“We ought to walk through the rooms of our lives not looking for flaws, but looking for potential.”Ellen Goodman
Journalism 101 included an obituary exercise: We had to write our own. It required introspection. It tapped into both our aspirations and our past.
Mine touted my South Side Chicago roots and propelled my vision of becoming the next Mike Royko. When I wrote that reference to Royko, I thought “Oh no, what will my classmates think? That’s so egotistical.” Royko was a syndicated Chicago columnist. Who was I to think that I could surpass the talent of Royko? Looking back, who was I not to think I could?
Writing that obituary solidified my desire to write. It was the force behind the shift from a photojournalism and design track to a print track. It led me to pursue a reporter job at City News Bureau of Chicago, where like Royko, I too, would cut my teeth. Because I grew up in the city, on a block filled with cops and firemen (that’s what we called them back then) I could connect with them, because of which they trusted me. The chops I developed at City News, allowed me to go to the Daily Herald and later to the Chicago Tribune. Journalism taught me to keep the reception of every audience front of mind, and that focus helped me determine what to keep, what to cut, and what needed more color.
I’ve long said that journalism is the foundation of my career whose constant thread is communication. Today, when I read Goodman’s quote, I’ll make an addendum to the previous sentence. Journalism is the foundation of my career, and writing my obituary at the age 22 is the exercise that helped me visualize and commit to identifying my potential and living a life where I repeatedly commit to realizing my full potential.
Goodman’s quote is appropriate on this Easter Sunday morning. Spring is the season of possibilities. The symbolism found in Christ’s resurrection and ascension, is a story that teaches us about living a selfless life, a meaningful life, and a truthful one.
Articulating my own death some twenty five years ago, thinking about what my life would be, what my legacy would be, what I would be remembered for, helped me envision what I could and wanted to be. No, I didn’t become Mike Royko. My career as a columnist lasted one semester at The Northern Star. But, just like I was unashamed of that aspiration to mirror and surpass Royko back then, I am unashamed for not realizing that aspiration in its literal context today.
I learned through that obituary exercise that living a truthful life is the best gift that we can give to ourselves, and to the world. If that truth one day becomes my legacy, then I’ll have reached my full potential.