I Don’t Smoke Cigars

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

I loved the news business. And now I love something else.

It’s the little moments that change your life forever.

The whispers.

The That almost happened! moments.

The close calls.

This was my big chance.

In the newspaper business, you rise through the ranks. A couple years here. A couple years there. And maybe a decade or so in, if you’re talented enough and willing to relocate and work hard, you can find yourself at a “destination paper.”

That means something different to everyone.

But to me, it meant a job at a Top 25-circulation newspaper.

Even from the sunny Florida beaches I called home during those first few years after graduating college, I had my eyes set on Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. The largest paper in my home state. The one that covered my favorite sports teams. And a Top 25-circulation paper.

When I let myself dream, I imagined being an Ohio-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

But there I was. Standing in the newsroom of one of the dozen largest daily papers in the country: the Detroit Free Press.

I was 26. I had absolutely no business being there and everyone knew it.

But still. I was there.

And they were considering hiring me for one of the most-coveted and most-important reporting jobs at the newspaper.

Falling Into Things

Some of my friends always knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Law school. Family business ambitions. Performing arts.

I never knew.

Still don’t.

I studied business when I first got to college because my plan was to eventually take over my dad’s small company. There was a lot of financial security in that plan. And I didn’t grow up seeing my father often, so this plan made sense to me.

But sometime during my 19th year of life, I started putting words to paper. I’d go park myself somewhere on campus. On some steps. Or a bench. Or a hillside.

And I’d just watch all the life happening around me. I knew I was in a special place. And I was aware that decisions I made then would alter the course of my life forever.

Halfway through my second year, I walked into the college newspaper office and asked if I could write something—anything.

They gave me an assignment. And then another one. And then another one.

And it was that easy. Getting my work published.

I was smitten.

Within six months, I was hired on as the news editor of our twice-weekly published paper. A year later, I was the paper’s editor in chief.

I was going to be a newspaperman.

Ink in my blood.

And it all happened by accident.

The Motor City

I was in awe, standing in the Free Press building. The home of the great Mitch Albom.

Wow. Eight Pulitzer Prizes, I thought. The paper has since won a ninth.

The first thing on the agenda upon arrival in the Free Press newsroom for my job interview was lunch with the business editor.

That’s where he explained to me why I was there.

“You write for page one. And I like that. I want my writers always writing for page one,” he said.

What he meant was he wants his reporters always writing their stories with the mindset that the managing editor could make the call in the daily news budget meetings to put those stories on the front page.

And he told me something else. The job was either mine or one other guy’s.

Either me—the 26-year-old they could mold into whatever kind of business writer they wanted. Or an older, veteran journalist who worked for Reuters and had been covering Detroit’s auto industry for three decades.

If the job was to be awarded based on merit, I had no chance.

The Free Press had a four-person team covering the automotive industry. And I was down to the final two vying for the fourth spot.

An opportunity to learn day in and day out from a group of amazing reporters. Two men and one woman. Writers with law degrees and in PhD programs.

Writing stories that would be read all over the globe. By my heroes at The Wall Street Journal. And by the people I hoped to one day work for at The Plain Dealer.

A Close Call

In the end, the Free Press went with the long-time Detroit journalist. He was the better choice if salaries weren’t a factor (I would have been a lot cheaper).

And a year later, I ended up in Ohio where I wanted to be.

Less than five years later, I was laid off from my reporting job—my newspaper career ending unceremoniously and embarrassingly.

And now I work in internet marketing. It’s a good job. I write there, too.

But really? I write here. And this is the writing I really want to be doing.

Exploring the things in this life that really matter.

I don’t want to track down union officials and auto parts manufacturers to ask them questions they’re unlikely to answer honestly anyway.

I want to talk to you about real life. About what really motivates us. About what’s really important on the inside of us. About why we’re really here.

Who knows what would have happened had I gotten that job in Detroit? Maybe I’d still be a journalist. Maybe I’d be a good one.

Maybe I’d still be married. Maybe not. Probably not.

I can never know what opportunities would have existed for me on that path.

