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Life after journalism: A year later

Submitted by on Saturday, 5 September 2009 No Comment

We’re sitting outside a Starbucks on a sunny Saturday, Dad leafing through the local newspaper as I mutter while my WiFi connection flakes out again.

The first article he reads is a piece by a former colleague I admire and respect who’s doing his second hitch reporting from Iraq for McClatchy.

A year ago, the colleague was reporting from Modesto.

A year ago, Dad would have turned to the sports page before reading international news. He was a civilian. Events across the world had no relevance to his life and career.

A year ago, I would have been frantically jetting from work to a soccer game and then back to work  – a juggle far more frustrating than trying to maintain a stable WiFi connection.

Exactly a year ago today, I wore heels, make-up and grown-up clothes for the last time as I said goodbye to friends – some very dear to me – I’d worked with for more than a decade. I was walking away from mainstream media, where I’d spent my entire adult life. I’d no longer be an editor – a role that had defined my professional and, to a great extent, my personal identity for decades.

And I’d stepped into … what?

I wasn’t sure at all, and despite all my whistling in the dark about options and opportunities to reinvent myself, I was scared witless.

“I think I’m going to jump off the ledge,” a friend had told me as we weighed whether to leave. Our situations were similar: Mothers with two young boys who’d known no other profession and whose families needed our paychecks. “How about you?”

“I think I’m going to jump, too,” I told her.

For a while, I longed for the safety of the edge of the abyss. I had unemployment and severance pay, but that would only last for so long. I’d gambled that before it ran out, I could generate enough free-lance work to help keep us afloat.

At times, the magnitude of betting it all caused nausea to well up in my throat. How could I do that to the guys? How could I put their financial security at risk on a wing and a prayer that this would work?

On the other hand, remaining in journalism also would have been an indulgence – hanging onto my goals and ambitions while the guys suffered. Not suffering in an “abused and neglected way,” but suffering in too often coming in second to professional demands that had no respect for the clock or calendar.

Even with the financial uncertainties, though, the new life was easier for everyone.

I no longer had to shuttle Big Guy from kindergarten to day care and then home at the end of the frantic day as I rushed to finish work before day care closed. Instead, I’d work before the crack of down – clients on the East Coast made this not only doable but even preferable – or late into the night instead.

I no longer had to worry about whether I’d make it in time for school events or soccer games – I could tailor my schedule around those events that might not mean much to some but are huge in the guys’ world.

I no longer had to cook the night before so we could reheat it when we got home and began the frenetic push to dispose of dinner and homework in order to squeeze in a bit of fun before bedtime. We could fix dinner together – Big Guy’s a wiz at beef stroganoff now.

Funny thing is, most days I still work eight hours and most weeks I still work 40. Not all, though. Some days and weeks are longer, some are shorter. On balance, it evens out.

Balance. That was what I wanted. A chance to be a contributing professional without dropping a bomb on my kids.

A lot of people are scratching their heads at the way my life works today.

“You still doing that computer thing?” a relative asked recently. “I don’t understand how that works.”

Pretty much the same way it always did, I said. I write an article and send it via computer to someone else, who reads it and then either approves it or sends it back. Except now, that person is in another building or even another time zone while I’m sitting in my kitchen, in shorts and flip-flops.

Or in a Starbucks on a Saturday, muttering about flaky WiFi.

It’s a small and fleeting problem. I’ll take it any day over the ones I left behind.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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