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.
1. Stay organized! I wouldn't have gotten anywhere without my color-coded (yep) excel sheet that kept track of
the station name, the city it is in, the market number, the title of the position I was applying for, the station affiliation, the news director's name and contact information, who owned the station, the date I sent my materials in, the date and method in which I followed up, and if I ever heard anything in return. Do this. It is hugely important.
2. If you have loving, amazing, supportive parents willing to feed and shelter you in the weeks following your graduation, go home and spend a lot of time with them. I didn't know how badly I needed two weeks of sitting on the couch not looking at job applications or anything intelligent really until my Mom basically begged me to take them. They were amazing. Further, once I was recharged and started sending out applications again, I had an interview just 5 days later.
I had that phone interview January 12th with a woman who would become my News Director. January 21st they offered to fly me down for my in-person interview. February 4th and 5th I came for that interview. February 6th I accepted a job offer. February 23rd I arrived in South Carolina. March 2nd I started.
Also on February 5th in the airport in Florence, South Carolina, I sat down at the gate simply exhausted after the quick, intense and high-stakes two days I just had, but fairly confident they were going to make me a job offer. The hugeness of the fact that this goal I set for myself was actually going to come true hit me. The fact I'd be packing up all my belongings and moving to a new state where I knew nobody hit me. The fact that I could have chosen a simpler career path and stayed right there with my family in New York hit me. It all hit me and I cried, and a very nice man brought me a few tissues. Eventually, I told myself though scary, this job was something I had to do simply because it was a chance I owed to myself to take. I would not look back in 20 years as the owner of a boutique PR firm wondering how far I might've made it in television simply because I never even tried.
Was this out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Anything I couldn't do or wasn't prepared for? No. We had a going away party with close friends and family the day before I left, and I was fine for all of it, until I said goodbye to my Uncle at which point I cried tears I didn't know I felt that day. There's something about knowing your family is always 15 minutes away that makes parting such sweet sorrow. The next day, my mom and I drove two separate cars full of a lot of clothes to Florence, South Carolina, stopping along the way to watch the Oscars and see a living room set in person at a Rooms to Go showroom. We spent the next week running so many errands the days blurred together, drinking a couple celebratory glasses of wine along the way and picking out and hanging window treatments (all her!). The night before she left I caught a completely miserable stomach virus. I cried, she asked if I was sad, and I said yes.
I didn't want her to leave after the fun we had that week, and though I knew I'd soon become so invested in this community by telling its stories, at this point it still didn't really feel like home. I learned something I'd always known in that moment, which is not only do you never stop needing your mom, but you're always allowed to cry about it.
Like I alluded to before, for a first job, the circumstances lined up remarkably well - with the good people, a more-than-decent quality of life and the enjoyment I told you a larger market size does not guarantee. My News Director and Bureau Chief are two strong, capable and amazing women who have been at this station for nearly 20 years each, and my favorite thing about them is that they understand the importance of helping other young women along their paths as well, even if this town in South Carolina might someday become only a first step to new DMAs and heights.
You heard it here first,
P.S- I don't cry as much as this blog post makes it seem like I might. For all the regularly scheduled fun, join me on Twitter at @jordanschumantv and instagram @jschu.