Just as I can’t know what opportunities lie ahead.

But I love the blank slate in a lot of ways. While a little scary, I also see it as an unwritten book waiting to be written—both metaphorically and literally.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

What next week, next month, next year will bring.

But I know that I’m here.

That you’re here.

And that we can be whatever we want to be.

We only need to be brave enough to choose it.

Your dreams of yesterday are likely not your dreams of today.

And there’s no way to know what we’ll dream up tomorrow.

The storybook journalism career?

Close, but no cigar.

And that’s okay.

Because I don’t smoke cigars.

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49 thoughts on “I Don’t Smoke Cigars

  1. thatnavaword says:

    we’re always exactly where we need to be.

    Like

  2. I think there are other uses for cigars. Ask Bill Clinton. :D

    ~ Darling

    Like

  3. The promise and freedom of being without predetermination.

    I have a small superstition, not to say what should or could happen next, it’s better to do it privately. So no proclamations or queries of what comes next. There’s momentum in this post, better to start riding it, not analyze or pause.

    Sheesh, I get esoteric and cryptic, but I’m off, to do something epic or fail and I’ll not ask if you’re up to doing the same on this auspicious weekend.

    Like

  4. I kept waiting for the cigar tie-in… well done sir! Very well done! I think you are where you are supposed to be, and that’s awesome because, if you were on a different path then you’d never have run into me, and trust me, your life is much more awesome now that you have!
    P.S. Last night I watched The A-Team (almost twice). and I’m currently watching Journey to the Center of the Earth – Brendan Fraser baby!
    Have a great weekend!

    Like

  5. I constantly remind myself that I can write anywhere, no matter what I’m doing, no matter where I end up. I’m 26 and still trying to figure out what I want in life. Sometimes, I kind of hope that I never really figure it out because living and seeing how things pan out with what we’re given and our decisions (or lack of thereof) is what shapes us. Exactly what you said here, this is how I feel:

    “But I love the blank slate in a lot of ways. While a little scary, I also see it as an unwritten book waiting to be written—both metaphorically and literally.” Yes–a million times, yes!

    Thanks for inspiring me every single time I read your blog.

    Like

  6. jjbiener says:

    There is a line in Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titans that seems appropriate. His main character says, “I am a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.” Of course Vonnegut takes it to absurd lengths, but that line has always stuck with me.

    The fact that I am, for all intents and purposes, a writer is something that would come as a complete surprise to all of my high school and college English teachers. To say that I showed no talent would be an understatement. I was practically forced into figuring out how to write.

    I was working as a computer programmer, and my boss assigned me a technical document to write. My first attempts were far from great, but they were good enough. As I worked on more and more documents, I remembered some of the concepts my teachers tried to pound into my thick skull in school. I started paying attention to the rhythm of the words and how they would feel in the mouth if they were read out loud. I started using poetic elements like alliteration to make the writing more interesting. Pretty soon I was getting compliments on my writing.

    Once the Internet came along, I had a vast new frontier in which I could use my writing skills. I have written about politics, music, food and all kinds of other things. Now I have my blog, and I can use that as a platform to write about all the things that are important to me. It is funny how we can fall into things we had no idea were available when we started.

    Like

  7. Just out of curiosity (and it’s none of my business and you may have already discussed this before), which writing are you most proud of? If I were you, I’d be darn proud of what you’ve done with this blog in such a short time. I know there was a lot of potential (and money) in journalism and newspapers, but still… this blog is all yours!

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for saying that. I am, times a million, most proud of the writing I’ve done here.

      I write silly little stories about my boring little Midwest life.

      And a group of people care.

      That’s a miracle. It really is.

      Can’t thank you enough for the compliment.

      Like

      • jjbiener says:

        By writing from your heart, you are in effect speaking for all of us. We may not have experienced the same things you have, but I think we have all felt the same emotions you have. In you we see a kindred spirit willing to bare his soul and write the words we are often afraid to express.

