Kenneth Knepper: Learning to balance work, family and friends key
As I looked around the classroom, it was as if I was witness to a scene from a low-budget zombie movie.
“OK, let’s have a little classroom participation,” I said, shaking off a shiver as I addressed the students idly waiting for the next session of their high school’s Career Day.
The expressionless faces looking back at me spoke volumes, so I decided to talk them through the event instead.
If there was one thing I learned after helping raise two children who also attended high school, it was that sometimes you need a Plan B.
I launched into a lengthy discussion about journalism and the many challenges faced by a newsroom in the course of a typical week, showing off several editions of my newspaper while wondering why I didn’t think to bring a PowerPoint presentation instead.
I’m a talker, luckily, so it wasn’t difficult filling 30 minutes with stories about my tenure in the newspaper business. In fact, I forgot to leave enough time to entertain questions at the end.
Perhaps that was simply a subliminal self-defense tactic or, more aptly, a conversation gap screaming out.
While I was able to fill the time with all kinds of stories, none were about the journalist’s life I dreamed about in college.
Back then, I aspired to be a news photographer, working on tight deadlines in war-riddled third world countries, while in pursuit of journalism’s biggest award, a Pulitzer Prize.
However, the only tense encounters I’ve witnessed in 20-some years in the newspaper business were during city commission and school board meetings or when dealing with angry customers who didn’t think much about a story I wrote.
When a whistle sounded at the end of the session, it was if someone had reanimated the students, and they quickly vacated the classroom.
It was only after a couple questions from one student who really seemed to embrace the idea of becoming a writer that I considered the most important aspects of my job — essential components that should translate to any profession.
Perhaps I should have advised their vocations should never fully consume them. I could have talked about how many times over the last few months I’ve been late for dinner with my family because I was working on a project in my office.
I might have spoken specifically about the night before Career Day, when I stayed at the office with a couple co-workers, poring over profit-loss statements so my month-end estimate would be as accurate as possible.
In addition, I might have shared a story about how those hours at work caused me to miss my son’s basketball team end-of-year pizza party — the very same team I helped coach.
Maybe that would have been farther reaching than any lectures about compelling headlines or the pursuit of truth and transparency in government.
In the current economic climate, everyone is worried about what happens next. However, while we’re shaken by the daily drama funneling through national media outlets, we can’t let it serve as a driving force to forgetting what should be most important in our lives.
I let that happen last week.
But, it also served as a reminder for something larger than any profession — and definitely, something I should have shared with high school students during my Career Day speech.
Don’t allow yourself to be judged as successful solely by reports from an office. Learn to balance work, family and friends.
In retrospect, someone should have reminded me of that lesson, also.
Ken Knepper is publisher of The Newton Kansan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.