Guest Spotlight: Jonathan Tjarks

Guest Spotlight: Jonathan Tjarks

Jonathan is an award-winning freelance writer who has worked with the Dallas Morning News, the Austin American Statesman, and a host of other forums. You can find his work on RealGM.com, one of the leading sports news and information sites on the web.

He’s also one of my favorite writers.

He outlined the reasons why it wasn’t Lebron’s fault the Cavaliers didn’t win a title and why it’s more difficult for a 45-win team to win a title than a 20-win cellar-dweller.

I’ve invited Jonathan to tell us more about himself.

When/how did you realize you wanted to become a writer? Was it obvious since childhood?

You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. I was an only child and my parents didn’t let me have cable TV or a video-game system until I was a teenager. So I read a lot as a kid and lived in my own mind, which had its pros and cons, but it definitely made be a better writer in school.

I dabbled in it through high school and college – writing for the school paper, interning at a few newspapers – but I never really took it seriously as a career. I got caught up in partying and trying to make money, and I was pretty set on going to law school.

The real turning point was my senior thesis for undergrad. My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the same time, so it seemed like a natural thing to write about. The writing process was incredibly therapeutic for me, and I realized it fit my personality a lot more then working in corporate America. The whole experience was a wake-up call for me, personally and professionally.

Tell us something about yourself. (Where are you from, what is your background, how long have you been writing or anything we might find interesting about you.)

I like Kevin Durant’s twitter handle: “I’m me, I do me and I chill.”

Seriously though, like most people my perspective has been shaped by my experiences. I’ve had my feet in different worlds most of my life: dad grew up on a farm in Nebraska, mom grew up in Manila. Born and raised in a middle-class neighborhood in South Dallas, had an academic scholarship at an upper-crust college prep school across town and spent most of my teenage years playing basketball with kids from some of the worst areas of Dallas.

At one point did you abandon the pro-sports quest? Do you still play basketball?

I remember playing Darrell Arthur (now on the Memphis Grizzlies) in middle school. I’m going up against this younger kid, whose bigger, faster, taller and more skilled than I am. I’m looking at my coach like what am I supposed to do? It was more than just his size and skill too; it was the way he moved on the court. Nothing awkward about him, he just had a real natural feel for controlling his body. He already had a rep, and on some level I knew: this guy was a pro and I wasn’t.

I played pretty seriously through high school, and I had a few offers to play D3 basketball in college. But I knew there was no future in it and that I needed to figure out who I was outside of sports.

I went to college at UT, and after a few years, started to play again to get back in shape. It was the first time I was playing without any expectations for how I would perform, and it was great. It’s an incredibly social activity that keeps you fit: I play 3-4 times a week and I plan on doing so as long as I physically can.

Besides writing, what else do you like to do?

I do the fairly typical things of the post-college set: going out, working out, seeing friends. One hobby I’ve picked up is stand-up comedy; you’re still writing stuff but the public performance aspect makes it a real challenge.

Stand-up, eh? Got any jokes?

Here’s a joke….

This is what Disney teaches us about dating:

The Little Mermaid: if a girl’s hot, it doesn’t matter how crazy she is.

Aladdin: if you have to lie to get a girl, do it.

Tarzan: women are attracted to men who act like silver-back gorillas.

What obstacles on your path to sports writing have you encountered? How did you overcome them?

The biggest obstacle, besides the fact that the traditional model of working up through a newspaper is fading away, was myself. Just learning to believe in myself and what I was writing and to take criticisms in stride and not personally. When you try to pursue a non-traditional career, you’ll face rejection all the time and a lot of the people in your life will want you to try something more stable.

That’s why I really like rappers like Jay-Z and Kanye, whose whole message is “I believed in myself when no one else did and look where I am now.” The human mind is very malleable: that’s why the placebo effect is so powerful. If you tell your mind something enough times, it will start to believe it, no matter how divorced it is from objective reality. You just have to decide in believe yourself. It sounds easy but it isn’t.

It’s weird advice to give, because for every Jay or Kanye there’s a hundred rappers who didn’t make it for whatever reason. Skill is important but it’s not enough. There are a lot more successful people with a little amount of skill and a whole lot of confidence than the reverse.

What is the best advice you could give to aid others in pursuit of their own goals?

Life is about practice. You’re not going to step out on a basketball court and start knocking down 3’s like Ray Allen. Anything worth having is something you’re going to have to work for every day of your life.

That’s where confidence comes into play. I think most people don’t work that hard not because of laziness but because they don’t totally believe in themselves. That way, if things don’t work out, they can blame something besides their ability: you’ll see this all the time in college. It’s one thing to fail if you didn’t study; it’s another thing to fail if you studied your ass off.

Do you have aspirations to coach or enter the front-office of a basketball team?

Not particularly, but if for some crazy reason I was given an opportunity like that I’d be foolish not to at least consider it.

Where can readers read more of your work (website/contact info)?

I write for a few different websites, but I post everything I do at jonathantjarks.blogspot.com.

My twitter handle is @getbucketsFT and you can contact me if you email admin@getbuckets.fantake.com.

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