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  • The Quit Your Job Manifesto
  • The Quit Your Job Manifesto
    By By Dave Copeland

    Quit Your Job
    By Dave Copeland

    Call it a midlife crisis. Okay, so, at 31, I’m still a few years short of a midlife crisis, but I don’t know many newspaper reporters who make it much past 62. It’s a career full of bad food, limited exercise, angry people and high blood pressure, so people get out, drop dead or become editors.

    And the ones who do make it to retirement, well, that’s just sad.

    Tell people you’re leaving your marginally respectable and somewhat steady job as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to become a freelance writer and you get lots of dumb looks and even dumber comments.

    “What will you do for money?”
    “What will you do for health insurance?”
    “You’ll have lots of free time. Let me take you to lunch.”
    “Isn’t your job kind of easy? Why would you give it up?”

    We get conditioned, from the time we’re old enough to go to school, to get used to a life where we’ll have to be somewhere every day and have someone tell us what to do. We get fixated on happiness being not much more than a drawer full of khakis (and one pair of blue jeans for “casual” Fridays), a cell phone on a belt clip, a minivan in the driveway and two weeks off every year. Oh, and did I mention the yearly, two percent merit increase following your annual review?

    I wasn’t entirely brought up that way. My dad was a salesman, and he was very good at what he did. I’ve always had it planted in the back of my mind that if you find your talent and exploit it, you don’t have to rely on someone else to tell you how much you make. When people think about striking out on their own, we’re too conditioned to only think of the worst case scenarios: What happens if I don’t make enough? What if I end up surfing the Internet all day? What happens if I end up serving the boss I told to go screw his morning coffee when he pulls up at the Starbucks drive through? What happens if I—GASP—fail?

    We are not, as a culture, conditioned to think of the upside potential. We’re not conditioned to think that, with a little luck and a lot of hard work we may earn more or, at the very least, enjoy life a little more than we would all wrapped up in a neck tie. And if I fail?

    Who gives a fuck?

    Because in a lot of ways, I have already have failed by—at least temporarily—becoming a person I hoped I would never become. I was a member of the office coffee club. I used phrases like “beer o’clock” (although, thankfully, I never used “T.G.I.F.”). I’ve had days I could label “good” because I got two packets of Swedish Fish for the price of one from the office vending machine. I had a parking pass.

    I got into journalism thinking it would be different. I bought into the whole line of crap about “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.” I used to fool myself by telling people my job was great because every day was different (phone call, phone call, lede, quote, nut graf, submit. Repeat). In short, I watched one too many movies and, for awhile, lived under the impression that journalism was just as important as curing cancer.

    The truth, I can safely say a decade later, is more “Office Space” and less “All The Presidents Men.” Sure, there are kick-ass days full of excitement. Days where you feel powerful and, even if it’s nothing more than adrenalin-induced delirium, you feel as if you’re making a difference. But then there are most days—days when you wait around for the big story that never comes. Days where you finish everything you need to finish within two hours, then spend the next six trying to look busy by surfing the net and making fun of co-workers via email.

    Days when it seemed like a job. And a low-paying job at that.

    I suppose at some point I’m expected to say that the [second largest Pittsburgh daily paper] was an awful place to work, where I was expected to sell out my values and join the vast right wing conspiracy. That, however, wasn’t really my experience. Most of the people I have known in newspapers fit the same stereotype—overworked, underpaid, and generally miserable. Sure, there were editors who I was convinced had been placed on this earth solely to make my life miserable, but who doesn’t want to tell their boss to go fuck himself or herself every now and again? And for every truly worthless jackass I encountered there, I met ten or so inspiring, intelligent and genuine people.

    Most newspapers I have known aren’t evil. They’re just boring. It really had nothing to do with the [newspaper I worked for]. Newspapers are miserable places full of miserable people. Dedicated, indeed, but still miserable.

    So, instead of waiting for the big story, I’ve decided to go create it. As I write this I’m conjuring up plans to canoe the entire length of the Allegheny River. I’m waiting to hear if I’ll get a fellowship that will allow me to live in Berlin for a month or two. I’m working on two book proposals and a business plan for a start-up. I’m doing some crap freelance jobs to make ends meet until some of the bigger schemes take off.

    Yeah. You read that last one right. I’d be kidding you and myself if I told you everything about my new life was easy.

    On the contrary, it’s much harder. No sick days. No ducking out early on a Friday or coming back late from lunch on a Tuesday. No company Christmas party (but in my experience, that’s probably a good thing). No simple minded editors, jackass co-workers or twisted corporate policy to blame when things don’t go my way, when my ideas don’t get implemented or my life starts to suck.

    No excuses.

    It’s too early to tell how this will all wind up. I’d like to think I’ll be successful enough and happy enough to inspire others to do the same. I’d like to think, at the very least, I won’t have to settle for taking another job where sucking up is the key to success (or at least a decent health plan).

    But if I do? So what? I’ll meet you at the water cooler and we’ll figure out where we’re going for lunch.

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    Leave Your comments:
    User Comments:

    From: dawn ( 8/16/2004 1:12:13 PM
    We journalists don't have a reputation as being surly for nothing. The environment breeds it and, let's face it, we are intellectually superior to the people we are chasing down for information, anyway, in my humble opinion. And we know it -- that's our problem -- we're too smart to just fall into a rut and accept that life isn't fair. Thus, I have to say how proud I am of you that you're brave enough to chart your own course -- one you will enjoy -- instead of following the path of least resistance that inevitably leads to the most frustration.

    From: Stroud ( 8/16/2004 4:44:20 PM
    For reference, this man's website can be found here:

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