Two years ago, I wrote something down that I never published or showed anyone. While scrolling through old documents on my computer, I found it. I had every intention of publishing it right away, until I realized that the ending needed to be changed. For your convenience, here is the original material, followed by the update. I hope you enjoy it:
I had been working at my local newspaper for a little over three years and, for the most part, I loved my job. It had taken me to interesting places, given me the opportunity to interview Olympic gold medalists, Hall of Famers, and childhood idols, but more than anything else, it paid me to write… about sports — combining two of my biggest passions.
After only a few weeks at the paper, I had a feeling that one of my editors didn’t like me. Movies like Spiderman will have you believe a newspaper editor is this screaming lunatic who is never satisfied. My editor never really yelled at me, but he harped on things often.
He was constantly on my back, constantly asking me to re-write articles the way he wanted them, constantly making me doing things the way he wanted them done (even if sometimes it made zero logical sense). It always seemed there was more work to do — this could be different, that could be written another way — and I genuinely felt there were only a handful of times when I was actually doing something right.
He would nit-pick about seemingly everything. He would berate me via email at 2 a.m. about the most frivolous things or call me on an off day to ask me questions that could have easily waited until my shift the following day. There was no regard for my personal life, whatsoever. I prayed for the day that I would be there to see him let go or retire.
One summer morning, the day came. I was on vacation with my family when an email from the head editor hit my inbox. There were a round of layoffs at the office, and the editor I disliked was one of the casualties. I screamed in jubilation — literally running to the deck of the house and yelling at the top of my lungs.
The following weeks were peaceful, and quiet. I slept easier knowing that I wouldn’t get an all-caps email in the middle of the night. I was steadily improving throughout my time at the paper and I felt that after he left, I was able to write with so much more confidence and originality. My writing — and more importantly, my reporting — was at another level. After a few months, it all started to hit me.
It was because of him.
All of the incessant nagging through the years made me a better writer. All of the questions he would ask me about a story made me a better reporter. I was a better journalist because of him.
About six months after the layoff, I was driving to work when I saw a beat-up white Corolla pass me on the highway and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was him. I had asked my other editors if they had heard from him since, but they didn’t hear much. When I got into the office, the entire newsroom received an email from him.
I immediately rushed to the keyboard and feverishly typed a response.
I thanked him for everything he taught me and I acknowledged that a large part of my improvement through the years was because of him.
He never responded.
To this day, I still don’t know if he was tough on me because he didn’t like me or if he saw potential in me. Either way, I’m grateful for it all. All of it made me a better journalist than I ever dreamed of being, with a ceiling of potential still far out of reach.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see or hear from him again, but I know that if I do, I’ll thank him again. I don’t know where my career will take me, but wherever I land, a large part of it will be because of him.
More than a year and a half after I sent that email to my former editor, he wrote back to me.
By that time, my career had blossomed.
I worked on two of the most important projects of my career to date, one of which earned me a national reporting award; I earned a promotion at work to a full-time position, something that started to seem like more of a pipe dream than a goal; and I had started covering the New York Yankees — in a secondary role, but a lifelong goal of mine, nonetheless.
I was a different man and a different journalist both since he left the company and since I sent that initial email to him. Ordinarily, shake in fear or anger when I saw his name pop up in my inbox; now I was filled with uncontrollable nerves.
“Thank you for the kind words you sent when I left. I still appreciate that you did that. Also, yes, you are right, I was only being tough on you for your own good, because I saw your ability and potential, and because that’s how I was taught by my first sports editor. Also, I have enjoyed when you man the Yankees blog for Chad. I hope you get many more opportunities to do that. I found myself surprised (pleasantly) by how well your technique works there. Your use of baseball-savvy easy-going wording — in lieu of the traditional staid wording — is refreshing.”
I was elated to hear from him, but I also felt like crap afterwards. I had no idea what he was up to or how he had been handling the layoff. It’s been nearly a year since his email, and I still think about him often — whether it’s following a grammar rule he taught me, or seeing someone drinking his trademark iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts.
There were certainly things I still don’t agree with in regards to his management style, but I should have appreciated what he had done for me more than I ever did. Just as employees can often think, “We’re people, you know?” when dealing with upper management, it’s easily forgotten that our bosses are also people — people with lives, many with families, and all of them with feelings.
It’s easy to sum this entire post up to, “Here’s just another entitled millennial bitching about tough love,” and I have no doubts there will be some who do that; but I think it’s also about maturity — realizing when you’ve found it, and realizing when you should’ve had more of it.