The year was 2012, and I had just spent a few months working for a small magazine in Hong Kong. The pay was decent, the people were nice, and the work environment – for the most part – was not too stressful. I was enjoying my job and life in general.
Then a colleague emailed me about a job opportunity in London. I was excited, as I had just been accepted into a master’s program in journalism at City University, and was looking forward to settling into life in the big city. I took the job, and six months later found myself back in London, working for the Guardian Media Group.
It was a tough transition. My colleagues were fantastic – extremely kind and supportive, and made me feel right at home. But the culture was different. Most of the people I worked with considered themselves to be “creative” rather than “reports”, and were more likely to be inspired by fashion, film, or art than politics or current affairs.
I felt isolated. In Hong Kong, I had been able to follow the news without feeling as if I’d missed out on vital information, due to the lack of media coverage in the territory. In London, I felt like I was drowning in a sea of news stories. Every day, it seemed like there was a brand new article about some celebrity or politician.
It got to a point where I didn’t want to read the news. Instead, I would just scan the headlines and pick out the ones that sounded interesting or relevant to me. This is not good when you’re trying to grow as a journalist – and it certainly didn’t help that my peers in London considered this to be a “solving technique”. When I did go through the papers, however, I quickly realized how important it was to be aware of the bigger picture. Without this wider framework, all the tiny pieces of news are just meaningless trivia.
Then, one day, a piece of journalism that I had written – which had nothing to do with current affairs – was published and went viral. It was about Lady Gaga and her extraordinary performance at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. The piece was fairly traditional in its structure, but had included a couple of lines that had given me the idea for the piece. Once the article was published, it was shared across social media by people who had been following my work for some time. Within hours, my phone was buzzing with messages from journalists, bloggers, and fans who wanted to talk to me about the story.
Within a week, I had booked appearances on five different radio shows, been featured in three newspapers, and was due to appear on a TV show. What’s more is that the article had been picked up by major news publications including CNN, the New York Post, and the Huffington Post. In short, my “little” article had turned into a full-blown international media storm. Finally, I had some real exposure, and it did wonders for my self-esteem. The following months were a whirlwind of activity, with book deals, movie offers, and record-breaking sales all seemingly coming my way. To quote the great James Brown, “it’s amazing what a little fame can do”.
The Enemy Within
Before we go any further, it’s important to know that while the last few months were amazing, they were also tumultuous. There were highs – like the aforementioned exposure and success – and there were lows – like the death of my grandfather and the subsequent strain on my family. I didn’t handle both ends of the spectrum well, and I suspect that this is something that I will struggle with for the rest of my life. Even now, as I sit here and type this on my laptop, I can feel myself slipping back into old habits. There are still times when I feel guilty about not being at home, when I should be there for my mother. These days, when I do come back home, I spend most of my time in my room, surfing the web or checking my phone. My grandfather’s death wasn’t exactly the wake-up call that I needed, and it’s taken me a while to realize why living a double life was a poor choice in the first place.
When I decided to go ahead with the dual path, I didn’t think about the fact that I’d be leaving Hong Kong at a time when it was going through a severe financial crisis. Suddenly, my future employers didn’t seem so appealing. I could see myself burning out, or becoming emotionally detached from the people and place that I love so much. This is one of the reasons why, even though I live in London now, I still go back to Hong Kong every few months. There’s a feeling of comfort there, a feeling of stability. My grandparents bought my mother and I a house in Hong Kong when I was 15, and it has always felt like home to me. Besides, I’ve never felt completely comfortable in London, with its bustling streets and skyscraping buildings. It’s like walking into a strange city and not feeling entirely sure of what’s going on. A familiar face, a smile, or a kind word can still put a smile on my face, even now. I’m not saying that London is a bad city, but it’s not the city where I feel safest, and most comfortable. With my grandfather recently deceased, my grandmother is the main carer for my two younger siblings and me. We are a close-knit family, and I suspect that this is one of the reasons why I was so attracted to dual path in the first place. Since my parents are both teachers, they were able to provide me with an excellent education, and also give me the freedom to pursue my own career. It was a win-win situation, and I’m incredibly grateful to them for that. My grandfather had been ill for a long time, and passed away just a few weeks ago. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, and I feel that I didn’t do my granddad – or myself – any favors by keeping quiet. There’s a lot that I want to tell him, and the chance to do so now seems right. We’ve always been a fiercely proud family, and my granddad would have wanted me to be the best person that I can be, not just for myself, but for others as well. One of my earliest memories is of him taking me by the hand and telling me that he was proud of me, even when I was little. It gives me great comfort to know that he was looking down on me, even now.
Why Did I Do It?
There are a number of reasons why I decided to pursue a double path. To begin with, I was raised in a very inquisitive family, and always felt like I would enjoy learning new things. In addition, I had a teacher in junior high school who had a profound impact on me. She would often encourage her students to follow their hearts and do what they love, regardless of whether or not this was conventional. This teacher inspired me to try something new, and I don’t think that I would have applied for a job at a magazine if it wasn’t for her. Finally, my initial decision to pursue journalism had been heavily influenced by the work of the brilliant Mike Duncan. Mike is one of Scotland’s finest investigative journalists, and has been a thorn in the side of powerful interests for decades. He frequently goes undercover to investigate issues that he feels are important, but which the authorities won’t touch. He also regularly appears on TV, in documentaries and current affairs programs. His daring, and often risky, journalism had made him a hero to many – including me. The man is a legend, and an incredible example of why I chose this line of work. He had also stressed to me the value of being “all things” to all of your audience. In today’s world, this is extremely difficult. The demands of a busy schedule, along with the ever-changing nature of technology, make it much harder to be everything to everyone. Being “mobile” is important, because you can be in the right place at the right time, with the right content in front of, and accessible to, your audience. Even if you’re unable to produce a daily newspaper, or a TV program, you can still produce mobile-friendly content – like blogs, or online magazines – for various platforms. This is the modern media world, and it’s a world that I’m happy and proud to be a part of.