On Eagle Semen and lessons learned

Starting this month I’m selling my book “Eagle Semen” as an eBook through Amazon and Gumroad. It’s the story of how I quit my job as a producer of TechTV’s The Screen Savers in the worst possible way, and why.

Eagle-Semen-Cover_2What the book doesn’t really go into, though, is what happens after you write an email like that. At the time I thought I was walking away from working in television, and that it really wouldn’t matter what people would think of me for writing an email about all of them “drowning in eagle semen.” I was right and wrong.

As it turns out, I never did work in television again (nor do I intend to), but it does matter what people think of me. Not only did I manage to burn bridges with many of the people I worked with at TechTV (most of whom did me no wrong), but at every job interview since I’ve been asked to address that email, and there have been times when I’ve missed opportunities because of having written it.

I have zero regrets. After all, I’ve done alright. And the person I am today needed to be the person I was then. But one of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that how you say goodbye matters just as much, if not more, than how you say hello. I’ve never again written such an angry farewell email.

That said, I’ve been tempted. And I’ve also been tempted to “revisit” the “eagle semen” email in sly ways. But in the end (no pun intended) I’ve tended to fall on the side of trying to inspire and encourage those I’m leaving behind, rather than intimidate them.

Below is an email I wrote (but never sent) when I was leaving Polygon in July of 2014. It’s a riff on the “eagle semen” email, but, I think, much more positive.

When men look to the sky, they see the eagle soar and feel shame that they, too, can’t fly. When eagles see men, they see all that man might be and know that some day man, too, will fly.

As you walk into the future that awaits you, don’t look to the sky and see the eagles and doubt that you belong among them. Instead, allow yourself to be filled with the spirit of what the eagles see in men, and know that one day, you too will soar.

If you want to read the original “eagle semen” email, as well as the story of how I worked up to writing it, you can buy my eBook “Eagle Semen” for $1.99 at Gumroad, or $2.99 at Amazon.

Get Eagle Semen

(For those who are curious, below is the actual email (slightly edited to remove confidential company information) I sent to my colleagues when Ieft Polygon.)

My dear friends and colleagues,

You’ve all probably heard by now: I will be leaving Polygon, effective June 27.

When I spoke with Vox in November of 2011 about helping to start Polygon, I thought it was a company led by crazy people. The plan they shared with me, to build websites based on quality first, driven by premium advertising, was one I knew well. We tried it at The Escapist, and I believed in it there (hey, Webbys) and still believe in it now.

But focusing on quality first is a risky play. It takes time and money and a commitment to persevere in the face of impending doom. Many media companies simply don’t have the will to pull it off.

Vox had the will. Vox believed it could execute, deliver on quality and build a business on top of it. And it convinced me to help try. I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

So I joined this company led by crazy people and guess what? We did it! We built Polygon, and everything we’ve done at Polygon has been of the highest quality. And people noticed. And we became envied, admired and even feared. And we did all of that in just two years.

Features has been just one part of that, but it’s obviously the part of which I am the most proud. Working with Charlie and Matt and Jake and Warren and Tom and Jimmy and Caleb and Tyson and Ally and Jon Douglas and all of you to write, edit, design, film, illustrate and publish Polygon’s amazing longform features has been the fullest experience of my life so far. We created two of the most exciting and interesting products I’ve ever been a part of, in the longform feature-meets-video series ‘Press Reset’ and ‘Human Angle.’ We touched the humanity of game design in a way that few outlets had done before us, and few will successfully copy after. And this passion for quality and humanity is one of the things we are best known for now.

Simply put, these past three and a half years have been the fulfillment of a very long-held dream for me. A crazy dream, perhaps, but living it out has nevertheless been amazing. And I thank you all for every part you played in it, big and small.

But things change.

As Vox continues to tighten its operations — becoming less crazy maybe — it has become clear to me that the time for what I can positively contribute to Polygon has come to an end, and that now is the time for a graceful exit.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be wrapping up existing stories and helping the features team transition to operating in my permanent absence. After that, apart from finally diving into personal writing projects and giving takethis.org some long overdue attention, I have no idea where I will end up.

Wherever I go I will leave a substantial piece of my heart behind with all of you, at this place we built together with our passion, our hard work and our dreams.

Thank you all for making all of it feel worth something. Best of luck with everything that you do in the months and years ahead.

Keep dreaming,

-R

P.S. I’ll still be here for a few weeks, so don’t make it awkward and act like I’m dead.