In hindsight, my first newspaper job was one of the best. I didn’t really know it at the time, because I was under a lot of stress to produce the main story for the Sunday paper’s feature pages. I was 24, just out of journalism grad school, living in western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, in a place I didn’t know, and every Thursday night I was sweating over that week’s feature article due the next morning. I had spent the previous days collecting interviews and observations—visiting a kindergarten class, riding a freight train, driving with Beaver County’s last milkman, meeting a taxidermist, talking to musicians like jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and bluesman BB King in town for concerts—and now I had to figure out how to turn my scribbled notes and jumble of thoughts into a compelling article.
I was green, lacking the experience and increased confidence that comes with the repetition of writing and writing. And if I mucked up? If it was boring or made no sense? Tens of thousands of readers (not to mention my editor) would see it. I had some long, painful Thursday nights. But it’s hard to overstate how much I loved the freedom to come up with story ideas, meet interesting people, crack jokes in the newsroom, and mostly avoid sitting behind a desk, static and stuck. Later, I would have the experience of covering news-breaking stories and working out of the London bureau of The New York Times, making a movie on location, editing a national magazine, teaching a class of talented grad students, even shooting video of an opera I was co-producing in Helsinki. But this job—feature writer for The Beaver County Times? This was living.
Last year America experienced “The Great Resignation” as millions of employed people decided to quit their jobs and seek something else. In November and December alone, that number totaled over 8.8 million, with reasons as varied as the desire to make more money, seek better benefits, avoid omicron, get out of retail or food service, end a long commute, find a more flexible work schedule, or just plain live better. Many of those lucky enough to work remotely from home during the pandemic discovered there’s a better way than the usual 9-to-5 grind.
I suspect many are asking with new eyes, “What’s the best job for me?” With that in mind, I’m wondering: What’s the best job you’ve ever had? Or maybe you want to share the opposite—the worst job you ever had. (Mine was a long month stacking cans of motor oil.)
As always, I look forward to reading about your experiences and the chance for this community to share with each other.
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