My obvious passion for photojournalism—although sometimes causing sleepless nights from perusing professional photo blogs to my not always healthy perfectionist attitude toward my work— has always been my upmost priority. But until this summer, I faced a major wake-up call: the choice of quitting field hockey my senior year to direct all my energy toward my hopeful career.
As a student-athlete, juggling a sport that pays for school and extra-curricular activities that are imperative to building a resume is a strenuous skill. However after interning at the Tribune-Review, my order of priorities became bolder. And field hockey is clearly at the bottom of my list. I used to love it, but I have lost the heart for the game—no matter how hard I wish the feeling were still there. Money, in the form of an athletic scholarship, did not buy my complete happiness.
But I realized that there is never shame in quitting if it is for something you love—even if the world drills in your head the false notion that “quitting is for losers.”
If you’re climbing down an unfamiliar Alaskan mountain off-course like I did last summer, do not say, “I’m going to tackle this as fast as I can to make a deadline.”
That is exactly how you become motionless on the forest floor needing to be airlifted to the nearest hospital.
If you head down a path in life that is dangerous, whether it is physically, emotionally or spiritually draining or you are just not happy doing it, that is a sure sign to quit and turn around. It could be the most responsible and mature decision you have ever made.
During my emotional phone conversation with my head coach Gabby, she gave me some great advice: Do not look at what field hockey has taken away from your life, but look at what it has given you.
I would have never heard of Missouri State unless I was recruited, found my passion in photojournalism by working my two awesome jobs at school, met strong friends I can call my bridesmaids next summer and reminisce countless memories had with my teammates. I thank God for the athletic ability he gave me that brought these priceless things into my life.
And without the opportunity to intern at the Tribune-Review, I may have never learned that lesson and realized that my ultimate priority is to grow as a photojournalist.
During my time in Greensburg, I photographed several parades, sporting events, personality portraits, festivals and carnivals, spot news scenes, a graduation and everything in between. One of my goals was to improve in all areas of photojournalism including spot news, general news, sports and features.
By far, I grew the most when photo chief Barry Reeger would text me before my shift, “we need a standalone feature”, which turned out to be a reoccurring need. The combination of stress from knowing the paper needs to fill a hole and freedom of photographing anything I wanted forced me to think quickly on my toes and build a sharp awareness of our coverage area’s communities.
My biggest personal goal was to put forth the devotion necessary to compile work that rivals other Tribune-Review staff work. For photographers, this is always in the back of our minds. We want to make better photos than the guy next to us! As a former student-athlete, my competitive nature carries over into my academics. If you play against better competition, like in sports, you will play at a higher level. Photographing at a daily newspaper rather than a free weekly college paper heightened this drive for success.
Once I finished my last internship in Anchorage, I began calling and emailing every newspaper that advertised student internships on NPPA’s website. In the end, that meant about 20 cover letters with varying specifications. And with summer quickly approaching, I began to take the numerous rejection emails to heart.
Fortunately with a little pestering and networking, I landed my top-pick internship at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review even though I was rejected the year before. However, with one week remaining before my start date, I was asked to intern at the Greensburg office instead.
My initial response was to be frustrated, but as soon as I began to build friendships with the staff of five I regretted ever being upset over my internship placement.
In this age of the newspaper business, it is easy for veteran photojournalists to be pessimistic about what the future holds for their own careers—let alone a 21-year-old intern. But their honest criticism of my work motivated me to see better, and the staff’s camaraderie lightened my mood everyday. This is exactly what makes a photo department great, and what I dream to be a part of when I become a professional at a daily newspaper.
Wherever my career may lead, I will never forget this group of mentors who pushed me to become better than I thought, instilled hope in my passion for photojournalism and listened to my personal problems like a longtime friend. They will be great connections for me in the future as I continue to work toward a full-time job as a photojournalist after school next May.
Valerie May spends her afternoon picking corn on Ron Sten’s farm on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 in Melcroft to stock their street vendor along Calvary Church Road.