How You Know When It’s Time To Go

I’ve never written for LinkedIn before but they asked for a short essay tied to the book. So I wrote this and they posted it over the weekend … and holy cow what a reaction! The comments are WONDERFUL. All these people who either leaped already or want to.

The critics — and there are a few — cite two flaws in what I say in the piece: first, that people who leap will pay a high price financially (even though I never say to just leap without saving up for it), and second, that people who leap will rue the day when future employers look and don’t like the fact that they have a “gap” of some sort in their working lives/résumé.

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I address both of those concerns in the book. But I think it’s time for someone to start asking corporate managers, especially those who do the hiring, what, exactly, they think happens when people step away for a little while… from a few weeks to a few months or a year or more. Do they think everyone falls and hits their head and forgets everything they know? I find it more than a little bit absurd that time spent having a life, figuring out what your next move is, makes you unhireable. Where’s the evidence of that? Stay tuned for more on this — and if you’re a hiring manager, contact me!

 

T-minus-2

“It changes almost from hour to hour.”

That’s my answer to the most common question I’m getting these days… “How are you doing while you wait?” While I wait for publication.

Well let’s see … for a little while I’ll feel terror — this is the most personal thing I’ve ever put out there and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Once that feeling subsides, I generally go about my business and do some work and kind of forget that it’s only a couple of weeks away — I like it when that happens. It’s good to be busy. Then for a little while I’ll feel super excited because I’ll see a copy sitting on the table and honestly — I can’t believe I wrote it. And then I’ll feel a little sick and want to crawl in a hole because I know judgment is coming and some of it won’t be pretty and I know I’m not supposed to care what other people think but– maybe I should just stay in the hole for a few months. Then I have a beer and hang out with friends and they are all wonderful and supportive and I know I’m one of the luckiest girls in the world.

My friend RJ sent this to me via The Writer's Circle on Facebook.

My friend RJ sent this via The Writer’s Circle on Facebook.

So that’s mostly what I’m feeling, how I’m doing. And I’m grateful. More than anything else, I’m grateful that I had this opportunity. The very best part of all of it was getting to talk with/interview so many amazing people — in fact one of my major regrets is not including more of them. I should have because their stories were all so heartening and they were brave to share them with me.

It’s also a tremendous honor to be counted among the community of people who’ve written books. And while the publishing industry remains something of an enigma to me, this experience has introduced me to a team of genuinely nice and caring people who just want to put out a great book.

And I guess more than anything, two weeks out, I’m grateful for the support of so many people who are rooting for this book to do its job and help other people who are looking for change (in their lives, not in couch cushions). I keep reminding myself over and over and over again — when I feel the fear clamping down on my soul — that if I did any of it right, this book isn’t for me, it’s for other people, and if helps just one person deal in some small way with this kind of career struggle, then it’s all good. Numbers and reviews and tweets be damned (if my editor is reading this don’t worry I know sales are important!). As a friend said recently — this project is not mine anymore. It belongs to the readers. And I’m grateful for all of them. Yes, all of them.

Now if only the next two weeks could go by just a liiiiiiiittle faster…

The Arc of Achievement (from 7/28/15 newsletter)

Pretty much every day this week I’ll be bouncing off the walls until nighttime hits and I realize it’s too late for package delivery. I’m expecting the first shipment of hardbacks any day now. Doesn’t get any more real than that.

In four weeks, on August 25, I’ll finally give birth after 24 months of the book-writing-and-incubation process. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a deal… LOTS AND LOTS of people have written books. Since the invention of the printing press. Hell, you don’t even need one of those anymore. Anybody can write and publish a book online. But it still feels pretty great. Which is funny to say because I’ve had arguments over the last couple of years with people who’ve said this is/will be the biggest accomplishment of my more-than-20-year career. My response has generally been something along the lines of “Oh so I guess the thousands of news stories I covered and shared with listeners and readers for more than two decades… those are eclipsed by the mere fact of writing a book? C’mon.” The reply back was usually that our greatest thinkers have been authors, or that there is a discipline to book-writing that most people can’t fathom, or that books are the very soul of civilization. Usually, people can’t say exactly WHY book-authorship is such a big deal, but they just know it is.

