On “leaving” journalism.

captureThis past Thursday, my new team members and I all went out for lunch. (Sushi buffet. If you know me, you know I was pretty stoked about that. And it was delicious.) I’d already met each of them in my initial orientation, but this was an opportunity to get to know them better now that we’ll be working more closely together.

On our drive back to the office, my new manager asked me a bit about my background, what jobs I’d had before this, etc. I started to explain my history of jumping from magazine internship to online reporting to editing newspapers. Then she asked:

“So did you purposely leave journalism?”

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And that struck a deep, deep chord, man. I fumbled with my answer a bit, saying I wanted to do something with my career that was a little more reliable and paid better, while still allowing me to write and also bring me into a cause I’m passionate about (helping the cute and fuzzies of the world). It’s the explanation I typically give people who ask why I made this particular career move. It may even be the explanation I gave in the job interview. And yes, it’s the explanation I tell myself when I wonder and hope that I made the right move. (I have very limited experience with marketing, after all.) But did I purposely leave journalism … that question stuck with me throughout the rest of the day. And I’m clearly still thinking about it, so I came here to hash it out.

Have I left journalism?

In the years of employment turmoil that followed my college graduation, I was proud to be one of the few out of friends and other people I knew who never abandoned my degree to do something I hadn’t studied. I’ve watched political science majors move into banking and fashion design majors become retail managers, teachers decide on customer service, singers merge into sales, and social workers just stop working. Each of them had a reason and a set of circumstances and this is by no means a reflection of how hard they’ve worked to be where they are right now, nor does it necessarily mean they’re unhappy with how their lives have turned out (so nobody get offended please). But fact of the matter is, so many people are forced to give up their dreams in this economy that it breaks my heart sometimes.

Even when I was sweating buckets serving ice cream to rude baseball fans in 95° heat, or breaking my back heaving boxes of chocolate onto shelves that towered over my 5’2” frame, or getting splashed with slush by speeding taxis as I trudged eight long city blocks to an unpaid internship, I always knew what I wanted and I’d be damned if I was going to give up on it.

In taking this new opportunity, is that what I’ve done?

In an earlier post, I outlined some of the amazing stories I’ve gotten to tell as a reporter. I feel a little jolt when I realize I may not get to do that again for a long time. But at what point do you compromise with yourself and take a leap into uncharted territory to discover what else you might be capable of?

the-leap-how-i-met-your-mother-7875216-500-282Every story I’ve ever told is a little piece of me. I can read my own words and be instantly transported back to how it felt to take off and soar over the mountains in a quest for photography, to ride the subway solo for the first time down to Chelsea Piers to watch Mickey announce Disney Cruise Line’s new home port of good ol’ New York, and to fully embrace the strange looks I got that time the words, “Sir, do you think I could borrow your boat to go find some jellyfish?” came out of my mouth.

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I became a journalist. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. All those years spent hitting the streets and the phone and typing, typing, always typing, felt to me back then like I was still working toward it. I still hadn’t “made it.” I was small potatoes working for struggling publications in an industry that had turned itself on its head. My life was all over the place, my income was anything but stable, job security was nonexistent, and I kept waiting for the day where I could just sit at a desk and fall into a routine—which I did, eventually, for three years. (And I was bored after one.)

I may not be where I ever imagined I’d end up (job or location). But it’s also fair to admit that it’s OK to stray from your intended path to do something else that your heart is tied to. In the spring of 2011, right after my internship with Story Worldwide ended, I started writing, just like this. Just as I am now—introspective and lengthy. 😉 I re-read them all recently and realized that I knew then what I know now, which is: I’ve always been split between a love of storytelling, entertainment, and animals. As long as writing is involved, I’ll be happy.

So I don’t believe I’ve left journalism, because I keep it with me every day. I’ve taken the skills it gave me—insatiable curiosity, meticulous research, OCD levels of attention to detail, a desire to tell the best story possible—and I’m applying them in an effort to inspire people nationwide to take action for animals, to lend their voice to those without one, and to spread kindness in the face of unfathomable cruelty.

I may not be standing on a red carpet dissecting television plots with celebrities (bucket list!), but I’m still in media … and it’s hard to deny that the work I’m doing instead is far more important.

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