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A lesson from the basement

Amanda Michaels | Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tonight is officially my last night working at The Observer.

Bizarre, really, to think about a younger, wide-eyed version of myself, mousing into this office for the Frosh-O Open House. And now, almost four years, countless 4 a.m. nights and more than 150 articles later, here I am, watching as the next batch of ambitious reporters take the reins.

I’ve always balked at the thought of writing an Inside Column about working at The O – too meta for my taste – but I feel like, just for tonight, it might be appropriate. After all, of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way in college, one of the most important came from this basement office.

A lot of people don’t believe how much work the writers and editors here put in. None of these people, however, have lived with me. Or, perhaps, even casually encountered me.

There was a time – called sophomore year – when my life was literally not my own. It got to the point when my then-boyfriend would cringe whenever my cell phone rang, knowing that I was going to be unreachable for the rest of the night. The Observer was always my top priority, and I staunchly defended my decisions to drop everything (and everyone) to work when I was needed.

And then I got sick. Really sick. But I wouldn’t stop working. I barely slept, I survived on coffee and gum, but I still worked. And I had the people I loved most in life begging me to stop, to help them, to help myself.

Somewhere in that mess, there was a breaking point. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but since then, I’ve quit The O twice. Effective, clearly. But even though I’ve kept coming back, each time I’ve learned how to put more and more distance between myself and this place. I’ve realized that yes, it’s all right to tell people ‘no’ every once in a while. And no, people won’t hate you if you don’t always say ‘yes.’

And you’re rolling your eyes by now. This is all quite melodramatic, I know. But I guarantee that many of you will face the same problem, sooner rather than later.

As you start your first jobs, you’ll be expected to work longer and harder than the next person. Your boss will ask you to work late, work on Saturday, work on Sunday, work on Christmas … and many of you will say yes, afraid that it’ll mean the difference between a promotion and a pink slip.

As you start your families, you’ll be faced with the choice between board meetings or ballet recitals, conference calls or coughing kids. And what about making time for exercise? Church? Sleep?

Priorities will only get harder to keep in order as we move through life, so now is the time to try to sort them out. Draw your boundaries, and be prepared to defend them.

It’s a lesson that took me four years to learn.