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5 things I learned in 5 years at Cincy Jungle

After five long years with Cincy Jungle, here’s what I have to show for it.

NFL: SEP 10 Ravens at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I can’t believe I spent five years with Cincy Jungle.

When I first started, the core of the Cincinnati Bengals’ team included Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Geno Atkins, and Vontaze Burfict. Marvin Lewis first started to notice his seat steadily growing hotter. Cedric Ogbuehi, John Ross, and Nick Vigil were hoped the future of the franchise.

Joe Burrow was a redshirt freshman at Ohio State. Ja’Marr Chase was a senior in high school. Zac Taylor, coming off a flop of a season as the Bearcats’ offensive coordinator, found employment as a wide receivers coach under 31-year-old first-year head coach named Sean McVay.

It all feels like a century ago. Then again, anything before 2020 feels like a century ago.

Without getting overly personal, I have come to a point in my life where the I made the tough decision to leave Cincy Jungle.

I hope that this move is only temporary. My retirement will probably be longer than Tom Brady’s, but perhaps one day I’ll be able to resume writing about the Bengals. For now, though, this is the right choice for me.

It was a tough decision for me because, again, without getting overly personal, my life has been irreversibly changed since I wrote my first fanpost on Cincy Jungle, hoping to get picked up as a writer.

One of my responsibilities every week was writing “Things we learned.” So I think it only appropriate to leave Cincy Jungle with things that I have learned over the past five years as a writer.

5 things I learned from 5 years at Cincy Jungle

“Fake it until you make it” is actually good advice

When I first started, I had no clue what I was doing. I had only written, like, four blog posts before, and most of my experience with football was watching just it for fun. I had no idea how to write about sports.

In the early months, I would write a post, then once it was published I would find that a large population would voice their disagreements in the comments section.

Reading the dissenting comments would usually result in a strong case of Impostor Syndrome (which I have since learned is a totally normal reaction to several scenarios in life). So I did the only thing I could think to do, which was something I had never actually tried before: I pretended to know what I was doing.

It turns out that “fake it until you make it” actually works.

In retrospect, the reason that I succeeded (in my perception, at least) is that I put a lot of work into faking it. I researched and I refined my craft until I came up with something that I thought was passable. In doing so, I accidentally became a better sports writer.

Does that mean that my writing became better overnight? No, of course not. You can probably go back through my early articles and find plenty of mistaken analysis and erroneous opinions.

Honestly, the only person I was fooling was myself. But I started a cycle of giving myself some artificial confidence. That led to me unwittingly growing as a writer, which in turn led to better articles. That led me to more confidence, and the cycle continued.

I learned not to fake it for its own sake, but that the act of faking it led me to putting in the work I needed to eventually make it.

Learn how to take criticism (and who to take it from)

Taking criticism is an integral part of becoming a better person, and I believe most would agree with that statement.

Sometimes, we can take it too far and accept too much criticism. Or at least, I do.

Again, when I started out, I didn’t have any confidence in what I was doing. I soon learned that not all criticism is created equally.

After a few months of writing, I decided to stop reading comments on my articles. As an inexperienced writer, I would see people disagreeing with me, and I automatically assumed they knew better than I did.

I’m not saying that I know more about football than everyone else. I’m sure I had some takes so hot, that if I read them now I would wonder why I was ever allowed to create legitimate articles on this website. But I assumed that every disagreement was valid, which was not the case.

I had to stop taking everything so seriously. A lot of the voices in the comments or on Twitter were unproductive for me. I learned nothing about why I might be wrong or why my writing was subpar.

Instead, I learned from people who knew what they were doing.

In my rookie year, I was constantly getting feedback from Rebecca Toback, who was the site manager at the time. As it turns out, Rebecca was kind of good at this whole writing thing, and passed down a lot of valuable advice. Sometimes, I feel like she signed me as an undrafted free agent and turned me into a Pro Bowler.

This is something I’ve learned from my own past, and second-hand from from other’s experiences as well.

