Please tell us about yourself
Kritika is currently a Professional Master’s student in the School of Journalism at UT Austin. Originally from Mumbai, India, Kritika, is a computer engineer with a penchant for writing and journalism. Her byline has appeared in Austin publications such as The Daily Texan, Longhorn Life, Austin Business Journal, and Austin Fusion Magazine as well as on other websites and publications such as SiteSketch101.com, IndianFreelanceWriters.com, Youth Ki Awaaz, City Ninjas, The Pencil Box, The Viewspaper, and Toonari Post.
What did you study?
“You are an engineer? Then why are you going to the U.S. to pursue a journalism degree?” In 2012 I found it hard to come up with an answer. It was a question I wanted to avoid answering. But the more I tried to avoid answering people’s questions the more they persisted. Relentlessly.
From nosy, gossipy neighbors and puzzled friends to bemused coworkers and concerned relatives. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t upset with my decision. I was scared, yes. Colleagues and coworkers asked me what I was going to do next — and all I knew was I wanted to write and get a Master’s degree. To be honest I had no real idea about what was coming my way.
Making a career switch was a risky move with only uncertainties and potential disappointments lined up — or so I thought at that time. And my fear of the unknown was not unfounded.
In grade 5, I struggled with writing. I hated essay-writing in school. The hours I spent after school at home laboring through essays and English writing assignments with my mother were too painful for me to appreciate the craft of writing.
When I was in grade 7 or grade 8, I submitted my first essay (after rigorous edits thanks to my mother) for a children’s newspaper requesting contest entries. And my essay was published. All I did when I saw my first words in a newspaper was take multiple copies of it — to cherish the memory and to show off to my friends.
In high school I wrote my first poem, which was published on Aug. 11, 2004. I remember the date so clearly. I tore off the page of the newspaper in which it was published and laminated it. The next thing I knew I was writing poetry on my own. I found inspiration in photographs, in nature and in my everyday life. But never once did it cross my mind that I could pursue writing as a career.
Born and raised in India we are taught early on to choose a science or engineering career. “Once you graduate with an engineering degree, you can do anything you want,” we are often told. But is that really possible?
For most of my life I walked the pre-defined path — science, engineering and consulting. During those life-changing transitions I never gave enough thought to doing something different.
I confined myself to the choices that were immediately available to me. Hard choices but predictable choices with known outcomes — money, stability, respect and meeting social expectations. My parents, both medical doctors, never pressured me to pick a career in medicine. Engineering, on the other hand, was a different story.
I was told if I graduated with an engineering degree I gave myself choices — opportunities I would never have if I picked a career in the arts or in any other non-science field. What they said was true to a certain extent but let me stop for a moment and ask a question here: How many people at 17 know what they want the rest of their life to look like? How many people are happy with the choices they made at 17 when they turn 21?
When I was 17 I faced the biggest personal setback in my life. The rock in my life was gone. And things around me changed in a moment. At 17 I knew I had to toughen up. It was hard because in a few weeks I had to make some key decisions about college and we all know life does not wait for you.
And that’s how I joined a college in Bombay, India in Fall 2006 to pursue an engineering degree in computer science. And like every kid who had been prepped their whole life for this moment I worked hard too. I worked hard for the degree, because at the end of it I was going to be an engineer. And then like everybody who is familiar with the Indian jobs placement system — we all competed and spent our blood, sweat and tears to get those coveted jobs with the biggest firms in the business.
Along the way friendships were broken and made. I was one of the “lucky” few to get into the first company that came to recruit at our college campus. It was a proud moment for me and my mother. I had “made” it, according to most people.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
The next two years were a series of experiences that taught me some insanely valuable lessons in collaboration, cross-functional and cross-cultural communication, patience and hard work. But as each day went by I realized little by little that there was something missing in my life. The job wasn’t making me jump out of bed each morning. Waking up was becoming painful and the long commute to work tiresome.
Then, suddenly one day I saw an email in my inbox. And in hindsight that email actually changed the course of my life. That email reintroduced me to the joys of writing. And write I did. And the more I wrote, the more I asked myself why I wasn’t writing for a living. But with zero experience who would trust me with their writing projects? I had no clue how to find a freelance gig. No clue what to look for. Zero knowledge about the kind of writing jobs out there. The first thing I did was visit LinkedIn.com.
