Broken Careers: How to avoid the frustration factory, part 4 of 5-part series

Posted By Spring Eselgroth

By Warren Watson

“Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

— Anonymous

(Fourth of five parts)

The same factors that have resulted in vanishing careers for so many journalists have thickened the barriers for would-be journalists.

“It’s harder than ever to get hired,” said John Christie, a former editor and publisher who founded the non-profit Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting in 2010.  The center survives on grants and donations.

“The traditional business has fewer levels making it harder to get started,” he said.

So it’s harder than ever to get traction on this career treadmill.

So, what to do?

Well.  Advise from my late mentor Don Murray from more than 40 years ago – spoken across the fruits and vegetables at the A and P (where my dad worked) is never more applicable.

—- Journalism is a great career

—- Learn deeply and widely about everything
—- Hoard a variety of skill sets
—- Be willing to move around
—- And most of all be resilient and flexible.

Tom Peters, management/leadership expert and motivation speaker, discusses the importance of resiliency in his book “The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence.”  He discusses the term “difference-ness” and our ability to deal with the “absurdly unlikely.”

Relate it to your own experience.

In 1982, I never fathomed the idea that my job – and my newspaper The Cleveland Press – would be no more after only being there six weeks.

In 1998, I never foresaw that I would be fired hours after I returned to work in Augusta, Maine, from a speaking engagement in the Middle East.

Although I could foresee the end to my job at Ball State when grant funding ran out in 2008-09, I never envisioned how difficult it would be to find another job at 58 despite 36 successful years in journalism.

These were all instances where bouncing back was never simply an option.   It was a necessity.

It taught me patience, compassion for others in the same fate, and gave me a sense of inner calm.  I had lost control of my own future.  My career was broken.

Some of Peters’ advice was certainly applicable:

  • Be decisive but not rigid.
  • Be hopeful.
  • Reach out to wide variety of people.

I did all that – more than once.  In 2009, I added about 1,000 friends to my Facebook page.  Many were helpful. Many had learned from their own negative experiences.

But it still wasn’t fun to go on seven unsuccessful out-of-state interviews, to be a losing finalist for a half-dozen jobs in 2009, before being offered my current position as executive director with SABEW in August 2009, with the caveat that I had to immediately move 2,000 across the country.

I think my extreme sense of humor kept me going at one point:   “Man, it can’t get any worse!”

Over time, I have learned a lot of about what works and what doesn’t in a career.

That ability to get back on your feet and dust yourself off after a setback is only one trait, but it’s right up there.

Experts call this resilience.

Resilient people are able to utilize their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems and challenges, which may include job loss, financial problems, illness, natural disasters, medical emergencies, divorce or the death of a loved one, says Psychology guide Kendra Cherry.

There’s even a website –

The site defines resiliency as the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds–trauma, tragedy, personal crises, plain ol’ life problems – and bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful.

The military takes resiliency seriously and teaches soldiers how to bounce back from disappointment.  So does the Mayo Clinic, viewing this from a medical and health perspective.

“If you’re less resilient, you’re more likely to dwell on problems,” according to the Mayo website. “you’ll feel overwhelmed, use unhealthy coping tactics to handle stress, and develop anxiety and depression.”

Experts in resilience, advise several steps: foster acceptance, find meaning in life, retrain your attention, develop gratitude and even address spirituality.  It gives you the ability to see beyond problems and find enjoyment in life.

I have found that resilience goes hand and hand with other traits.   Like going with your gut, learning from your own intuition. That little voice inside your head is usually being straight with you.

“The person in life you have to keep happy is yourself,” writes Michael Ryan in “The Boom Boom Book: “Practical Tips to Make Sure Your Career Doesn’t Go Bust.”  Currently president and CEO of Ryan Media Consultants, a strategic communications and marketing company, he is a former vice president of The Arizona Republic and had newspaper news and management stints at The Times-Union in Rochester, N.Y., and Pensacola News Journal.

His little “Boom Boom” book, although only 118 pages, is replete with rich advice and learnings from his time in the business. He agrees that resilience is important, as well as being true to yourself.

He says: “Too often people make decisions … based on what other people think. But remember, they aren’t the ones who have to go to that college, do that job or live in a certain area – you are.”

A checklist of other Ryan-isms:

  • Take the time to build a strong foundation is your career.
  • Understand the core essentials of your business.
  • Learn as much as you can about your job and jobs you would like to have.
  • Seek out people who do well in the same job.
  • Volunteer to take on additional assignments.
  • In the end, look hard at what you do and who you do it for.

He said, “If you have a fundamental or philosophical difference with the way your company is being run, then you have two choices: accept it or leave.  It’s that simple … don’t whine. Do something about it.”

Let me add to these truisms something from the great philosopher Wayne Gretzky: “100 percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.”

We all know what he means.  Take a chance every now and then.

You know, it’s important to find the right job and the right place.  For some, that might continue to be in journalism.  For others, that might mean redirecting energies to become a horse massage therapist.

Either way, in the words of Ryan, “it is so important to find a job you care passionately about: a job that keeps you motivated and brings you much satisfaction.”

One of the tragedies of the Great Recession of 2008-present has been that so many of my colleagues have been turned into career zombies.   Their real choices have evaporated.    Although not their fault, they have been forced into mis-fit positions with fewer challenges, less money, weaker benefits.

Frustration factories!

A former employee fit this mold.  In the Great Recession, she had been let go from two full-time marketing positions.  She was hired into a third position – part-time – after a period of unemployment.

She quickly became frustrated by lower pay, no benefits and fewer hours than she felt necessary to do the job.

She never had learned to adjust and be flexible and resilient in the new organization, despite coaching.   Instead she whipped herself into frustration and sickness.  She lashed out at others, pushed away colleagues and friends.

In the end, she left the job on her own.  Her head was still back in the first position she had lost years before.  That was her dream job and she was never able to adjust from that loss.

(Warren is SABEW executive director and a 40-year journalist.)


Next:  You’ve avoided the frustration factory.  Now what?

The series:

Part 1 –Broken Careers: Surviving in journalism in the Internet age

Part 2- Broken Careers: Some in journalism weathered crisis and ultimately survived

Part 3 – Broken Careers: They moved on from journalism to survive

Part 5 – Broken Careers: Journalists will move forward – in their own little worlds!

SABEW - Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication,
Arizona State University

555 North Central Ave, Suite 406 E, Phoenix, AZ 85004-1248
Phone: (602) 496-7862


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