What I’ve learned 2009

by Brian Clarey

It’s been a long year, this 2009 — ushered in with hope by a new president, bogged down by economic turmoil and rampant joblessness, characterized by stonewalling and bickering amongst our leaders.

But life here on the ground went on, as it always does. This year was also my fifth as editor of YES! Weekly.

We started this paper during the uncharacteristically sunny December of 2004, a more optimistic time, even if only slightly so. The real estate business was booming, the latter stages of the Gulf war were a distant vision and Hurricane Katrina had not made landfall. The emperor had no clothes, to paraphrase Jay McInerney, but at least he had a pretty good body.

Things have changed around here, too. Our tight group of eight has expanded to about 15 souls who toil each week to put out the paper. The faces have changed over the years and the gender dynamics have shifted some, but our mission remains the same. To them I am grateful, for their effort and their dedication.

And even after five years at the editorial helm, I still am fascinated by my job. It still challenges and rewards, still brings me to surprising places and conclusions, still gets me excited and pacing up and down the hallways of our offices.

And, of course, it still teaches me things all year long. This one was no exception.

I learned this year to focus my stories more on people than events, that the manner in which you present information is sometimes just as important as the information itself. I learned to fight for the truth, even if it means making yourself look like a dumbass in the process. I learned that the people with whom I disagree have more in common with me than I thought. And I learned that if you’re sleeping in a tent on a cold night, a candle can raise the temperature by about 20 degrees.

I learned that loyalty is important, and that people are capable of great things when there are others who believe in them.

I also picked up a magic formula for morning radio: Insult your host, make some vague sexual innuendo and plug every project you can think of.

Even more practical is something reinforced during this year’s municipal elections in Greensboro and Winston-Salem:

Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

But perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned this year is that much of life does not happen while on the job. A career is important for most of us, sure, but the measure of a life is in the relationships cultivated, the happiness and love engendered, and yes, the lessons learned.

For example I learned this year that my body is able to run five miles, as long as I pace it right. It was an incredible revelation to me, as I had never before run more than a mile or so. I also learned that success is relative when my wife, after a few months of training, completed a half-marathon earlier this month. And as always, I recognized that helping another reach her goal can be as satisfying as reaching one myself.

I learned to appreciate cigars this year, and I learned that revenge is sometimes good and sometimes terrible. I learned that forgiveness is an art that must be practiced, sometimes every day. I learned that watching a kid learn a team sport from square one is an incredible experience.

I did some traveling this year, and once again I recognized it as an investment in myself. Along the way I learned that saguaro cacti can live to be 100 years old. I found out the hard way that you should play the player and not the cards when engaged in a poker tournament. I discovered that people don’t change — not really — even after a decade has gone by, and that the same cannot be said for cities, particularly cities that have been underwater for a few weeks. I learned that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination. I found that I was always happy to come back home to Greensboro, even after a week in New Orleans.

And I learned that nothing — nothing — can substitute for time spent with family.

But of all the things I’ve learned this year, the lessons that resonate the most are those fundamental pieces of truth that come to a man as he approaches his 40th year: Patience is a virtue. Hope is a blessing. Faith has power. Actions have consequences. Fear holds us back. And love lifts us up.

The year was a tough one, to be sure. But another lesson, learned years ago, gives it its proper due. We learn more from failure than we do from success. The lessons are out there, if you’re paying attention.