This summer, after graduating, I fell into a passive shuffle of solitary freelance work. I enjoyed my projects, as well as some post-grad rest and relaxation, but I didn’t closely examine my time.

Early on in the week of the Next Gen Radio program, my mentor Nathan Bernier asked me if it was my goal to work in public radio. The practicality of the question struck me. In my head, I would have to go to grad school or get many more years of experience before even considering that as an option. I was still thinking like an intern.

(Understandably, as my past two residencies at the Austin NPR office had been internships for the Texas Standard and KUTX.)

The Next Gen week of early mornings, daily goals and bright office lights broke me out of my “working from home”-induced haze. My relative comfort with the various requirements of the project encouraged me to think bigger about my journalism career. It seemed so obvious that I should be constantly, even if casually, looking at jobs, as well as considering audio and photography as part of my repertoire.

I love writing personal profiles, and have quite a few coming up in the next few months. Witnessing our managing editor Traci Tong, as well as my mentor Nathan, distill my story down to its very essence was especially enlightening. It reminded me to put in the pre-work beforehand and really think about why the story matters, building in multiple checkpoints along the way.

While out recording the interview portion of the project, Nathan was able to gently prod my surly, 65-year-old subject into totally spilling his guts. Simple questions like “But why do you feel that way?” served so much better than my pre-planned, drawn-out inquiries.

So, in both storytelling wisdom and career development, NPR Next Gen gave me a much-needed mental reset. The week refreshingly reminded me to stay sharp, and always take the extra time to look critically at both my current projects and future career goals.