My professional career can be broken down into several distinct phases: nomadic gypsy, professional workaholic, and leader of “Transitions ‘r Us.”
The first went from just after high school until the early 1990s. I started working for my hometown newspaper just after graduation, and never really stopped. Working my way through college, I took classes in the morning and spent nights chasing and covering cops, municipal governments, and anything else that came down the line.
Today, I sometimes mourn the fact that I did not have a traditional college experience (although I’m thankful that the parental pay-as-you-go plan meant that I didn’t have any student loans), but in many ways it was the best professional development I could have sought. I loathed the low pay and the long hours, but loved the variety and the learning that took place.
It took eight years to get a four-year degree, but when I finished college, I had eight years experience at three different newspapers in three different cities, and I was ready to move to the next phase. At this point in my mid 20s, professional boredom was akin to death for me; I gave as much as I could to each job, took as much as I could from it, and moved on.
What I didn’t realize was the life/work conundrum I would face when I embarked on my first two management positions. Anxious to succeed, I worked tremendously long hours under conditions that weren’t exactly family friendly. By the mid 1990s, I had seen a marriage implode under a major relocation from Texas to North Carolina.
Cue career shift, moving from the day-to-day newspaper grind into the communications world working for a recently merged school district. It was an opportunity to build something from the ground up, to do some things that had never been done.
I was extremely fortunate to be in an environment that fostered and supported my creativity. The people I worked for did not understand the nuts and bolts of my work, and they were smart enough not to cast judgment about me personally when we did not agree.
Jill, the kids, and I left North Carolina and moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2001 for a variety of reasons. Kate, Emma, and Ben were little — Nicholas, then in elementary school, lived with his mom in Greensboro — and we wanted them to have the experience of living in an area rich in opportunities. The position I accepted allowed me to return to editing and writing — in many respects my first loves — as well as the chance to work for a national publication focused on education.
At this point, I had worked for almost 18 years, and had been in no position longer than 4½. When I took the position, I never expected to work for the same organization for 12 years. Of course, I never expected the profession I trained in to implode, either.
The first five years provided a broad palate of opportunities to learn the world of magazine publishing in a non-profit environment. When I became editor-in-chief of American School Board Journal in 2006, I felt prepared to take on the publishing world.
And we did, for a while, winning awards and accolades for a publication that continues to be highly respected in the industry. But respect can get you only so far when the money stops coming in. The business model for publishing — especially print publishing — eroded steadily over the past seven years. At times, it has felt like death by a thousand paper cuts.
During the “Transitions ’r Us” phase, we trimmed and cut and eventually slashed expenses and positions to protect the core product amid some of the most difficult economic times we’ve ever seen. Eventually, the transitions caught up with me, and now I’m entering another phase of my career.
Looking for a job is not like riding a bicycle. You can’t just hop back on and think you’ll pick up right were you left off. I had not updated my resume in seven years, and had not sent out more than a couple in almost a decade. During that period, like many things influenced by the Internet, the job search market has turned upside down.
Today, job hunting is about making connections, networking, and connecting the diverse dots in a compressed and flattened world. It’s as much about the social — the world of LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and the Web — as it is about the skill set.
I’ve always said I’m good at selling others, but not myself. I’m learning how to do that now.
On to the next phase.