I have always fancied the life of an entrepreneur.
“I have good ideas,” I think to myself. “How romantic would it be to seize one of them, start my own business, and be my own boss? Wouldn’t it be nice to have all the control?”
Then I talk with friends of mine who run their own companies, and I immediately come back to reality.
The entrepreneur’s life is as daunting as it as rewarding. Such a person must serve as a company’s permanent last line of defense, working to exhaustion to push forward his or her product. One must possess an extraordinary drive and passion to do it well. When I remember that, I more greatly appreciate my non-entrepreneurial existence.
But at the Olympics, I get a taste of what such a life would be like.
And, it turns out, I’m a pretty demanding boss.
To cover the Olympic Games, I must constantly work ahead. For example, my colleague Blayne Alexander and I have already produced and sent back two taped reports for our station, WXIA-TV in Atlanta. But I have also shot video for three more pieces, and I will use these next days to get even further ahead of the game. This way, once the Games actually begin, I will be able to provide a steady stream of stories while also covering our dozens of local athletes during their various events.
This creates a unique situation in TV news. I regularly face a daily specter of deadlines that force me to complete a story in a compressed amount of time. I still face deadlines at the Olympics, but they sit in the distance. I will put together a story tomorrow that will not air for two or three nights, which gives me additional time to make it great.
As a result, I spend more time. Thus I work longer hours. Thus I get less sleep. Thus I often push myself to the limit for the sake of perfection.
I also take on other challenges, such as this blog. At home in Atlanta, I usually write one substantial post per week; here in Rio, I will write one per day. I do it for a good reason, of course – I want to share as much as I can about this exceptional assignment – but, as a result, I voluntarily add another hour or so onto my already hefty workday. No one at my station asked me to write a daily blog, but I can’t seem to stop myself.
I am certainly not alone. I sit surrounded by co-workers facing similar pressures, both internal and external, to maximize their output and performance. I have enjoyed getting to know the various members of the team; many of us have worked together during previous Olympics. In fact, I must exercise an extra amount of self-discipline to remove myself from the great conversations with colleagues and get back to work, lest I lose another ten precious minutes.
We’re just a bunch of entrepreneurs … who, of course, still answer to very powerful people back home.
The whole experience reminds me of a classic piece of advice given to aspiring journalists. “If you don’t love this profession,” they are told, “you’re going to be miserable.” Employees in local TV news don’t receive traditional benefits. Few work a 9-to-5 schedule; fewer get regular lunch breaks and the usual holidays off.
Aspiring reporters must thus appreciate the industry’s less traditional gifts: the access, the interaction, and the chance to do meaningful work for a mass audience.
They must also savor assignments like these.
At least, that’s what I do.
And that’s why I feel the need to be an unrelenting self-boss in Rio.
Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.