This morning I opened Facebook just like any other day. Except for today I found a message in Messenger from an old colleague who I worked with in my very first job as a Reporter for a newspaper in Illinois. His message was an obituary.
The man who died today was Jerry McDowell, an editor of the paper; The hiring editor who hired me so many years ago. Unexpectedly, this obit stopped me in my tracks.
You see, I now live in New Zealand, thousands of miles away and years later from that time of my life, but reading Jerry’s obituary brought me straight back to the day when I was a hopeful, very young woman, full of spirit and enthusiasm, walking into his office with absolutely no experience but seeking a job in a competitive field anyway.
At the time, I was an anxious mess on the inside, but I remember pep talking myself into being brave and confident, or at least appearing that way. I knew if given the chance, I would be resourceful enough to learn on my feet and do well. But looking back, my chances of getting hired were likely quite slim.
That day in Jerry’s office was intimidating. First walking through the foreign building trying not to get lost. Then through the wide-open newsroom where busy reporters stopped typing long enough to check me out. I’m sure they took quick wagers on whether I would come out with a job or crying.
I don’t remember exactly what I said to Jerry that day or the questions he asked of me, but I do remember showing him clips from my college newspaper where I wrote a sports column, and talking to him about my love for writing.
Jerry was tough; Poker faced. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking and had no idea where I stood in my chances for the job. But I tried my best to be resilient and appear confident.
It wasn’t until the end of the conversation that Jerry cracked a smile and said ‘ok kid.’ He gave me a shot to prove myself as an intern. If I did well enough, I could work my way to a real reporter role.
Hot damn! I was broke, but I was over the moon. I remember feeling like the heavens opened for me that day. I left on cloud 9 determined to make the most of this opportunity. The money didn’t matter. I’d already turned down a $50k marketing job to pursue my dreams of journalism. Do what you love and trust that money will come, that’s what my wise Mother always said, and its turned out to be so true time and time again.
What happened next seemed like basically a miracle. On my first day, I scored a story that made A1, the front page! Day one and I had a by-line on the front page of the paper. It was totally surreal to wake up the next day (at my parents’ house, the only place I could afford to live) and open the newspaper to find my name and article on the front page. It was an incredible feeling. I felt like the richest person in the world in that moment. My words were being read by about 100,000 people that day, unreal. It may seem silly to some, but that sense of accomplishment was like a rocket ship engine fuelling my already ambitious nature, making me thirsty for more and more.
Of course, however, the article sounded much more polished than my initial draft… An editor gave me a huge crash course in article writing for a real publication that day. It wasn’t pretty, but I loved the ugly and was grateful for it. So off I went soaking up all the tricks and tips I learned, bottling up my confidence best I could, and taking off into my new career as a journalist. I worked day and night, night and day covering as many stories as I possibly could. I was obsessed.
To this day, I still say my time as a journalist was the best real life education I’ve ever experienced. The lessons in communication – questioning, listening, writing – as well as the lessons in how the world works – school boards, city councils, emergency services, politics, you name it I covered it – were priceless.
Since those days as a budding journalist, my career has moved on to the fitness industry and has taken me on one hell of ride. From Chicago, to Dallas, to Auckland to Christchurch and back to Auckland again. From Gold’s Gym International, to Les Mills in New Zealand, to now also the Board of Directors for IHRSA. I’ve been very blessed in the progress and opportunities in my career, but today I was reminded of where it all started… in that little newsroom office in Peoria IL, where a man named Jerry saw potential in me and taught me so many valuable lessons like the values of bravery, resilience and resourcefulness. I am eternally grateful to have crossed paths with him.
I just wish I could have told him in person…Thank you Jerry for believing in me and getting me started. You are a true pathfinder in my life and I am forever grateful. I just wish you knew how much that day and your belief in me meant to this young girl from Illinois. Thank you, you will be missed.
If you’re still reading, I truly hope you can think of a pathfinder who saw potential in you and set you in the direction of your purpose. If they are still living, I encourage you to reach out and just say thank you, because they may not even know how they helped shape your life.