For a long time, I thought I would be a reporter until I died, a microphone in one hand and a cane in the other. There were a lot of reasons the job wasn’t inspiring me or making me happy anymore, but a main point I take away from the experience is that I stayed in it for quite a long time after I knew it wasn’t right for me anymore.
I had accomplished most of what I set out to do in television, I wasn’t finding the fulfillment I once did in the work, and I had other things I was itching to accomplish in life, yet I stayed.
This past week, my sister commented that there is something in the current cultural zeitgeist that is very “Death of a Salesman.”
Now, I hadn’t dusted off my Arthur Miller recently, so I wasn’t sure what she was getting at. I’ll assume maybe I’m not alone in this, and share her explanation. She was basically saying that people talk about wanting “The American Dream,” (or its Canadian equivalent) but it’s often an unsatisfying facade that doesn’t exist, created by marketers, Hollywood, and politicians.
In Death of a Salesman, the protagonist is an unsuccessful salesman named Willy Lohman who (spoiler alert) kills himself literally, after killing himself metaphorically for years trying to make it in sales. All the while he knew that a blue collar career of creating things with his hands would have made him happy. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made him wealthy or well known, but he certainly would have been more fulfilled and more connected with his purpose on this earth.
My sister was referring to the commonly-held belief that material achievement or external recognition will make a person happier and more fulfilled, and that a lack these things is some kind of sign we’ve failed.
It was, to quote Oprah, an “A-Ha” moment for me. I realized why I stayed in television long past the time I should have.
I had set a goal of being a television reporter, and believed that giving up on my goal was failure. Even though I had changed, my life circumstances had changed, and the job of being a television reporter had changed so much that the original goal was basically unrecognizable.
In the year since I quit I have:
-Started my own referral-based writing and consulting business
-Started making my living based on my writing
-Actually been paid to write a comedy script for one of my favourite comedians
-Written two novels I am now editing in advance of seeking publication
-Walked outside with my son Lennox every.single.day
-Been home for Lennox’s bedtime every.single.night
-Enjoyed a number of small freedoms & personal victories that would have been impossible were I still in news
All of these things involved letting go of the external gratification that came with my attachment to succeeding at a goal I set for myself. I also had to let go of assured income, but as shockingly to me as anyone, it really is true that if you do what you love, the money will follow.
I see the difficulty in letting go of an old goal now in some of my clients. They launch a marketing plan that is based on a format they’ve followed for years. Maybe it includes tactics like media relations. Paid radio advertising. Expensive sponsored events. Sponsoring golf holes at golf tournaments. But none of those things seems to be having an impact on brand awareness or ROI anymore.
Or, maybe those strategies have done wonders for brand awareness, but the company has a new offering and can’t get anyone to see them in a new light.
It can be very daunting to abandon what has worked in the past and embrace new ideas, new tactics and new challenges.
If you are working toward a goal you set ten years ago and you’ve changed, and the world has changed, you probably need to revisit the goal and change too.
The main difference between marketing efforts today and the old school methods is ownership. YOU own your social channels. YOU run your blog. YOU create the videos that tell your story instead of begging the news media to feature you, or paying a commercial producer to promote you.
I don’t mean to sound all Marxist, banging on about power belonging to those who own the means of production. However, I do think there is a bit of truth in the idea that freedom comes with not having to ask permission.
I had insomnia problems as a reporter, but these days I sleep like a baby. I think it’s because I don’t have to wonder if someone else is going to let me down. If I’m going to get to do the story I want to do, if I’m going to get the job I want, if the company I work for will prioritize “me the shareholder” over “me the employee.”
As an entrepreneur, I succeed and fail on the worth of my own ideas and the strength of my own efforts. As long as I have more of both, I know I’ll be fine.
Many people ask me if I miss news and I don’t. Ever. Not even one little bit. I’m in a place now where I think back on it really fondly though, and for me, that is the benefit of embracing needed change. Instead of feeling down about being stagnant, you get to feel happy about what was, and excited for what will be.