Column: How Do I Do That?


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Story by Tim Suddard • Photo by Tom Suddard

Recently I was sitting on a plane and noticed the young woman sitting next to me fumbling for the light switch in the dark cabin. I reached up and quickly found her reading lamp for her while explaining that I spent a lot of time on airplanes and know where the switches are. She then asked me what I did, and seemed amazed that I got to travel all over the world while my company paid for it. She quickly queried me as to how she might do the same thing for a living.

Initially, I admit, I was stumped. It’s been a long road to what I do, and I honestly wanted to get back to a column I was trying to finish. Still, I took a deep breath and told her it needed to start with finding something she loved and then developing some expertise, including finding media that covers that topic. From there, she could work her way into that media until they gave her a try, first as a freelancer and then as a staffer.

Obviously things like a journalism or English degree, or a firm grasp of the language, help, although I am living proof that deficiencies can be overcome.

This may sound like an oversimplification, but I can prove to you that it is not.

Our own JG Pasterjak came to us as a 19-year-old autocrosser looking for a summer job. He ended up staying on, although his first position in managing editorial made it clear we needed to find something that he was good at.

It turned out that he was incredible at learning the art of computer design. He now runs our production department and has been with us for some 30 years. He is also one of the most talented writers I have ever worked with.

David Wallens started with us at age 24. He wanted to write. We had no writing job at the time, so he settled for a job in our circulation department. He soon forced his way into an editorial position and took the department over. Today he is one of the best managing editors I have ever met.

Others have started with similarly humble beginnings.

When he was still in his mid-twenties, John Doonan came to us and asked if he could write stories. He parlayed a few pieces with us into a reputation and a career in motorsports. He is now the head of Mazda Motorsports. His journey has arguably worked out pretty darned well.

I could go on and on listing the people who built careers on a foundation that started with writing for us, from Mike Kojima, who now runs Moto IQ, to Mitch McCullough, who held multiple high-level positions at automotive manufacturers.

What all of these very, very different people share is tenacity and hard work.

They had a dream, worked their way in and never, ever took no for an answer. Each of them would not quit, and wouldn’t have listened if they were told they were not good enough.

Sure, there was uncertainty along the way. I am sure that when John Doonan wrote that first story for us, he did not know he would end up creating and running one of the most successful amateur motorsports programs in our world.

So if you want this, or anything else, take it. Set a goal. Gain expertise (or fake it as I did when I started), whether you volunteer as a corner worker, write for a local or regional newsletter, or build a newsletter for your club or for your automotive passion.

People constantly ask us for a job. We ask for a writing sample, and most don’t know the English language well enough to even get to second base with David, our editorial director. So most quickly give up and go away to settle into their lives or take a stab at something else.

Some folks, though–people like John, JG, and David–don’t take no for an answer. They scratch and claw until they get closer and closer to their dream. I don’t think John Doonan wanted to become a writer, but he did want into motorsports and wanted to learn, make connections and build his resume. That tenacity, combined with hard work, helped him get his dream job.

John and I are still very good friends. I spent a day with him last month picking up an old Triumph race car that he sold me (another story in itself). He admitted to me that despite the pressure and stress, he is in absolute heaven with how his life, family and dream job have turned out.

I am sure JG and David would tell you the same thing (most days). I certainly pinch myself every day. I get to do what I know and love, and am privileged to call guys like these my friends.

So if you are a person reading this who is wondering how you can get to your dream, start by deciding what you want. Then go get it.

And if you are in some position where you can help the next John, David or JG, please do so. We need people like this in our world.


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Comments
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jharry3
jharry3 Reader
9/17/18 12:51 p.m.

"If you keep your destination firmly in mind, and the desire to get there is great enough, you can usually get to where you want to go."  Daddy Warbucks

Floating Doc
Floating Doc HalfDork
9/17/18 5:51 p.m.

Excellent article.

I hope that it has its intended effect, which is nothing less than to help people to change their lives and achieve their dreams.

bobpink
bobpink New Reader
9/18/18 4:20 p.m.

