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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Ready? Pick your player. Rules: Ignore the wall to win the game.

You could’ve done this better.

Why didn’t you think of this? Why didn’t you change that?

You’re failing your staff. You’re failing the paper. You could be doing better.

Why don’t you just do better?

The questions riddle off like a checklist when I go to bed at 2 a.m. after giving the final approval to send The Alligator to the printer. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the design, words and photos look. I keep telling myself to improve. I’m probably not even going to be satisfied with how this column turns out.

Truth is, when you’ve been pushing yourself forward for six semesters at one college job — foregoing your friendships and even meals to meet deadlines — you may hit a wall. And I slammed into that f------ wall.

My relationship with The Alligator has lasted longer than any of my real relationships, but it started like many of them: with me way too eager to begin and way too willing to sacrifice myself for it.

Don’t get me wrong. The wall wasn’t always so close. I used to be able to see it, but it was a safe distance away.

Statistically, I shouldn’t have been accepted into UF. I didn’t even have the ACT scores to get Bright Futures (sorry, again, mom and dad). The university put me into its first Pathway to Campus Enrollment or PaCE class, which basically meant I had to do my first year online. I stayed at home my freshman year, folding clothes part-time and clicking through gen-eds. It was a setback, I told myself. That’s fine. I’m going to make up for it, even if it means getting closer to the wall.

I had a simple goal once I got to Gainesville: join The Alligator and work my way up to editor-in-chief. Ignore the wall as it approaches.

It bewilders me when older generations ask why college students are so stressed. I’d say it’s from the productivity culture we’ve built up and imposed upon ourselves. Our lives aren’t about happiness. They’re about survival. They’re about being the best.

If I’m not working every second of the day, staying up late and outperforming my colleagues, then I’d better pack my bags. I’m not going to make it, I tell myself.

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When I was a staff writer, the editor-in-chief pulled me aside to tell me that others thought I was being arrogant because, well, I was. I thought I was winning.

But this wasn’t a game. I didn’t need to beat the other writers in story counts or quality, but I thought I did.

I love journalism and The Alligator more than anything, but it also tore me apart because I gave it my everything. I didn’t take breaks. The wall kept coming closer. But I told myself I needed to get better internships every summer, better internships than everyone else. I was envious when others got an edge on me.

I had to beat it. Get to the end game. Keep ignoring the wall.

Overall, working at The Alligator has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s defined my college era and most of my journalism education. So thank you to the editors and co-workers who have helped me. I know I wasn’t always the easiest to deal with, but you taught me better, anyway.

I’m definitely not the best editor-in-chief to ever lead this paper, even though I really wanted to be when I started as an overzealous staff writer. I can tell you that I’m not even the best reporter or editor in this newsroom. I’m finally realizing that’s OK. I’m doing my best, and that’s OK. I hope I still left my mark.

What’s more valuable than winning is that I’ve learned how to face that wall. I can work toward my bigger picture without running myself into it full force. I can finally acknowledge the wall.

Here it is. The credits are rolling.

Play again?

Paige Fry is a UF journalism senior. She was the Spring 2019 Alligator editor-in-chief.

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