It’s the little moments that change your life forever.
The That almost happened! moments.
The close calls.
This was my big chance.
In the newspaper business, you rise through the ranks. A couple years here. A couple years there. And maybe a decade or so in, if you’re talented enough and willing to relocate and work hard, you can find yourself at a “destination paper.”
That means something different to everyone.
But to me, it meant a job at a Top 25-circulation newspaper.
Even from the sunny Florida beaches I called home during those first few years after graduating college, I had my eyes set on Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The largest paper in my home state. The one that covered my favorite sports teams. And a Top 25-circulation paper.
When I let myself dream, I imagined being an Ohio-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
But there I was. Standing in the newsroom of one of the dozen largest daily papers in the country: the Detroit Free Press.
I was 26. I had absolutely no business being there and everyone knew it.
But still. I was there.
And they were considering hiring me for one of the most-coveted and most-important reporting jobs at the newspaper.
Falling Into Things
Some of my friends always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Law school. Family business ambitions. Performing arts.
I never knew.
I studied business when I first got to college because my plan was to eventually take over my dad’s small company. There was a lot of financial security in that plan. And I didn’t grow up seeing my father often, so this plan made sense to me.
But sometime during my 19th year of life, I started putting words to paper. I’d go park myself somewhere on campus. On some steps. Or a bench. Or a hillside.
And I’d just watch all the life happening around me. I knew I was in a special place. And I was aware that decisions I made then would alter the course of my life forever.
Halfway through my second year, I walked into the college newspaper office and asked if I could write something—anything.
They gave me an assignment. And then another one. And then another one.
And it was that easy. Getting my work published.
I was smitten.
Within six months, I was hired on as the news editor of our twice-weekly published paper. A year later, I was the paper’s editor in chief.
I was going to be a newspaperman.
Ink in my blood.
And it all happened by accident.
The Motor City
I was in awe, standing in the Free Press building. The home of the great Mitch Albom.
Wow. Eight Pulitzer Prizes, I thought. The paper has since won a ninth.
The first thing on the agenda upon arrival in the Free Press newsroom for my job interview was lunch with the business editor.
That’s where he explained to me why I was there.
“You write for page one. And I like that. I want my writers always writing for page one,” he said.
What he meant was he wants his reporters always writing their stories with the mindset that the managing editor could make the call in the daily news budget meetings to put those stories on the front page.
And he told me something else. The job was either mine or one other guy’s.
Either me—the 26-year-old they could mold into whatever kind of business writer they wanted. Or an older, veteran journalist who worked for Reuters and had been covering Detroit’s auto industry for three decades.
If the job was to be awarded based on merit, I had no chance.
The Free Press had a four-person team covering the automotive industry. And I was down to the final two vying for the fourth spot.
An opportunity to learn day in and day out from a group of amazing reporters. Two men and one woman. Writers with law degrees and in PhD programs.
Writing stories that would be read all over the globe. By my heroes at The Wall Street Journal. And by the people I hoped to one day work for at The Plain Dealer.
A Close Call
In the end, the Free Press went with the long-time Detroit journalist. He was the better choice if salaries weren’t a factor (I would have been a lot cheaper).
And a year later, I ended up in Ohio where I wanted to be.
Less than five years later, I was laid off from my reporting job—my newspaper career ending unceremoniously and embarrassingly.
And now I work in internet marketing. It’s a good job. I write there, too.
But really? I write here. And this is the writing I really want to be doing.
Exploring the things in this life that really matter.
I don’t want to track down union officials and auto parts manufacturers to ask them questions they’re unlikely to answer honestly anyway.
I want to talk to you about real life. About what really motivates us. About what’s really important on the inside of us. About why we’re really here.
Who knows what would have happened had I gotten that job in Detroit? Maybe I’d still be a journalist. Maybe I’d be a good one.
Maybe I’d still be married. Maybe not. Probably not.
I can never know what opportunities would have existed for me on that path.
Just as I can’t know what opportunities lie ahead.
But I love the blank slate in a lot of ways. While a little scary, I also see it as an unwritten book waiting to be written—both metaphorically and literally.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
What next week, next month, next year will bring.
But I know that I’m here.
That you’re here.
And that we can be whatever we want to be.
We only need to be brave enough to choose it.
Your dreams of yesterday are likely not your dreams of today.
And there’s no way to know what we’ll dream up tomorrow.
The storybook journalism career?
Close, but no cigar.
And that’s okay.
Because I don’t smoke cigars.