Maybe you know, maybe you don’t, but I’m taking a sabbatical from The Devil Strip. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s a “good thing” or a “bad thing” — or if you should be worried. That’s what I gather from messages I’ve gotten since the board announced it this weekend.
Here’s the truth: No need to worry. This is a good thing.
I am okay, but I want to get well. I can’t do that when The Devil Strip is the first and last thing on my mind every day.
My little sister says it’s time to put my oxygen mask on before I help anyone else with theirs. When she told me that, I first thought, “But I have been!” I mean, I’ll sneak a Galley Boy here or a milkshake there. Sometimes both. I listen to podcasts when I walk the dog or cook dinner. Most nights, I’m up late mindlessly watching TV late, scrolling Twitter. I’m even in two fantasy football leagues this year!
Before I could argue with my sister, which is one of my favorite hobbies, I realized she’s right. My guilty pleasures aren’t an oxygen mask. I’m just surfacing for a gasp of air before diving back down to find the escape hatch in a room that’s rapidly filling with water.
I’ve been working on The Devil Strip for seven years now. Before I quit my job at WEWS in October 2014, I spent months researching, planning and talking to anyone who’d talk to me, as much to find a good reason not to start a publication as it was to figure out how. I applied for so many jobs, hoping for an easy way out, but no. The Devil Strip was founded as a desperate act by a desperate man.
That’s one reason I’m still floored so many extraordinary people believe in it, have loaned their voices to it and given it shape. Yet, as more people took on more of the work, I hoarded the responsibility, even when others wanted to help and could do it better. My worst habit is acting like I alone need to find all the answers.
That’s not how this co-op should work. I wanted The Devil Strip to become a cooperative because I believe in shared ownership, governance and responsibility, but then I became a roadblock. I wouldn’t let go and let our staff and board do their jobs.
Some of that is my ego. Most of it is mental illness. I’ll unpack that more during my sabbatical, but right now I’ll say the more important The Devil Strip has become to more people, the more pressure I’ve felt not to let anyone down …because I base my self-worth on what I can do for others.
My vicious cycle is a recipe for letting people down and stressing myself out. Drop the ball. Disappoint and frustrate people. Beat myself up for it. Go harder, as if juggling more makes up for the balls I already dropped instead of just leading to more mistakes.
Meanwhile, I mostly abandoned my personal life. I’ve never been especially good at allowing people to get close enough to become friends, and when some sneak through, I seldom make time for them. That’s been worse the last three years and so has my mental health.
I’ve done this to myself so that’s where the change has to happen.
Months ago, a good friend gave me a good place to start when he called me out. I cannot, he said, make the co-op about me, which I’ve inadvertently done as I try to prove to myself I’m worth something as I keep trying to be the perfect boss, perfect founder, perfect father, perfect husband — and oh, save local news too.
I don’t know how long this will take, but I know, to use a sports metaphor, I’m hurting my teammates if I take the field before I’m healed up.
My sabbatical is also the co-op’s next step. Just as I have to figure out who I am outside of The Devil Strip, The Devil Strip has to figure out what it is without me. Good news! Our team, our contributors, our board and our member-owners don’t need me because Chris Horne has never been what makes The Devil Strip special. They are.
Now, I’m not saying goodbye. I’m just getting out of the way. I’ll always be part of the village raising this weird little kid, but the village is giving me a chance to recharge, which is also a gift for my family. Whenever I come back, I’ll have gifts to share too.
So yeah, this is a good thing. A very good thing.