A year ago this week I got laid off.
With everything else going on lately the last 12 months have been interesting. As if a pandemic and the turmoil of a national election were not enough on the public side, on the private side I have had to adjust to being out on my own professionally for the first time in decades. That all became a fact of life last December, when I got a professionally polite but nonetheless depressing phone call from my managers at Golf Channel/GolfAdvisor.com that they were letting me go for budgetary reasons.
There’s not much you can do under such circumstances. It had been a great place to work, which made my leaving all the more difficult. All I said by way of response was that I had given up a lot to make the move to join them 20 months before.
I was referring to the fact that I had been a full time staff writer and editor for a national magazine called Golfweek for 20 years and had built up a pretty good reputation for myself. The move from Golfweek to GolfChannel/GolfAdvisor.com had been voluntary and felt like a great transition in many ways, not only financially but also because I had grown tired of the extensive traveling, event hosting and monitoring of what had grown to be an 800-person team of nationwide volunteers evaluating golf courses.
There have been a few powerful moments of independence in my life when I have decided to move on, to quit and embrace something else. The first took place back in 1995, when I opted out of membership in a prestigious national team of course evaluators to start my own panel at Golfweek. The next exercise of freedom came in 1998, when I set aside a modestly successful academic career as a university professor of political science to write about golf full time, thereby turning an avocational hobby into a full blown profession. It was a move I had been preparing for carefully for years and it made a lot of sense at the time.
Likewise, the departure from Golfweek in Feb. 2018. But this phone call a year ago informing me of my termination was not something I chose – though I had always known it was a possibility given the precarious nature of the media business.
I didn’t throw any verbal tantrums at my (former) colleagues, just took the news in glumly and asked about details like severance and other matters.
At the time I was home by myself. My wife was teaching that day, and I remember spending about 10 minutes alone in the kitchen scared as hell. And then I simply hit a little internal switch and decided to take action, calling colleagues and knowing full well that in my industry, or in any economy, these days, losing your job is not a mark of failure, even if it’s very bad luck.
I was 65 years old, an age when many folks are considering retirement. But to me that seemed crazy, since I was fully invested emotionally and intellectually in my work and had no intentions of disappearing. So I called on editors, lined up some short term work, planted the seed for longer-term stuff, and within a few days had landed a modest column in a national magazine as well as reason to think that I’d be able to make it all work out.
Which is what I’ve been doing the last year: writing like crazy for a variety of trade and consumer magazines, though I must say it’s hard not to notice that commercial rates have not kept pace with inflation. In fact, the influx of freelancers with aspirations to write professionally has led to a market glut. Rates have been held down by the budgetary woes of print publications and the proliferation of webzines, social media outlets, podcasts and other forms of digitized expression. It’s harder than ever to get a foothold. I have no idea how younger writers can get established. I was lucky to have a reputation to build on, one acquired through decades of article writing, book publishing and editing of articles and manuscripts.
It helped, too, that I could see and understand a golf course quickly, which gave me a foot up in a cottage industry of design consulting I had been cultivating all along. It has now expanded to include half a dozen golf course projects – most of them locally based and thus accessible by car.
The best thing is I have learned to enjoy sleeping in, reading, hanging out with my wife and taking walks. All of which are necessary and adaptable to our enforced era of extreme nesting and socializing “en Zoom.”
I am making less money than I have in years but spending a whole lot less, as well. No traveling, no eating out, no need to buy clothes other than the occasional replacement for socks and undergarments. I still go to the office – a corner of the house where a sign in the hallway warns potential intruders “Danger – Brad’s Room.”
At the age of 66 now I have my little space and it feels, if not exactly secure, certainly familiar, comfortable and productive. While we miss seeing our daughter, grandkids and family a whole lot we stay in touch regularly and feel blessed knowing that we are doing everything possible to keep ourselves and them as safe as one can these days.
The one unanticipated freedom I have been afforded is to roam farther in my reading and writing than I have allowed myself in years. The golf stuff comes naturally to me. But so, too, does an immersion back into my academic engagements – in the form of reading and re-reading old texts from my scholarly days as well as new books on the latest developments in my field of political theory. Along the way I’ve connected up with a colleague who shares my intellectual interests and we’re now at work co-authoring a book about the future of American democracy. The work proceeds sporadically but is gradually morphing into a manuscript we can show around to publishers.
It’s been quite the year. Never has it been so necessary to adapt, make concessions and rediscover skills and interests. I can’t say I’m glad I lost my job. But I am grateful to have created something afterwards instead of sitting down quietly and retiring.