There's a bumper sticker I see from time to time that says, "Not all who wander are lost." I can relate to that, even though I spent a lot of years feeling lost.
Like the folks profiled in this month's cover story ("Take This Job and Love It," page 72), I'm a lucky guy. I love my work. But I never set out to own a magazine. Yet here I am, doing what I now see has always been my dream job. It just took me a while to figure that out.
I spent my 20s bouncing from job to job. I worked as a reporter at one of the biggest newspapers in America, where I had a ringside seat on the bare-knuckle world of Chicago politics. Then I became the paper's music writer, which led to assignments for Rolling Stone and other magazines. Soon I was hanging backstage with Bono and interviewing Aretha Franklin about her fear of flying.
After a few years, I grew restless and shifted specialties from music to technology and found myself talking about the changing face of communications with a very young Bill Gates and other ambitious entrepreneurs. That led to an editing position at a small magazine that had just been acquired by one of the world's largest media companies. The magazine's founder had started the magazine at his kitchen table and was only too happy to share his secrets. When he abruptly quit a year later, I stepped into his role and got a crash course in the business side of publishing.
Next I took a position at Quark, a company that made page-layout software. Quark brought me to Denver, and then sent me around the world, working with the best-known magazines to streamline their pre-press operations and cut their production costs.
It was all great fun, but nothing seemed to hold my interest for more than a few years. I would master the basics and then find myself feeling that same restlessness again. I told myself that I had become a journalist in the first place because I loved the idea of exploring whatever might come my way, but it was getting harder and harder to ignore that nagging voice in my head. Would I ever be able to stick it out for the long term? What was I going to be when I grew up?
When I started 5280, it was in part because I wasn't sure what else to do. I honestly wasn't thinking that it would be the ultimate destination on my journey. My greatest fear wasn't risking my life savings or public failure, but that I'd soon find myself wanting to move on again.
In the magazine's early years, there wasn't time to feel restless. But eventually, I realized two remarkable things. First, this was what I wanted to do. Even on the bad days (and there were plenty), I couldn't imagine a more exciting and rewarding way to spend my time. Second, like a sculpture waiting to be freed from the stone, this was the job I'd always been working toward.
Truth be told, I couldn't have better prepared myself for this job if I had choreographed it from the very start. Each of my jobs provided lessons and skills that turned out to be vital to the survival of the magazine you're now reading. Without any of them, I can guarantee you that I would have failed.
There are plenty of people, of course, who are smart enough to chart detailed roadmaps for their careers. I wasn't one of them. Whether my path was determined by dumb luck or guided by some subconscious compass, I can't say. But at the very least I can tell you that good things can come to those who wander.