Sometimes I wish my story was better.
The story I'm writing on deadline, the story of how I settled on journalism, the story of why I chose to spend four years at Penn State.
So it wasn't surprising that as I sat in my San Francisco hotel room that Thursday in June, I kept asking if -- and how -- my story could be better.
I had 40 minutes left to make sure each word was perfectly crafted and that there were no glaring grammatical mistakes in my three articles. Forty minutes to make sure that what I turned in to the judges was better than my seven competitors. I had 40 minutes left to either pace or simply trust myself. Easier said than done, right?
It took about 15 more minutes for my heart to slow down and another five to get my computer and every charger imaginable in order and make the walk to the pseudo "press room" in the Palace Hotel.
Despite my fears, the printer spit out my three stories without any trouble and I returned to my room with 15 minutes to spare.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Falling back against the mattress, I stared up at the ceiling and for the first time in about 48 hours, let myself breathe.
I was done.
They call it the Pulitzers of college journalism, though I prefer to call it The Amazing Race or The Hunger Games. Those seem better terms to encapsulate 48 hours of running around a city most of us had never set foot in to find the perfect stories that would not only set us apart, but also prove we were better than the rest.
The Hearst Journalism National Championships is an annual competition held in early June, traditionally in the heart of downtown San Francisco.
Twenty nine journalists in all, we walked the streets of San Francisco for the 53rd year with weapons in hand. For some, the notepad and pen. For others, a camera. We each carried the tools of the medium we most believed in, and we each had 48 hours to research, report and tell three stories.
Seated around a long boardroom table with journalists and judges our first night, the two-day time span seemed long enough. One story had already been revealed.
The paper was thin and crumpled a little in our shaking hands. It read: "How do young people find affordable housing in San Francisco?"
The answer? No idea -- but I was going to find out.
I don't get anxious often. I pride myself on being able to remain calm when situations tend to get a little crazy.
The riots after the firing of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno didn't send me running in the other direction while working for my college newspaper, The Daily Collegian. I've gone head to head with national news organizations in covering big stories, including those of my own university.
But the moment that sent me pacing -- in hindsight, more like limping -- in high heels that rubbed my feet raw, cradling a sweating water glass in my hand, was the final awards dinner.
The hour-long reception displaying student work couldn't end soon enough. The fancy food at dinner took too long to serve. And the writing champions were named last.
(Patience isn't one of my virtues.)
In the end, the names were called rather quickly and the food was fantastic. For the first time all week, we couldn't do anything to change our work or our fate -- the judges had already decided that.
On the final morning, I sat around the breakfast table, surveying the judges and those who placed higher -- and lower -- than me.
I had placed third, a feat that many promised would end in job offers and great connections.
But mainly I walked away from San Francisco with the knowledge that a lot of journalists -- people that I would be working with in the future -- were just as dedicated to making a difference with the written word as I was.
And even though we didn't know it, San Francisco held our own stories, of overcoming fears and obstacles, of finding the moment, of recognizing the strength within us.
An award signifies nothing if you didn't enjoy the journey that got you there. And for most of us in San Francisco, I'd say the journey is what we'll always remember.
Brittany Horn was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette and returns to Penn State as a senior this fall (Twitter: @brittanyhorn).