My heart is heavy today. It’s probably aggravated by lack of sleep in the past week, but I’m dealing with the unexpected pain of having to give up something I dearly loved.
As of Friday, I am no longer the chair of SPJ’s National Freelance Committee. I knew this was coming, I knew it had to be, but I underestimated how difficult it would be emotionally.
During the 2003 National Convention in Tampa, a group of mostly female freelance writers galvanized to form the committee. Until that time, freelancers were largely a marginalized group of members, not necessarily taken very seriously by the Society’s leadership.
I helped to change all that by giving them visibility and a voice and a reason to remain engaged in the Society. That activity has been the ultimate satisfaction of my leadership in SPJ.
On Friday morning, I pulled together the best panel I’ve ever assembled. The topic was “Marketing Yourself as a Freelancer.” I knew all three panelists personally and professionally and had seen them all speak before and could attest to their ability to engage an audience. My hope was that this panel would be a home run.
The room was packed, my laptop was hooked up to projection screen and I pulled up Web resources and extra info as the panelists spoke. When we opened the room for Q&A, the questions were great, very specific and answered thoughtfully. Regrettably we had to end the session in only an hour. As the audience members rushed to meet our speakers individually, I knew we hit the ball outta the park.
High from the positive feedback we received, I walked into the hallway to learn that while I was moderating the best session I’ve ever pulled together, the committee chairs had met and I was officially replaced. My knees buckled a bit and I felt adrift as the wind died in my sails.
My identity for the past fours years in SPJ has been as advocate for the independent. The national board had approved its largest Legal Defense Fund grant ($30,000) toward the legal fees of a young indendent journalist who remains in jail on contempt of court charge. We were raising money in our tip jar to help pay for his living expenses and a few of us sported buttons that read, "Free Josh." But as I stood in the hallway trying to find my sea legs, it felt as if that advocacy had been stripped from me. It’s not that it happened or who replaced me — a great freelancer from Kansas City — it’s that I felt marginalized by the powers that be, that my work didn’t much matter. As I write, it sounds as if I’m whining, which I don’t mean to be. My emotional reaction just shocked me. It’s as if I’ve given birth to this baby and now someone has plucked him away and prematurely shipped him off to boarding school. Who’s going to help with homework, kiss him goodnight or make sure his shoes are tied properly?
And that’s the root of my reaction. I like to feel needed and clearly I'm sad at having to let go. I like to feel as if what I do, the lengths I go to help others, the connections I try to make, matter to someone. I know they do because I’ve heard from many freelancers who have thanked me for my efforts.
I’ll get over my grief because now my part-time work with SPJ allows me to do the same for the larger membership (only for this I'm actually paid). I’m very excited about that and saw the first blushes of success this past weekend at the national convention in Chicago.