About 10 months ago, I stumbled upon a website called BleacherReport.com, partly as a result of mere chance and partly because it was exactly what I was looking for.
At the time, of course, I had no idea it was what I was looking for.
Described as a "fan journalist" site, I had virtually no idea of what I was getting into when I decided to sign up for a membership except for the fact that I wanted to write articles about sports for people to read and discuss.
I started with a small article about a player from the Vancouver Canucks. That piece got just over 400 reads, and I said what most people would say when over 400 people have read your work.
For my second article, I decided to tackle a bigger challenge: Michael Vick and his dog fighting scandal, as well as putting forth a controversial question to the readers: Does Michael Vick Deserve A Second Chance?
With the second article amassing over 3,000 reads, I said what most would say when over 3,000 people have read your work.
As time went by, I wrote more and more articles and eagerly anticipated the response they would bring with them. So much to the point that I would log on to one of my school's computers during the lunch hour just to see if there were any new reads or comments left behind.
In a matter of months, Bleacher Report suddenly became a site that I visited regularly, reading and writing articles, giving and receiving comments, and for the first time in my life, I felt as if people cared about what I had to say regarding sports.
Because, at least in my eyes, it doesn't matter how large of audience is reading what you wrote if it's not the right audience that's reading it.
And in the time that I've been writing articles I have felt as if every single one of my articles have been presented to the right audience. Good or bad, well-researched or poorly researched as they might have been, they have never been read by the wrong people.
A feeling that I didn't have when I first joined Bleacher Report.
As hard as it is to admit, I used to be a lot more of a stubborn person than I think I am today. I used to cringe at the sight of a negative comment and think of ways how to make some sarcastic response to salve my ego. But after a while, I realized something.
At 18, I figured that I have to be one of the younger writers on this site, so why was I so hard on myself when things didn't go precisely according to plan in terms of how my articles were received?
Am I a bad writer? Do people not like my style? Am I too pushy leaving messages on people's bulletin boards to read my articles? But the conclusion I came to didn't involve any of these scenarios.
It's all a part of a learning experience.
I realized that by asking myself all these questions, I had taken all the negative feedback that I had been faced with and turned it into a situation where I could develop as a writer because I wanted so badly to prove them wrong.
Isn't that what good writers do?
Maybe it is and maybe it isn't, to know the answer to that question I first must become one.
But what I can say is that had it not been for Bleacher Report I would have definitely still wanted to pursue sports journalism as I am planning to currently, but I would have likely missed a very important life lesson.
And you know what? I just realized that's what I've been looking for all along.