Life

The founder of Lindsay magazine knew exactly where she wanted her career to go but lacked the courage to make it happen. Then, an unexpected misstep set her on the path she’d always envisioned.

By Beth Wilkinson.

Starting a magazine

Beth Wilkinson at her desk in her living room.
Credit: TASHA TYLEE

Life can have uncanny ways of helping us find our path. It’s as if, at times, things need to not work out before they can work out; things need to get worse before they can get better. When things are good, we become comfortable. When things are good, it’s easier to not go in search of a dream.

I had a “good” job for three-and-a-half years. In fact, I had a great job. I worked with fabulous people, I had some autonomy, I had some creativity and I was learning. Like most jobs, it had its challenges, but for a good portion of those three-and-a-half years I felt pretty lucky to be there. My pay cheque came in every fortnight and the work was meaningful. But it still was just a job.

The phrase dream job is used a lot. Too often. When I use the words, I use them literally. For as long as I can remember, I have dreamt of a future in which I have a certain job. That job is making a magazine.

I have always loved magazines. I loved the way they stacked up in my room, loved cutting them up and rearranging the images in scrapbooks. I have had dreams about a wildly adventurous career where I could make things, meet interesting people, travel to faraway places. I’d discover stories and ideas and bring them together in new and fantastic ways. I wanted to be Grace Coddington. I wanted her wild red hair. I wanted to be the creative director of American Vogue.

My first full-time job was with Frankie magazine, and it was there that my dream solidified. I wanted to edit a magazine, my own magazine. A few years later, while working full-time elsewhere, not in publishing, I spent my evenings making and self-publishing a cookbook of family recipes. At 26, spending my savings to print a cookbook of baked country recipes infused me with a nervousness I hadn’t felt before: it was a sense of risk and it contradicted all the lessons society had taught me about security. The cookbooks sold, though. I had experienced the very real potential of self-publishing.

By now I am 30. I have set aside more savings, I have a decent set of skills and I am a dreamer. So, what was stopping me from making a magazine? Everything.

I had my “good” job. I had 30 years of people telling me I should want a conventional life. Mostly, it was the fear of leaving a job in search of a dream, risking my security and self-esteem for something that might not even exist. That fear of failure manifests itself as a great wall; it keeps you from seeing the other side. My whole career, the same thought has echoed: one more job, then I’ll be ready. I have a feeling that one job was very close to turning into a lifetime of jobs and that ready would never come.

But something happened. After three-and-a-half years in a good job, I was ready to make my move to that one more job. It was a role I had hoped would present new opportunities, working for a place I had long admired. I was over the moon. But it was everything I didn’t expect. I was wrong for the role, and the role was wrong for me. I was absolutely devastated. My heart was heavy and my mind anxious. The fear of what people might think and what I would do if the job did not work out overwhelmed me. I left after two months.

As I walked home from the city that night – a walk I thought would be drenched in tears – to my surprise, not a drop fell. The thick knot that I had been carrying around inside me suddenly dissipated. The wall had come down, and I could see the other side. I no longer had to abandon my regular pay cheque and great job to risk venturing into the unknown: I was unemployed with nothing to lose. It was as if the decision had been made for me. I had been given permission. It was on that walk that I decided to make my magazine.

I gave myself three months to test this new life. Three months felt safe: not too risky, not too unconventional. Those three months quickly turned into six, and, now, 18 months later, after being online for one year, a risk-averse way to start a business, I have just launched our first print issue.

Over the past 18 months, I have never worked harder, yet I have never felt more energised. I am solely responsible for everything that happens, and in so many ways I am bound to this magazine, financially and personally, yet I’ve never felt more liberated. For every sleepless night, every unanswered email, every glimmer of fear, there is a moment that sweeps in and wipes it all away. That moment comes when someone you’ve always admired agrees to work with you. It’s in the moment you photograph an idol. It’s in the moment you read a final edit of a story that you believe needs to be in the world and you realise that story would not exist without this project. These moments are sometimes fleeting but they are often remarkable and they fulfil me in ways I cannot describe.

I am not the creative director of Vogue or the editor of The New Yorker, and I am certainly not working from a fancy office with a cityscape view. But I am the editor and creative director of a magazine with a different name. I called it Lindsay, after my late grandfather, Lindsay James Stanger. He was a man who took a path less travelled. As a boy he left school to help on the farm, but returned to finish high school in his 40s. He had a wild curiosity and a huge heart; always watching documentaries, reading National Geographic, sharing stories. He built his own darkroom, and from there developed thousands of photographs of the people he met and the places he went. I inherited his collection of analog cameras and slides, and with them I began to mirror his love for photography and curiosity for the world.

I recently held in my hands the first print issue of Lindsay. To feel the weight of it, to smell the paper, to physically flick through the pages – it suddenly felt real. After quietly working from my desk in my living room, seeing the magazine in the real world is exhilarating. I feel genuinely proud that I have brought these stories to the world. I acknowledge that it was a privilege to be able to make this choice, and that taking these risks is not always an option. But at that moment 18 months ago, that was a choice I was able to make. And while it sometimes feels as though circumstance has led me to this path, it has taken courage and diligence to stay on it.

I have become content with the notion that I do not know and I cannot entirely control where this project will lead, but it’s already taken me places I never thought I’d see. It’s introduced me to people I would have never otherwise met, and, every day, I learn something new about myself, something new about my work, and something new about the world.

It took 10 years working for other people to gain the skills and experience I needed, but it’s on my own, creating the thing I care about, where I truly feel at home. I’m a practical fantasist: constantly dreaming about where this job could take me, but prepared for the realities of how that might look.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 31, 2018 as "Dream believer". Subscribe here.

Beth Wilkinson
is the founder and editor of Lindsay, a twice-yearly print and online magazine celebrating the importance of culture and place.

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