Here's To The Crazy Ones: Swimming Against The Tide
"There are stories to be told, people to be understood, places to be seen- and I write to get these messages out."
I was searching for something in my inbox today when I stumbled upon an essay I had written as part of my application for an elective class I wanted to be a part of while I was a student at Columbia Journalism School in New York. This was back in 2011, when I had quit my almost five-year-long career as a software programmer to embark on a new trajectory as a journalist, and in hindsight, I can see how much of a misfit I looked like in my media-centric setting then.
Having said that, I did choose to persevere, and one of the steps to reaching this dream that I had made for myself was to get into this rather sought-after class at school that focused on covering religion as a journalist. For this particular class, the selected students would essentially be parachuted into Italy, and we’d then use our time there to learn, study, and report on stories that’d have religion as a central underlying theme. Looking at my application for this class now, I’m struck by how remarkably plucky I seem in it, although, at the time, I remember being completely out of my depths in what I had set out to do, and yet, continuing to, well, swim against the tide to get to where I wanted to be.
I’m sharing the essay I wrote then here now in the hopes that it will provide some sort of respite or inspiration for all you entrepreneurs out there (and everyone else too, really), who have probably been told they are doing something crazy when running after goals they’ve made for themselves, and that they are better off doing something else. Now, the people who are telling you all of this, they may well be right- but they may well be wrong as well. And that’s what I tried to signify in my essay- a slightly edited version of which is pasted below:
"At first glance, I could probably be seen as a totally inappropriate entry for the ‘Covering Religion’ class.
Before coming to this school, I had no journalism experience. I used to be a software programmer at Accenture. I was responsible for maintaining and enhancing an application for often angry, irritated, and demanding investment bankers at J.P. Morgan Chase centers around the world.
Since I loved to write, I wrote creative fiction whenever I could. My short stories ranged from the fantastic to the sublime. Journalism, however, doesn’t believe in fiction, and relies on fact. That doesn’t help my case either.
I’ve been called a vagabond. I was an Indian expat who grew up in the United Arab Emirates, and then studied in Kerala, India. Afterwards, working in three different cities of the world -Mumbai, London, and New York- cemented my reputation of being a wanderer.
I’m 27. I’m brown. I have a moustache. I’m sure I could make a few bucks if I got a dollar for every time I’ve been ‘randomly checked.’
But, despite these apparent disadvantages, I’m still here.
Perhaps then, what is required is to simply look at all of the above from a different perspective.
After all, one of my professors in my first semester did say that I was ‘the biggest surprise in the class.’
My work experience has been instrumental in my work at school. While deadlines don’t seem to faze me, interacting and working with people of varied nationalities and personalities comes naturally to me. Working on the class website is easy thanks to my work history.
I use my imagination when seeking my stories. Be it a neighborhood worrying about trashcans missing from their streets, or Coptic Christians in Brooklyn protesting violence in Egypt- the variety in my stories show my open, inquisitive mind.
Living in so many different places has given me a unique view of the world- I can no longer be just a native, an expatriate or an immigrant, I’m a citizen of the world. There are stories to be told, people to be understood, places to be seen- and I write to get these messages out.
I have to admit my moustache has opened more doors than it has closed. People are curious about me. I tell them my stories, they tell me theirs. Stereotypes can be broken, impressions can be changed- I believe that’s what journalists are supposed to do. As for my age- well, older is wiser, isn’t it?
I hope I get to be a part of your class, and get to learn from you. Thank you for your consideration."
P.S. I did get selected to be a part of the class.
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.