Sunday, February 19, 2012

Will you know when it's time?

Courtesy of Philadelphia Magazine
How will you know when it’s time to leave a job?  This is a question I mulled over for many years as I turned down one buy-out after another at my ever-shrinking newspaper. 
Was I still having fun? How much did I need the money? And, critically, what would I do with myself?
These were some of the things I asked myself each time the owners ordered up a “reduction in force.”
During one of those moments of indecision, I talked with a friend who worked for a medical foundation about what her job was like. We spoke for an hour and then suddenly she confessed:   “You have the job I always wished I could have.”
That clinched my decision for that go-round.
Over the years, I consulted so many friends, that they got sick of hearing me talk about it. After one buy-out period in 2000, when I finally decided to stay, one friend sent me flowers. The note said:
"Congratulations. And now, will you please shut up."
Time passed. The newsroom staff shrank from over 600 to about 240 in 10 years. Some of those who left were my friends. For Arlene Morgan,  an exciting job offer at Columbia University's School of Journalism landed just as she had lost faith that management had a vision for the future. She's now an associate dean running numberous exciting projects and programs.   Another friend couldn't shake her anger about the direction of her department. She went off to teach and write. And a third friend, Jane Eisner, also reached her bolting point, despite a well-read national column. She is now winning prizes as editor of  the Forward.
For those who stayed, the hours got longer and everyone had to shoulder more weekend shifts.
Still, we all felt we were serving democracy and bettering our community through our journalism. I loved mentoring reporters and helping them do their best work. And they voiced their appreciation. On balance, I was happy every day to get up and go to work.
But with last October's buyout -- which cut another 18 newsroom positions -- my gut told me that it was time.  I felt bottled up -- my creative juices no longer had an outlet.
One of my joys over nearly three decades had been the ability to quickly take an idea from brainstorm to print, often sparking an immediate public reaction. In a small way, I was making a difference.
But by last year, while I was still having fresh, exciting, important ideas,  there were no longer enough reporters to execute them. I was a conductor without an orchestra, an inventor without a tool shop, an artist out of paint.
Three months later, I can be as creative as I want every single day. My step is light (as is my wallet), but my heart is heavy for those who continue to do the hard and important work of journalism under ever more trying conditions. This week the publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and its joint web site,, ordered that another 37 positions be eliminated through buyouts -- at least initially. That’s several hundred people weighing their futures and trying to make a decision.
I wish them well. Each will surely know, in his or her gut, whether it's time to take that leap to the (hopefully) next great thing.
What are your thoughts on when it is time to leave?  Email me at and I'll blog about your answers, or comment below.

1 comment:

Wendy Lee said...

Thanks for letting your friends and readers know the process behind your decision to become "unretired". Obviously not everyone is in a similar work situation; however, trusting one's gut is a valuable tool in any profession.