When The Pen Isn’t Mightier

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series in which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do

Kyle Phillippi is a far better writer than I’ll ever be. He’s also the stepbrother of my best friend, who was the best man in my wedding, and a former student to whom I aspired while his writing career was taking off. Still, like so many #formerstudentFriday posts, his path was all at once direct and winding, with a destination that is still unclear.


You know that cliche movie scene where the main character boards a train or a bus, grabs a window seat on an otherwise empty cabin and enters a deep, contemplating stare out into the distance? Oh, and it begins to rain while an overused song by The Fray plays over the background, don’t forget that part

That moment – sans ‘How to Save a Life’- was reality for me as I boarded a NJ Transit train in New York City at 1:30 a.m.

I had just finished my shift at the Major League Baseball media offices in Chelsea Market when I realized how close to the needle I was cutting it… I had approximately 15 minutes to travel about 15 blocks and catch the final train of the night to The Garden State.

Naturally, I flung my backpack over my shoulder, hustled down four flights of stairs and – seeing no taxi at initial glance – put my head down and entered a sprint.

Fast forward 15 minutes, I was the last passenger to board as the doors closed behind me. I found a quiet spot fittingly by a window, drenched in perspiration, and that’s where the aforementioned ‘a-ha’ ‘moment came about as a light drizzle lathered the sides of the train.

What was that moment?

It was time for me to change careers – to put aside my goal of becoming a national sports reporter – and to take my first step into adulthood.

From a young age, I knew what I wanted and knew what I enjoyed. That was writing for me, and specifically sports writing. I found success fairly early, mostly because I kicked down the door on any and all opportunities that I came across. I found my byline appearing everywhere from The Press of AC to Sports Illustrated from covering events like the Winter Classic to Philadelphia Eagles training camp.

Failure never was an option for me. Yet, a brief conversation with a professor of mine at Rowan University opened my eyes to something when she asked, “What’s your back-up plan?”

I stared blankly… navigating through my thoughts trying to grasp at something, only to come to a realization that I never had a back-up plan.

Like I said previously, I never considered failure. I’m not someone who prepares for the worst, I prefer taking things in strides. I told my professor just that, “I’ll cross that bridge if it ever comes up.”

Well — surprise — it did come up. Despite being featured in major newspapers and media outlets, none of them offered full-time status which meant no salary, no benefits, and no way of truly beginning my adulthood.

That was my bridge and I had two options: continue trudging through the up-and-down nature of a freelance journalist or veer of the road and find a new path.

I chose the latter, entering the business world, and now having been in it for over a year and a half, I can proudly say I made the right decision.

Don’t get me wrong, there still are moments where I wish I was still perched somewhere in a press box overlooking a Flyers-Penguins game or standing behind the net taking in the Phillies batting practice. I’ll always feel like I was born to be a writer, but sometimes — I’ve learned — there can be a second avenue.

I always wonder that had it not been for that conversation with my advisor as a freshman, would I have ever truly considered a back-up plan? It was in that moment in which the wheels spun ever so slightly on what life after journalism would be for me. While that previous career went on for a good five years after that encounter, I owe a lot of where I’m at today to that moment.

No matter where you’re at currently, things can change in a hurry. Whether it’s internally or from forces you can’t control, change is inevitable. How often do you ever hear of someone sticking with their first job out of college for life?


Never.

Writing is my passion — always will be — but I learned that sometimes a passion doesn’t always lead to a career, and that the best path of travel can sometimes be your back-up plan.

Kyle Phillippi has a BA in journalism from Rowan University. Prior to switching careers, he currently works as a Territory Manager at Swisher International, Kyle saw his byline across numerous publications. His sports writing path saw him make stops at Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, Major League Baseball, The Philadelphia Inquirer and various newspapers across New Jersey, including The Star-Ledger and NJ.com