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Without a safety net

posted May 22, 2019, 8:59 PM by Steve Sauer   [ updated May 22, 2019, 9:00 PM ]
Out of sheer coincidence, I just stumbled upon a calendar I was keeping at this time exactly 12 years ago. Today’s date is May 22, and May 22 is the first day that this schedule covered, through the end of 2007. Much of the schedule consisted of work deadlines planned months out and my favorite baseball and football teams’ schedules. Nats games I was actually attending, rather than catching at home on channel 42 or 79, were in bold in a larger font size.

These were the days I was a journalist: editor of the specialized newspaper for the indoor air quality industry. It’s a niche job that somehow went to somebody who didn’t even know indoor air quality existed. While in D.C., I became a resident who read the Post daily, took subway rides and walked everywhere, whether to work or to hip eateries hobnobbing with my sources and getting the next big story.

Oh, neat-o! I actually toured the West Wing of the White House during this period. Though I was no fan of Bush’s during his second term, I did admire the portrait of him clearin’ brush in Texas I saw on one of the walls. Now there was a job he was meant to do!

Now that I had finally reached the age where renting cars came at a huge discount, I was doing that often. Wheels were handy in getting me back to my original home in Pennsylvania whenever I needed to, like when I’d be playing organ for the wedding of a girl I knew from high school, whose family for the past 12 years has continued to have me play for all of their family occasions, happy or sad.

Thursday, June 14
7 p.m. - Nats game on MASN, ch. 42
Let me explain: “Packosaurus” is the state of mind in which you pack for a weekend away, when you’re so focused on making sure you haven’t forgotten your toothbrush and other essentials that you barely even noticed Nats pitcher Chad Cordero’s 10th save of the season, leading to his team’s 3-1 victory over the Orioles.

Monday, June 18
Drop off the rental car in Rockville and go to work
7 p.m. - Nats game on MASN, ch. 42

My last day on the newspaper job was five weeks away. There it was, spelled out:

Friday, June 29
My last day at Fellman’s office
7 p.m. - Nats game on MASN, ch. 42

There were still things related to that job, however, that were still on my calendar. I never made it to Las Vegas that October for the annual conference put on by the same company that wrote the newspaper. Or to Southern California a week after that for the restoration and environment portions of another convention. I probably expurgated my July through December calendar of such entries very shortly after I wrote this draft on May 22.

Especially considering that on May 24, I was going to an unspecified job interview at 10 a.m. The calendar doesn’t say who the damn interview was with. That detail was obviously unimportant to me. As I recall, it was the only job interview I went on at that time. Some headhunter put me in the fancy office of a nonprofit in the District in an enviable location a few blocks from the White House. They offered a nice salary that was attractive to me, and I needed something. I was quitting my other job with plenty of warning but without a guaranteed safety net. So when this new opportunity was offered to me, I didn’t flinch before saying yes.

I recall that my first day at the new job was on Monday, July 2, but with everything up in the air at the time I wrote my schedule, the only thing you’ll find on this calendar for that day is:

Monday, July 2
7 p.m. - Nats game on MASN, ch. 42

Thus, over the course of a weekend with the Nats winning one game of three in Pittsburgh, I moved from a job writing about one subject I didn’t know existed to another job writing about a different subject I didn’t know existed. I didn’t know what biomedical research is, but the problem is I still didn’t know halfway into the following year, and they knew it. Once the Nationals kicked off their first home season in their newly constructed baseball stadium, I was putting in more time in my assigned seat down the first base line than I was sitting in my office chair. Could you blame them?

Even though that job ultimately didn’t work out, what stands out at me 12 years later is what a gutsy move I was making at this time in 2007: voluntarily jumping ship from one job without a safety net, knowing any number of qualified newspaper editors could step in to fill my shoes, so that I could hopefully find some other job.

One of the newspaper staff had done it before me, but he jumped not into another office job like that but into his dream job: compiling statistics for the broadcasts of those baseball games I was watching at home. He was as passionate about baseball stats as he was about travel, and with his new job he got to do both.

What I missed in switching from one job to another is that to me, these were just jobs. It wasn’t the only time I’d make that mistake. I’d learn eventually that you have to live out your passion, but it was going to take a lot of soul searching and road trips to make that happen.