Occupational hazards

“Are you Amy?”

Those are three of the most frightening words in the English language. At least to me. While I pleasantly respond in the affirmative, inside my head the answer is, “that depends on why you’re asking.” Occupational hazard. Very rarely does someone seek out a reporter for a good reason. Usually it’s to offer a complaint, a criticism or to tell you what you should be writing. It’s uncomfortable at best which is why when people ask me, “are you Amy?” I internally cringe, bracing for what’s to come.

But not every “are you Amy?” is followed by a drunken rant describing in detail the story I should write for tomorrow’s paper. (And yes, that has happened to me. On more than one occasion.) There are times when the question is followed with good intentions, like yesterday when I was watching the U.S. Under 18 Women’s Team practice at HarborCenter.  I was trying to catch the numbers on the back of the girls’ helmets to jot down line combinations because, well, because as a hockey writer that’s what I do, when two men came up, asked if I was Amy. I internally braced for the worst as they introduced themselves. I quickly eased. They work with high school girls hockey. They wanted to say hi and ask if they could email me information on the upcoming state tournament. Sure. Not a problem.

Team USA practicing at HarborCenter.

They talked about their high school teams taking a winter break since many of their players also were on local club teams scheduled to scrimmage the eight international teams in Western New York for the tournament. It was such an amazing opportunity for the girls, they said. The enthusiasm was genuine and as they walked away I had a flashback to another “are you Amy” episode.

I was in the newsroom when a phone call came for me. DANGER! I wasn’t expecting a phone call in the office. Sports reporters have unique schedules. Rarely are we in the office. If someone needs to get in touch with me, they call my cell phone or send me a text or email. So whomever was on the other end of the phone was someone I was not expecting to hear from. “But nobody knows I’m here!” I whined. With dread I picked up the line.

“This is Amy.”

That’s when I had the conversation that changed everything.

The woman on the other end of the phone had a daughter who played hockey. Her team won a championship but the girl was defeated. “Mom, nobody cares,” the girl said, upset that her team’s accomplishments had gone unnoticed.

It just so happened that same day there was a story in the paper about women’s hockey. “Look,” the mother said to her daughter, pointing to the newspaper article. “People do notice. They do care.” The story was a feature I had written about women’s college hockey. It wasn’t about this girl’s particular team, but seeing her sport covered in the mainstream media helped supply validation to this girl. What she did mattered.

In turn by sharing that story that with me, I was reminded that what I did mattered, too.

Confession: Sometimes it feels like I put words out into the universe and they just float aimlessly into the void.  Many of my most prized stories and assignments lose me Twitter followers. Because people only care about pro sports. Or men’s sports. Or extremely witty 140 character comments.

Yes, I know that my talent is not accurately measured by my number of Twitter followers, but in the modern media reality clicks mean you care and metrics are often the measure of worthiness. It’s the business side of the job.

I know, too, that external validation is a fool’s game. That a job well done is it’s own reward. That high school girl? She shouldn’t have needed acknowledgement to justify her accomplishment. Me? I shouldn’t need that phone call to validate my work. But I don’t think this is the lesson the universe is trying to teach me. Not in this case. No what I think the universe is trying to teach me is that what we do matters.

What we do matters. Even when we think it doesn’t. Even when we think no one is paying attention. Even when we think the only person reading our stuff is our mother.

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