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Leaving a job — and rediscovering love for what had become rote

BLAGOEVGRAD, Bulgaria — Nobody tells you when to leave.

The hints were there. My mind drifted. I was bored. The only thought that stirred me: When's the day going to end? I lived for the weekend. Hobbies, friends, anything but the newsroom.

After 28 years in the newspaper business (thriving on deadlines, the lively banter of the newsroom, long hours and lousy eating habits), I was fading fast. This was not me. I LOVE this job. Don’t I?

Yet, there I was: Clock-watcher. Grumpy old man. Office wanderer. Co-worker annoyance. The guy who walks the room, coffee cup in hand, asking anyone:

"What's new?"
"How're things?"
"Whatcha working on?"

Nobody wants to see that guy, much less be that guy. I needed a change.

We had to shake things up

In the summer of 2010, my wife and I started planning our escape. A small change wouldn't do. We had to shake things up.

A year later, I was writing a letter of agreement with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I would take a year off, returning to "a" job but not "my" job. I would spend the year figuring out if I could rekindle my love for this game. I wouldn't come back to half-ass my way through the last years of my career.

My wife, Melody Gilbert, is a filmmaker and educator. She has been teaching people how to tell stories for a couple of decades. She's good at it. The American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) saw that and hired her as a full-time professor. Even better, it had a spot for me as a part-time journalism "professor."

So in August, we packed up our belongings and relocated to Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria.

A shock to the system

The move was a shock to the system, an escape from our reality, a jolt. In other words, just what I needed.

Teaching is NOT easy. Entering the classroom as an educator — in Bulgaria — made me nervous (professionally) for the first time in a long time. I spent hours planning lectures and grading writing and reporting assignments. I was attentive and working like a dog.

I culled my brain for anecdotes that would connect to the assignments and skills I was teaching. It was exhausting — and exhilarating.

The first few weeks I felt like the absent-minded professor. Sometimes I'd overshoot the 75-minute class period by 10-15 minutes. Other times, I'd run out of things to say after 45 minutes. On those days, I'd stand before class and admit I was tapped out.

Generous, patient students

The students seemed OK with it all. They were generous and patient. Oh, sure, sometimes they'd yawn. They'd occasionally stare vacantly at the blank wall behind me. I knew when I was losing them. I could feel it, see it. Their sleepy eyes and fidgetiness would make my mind race for something to bring them back. But sometimes I'd just have to press forward, droning on about the importance of proper attribution or interviewing technique.

I learned, as the weeks went by, to pace myself, to engage the students in problem-solving and discussion. I asked for feedback — and got it! I wasn't perfect. I'll get better. I'll refine my technique. I'll raise my game.

The surprise to me was that often the students, in spite of their outward appearance, were listening. I'd see evidence in their stories as the semester wore on. Their command of the language (only one was a native English speaker) got better and more natural. Their understanding of journalism and story-telling improved. Their writing smoothed out, their enthusiasm increased. And so did mine.

Through new prism, work is intriguing again

As strange as it sounds, leaving the newspaper may have helped me rediscover what I used to love about the work. Will that lead me back to a full-time newspaper job? I’m still not sure.

This is the beginning of my rediscovery. I'm relearning the fundamentals of my craft. What had become boring, even rote, when viewed through a new prism is intriguing again. I am feeling some of that old passion returning. Will it be enough to send me back to a newsroom?

For now, it doesn't really matter.

Mark Wollemann is a former assistant sports editor at the Star Tribune. He has also worked at The National Sports Daily, the Los Angeles Times and several other smaller newspapers. He blogs at Mark Wollemann: On the Move.


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Comments (4)


What a great opportunity to not only get out of a rut, but also rediscover the value of your trade.


It can happen. I love legal journalism. But any job can become routine. I covered a courthouse in Manhattan. A dream job. But after 15 years I was getting stale.

Fortunately, I worked for the New York Post, where Murdoch-induced drama is never far. Through a ludicrous series of steps, Murdoch was prepared to repurchase the paper and take it out of bankruptcy. First he had to break the Post unit of the Newspaper Guild. He did. After he offered an unacceptable deal, all striking members were fired. I was liberated. Best thing he ever did for me.

I enjoyed this article and

I enjoyed this article and would like to read more with a little less emphasis an "I". Maybe something about sports over there or the local economy.

Bulgaria again!

Our daughter Laura is currently living in Varna, Bulgaria and working for the Balkan Heritage Foundation. She moved to Varna after attending a field school sponsored by that organization last May. We are finding it very interesting how often we now come across news of or from people who have been to that country (such as this article) since Bulgaria is not a typical tourist destination for anyone from the USA. And here is a personal connection to Mark and Melody ... we were in the same baby-sitting group when our children were young. Glad to hear about them and their latest ventures. Best wishes to them both!