Words by Ashlynne McGhee
Women don’t often talk about their own rage, and particularly not in professional settings, but here goes.
Earlier this year, after 14 years at the public broadcaster, I found myself in a “selection pool” with some of my colleagues at 7.30. Four of us, one had to go. Hunger Games really is an apt description.
The shock, the horror, at being pitted against my co-workers – friends - and then the rage. That night I waited until my two sweet monsters were asleep then went for a drive. I searched for “System of a Down” on Spotify and parked near Melbourne Zoo where no one but the animals could hear me roar. Wow, did it feel good.
The ABC had been part of me since I was 20. I’d worked hard and thrived with the pressure, the thrill and the privilege that comes with high-profile on-air roles. I wasn’t tired and over it; I was hitting my stride!
As the howls subsided, an early clarity emerged. Could I, would I, put my hand up to leave voluntarily?
I once heard a powerhouse journalist say when she felt too comfortable, it was time to blow herself up. Strategically. That stuck. While the work was challenging, Aunty was comfy and familiar and now I’d found myself in the very privileged position of being able to choose a controlled explosion.
The next day, my eyes still puffy, I hit the phone. Many good people took my call – but this is Women in Media, so I’ll share their advice.
A big political boss was the first to plant the seed of delight. She’d stepped back from her powerful and influential position to do something she genuinely loved and was so much happier for it. She gently encouraged me to let go of ego and think more about what felt right and good at this junction.
A stalwart of television programming spoke of her regret at not taking a leap when she’d had the chance; she urged me to play and explore, taking what I loved about investigative journalism and pushing it further.
My best female friends inhaled deeply and listened patiently as I talked myself into taking the leap. My mum was indignant and even though it’s part of her job description, her backing has always helped me trust my gut. My 85-year-old nana cheered.
And so I left. The rage had so quickly become release.
For four weeks, I couldn’t stomach any kind of news. It was a visceral reaction; I turned it off, turned it down and turned away. Like a growing number of Australian women, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I hadn’t realised how burnt out I was; exhausted from the C-years and exhausted from news about horrors beyond my control. Global warming. Wars. AI. Murder. Inflation. Poverty. It was all too much.
Whenever I’m sick, my mother-in-law tells me I have to go slow to go fast, and I realised she’s right. I could take a break, which is a privilege when so many of my newsroom colleagues couldn’t.
And so I did. I switched it all off.
I know I’m not alone in this great burn out / tune out. Journalists are exhausted and droves of women are disengaging with news and it’s problems like these I want to help solve. A wonderful (female) career coach helped me articulate that I like strategic leadership; bringing smart and creative solutions to big, meaty problems. The messier, the more complex, the better. I like impact and ownership and working with good and talented people.
And so that’s what I’m now doing; I’m sticking around as President of the Melbourne Press Club, I’m building up work as an editorial consultant, I’ll freelance when I choose and I have a side serve of delight: I’m working on my own little creative TV project that’s just the antidote to the horrors of the world. So in the hallowed words of System of a Down, each day (I) wake up, grab a brush and (sometimes) put on a little make up… thrilled that once the rage subsided, I realised I had this opportunity and could leap into the unknown.