I finally have an ounce of courage to sit down and admit to why I am where I am today. While some have outright told me it is nothing but a failing point, turning down a once in a lifetime opportunity has been a defining moment in my life. A warning this post might be a lengthy one, but I hope it will inspire you by the end, to listen to your heart and follow your instinct to find happiness.
I spent the last decade or so focused on my career. A media course in my final years of high school had me hooked on being a journalist, working in television, and telling stories. Five years later and $30,000 less to my name, I was ready to finally make my dream a reality. I graduated in Journalism and prepared myself to work hard for what I wanted. And that’s what I did. I spent four years at a handful of different TV stations, radio and media outlets. I became a well-rounded journalist having worked in every journalistic position I could possibly absorb like a sponge from field producing to writing, editing and anything that helped me craft my skills each day. I was passionate about my work in news because I finally got to be a storyteller – even access to some sought-after backstage shows, fave musicians and famous celebs was sweet icing on the cake too (and yes, pre-fame Bieber was one of ‘em).
I worked in one of the most exciting industries most people would kill to get a glimpse of. I should have been happy but something was missing. I was looking for something more yet I couldn’t pin point exactly what that was. My phone rang in the spring of 2011 on a warm Friday afternoon. I received a call for a job offer I knew I was destined for. “We want you to be our part-time reporter in Winnipeg.” What? Really? Did I finally make it in this industry? Were my long hours of work and pricey degree finally paying off? My first few hours of hearing the news had me glowing but were soon overshadowed by a torturess weekend trying to decide if I should pick up and move for the dream job I never doubted would one day come my way. During a time in my life that I should have been elated, I was not. I kept coming up with every excuse in the book. I was lucky enough to have a (super) supportive long-time boyfriend but how could I move away from family? Could I even afford moving away for a part-time gig? It was hard enough living through Toronto winters but could I make it through Winnipeg, the coldest city in the world (Winter-peg as we call it)? And then my safety – this city had the fourth highest crime rate in the country. Still, a little voice inside me kept insisting: if you really want something, the obstacles don’t matter. You’ll find a way to cope with the challenges when you get there. I knew I needed to stop thinking and just book that plane ticket ASAP before I doubted myself any longer. That was the moment I should have booked that ticket. It just didn’t feel right. Something was not sitting well in the pit of my stomach. Maybe it was the constant nausea I had that entire weekend, or the excruciating anxiety that made me feel as if my heart was about to halt at any moment. All I know is, that was the longest weekend of my life. I had the dream job but, 3 days later on a Monday morning, I (reluctantly) turned it down. I was an emotional wreck. I had my dream job handed to me on a silver platter and all I needed to do was pack up and book a flight out. But something kept holding me back. Three months later, on another Friday afternoon I received a second call. “Good news, Cristina. This position now became full-time and we want to offer you the position if you’re still interested?” You’re kidding me? My first reaction was, “Yes! I’m taking it. After all that sickness, anxiety, and nausea I felt three months ago I am finally ready to take this leap! I need to pack up and go now before I change my mind!” My impulsive decision didn’t last very long. Saturday and Sunday rolled around and all those feelings of anxiety and sickness in the pit of my stomach came back. What was wrong with me? I should be happy that this is now a full-time gig and I’ll be in a career I worked so hard to get. I would finally be able to use my journalism degree reporting for the 6 o’clock news for a major mainstream national network. Then it hit me. I pin pointed that pit in my stomach I had been feeling all along.
It was fluff. I would be reporting on ad-driven, corporate-managed news stories that often equal to an industry-term in mainstream media called fluff. Anything from the latest murder to Christmas shopping season, or the shock of a city-wide blizzard in the middle of January. It got me asking, are these the kind of stories people need to know? Do they enlighten, mobilize, and make a difference? Was I forgetting what it meant to be a journalist? Over the years, I saw mainstream, corporatized media slowly drifting away from its responsibility to citizens, and from the untold stories and quality news journalism that it was supposed to be.
In the pit of my stomach, I knew this job would be an opportunity of a lifetime. But fluff was not the kind of storytelling that I saw as important for people to know about. Fluff was not the kind of storytelling I valued as a journalist and certainly not the reason I decided to become one.
Real journalism is when stories mobilize people to create a social change
So I turned down my dream job. Twice.
I remembered why I became a journalist in the first place. To tell meaningful stories that can mobilize others – that can mobilize people to create a change in their own life or make a difference in someone else’s. Stories that can teach us to live better or drive us to help others better their own. For me, reporting the overblown fire down the street or breaking news from Perez Hilton couldn’t do that for me.
The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon - Brandon Sanderson
Turning down what I thought was my dream job was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make, but it made me realize what is really important. It’s not the prestige of a so-called real career, the money, or the things we could buy with money that make you happy. It’s much simpler than that. It’s two-fold. Firstly, it’s about doing something that brings you meaning, but more so gives back to help others. I learned about myself that I didn’t just want any career but I wanted to contribute in a much more meaningful way. Winston Churchill once said, you make a life by what you give. Second, happiness comes from doing what we want to do, not what we think we’re supposed to do. I was following mindlessly into the same career path as others in mainstream media, not ever questioning what I wanted along the way. Among my life lessons, I learned that a good decision is one that matches the values you hold. You need to make choices that resonate with what you actually believe in and want. That day was a defining moment in my life. I started my blog, crafted my life list, and began planning a much more meaningful life through travel. I still absolutely love journalism but I’m doing it in my own way now.
I get paid measly pennies now but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’ve learned to say yes to the things I want to do and no to the things I don’t want to do. Today, I’m building my location independent life so I can live a more fulfilled life through travel and experiences. My plans will be exploring Europe more in-depth because that’s where I feel more at home and in my element. I plan to travel to smaller villages where life is simpler and happiness abounds. I’ve also decided to volunteer my way around the world and help make a difference. I want to write compelling stories about real communities, pressing issues, and human rights. I’m still not sure if I made the right decision for my future bank account, but what I do know is that I haven’t felt so sick ever since.