When Billy Price was the starting center his rookie year, he had trouble with snaps during the preseason. I learned a few years later that he would get on Twitter after practices and read all of the tweets about his poor snapping.

Though Price was never the player the Bengals hoped he would be, he took a disproportionate amount of heat on Twitter. I can’t help but wonder if that was part of the reason he never got his feet under him in Cincinnati. Perhaps it put him in a mental state that he could never recover from.

But why would he take it so personally, from people with only a fraction of the athletic ability and absolutely no NFL experience?

Don’t mistake confidence for competence

In case you’re not getting the theme by now, I was highly insecure as a new writer. I couldn’t post an article or send a tweet without hearing an opposing viewpoint.

Like I mentioned earlier, I always assumed everyone was correct, and I was always in the wrong.

I also mentioned that I became a better football writer with practice. I learned more about the game, how to break down a play, and how to judge a players’ performance.

For a lack of a better phrase, I started having better opinions.

But, interestingly enough, all of the anonymous Twitter users never stopped disagreeing with me. Even though my knowledge grew to a higher level, I still didn’t see eye-to-eye with a lot of people. Sometimes I would do more research after the fact just to see where I went wrong. But most of the time, fact-checking confirmed my original stance.

This would lead me to an interesting conclusion that I had never considered before: The other person was wrong.

Why had I allowed them to fool me? Because they sounded so confident.

The reverse of the “fake it until you make it” axiom is that there’s a lot of people out there faking it. I should have known this because I was one of them.

Maybe some people don’t even realize they’re faking it, and they think they are right. But being a football guru takes a small amount of time and energy. If you haven’t done that, you’re faking it whether you realize it or not.

Again, don’t take everything that everyone says as fact. If you see an opinionated tweeter spouting off a hot take, a quick check of the tweet history will tell you whether or not to take them seriously.

The loudest voices come from the smallest groups

This is something I have learned from being a Cincy Jungle writer, and I’ve seen it come up in other ways outside of the internet.

As a young and insecure writer, any amount of contradiction was nearly crippling. I would every so often see comments along the lines of “Are you serious? You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

But as I matured, I learned that one comment like that every once in a while wasn’t a bad thing. Why would I let one person’s opinion bother me when a thousand other people read the same thing and didn’t feel the need to voice their distention?

I could get into how people liking your content isn’t even a good measuring stick for success, but I won’t do that now. Even if that is your metric, why would one voice bother you if you have satisfied an overwhelming majority?

Find what you’re good at, and keep doing it

I know a lot of this is about how I overcame my insecurities as a writer, and if that was too much I apologize.

I’ll change the pace a little bit here and move on to something that took me a lot longer to learn.

As a new member of Cincy Jungle, I wrote a lot of different kinds of articles.

Sometimes, I would write about news, which mostly involved pasting an Ian Rapoport tweet and expounding on it until I hit 250 words. At other times, I would read a Geoff Hobson article or listen to a podcast and do a quick article on that. Then, there was my usual post-game recaps or “things we learned” that I wrote every week.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t enjoy writing those 100 percent of the time. Sometimes, they felt like work.

But I eventually found a kind of article that I never tired of writing.

Any time a story thread could be woven in, I was all over it. It started with an article about the Bengals-Steelers rivalry from 2015-2017, then bled into another article about Burfict and Matt Barkley’s high school and college beef.

Whenever I could tell a story, I always felt the best about the quality of my work.

There was a wide variety of material the Cincy Jungle team could produce. Some writers were best working with analytics. Others were great at breaking down X’s and O’s. I just happened to be the narratives guy.

If I was the only writer on the site, then Cincy Jungle would be a lot less interesting. But my contribution, along with the rest of the writers there, helped make it appealing to all kinds of Bengals fans.

Outside of the sports writing, the lesson I learned here is that you need to find what you are good at and what you enjoy the most. That’s the kind of thing that sustains you mentally and emotionally.

Once you do that, find a place where that would be a welcome contribution.