Follow Your Path
One of the many times I combined my love of cars with RVing. Sunrise at Bonneville with my 2006 Dodge and Bigfoot camper, 2009.
It’s easy to become distracted by the many demands life places upon us–school, college, a career, family, professional expectations–the list goes on, and surely varies from one person to another. One thing that we all have in common, however, is that we try to do our best. For ourselves, for our employers, for those we love and care for. And in that noble effort, sometimes we can lose our way and forget who we really are, or what we always thought we could be.
I know this because I lost my path for a good 10 years.
I was a journalist from the word go, starting with the school magazine in junior high, then moving to the staff newspaper in high school, then on to an award-winning newspaper at the local community college. Writing always came easily to me. And I think because of that, perhaps I didn’t take it that seriously. I wanted to do something else. I was fascinated by machinery–I wanted to be one of those guys in gray coveralls that toiled in an oily machine shop and made amazing things out of inanimate pieces of metal.
But it was not to be.
For as interested as I was in the crafts of engineering and fabrication, I wasn’t good at math–or even measuring. I failed everything. My parents pleaded with me to return to the one thing they knew I was good at. But I didn’t want to write for a paper the way my grandfather had done. I couldn’t be passionate about a new library, the football team, or a city council measure.
What to do? I was good at writing, but didn’t want to do it. I loved mechanical things, but clearly didn’t have the aptitude. It was then that my path revealed itself for the first time: I could write about the things that I loved. I could explain how things worked to other people like me. Yes! I went on to secure my first job at a car magazine called Popular Hot Rodding about a year later at the age of 23.
I was never happier. I got to do what I was good at while immersing myself in the things that I loved. I had a great boss named Pete Pesterre. I traveled a lot. I met some of the most interesting, intelligent and entertaining people I’d ever known. I worked with some real characters who were every bit as passionate as I was. One of them, as it turned out, was Bruce Hampson, our editor. The story begins.
Bruce had been an editor for many years, and in fact had written for one of my favorite magazines as a kid in high school: Car Craft. Bruce had also wandered off his path for a while, working in a marketing/PR role for a major tire company. But now he had returned to automotive journalism, and I was delighted to have him in our office as the editor of a magazine called Super Chevy. He took what was a mediocre, uninspired publication and tapped into the enthusiasm and passion of his readers to create not just a magazine, but a following. He cared about his readers. He brought them into our world and made them stars in their own right by featuring their cars and telling their stories.
Corporate greed stepped in. Our small publishing company was eaten by larger one. Like bees from a hive that had been attacked, we scattered to whatever safe haven we could find. Bruce became the editor of a watercraft magazine in Minnesota. I was offered a job working for the “new” company, but didn’t want to work for a monster that was gobbling up small publishing houses across the country, leaving unemployed editors in its wake. Former competitors became friends, so I chose instead to freelance for many of them until I could find something better. I enjoyed moderate success working for a variety of magazines, but it was always a struggle to find consistent work and pay the bills.
Once again, my path began to open. Before I ever became interested in cars, I loved RVing. My Dad was an immigrant from Germany, and he was passionate about the freedom that RVing afforded. We had a travel trailer that was about 20-25 feet long, as I recall, and Dad always kept me involved. I helped prep and pack the trailer before we left, and helped him flush the gray and black tanks when we returned. When I became old enough so that I didn’t need all the comforts of home, Dad sold the travel trailer and purchased a Coleman tent trailer. It was a completely different, yet equally delightful experience. There were no tanks to fill or empty, no battery to charge. I began to experience the outdoors like I never had before, with only cloth walls and screens separating me from Mother Nature. It was awesome.
So when I heard that Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines were looking for a technical editor, I was intrigued. After years of writing about hot rods, I didn’t consider RVs my “thing” really, but then I remembered how much I had loved RVing as a young man. It made sense. It was a chance to immerse myself in something completely different and reconnect with something I had loved. It was here that I met Bob Livingston, our current publisher–and this is where things start to get really uncanny: Bruce Hampson moved back to California from Minnesota, and landed a job in our offices working on MotorHome magazine.
Time passed, circumstances changed, and I left my staff position to return once again to freelancing. Bruce moved to Elkhart, Indiana to be the editor of RV Business magazine. Bob remained the publisher of Trailer Life and MotorHome, and eventually Chris Dougherty replaced me as the technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines. Once again, my career was stalled. I had no real direction. Perhaps this was it for me–the path had come to an end.
I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, Chris, but I don’t think that’s what God put you here to do. You’re a writer–that’s your purpose.
I tried my hand at insurance for a while. It’s what my Dad did, and he always provided for us. It was a respectable job, it was safe, and it helped people, which I liked. An old friend of mine, a Christian gentleman that I had worked with numerous times on my stint at MotorHome, called and asked me what I was doing with my life these days. “Insurance?!” He sounded truly dismayed. “I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, Chris, but I don’t think that’s what God put you here to do. You’re a writer–that’s your purpose.” Sure, yeah, but it felt like no one really cared about it anymore–and try as I might, I couldn’t make it stick.
At the same time, I was struggling with the insurance gig, and my manager attempted to show me that, indeed, there was a reason I was in the insurance business. He sent me a link to a sermon that his favorite pastor had delivered, entitled “What path are you ignoring that God is trying to show you?” It was meant to enforce my manager’s belief that I belonged in the insurance business and I was losing faith in it. It was a great sermon, and it was well-meaning–but it didn’t have the intended outcome. It had the opposite. I looked back on my life and realized that writing was all I had ever really done–and yes, it was indeed what I was meant to do. Now I just had to find another way to make it work for me.
Back to freelancing once again. Doing a little marketing work. It was good to be busy again, however limited my success was at the time. Then the path began to reappear.
Bob’s career as publisher was coming to an end, but it was unclear as to what he was going to do with the rest of his life at that time. Not long afterwards, Bruce encountered his own challenges and ended up a lone wolf, looking for another opportunity. He called me one day. We had that “We should do our own thing” conversation. “Yeah,” I recall Bruce saying, “But the thing is, that costs money, and people want to be paid.” He was right, of course, but I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. “Well, I don’t know about you,” I said, “but I’d be willing to work for free for however long it takes to make it work.” He agreed that he would, too. But was that going to be enough?
Bob liked the idea but wasn’t completely convinced yet. After all, he was retired now and was living a relatively easy life, free from the stresses of publishing. Months passed–then Chris Dougherty resigned from his position at Trailer Life and MotorHome.
Holy smokes–it was the fabled Perfect Storm–there was no denying it now. Somehow, we figured out a way to make the first issue of RV Enthusiast happen with our own savings, and bootstrapped our first issue with help and support from friends, family and the connections we had made in the RV industry. As I write this, we just completed our second issue and have gone to work on the third. None of us know for sure where this is going–but one thing is certain: We are following our path.
I hope you never stop following yours.