If my life continues on its intended path, this will be the last time I write a story as a professional journalist.
It's odd to think in those terms, but I think reality is finally starting to set in. Today, I'm having to consider the impact my decision will have not just on myself but also my family as well as others in this community.
For those who haven't heard, I have officially stepped down as the managing editor of the Mountain Home News. My career will culminate after spanning 32 years, including eight years with this newspaper.
I'm pretty sure there are some in this community that will cheer my departure. Then there are others that will miss my presence.
I suppose the question some will ask is "why?" Let me see if I can properly answer that one.
Truth be told, I thought I would remain a part of this newspaper until the day I could officially retire. After all, I had dedicated my life to telling the story of the men, women and children I've met over the past three decades, and I had become quite comfortable sharing those stories with others.
To a point, I have well exceeded the typical "life expectancy" of a news reporter. It's been said over the years that 85 percent of reporters fresh out of college will quit within five years. Of the remaining 15 percent, another 85 percent of them will leave the profession by the 10-year mark.
I was one of those who fit in that final category — the less than five percent who toughed it out and stuck to our guns. But as I'm finding out, I'm not as young as I was when I first started out, and the stress and constant pressure of meeting deadlines every single day was taking its toll on me physically, emotionally and spiritually.
It's the emotional aspect of that equation that tends to be the most exhausting. When people ask what I did as a photojournalist, I would often reply that my duty involved describing the "human condition" in words and pictures. This meant seeing humanity at its greatest and the times when it's knocked to its knees.
Over the years, I have met people from all walks of life. I've told the stories of those fighting horrible diseases and their battle for recovery. I've sat in courtrooms behind those accused of murdering adults and children, and I felt the pain of the victims' families.
There was one instance where a family struggling to make ends meet became instant millionaires. And of course, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Hollywood celebrities, music superstars, professional athletes and some of the nation's senior military leaders.
I often joked that the only person in the military chain of command I had yet to interview was the commander in chief — the president. I would then quip that I was "working on that interview."
However, as I reached a turning point in my life — my 51st birthday — I came to realize there are many things I wanted to do that I kept putting off for one reason or another. Among the most important was going back to school to finish my education.
I've come to understand that if I don't get started now, I will never meet that goal. I would then spend my remaining years dealing with regret and asking myself why I didn't finish my schooling.
That's about to change.
In a few short days, I will head back to college in pursuit of a bachelor's degree with a focus on elementary education in hopes of fostering my other strengths — my love of journalism, photography and science.
When I finish, I hope to not only walk away with a diploma but a renewed sense of purpose and a chance to make a more significant difference in the lives of those in this community.
My goal is to return to Mountain Home and begin my next career as a teacher in one of our school classrooms. To a point, it would be my way to return a huge debt that I owe to the teachers that guided me through my years of public education.
During my school days so many years ago, there were at least two teachers during that journey that knew I was struggling both academically and socially. Having moved from a large city to a very small town when I was 10 years old, I had nearly no friends and had become very shy and socially withdrawn.
Those teachers saw those struggles and gave me a chance to "come out of my shell." They fueled my interest in acting and public speaking. They also fostered my passion for science, especially when it came to astronomy.
Believe me, becoming a teacher was never an ambition of mine when I was in grade school. Back then, I couldn't wait to graduate and seek my fame and fortune.
I now realize how foolish I was. Had I known how brutal and unfair life can get, I would've refused to grow older and remained within the safe confines of the classrooms, where I was free to dream and explore the worlds of possibilities.
Throughout my Air Force career, the thought of becoming a teacher was remote at best. Sure, I had helped mentor a number of airmen and watched as they became exceptional photojournalists. However, I just considered it being a responsible supervisor versus realizing that I was grooming them to become tomorrow's leaders — and my replacements.
The idea of returning to the classroom took root back in 2006 when my family and I first moved to Mountain Home. My middle daughter, Elizabeth, was involved in a very basic rocketry program at her school, and she asked if I could bring a few of my own amateur-grade rockets and fire them off as well. She knew how much I love the hobby.
What was supposed to be a two-hour lesson turned into an entire day. I ended up fielding dozens of questions afterward, but there was one that really stood out. A young girl stood up and asked, "Mister Orban, why aren't you a science teacher?"
To be honest, I didn't have a good answer. It wasn't until that moment that anyone had ever suggested that I had what it takes to become a teacher.
But her question stuck with me over the years. Every time it resurfaced, I kept putting it off as I convinced myself that I was "too busy" or my duties in the Air Force and then my responsibilities at the newspaper took priority.
It seems that I've spent most of my life serving the needs of others while putting my personal goals and desires to the sideline. I now realize I can't continue doing this, which is why I chose to step down at this point in my life.
I know that if I continue to hesitate, I will continue to regret it.
I leave this career with a great deal of satisfaction knowing I did my best to tell the story of our community and our county. I will pass the reigns over to Jenna Crowe, who will continue to serve this community to the best of her ability.
While I look forward to the many new challenges awaiting me, I admit I'm going to miss this place and the men and women who were not just co-workers but were my good friends.
I will also miss my daily run-ins with others in this community, whose friendship I also treasure. I hope to continue to have the opportunity to meet with them when I can.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve all of you.
I now leave with one last act as an editor. Back in my early journalism career, at a time when everything was done by hand or typewriter, we would annotate the end of a story with a dash on each side of the number 30, which we would then circle with a pencil.
It's time to make that final mark.