When I started my first full-time job after college, I was an eager beaver. I was ready to work 12 hours a day, six days a week. I was delighted to help with West Texas football coverage on Friday nights, and traveling the wide open spaces of Texas to interview cowboys and politicians was terrific. Fun as it was, it also was tiring.
I left that smaller daily in West Texas after two years and ended up at two nondaily newspapers in South Carolina. I was working 10 hours a day, bringing work home and felt exhausted much of the time. And I was newly married.
Those experiences were lessons in balance. I still have a passion for journalism, but I’m learning that my life needs a mix of work and pleasure. It’s a struggle to squeeze families, spouses and hobbies into a fast-paced career. But it’s important to learn how to organize our lives so our careers don’t become all encompassing. That’s not an easy lesson to learn, but it’s one I’m starting to put into practice in my current job at a bi-weekly business journal.
Journalism is a business that prides itself on long hours, late nights and the thrill of the next story. Vacations and days off are often interrupted by breaking news.
But it’s critical to understand the importance of mixing work and play. Whether it’s a three-day weekend to go biking in the mountains, a week on a cruise ship or just a Saturday afternoon with a good book, think about what you enjoy doing and make some time for it — your work will be better because you are fresher and able to see your work with a clear head and a rested eye.
I polled other young journalists for their advice on achieving balance between career and personal lives. Here’s what they advise:
Michelle Maskaly, general assignment reporter, Staten Island Advance
“I think by taking some down time and getting involved in hobbies outside your job, you are able to better connect with the people you are writing about and as a result, it helps you to better function at work because you can look at a situation from various perspectives, not just through a journalist’s eye.”
Rebecca Neal, reporter, The Indianapolis Star
“One of the most important things young journalists can do is to find a life outside the newsroom. You can’t depend on work for all your happiness and friends. You have to be able to separate yourself at times from work to stay enthusiastic about your job and stay above office politics.”
Derrick Gingery, staff writer, Northwest Herald
“I think the maxim is absolutely true that reporters are always reporters, even on their days off. That doesn’t mean you work all the time, but you are always in the reporting mindset. I have tried to do my best to at least not think about it much, just to decompress. I take long walks, read novels, anything to let my mind rest at the end of the day. Reporters put in long days, and it’s important to be fresh when you get in the office.”
Jill Raygor, managing editor, Ithaca Times
“For me, it was all about being true to myself. I was, and I have a dayside, Monday-Friday journalism job that allows me to have evenings and weekends to myself.”
Marian Liu, pop music writer, San Jose Mercury News
“Many times, balance can feel like the holy grail of working — though it exists, it’s unattainable. I’ve searched for balance the wrong way: working through sickness and exhaustion, or both working hard and partying hard. Both ways just lead to extreme burn out. The best way toward balance is to make sure your core is OK both spiritually and emotionally, and other things will come in due time.”
Jamie Gonzales, special products & Style magazine editor, Visalia Times Delta and Tulare Advance-Register
“Leave work at work. If you have to stay late to finish something, do it, but don’t take work home with you. Home is for you. If you take work home to do over the weekend, you’ll start to resent ‘the job’ as something taking away from your personal life.”
Catherine Varnum, WETM 18 News reporter, Elmira, N.Y.
“I’m just starting out in my career, and I think as a young journalist, you want to go, go, go. I know if it’s my day off, and I get a call from a source about a breaking news story, I’m calling it. I find it very hard to ‘take a day off.’ … The most important thing is to take time for yourself, and do something you want to do.”
Cecilia Xiao, program assistant for Arkansas International Center, Arkansas Global Program and Asian Pacific Resources and Cultural Center
“As a journalism professional, getting ideas from the community is very important. To rest with family and get involved with the community would not only mentally better serve our career goals but also inspire the profound responsibility as a member of the professional journalism team.” — “Invest in an electric PDA and organize your life’s schedules (work and personal), then stick to the schedule and refer to all things as ‘a meeting,’ even if it is a personal lunch. This way others will not urge you to cancel your lunch ‘meeting’ with your daughter/husband/parents.”
Holly Fisher is the Region 3 director of SPJ and supplements editor at the Charleston Regional Business Journal in South Carolina. For more information about Generation J, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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