        Like

  8. Nailed it! Perfect post!

    Like

  9. I’m so ‘happy’ to see you are finally coming to grips with the Truth. You are a purposeful writer. (Took you long enough!) ;-) I loved this post for tons of reasons that I won’t list out here but there’s so much to think about when it comes to perceived opportunities missed or taken. How I would love to know what my full calling is. But I guess God doesn’t like to work that way. . . Bummer. Guess we just have to be our best today with what He has entrusted to us.

    Like

  10. Fran Tunno says:

    I knew you were too good to just be a guy who one day decided to write a blog. You’re very good and people love what you write. That could turn into something awesome. Just wait and see.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      You’re really too nice. Thank you. I don’t think these stories are for everybody. But I’m so glad you like them enough to say something that kind.

      I hope you’re having a great weekend, Fran! Thank you for this very flattering note.

      Like

  11. […] started writing a comment for my friend Matt over at Must Be This Tall to Ride, but the comment took on a life of its […]

    Like

  12. dltolley says:

    Thanks, Matt. I needed this today. Writing is such an up and down life.
    And you’ve just made me realize . . . I don’t smoke cigars, either.

    Like

  13. tcooleyd says:

    Again, thanks for sharing.
    Aaaaah, the journey (the rest-stops, mishaps, scenery, side tours) to the destination is where/how we learn.
    . . . Paths – we are all on one, and may be coming from different directions, so, it’s okay if some arrive later than others.
    . . . Endurance!
    Good stuff!
    (My original comment was pretty long, but I deleted it )
    This was another helpful post.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you so much for commenting at all. If you want to leave super-long comments, I hope you feel welcomed to.

      A million tiny crossroads every day. And all those choices lead us somewhere. It can be fascinating if we want it to be.

      Like

  14. This is an abstract comment because the word, fidelity, kept coming to mind as I read through this post, the linked Job post, and comments about Monica L. A few aspects of that jumped out at me; the business part, those Detroit people and less than honest answers; a true model of realism part which reflects what you and others wish to create with this blog thing; your ex in bed with a new boyfriend in a palacial estate; and Monica and Bill. Thanks.

    Stay true. Be healthy.

    Like

  15. I wonder what the rate of divorce is for laid-off newspaper folks? ;) Glad to read you’re enjoying your new-found blank slate.

    Like

  16. traveshamockery says:

    I really, really, like this. Keep it up, sir.

    Like

  17. SRN says:

    I agree that we can be whatever we want to be, you just need the effort! Even if you strive for something but don’t end up in that exact career you dreamed about but worked for , I believe you will end up somewhere which will be just as satisfying!
    Did you believe you would be working where you are today when you first started writing? Do you miss being a reporter at all?

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I never thought I’d work in a corporate office. It’s kind of the opposite of what I picture when I think: “writer.”

      But I like money.

      There are always trade-offs and compromises. I haven’t yet found a way to have EVERYTHING I want without causing a lot of damage along the way. I don’t think we’re supposed to have everything we want.

      I do miss being a reporter. Not the pay. Not the hours. But there was a lot of really cool life experiences that happened. And I don’t know what kind of writer I am. That’s for others to decide.

      But there’s no question reporting made me better.

      Like

  18. Sarah says:

    Very impressive on landing the Free Press interview (I grew up with that paper so it’s my all-time favorite). I think I like reading you here though, so I’m glad things worked out the way they did. ;)

    Like

  19. Sarah says:

    Er, that should read “I DEFINITELY like reading you here” not I “think I like” it. As thrilling as it would have been to see your byline in the Free Press, I don’t know how worked up I could get about those auto industry articles, ha. The stuff you write here is pure gold, though, and I read every single post. Have a good day, darlin’.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you so much.

      Met a guy from NOLA last night. I always wonder how you’re doing when that great city comes up in conversation.

      Hope you have a great day, lady.

      Like

  20. I love the blank slate. It’s what allows me to do whatever feels right at the time rather than stress whether or not a decision is right. If it’s not, I’ll find out and move on. If it is, I’ll grow upon that. No need to know exactly what Point B looks like. Heck, for all I know, Point B keeps moving! :)

    Like

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