20 Years Later, Advice On Career Changes

March 13, 1998.

20 years ago.

That was the day my career took a sharp turn, toward an unknown destination.

20 years ago.

Although I had worked toward what I thought was a “Dream Job” since I was a young kid, life as a TV news producer just wasn’t for me anymore. It was affecting me physically (I was diagnosed with gout at 25, the youngest case the doctor had ever seen) and mentally (I would pull into a parking space in the morning and stare at the clock, counting how many hours until I could get back in the car, longing for that moment).

The career path in front of me – the management track in broadcast news – didn’t feel appealing, as it once did. I wanted to stay in Detroit and build some other kind of career. Any other kind of career.

My co-workers later told me they had no idea. We continued to work together to put together a #1 newscast every day while, behind the scenes, I was talking to management to extract myself from a contract.

I couldn’t produce a daily newscast and search for another life. I could barely get up to go to the bathroom some days. So, I made a clean break and walked out of the station on March 13th to uncertainty.

In the years since, dozens of would-be career changers have sought my advice, which is incredibly flattering. I have told them many of the same things. My situation was unusual. It was 1998 and the pre-digital economy was humming. I had just gotten married, so we had a cash cushion, without kids and without a mortgage. I knew I wanted to do something communications related, so I didn’t have to go back to school.

Thinking back on what happened 20 years ago and the advice I have given since, here are a few bits of experience I share, in case they can help you, or someone you know:

-Don’t Just Run From Something, Run To Something: Once I figured out I didn’t want to be in TV news anymore, that wasn’t enough. I had to figure out how I wanted to use my skills and what I really wanted to do. Through a thorough process of investigation, based on the options at the time (which have changed considerably), I intentionally chose PR agency work, based on asking a lot of questions and committing to trying to learn what I didn’t know.

-Assemble A Team: You can’t do it alone. Networking isn’t just about getting to someone to hire you. It’s about figuring out who you know, who they know, and how pieces can fit together to complete the puzzle. I had been sitting in newsrooms for years. I needed to connect and had a ton to learn. A team of family members, former co-workers, family friends and professionals who started out as total strangers ended up being my sources of information, connectors and sounding boards. This is so much easier to do now, thanks to technology.

-Don’t Procrastinate: As soon as I started feeling miserable, I worked toward making a change. I never got to the point of “golden handcuffs” or being overqualified for jobs. Also, the toll on my psyche and my personal relationships was minimized. Once you feel it in your soul, you owe it to yourself and those you love to make a move.

Choosing a career is a deeply personal decision. Making the right choice for me has made all of the difference. My appreciation to those who helped me along my path 20 years ago will never waver.