We do revere our writers. I remember when my book deal was announced two years ago, I got kudos from people high up at NPR who were far more impressed by THAT than by the fact that I’d successfully hosted a national show for better than a decade. I’m not ungrateful for their kindness, but I questioned why the writing of a book, the getting of a book deal, was so much more impressive than the tens of thousands of hours I’d logged in the service of radio journalism. What is it about writing a book that makes people’s eyes get bigger when they hear you’ve done it?

Two years into the process, I have some sense of an answer. I think stringing together 72-thousand words into a cohesive narrative is tough (I’m not the one to say whether I’ve done a good job of it myself). I think ignoring and closeting the muse that constantly tells you your book is going to suck is a herculean feat. I think the ability to tap into your own vulnerability, especially in personal non-fiction, is a mighty struggle. And honestly, I think just having the balls to put it out there, on a shelf, or on Amazon or wherever, for the whole world to act as judge and jury is… of questionable sanity, and therefore makes it special.

So I get it. And I SO appreciate all those people who’ve expressed admiration for this project and for my pending authorship. I still question whether it’s that much more important than what I’ve already done in my career. I suppose readers will have the final say on that as they decide whether they like the book at all, and whether they like it as much as they like(d) me on the radio. But what I keep coming back to is that I hope it helps people. I feel like I did that for most of my career. I helped people understand their world a little better by bringing them the news, or in the later years, by taking their calls and questions over the air. That was always the best part, and now, if the book can continue in that tradition, then yes, it is just as important. And hey — none of my radio stories ended up in the Library of Congress! So when that box finally arrives this week, I think I’ll sign one to myself: “To Tess, Congratulations on a Career Achievement!”

Four weeks to publication!

The Art of the Cover

We’re about four weeks out from publication date and one of the aspects of this whole book process that people have found interesting is how we decided on the cover. I never would have imagined it to be a big deal, but it is! This cover art debate lasted eight months, and even though I claimed to be indifferent at first, I ended up feeling very passionate about what it should say and how it should look. We went through a LOT of iterations, and I saved all of them and put them into a grid, as you can see below. This is — from top to bottom — the sequence of how we arrived at the one you’ll see in bookstores on August 25. I’m SO GLAD we kept going until we found the right one, and I’m grateful to the Random House design team. You’ll notice the title and subtitle have changed as well… I think it was smart to go with just the one word in the end. The final really does, ahem, LEAP off the page, doesn’t it?!

 

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Return to the Scene of the Sublime

I’m about to get on a plane for home — which means my hometown of Portland, OR. I visit quite often from LA because my parents still live there and I have close friends who I love to catch up with. But this time I’m also heading north to make an encore appearance on the stage that changed my life almost exactly two years ago.

On July 7, 2013, I gave a speech about quitting my job and not knowing what the hell I wanted to do next. (I cannot believe it was two years ago!) My life was one giant question mark, and I told the audience of nearly 3,000 strangers that I was NOT comfortable with that particular piece of punctuation. My heart was in turmoil, and my head was a jumble of panic and regret. But what happened on that stage, and in the two years since, is an object lesson in why risk is important, and why change, while scary, can provide the best road to fulfillment. I’m not sure I’d feel that way had the audience not wholly embraced me, my flaws, my fears, and my failures. I had no idea what I was getting into when I walked out from the wings of the performance hall… but when I finished and walked off, I knew something special had happened and that it had changed me.

Chris Guillebeau, the founder of the World Domination Summit, hugging me after my speech in 2013. Or more like holding me upright so I wouldn't crumple up in a ball of tears.

Chris Guillebeau, the founder of the World Domination Summit, hugging me after my speech in 2013. Or, more accurately, holding me upright so I wouldn’t crumple up in a ball of emotion.

I won’t pretend my life over the intervening two years has been easy. But it HAS been full of extraordinary experiences for which I’m utterly grateful… experiences I never would’ve had, had I stayed in my job, and had I not gotten on that stage and spilled my guts all over it. I’ve written a book about this journey, this adventure, but funny enough the book ended just before I finally started to figure out what I want the next chapter (epilogue?) to look like. My life is changing in myriad and radical ways both personal and professional, all pointing me to a future that, if it goes the way I want it to, will look very different from the past. That’s not meant to be a riddle — I’ll write about some of it soon enough — but it’s more meant as a signal that all that bravery people attributed to me over the last couple of years? I believe it now. Fully.

