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Andrea McQuillin – Buddhist Magazine Editor Turned Utility Lineman

By Admin | October 22, 2007

Andrea McQuillin is the executive editor of a prominent Buddhist magazine who describes for us her decision to leave the rarefied world of magazine editing for a different line of work. Her thoughts:

Andrea McQuillin
Andrea McQuillin

Where did you go to college?

I have a B.A. in English from University of Dalhousie in Nova Scotia and a B.Sc (general studies) from the University of Waterloo in Ontario. I also have a certificate in technical writing from George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario

How did you become the executive editor of Shambhala Sun?

I started off as an editorial assistant and worked my way up through Assistant Editor and Managing Editor over about seven years.

Who owns the Shambhala Sun magazine?

The magazine and its’ sister publication Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly are published by the Shambhala Sun Foundation, a 501c(3) nonprofit. The Foundation itself is only a year and a half old.

 The Sun and Buddhadharma were previously published under the umbrella of Shambhala International (formerly called Vajradhatu International), a nonprofit religious organization founded by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa.

The Sun, the older of the two publications, has been published in its current saddle stitch full-color format for the last sixteen years.

Who is your biggest magazine competition?

The other major Buddhist magazine in the spiritual niche is Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. But we do compete against other semi-spiritual publications like Yoga Journal and O: the Oprah Magazine, although of course they have huge circulation numbers compared to us.

Do you see the Internet as a challenge for your magazine?

The Internet is an opportunity. But it is harder for people to replicate the activity that we think of as “reading” online. Rather, online it’s more of a focused “grazing”, and the Sun is a magazine for readers.

Right now, our readers and advertisers are quite loyal to the print publication. People like to get the magazine in their hands because the package—art and text—has aesthetic value. We don’t yet have a way of transmitting that experience on the web.

At some point there will be a transition away from print, perhaps when web/digital reader technology allows people to have the same kind of reading experience they get from having the Shambhala Sun in their hands. But we’re not there yet.

We offer almost all of our archival article content for free on our website as a reader service.

Are you Buddhist?


Pema Chodron is a famed Buddhist nun and best-selling author who often has articles appearing in your magazine. What is she like?

Pema is one of the kindest people I’ve met. But she also has very high standards.

You recently made a rather astonishing career switch from being the executive editor of a Buddhist magazine to becoming an apprentice lineman for the utility company. Why?

I’ve always been interested in doing a trade, but was sort of steered away from pursuing it because I went to university and took professional jobs. But the interest never went away.

In my case, an opportunity came up that I knew I wouldn’t see again at my age. I’m almost 40. I knew the utility was having an open competition and I thought, “What the heck, I’ll throw my hat in the ring and see how far I get.”

I did a fair bit of research on the trade and the electricity industry. I also competed in a 2-day Skills Expo, with 40 or so guys who made the short-list for the 20 apprentice positions that the utility was offering.

At that expo I got to try out different stuff—climbing the poles, repelling out of a bucket, driving a truck, skinning wire, digging holes—and I enjoyed it.

There’s something very straightforward and satisfying about fixing something that’s broken. And when the utility surprisingly made me an offer, I knew that I would regret not trying. So then there was no choice.

Are people at the magazine confused by your career switch?

Actually, I’ve gotten a lot of support from them. My colleagues at the Sun are quite smart, but they’re also fairly sophisticated emotionally. Maybe it’s all that meditation.

Although what I’m doing is not something they’d aspire to themselves, they are enthusiastic and curious about it. In my experience, Buddhists don’t tend to simply accept conventional wisdom—they check it out. More often they respect the person who takes the road less traveled.

Is your family confused by your switch?

Oh yes, they think I’m certifiable. Just the next crazy thing I’m doing.

How long is your apprenticeship learning the utility line business?

I get my journeyman status in four years upon successful completion of a national exam.

What are the job duties in your new career?

In Canada, it’s been given the gender-neutral name “powerline technician.” In most places they call it “lineman.”

It’s the trade that installs and maintains power transmission and distribution lines, both overhead and underground. If I successfully make it through this, I’ll be the first female powerline technician in the province of Nova Scotiaand possibly other jurisdictions—I haven’t had time to check that out yet, but I know there are very few women in this trade.

Are you planning on staying at the magazine part-time?

Yes, I plan to.

How long do you want to work for the utility company?

From a purely practical standpoint, it looks like the utility is the better long-term commitment because offers better wages, benefits, and a pension plan. So I hope to stay at that job as long as I’m physically able, and as long as it challenges me in a meaningful way.

I am lucky that I am still able to keep a connection to the Sun—it’s important to me to contribute to the Sun’s mission, to help publish genuine wisdom from the Buddhist tradition.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to putter on home improvements. I’m also an avid reader and recreational runner. And I enjoy playing Scrabble. It’s the only reason I’m on that odious time-sucker Facebook.

Copyright 2007 DailyInterview.net

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