Six Sense: It took losing my job to realize what I was missing

It struck me sometime midway through Tuesday evening it was election night in two states I used to work. In a previous life, that would have meant a late night and dining on pizza or cold cuts provided by a newspaper.

It momentarily surprised me, but there was also a little bit of joy at the thought I was spending the evening relaxing in my chair watching the start of college basketball season.

Still, it played on the back of my mind. This will publish almost a year to the day I found myself, like so many others in the newspaper business, on the outside looking in.

I wasn’t surprised. I’ve always had a feel for work situations, and as a student of the industry, I was well aware the future was always tenuous. I had hoped I could hang on until retirement, but acknowledged in recent years that was going to be a tall order.

I had evolved to a position that wasn’t necessarily in my wheelhouse, yet I needed that experience to know that. With only two exceptions, newspapers were my home for nearly three decades. Being a journalist was what defined me. Finding out I suddenly wasn’t going to be one, at least defined by a traditional “employer-employee” relationship, was a shock to the system.

In all honesty, the first feeling was a sense of relief — no longer having to get up early and commute, no more juggling the responsibilities of that job. My significant other noticed the change in me within days, and it was the new year before I had completely “detoxed.”

The future was uncertain. I had some freelance work and an unemployment benefits, but two of us on the gig economy with a kid in high school and cars and a house to pay for made clear something more lucrative was necessary, if not forthcoming.

Then, a funny thing happened. Freelance and contract work started coming my way. Many of the skills I brought to the table were being outsourced by the industry, and I could reliably fill those gaps at a reasonable price. Being “old” suddenly had a benefit — years of positive working relationships and a trustworthy reputation meant I was able to start building something on my own.

The new work situation can be time consuming. I spend a lot of time hustling to add to my contract portfolio. I still have deadlines and commitments, but the commute is now a flight of stairs to my home office. I work as hard as I always did, but I’m finally learning to draw boundaries, something I was less apt to do working for others. The finances are still a struggle, but are also one heckuva motivator.

The biggest changes, however, have been personal. In the last year, I have exercised more, eaten better and lost nearly 20 pounds. I played more golf this year than the last 15, though contrary to my hope, I have not improved any. I’ve gotten back into hobbies I have ignored for years, though I still need to practice my music more.

Most important, all those years I let being a journalist define me, I had lost sight of the most important things. The stress and responsibility I carried on my shoulders had taken quite a toll. I’m not sure my relationship with my significant other would have survived another year. I missed a lot of time with her daughter, as well. A lot of apologies were in order.

The point of all this is not to suggest everyone quit their jobs and strike out on their own, but rather to take a step back and objectively evaluate your approach to life. It is so easy to bury yourself in work and not see what is happening around you. It took a life-changing experience to open my eyes, but I’m thankful I did.