three of us cheering around a camp fire we made

What are you working toward?

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Earlier this year, I took a notecard from my desk and I wrote a short sentence.

It was a reminder, something I look at nearly everyday. This sentence was what I was working toward, in the simplest, most distilled form I could manage then. I then started telling my coworkers what that sentence was, so they knew my motivation, what I stood for.

From my teenage years, I’ve always written these sorts of things, quotes and priorities and reminders. Some are high-minded (I’ve had a Lao Tzu quote in my wallet since undergrad) and others are about working smarter (Your Email Inbox is Not Your To-Do List). I cherish these things. I find they do help transform my mood and habits. They are genuinely for me but, of course, they’re acts of signaling too. I am saying to the world (and therefore reinforcing for me), “Hey, These are my priorities, World!” This comforts me. I have a plan to cope.

Early this year, I began confronting the idea that I was unsatisfied with where I had brought my company. I had made a lot of mistakes, errors in judgement. I did not have us set up for success but I believed very wholeheartedly in where we could be.

I had to decide if I would push us through with a foundation that needed improvement, or if I would cause us months of discomfort and added work. There wasn’t an attractive answer but I felt I would be short-changing our team, our community and, yes, of course, myself, if I didn’t address our foundation.

First, I grew a beard. Then I developed a plan, I asked for trust, and we went to work.

Writing this today in December, sitting poolside with good coffee in a tropical climate, I may be relaxing for the first time this year.

We’ve repositioned ourselves to compete in a new (and vulnerable) industry. We’re updating responsibilities and focus. I am trying to live by every best practice our news organization has reported on being important. We have so much work to do. But I believe we are as prepared to do that work today as we have ever been, in nearly a decade of this journey. I’m as confident in us as I have ever been. It is OK to know what you want and to do something to get it.

Looking back, a critical moment of this year’s reorganization was my writing that sentence on a notecard and putting it on my desk. I came into the office everyday and that sentence stared at me. I have devoted the entirety of my professional career to the belief that local journalism needs a truly new business model — and that most others in my industry consider it impossible or too hard, so they’re praying on donations.

That has gotten me fired up for almost 15 years. I am still fired up. I think it’s a question of democracy and social justice and righteousness. I also think it’s so much damn fun that most of the days are great ones. (A lot of them are not, though, and that’s OK). But that’s mine. Yours could be that you want a stable work environment so you can spend the most time with yours kids. Or you could want to develop your own craft for an organization you think benefits a place you love. Or you could want some variety while working with people you admire and care for. Or any 1,000 other things.

The point is I challenge you to write down your own sentence. What motivates you? It’ll help you (and others around you!) make decisions and set priorities.