If you told me a few years ago I would end up behind a desk in my own office, I don’t know what I would have thought. I don’t know that I’m made for life behind a desk, it always seemed monotonous, draining, too regular...and me? I was built for something extraordinary.
6 and a half years ago, I embarked on a journey to become a truth teller, a journalist that could tell stories that made a difference. In many ways I was able to do that, doing stories that touched my heart about opioid addiction, impoverished areas trying to rebuild, the impact of local disasters—it was invigorating work sometimes. Those days I cherished. Those days there was so much effort, so many beautiful stories that deserved to be heard. However, if you saw the inside of the beast, it was a different animal entirely, I ended up frustrated, sick of the way stations treated their employees and angry all the time about how so many people higher up were less focused on the stories that might be a bit more difficult to tell for the sake of something that could be thrown together. It was a heartbreaker for someone who thought this would be their thing forever. I remember a high school classmate writing in my yearbook that I was going to be the “black Katie Couric”—this was supposed to be my thing and here I was, spending most days answering the question of if I liked my job with a laugh that said, you do not want the answer to that question.
To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. There were many days that were good, these were the ones that would prop you up. Sure, some of those good days were the ones when everything seemed to fall apart, but the times when you were able to connect with someone you were interviewing or team coverage was amazing...but those good days weren’t so numerous. For all our anger and frustration in the newsroom, it also helped the reporters bond...even if the conversations started with topics like how manager X made a comment that my wearing glasses on air was “distracting” but how else was I supposed to see because my eyes were blood red in my contacts? We lived in a different type of world, where even our most pleasant and optimistic reporters were unhappy. It was crazy how many truly positive people who would do anything and even were fortunate to have great stories still felt powerless.
It wasn’t really one thing in particular that set me on the path to leave though. Though there was one incident that put things in perspective with screeching precision. It was a day I was covering a story and my photographer (one of the most talented ones I had worked with) just…lost it.
There’s no other way to describe it.
This person, around my parent’s age, possibly older, almost to the point of tears in the back of a news van. Not because of the story we had covered that day, not because of any specific thing I had done, but because of how the managers were treating them. The photographer pounded their hands against the inside of the news van, screaming, threatening violence, yelling all sorts of craziness and then said the words that I can still hear rumbling around my head.
“This is what the fuck they do to you. They get you to this point. Where you’re crying in the back of a news van because of their bullshit.”
I had already had my bad days at work over the years. I’d already had the day I turned around after having my news director berate me where I yelled back to him “you will not fucking speak to me like this” which then lead to me telling him about my reports to the union and to HR. I had already had days of screaming at loved ones that they “just don’t understand” the pressure I’m under right now. I already got past internalizing the way old bosses found new ways to tear down my coworkers. And I was sick of it.
After months of threatening to do it in hopeful conversations with coworkers (how many of us joked about how badly we wanted to quit?) I decided I wasn’t going to talk about it anymore. I walked into my news director’s office and said I thought it was best I leave. They agreed, going so far as saying they expected this conversation because of our testy interactions. I met with our general manager who said he was shocked. I spoke with HR and have a lengthy exit interview. We negotiated terms and 3 months later on June 1, 2018, I left news entirely behind. I sold what I could, packed the rest in my car, drove across the country, trying to digest my pride because I was 28 years old, starting over, with no job in sight…moving back in with my parents.
I was the exact thing I feared becoming: a failure…a quitter.
What I failed to see was that I also was doing something that would qualify as my biggest act of self-care: walking away from something when I needed to do so, not holding on with a iron grip onto something that brought me stress, anger, and not enough pay just because at one point, it brought me joy and purpose.
Every now and then, someone will ask me do I regret leaving or if I would go back…and that’s tough. I miss the urgency, the pace, creating something new and (maybe even) meaningful every single day is a rush, I don’t know I’ll ever be able to match that in any other industry. I also would never say that I wouldn’t go back, but I will say that being away from it, having time to breathe, time to try and create things my own way in a new role has been invigorating in ways I never could have imagined.
And I’m so grateful.