Tess Vigeland answers “WHAT. THE HELL. ARE YOU DOING??!!?”

Listening to Marketplace Money back when Tess Vigeland hosted became one of the defining weekly rituals of my 20s. I was one of many who was shocked and saddened when she announced her departure from the show.  It went through a frustrating year of temporary hosts after she left. I had really hoped the delightful David Lazarus would replace her as the permanent host.  In the end, the gig went to Carmen Wong Ulrich.  Ulrich is a great host, but has the misfortune of having a really tough act to follow.

Last night I was pleasantly surprised to come across her December 27 blog post.  Turns out Tess gave a cathartic speech in Portland this past summer in which she spoke VERY frankly about a number of things — the difficult circumstances that led her to leave Marketplace Money;  her unsuccessful bid for her other “dream job,” hosting Weekend All Things Considered;  and how lost she has felt in the year and a half since her resignation.  I highly recommend listening to the audio of her speech; alternately, you can read the transcript.  The story has a happy ending:  within 2 weeks, she landed a deal with Random House to turn the speech into a full-length book!

Just as importantly, Tess writes that speaking frankly about her struggle in front of thousands of strangers was intensely therapeutic:

I cannot explain it. I cannot define it. I cannot adequately put into words what it was like to stand and tell my story, and have a bunch of strangers – through some sort of electrical force in that auditorium – say hey, you’re remarkable. You. You, Tess, are remarkable. Because you told us your story.

After 35 minutes, I finished. They jumped to their feet. And, finally, I cried. Right there on stage. I’d been fighting it..

I know there are really big problems in the world that need solving. But my little wish is that everyone could have a moment like that just once in their lifetime. Just once. It is life-changing. And I could not be more grateful.

For Marketplace listeners, the speech also gives us a tantalizing peek behind the curtain of APM politics:

Here’s where I’m supposed to tell you that the reason I left is because I was restless. I wanted to do something different…

Well part of that is true. I was restless. I wanted to do something different. But I never wanted to leave Marketplace.

Now – given that this is a public forum, I won’t tell stories out of school about my departure. I’ll save that for my memoirs.

What I will say is I’d been unhappy for a while… (I)n the end it was a very personal reason for why I left. An unhappy one that culminated in an afternoon of heavy tears after which I told my husband I’m sorry but I’m done. I have to leave…

So one of the questions it was suggested I try to answer today is how do you know when it’s time to go? How do you know when to leap without a net?

And the answer in my case is that it’s time to leave — when you have too much self-respect to stay.

That – and when you’re so stressed out you start losing your hair. True story…

Now please understand that I do not regret one second of my time at Marketplace. And maybe it was just time to go anyway. 11 years is a good long while to be in one place. And I truly loved that place. I was meant to be there. And it helped me become the journalist – and the person – that I am today.

But what you can gather now is that when I left – it wasn’t for another dream.

Anyone who has dealt with hostility from upper levels of management in the workplace can read between the lines here.  As it turns out, APM underwent a series of layoffs of long-time staff in 2012-2013, making the Marketplace shows an increasingly tense and unhappy place to work.  Tess isn’t telling stories out of school, but the timing suggests that the July 2012 round of layoffs, when John Dimsdale was canned, could have been a trigger for her.  (Not writing a Wikipedia entry, I can use weasel words gratuitously.)

I understood what she was talking about, having myself made the choice to leave what is, on paper, a great job for complicated reasons.  After months of increasing unhappiness and fear, I finally went into my boss’ office in early November and told him I was applying for other jobs.  Like Tess, I was jumping without a net; it was a huge risk and I had friends who told me it was a mistake.  But it was a huge relief to be able to come clean.  I’ve been luckier than Tess in that, less than 6 weeks later, I was offered my own dream job;  I ended up landing in a net after all.

Tess’ confession has clearly resonated with a wider audience than she’d imagined.  I’m glad to see her finally “making it work,” and I look forward to reading her book.

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