Leap of Faith

So, that’s it then. After two and a half years with Reuters, in one of the most challenging bureaus in the company, I leave now to hit the road and take a step into the great unknown.

It happened like this: After I was moved down from Bureau Chief to Chief Correspondent in January, my job and my life no longer fit what I envisioned. I didn’t like the new role, the new rules and my boss and I often clashed. I sank into a pretty deep depression and my productivity suffered.

If you’ve never experienced that, count yourself lucky. It’s soul crushing to be in a job that’s no longer fulfilling while trying your damnedest to do decent work — and constantly coming up short. A negative cycle sets in, in which you spend all your energy worrying about that fact that you’re spending all your energy trying to maintain an even keel. I was running to keep up with myself, but I could see myself slipping further behind.

My managers grew more disappointed and yet I still couldn’t work up the gumption to tell them that I was depressed, that the job was part of it, but that it wasn’t all of it. That there was only so much I could do, only so much energy in me, and that I feared that it would never be enough for what the job required.

It’s an easy thing to say, “Oh, just fake it until you make it,” or some other kind of affirmation. I’ve told it to friends and I’ve tried to convince myself of it. But it wasn’t working. From January until April, I felt dead inside, exhausted, despondent and no longer energized by the story in Pakistan. It wasn’t even the loss of the Bureau Chief position, a role I was getting better at by December 2011, but which still fit like a poorly cut suit. It was just … exhaustion, burnout, a growing realization that after 22 years as a journalist, I just wasn’t that into it anymore.

My managers acted first, telling me I needed to shape up or, essentially, ship out. After my initial indignation — and some strongly worded emails — I realised that this was actually an opportunity, not a set-back. Here was my chance to strike out, do my own thing and maybe recapture some of the spirit of adventure that I had seemingly bottled when I ran Back-to-Iraq.com.

So, in a fit of desperation/madness/fuck-it-ness, I told my managers about my depression and conveyed to others that, really, let’s end this amicably.

In the middle of all this, a security scare against me surfaced in Islamabad. For the moment, I won’t go into details, but I will at some point, I promise — once I feel that it’s OK for me to do so. Reuters took it seriously enough to get me out of the country and to Dubai, which turned out to be a pretty good choice, all in all. There was enough slack time to give me time to think, and I talked with Reuters and we came to an agreement that led to my resignation. Technically May 31 is my last day, but the way these things work, once you’re done, you’re done.

That sounds colder than it was. The company, overall, was classy and worked well with me. I say with no hesitation or documents requiring that I say it that my career with Reuters ended about as well as it could. Bittersweet smiles, but all in all a fair and good ending.

And now? That’s a very good question. I have to return to Islamabad and pack up the house and take care of my cats. Big moving sale coming with tons of good stuff! In the meantime, I’ve been thinking of my next step.

It will involve a lot of travel, so I hope to be able to connect with as many of you in person as possible as I wander around the world. It will involve volunteering and helping young journalists at newspapers and universities, sharing some of my experience in both the digital world and the “real” world. There will be no plane trips — boats, cars and trains (and maybe bicycles) only.

It will not involve the equivalent of standing around sniping from the sidelines and saying, “Oh, you’re fucking that up” — which is too much of what a lot of journalism has become, I fear. Holding the powerful accountable has transformed, sometimes, into simple snark and negativity. That’s not to say that only good news needs to be reported; who wants to read about all the planes that land safely every day? But I personally just couldn’t take it anymore. I had stopped being a force for change and progress and instead was becoming a cynical, scolding asshole. And that’s not cool.

So, in my new incarnation, I’ll be writing and publishing e-books about the amazing people, music and food I encounter in my soon-to-begin journeys. I’ll be looking for that special spark that makes this world complicated, interesting, infuriating and beautiful. I’ll be available for talks and seminars and for new writing gigs. I’ll be seeking out those stories and moments that really connect people, both to the earth and to each other. The philosophy of the venture is summed up in the title of this site: Truly, Nomadly, Deeply.

I do hope you’ll stick around and find out what happens next.

Image courtesy of Chris Allbritton