The Commencement ceremony at the University of Miami was set to start at 3pm sharp. I arrived with more than enough time to spare. I carefully pulled the black gown over my floral dress, and secured my cap over my freshly blow-dried hair. I had put extra effort into my makeup because I wanted to look my very best for the pictures that would last long after this day was over. Getting ready was easy enough—after years of working on television I know all about hair and makeup. I remember looking around the room at the hundreds of other graduates. I remember thinking, “Now, journalism will be, forever, mine.”
As we lined up, I had butterflies in my stomach. I hadn’t felt this way since the days when live shots put me through a range of emotions—those days were long gone. As we walked into the venue I felt so proud. The feeling was not because I had earned a Master’s Degree in Journalism, even though I know that is something to be proud of, but because I had done something to grip tighter to the profession that I love before it slipped away.
My love for journalism developed with time but my love for TV started the moment I picked up a microphone at school.
That might make it sound like my decision to go back to school was fueled by a layoff, a demotion or some other negative turn in my career. It was actually the opposite. My career was better than ever but my passion was on life-support. Pursuing higher education was a lot to take on as a full-time news reporter in the busy Miami market but I did it because I was searching for something. In the end, I found a new and better version of what I was looking for.
I had my heart set on a successful career in television news long before I started in the business. My love for journalism developed with time but my love for TV started the moment I picked up a microphone at school. I still remember the intense pressure I felt in my final semester as an undergrad. I had come to understand the competitive nature of the industry but I wanted an on-air job more than anything. The idea of reporting on television while bearing the responsibility of informing people on current events was a dream job for me.
But my intense passion gave birth to self-doubt that would stay with me long after I got my first gig. Am I good enough? It’s a question I have visited many times throughout my career. The problem with self-doubt is that it can become a pattern. For a long time I was chasing success, with no satisfaction. Every time I achieved something in my career, it was followed not with a celebration but with a new professional quest to conquer.
My career was better than ever but my passion was on life-support.
Over the last dozen years, I built my career by moving around Canada and then the United States. As I continued to climb from market to market, my family, friends, mentors and eventually my viewers became increasingly proud of my upward trajectory. I think what they saw was someone who kept doing more. From reporter to entertainment host, to weather host, to news anchor, to traffic anchor – I continued to get more airtime and better jobs in bigger markets. No matter what I did in the studio, I always reported in the field as well. I won major awards for my work, including a National Murrow. None of it made me feel accomplished enough. I always strived to be better, to work harder, to reach higher. Looking back, I think the fear of failing brought on the kind of adrenaline that allowed me to thrive on-air.
None of it made me feel accomplished enough.
Off-air, I struggled. The troubles flowed from a mix of constantly being in overdrive, newsroom stress, and the deep levels of human sorrow that I witnessed while covering the news. Journalism exposed me to so many different situations, many of them awful. Looking back now, I realize that I was not equipped to process those harsh realities when I started working as a reporter in my early 20s. As I grew in my career, I carried an accumulation of the heartache I was exposed to. On top of that, all the moving around meant that I was always feeling lonely, lost or homesick. I have cooked countless dinners for one.
The rejection that comes with the career made it all worse. It is impossible to find the right words to adequately explain the heartache that follows being told that you are not ready for a position, a job or a move that you feel you deserve. I can’t tell you how many times I asked myself questions like: When will this pay off? When will I live in a better city? When will I have a real life? When will I finish paying my dues?
I know all about paying dues. I have endured the daily grind that only those who work as reporters truly understand. I have told story after story; from stringing together elements to file a piece after covering a boring city hall meeting, to reporting live from the scene of a shooting or fire, to covering trans-national crime at the U.S.-Mexico border, to revealing the aftermath of devastating weather.
I have traded countless holidays with family for long days in the newsroom. I went to many industry conferences, on my own dime, while working for the modest wages smaller markets pay. I have invested in ‘on-air’ clothing that I couldn’t afford. I have started shifts long before sunrise, spent weekends in front of a teleprompter, and traveled far in pursuit of exclusive reports. I have stood at the doorstep of danger and witnessed tremendous tragedy.
I vividly remember wearing an emotionless face while covering the drowning of a young man, and then crying hysterically while a veteran photographer drove us back to the station after the assignment. He never uttered a word about it to me. I always felt a bit embarrassed about my breakdown in front of him.
I have stood at the doorstep of danger and witnessed tremendous tragedy.
These are the truths behind the perceived glamor of TV news. The fast deadlines leave us without much time to process what we see, and how we live as we try to make a mark in the business. I didn’t always understand that it could take a toll on our happiness. But still—for every hard hour or hard day—there are amazing moments that storytellers experience. That is the seesaw nature of the business. The ups and downs can keep a news-addicted and success-hungry reporter, like I was, hooked. And they did for a solid decade.
My determination to succeed always had the final destination of network news. I still hope to get there one day but for a long time my entire existence was wrapped up in that goal. The intensity was too much. To be honest, I thought a major–market job would make things better as it would mean that my goal was not too far away.
I started to feel my passion slipping away.
However, after my first big break came with a job offer from a station in Orlando, I soon found out that not much had changed. The problem was, I hadn’t changed. I still put so much pressure on myself. My career started to resemble a never-ending ride with no major thrills. I started to feel tired and disengaged. I kept pushing, and landed a job in Miami. It was a city where I always wanted to work, and an NBC owned and operated station. By all accounts it was great. I was happy but soon the same cycle picked up. I started to feel my passion slipping away.
Leaving the industry was not an option because I had already invested so much, and the truth is that deep down I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to find a way to reconnect. I decided to shift directions. Instead of focusing on succeeding in television news, I decided to focus on learning more about the profession that I love. I put my television-infused definition of success on the back burner. That was the best career decision I have ever made.
Getting back into academic life was a challenge on many levels. I felt awkward among all the much younger students who had dreams of working in the business I felt depleted by. Juggling my full-time role at NBC 6 News with school assignments was tough. Quite a few of my professors wondered what I was doing back in university. Many of my industry colleagues asked me the same. I just wanted my passion back. Over the course of two years, I learned that it would come back but only when I revised my definition of success.
After getting through the learning curves of being a student again, I caught my stride. I settled in amongst the younger demographic and developed honest dialogues with my professors about my feelings of fatigue with TV news. Slowly but surely I started to gain perspective. I found that I could bring my voice to the table, not as someone who was fighting for the TV spotlight but as someone who deeply cares about the craft. I also found out that even after years of professional experience, I had a lot to learn.
Classes about industry trends helped drown out all the white noise about how the future of local news and journalism is grim because of digital. I now know that there is a hopeful future which digital can enhance, not dwindle. Through several craft classes, I improved my writing. After years of writing only for television that was empowering because I now feel like if I lost TV I would still be able to report in another medium. I took courses that trained me to think deeper, and to explore any issue’s shades of grey. I managed to learn all about the history of journalism, which gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for the profession.
I put my television-infused definition of success on the back burner. That was the best career decision I have ever made.
The University of Miami became my safe place—somewhere I learned that journalism is not something I need to keep fighting to be ‘good enough’ at, because making it in television is not the only option. After all the moves, professional development seminars, talent coaches, talks with my agent, and one-on-ones with my mentors, it took investing in higher education to truly figure out that my true calling isn’t television, it was always journalism.
Television, although I prefer it as a medium, is just my choice. If my time in television ends, I will still have my identity intact, I will still make a difference, and I will still have journalism.
Graduation day was fulfilling on so many levels but most importantly it symbolized my permanent claim to the profession I have always loved, and the release of the hold that television had over me for a very long time.