So when I get back on stage at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Sunday morning, I’ll be doing so as… not a different person, really… but as someone who has learned to appreciate even more the career and life she’s been fortunate to have already, and even more important, someone who is far more confident now in her own ability to figure things out and to find a way through the discomfort of uncertainty. Someone who does a much better job ignoring that loud voice that tells you to care what other people think. Someone who trusts her gut and listens to it — and acts on it. And someone who frankly kind of loves not having a plan. (After all, it’s worked so far.)

In the grand span of a lifetime, two years is a blip. But this has been a really important two years, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity on that stage, even just for a few minutes, to share the rest of the story… the long post-script… with those 3,000 strangers I now call friends. Once more… with feeling.

Changing the Narrative

podcast_logoI was listening to Anna Sale’s Death, Sex & Money podcast as I walked the dogs today. If you’re not listening yet, add it to your podcast lineup this instant. These are the taboo subjects of polite society, and thank god Anna is blasting them out into the open. Serial may have made a difference in one person’s life, but this podcast has the potential to make a difference in the lives of every single listener by the mere act of talking about the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about.

 

Anyway — in a recent episode, this exchange with a female listener/caller caught my ear (and I do think it’s relevant to men as well).

“I felt like I somehow managed to fall into every trap that’s set for women.” (Anna Sale: And what do you mean by traps?) “I did everything that I think was expected. I gave away my name, we got married, we had two kids, we lived in the right places and did all the right things. To a certain extent, we have been very successful, I don’t want to discount that. When you make all of those very safe choices, you are rewarded for that.”

The caller then goes on to describe a major change in her life that took her away from safe choices. But one specific thing she said in the interview caught my ear:

“You don’t have to follow the narrative that everybody else does. […] You can decide to go a different way.” 

Zen rocks at Surfer's Point, Ventura, CA

Zen rocks at Surfer’s Point, Ventura, CA

I think this one of life’s hardest lessons to learn. Unless you’re one of those people who’s born with the ability to a. tune out the noise of expectation and b. not give a shit what anybody else thinks — it takes years, if not decades, to realize you don’t have to follow the narrative that everyone else is following. And that’s what makes “going a different way” so very difficult for most of us.

The podcast dovetailed with conversations I had last week with two people, both longtime friends, who are both in the midst of changing their narratives, or at least wanting to get on the road to doing so. One recently gave several weeks’ notice at work, will leave his job without having another lined up and has no real idea what’s going to happen next. (So he’s a friend, kindred spirit, and copycat!) He seems happy and satisfied with the decision, and I was thrilled to hear he’d made the leap. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for him. I warned him, in fact, that an emotional roller coaster is in the offing, if his experience is anything like mine and all the people I interviewed for the book. Maybe his identity isn’t as wrapped up in his work as mine was when I quit, but it’s still going to be difficult for him as he realizes that going career-plan-less messes with your head. Hell, it’s still messing with mine and I’m two and a half years into the process. And I’m sure he’ll get the funny looks from people when he says he’s quitting without a backup plan — or at least with a minimal one. Going a different way is anathema to most people who insist on having everything mapped out, and they just don’t understand how you’re possibly going to make it work.

My other friend is miserable in her job, burned out, and longing for a life that will let her spend at least a few hours a day not thinking about work. But she feels enormous pressure to stay in it. She has kids and other family obligations, she worries (of course!) about money and all the attendant issues that go along with leaving a job or career. But beyond that, she feels a pressure to stay on a career track and keep working up the ladder, even though she’s high up on it already. “Sometimes I just want to go teach pilates,” she said. But what would people think of THAT?! The right answer, we all know, is “Who cares what they’d think?” But that’s a very difficult place to get to.  She also worried about leaving her employer in the lurch, even if she gave significant notice. My response was that there are times in our lives, and this is one for her, where you have to do what’s right for you, and for your family. I understand loyalty — though I think it’s a rare commodity from the employer side these days, so why give more than what you get? — but sometimes you have to be selfish, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our lives are far too short NOT to be selfish on important and basic things like, oh, happiness, satisfaction, and quality of life with friends and family. I encouraged her to start thinking about what the next stage might look like, whether it’s as a pilates instructor, or going part-time at her current job, or some hybrid career like so many of us are doing these days. I think she’ll feel better just even allowing herself to think about it, to imagine what else might be available to her in this life that is SO SO SHORT. She can find a new narrative, I know she can.

And that’s something we should encourage in each other. Always. Doing so requires a healthy dose of compassion and empathy for the idea that maybe there is a different way to define career success, maybe there is a new way to think about what that balance is really supposed to be between work and life, maybe we can finally say there is no one right way to crack an egg. It also involves no small amount of self-compassion, allowing yourself to believe that not only are you worthy of a new narrative and a new path, but that you can succeed on it.

