When columnist David Brooks visited Claremont the other week, he said something interesting over dinner.
He said that if you go into journalism, you have to remember that you’re not the star. You’re not the one actually doing things. You’re just commenting on what other people do. You need to be really interested in other people and their ideas rather than yourself and your own ideas.
This is basic but true, and illustrated a central difference in two life tracks I think about: entrepreneurship and journalism/writing.
People who start and run companies are the ultimate doers. They are the ones in the trenches creating new stuff, solving real problems. Business reporters, venture capitalists, bankers, headhunters, etc. are not the stars. They play an important but secondary role in the new venture creation process. Being the entrepreneur – being the person creating a new thing – is a uniquely rewarding pursuit for this reason.
Journalists are the ultimate analyzers. They report on and analyze and interpret the world. The better journalists even influence the doers. The great upside to this type of job is the diversity of topics you get to cover. The downside as the journalist is your sleeves are never rolled up. The world of management gurus, speakers, and some parts of academia is similar. You rove around and posit theories on different topics, but don’t assume the hassles or rewards of implementation duties.
I like to say I have “macro-ADD” – meaning I’m interested in many different topics and like to maintain a diverse portfolio of activities to keep me stimulated. A career in writing or think-tanking (or similar jobs) provides this stimulation in a way that the tunnel-vision atmosphere of start-up entrepreneurship cannot. Indeed, the great downside of the start-up world is the obsessive focus it tends to require. (Here’s the lively debate at TechCrunch over whether you can be a non-workaholic and still be a good entrepreneur.)
So I appreciated Brooks’ comment as it spoke to some of my own career uncertainties.