Here’s the thing about career changes and dreams.
They’re both fucking hard.
Two years ago this month, I was fired from a job that I had come to resent as the days ticked away. My free agency was declared for me, although technically, I wasn’t long without work. I can get into all the reasons why the highest-paying salary I ever had turned into a paltry severance in less than a year – sudden department shifts, my own struggles to develop skills at a frantic pace, horrific supervision, insidious yet unquantifiable racism, you name it. But what made the gig so difficult was that despite the brand name and the so-called prestige that came with the package, it was never going to be the credential-building, finance-stabilizing, network-leveraging step into the rest of my life.
In fact, it was never going to be anything more than my last corporate job until I finally embarked on a vision that is still in progress. Between layoffs, a firing and jobs that didn’t pay enough to match my contributions, I had quite enough employment and unemployment hell in this unforgiving media industry. And perhaps, as my partner has said over the last few years, that was the problem.
My body went to work every morning, but despite being no different than other employees who were cashing checks, my mind had long been out of the door.
Out of fear and lack of resources, I didn’t pursue my vision right away after graduating from college. Heck, I was still defining what it was that I wanted. When I was in undergrad, the light had somewhat dawned on me – a dream of owning a sports media company – but being that this was the early 2000s, there were few models that were accessible. As the years progressed, the idea began to take shape thanks to the blessing and curse that is the internet. (And just as much, the explosion of mobile technology.) Yet, building upon the concept meant juggling full-time employment with a freelance hustle.
I didn’t go to Syracuse, Fordham or Northwestern as a budding journalist nor did I take on the right course load at my alma mater. (Babson College is teeming with current and future entrepreneurs, but I studied management and marketing.) However, the juggle I took part of for over a decade provided practical knowledge and education. In the corporate world as a research analyst – and a damn good one, I’d say – I keenly understood a network or agency’s business motivations in a manner few ever see. As a stringer and budding editor, I learned how to produce media professionally, cultivate a voice and build credibility thanks to many strokes of luck.
At some point, it was understood that there would be a career crossroads. I would have to either focus my efforts into upward movement in the corporate media world or grow a set and aim for what I truly wanted. It became clear that I was not long for Big Media with a combination of office politics and frustration with the lip service paid towards career development. Oh, and shareholders sparking off mass layoffs at every major media company since the end of the Great Recession.
And so it’s been two years of going the other direction – sort of. I’ve been building a portfolio as a writer and editor, with much more to come. Yet when it comes to that grand vision, that media company that’s going to change the (my) world… well, there have been many spurts and stops. A few tears and fears sprinkled with a lot of time aimlessly staring out of the window, even right now at 4:08 AM in my Harlem apartment. As the song implies, the vision a little blurred right now.
The company has a mockup of a logo, a mostly finished executive summary and a business plan that needs to be rewritten. There are web domains, social media handles and a single episode of a new podcast that all need to be developed. Some concepts have outlines, others have incomplete deliverables; all are drowned in my anxieties. The funds? [Insert laughing emojis here.]
A thousand words in, I realize that too many of us are unable to fully invest in our dreams due to a litany of concerns. The lack of generational wealth to rely upon as a fallback, if not for seed money. Family dynamics that demand more attention than you hoped. Maybe the external factors are too much. Sometimes, maybe you’re just too much and the dream just needs you to calm down.
So in another sleepless night where I’ve questioned just about every academic and professional decision I’ve made since August 2000, I’m asking God, my late father and the Paddington Bear doll on my desk if it’s all going to be worth it. And you know what?
It’s going to be worth it.
I have no clue how it will be, to be honest. What I do know is that I’m trying. What I do know is that I’ve gotten more validation and support in the last two years – and so much from people I’ve never met in person – than I ever did from those past jobs. Even more, the support of those close to me has been and remains immeasurable.
Which is why nights like this are so maddening. Because I can’t get out of my own head and be that best self.
A lot of friends and current colleagues think I am somehow living the dream by being a freelance writer and contracted editor. Yet, there are a select few in this world that have always known that I’ve wanted to run my own shop. After all, I have two business degrees for a reason. I strongly believe that alongside the bigger companies, there’s plenty of room for independent media producers who are nimble enough to go for new or refreshed stories.
Until you’ve read this, this hasn’t been something I openly discussed in public because I’ve never been one of telegraph my punches. Or at least that what I’ve told myself for the last two decades.
In this confessional, I admit that I’m not a self-promoter, or at least I’m just not a good one. As I’ve seen with some relatives, friends and colleagues, you have to be a master boaster of self to become the entrepreneur you see yourself as. Even at three months shy of 36 years of age, to ‘big up’ myself feels out of character – I’ve always believed that my work and values are reflections of my passion. Yet, as a fledgling media personality whose picked up some bylines in these last two years, it’s not enough to send a portfolio and tell you that I have plans.
I need you to believe that there’s more.
I need you to believe that there’s more in me.
I need to believe that there’s more in me.
And there is. Trust me.