Opinion: There’s no reason to punish myself for past mistakes

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Sometimes, this job sucks.
And so does life sometimes.
In case you haven’t already guessed, I’ve gone through a rough patch lately, for reasons professional and personal.
Mistakes are hard to live with, whether in life or on the job.
But the beauty of the newspaper business is there’s always a next edition. And in life, there’s always another day.
There are times, though, when I have had to convince myself that both of those things are true. Because tomorrow — or the next edition — couldn’t come soon enough.
My friends would tell you I can be an obsessor. OK, that might be an understatement. I’m one of those people who goes back a second time to make sure I turned off the coffee pot before leaving for work.
But it’s one of the qualities that makes me well-suited for this line of work. When it comes to sweating the details, I can sweat with the best of ’em. I can spend hours agonizing over a story. I will take literally hundreds of photographs, trying to get that one, just-right shot. I will check and re-check my facts to track down the correct spelling of a name or confirm some piece of information.
But mistakes, of course, still happen. Some bigger than others. But they all drive me crazy.
By nature, I’m a cautious person. It was the way I was raised. To play it safe.
But I’m not so sure that’s the way to go through life, or to do this job.
It’s good to be careful, as far as taking pains to get things right. But the fear of failing can have a paralyzing effect.
The one thing that has always haunted me every week when the paper comes out, and really in whatever I do, is that it is never good enough. That mentality can be both a blessing and a curse.
It’s good, in some ways, to not ever be satisfied. To always want to do better. I get that.
But the part of that process I have a hard time accepting is, along the way, there will inevitably be those dreaded mistakes. That’s always been a hard thing for me to live with.
And God knows I’ve made ‘em.
Life is messy — at least mine has been — and so is this business. They say you have to have a thick skin to do this job. I don’t. At least it didn’t come naturally. I genuinely like people, and I want to be liked. I’ve done this job for 30 years, but I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten used to being yelled at, or someone flipping me off or sending me a nasty message, sometimes in the same week.
But I accept it goes with the territory.
So, over time, to deal with the criticisms and complaints, I hardened myself. I weathered the fickleness and volatility of public opinion by putting up walls. I went through life that way, too. Someone hurt me, disappointed me, rejected me, I put up walls. I thought that’s what I had to do in order to protect myself. What I was doing, though, was losing myself — and the ability to express my true feelings — in the process.
Being the editor of a one-man newsroom can be a lonely job at times. On the one hand, you go to lots of events, you get lots of invitations, you meet hosts of people, but at the end of the day, there’s only one name on the story. You’re out there all alone. People like you or dislike you, depending on what was in the paper on any given week.
At Monday’s Septemberfest pancake breakfast, I sat across from two very nice ladies who talked to me about newspapers in general. They said they didn’t like them, because they were filled with negative news. As an exception to the rule, one of the women mentioned a paper she knew of that would only run “good” news.
I figure 90 to 95 percent — and that’s perhaps a conservative number — of what goes in this paper week in and week out is what could be labeled positive news. News (and photographs) about school events, about local sports, about community celebrations, about human-interest stories, about accomplishments and examples of charity.
However, what people seem to remember or focus on sometimes is the other 5 or 10 percent.
I’ve always been amazed when people suggest newspapers publish “bad” news in order to sell papers.
What sells papers is news.
News that has relevance. News that is important to people’s lives. News about their friends and neighbors. News that shines a light on what happens in the shadows. News that is compelling and entertaining and engaging. News that can inspire.
Unfortunately, in this business, and in life, bad things happen. People make mistakes. They do stupid things. There are accidents and tragedies and scandals. It’s all news.
I’m just like everybody else when it comes to making mistakes. I’ve probably even exceeded most people on that count. I had a career free-fall. I’m divorced. I’ve hurt people I deeply cared about. I’ve screwed up both in life and in my career, and I mean, royally.
But, in the final analysis, the finger of blame was always pointing right back at me.
Sure, it would be nice if some of our mistakes didn’t become public. But that’s not the reality. And I don’t think that’s what people really expect from their local paper. They expect accountability.
I believe they want to know the good and the bad — for example, if a crime is committed or a case is working its way through the courts — and they want the news reported as accurately as possible with a sense of fairness, decency and compassion.
There are no do-overs in this business, or in life. Believe me, I wish with all my heart there were.
But there is always the next edition. And there’s always the hope tomorrow will be a better day.
A friend used to tease me because, for any perceived failing or shortcoming on my part, I was quick to say, “But I can do better.” I suppose that goes back to my nagging feeling of it’s never good enough. But this same person also helped me to see that by holding back, by building walls, I wasn’t protecting myself. I was keeping other people out.
Someone once told me three little words that really hit home — do it afraid. I’m finally starting to understand what that means — that it’s worth the risk. Whether it’s a business opportunity or a personal relationship, we may only get one chance to get it right, so we should at least give it our very best, holding nothing back, instead of being overly cautious because of a fear of failing. At least we’d go down swinging.
I’ve beat myself up pretty good for the mistakes I’ve made, both in print and in life. I figured it was what I deserved.
But I’m finally starting to believe, I don’t need to continue to punish myself for past mistakes. Despite my flaws and failings, either as an editor or a man, it will be OK. There will be a next edition. There will be better days ahead.
A dear, dear friend taught me that.
• • • • •
Tuesday was moving day for the county.
The county’s administrative offices moved out of the building next to Watt’s Ranch Market, which the county had been leasing, and into the remodeled office space at the Fairfield Center, which the county owns.
The county was paying $48,000 a year to rent office space at the administration building, owned by Jerry Belland. The cost of the remodeling of the space at the Fairfield, which used to house the Meeker Public Library, is $582,000.
• • • • •
Rangely’s Septemberfest is over, and the community’s next big celebration will be Holidayfest. Kristina White is the new Holidayfest chairwoman. The event will be Dec. 4.
• • • • •
The dispute between the town of Meeker and business owner Harry Watt is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 5 in municipal court. The town cited Watt for violating a town ordinance over a sign he had painted on the side of a truck promoting the Blue Spruce Inn, which Watt owns, along with Melinda Parker. Defense motions are due Sept. 16 and there will be a motions hearing Oct. 1.
• • • • •
Sitting on my front porch the other night while talking on my phone, I had a surprise visitor.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a skunk making its way right toward me.
I immediately jumped up and headed in the opposite direction. Still talking to a friend on the phone, I asked whether it would be a good idea to throw rocks at the skunk, to shoo it away.
My friend said, “I don’t know if that would be a good idea.”
However, as the skunk came closer, I picked up rocks and started throwing them at the skunk, which raised its tail. I asked my friend what was a safe distance to stay away from the skunk, to keep from getting sprayed. He said the length of a football field. I think he was messing with me, since I told him I was standing maybe 10 or 15 feet from the skunk.
I asked my friend what I should do, and he said, “Shoot it.”
He knew I didn’t own a gun, so he asked if my neighbor Roston Steiner was home, because we knew he would have a gun. But Roston wasn’t home.
Eventually, after eating my cat’s food, which was in a bowl on my front porch, the skunk headed back around the side of my house.
Early the next morning, while sitting outside and drinking a cup of coffee, the skunk returned, walking up the sidewalk toward my house, coming straight at me. When I jumped up and began to back track, the skunk raised its tail.
I scrambled inside the house and waited for the skunk to wander off.
Where’s my neighbor Roston Steiner when I need him?

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.