I had gotten home from my class that ended at 9:05 p.m. on this night in October to find myself completely overwhelmed by the sheer length of the to-do list that separated me and a college degree. I also had a paralyzing headache and all I could do was lay in bed and cry from the pain, and think of all the work I could have and should have been doing that night, but couldn't because of said headache. Yes, I took ibuprofen. Mom.
At this point in October, like most broadcast journalism college students, I was naive enough to believe the designated market area you land your first job in was the most revealing reflection of your talent, intelligence and promise in this industry. I was naive enough to believe that not only did size matter, but it said a whole lot about you, too.
If you don't know, in television a designated market area (DMA) is a geographic area that receives the same television stations. For example, the DMA I now work in contains roughly eight counties with about 286,000 TV homes in it, and we cover everything that happens in those eight counties. Everyone in those eight counties has the same local news stations to choose from. Based on the population density of these areas and other factors, DMAs are assigned a number rank. For your reference, the top five largest DMAs are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas-Fort Worth. The list goes down to number 210.
For the better part of my last semester, I was hellbent on getting a job, arbitrarily, in the top 100 markets. I honestly have not one good reason to give you for this decision. Having now landed a great job out of school in market 102, clearly just outside of the once-holy-grail-goal I made for myself, I've learned the most important things in your first job cannot be quantified at all. If you're lucky as I've been, you'll land one where people are nice to you, you have a decent quality of life, your management is willing to train you, and your co-workers are excited about all that you have to contribute. I know for a fact bigger market size does not equate to more happiness at any stage in this career, and there are many factors to consider when observing from the outside. By that I mean you can't look at someone who's 30 and say you thought they would've been in a bigger market by then.
I used to fear 20 years from now a former classmate might google me just to find I now manage a boutique PR or social media agency or work as an event planner, or maybe even own a floral shop, and have - quote - left the industry - end quote. It's always said just like that, by the way, "left the industry" and I feared they'd think I failed at this whole tv news thing, and I wasn't really good enough to make it all the way, was I?
Maybe it's maturity or maybe it's a new level of I-don't-give-a-damnness, but I don't give a damn. I'd like to stay in this industry and get married and have children (2 or 3) and dogs (2) while doing it (adopting the dogs, birthing the kids), but the husband and kids are non-negotiables for me, and if I decide to "leave the industry" or stay in a smaller market to make it happen, there's the quality of life thing I was just talking about. It's real and it matters more than a market size or status in the industry ever could, and it's the reason you just can't make judgments about where someone is at on a list of DMAs.
Side note on jobs outside the industry: I came home from a meeting with a professor once so discouraged I created a list of alternative careers for myself. They are mostly ridiculous, and I plan to list them in the index of the memoir I write someday.
Anyway, I did finish the insurmountable to-do list by graduation day and a literal TEN days after my headache fueled meltdown, I had a completed reel to send to news directors across the country.