Break a leg, Kai Nagata


The Internet was abuzz this week, everyone chirping, about a Canadian television news reporter who quit his job after realizing that his life was worth more than a thirty second clip.

Kai Nagata’s story about resigning from his much-coveted job as Quebec bureau chief for CTV news came as a shock to many.

That’s because our society measures a person’s worth by his job title and his big paycheque.

As they say, you can’t take your good intentions to the bank. You can’t buy that Subaru Outback, fully loaded, and you can’t get a mortgage on a nice million dollar pile in Toronto, unless you can show your pay stubs.

Making the decision to do something with your life, aside from ordering sandwiches into the boardroom, comes with a steep price in our society. Most people simply cannot imagine life without stuff, or vacations, or RRSPs, or cars, nice clothes or tickets to U2, so they get up every morning, swallow their pride and pile into their nice, clean, new cars and brave a congested highway to go to some kind of work that is absolutely meaningless in the scheme of things.

Then they wake up one morning with cancer, or an empty bed, or children who hate them and wonder: where did my life go? It’s at that point that they decide to smell the proverbial roses, but, of course, the sand is already running out of the hourglass.

I’ve been a freelancer writer most of my life, although I have worked in offices once in a while to pay the rent. I’m always shocked how desperately unhappy most people are. They don’t get along with their co-workers, they’re all pastey-faced and flabby and hate their bosses. And every day, they gather around the lunch room and do what they cherish the most — eat something out of the microwave that they cooked the night before — and talk about the next big thing: tickets to a Sens game, a vacation in Maui or the Bluesfest. You rarely hear people in the lunch room talking about how great their morning was, or how satisfying their work lives are.

Most people with work-a-day jobs never seem to live in the moment, because most of their moments suck, at least the moments spent at work.

I have never made much money, but I’ve had a wonderful life. I got to watch my kids come in the door every evening, and sit down to a home cooked meal. When I wasn’t working — which was a lot of the time — I played tennis or spent a few hours chewing the fat with the regulars at the National Press Club. I could take a nap in the afternoon and play with my dogs. I could reach in the fridge and make a good meal for myself — fresh — without having to reheat anything.

I made soup.

I could, and did, volunteer a lot of my time for worthy causes. I trained for the Labatt 24 Hour Relay and raised $10,000 for mental health over the years. I helped firefighters realize their dream of building a national monument to their fallen comrades. I worked on political campaigns for candidates I believed in. I helped spearhead a national campaign to get parents to read with their children and helped orchestrate the giveway of 2.5 million books to school children.

Over the years, while many of my colleagues were sweating the small stuff, I got to savour the big stuff: my family, my friends and work that I found meaningful. It hasn’t always been easy — not easy at all — but if I died tomorrow, I could say that I made a difference in my small corner of the universe.

I have lived my life on my terms and I haven’t had to step on anybody to do it.

And really, that’s all you can ask out of a life.

Today, I went to the gym in hopes of renewing this old body of mine. When I got home, I fed the dogs, read the paper, made myself the most delicious breakfast sandwich. Then I spent an hour talking to you nice folks on this blog.

Work will get done, eventually.

It’s a small life, and it’s my life.

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

To Kai, I say, good luck. Godspeed.

You’ve already wasted enough time in television news; you can’t afford to spend another single second talking or thinking about politicians and their evil doin’s.

Go out and make a difference.

Put your lips to the world.

I hear CUSO is looking for journalist volunteers. Doesn’t pay, but I’m told it’s the experience of a lifetime.

Whatever you do, Kai, don’t succumb to job offers from people who read your story.

Don’t write a book or a screenplay until you have something meaningful to say.

And whatever you do, don’t become a consultant.

It’ll suck the well-intentioned life out of you.

Break a leg.

Update. If you want to know Kai Nagata’s reaction to all this fuss, go here.

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