I was lucky. I knew what I wanted to be. As a teen, I had decided I wanted to be a journalist, not because of any great calling, but – fatally – because I liked writing and was better at it than anything else.
English at Exeter University was not part of any grand plan, it was just my best subject. Filled with gap-year memories of the Middle East I applied to switch to Arabic in my first term. Wisely, they rejected me.
Failing to see much point in the anonymous literature of the Middle Ages, I devoted ever more time to working as the cappuccino boy in the trendy Next espresso bar (it was the 1980s!) and the university newspaper, Signature. I became its editor, turning the paper into a glossy magazine. It was not my finest hour, but boy, did I learn on the job in those pre-Apple days.
I had done work experience at Company magazine, but having exhausted my knowledge of mudpacks, and lacking journalist contacts, I tried my luck – as most did – via the Monday Media Guardian, then a sizeable standalone print section. One just applied and applied, Signature being my principal calling card.
After Exeter, I had the most fun of my working life as a waiter in Covent Garden while applying for journalist jobs. Bigging up my interest in food, I got to the last two out of 100 to be editorial assistant on Centaur’s Restaurant Business magazine. The scary, wonderful Roberta Cohen hired me over my female rival because “there were too many women in the office”. The magazine closed a year later during a recession. Some things change, others stay the same. You need some luck after graduating. But if ever a cliché was rooted in truth, it is that you make your own luck!
Stefano is editor of the i. Follow him on Twitter.