Earlier this week, I attended a talk featuring Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times staff reporter and author of the paper’s recent “Unvarnished” series.

Her expertly researched articles, “The Price of Nice Nails” and “Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers” (if you haven’t read them yet—you should) sparked a massive nationwide conversation about the working conditions of employees in the nail industry (and others), led to emergency salon worker protection mandates by New York governor Andrew Cuomo, and were globally trending on Twitter—the first time in history for the publication.

It’s not only the type of assignment every journalist dreams of getting, but also the response. Her words will change lives, for the better. So naturally, the audience, many of whom were reporters earlier in their careers, were dying to know how she got where she did.

Turns out, she did it by thinking big. The journalist describes a time in her early reporting days when she longed to write for the paper and when she realized that to do so, she needed to change her way of thinking. No, she didn’t write for the New York Times—but that was only because she didn’t write for the New York Times. And it was absolutely within her power to make it happen.

So she did. She started sending pitches in to any section editor she could find, and her efforts paid off. She soon had a couple of bylines for the paper, which turned into more frequent assignments, which turned into a column, which eventually turned into a full-time reporting position.

And how did that turn into this incredible year-long assignment? A young reporter asked just that: How did Nir know she was at the point in her career when she was “ready”—when she knew she was “there?” “I just did it,” she replied. In fact, “the way you will never get ‘there’ is by thinking you’re not there yet.”

I took her words to mean this: Often, the only thing holding us back from big opportunities, plum assignments, and incredible jobs is ourselves and our thinking that we’re not ready—that we’re not “there.”

No, you probably can’t land a job that requires 20 years of experience when you’ve only got two. But if your dream company has a role listed that’s only slightly out of reach? Or if there’s an assignment at work you know you could do, if given the chance? Instead of wondering if you’re ready, why not at least give it a shot? After all, if Nir hadn’t taken those shots, there’s very little chance she’d be where she is today.

One final career lesson from the journalist? Don’t give up. Nir told the audience that she initially became curious about the nail salon industry and pitched the story four years ago. Her editor then didn’t assign the article. But her curiosity stayed piqued, and years later, she pitched it again. The rest, as you know, is history.


Photo courtesy of New America.