By Christina Maxouris
There are very few people -- and that number becomes even tinier among older, white males -- that will plug in white privilege halfway through their speech to a group of (mostly) white kids to remind you of its importance (and ridiculousness) in your field. And one of them is Jay Hartwell.
And what an attention-grabber that was.
Hartwell, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa was both brutally honest and endlessly inspiring. If you didn't get a chance to check out his '11 lessons from a life in journalism' panel...I'm sorry. It was lit (as Atlantans would call it), and the jam-packed room can only back up my claim.
It was not so much the lessons that made for the eye-opening presentation, because most of them were things we've heard before (read: advice like 'be peristent', 'it's OK to make mistakes,'etc). It was the reassurance that those pieces of advice actually work.
You know the kind of eye-rolling you go through when older, successful, adults tell you to listen to your heart? It was hard to give Hartwell the same look. With journalists as parents (who later went on to work at the United Nations) and a New York upbringing, he had everything going for him to become a successful political reporter. Or a successful anything reporter for that matter.
But Hartwell took the high road and wrote a book on Hawaiian culture (reminder: he's white), as well as forgotten parts of the island's society and heritage, embarking on a long bumpy road. He went on to teach and advise in Vietnam, Japan and eventually found his way back to his beloved island.
And check it out, it worked out quite alright for him. Proof that it's actually okay to do what you enjoy? Maybe.
Coming from someone so humble and so wildly fulfilled by his life-decisions, 'always seek out for mentors' was something I wasn't expecting to hear. You'd think, once you've reached a certain stage -- and that, for some people, might be a number of age, or a position -- you're suddenly freed from the expectation to seek advice and criticisms for your work, as well as seek for someone to guide your through it. But through Hartwell's work it was clear that you never know what you might learn from someone with a different perspective, background, or ideology. Having a source to learn from, always, was something I needed to hear, and surprisingly, haven't, for a while -- or maybe ever.
Similarly, another controversially-posed piece of advice was 'seek awards that validate your work' which comes as a huge challenge to anyone who wants to even slightly pretend they're humble about their achievements, and don't go seeking validation. But hear me out, the man has a point: how can you prove you kick ass if you've got no board of important people confirming that you, in fact, do? And what's there to put on your resume about your investigative skills if you don't have some kind of proof that there were more people (besides you) that found your work important?
Unfortunately (and I cant' tell you why) people won't take us at our words when we tell them we'd be an awesome addition to their staff. But in order to be awarded something, you've got to be nominated for that award, and it's actually not a bad thing to ask people to nominate, support, and vote for you. After all, even if you're nominated, you won't get it unless you deserve it.
Hartwell's a rare man. Successful in his own individual definition, and not afraid to tell you what you don't want to hear, and probably haven't heard yet, but definitely need to hear. We all need some pieces of advice from someone who got a real taste of life, and isn't afraid to say so.
Hartwell fan club, where you at?