It’s so odd that I find myself speaking/writing in these terms… stuff about paths and narratives and happiness. It doesn’t come naturally to me as a formerly cynical-to-the-hilt journalist. I tend to push against anything with the mere whiff of self-help. But after what’s happened in my life since my own leap, it’s clear to me that these things matter, and that they’re worth talking about. They may not be as taboo as death, sex and money, but they’re not easy.

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Going a different way in Oregon

After Peru

Ollantaytambo, Peru

Ollantaytambo, Peru

It’s been about 72 hours since I touched down at LAX after ten days in South America. I still can’t talk about my experience there. Every time I try… tears start rolling down my face and I can’t get the words out. I’m not even sure why or how I’m writing this, because clearly it is all too raw and too deeply emotional for me to have fully absorbed yet. The day after I got home, I spent about four hours in front of the television, just to get away from my own thoughts. ​I went back on the radio this morning, and as the red “on air” light went on, I just hoped that I could focus on the two hours of live broadcasting in front of me. Luckily, at this point in my career, it’s a little like riding a bike — all instinct.

I was in Peru mostly to accompany and report on a medical team from Oregon, including my own father, that travels to South America each year to conduct surgeries on children with bone malformations. In some cases, they make it so these kids can walk for the first time in their lives. I went with no real idea of what kind of story (stories) I’d come back with. One story led to another… and then another… and another. I came home with about 12 hours of audio tape, and more than 1,500 photographs. I knew it might be emotional, and friends told me it sounded like it could be life-changing. I had no idea how right they would be, and how profound an effect this trip would have on my soul. I’m still sorting through all of it, but I know it has changed me. And in so many ways, that’s scary as hell.

As someone who likes to think of herself as a citizen of the world, and relatively well-traveled, I’m ashamed to admit that this was my first real venture into the developing world. I’ve been to Argentina, but it is quickly modernizing, and I didn’t spend a lot of time (ok, I didn’t spend any time) in poverty-striken areas while I was vacationing there. I’ve done plenty of reporting on inner-city America, which is not visited by any of the advantages of this great country, but that did nothing to prepare me for what I saw and experienced in Peru. Clearly, I need to travel much more outside the bubble that is the modern, capitalized West. As of this moment, that’s really all I want to do. How I go about it? Another question altogether.

I’ve always believed in giving back, and I’ve tried throughout my adult life to volunteer and raise money and provide help wherever I can. But now I feel this deep need and longing to do something so much larger than myself. Journalism is a mighty and noble profession. It is now and always will be my first love. But after two years of soul-searching after leaving my job, I wonder if Peru was trying to tell me something about what needs to happen next. Everything in my life seems so inconsequential and frivolous — even though I know it’s not. Not really. Just because I have things, just because I have advantages, doesn’t mean I’m taking all of that away from someone else’s life. But I do question anew what my priorities are, and how they came to be, and how they need to change.DSC_0509

What I’m afraid of now is that after a few days I’ll slip back into the comfortable skin of my life and let this feeling somehow fade into background noise. I don’t want it to. I want something to happen. I want change. I want to figure out what’s supposed to come next. But it would be a lot easier to let this all ease away and just pick up where I left off about two weeks ago. And part of me feels like it’s awfully silly for all of this to have exploded in my head over a matter of a few days. How is it possible for one very short experience to prompt so much soul-searching? But I can’t answer that, and I’m trying to give myself the benefit of the doubt that this is just part of a long personal journey that started about two and a half years ago. I’ve never been a woo-woo girl, I haven’t believed that the universe bothered to put a plan together for me — that’s just not who I am. And yet.

So to all of you who’ve asked, excitedly, how my trip went and watched as I fell to pieces in front of you — this is why. I can’t explain it. I can’t even really write about it yet — this is a feeble attempt to put a few words down before the moment escapes me. I’ll get on with things soon enough. I’ll tell you about my adventures, about the people I met, about all the beautiful smiles I saw on the faces of children who have nothing, about one of the seven wonders of the world that everyone should see before they die, and about the stories I gathered with a microphone and a camera. But for now, this will have to do. This, and a renewed sense of gratitude for the life I have, and the life that might lie before me. I am so very fortunate.

Finding a Story in Peru

​I’ve written before in these pages about my parents. They have always been, and still are, the most important influence on my life. They’re still young (71) and both hale and hearty — not to mention still together after 50 years — and I know how fortunate I am that all of this is still true.
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I’ve always been fascinated by what my dad does for a living. He’s an orthopedic surgeon — fixes all manner of bones. My younger brother and I used to go with him on some Saturdays when he would make rounds at the hospital, checking on casts, sometimes even cutting them off RIGHT IN FRONT OF US! Ohhhhh that was exciting. I think the patients got a kick out of having us around, and it was fun to see part of what dad did all day. I never wanted to follow in his footsteps, though. Neither my brother nor I went into medicine. I can’t even get blood drawn without lying down so I don’t faint. I wish he’d passed on the doctor gene, because I cannot think of anything more noble than helping people — fixing them when they’re somehow broken. I’ve always looked at what he does with deep respect because I literally can’t imagine doing it myself, rebuilding people with hammers and saws and pins. He’s also just a wonderful person and dad… but all that time he spent in medical school, in residencies, and in operating rooms? It’s pretty impressive.

A few years ago, a friend of Dad’s, also an orthopedist, asked if he’d be interested in joining a team of doctors and other medical personnel that goes to South America twice a year to do surgeries on children who have no access to modern medical care. Since then, he’s joined those medical missions to both Peru and Ecuador, fixing kids with all manner of bone deformities, in some cases, making it so that they can walk for the first time.

Each time he went, I thought to myself, wow, dad is amazing. And each time I also thought to myself, wow, that would be a great story. But the timing and opportunity to go with the team, as a journalist, never worked — until this year. So I’m heading out tonight and will spend several days at a small clinic in Coya, Peru (that’s a photo of my dad about halfway down the web page in blue scrubs, looking at an xray). I’ll have a little bit of touristy time both before and after, to see the World Heritage City of Cusco, and, of course, Machu Picchu. But mostly, I’m working. I have all kinds of radio and photography gear with me. I have no idea what story (stories, hopefully) I’ll come back with, but I know that it will be a truly special time to be with my dad, see the work of this team, and learn about the child patients and their families, including the ones who come to visit years after being treated. I’m bringing a large duffel bag full of stuffed animals IMG_4947 for the kids to have while awaiting surgery, and also in recovery rooms with their parents. It’s the least I can do in exchange for access to the clinic, and I can’t wait to help hand them out.

So… I will be documenting this off and on (as WiFi allows) on Tumblr, as well as posting on Instagram and Facebook, though the Tumblr will have most of the content so I don’t clog peoples’ feeds. Please follow along and share any thoughts.

Embracing leisure — from the newsletter

I have a newsletter — have you subscribed, yet? If not, here’s a sample of what you’re missing. It’s an every-so-often brief compendium of items I’ve read, or written, mostly about quitting/leaping/reinventing, etc., sometimes about other things. Sign up via the link on the homepage — I promise you won’t regret its appearance in your inbox (if you do, you can always cancel). Today’s edition is below.

 

Taking Time to Enjoy… Time

Wine grapes. From Santa Ynez, CA, not the south of France, but close enough! photo credit: Tess

Wine grapes. From Santa Ynez, CA, not the south of France, but close enough! photo credit: Tess

I was watching an episode of The Getaway on Esquire TV last night — the one with Aisha Tyler in Paris. First of all, I love how she puts away food. She’s in Paris, and she eats with gusto. She even comments on that fact, saying while home in LA basically all she eats is salad because she’s on TV. But in the City of Lights, she does it right. No salads. Just all the cheese and dessert and… near-raw pigeon… she can force down her gullet. That’s a dame I want to hang with.

But something else she said struck me as well. She was talking about how the French place such a value on leisure time. I didn’t remember this from my only trip to Paris back in 1999, but everything pretty much closes down on Sundays. It forces everyone to sleep, to read, to take a walk, to have sex, to drink lots of wine (not necessarily in that order) — to do anything but something. Tyler made note of it because Americans will often become frustrated with the pace of life in Europe, instead of embracing it while traveling. If you’re dining out, you won’t get the check until you ask (beg?) for it, because it’s assumed you want to stay and hang out and enjoy the experience. It’s the same in my favorite country in the world, Argentina. They still close up shops in the middle of the day for siesta. Dinner doesn’t start until after 9 pm, and if you leave a restaurant in under three hours there’s something wrong with either the food… or you. It’s an entirely different way of living. And it’s lovely.

Fast-forward to the next day, and I run across two articles that discuss this exact subject: the beauty of slowing down.

A friend on Facebook belatedly posted this article, “Why We Humblebrag About Being Busy,” written by Greg McKeown in June in the Harvard Business Review. In it McKeown talks about what he calls the “more bubble”:

This bubble is being enabled by an unholy alliance between three powerful trends: smart phones, social media, and extreme consumerism. The result is not just information overload, but opinion overload. We are more aware than at any time in history of what everyone else is doing and, therefore, what we “should” be doing. In the process, we have been sold a bill of goods: that success means being supermen and superwomen who can get it all done.

Santa Barbara carousel. Photo credit: Tess

Santa Barbara carousel. Photo credit: Tess

There’ve been plenty of articles, and entire books, written about why everyone feels the need to tell everyone else how busy they are. This is a compact version of that, and provides good advice on how to become an “essentialist” — someone who unclutters life, not just the closet.

And in the Los Angeles Times this past Monday, an op-ed by Sara Horowitz, “America, Say Goodbye to the Era of Big Work.” This is mostly about the rise of the freelance economy, but she points out that this is happening not just because people can’t find jobs… but because people want to get off the hamster wheel.

For the past century, in other words, remuneration defined success. For many workers, it still does. However, among the growing ranks of independent workers, labor itself is increasingly its own reward, as is the opportunity to establish a work-life balance that was unthinkable during the Era of Big Work. Millions of freelancers are working when they want and how they want. They’re building gratifying careers but also happy lives. 

When I quit my job, it was NOT because I wanted to simplify my life, get off the hamster wheel, and live with less. I never would have imagined I’d want, or enjoy, ANY of those changes. In fact, I’ve felt bad at many points over the last two years for the fact that those three things have happened. But oddly enough… when you’ve lived with that change for two years… it starts to become normal. And you start to enjoy it. Maybe someday I’ll want to go back to permanent 9-5 work, maybe someday soon, even.

My pups: Kiara on the left (border collie), Ronan on the right (lab). Photo taken at Ventura pier.

My pups: Kiara on the left (border collie), Ronan on the right (lab). Photo taken at Ventura pier.

But for now, I’m really starting to embrace the fact that I can take the dogs to the beach in the middle of the morning when there’s no traffic and nobody else there. I’ve stopped trying to make excuses for myself when people ask me what I do all day with all my “free time” now that I don’t have an employer (and yes, people ask me that, even though, yes, I have work).

I know how profoundly fortunate I am to be in a position to take this time away from the hamster wheel. I’ve worried on and off if I’ll get too used to it, lose my ambition. But then I get out my camera and go for a shoot on an overlook above the city while everyone else is commuting. I’ve given up a lot, including money and prestige, vacations and dinners out. Still — I think maybe I’m finally starting to think more like a Parisian. My life is likely more than half over, and I’m really, really glad that I’ve discovered before it’s too late that leisure and down time are just as important, if not more so, than than the pursuit of Big Work.

I’d love to hear from you if you have anything you think readers might find interesting or enlightening. You can share any thoughts and links over at my website or on Facebook or Twitter.

If you like what you’re reading so far, please do pass it along via your favorite social media!

 

Post-(manu)script

I went to the Ventura County Fair last weekend. Haven’t been to a fair or carnival or amusement park in probably 20 years, if not longer — never been my thing. But I’m staying in Ventura and the fair was in town, so that’s what you do.

Ventura County Fair, photo by Tess Vigeland

photo credit: Tess

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photo credit: Tess

I rode the Ferris wheel and watched eight-year-olds, who were braver than I, ride things that shot them up into the air and then dropped them back down again. I pet a goat and watched two prize-winning pigs – Spanky and Oreo –  loll in their pen. I ate a caramel apple and a deep-fried bacon-wrapped pickle. I would eat the former every day if my teeth wouldn’t fall out… the latter, I don’t recommend anyone eat, ever. Never. It is a salt-lick that tastes delicious and terrible at the same time and you will pay for it the next day. But that’s what happens after the fair.

This month marks two years since I left my job without knowing what to do next. I’ve described that period as a roller coaster. I lurched from project to project, emotion to emotion, feeling unmoored and scared and freed and delighted, sometimes all within the same day. I let go and raised my hands in the air every once in a while, only to grab onto the safety bar as soon as the ride started to feel a little too swervy.