The brief period I spent in the mid-90s writing some articles for GRM started with approaching David at Road Atlanta with an article I had already written for the Georgia Z Club. Nope, the content didn't fit the scope of the magazine. David said I would need to do something else. I changed my focus and it turned into the Z vs. Z article in 1995 amongst others. Great memories working with the folks at GRM. My qualifications were a love of motorports, getting As in english in high school, finding a mentor along the way (thanks Ardy) and being able to tell a story. No college degree in journalism. It can work just like Tim says if you keep at it.

Captain_Buddha
Captain_Buddha New Reader
9/18/18 4:35 p.m.

I lucked out, I was literally born into the business (Grandfather started it waaaaaay back) and now I'm the 3rd gen, but I did not get here just by luck - a LOT of hard work, when you are SOB (Son of Boss) the expectation level is MUCH higher (at least here!)....I'm media but not your typical "media" guy - we are a B2B media company - there are literally THOUSANDS of B2B titles out there. We cover manufacturing technology - we look at your current skillset, your editing skills, ability to interact with others, interest in learning, creativity, etc...next thing you know, you are on a plane! That's both good and bad...it's better to fly as Exec Plat than as someone with no status at all...but it is a LOT of butt-time to get to that status...of course, a few trips overseas build that up really quick. There are always opportunities with B2B media, both on the sales and editorial side - it is a BLAST!!!!!!!!! And I have been to MANY countries and had amazing experiences all because of "work"....but you have to enjoy the journey along the way....oh, and all of those miles/points? Did the Bucket List of LeMans 24hr this year!

 

So, my advice to a newbie (especially the younger folks): a journalism/advertising/marketing degree will go a LONG way! Whatever your passion is - try connecting with your peers on LinkedIn, social media, drop an email, etc. That is where we found a recent hire - he approached me about covering my racing side of things with video/social media (ie - as a Team PR guy) - I said "let's talk bigger picture...we have a need for that with our company, we can discuss the racing thing later..."

driverUX
driverUX None
9/18/18 4:35 p.m.

Although I was hoping to get my break by becoming a tire tester for Vredestein, I still plan to keep at it. I don't think I can shrug off this passion for motorsport, so until my chance shows up, I'll be writing and creating my own content to improve. 

rogerbvonceg
rogerbvonceg Reader
9/18/18 5:16 p.m.

Good advice here for any industry.

Pick something you love.

Get your foot in the door.

Work hard.

Don't give up.

Recognize opportunity and grab it.

Fake it 'til you make it.

qdriver
qdriver New Reader
9/18/18 6:12 p.m.

Back in 1996, I emailed Tim S. at “ Autocross magazine” to ask how the hell I can get into the automotive business. From my email, it was obvious that I could not write and there was no mention of writing for any magazine or testing for anyone, ever.

Instead, the suggestion was to explore some marketing and brand awareness industries, like auto show and this thing called "ride and drives." I was making a serious career change from newspaper production and leaving a well paid corporate job and Tim replied something like: "take all jobs and do anything." 

Somehow, people believed in me and contributed with small job offers, and I was hired doing things like hot laps, early electronic stability demos and automatic parking demos. And I also had jobs just opening doors for participants once they completed their drive on a closed course.

I’ve done some stupid S*#@ and loved every day of it. I got to drive a SLS-Rat Valley of Fire North of Vegas, and that ended up on a magazine cover.  And then the day I had a Russian Arm plus helicopter chase me around Florida in a pre-production 4 door sedan somewhere on a Florida coastline highway.  Cool running high speed past FHP, who had the highway on lockdown while the filming was going on.  

Driving onto a complicated stage for press-release day with thousands of journalists and camera folks documenting my every move. I look back 30 years ago to that first SCCA autocross that I entered in Mesa, AZ in a Pinto, and really had no clue on what I was doing and only could use the handbrake to go around cones because I just didn’t know.

Always do what you want and have a plan “B."

qdriver
qdriver New Reader
9/18/18 6:15 p.m.

In reply to qdriver :

I still don't know what I am doing.

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