Why Alex is a Hawk to Watch:
Comedy, arts, and entertainment can help us get through life’s rough patches and reflect on what truly matters. And in moments of uncertainty and difficulty, connecting with others through laughter can make a world of difference.
Since graduating with a degree in English from KU nearly nine years ago, Alex Nichols has applied his comedic talents and knack for storytelling to a wide range of creative endeavors, working both on-stage and behind-the-scenes in independent sketch comedy, short fiction, online marketing, television, and, most recently, educational content development.
But moving outside of his comfort zone didn’t always come naturally for Alex, and saying “yes” to new gigs often required him to confront self-doubt and fear of failure. At the end of the day, he eventually realized, it’s all about perseverance, trial and error, and a willingness to move forward when things don’t go as planned. In his words, “just do stuff.”
Tell us in a sentence or two what you do for a living:
I’m a content producer for Wiley Education Services, which means I write and sometimes direct videos for graduate level online courses at universities like George Mason and Purdue. I also write short fiction, which… doesn’t pay as well.
How did you end up doing what you do? Was there a certain moment when things came together? Or was it a longer journey?
The journey is still very much in progress. I’m happy to have a day job that involves writing about interesting subjects in an educational context (as opposed to a corporate context, like when I worked at a small creative agency). Outside of that, I’m doing what I’ve done since graduating nearly nine years ago: writing a bunch of different things for a bunch of different projects. When I lived in Chicago, I did a lot of improv, wrote and performed in independent sketch shows, and produced an independent TV pilot. Here in Boulder, I’ve focused on short fiction with help from the Boulder Writing Studio while becoming more active in the Denver improv scene. Just trying to make things and hoping that it finds an audience.
What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?
I’m very proud of my short story “Terms of Service,” which was published in Mississippi State’s Jabberwock Review last year. Getting anything published is an achievement, but more than that, I think it’s the best and most polished thing I’ve ever written. I’m a horrible procrastinator and self-doubt has kept me from writing things in the past, so the fact that I’ve been able to push myself to get good enough to write a story like that feels pretty big to me.
What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?
You aren’t just going to wake up one day and have everything suddenly click. You have to make a lot of stuff and fail a lot and keep failing and be okay with that. I have never actually played baseball, but imagine you’re going up against a great pitcher who paints the corners every time. You can’t just stand there waiting for a fat one down the middle, because you’re going to strike out looking real fast. You have to swing at something eventually. And now I’m picturing 18-year-old me staring blankly at 30-year-old me wondering where I’m going with this baseball metaphor and how I gained all that weight.
What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?
I mean, there are lots of moments to choose from, but the thing that bothers me the most is from the summer after I graduated. I was already in Chicago but had agreed to write a play that would be produced independently back in Lawrence. I put it off for months and eventually told the director who’d asked me to write something that I couldn’t do it. I told them that I was too busy, but the truth is, I was so scared of failing that I couldn’t bring myself to write a single word. The only way to get past that sort of thinking is to do stuff. Which I’ve gradually gotten better at doing since then.
What’s your best career pro-tip?
Just do stuff. However much stuff you have the time and energy to do, just do it. Hmm… “Just do it.” That’s pretty good. I should use that for something. Maybe an advertising slogan of some sort.
How did your KU degree prepare you for your current job?
I do 100% of my writing in English, so the value of my English degree should be self-evident.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
Living on a planet that isn’t completely on fire.
What do you do after you’ve clocked out?
Along with my wife, I take care of our three-year-old son and his one-year-old brother, and then after I’ve clocked out from that job, I try to get some writing done or, failing that, lie on the couch half-watching an NBA game I have no actual interest in.
What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?
My go-to fun fact used to be that I had open heart surgery when I was 11 months old, but then I found out that actually the body remembers that sort of thing and so therefore it’s less a “fun fact” than “lingering trauma that needed to be processed.” So instead I’ll say that my fun fact is that a sketch video I wrote for the iO Comedy Network in Chicago was DP’d by Bing Liu, who went on to direct the Oscar-nominated documentary Minding the Gap, one of my favorite movies of 2018. The sketch was deeply stupid whereas Minding the Gap is breathtakingly beautiful, and I think there’s some sort of lesson in there about the power of perseverance.
Be like Alex. Do something you love. For more information, visit the Department of English at the University of Kansas and Wiley Education Services.
Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts.