Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stick a fork in me: How to know when to get out of the business

I've gotten a lot of comments from people thinking about getting out of the business. Most of these are from people of my generation, but lately the twenty-somethings are chiming in with the same thoughts. While that is much too young to give up on a dream, this is a business in which you must follow your heart. If reporting is in your blood, it's hard to get it out.

So I thought I'd relate the story of the day I knew it was time. We'd been out shooting weather video of some torrential rains when we were sent to a road construction site nearby. A road crew worker had actually slipped and been sucked into a storm drain and drowned. It was one of those sad, freakish things that happen every once in awhile. So we did our live shots at noon, knocked out a package for the newscast, and went home.

That evening the EP called me and told me the network wanted either me or the weatherman to do a live interview on their morning show to talk about the storm and the accident. I'd have to be at the station at four in the morning, and I knew the ND wouldn't cut me any slack and make me work my regular shift. It would be at least a fifteen hour day.

I told the EP to let the weatherman do it.

And that's when I knew I was done. Even the lure of a network live shot was outweighed by a good night's sleep.

While I still work in news and still get pumped for the great stories I work for the networks, I'm not in front of the camera anymore and it doesn't matter. Why? Well, at that point in my career I'd pretty much done everything I'd wanted to do, and I wasn't going to move any higher up the ladder. Chasing a brass ring is something everyone should do, but when it gets tarnished it's time to move on.

There are all sorts of factors that weighed into my decision. Management was a big one, but it simply wasn't that much fun anymore. It had become work. A career had become a job. The big markets weren't calling.

But it's different for everyone. One day when I was working in New York I had the pleasure of working alongside Gabe Pressman, a Big Apple reporting icon who at the time was 84 years old. He still had the fire I had when I broke into the business. For him, the career virus that ran through his veins never left.

I'd also left the business about ten years into my career because I simply couldn't stand the News Director. But in that case I got back in a year later.

So how will you know? You just do. But the decision has to come from within, and cannot have anything to do with bad companies, cylon News Directors or low salaries. It's not a question of being able to live with your career, but rather, can you live without it?

I've known people who have gone into PR and been bored out of their minds. I've known others who have gone into sales and returned to news. Before you move on to something else, you have to know if that something else will give you the rush you get from TV. Or if you even need the rush anymore.

No one can tell you how far you'll go in this business or what the business will be like in five or ten years. The only thing to consider is your own heart, and whether or not you still love what you do when you remove all the outside influences.

And, by the way, you'll need a "replacement dream" to take the place of the television version. Creative people aren't nine-to-five assembly line workers. If you do leave, you'll need a new goal. I have a new dream, and it keeps me rolling just fine.

I once got a fortune cookie that read, "Without dreams you have no future." Truer words were never spoken.


Kendra said...

What's your new dream?

annonymous said...

what a GREAT well written entry...Thanks for the truisms and inspiration! -Caroline Moses in Baton Rouge, LA-