Snapshots: Reflecting on a Career

Columnist Betty Baye looks back at how her experiences and mentors helped her professional career and round out her personal development. Baye writes for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

It's time for our Friday Snapshot. This one comes from Courier-Journal columnist Betty Baye in Louisville, Kentucky. Betty recently took timeout to reflect on how far she's come in her career. She says she's gotten some real power out of recalling those memories.

Ms. BETTY BAYE (Columnist, Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky): Some people say you ought not spend a lot of time looking back. You can't change the past. Yet, looking back actually gives me clarity of purpose. It helps me to see what is likely going to take to keep me moving forward.

The other day, I looked back - albeit unintentionally - when, in a stack of papers, I found the outline of a speech that I gave in 1995. My goal, it seems, was to encourage regular folks using myself as an example. Though I've gone further in my life than I could have imagined, I am not a star. I wasn't the valedictorian of my high school class, and no one wrote in my yearbook that Betty Winston was most likely to succeed. I recounted for my audience my circuitous route into journalism. It wasn't my childhood aspiration. How would I have known of such a career where I come from?

Anyhow, I talked about some of my champions - my parents and my mentors: Lynn Dozier(ph), the late James Aronson, my Hunter College professor who encouraged me to go to journalism school, Marcia Gillespie, an early Essence magazine editor who published my first major article, and the late Nancy Q. Keith(ph), who gave me my first job as a reporter 27 years ago.

But truth be told, there weren't legions of people breathless about my possibilities. I never was one of the designated up and comers in journalism for whom editors go out of their way to give the meatiest assignments. Instead, I worked nights and weekends. I covered routine school board and planning and zoning board meetings, parades and community celebrations. Nevertheless, I always tried to be enthusiastic. I believed then - as I still do - that journalists can make a difference.

Moreover, it hasn't escaped my notice that most journalists never win a Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps, like me, the prize is having some little story that we've written actually lift someone's spirit, or maybe it helps to advance some good cause. Contrary to what's being pushed in popular culture, being a star isn't necessarily being the richest or getting the most attention in the press.

Some of the greatest among us, I am convinced, are people of whom most of us have never heard. Day in and day out, they just do what they do because it needs to be done. And whether we know it or not, we are all the beneficiaries of their unsung efforts.

Greatness, I told my audience a dozen years ago, is hitting your pillow every night, convinced that you've done your best, and it's knowing that, at the very least, you've done no harm to people who don't deserve it.

CHIDEYA: That was Betty Baye with this week's Snapshot. Baye is a columnist with the Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky.

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