Every time I take one of those personality tests I have a hard time figuring out if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. People make me nervous. Most days I’d be happy just staying on the couch. Okay, I’m an introvert. But, I also really like people. I get lonely when I’m alone. Must be an extrovert.
I started out as an extrovert, a little kid who just wanted to hug everybody. But then life happened and suddenly, I wasn’t so sure. On my first day of Kindergarten, on the playground, the boys were chasing the girls around the country field that served as a playground outside of my little two-room schoolhouse. I began to cry. What were those savage boys up to? Then, a little boy everyone called Shorty came over to me and said, “Don’t cry, we’re not gonna hurt ya.” Not only did I suddenly find recess fun, but I now had a crush on Shorty.
I wavered through my growing up years, mostly afraid of people. In youth group, I remember being asked why I didn’t talk or join in the playful teasing with the others. I told them that I didn’t have anything to say and I certainly didn’t want to tease anyone. I might hurt their feelings.
Maybe I was just socially awkward. I still struggle with that a bit, to be honest. One of the things I credit with helping me step outside of my comfort zone was working as a reporter.
The funny thing is, there was a point in my life where I didn’t think I was interested in journalism at all, or that I was any good at it. In college, for a year or so, I was a double major in English and Journalism. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but, wasn’t so sure about the journalism aspect. I liked fiction. I wasn’t sure I cared about the news at all. I ended up dropping the journalism major after getting a B in Basic Reporting. I was used to getting As in my writing courses and the B felt to me, at the time, like a failure.
When I later walked into an Army recruiter’s office and found out they had journalists, I was intrigued. Since my husband was intent on joining, and the recruiter asked me if I wanted to join as well, the journalism job was the hook that landed me. I joined up, went through basic training and then the Defense Information School’s Basic Journalism/Public Affairs course.
We served in El Paso, Texas and a little German town called Schwäbisch Gmünd. When Jolly re-enlisted after the premature birth of our daughter, Amber, I got out of the Army, but got a job at Fort Jackson, South Carolina’s Fort Jackson Leader newspaper as a civilian contractor. I was there 10 years, and I must say that is where I came into my own as a reporter. My focus was on human interest features, though I did regular news features as well. Since the paper was a weekly (and sometimes a bi-weekly or monthly depending on circumstances) we didn’t do much hard news.
My regular beats became: the civilian firefighters, WWII-related features (it was the 50th anniversary of WWII at the time), Army Community Service (the Army organization to assist families of service members), the 187th Ordnance Battalion (bomb disposal unit), crime prevention, officers’ golf tournaments, Equal Opportunity office (meant to ensure equal and fair treatment of military, family members, etc. regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, religion, etc.), social services, and more.
I loved it. I loved the firefighters and my relationship with them. I loved how the guys talked about getting me some fire gear so I could go into fires with them with my camera. I loved the WWII veterans, the former Prisoners of War, the nurses, the WACs, the heroes of that great generation who had endured so much with such bravery. I loved the crime prevention experts who taught me so much, the bomb guys who treated me like one of the battalion, to the point of suiting me up in a bomb suit and presenting me with a battalion coin when they returned from combat duty in Iraq, and the Holocaust survivors who bravely told the story to fight against the evils of forgetfulness. I have so many wonderful memories of these people and their stories.
But, at first, interviewing people was hard for me. I do have a natural shyness that I had to overcome, and what better way to help me step out of that comfort zone was being forced to ask questions and listen to people. You will be surprised at how much you learn about people from actually listening to them without judging them, by the way.
After awhile, asking people questions and listening became second nature to me. It invigorated me and connected me with folks that I saw were doing amazing things. My life was so enriched by the stories I heard and was privileged to tell.
I realized something as I remember that time — I am still a reporter at heart. Journalism runs through my veins and I am excited by that. Yes, I still love fiction and try every year to write a novel but never seem to get one done the way I’d like. But, there is something so radically invigorating about learning from others, from having your mind expanded by the experiences of other people. It is a gift God has given me that I am constantly thankful for, even more-so now, as I think back and wonder where this love might lead me in the future.