Friday, January 20, 2006

Breaking Out ...

One of my daily blog must-reads (and thousands of others would agree) is Opinionistas.com.

Until this Wednesday, she was an anonymous blogger, writing about life inside a New York City law firm.

Now, she is known to the world as Melissa Lafsky, a pretty, 27-year-old writer with a boyfriend so handsome he's almost a cliché.

In her latest post, "Tear Down the Walls," she writes: "It’s fascinating how the rules completely change once you announce you’re leaving a law firm to do something entirely unrelated. The Trojan walls between professionalism and humanity temporarily fall, and suddenly your superiors are regarding you with puzzled bemusement. Sure, there are those who deliver the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head with a condescending 'Oh how cute, you’re going off to try and be a writer' tossed in. But the remainder approach with curiously delighted expressions, ready to relate to you on an entirely new plane."

Reading that post took me back to my life at the Chicago Tribune, those two weeks I lived between tendering my resignation and walking out the doors for the last time as an employee.

Unlike Melissa, I didn't leave to pursue a dream. I left one newspaper company for another. It was very lateral. But in the eyes of the management of the Chicago Tribune, once you've secured an ID to walk the hallowed halls of what I admit is a truly beautiful building, you've arrived. And it's unfathomable to them why you'd ever want to leave.

But after nearly five years, fearful that I'd painted myself into a professional corner (when I left, I was a job grade 12; the guy they hired to replace me stepped into the same position, but as a 17), I took advantage of an opportunity that was too serendipitous to ignore.

What amazed me, though, amused me and saddened me, were the comments I received from my colleagues, many of them in my goodbye card. The theme, overwhelmingly, was one of congratulations on a great escape.

"Good for you! You're going over the wall!" one of them wrote.

"You're breaking out of here!" wrote another.

From the outside looking in, people presume that a life in the media is glamourous. Ha! Glamourous, shmamorous. Admittedly, my latter years at the Tribune were better than my former. My former were filled with working nights and weekends and holidays. Ah, yes, there was nowhere I'd rather be at 4 a.m. or on Thanksgiving than in the Tribune newsroom. My sister-in-law was baffled the first time I told her I had to work on Thanksgiving. "What do you mean you have to work? It's Thanksgiving!"

"Do you want a newspaper tomorrow?"

"Yeah."

"Then I have to work on Thanksgiving."

But once I moved into features, my final stop on my Tribune career path, the nights and holidays and weekends schedule vanished. I just took on many more jobs, outside of what I was hired to do. Some more willingly than others.

It was always postioned as "opportunity." Like when I was asked to start writing for KidNews, the then-weekly section designed to nab kids early and hook them on the newspaper drug. When I dared to ask, essentially, "What in it for me?" the reply was, "Well, in a couple of years, you could be a reporter."

"No," I said. "If I take this assignment, I'll be a reporter now. You just won't be paying me to be one."

That didn't go over so well. The Tribune doesn't seem to like it when you hold up a mirror.

In the months leading up to my final days, I did have a couple fun moments. I went out to Pasadena during press tour and hung out with one of my PR friends (not as a Tribune employee, mind you; that would have been in violation of the ethics policy) and I did end up being the sole Tribune representative at the TV Land upfront. I got to sit with Garry Marshall and behind me, at the next table, was Barry Williams. I was practically rubbing elbows with Greg Brady. At the end of the event, we found ourselves standing next to each other.

I don't know what came over me, but I turned to him and said, "I'm sorry, I really never do this ..." as I handed him my invitation.

"Oh, geez, don't apologize!", he said. "What's your name?"

"Beth."

And a moment later, he handed my invite back to me, signed, "To Beth, Keep On Groovin', Barry Williams."

I wonder how many times he's written that in his lifetime?

But I digress. If hangin' with Garry Marshall and Barry Williams is your idea of glamour, then yes, I lived the glamorous life. For one day, anyway.

Every other day, though, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. So when the opportunity came along that would be the push I needed to get out of the rut I was in, I took it.

And I'm glad.

There were days, working for the new company, that I'd question my decision. Had I been rash? Had I been so eager to stick it to Mother Tribune that I did something stupid? When you want something and you say you're from the Chicago Tribune, people can't take care of you fast enough. When I would call from the new company, I'd get, "Who?"

But I don't believe there are wrong choices. I believe you're always where you're supposed to be, that every experience is a necessary piece of the life puzzle.

And life is better on the outside.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's so good why aren't you singing on stage yet? Why aren't you writing that novel ALL writers leave lucrative paying jobs for? If you're gonna brag about something, step up to the plate and, "Just Do It!"

9:06 PM  

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