"When I ask 'What's next?', it means I'm ready to move on to other things. So, what's next?" — Jed Bartlett, The West Wing
Six months ago, I quit my job as a "Web Publications Specialist." The hours were absurdly long (overtime was expected and uncompensated), and even herculean efforts — like the time I put in a 25-hour day in order to help finish a website for launch — went unnoticed, save to be exploited for publicity purposes later. I enjoyed my co-workers, but I didn't really enjoy the work, didn't really get anything out of selling overpriced things to people who really didn't need them in the first place.
So I started looking around. I regularly surfed journalismjobs.com, trying to find something that suited my skill set. I mostly applied for sports editing, copy editing and page design positions, though I would occasionally branch out if it was in Washington state somewhere. For the first few months it never really went anywhere, but around February/March I started to get responses.
Some were in-state, others were from elsewhere. I had set up a few phone interviews a couple weeks in advance when all of a sudden I got an email from The Inlander, which had the tripartite advantage of a) being close, b) being snarky and c) being a copy editing position, which is where I've often felt I can do some of my best work.
I was actually on vacation in British Columbia when I got an email asking me to come in for an interview later that week. I had no problem with this, as I really wanted the job, so I cut it a day short and drove back across the state on Friday morning in anticipation for an interview that afternoon. When I got the job, I just couldn't stop smiling. It felt like one of those perfect moments — I was just coming off vacation, I was happy, and to celebrate I went to a friend's barbecue and got completely black-out drunk and passed out around 10 pm.
When I woke up at 2 am, my mind was clear and I immediately started figuring out what I had to do: resign, find a place to live, figure out how I was going to move everything. I had one thought, derived from an episode of The West Wing I always enjoyed. It's partially encapsulated by the epigraph above, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The idea behind is that there are things you can change and there are things you cannot. Oftentimes, when circumstances come at you, the best thing to do is not to whinge about how bad everything else and how unfair life is treating you. When the variables change, all you can do is survey the situation and figure out: What's next?
Six months ago, I plunked down in a low-slung chair, facing a brilliantly sunlit window the Inlander's publisher sat in front of. After asking the traditional "Why do you want to do this?" and "What are you hoping to get out of this?" questions, he turned to a topic intimately dear to my heart: loyalty.
"How long are you planning on staying in Spokane?" he asked. "We're looking for somebody who's in this for the long haul, five or 10 years."
Loyalty describes almost everything I've ever done in a professional setting. It's why I always worked so hard, both at the Evergreen and later at my former job. At the Ev, the loyalty was to the paper, to the profession, to the ideal that the news was a vital cog in society's machinery, but mostly it was to my friends. My friends, who toiled tirelessly day in and day out, trying to put out the best newspaper they possibly could. It was why I didn't mind staying late or taking on extra tasks: Out of loyalty. Even later, at a job I didn't feel any particular respect for, I was more than happy to stay late or help other people out because I knew they'd do the same for me if asked.
One month ago, I was called into the publisher's office for a meeting with him and the managing editor. As I sat down, I was told we were there to "talk about my position" — more specifically, the lack thereof. Due to budgetary constraints for 2011, they said they couldn't afford to keep me on. I could either take my leave then, with one week's severance, or continue to work through the end of December. I chose the latter, figuring that a week's pay ("completely fucked") was inferior to a month's pay ("mostly fucked").
When I went home, I did as any self-respecting Coug would: I drank. Heavily. I started when I got home at 4:30 pm and finished around 11 (when I passed out), taking most of a bottle of Scotch and a goodly portion of a bottle of Everclear with me. (This was actually a few days before Apple Cup, which I originally intended to attend but decided that — given my financial and emotional state — was probably not in the best interests of either my liver or my wallet.)
When I awoke the next morning (a Friday, which meant work), I stumbled out of bed and into the shower. I fashioned myself into the closest approximation of a functioning human being I could muster, put on my coat and marched out the door to work.
I gave myself one night to bask in self-pity, and then I started to get to work. I updated my resume, started rooting through my computer to find my portfolio website, couldn't, got three-quarters of the way through making a new one before I found the old one, ditched the new one and updated the old one. I started crawling JJobs again, firing off resumes and cover letters.
It's incredibly easy to get caught up in blaming people. Lord knows there's enough to go around. I could angrily denounce the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers for fucking over our generation so royally, leaving us with an endless carousel of education, internships, jobs that we get thrown off of well before the ride ends. Or to start scrutinizing and finding those tiny little things that don't seem like much when everything's going along swimmingly, but blow up to gigantic proportions when everything's going to hell. Things simply are what they are.
But none of that does any good. I know that's a tough prescription to take (much akin to a "Tough shit" offered when an accusation of unfairness is raised), but it's true. I struggled with it myself in those first few minutes after I went back to my desk after the meeting. I kept flashing back to that first meeting with the publisher, with the thoughts of loyalty running through my head: "I moved to Spokane, I quit my job, I gave my word that I wouldn't jump at the next incrementally better job ... You, on the other hand, laid me off/let me go/fired me six months in."
(These phrases sound like they're different, but only if you're not on the receiving end.)
It would have been easy (believe me) to level an accusation of hypocrisy, but that would have been intellectually lazy of me — and not changed a damn thing, besides. They looked at the numbers and decided what was best for them moving forward, what was best for the company. Obviously it's not the outcome I would have preferred, but it does me no good to carry bitterness for their ensuring the paper's continued existence. And, again, such vituperation can't help me; they can only function as distractions.
I enjoyed my time at the Inlander. I'm immensely fond of all the writers, production people and even some of the advertising folks (no, really!), and take great pride in a few of the stories I wrote (and had a great time writing sarcastic, cynical comments on just about every cultural product imaginable).
Though nothing's certain yet, I'm fairly deep into the interview process for one job, and I'm sure the hiring machinery for others will kick into a higher gear once the holidays are over. I would have preferred to have a gig lined up by now (as I tend to get all twitchy and stabby when I have nothing to do), but there's nothing I can do about other peoples' decisions — I can only influence my own. And however this interview or the next turns out, it's not that big of a deal. I'll simply do what I can: Examine what I did, try to figure out what I can do better next time, and ask myself the only question that matters ... What's next?