Every once in a while, I come across a line or a blog or a book that just stops me cold and hits me with sudden, blinding clarity: I am in the right field.
Today that came courtesy of the end of The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane—a book that I’ve owned for a year, but only read the first half and then stuck to skimming when necessary. I rededicated myself to hitting the ending today, which sums up a few identifying traits of content strategists. My personal gem:
You can’t be ambivalent about the web. You might hate it sometimes, but it has to be in your blood.
I know it’s a simple, obvious statement. I know that it’s not a description of anything rare or unusual—lots of people love the internet. Presumably, anyone reading this blog, or ALA books, loves the internet. But, you guys—I love the internet. Maybe not as much as a redditor, but I love the internet. I love it enough that the quote just resonated, somewhat unexpectedly, as just simply, stupidly, necessarily true.
You have to care about getting things right, while understanding that “right” is something that constantly changes. You have to be reasonably good with people and exceptionally good at high-speed synthesis and pattern recognition. You need to have a solid grasp of the basics of information architecture. You need to care about design and front-end programming, which means you need to know enough about both to be able to care.
I’ve never seen such a perfect description of me—my skills and interests and passions and experiences—summed up so succinctly, so confidently, so valued.
And you have to understand why that matters to me, because I’ve spent years and years jumping field to field, trying to figure out where I belonged, certain that I was valuable and not weird but so afraid that I was wrong because I couldn’t find a name, a context, an example. All I could find were people telling me, you’re either a or you’re b. You’re an artist or a writer. You’re an editor or a designer. You’re a teacher or a journalist. Whatever you’re deciding between, just decide. You’re not both. Pick a label. Fit in.
But I never fit in.
I was a designer who worried about words. I was a writer who thought about line lengths and fonts and book structure. I was a teacher who harped on audience-based reasoning instead of page count.
Finding content strategy—essentially tripping over it, apparently much like all other content strategists—was nearly lifesaving. It was like being lost in the woods and suddenly seeing not only that there was a path, but also that I’d been walking on it for a while.
Do not underestimate the importance of professional validation to one’s well-being and sense of place in society.
[I wish I could say that I’d always had the kind of internal confidence that doesn’t necessitate external approval. But my personality, combined with my age and lack of experience and various personal setbacks in my 20s, didn’t set me up for that. I had a few years of pretty shaken confidence.]
This was supposed to be a post about how much I love the internet, because that’s what arrested me the most—the idea that the internet is very much a part of me, that it’s my home, that that’s why I want to organize it, structure it, make it beautiful. But what that uncovers, really, is more key: that it’s okay to want that. That it’s okay to bring these other disciplines to bear on what I do. That it’s okay to take my mishmash of interests, and my varied work experience, and my divided educational background, and pull something meaningful out of it.
So when I found content strategy, and when I read things like Kissane’s quote, and when I feel that flash of identification—that matters. There’s authenticity for me in this field. There’s value where I thought, for a long time, that there wasn’t any. Which is how I know, despite insecurities, despite setbacks, despite distractions, that I’m in the absolute right place.