“Shift happens.’ ~ Nichole Christian
Curled up and crying in a fetal position.
That’s how Detroit Free Press colleagues expected to find Nichole Christian on her last day as a member of the newspaper’s award-winning editorial board.
Instead, Nichole couldn’t stop smiling.
“My identity has always been journalism, “ said Nichole, 41, who started taking her office apart the moment she got the life-changing news in 2009, “but once they gave me thirty-days notice, the sign was neon clear.”
For her it was. But for many in the Detroit Free Press and the outreaching journalism community (myself included), Nichole’s lay-off was a controversial blow. In fact, a former senior colleague even offered to relinquish his job to save hers, but she turned him down.
“I told him not to worry about me. I need to go,” she said. “ There’s life waiting on me and if I don’t go forward on this, I’m never going to have the courage to go for it for myself.”
A RIGID EXISTENCE
Born to drug addict parents and raised by her grandmother, Nichole is a first generation college kid.
“My mom died when I was 13. My dad died nine months later. I always had to depend on myself,” she said. “I believed that nobody could take care of me, so I lived a rigid existence, because I felt I had to.”
Searching for an anchor her parents couldn’t provide, Nichole found a home in the newsroom at the age of 16. There, she made it her business to master the craft of journalism and quickly built a reputation as a rising star with college internships at The Detroit Free Press, Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times and Cincinnati Enquirer.
“I’ve always been on this search for something, the search for the identity that parents give, but I didn’t have that kind of childhood,” she said. “Accomplishments were the equivalent of my identity.”
Chasing bylines like her parents pursued highs, Nichole also discovered her other drug of choice: Approval.
Approval from her grandmother by being “the person she could be proud of.” Approval from her family by adopting the role of protector out of “survivors guilt.” And approval from mentors by becoming the best reporter. Period.
A functioning approval addict, Nichole graduated from Wayne State University’s Journalism Institute for Minorities and wrote her own ticket: full-time positions at the St. Petersburg Times, the Wall Street Journal, two trips to the New York Times and a stint as Time Magazine‘s Detroit bureau chief.
From the outside looking in, she appeared to be riding high. But like anyone proclaiming, “I can quit whenever I want to,” deep down, Nichole knew she was in trouble.
She was denying her true voice.
“That voice talked to me a couple of times, but I told it ‘no’,” said Nichole. “The more we take on, you know, the more we suffocate that voice. It’s something you can put on mute inside of you, but eventually you have to make a choice: Either take it to your grave or set it free.”