How to be a lifelong student – and profit from it

I loved being a student. During the years that my primary job was to study and learn new things, I thrived. While a life in academia may have suited me just fine, the debt I finished off my undergrad with, and the level of competition for academic jobs, steered me towards a search for other professional options.

It took me a little while, but I finally landed on a way to translate the experience of being a student into a profitable career outside of academia. Much of being a good student boils down to the responsibility to learn, and to successfully communicate what you’ve learned to others. Working as a freelance writer drops that same experience into a new context.

It turns out, there are varied opportunities where by researching and effectively communicating knowledge to a wide audience online (and occasionally in print) is of value. I graduated amidst a slew of articles about the end of journalism and a growing skepticism at the possibility of making a career as a writer. While many magazines and newspapers have managed to stay around in spite of the apocalyptic predictions, they’re just a tiny portion of the work opportunities available to writers.

Businesses have always needed content, but it’s becoming a more important line item in their budgets than ever. With the dominance that search engines – or really just the one, Google –  practice over how people consume and make decisions, businesses must do what it takes to curry favor with the mysterious Google gods (e.g. the increasingly complicated algorithm that determines rankings). Google favors websites with quality content, and writers gain a more crucial position in the success of businesses.

While freelance writing differs from academic pursuits in that I can’t pick something specific I’m passionate about to focus my learning efforts on, it nudges me out of my comfort zone and requires that I delve into new subjects. Every new project or client comes with new knowledge. As a professional student of such a wide variety of subjects, my understanding of the world gets broader all the time.

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