Too Late/Too Soon: The Dream.


When do you know that it’s time? The third in a month of posts about how I learned to stop worrying, buck up and do the work.

The dream really started sometime in the spring of 2010. I’ve told this story a few too many times: I was working at a TV station. I was frustrated with my place in the journalism world. I decided I wanted to do something about it.

It was time to do big work. I was sure of that.

So I came up with a spinoff on the original de Tocqueville journey. I called it Four Days in America. I’d go to a place for four days. Do some reporting. Package it all into a big story. And then ship off to the next place

I’d see the country, tell some amazing stories and find myself along the way.

Dumb idea, Dad said. You’re going to travel all across the country, by yourself, and move just frequently enough to never make friends? Are you just trying to isolate yourself, Dan?

And he was right. To move from place to place, with no consistency, with no backbone to work off of? It couldn’t work. Four Days in America was a hopeless idea. To even attempt something like this, I needed a support system.

So I went to the backup plan: One place, three months, tons of reporting. Tell one great story. Chase one big thing at a time.

I had a few places in mind, but one stuck out above all else: The Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was five years after Katrina. Oil was leaking out of the Gulf. The economy was terrible.

I didn’t know anyone there, but I decided that if I could put a few pieces in place — a place to stay, a story to cover, a website to publish on — that I might be able to make something of a summer in Biloxi. I knew that having a structure was going to be a game-changer for me.

Best case, I could turn my little reporting enterprise into a business. Worst case, I’d have a nice portfolio of clips to apply for future jobs.

Well, that wasn’t actually the worst case. The worst case was that I’d quit my job, move to Mississippi, and then get scared. I’d back off the story.

I’d quit, too. I’d leave Mississippi with nothing.

That really scared me. I couldn’t take two steps back. This was my time to do something big.

I knew I had enough to start. I bought I put up a Facebook page. I told my bosses that I was going to leave my job in a month and move to Mississippi.

My parents thought I was trying to punish myself. They thought that moving to Mississippi, in July, was a sort of self-inflicted torture.

I thought it was a way forward. I didn’t know what it was leading toward, but I knew that something would come of all this work.

But that’s all it really took to start: A dream, and an uncertain goal, and the knowledge that I had a moment to actually do something big.

It was going to be a big success, or a big mess, but I was going to do it — and do it now.

Photo at top by Jochen Spalding