Where to go from paradise?
Moderately successful in my workingman profession, I took an opportunity to duck off the standard path and came here. No regrets. Journalism is my second or, depending on how you count, my third career. I fell into bartending in Waikiki at 19. Fell into wildland firefighting when I moved to California before turning drinking age there. And really fell – far! – into newspapers when a knee gave out and true love tumbled into my life. I married her too close to 30.From there it was all about making up for lost time. I didn’t go to school for this. And when I began, drawing a paycheck less than offseason unemployment from the Forest Service, there could not have been a soul in the biz my age who had less experience.Turns out I had something going for me. I don’t know, a work ethic honed on the fireline, maybe a fleck of talent, some real life living free of newsrooms or journalism schools, plain cussed stubbornness, no shortage of luck. I quit my reporting job at a Sierra Nevada community’s weekly after a year and was asked back as editor of a handful of weekly papers. Then news editor and city editor of a bigger daily than the Daily, then running the copy desk of a bigger paper thatn that, then managing editor of a paper about the size of the Daily, then ME of a little bigger, then night editor of a lot bigger. I tramped this way all over the country, dragging the family along, always pegging the J curve for learning, then scouting for the next opportunity. About the time the Vail Daily editor position popped up, feelers were coming from friends at the San Diego Union-Tribune. Now there’s a choice. About as urban and big as you can get or just as small a daily paper as I could imagine. The family finally prevailed over the ladder. We discovered our higher value. We moved here. That’s my story. You might be that fabulous success who made a boatload and got out at just the right time. Or, like me, stepped off the path in a bid to make life richer overall. You know, trade the traffic for those woods just out the back door, to go skiing on a whim when there’s nothing else to do, to raise the kids in the country.But what of the cost? There is a price to be paid for taking an off-ramp at mid-career. After all, this was a turn into a cul de sac, French for dead end.Precisely what is great about journalism – ticket to America – also makes it precarious. The next job inevitably lies in another town, maybe on the other side of the country. And, of course, that next job depends on this job. The pay and prestige follow size in this career, as it does with most of the professions. I hopped, fast as I could, from one end of the country to the other and landed high in the middle, at mid-career, in middle age. Seen from one perspective, now I’m stuck. I’m in journalism because I hate working for a living. Sure the hours are long, the piles of stuff to do grow overwhelming high at times, and the pay falls somewhat less than fabulous. But none of this is drudgery. I’m exploring life instead of filling my head with business. I’m not selling anything, not counting a bottom line, not working a production line. I get paid to observe and to put into place the best organization possible to report on a community’s life. It’s fascinating.Of course, this mindset limits my options, too. I think I have the best job in newspapering now. The thought of running the business as publisher, next step up, sounds too depressingly like real work. And it only gets worse up from there. So I’ve pigeon-holed myself. After pushing along a second (third?) career as fast as I could, I hopped off the track physically and philosophically. At the same time, though, nesting is not really my instinct. Staying pat in any sense is a prison sentence. Now what?All this has tickled the back of my mind for awhile now. Where do you go from paradise? Never mind the why you would want to. What’s next?Writing is the one constant in my life over the years, from bar tending, sailing and surfing in Hawaii to running newsrooms in upstate New York and middle America and embracing the snow, cold and endless mountain ranges. Notebook journals to newspaper columns. Maybe this path leads to higher country, if I dare.Funny, I figured on landing in middle age more settled, maybe wiser. I guess I thought I’d know by now what it was that I wanted to be when I grew up. Hell, I’d be doing it. I’d have arrived.Hah! I might have found the ideal place and the ideal job for me. But both came with their own walls and ceilings, too. God, I’m greedy. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or email@example.comVail, Colorado