In an audacious move that startled her family and friends, Lily left her teaching job in 2012 to try her hand at journalism, her childhood dream profession. After a turbulent start, and through intensive mentorship, she was able to settle down in her new career. Today, she is the editor, Parents Magazine.
Lily shares her insights on what it takes to flourish as a writer and in other careers as well.
Is it possible to find satisfaction when one ends up in a job they did not study for?
This is possible when you believe in your ability to learn new things. You must remain teachable at all times. Find a mentor who is willing to navigate the new path with you, preferably an expert in that area. Most importantly, learn by doing. Do not be afraid of stumbling. Naturally, it is through blundering and correcting your mistakes that you develop a skill. Studying a course is not a surety that you will end up working in that profession. What pays your bills now is more important than what you desire to become professionally. Nurture that with diligence.
Are you proud of your decision to change your career path?
Switching from the academia to journalism transformed my life in tremendous ways. Adapting was difficult at first. I found chasing people to share their stories strenuous. Being in this space though has given me a wonderful new perspective in life. I have met inspiring personalities, people I never imagined I would cross paths with. I am happy for making this decision.
Why is it important to have a mentor?
It took a mentor to reshape me into a writer and later an editor. Mr Martin Mwangi, the chief sub editor for Sunday Nation, specifically, held my hand from the moment I stepped into this space. He taught me how to package a story in the most appealing shape by making it short and interesting to read. A mentor is an accountability partner who helps you to stay grounded in your pursuit. They not only guide you through setbacks but also act as the voice of encouragement in the face of turmoil in your career.
How differently would your career have turned out had you ventured out on your own?
It would have taken longer to gain the competency I have without the support of a mentor. Handling uncertainties and anxiety in my new profession would have been frightening. I would probably have long deserted journalism and gone back to teaching. I seek to involve a mentor in every dimension of my life, including seasonal guides depending on my pursuit at that time. I am currently refining my communication skills through mentorship from a communications specialist and manager at a local tech company.
Young people face many setbacks at the start of their careers. What challenges did you encounter and how did you tackle them?
At first, I shuddered at the thought of editing a regional magazine. For me, there was no room for error in this role. Whereas I had been confident about my linguistics prowess, and with a Master in Linguistics to boot, I suddenly started doubting my ability to handle this type of work. I also thought it was embarrassing to ask questions. Over time, I realised that I could actually consult more experienced people whenever I was stuck. Having mentors eased the tension and helped me to adapt faster. Self-doubt and fear of failure keeps young professionals from putting their capabilities to test. Many of them despair at this juncture, missing grand opportunities in their careers and life.
What part of your job do you find most stimulating?
I am in charge of the overall production process of the magazine, from deciding what stories to publish and who to interview for such stories. Getting some personalities, especially local and regional celebrities, is a tough affair that sometimes goes on for months without success. It gives me fulfilment when I finally track them down and they agree to share their stories.
Are you content with your contribution to the well-being of the society as a writer?
Going through school, I found journalism glamorous. At the time, it had not occurred to me the kind of influence that journalists wield in the society. It is encouraging to write stories that encourage people who are battling problems such as alcoholism, family breakups, violence and even diseases. When people write to you throughout the year, it means you touched their lives through your stories. Any writer will tell you that such acknowledgment is priceless. I would probably not have changed so many lives as a teacher.
Any noteworthy lessons that you have learnt in journalism?
I now appreciate that beyond being politically correct, fairness and balance in journalistic work, this profession demands unquestionable ethics, discipline and tolerance. As a journalist with a diverse audience, your language, tone and choice of words significantly influence how your message is interpreted. It is imperative, therefore, to be just and language-sensitive so your reporting takes care of the needs of people in different racial, religious and political groups, and those living with disabilities and health conditions.
What take-homes can you share with a budding professional reading this?
Keep tabs on the professionals you look up to. Follow them on social media where they share their thoughts. Read different works of literature for inspiration. Be social media savvy. Always spare time to attend professional forums and talks, there is always something to glean from the experiences of accomplished professionals.
What do you do besides your day job?
I am an active farmer, having grown up in a farm in Nakuru County. I grow vegetables on my farm in Limuru. Farming provides a vent for the routine pressure at work while supplementing my income. I read extensively on agribusiness for ideas on other delightful farming ventures. I recommend investment in horticulture to young people because it is cheap to start, highly profitable and fun.