By Andy Altman
It didn’t make sense. Not to anyone who had never worked in a newsroom, anyway. Most of the people in my life could not understand why I did what I did. “Andy, you get to work in television. That’s so exciting! Why would you give that up?”
Ok, that’s not the exact response I got from everyone, but that’s a pretty good representation of how people reacted when I told them I was looking for a career change. I had spent the majority of my adult life writing and producing local television news.
Yes, the job comes with excitement. Like the time I was producing the 5pm news on Christmas Day, 2007. Five minutes before I was about to leave for Christmas dinner, word broke out that a man had been mauled to death by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. The tiger was out of her enclosure and roaming the zoo.
So much for Christmas dinner.
Still, for all its excitement, the job was exhausting. I constantly worked nights and weekends. Being in my mid-20’s in an incredibly social city, it was difficult to maintain a social life. Not to mention the daily deadlines, the stress of putting breaking news on the air, and answering to eight bosses (ok, I didn’t actually have eight bosses, more like 4, but I had to slip an Office Space reference in somewhere).
Then it happened. I hesitate to use the term “dream job,” but for all the job postings I had read in my 32 years, this came pretty close. It even had a cool title: digital sports editor. The company was cool. Its headquarters was in a giant loft space. It had a kitchen with snacks, and beer in the fridge. Employees walked around in skinny jeans and plaid shirts with their Powerbooks, heading to meetings in conference rooms with names like "Harajuku" and "The Kremlin." And the company was going to pay me to watch sports.
I was ecstatic. After a decade in TV news, I was out. I was working with an amazing team. I was learning weird new things about sports and finally going to happy hour with coworkers after work.
I was so happy I practically forgot to use my vacation time. I accrued a sizable amount of days off, and with some friendly nudging from my manager, decided it was time for a break. A month later I found myself in Argentina, exploring Patagonia, eating empanadas and politely refusing Fernet and Cokes from locals. (It’s vile.)
For all the fun I was having, I found myself actually missing work. A quick note to my team was in order. Just to say "hi," and maybe include a picture myself on a glacier. I logged into my work email. And even though I promised myself I would not spend too much time reading work emails, one note caught my eye. It came from our CEO and was sent to the entire company. To be honest I can’t really remember what it said, or if I even read the whole thing. I do remember the gist being that some employees had lost their jobs that day. The thought never occurred to me that I might be one of them.
Guess where this is going.
After sending off the photo to my team, I went back to vacation life, drinking malbec and planning the next day's activities. Hours later, I checked my email to see what my co-workers thought of my photo. I didn't have a single response from a team of twelve. It didn’t make sense. They all should have read it by then. I didn’t have to put two and two together. G Mail did it for me. None of my team members were signed in. Layoffs.
It was 1AM in El Calafate, Argentina. I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling. I honestly didn’t know what I was feeling. For the first time since I landed my first job in TV, I was unemployed. I also had a week left in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The first thing I had to decide was not what I was going to do with my life, but how I would live it over the next week. Money suddenly mattered a lot more. Argentina was not an expensive country, but I wouldn't call it cheap either. There were still so many things I wanted to do that required money. Rock climbing, steak dinners, soccer games.
Eff it. I told myself in 20 years I wouldn't regret racking up more credit card debt at 33. But I would regret not climbing that mountain in Patagonia when I had the chance.
A week later I was back home in San Francisco. After fighting my way through some red tape, my severance came through. Two weeks pay. Awesome. I would also qualify for unemployment. Still $450 a week doesn’t go too far when you live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
At that point I was less concerned about money and more concerned with figuring out what I would be doing next with my life. News is pretty specific. And after only eight months as sports editor at a startup, I didn’t exactly have a background that fed to a lot of obvious opportunities. Worst-case-scenario I could tuck my tail between my legs and crawl back to news. I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but I knew I didn’t want that.
I had almost no idea where to start. All I could think about were those words everyone is fed from the time they’re old enough to flip their first burger; “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life." There’s no doubt value to that philosophy, though it’s not always easy to manifest the things we really love into something that pays the bills.
With that in mind, I skipped the whole income part and decided to just do the things I loved for a while. I went rock-climbing. I ran. I dog-sat for all my friends. I was confident life would work itself out. Sure, I spent an hour or two every day browsing job boards, sending out my resume, and networking, but I lacked any real direction.
The weeks soon became months. My savings got smaller and smaller. I started to worry, not just about money but about the growing gap in my resume. The first month I was just a victim of downsizing. By month five I was a guy who had been unsuccessfully job-hunting for nearly half a year.
I overhauled my resume more times than I can remember. Paragraphs. Bullets. Videos. I tried them all. Every now and then I got phone interviews. The first one led to an in-person interview at a PR firm. The office had no life. It was boring. The job sounded dull. I was convinced I nailed the interview and was worried I would have to decide between a boring job, or the continued job search. So much for confidence. I didn’t get the job.
By month seven, I seriously started considering a return to TV news. Freelance jobs were relatively easy to come by if you had any experience.
This is the part where I want to tell you I had the revelation. That I fell into a key piece of information that opened the door to where I am now. I wish I could tell you that, but to be honest, it was just dumb luck.
One morning I was browsing one of the usual job boards, using one of my usual search terms: “sports" when I spotted it. Honestly, neither the job nor the title (Business Development Associate) stood out to me. I had never heard of the company. It was a technology company with a focus on sports.
The job required two years of sales experience. I had none, unless you count the three months after college I spent selling security systems door-to-door to fund my post-college Europe trip. But I was in luck. At the bottom of the requirements was “Experience/knowledge with the high school recruiting process preferred." I had that. Getting recruited to row in college had proven beneficial several times before. And now it would help me land a job.
It wasn’t long before I found myself in an in-person interview. The office was small. It seemed quiet, but everyone was around my age and friendly. Maybe even more importantly, nearly all of them were former college athletes. We all knew what it was like to wake up at 5:30 am for practice, go to class, then be back for weights in the afternoon. Everyone loved sports. The role was not what I had imagined for myself seven months prior, but it presented a challenge along with a product I could relate to. It made sense.
It’s been nearly four months now and I can honestly say I’m happy in my new role. I’m learning a new skill which will be valuable in nearly any job I take in the future. Do I love every moment of every day in the office? No, but I don't think that would be a realistic expectation. But I love my co-workers and I really look forward to going to work everyday.
I wish this could be a guide for people stuck in a job search, or even a good example of what not to do. Maybe it’s a little of both. I probably don’t have a solid resolution because deep down I’d still like to find that dream job. But I like to believe it's the ups and downs we experience in our careers that helps us get there.