anthropologists and psychologists. My family runs the gambit of liberal art vocations that have so precipitously fallen out of favor as science, technology, engineering and math have become academic defaults — and for good reason, as they provide job security, room for progression and skills applicable to real-world problems.

And though they all benefit from varying degrees of institutional privilege, none was born into money. They have since made some.

The common theme, aside from their whiteness, is their unrelenting, animalistic discipline. My mother, the artist, has been rejected from galleries, grants, fellowships, residencies, museum shows and private contracts by the hundreds. But after each of those objections, her hunger for finding success in her art grew. And after every third or fourth or fifth or tenth rejection, she would get a sale or a gallery opening. Last year, she won a grant to go towards a major installation at the Phoenix Art Museum. Months after, a group of her pieces was chosen to stand in Sky Harbor Airport. She is, by most accounts, a successful midcareer artist. Other members of my family can tell similar stories about their careers.

I hope to join their ranks. For several years before coming to college, I was public with my intent to get an education in journalism and turn it into a career. I was and continue to be enamored with the image of the newspaper writer. But most of my classmates and peers were similarly vocal about their distrust of the media and their assessment of the uncertainty and low pay of the journalism industry.

I took their words to heart, for a while. I entered college somehow more interested in pitying my future low pay than I was with journalism itself. It became a way to rationalize laziness and waffling. I complained to my family about this perceived reality, yet I protested to their suggestions of a career change. It was whiney, arrogant and entitled, as well as detrimental to my (and my parents’) mental stability.

But as I became better acquainted with working journalists, I saw parallels to their careers and those in my family. Not every successful reporter had a trust fund, or retired from a law career, or had any short path to financial stability. They got there — even amid buyouts and industry contractions — by putting ink to paper every day, and most nights, despite rejection.

I realized that the only way I could address my doubts about the field was to do the same. I cold-called local newspaper editors. I got into food writing on a whim when I saw a listing for freelancers. I wrote hundreds of unpaid stories for the campus newspaper on the hope of one day leveraging my efforts into something more. It wasn’t always fun, and it was almost never easy. And I’m not flush with cash now — I still am a student, after all — but I know that I will not find fulfillment or a living wage without continuing and intensifying this level of discipline. My telling of this story is a manifestation of that imperative.

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is a student at Arizona State University.

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