What was your approach to building a career in journalism?
In 2012 I didn’t even have a decent LinkedIn profile. There was nothing on it to be precise. I typed “writing” into the search box and found a list of names jump out at me. I visited people’s profiles, scrutinized job descriptions and tried to come up with one paragraph about what I was looking for in terms of freelance writing projects. Luckily, I did receive a response and I was given a few assignments on a trial basis. Before I knew it, I had become a freelance writer for an India-based boutique writing studio.
The founder — who is now an accomplished author of two amazing books — took a chance on me. And she taught me everything I now know about the writing industry. If she had not trusted me with her clients I would not be here today writing this blog post. In the next few months I blogged about Mumbai — a city I grew up in — wrote opinion pieces for a citizen journalism platform, conducted some of my first interviews and suddenly realized what I had been missing out on.
No one in my family has ever worked in media and I never imagined I would be writing one day. It wasn’t until I began writing for Youthleader magazine in September 2012 that I finally understood why I wanted to pursue journalism and to head to graduate school for journalism. Crazy right? Many alumni and folks on LinkedIn told me I shouldn’t but my heart told me I must. I couldn’t let the weight of people’s expectations distract me from what I wanted to do. Or atleast what I thought I wanted to do.
But I also wrestled with the uncertainties flooding my mind — what if I wasn’t going to be good enough? What if I didn’t like journalism? What if I sucked at doing interviews? What if I could never cope with the demands of grad school? What if I couldn’t make enough money to pay my bills? What if I got homesick? What if I couldn’t handle the stresses of living abroad continents away from home? Needless to say it was a long list of ifs and buts.
How was the experience with a career switch to writing?
Despite the uncertainties and the naysayers I knew the move was going to bring wonderful things into my life.
It’s gut-wrenching to live away from everything you are used to, spaces you are comfortable in. It’s awkward, it’s a struggle. But in those awkward moments you find yourself and you discover what you are good at. So, accompanied by risk, rebellion and blinding passion I moved to the US a little over two years ago to Texas.
Even as I write this post I can’t help but wonder if all of this is just a dream. “It can’t be real,” I think to myself every day. And I may not have had a byline in The New York Times — yet — but the experiences I’ve had from India to Bahrain to Texas to New York have made me stronger, made me more willing to experiment with new ideas and have proved to me that there is magic waiting to happen — only if you step out of your comfort zone.
When we are younger we tend to write off important moments. Moments, in which we may be living our true selves. For most of my teenage years and early twenties I did not write. I wrote poetry, yes but never prose. Or anything worth reading. But now I see why I’m doing what I’m doing.
What do you love about your job?
I was born to be a writer. I may not be an award-winning writer with a Pulitzer Prize to my name. But I make money. I enjoy the craft. I love playing with words. I learn something new every day. And most important I’m happy. I wake up every day with a spring in my step.
I love my job. I’m proud with what I’ve accomplished knowing that there’s so much more to learn as a writer. I’ve also realized that people want to help you. All you have to do is ask. Take that first step. To not be afraid. To admit your weaknesses and to accept that there’s always going to be a learning curve.
I didn’t take the straight path to get to where I am now. There were a few detours along the way but if I hadn’t taken those wrong turns I wouldn’t have figured out the right one. There were roads I wanted to take but did not take and now I’m glad I chose a different path early on.
It’s going to be a rough path, muddy in some parts, but atleast I know this journey is worth the struggle. It’s worth all of my anxieties, fears and misgivings put together. I know that writing and storytelling is worth every challenge or disappointing moment I may experience in life. I love knowing that I’ve finally figured out what I’m good at.
And now I also know why my parents named me Kritika. The only reason they named me so was because it was an uncommon name. But Kritika in my native language means “creative” or “one who creates.” My parents didn’t figure it out and neither did I. But I have finally done justice to my name.
And, I may still not know where I’ll be in five years because nobody — and I mean nobody — can say where they will be in five years. But that’s okay. Because that’s the beauty of life and you know what? I feel like that question doesn’t matter anymore. I celebrate serendipitous moments that have the power to change my life.
And this brings me back to the “why journalism” question — journalism and writing allow me to step out of my comfort zone every day. Each day I experiment with ideas, learn from creative people doing great things with their lives, and open my mind to transformative experiences. The journey to becoming a writer was not the easiest one but it has definitely been the most rewarding.