Ever resigned from something you helped build?
It’s not how you expect it to go. You expect to either do it forever, sell it and move on, or quit and dissolve it yourself. Resigning doesn’t come to mind. But it can happen, and it can be unfortunately fantastic.
* * *
Sometime during my first year of high school, I walked with my friend Jesse to his house after school and consumed some SportsCenter on ESPN, as was customary for 15 year-old sports fans in 2010. Eventually we lost interest in the anchors’ sensationalized speculation surrounding LeBron James’s future, and we began discussing our own. Neither of us had much of an idea and waffled.
“You love sports, why don’t you try what they do?” Jesse asked, pointing at the TV.
He had a point, and his suggestion sunk deep. No person and no thing had been there for me as steadily and consistently as sports had up to that point in my life, and I’d been pontificating about athletics for years already behind nondescript usernames in online chatrooms. My life’s calendar revolved around sports—the fall meant college football, college basketball season ramps up right as its football counterpart ends, then March Madness rolls right into the NHL Playoffs, and soccer is basically year-round. As much as a child can control his own schedule, I lived for this cycle.
It was perfect. I knew I didn’t want to be on TV, but sports writing and reporting became the goal.
I chose my college almost exclusively because of its journalism school (and because my top option said no). When the storied and historic school newspaper rejected me, I joined forces with two journalism friends who had also been skipped over. We launched our own online sports outlet, myself assuming the editor-in-chief role. What started as three of us in our dorm’s lounge writing terrible columns with terrible opinions transformed to more than 70 students working for us, credentials to our school’s sports and the nearby Major League Soccer team, and a legitimate rival to the school newspaper’s sports department by the time we had graduated.
Skip ahead several months, and after a painfully lonely internship on the other side of the country, my job options were $30,000 per year doing sports for the local paper in Fairmont, West Virginia, or moving to Israel for nine months to cover the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship and international lacrosse as a whole. Even though I’d never played lacrosse and didn’t know much about it beyond its existence, I boarded a flight for Tel Aviv.
My articles were published on a leading lacrosse-focussed website, and I met its co-founder when he came to Israel for the World Championships in July 2018. Within days, he made me an offer: his business needed to expand beyond lacrosse, and his sights were set on basketball. Would I want to be the one to make it happen? He couldn’t promise me much money, but he could promise me equity and a dream.
Through everything, sports and journalism had been the source of my life’s great excitements. There are so many stories, people, and moments I experienced that I’ll never forget: breaking stories about athletes defying the odds, heroes old and new. It made me feel alive. I wanted more of it—I needed more of it.
So, I said yes.
* * *
When I started planning process to build out basketball website, I didn’t know a lot. I didn’t know I would later be tasked with managing the lacrosse site, and I didn’t know I would meet a girl. I was just writing about my then great love, cold emailing and calling coaches, players and legends for interviews, and trying to build something. My focus was following my passion if nothing else, finding great hoops stories from across the world and putting my all into it.
Our business had been working to secure investment for months, and things were looking good. But then the pandemic happened, and those investment options evaporated. Professional sports were cancelled. The world was upside down. Everyone was a victim, me included.
We pivoted to trying to sell. It didn’t go well.
One partner left at the end of 2020, and it fell to me to be the editor-in-chief of the lacrosse news site, despite my rudimentary knowledge of the sport. But I knew how to write, edit and get things to the top of the Google search page. I became responsible for publishing 10-15 articles per week, writing or editing each one on top of planning it all. Due to COVID-19, covering sports in-person ended. Due to the rigorous new content schedule, interviews became more infrequent. It became less about the stories and more about the numbers.
Did we have something out today?
Are we driving enough traffic?
After months of negotiating, we finally found a buyer. It meant the release I’d needed for years was finally here, financially and otherwise. My equity converted to a coveted check, and I thought help was on the way. The deal stipulated the creation of a third website, which concerned me, but I wasn’t in a position to complain. Over two years after I was initially pitched the prospect, I got the call that the sale went through. After I hung up the phone, I collapsed to the floor, lying flat on my back crying tears of relief. I thought my long hours and hard work had finally paid off.
But the celebration was short-lived. Now I had meetings to attend on top of ramping up the two existing sites, then by October, I was responsible for a third. The editorial help never really came. I was now pumping out 20-30 posts each week while managing about ten contributors. The quality of most articles I hit publish on had diminished long before, but it only became worse. I let things slide that I would have never have let slide five years ago. Numbers wise, I was succeeding—the sites’ stats were outstanding, but I was failing.
I barely watched sports anymore compared to before. After spending all day as a word-mill churning out content, I didn’t have the energy. I would stop work somewhere between 5pm and 8pm, and the rest of the evenings would be spent mindlessly playing FIFA or mindlessly watching something on TV. Socializing was relegated to the weekends, but hardly, because those two sacred days had to be spent recuperating from the intense monotony of the week. Exercising was out of the question—if I couldn’t even conjure up the energy to put sports on my TV, actually doing them wasn’t happening.
I wasn’t fun to live with. My girlfriend dealt with an irritable, depressed, anxious and generally useless writing and editing drone for many months. I dealt with that drone, too, and it was damaging.
I was beyond burnt out; my passion extinguished.
* * *
At the start of 2022, I resigned. I voluntarily left behind a project I co-founded and nearly solely directed for more than three years. I was zapped of everything doing something I’d aimed for since I was 15 years-old.
What attracted to me to sports writing, sports reporting and writing in general had been stripped away, piece by piece. Death by one thousand cuts. I wasn’t asking coaches about the game I just watched in post-game pressers. I wasn’t connecting on a deep level with an athlete about their story, then sharing it with the world. I wasn’t counting syllables, carefully calibrating words, aligning alliterations. I was following a formula—write this article this time of year because it always does well, write about this topic because it’s trending, include this phrase this many times for SEO purposes.
I never wanted to follow a formula. Nobody does something creative to follow a formula.
It took me a few months to recover. I realized I had only written for pay, never for pleasure, for years. I started to exercise, play basketball and go for runs again. I locked into college basketball. I began to leave the house more. As the season turned from winter to spring, I came up from underwater after a more than two year deep-end dive.
I have no regrets, though.
This isn’t meant as a cautionary tale intended to scare you from pursuing your passions. Quite the opposite, actually. My dream took me across the world, introduced me to people I idolized as a child, and had me carve a unique path. Circumstances, some I controlled and others I didn’t, took me into a darkness for a bit, but that’s life. Lessons were learned.
If there is a warning in any of this, it’s to know when to stop. I knew when it was over, and I didn’t let it drag. My prior persistence paid off, and it’s allowed my girlfriend and me a new life. But I got out before it ate me alive.
It can be OK to do what you love for a career, but don’t lose sight of what you love in the process.
Justin Meyer is a freelance writer and serial entrepreneur. In 2018, he co-founded Nothing But Nylon in conjunction with Red Label Sports.