Halftime

in Uncategorized

Today, I announced my departure from DallasNews. The official notice is below (with some boring administrivia redacted), but i want to share some additional context.

Some context:

About eighteen months ago, I learned my Dad has late stage Alzheimer’s, something that he and my stepmom had out of intended kindness, kept from me. As an only child, I had to take control of the situation without any guardianship, power of attorney, useful documents or basically any information that would be helpful. From cross-country, I began problem solving, figuring out how to get him into care; how to pay for it; how to move him when the initial care was not enough and there was a shortage of beds available. It wasn’t easy, and continues to be a struggle as I get late-night calls frequently when urgent issues arrive. Then there’s the emotional side of that, including a side-dish of paranoia that I could be headed down the same road.

Then, in September, Crystal fell ill. We and our family doctor thought it was COVID, then chicken pox, then Mononucleosis, then a total mystery. She has continued to worsen in cycles over time and hasn’t had more than a couple consecutive days without fever in ten months. She can’t reliably go out, or do much of anything, without overheating, breaking out in worsening lesions, gasping for air or, most recently, losing consciousness.

The ins and outs of that are her story to tell, but what it means is that our lives and home have largely been turned upside down.

While we are blessed and privileged to have means and access to good medical care, what I didn’t have was the good sense to pay attention to my emotional state. It’s worn on me over time. I spent the first few months saying, “I’m always best in a crisis. Pile it on.”

Then, in arrogance and hubris, I’d say, “Me at my worst is better than a lot of people at their best. I can handle it.”

Then, I started trying to patch with a smidge of self-care, but wound up just feeling anxious that I was letting my people down by not being on my A-game in any aspect of life. I had ignored the advice I so often give, that in bumpy skies you need to put on your own air mask before assisting others.

Basically, I felt exactly like this:

I can’t encourage you enough to watch this video. Too many of us wind up feeling this way.

Over the last couple months, I finally began to realize that by carrying so much, I was making myself physically and emotionally unwell. I had conversations with our CEO, who was supportive and offered some really kind solutions, but I had to admit that anything short of a longer break felt like a half-measure.

So, I am taking a long sabbatical from all work. As I’m about to turn 50, I’m calling it my “halftime break.” It will be somewhere between six months and a year. Obviously, it’s not fair to leave DallasNews in the lurch over that period of time, so I’m fully stepping away. I believe there could be opportunities to reunite down the road, but that shouldn’t be on anyone’s radar at this point. DallasNews has the right team (that I helped build) and I am 100% focused on the business of the Orren family.

As news has come out in the office today, I’m overwhelmed with the offers of help and support, and I expect more of that is to come. So I’m going to share how you can help me:

Pray that we find answers on what’s ailing Crystal so we can begin treatments. If praying isn’t your thing, then just spend some moments mentally wishing us well and see if that bears some fruit.

Take an object lesson about the importance of self-care and mental health. I foolishly used to scoff at the idea of therapy or psychiatry. I don’t now. I also know that my gut-it-out mentality is not healthy in situations like this. I realize that we are beyond blessed and privileged to have the ability to check out of the world for a bit — most people don’t have that. But I also know I might not have gotten to the point of needing a full time out if I had taken care of myself in smaller ways over time. Don’t do what I did, especially if you work for a team as supportive of mine.

Don’t forget about me. I am not done building the future of local news and marketing, not by a long shot. Make no mistake, part of this is about me getting a breath so I can come back at full strength — tan, rested and ready. I figure if I’m lucky, I have a couple more shots at felling this windmill and I intend to do just that.

But help me take the break. I want to be very clear — the absolute earliest I will take on any work of any kind (besides the odd hobbyist DJ set) is early 2023. Even if the dreamiest dream job or the most exciting consulting opportunity rolls by in the next few months, I’m not here for it.

I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me in this decision and been so kind to us as we’re gearing up for a season of healing, reflection and growing in strength. We’ll see you on the other side.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.