Stay engaged until the end

A few weeks ago, a young journalist’s blog post about leaving her newspaper job made the rounds on the internet. Allyson Bird wrote well about the demands placed on journalists to keep up with the lightning pace of news these days.

I know what she means, but I am on the other end of a career in newspapers, and I probably would still be there if I (and many others) had not been pushed out the door. Allyson said the reason she left was money, and that led my leaving a year ago, too, although it was the newspaper business’s money problems, not our own. I am still in the publishing/communication business. I work for a professional organization’s magazines and newsletters group. I am still a copy editor and very proud to be one.

Lately, I have been thinking about the burnout and the disconnection that strikes workers at the point in their working life where I am. After working steadily for 36 years, I sometimes wonder how to counter that feeling of “been there, done this a million times.”

Watching some fine musicians in their 60s put on an entertaining show inspired this thought: Stay engaged until the end. These musicians are still writing songs and learning more about how to sing and play. They may be out on the road because it’s lucrative and they need the money, but they are also still working at their craft. These musicians aren’t merely performing their hits over and over.

So what can we who are still working years and years after we started learn about staving off burnout and remaining viable workers? I am writing from a copy editor’s point of view, but I hope other professionals can see something here that they can identify with.

Focus on the task at hand. When you get a piece of copy to edit, dig into it and don’t let anything distract you. Discover what the writer wants you (and the readers) to know.  Because some of the articles I read are filled with terms and concepts that I am not familiar with, I sometimes find myself in the middle without a clue how I got there. I am fortunate that I have time to get up, clear my head and start over. I have to fight the urge to voluntarily check out sometimes, too, and the distractions of email, Twitter and the conversation a few desks away don’t help. This is something I learned the hard way in newspapers: Copy editors never know where the land mines might be hidden in a piece of copy, so we need to be aware and alert all the way through.

Be responsible for the job you do. Complete your editing checklist, even if it’s tempting to skip those steps that never have been a problem. Check the facts. Analyze the syntax and the vocabulary. Rewrite (or suggest a rewrite) as needed. If something bothers you, bring it up. Don’t assume that others will pick up the slack. Give your employers (or your clients or whoever is paying you) their money’s worth, and carry your share of the workload.

Step up to do what needs to be done. Volunteer for a task. Teach what you know. Become a mentor, if you are inclined. You don’t have to aspire to be manager, but you should try to lead in the areas that you know best.

Keep up with change. I have known copy editors who resisted technological or organizational changes and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new process. I’ve been that kind of copy editor. Change is inevitable, though, and it only hurts you to resist. Take advantage of new tools as they come along. If your publication is going through a redesign, become the expert in the new style guide.

Learn a thing or two. I have been a prescriptivist when it comes to usage and grammar, but nowadays I try to examine my assumptions about the “rules.” I read linguists’ blogs and articles, and I turn to the reliable experts to find the best current thinking on usage. I may still change “which” to “that” or every instance of “is comprised of,” but I don’t follow the rules blindly these days. My job brings me new terms and initialisms to learn every day, but I also encounter concepts that are difficult for me to grasp at first. The challenge keeps me feeling like a newbie, and that’s a good thing.

Put your laurels on display and try to earn new ones. Part of me wants to prove to the employers who decided that I wasn’t worth keeping around that they were wrong. I have much hard-earned knowledge to bring to copy editing, and I also still have the pride and energy to try to be the best. I don’t want anyone to say, “Boy, she was great in her day, but …” In truth, I am a much better copy editor now than I have ever been, and I am driven to prove it through my work every day. A competitive spirit needn’t be only a young worker’s trait.

I plan to stay engaged until the end.

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