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Climbing The Mountain
As a boy, I tended to fall asleep suddenly in unusual places. I once fell asleep as I crawled up the stairs of the family home, my upper body just onto the carpeted landing of the second floor. I once fell asleep at the bottom of a slide in our backyard in broad daylight. Then there was the time I disappeared for hours while my mom and dad, siblings, and neighbors searched for me frantically. I was blissfully unaware of the fuss as I slept under the couch.
I used to think that I must have had narcolepsy. Now I think that I was just bored.
I have with great effort continued to fight this affliction in adulthood as a college student attending accounting classes, a reporter covering aimless city council hearings, and a bureaucrat sitting through interminable meetings. I do my best to avoid such pointless activities because my parents taught me to live with a sense of purpose. Also, falling asleep in public is embarrassing.
The restless pursuit of new and purposeful challenges has taken me down many unexpected paths. Since I graduated from college, I've had at least three careers. I reported on some of the most important Latin American political events of our time and translated speeches for the President of Chile before I turned twenty-five. I became press secretary to the Governor of Arizona before I turned thirty. Best of all, I've met extraordinary people of all kinds.
I began my professional life at age twenty-one as a newspaper reporter in Indiana, next door to my native Ohio, where I had spent my entire life. The job didn't last long. I couldn't ignore a growing desire to get out of the Midwest, so I quit and went to Chile. I still smile when I remember the warning that an editor gave me: "You're going to ruin your career."
I arrived in Santiago, Chile, in April 1995. I had a single friend and a single goal: to become fluent in Spanish. I started out teaching English, then became a magazine reporter and a correspondent for Voice of America, chronicling the country's growing pains as it sought to restore full democracy. I became a translator, translating speeches for the President of Chile, reports for the United Nations, and wine labels for export companies. I traveled the country, had my share of romance and good cheap wine, and made friendships like none I'd ever had.
I returned to Ohio in 1998 with the goal of moving to a city where I could continue to use my Spanish. I landed a reporting job at a newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona, covering international trade and the Latino business community. I was fortunate to win several journalism awards in 1999, among them two for stories about the death of a migrant construction worker who was sent into a trench without proper safety equipment. The stories helped change Arizona law. As one of my co-workers said at the time, "This kind of story is why we become journalists."
But I became increasingly jaded¯and, yes, bored¯ by the lowest common denominator mentality that seemed to drive the media. After cranking out, assembly-line style, what seemed like my millionth story about the rise and fall of gasoline prices in Phoenix, I could take no more.
Luckily, my coverage of international trade opened the door for me to join the Arizona governor's office as a Mexico policy analyst in 2000. This post introduced me to the world of diplomacy and gave me the intellectual challenge I had been wanting. My responsibilities included serving as liaison to Spanish-language media, which led to my appointment as press secretary to the Governor in the fall of 2002, as the Governor was closing out her final term. I knew the November election would bring another change for me, but I made the most of the opportunity and did what I could to polish the Governor's image at a difficult time.
I have since landed at the Arizona Office of Tourism as a "flak," which is what the media like to call us public relations people because we're the political equivalent of bullet stoppers. When I was a reporter, I swore I would never be a flak. I would be disappointed in myself if I hadn't come to understand since then that flaks, too, can serve a purpose. I was reminded starkly of that fact this January when I was assigned to be one of the state's public information officers handling media coverage of a hostage situation at an Arizona prison. If we failed to control the media frenzy, we were told, the hostages could end up dead. We did our part and the negotiators did theirs, and the hostages got out alive. It was the most difficult and rewarding task of my life.
I can't imagine what life will bring next, but I'm staying wide awake to find out.