Introverted Editor: What I Gained from Talking to Strangers
Almost exactly one year ago, my manager came to our weekly project meeting with a wild idea:
“We’re going to create a magazine,” he said, “and you’ll be our editor.”
Now, I love writing—I always have. The product of a hectic household, verbal communication has been a lifelong struggle for me. Speaking openly in front of others feels something akin to that moment just before the rollercoaster takes its first big plunge. I’m suddenly 10-years old again, clinging to the warm metal bar across my lap and reminding myself that it’s no longer appropriate to cry in front of others. But the written word has always provided the comforting illusion of an empty audience. Like a balloon released into the sky, the impact of the most turbulent journey can take place elsewhere. Out of sight, out of mind.
But even so, this new idea proved itself intimidating, to say the least.
A social media post I can handle. A brochure on bank products? Not a problem. I will happily stumble my way through finance jargon and Facebook algorithms, learning something new at every turn. But editing and contributing to a magazine is, as the munchkin guarding the gates of the Emerald City would say, a horse of a different color. Yet there I was, teetering at the rollercoaster’s peak, agreeing to help tell the stories of our community’s business leaders. The self-doubt that had been living rent-free in my mind would need to make way for more favorable characters and the valuable lessons they would surely carry with them.
First came Andrew Porter, Executive Director of the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission. I sat in his office studying photos of the street mission he ran with his dear friend in the 90s; walked the halls alongside him as he explained the many paths that led residents to his door; and peaked my head into the chapel to be greeted by a sea of faces patiently waiting to receive spiritual guidance and a sense of belonging. No longer cloaked in mystery, the Mission felt like the warm fire you gather around after a rough hike in the rain; and Andrew was the blanket that wrapped you in comfort, shielding you from the earth’s harsh elements.
The next office I found myself studying belonged to Jennifer Mitchell, Founder and CEO of Account Sense. A CPA and lifelong learner, Jennifer wasn’t the “numbers” person I had expected. She glowed as she spoke of her three children, reflecting often on the inspiration she drew from the support of her family and the important role small businesses play in our local economy. Servant leadership was top of mind and the grit it took for her father to start his own business was a piece of history that seemed to bring her back to center. Though our visit was short and sweet, my conversation with Jennifer that afternoon revealed aspects of her story that are supremely human. Sitting in her office, surrounded by photos, mementos, and medals, it became clear—Jennifer was building more than a business, she was leaving a legacy.
I did my best to share their stories in a way that would make both Andrew and Jennifer proud (or at the very least, wouldn’t make them cringe). Putting metaphorical pen to paper, I released my balloons into the sky and wished them well on their respective journeys. But as the days passed and the magazine, aptly named Connect, landed in the hands of co-workers, friends, and strangers alike, the finished product began to feel less like a milestone and more like the final brushstroke of a much larger piece of art.
Whether the articles were good or bad, well-written or indecipherable, seemed inconsequential. My goal was to feel proud of what I had released into the world, but at the end of my literary pursuit remained the familiar and comforting illusion of an empty audience. What I took away instead was something that brought me back to Connect’s origin story and the driving belief behind it:
We are born through connection, and it is only through connection that we gain meaning, purpose, and perspective.
My manager’s wild idea pushed me out into our community, armed with nothing but the simple mission of getting to know our neighbors. Anxious and intimidated, I saw myself as the medium through which people like Andrew and Jennifer would be illuminated and my goal was to do so with the grace of a seasoned journalist. But it was the process, not the product, that affected me most profoundly.
As I explored the Mission’s corridors, Andrew’s story gently reminded me that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety—it’s connection. The oneness felt by the Mission’s residents was the result of shared experiences, a sense of togetherness, and of belonging to something greater than oneself. Through hardship, a community was born.
Sitting across from Jennifer at the Account Sense headquarters affirmed that it is lonely at the top only if you neglect to take others with you. The most important relationships are the ones cultivated within the walls of their Kennewick offices, and it is their culture of trust that serves as the garden bed from which all else blossoms. For Jennifer, success is not a final destination, but rather the pursuit of a just cause by way of a business built by people, not numbers.
All said and done, my first leaps into the world of journalism certainly lacked grace, and the journey landed me well outside of my comfort zone. Now, nearly two months into a state-wide shutdown and with plans for the third issue of Connect brought to a halt, my heart feels full of both uncertainty and gratitude. Looking back through Connect’s first two issues, I wonder how the Mission is faring and how Jennifer’s growing team has been affected. I’m no longer looking down, a pit growing in my stomach as I wait for that first big plunge. Instead I’m just outside the gate, peering in and wondering when the world will open once again.
When it does, I’ll be waiting with open arms for the next “wild” idea that comes my way; and with the lessons given to me by Andrew, Jennifer, and countless others written on my soul, I’ll remember to take pause and enjoy the process well before the final brushstroke.