Mark Little, 46: ‘Realising life is short was one of the reasons I left RTÉ’
Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Mark Little lives in New York
I grew up in Malahide. I remember moments in my childhood when I knew I was destined to be either a politician or a journalist, because from the age of about eight I was always fighting with my father to read The Irish Times first.
I was 14 when I wrote my first letter to The Irish Times. It was something about questioning faith. About the same time my report card said that I was “prematurely cynical”.
I did economics and politics at Trinity College Dublin. I was there for five years, because in 1989 I was president of the student union. I considered a career in politics, because a common theme for me is an obsession with change. But I’m not ideological enough.
I wouldn’t consider entering politics now. Irish politics is extremely introspective and conservative. I think Irish democracy is resistant to change and new ideas. I’m losing faith in the traditional form of democracy.
When I was 21 my then partner and I had a child together. That was a life-changing decision. I realised I had responsibilities my contemporaries were not having.
It was an extremely difficult time. I was at the beginning of my career as a journalist, and there was all the stress about trying to be a parent. You can be very selfish and focused on yourself when you’re trying to make a career. My daughter taught me a lot of life lessons as she grew up.
In 2007 I had a very serious skiing accident. Until then I had considered myself immortal. As a reporter at RTÉ I had covered stories in war zones and survived pretty hairy situations, and suddenly I was flat on my back at St Vincent’s University Hospital, in a public ward, with a lot of elderly people around me.
I came out of that experience with lots of stress and anxiety and the realisation that my life wasn’t as long as I thought it was going to be. I was in a dark place. I suppose I’d call it depression.
Realising life is short was one of the reasons I decided to leave RTÉ. I didn’t want to be 60 or 70 and regretting that I hadn’t done what I wanted to do.
In my professional life I’m a journalist. In a broader sense I’m a storyteller, creating a business based on storytelling. I would never describe myself as an entrepreneur. A lot of entrepreneurs are assholes.
I had a rich life before the business was sold [to News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s company], and now I have a richer life because I have the freedom to do what I want. The biggest thing selling the company brought me was the ability to say no to things I didn’t want to do. I think it’s so important never to get locked into a routine or locked to a place, because routine stops you doing things.
I never learned any lessons from my successes. The only lessons I’ve ever learned have been from failures, such as choosing the wrong people for my team. The greater lesson is to look back and be embarrassed by them, and then they become a spur for me to live a better life.
The money I got when I sold the company wasn’t quite as much as people thought, and I think people in Ireland misunderstood that. We live in a level of comfort, but the money won’t take care of me for the rest of my life, I’ll need to keep working. But, yes, the money I got was a substantial amount by any standard. My kids will be able to go to any college they want.
Where do I belong? I suppose, for me, one of the great things is not belonging anywhere. I don’t necessarily have a place to call home. That’s a liberation I’ve achieved.
Home is wherever my family are, which is in New York, and also where I can make most impact in the world. The last fortnight I’ve been speaking at conferences, and I’ve been in Amsterdam, Prague, Beijing, Dublin, Phoenix, New York and . . . There was somewhere else, too, that I can’t remember, but it’s not always like that.
I get great satisfaction with being able to travel with the minimum of luggage. No matter how out of control your life is, moving through airports and other places is liberating. I suppose you could say I have an Up in the Air lifestyle, but, thankfully, I’m anchored by family when I’m not travelling.