The first urge I ever felt to be a manager was at my first newspaper job in South Carolina. My desk was in the center of the newsroom and faced the glass-fronted offices of three people: the managing editor, the business editor and the special projects editor.
When I wasn’t reporting on a trailer fire or some piece of small-town political skullduggery, I’d look up from my keyboard and watch them. These three white guys decided everything – what was on the front page, who got to to write about the murder trials, who had to write about the centenarians’ birthdays (sorry Reece!) and who sorted the newsroom mail (sorry again Reece!).
Holy crap I wanted one of their jobs. Not because I wanted to boss people around, but because I’d get to make decisions that involved thinking, ideas, reason and the wisdom I’d accumulated about the region (I had none of the time). And those decisions would make the newspaper and community better.
It took 12 years for me to claw my way into one of those positions. After about six months in my perch I realized that my job was all about enacting the ideas (good and bad) of the layer of managers above me. And before I got any more bright ideas about further advancement, I saw there were two more layers of managers above my managers.
I think that’s when I developed a problem with authority.
I left corporate America in 2011 for a variety of reasons, but the No. 1 reason was to get a couple new bosses: failure and starvation.
After more than five years of working under failure and starvation, I can honestly say they are the most predictable and fair-minded superiors I’ve ever had. If I don’t work efficiently, I fail. If I don’t work hard, I starve. It really is that simple.
I can blame the economy when I fail, but that usually means I’m spending too much money or am making things that people really don’t need. So I need to adjust. You can say it’s more complicated than that, but it’s not. It’s how people lived for thousands of years before capitalist economies took hold. And these rules still apply today, just like breathing air is still good and breathing water will still kill you.
To my wife and friends it looks like I’m both always working and never working. On Monday morning I’m lingering over the newspaper and planning a nice meal for my family. On Christmas Day I’m furiously editing chapters for a forthcoming book. At 4 a.m. I’m answering frantic emails from Europe. At 10 a.m. I sleep for a while to clear my head.
Starvation and failure are totally fine with my behavior. There is no annual review session where I “meet” or “exceed” corporate expectations. There is only the bank account and the pantry. And whether or not they are full or empty is my decision alone.
— Christopher Schwarz