At the fair, I realized I’ve finally gotten off the roller coaster. Now I’m on the Ferris wheel. I’m not lurching anymore, and it feels like things have slowed down, calmed down, somewhat.

But on a Ferris wheel, the highs are even higher, and the lows are lower.

Just in the last few months, I’ve been at the top… several times. I returned to the national airwaves, backup anchoring Weekend All things Considered, the show I didn’t get last year; I had applause and great success at an event in New Orleans where I put old talents to a new use; I finished writing a book (!!!); and just this past week, I wrote a post for The Guardian about feminism and money that seems to have struck a chord on social media. These were all so exciting! They were all things I most likely would never have done were I still in my old job. They were the proof I crave — almost daily — that I did the right thing two years ago.

photo by Tess Vigeland

photo credit: Tess

The lows, though? They’re awful.

And they mostly come now when someone asks me “So, now that you’re done with the book, what’s next?” First of all, that process is just beginning. The editing could be brutal — I have no idea what to expect. And it turns out that when a book contract says your second advance payment is “upon manuscript acceptance,” that doesn’t mean the day you hand it in and they accept it into their email inbox. No, “acceptance” means something else in publishing, which is when it’s been through the entire editing process and they decide it is, after all, good enough to publish. That could be six months from now. No one explained this to me ahead of time, so it was a big and nasty surprise to our budget.

People also seem to think that now that the book is “done” — promoting it will become my career. Except it isn’t out for another year. And I’m not even sure I want to become the “quitting” lady — make this whole leaping thing into The Thing That I Do with online classes and handbooks and speeches and all that. I really don’t want to become The Industry of Me.

“Oh you’ll just get another book contract!” goes the other response. Yes, in fact they were handing them out at the fair! I’m not even sure I’ll want to write another one. One tilt-a-whirl was probably enough.

Photo by Tess Vigeland

photo credit: Tess

So the worst part is that I still don’t know what I want to do next. The book was a long respite from having to figure it out. But now I have to get a job. I’ve had two years to think about it and I still can’t get my shit together. I try not to be too hard on myself about that, but the inner critic is loud.

What I do know is that absence has made my heart grow fonder, and I miss the microphone every time I’m away from it. I miss the newsroom. But I’m very picky about what I want on that front, and my expectations are probably unrealistic. I have to figure out what I’m willing to settle for after hosting my own national show. I talked about doing a podcast, but I’m having second thoughts because a. as already noted, I don’t want to become The Industry of Me and do something that focuses on one subject like quitting and careers (I’m much more of a covering-the-waterfront gal who needs variety in her work diet), and b. pushing through the noise of the podcasting world is next to impossible. Yes, a lot of people know who I am, but a lot of people don’t know who I am. Plus… working for free is something I’ve tried to swear off doing. And a good podcast is pretty much all work and no pay.

Do I leave journalism? Every time I go on air or see my byline it seems absurd to take that joy away from myself. Do I go to law school? After all the interviews I conducted with lawyer-quitters in the process of writing the book — that answer is NO, even I’ve always been interested in the law, and have thought many times about switching to that path. Do I teach? Maybe. Do I go work for a nonprofit? It’s appealing. Why can’t I figure this out? What the hell is the problem, woman? Just go after something!

I really, really hate that I don’t have an answer to these questions, yet. It feels like I should. Especially since I’ve been so very fortunate all the way along. Maybe I just keep assuming that the right thing will present itself. I’ll wander the midway until I win the coke bottle ring toss and the perfect prize appears. Maybe I’m just not listening closely enough to what this indecision is telling me.

So… what’s next? Um…

Ok what’s next is that I’m trying to give myself a 10-day sabbatical from having to think about it. I’m back on Weekend All Things Considered for a week starting Aug 20th, and until then, I get a break. A break from the future. A break from mental self-flagellation. A break from having to feel productive. I’m doing nothing. Except going to the fair and walking on the beach and wandering through farmers markets. That’s it.

I gently chastised a friend this week for being too hard on himself when he was feeling lazy and unproductive. Fer pete’s sake, I said, you just finished and published a book! “I say there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a few days… weeks… hell, even months… to decompress and enjoy your accomplishments without worrying about having something to do,” I told him.

I’m going to write that same note to myself… and then I’m going to get back on the Ferris wheel and enjoy the view. Without the pickles.

 

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photo credit: Tess