When I was offered a job with CNN five years ago, I thought I’d stay there forever. So why did I choose to recently quit?
My role as a Content Producer with the Newsource division never had a boring day, the pay was the best I’ve ever made in my 15-year career in television news, and the company offered a surprising amount of work/life balance for a journalist.
To rewind a bit, I have to confess I’m still not even sure how, why, or when I decided to pursue the career track I ended up in.
I think it had something to do with an error in college paperwork? My intended double major in political science / communication somehow wound up as only communication. Then I abandoned the original plan for law school. But that’s a story for another time…
There’s the fact that I started out with the goal of reporting, and never ended up doing that.
After three internships at local TV stations, applying for over 100 openings, and mailing out dozens and dozens of VHS resume tapes (Hey, that’s what we did back in the day!) – I was able to secure a job as a morning news producer (a.k.a. overnight shift) in El Paso, Texas.
Since I had to eat and make student loan payments, I took the job with a salary just over $20,000 that came with a two-year employment contract.
While working there, I field produced on my days off and continued to update my resume reel to land a gig doing what I was more interested in: reporting.
Too bad I couldn’t tell my 22-year-old self to invest my time and resources in YouTube instead, right?
Applied for more jobs at the end of my contract, and once again settled for a position that was better than the one I had, yet still not exactly what I wanted – Special Projects Producer for a cable news station in Florida.
Not reporting, but it paid significantly better and was in a bigger news market.
Four years later, after that role ended and a stint as a Supervising Producer at Home Shopping Network, it was back to another local TV station as an Assignment Editor / Weekend Planner.
Through this entire period of my working life, I occasionally applied for openings at CNN. Working for the elusive network felt like a pipe dream, something that wasn’t likely to occur. But I could still dream about it and take a chance on winning the employment lottery for journalists.
It was during a time where I had arguably the worst schedule ever that I received the opportunity for my most recent employment.
Pay was close to double what I had been making, and the decision appeared to be a no-brainer.
I immediately relocated to Atlanta, and my husband stayed behind, finishing renovations on our home and selling the property with proceeds of over $30,000.
It is rather challenging to live apart from your spouse for nearly an entire year, but that’s when I first had an inkling that I should try sewing.
The obsession started innocently enough. Sewing would be this fun and enjoyable activity, something that would expand my mind and result in unique and special handmade things.
Sewing gave me peace, focus, and a way to express myself creatively.
I made a small blanket for a co-worker’s baby shower. Then a tote bag, quilt, napkins, a window treatment, and eventually clothing.
Read a ton of sewing blogs, bought a $2,500 sewing machine, started hardcore Instagramming, went to sewing and quilting events.
Blogging is something I’ve done myself for many years, but for whatever reason, I had not seriously attempted to create videos for YouTube despite my background as a TV producer.
That’s how my own endeavor launched on Valentine’s Day of 2016 – Sewing Report. Its goal is to help people learn about sewing and encourage those who are just getting started. Definitely a place I remember once standing, and noticed that there weren’t many others in the space who had a background I could relate to.
The week after, I had plans to attend QuiltCon – a huge convention put on by The Modern Quilt Guild. The event organizers granted me a media pass, which I used to produce several video “packages.” Those were some of the earliest uploads on the YouTube channel.
In literally ALL of my free time I sewed projects, shot and edited videos, wrote articles, took photographs, invested money and resources into educating myself on social media strategy. On Sundays, I started hosting a live show touching on relevant topics and chatting with viewers.
This experience has truly been the most rewarding one of my life.
Sewing Report has taught me so much about who I am and what I’m all about. My strengths and weaknesses. A community in need of new and diverse voices.
Why wait for someone to give me a reporting job, when I could create one myself covering whatever I wanted?
One of the big downsides to creating content for someone else is all the red tape and hoops to jump through in order to get it in front of an audience. Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat take away that barrier. You get the immediate connection without a filter. It’s so honest and refreshing.
In contrast, the chasm was widening between myself and my “real job.” The one that paid the bills and granted all that vacation time.
Embarrassingly, my entire career felt like a series of decisions settling on the best options available rather than an intentional direction.
Being proficient at what you do is a far cry from it being your true calling.
Several months ago, I knew I wanted to dedicate more time to Sewing Report vs. CNN.
After all, I’m on a one-woman mission to disrupt the sewing industry.
Was that even possible?
Crunching the numbers, we figured out a way.
When my husband and I first got married, we had combined student loan debt of approximately $180,000.
Monthly payments topped $1,500.
Crazy, I know.
Kids and parents: avoid student loans like your life depends on it. That’s actually not far from the truth.
Before we met, I’d bought and sold a condo in El Paso – using the $14,000+ from the sale to pay off a sizeable chunk of my debt.
And that house in Florida? We used the ENTIRE check and then some to pay off one of my husband’s private student loans.
We own a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home purchased as new construction in 2014. Currently, we’re in the process of selling it.
Once we cross closing day, this will be our biggest net positive from real estate yet. The proceeds will allow us to get out of debt completely – freeing up $750 a month.
The plan includes downsizing to a smaller apartment across town, and streamlining our personal belongings.
As a couple, we just don’t live like most of the people we know. No vacations, eating or drinking out, shopping at the mall, hanging out with friends, movies, concerts, sporting events, hair/nails, you get the picture.
Our standard grocery budget is $300 and we don’t usually clip coupons.
Wedding was at a courthouse and cost $303. I wore a white dress from The Limited that I already owned.
You might assume our quality of life is low and we wish we did those things. It’s not and we don’t.
Living well doesn’t always equate with spending more money to do it.
No matter what you do, time is the one resource you cannot buy or obtain more of without sacrificing something else.
So I decided to give up my job at CNN.
Strangely, this is the first professional decision I have made in my life with genuine purpose and intention. I KNOW the sewing community has so much potential for growth, and I need to be a part of it.
Technically, it means I’m unemployed.
Though I certainly wouldn’t say Sewing Report has been lucrative thus far (I do it for love, not money) – it has provided a helpful supplementary side income. The more videos I produce, that will continue to increase.
Even without any of that, we are still able to live below our means on just my husband’s income. If you’re considering making a leap like I did, be sure to take calculated risks. Don’t engage in Russian roulette with your financial future. We carefully planned this maneuver taking several “worst case scenarios” into account, and having saved up several months of living expenses.
Now, this could go very well or fail spectacularly.
Another thing I’ve decided to do is document this journey publicly via a new YouTube channel Jen Talks Forever.
It’s there I will be sharing more about this entire process – details on selling the house, new apartment, living better on less, plus some silliness.
When I reflect back on the path of working in the television industry to sewing, it does feel quite opportune that this trajectory to creating content intersects all of my previous experiences and talents.
My husband has a saying about never accepting your dream job, because you have nowhere to move up to after that.
I can tell you that it’s very likely that your life at 25 will be vastly different from 35, and those dreams you had could be obsolete a few years down the line.
And that’s okay.
Discover who you really are, where you want to go, then start taking steps to the destination.