For 23 years, I worked in corporate America at a local newspaper. It was a great experience, and even greater as I look back through the lens of Busting Loose. Even the bad times were good lessons. If only I'd been reclaiming power all that time -- and putting more money into my 401k.
I was there for the fun of journalism, the challenge of researching and writing good stories, meeting interesting people and celebrities (and some times they were one and the same) covering "important" stories on "important" issues, discovering some talented new artist or doing my civic duty by regaling folks with the latest from the City Council. I was there because, frankly, I got to see my name in the paper several times a week. Regardless, those were my stories within my stories rationalizing why I stayed for 23 years, and they were darned good ones, obviously, because that's what I do for a living.
But I was also there for the security, a regular paycheck, the health coverage, the pension plan, seeing the same faces every day and the knowledge that I was with a rock solid company that had been around for a while and would always be.
Jan. 1, 2004, I retired from the newspaper to venture into the hologram of self-unemployment. After 23 years at the paper, 25 total in journalism, finally, it was time to move on. I left with a vague plan about how this new life was going to work out.
What I realized is that metaphorically I was leaving Phase 1 at the newspaper to enter Phase 2 as a freelancer. For all the challenge and excitement, the newspaper was a game of limitations with the illusion of security and control. Phase 2 has turned out to be a lively clusterf**k, with surprises always around the corner.
Within the hologram, my life as a freelancer has followed the arc of most freelancers. We begin in the prostitution phase, where we'll do anything for a money.
Then we establish some clients, get a contract here and there, some regular work, and relax a little bit. Then the economy goes to hell and we realize what a great job we had back at the newspaper/widget factory/Dairy Queen. Then we suck it up and move on.
I've made more money in a year than I ever made at the newspaper and I've made a lot less. In fact, a "lot less" would be the operative phrase for the last couple years. To put it in Busting Loose terminology, I am still reclaiming my power from illusions of poverty, which translated means I'm dead ass broke in the hologram.
But it's only been in the last couple years, when I talk to my unhappy colleagues at the newspaper, that I appreciate what I left. They don't know what they would do outside of journalism. I've created them to be miserable, but still clinging to the job. Just like I did.
I see them as these amazing people with a tremendous set of skills that would be of benefit to any company, or to themselves. They see themselves as PR hacks -- period -- a fate worse than death for most ex-journos. Which is to say, I still get glimpses of my other aspects.
Which gets me back to Busting Loose. Busting Loose, for me, is like becoming a freelancer. I left the security of my old belief systems, my old patterns, my own limitations to take a chance on a whole new life. It's a wild ride, it's exhilarating, it's scary and you never know where the next payday is coming from. It's hard work, but it's work for you, and that's different than working for some entity outside you (in the hologram) who doles out the bread crumbs of illusory security.
The first day I woke up and realized I didn't have to get dressed, put on a tie and drive to work was liberating. The chance to reinvent my career and my life, was the biggest gift I could have ever given myself. I always joke with people that like the Chris Farley character, I would rather be living in a van down by the river, than be living well and working in an office. The fact that I'm sitting here naked drinking a cup of coffee (just kidding, it's hot tea) writing this in my home office -- not in a cubicle -- makes it all worthwhile.
In retrospect, the timing of my leaving was perfect. The paper is suffering financial difficulties like newspapers everywhere. The monolithic press that we thought would be around forever is in its death throes.
That goes to the bigger point. I, and many of my creations, see this whole imagined economic cataclysm as a necessary progression. We now see that banks are not what we thought they were; presidential candidates are not who we thought they were; the car industry is not what we thought it was; the real estate market is not what we thought it was. This collective collapse of "reality" is stunning.
The stripping away of everything we thought we knew, on a global scale, is a gift in that respect. My only question is, if the illusory "economy" recovers one of these days, will we we sink back into the warmth of our security blanket, or we will be so far into Phase 2 we won't notice?