This summer, I received an email in my inbox from an MTV casting director. She was casting the docu-series True Life and wanted to interview me to potentially be on a future episode. The director said she’d found me through an article I wrote for Cosmopolitan last year. An article exploring the female orgasm.
While I was flattered that the director read my article and reached out to me, and after considering it for several days, I ultimately declined her offer. It came down to this: I would have to talk on camera, to a national audience, about my experiences – nay, troubles – with orgasms. My mom could see this, not to mention my students. I imagined telling my Dean: “I’ll be on a national television show, but it’s going to be super personal and embarrassing for everyone!”
I wrote the article for Cosmopolitan back in December, after receiving an email of pitches that editors were looking for. I wrote up my piece quickly, not seriously thinking that it would get accepted, until it did, the very next morning. The article, which paid around $100, received hundreds of thousands of page views, hundreds of hilarious (and hateful) Facebook comments, a few emails from strange men, and now, an offer from an MTV producer.
And yet, I couldn’t put this publication on my CV, couldn’t mention it in job interviews or in a professional setting. I even wondered, after a slew of second round interviews this summer with no job offer, that if my search engine results had made these potential employers pause. I had to ask myself: Has writing publicly about my personal life hurt me professionally?
This question has made me wonder whether I should have given more consideration to the consequences of the article before hitting send. While I’m proud of the accomplishment, I also loathe that my most famous piece of writing to date is also the most embarrassing. In our clickbait-infused culture, our best stories become the most vulnerable, and often scandalous, parts of us. Stories that, if read by an employer, might stop a job from being offered. Are our most confidential stories, which make for a great headline and page views at the time, actually suitable for the immortal infamy of the Internet?
Here’s the trick: find the intersection between content and employer, where both groups are not ashamed of one another and instead live in harmony. Either your employer likes and encourages your publications, or your publications become tamer so an Internet search of your name won’t make everyone in the room gasp.
And while I definitely wish my Cosmopolitan piece was less explicit, its success has made me realize that I need to find an employer that aligns more to my content, and not vice versa. That while I would like to write personal essays in a more tasteful way, I’d more like an employer, such as an editor or publisher, who encourages my writing instead of stifling it. Finding this balance is the crux of being a successful, professional writer.
However, if you want to maintain a professional career separate from your writing, it’s important to be aware of the culture of your workplace. For example, if your professional career is an elementary teacher or corporate employee, my advice then is to keep the humiliating stories off the Internet. A great headline and measly paycheck should not ruin your career. As we all know from opening links on shared Facebook posts: clickbait is rarely worth it.