Being fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Twenty-years ago this month my tenure as managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune came to an abrupt halt. I was told to pack up my things and leave the building.

I should have left sooner of my own volition. At the time I felt like that would have been giving up. I’ve since learned it would have preserved my sanity, health and well-being. Pride didn’t let me quit. I know better now.

The publisher too often wanted to blur the lines between editorial and advertising. Once I told him, “My editorial hole isn’t for sale.” He said, “It’s not your editorial hole.”

Being a self-employed writer allows for work spaces in wonderful locations, like Baja Sur. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Ah, just one of the many nails in that coffin I hammered myself.

People have asked if there is anything I could have done to have gotten a different outcome. No. And if I had, it would have only sped up my departure.

I left with my integrity intact. I left being able to look myself in the mirror every day. I left with my journalistic principles untarnished.

Part of my idealism was shattered. Part of me hardened that day. Part of me knew then and there something like that was never going to happen to me again.

It was not a good place to work, and the parent company was horrendous.

I took the job thinking it was going to be my dream job. After all, my first job out of college was a reporter as that same paper. I had returned to Tahoe, wanting to be in the mountains. I thought I might become publisher one day. I thought I’d retire from the Trib. I lasted 17 months at the paper.

Even so, there are so many people I met at the paper and in the community who I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise. For that, I am grateful.

I didn’t know what I was going to do on that January day. Even though I knew being fired was a real possibility, I hadn’t prepared for it in any meaningful way.

That day I called so many people to start putting the wheels of future paychecks in motion. It worked. I had a few jobs, and fortuitously had just resumed doing massage work, so I had that to build on. Eventually I started several freelance writing gigs, and opened a massage office where I had about six people working for me on an on-call basis.

There are those who will tell you being fired is a rite of passage. That is builds character. That it brings clarity to what you want and don’t want in future employment.

I agree with all of that.

I also learned I could reinvent myself. I learned a job isn’t everything. While I care about the work I do, especially with my name being on it, a job no longer defines me. It’s OK to walk away–even it’s your own business.

I’ve never worked a 9 to 5 or 7 to 7 job, as the case was at the Trib, since then. There were the nine years of owning Lake Tahoe News where it was more like 24/7/365. But that was my choice in a completely different way than being beholden to someone else is.

Since my days at the Trib I haven’t received a paycheck every other week, no bonuses (until last month, thank you, Heather), no medical benefits, no holiday pay, no sick pay, no retirement—no benefits of any kind from an employer.

That’s the thing about self-employment, you are responsible for everything. No company paying part of the taxes. When you take vacation, no income. Sick, sorry, no pay.

What self-employment brings besides irregular paychecks is time. I can’t put a price tag on time.

As the years go by, time has become more important. I play tennis a couple mornings a week. What boss is going to let me do that? I run errands that aren’t limited to a lunch hour. I can help mom with something during what others would call work hours.

Sometimes I don’t even work on a particular day. Sometimes I’m out of town, out of state, out of the country working. That’s the advantage of writing being my primary job. Not all self-employment (like massage) allows for remote work.

People I know have said I should get a real job. I think I have several real jobs. Others have said I don’t work full time. Full time by whose definition? Maybe there is just a bit of jealousy behind those comments. Maybe there isn’t the realization of what I really do. I don’t need their judgment.

It takes discipline with money and time to be self-employed. It’s certainly not for everyone. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve toyed with having a 9 to 5 job again. I seemed to have sabotaged every interview I’ve had in the last 20 years.

This self-employment thing is perfect for me. If I hadn’t been fired from the Trib, I’m not sure if I would have carved out this niche for myself. So, that makes me grateful for being fired.

I’m living the life I want; I just didn’t know 20 years ago this is what I wanted.

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