In today's ever-changing world, a career in the media industry can be both exhilarating and demanding. Working for a prominent media brand provides a sense of purpose, identity, belonging, and credibility, especially in contrast to the diverse landscape defined by citizen journalism. But what happens when the ride comes to an abrupt stop, leaving you feeling lost and disoriented? For those that have been in the industry for a long time, it's a sensation akin to going through detox, and it's a journey that many in the media industry can relate to. Including myself. But there is a way to emerge from the other side stronger and in more control of your destiny.
The Highs and Lows of a Media Career
A career in media is often characterised by adrenaline-fuelled moments, tight deadlines, and the excitement of being part of something bigger than yourself. Whether you are a journalist, a producer, or worked in any other media role, you know the thrill of chasing stories, creating content, and engaging with a global audience. But as exhilarating as it can be, it also comes with its set of pressures and politics.
For me it was the unsociable (and even extremely unhealthy) hours. My physical and mental health took a tumble. There was no room for a personal life. I sacrificed time with my family and friends for work. Being in control of my day wasn't an option. But that was the price I paid for the prestige of having a Big Job at a Big Brand. The older I got I realised the price was too high and I was unwilling to pay it. Yet, I wrestled with that for a very long time as so much of who I felt I was was defined by my job.
So whether it is a decision you make or one that is made for you, you may find yourself dealing with those conflicting feelings.
The Rollercoaster of Working for a Large Media Brand
Working for a prestigious media brand often provides a strong sense of identity and pride. You're part of a well-oiled machine that's constantly in motion, producing content that reaches millions. You're also part of a company where there is credibility attached to it. People answer the phone when you call. They respond to emails when you send it. All because of that brand name. But job security in media can be tenuous, and the industry itself is highly susceptible to changes. So when the job goes that sense of importance goes too leaving us feeling at a loss. Which means, attaching our sense of self-worth to the brand has a detrimental effect on our own sense of self.
The Detox Experience
When cutbacks happen, and you find yourself let go from your media job, it's not uncommon to experience a range of emotions, including shock, sadness, anger, embarrassment, and confusion. Your daily routine, which once revolved around breaking news, producing content, and the camaraderie that comes with working under intense situations suddenly comes to a screeching halt. It's a jarring experience that leaves many feeling disoriented, as if a crucial part of their identity has been stripped away. But remember one thing, once we detach ourselves from the brand's identity and story we can start to build and write our own. Once we go through that detox, we emerge the other side with a healthy perspective of what is we truly want and need in our life, we have a healthy sense of self--if we actually allow ourselves to feel the discomfort of the detox.
Navigating the Wilderness
The journey after leaving a media career is a challenging one, but it's also an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Here are some strategies to help you find your way:
1. Reflect and Reevaluate: If you have the financial capacity to do so, take the time in between jobs to reevaluate your life. Working in media, especially news, is all consuming. What have you had to sacrifice? What do you feel is missing in your life? What do you want more of? How is your health? What are your values today and do your career aspirations align with those values? Use this period of uncertainty to reevaluate your career goals—why you are reaching for them and what they actually mean for you. You can read more about my post media journey to the place I am today in a piece I wrote for Thrive Global.
2. Seek Support: Working in media is unique experience. There is a sister & brotherhood out there with people who understand what you’re going through, more so especially today. Talk about it. There is comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Remember, while your ego will have taken a hit, 99% of the time decisions are made based on numbers not because of your experience or work. News is a business where saving money and making profits is of utmost importance and most of the people working in it know that. They will understand what you’re going through. I know I do.
3. Reinvent Yourself: When my husband left the news industry, he went straight into a role within a global creative consultancy where he was able to utilise his skills as an Executive Producer, writer, storyteller for large advertising and corporate campaigns. Later, after a career break when our son was born, he started his own company maximising those skills. He did so to create a working life that was aligned with his needs in his personal life. When I left, I took the time to really think about not just what I was good at but what I actually enjoyed doing. For me it was listening to people, talking to them, understanding them, and ultimately helping them.
Maybe this is the opportunity you were waiting for to explore that idea you had always thought about, one that had been brewing in the back of your mind labelled “One Day”.
4. Learn & Grow: When working for a large brand, the pride is huge, humility not so much. Plus, we were always expected to know what we were doing all the time. Knowing everything meant our positions were secure. Such is the unpredictable nature of the industry. I will be the first to admit there’s a lot I don’t know especially in this ever-changing nature of media. Embrace learning as a lifelong journey. Explore new skills and take courses that align with your evolving interests and career goals. The younger generation is truly admirable in their ability to grasp and deliver content in ways I would never have imagined when I was starting out. Talk to them, engage with them, watch them, and be humble enough to learn.
5. Network and Explore New Avenues: When you’re ready, reach out to your professional network. There is no shame in being—and this is in LinkedIn speak- “open to work”. Trust me, there are more people out there who know what it feels like or who are worried they will be in a position of searching for work at some point. The days of the 30 year career in the same company are gone. Be honest about where you are professionally and you’ll be surprised by the support you’ll receive. Life in media is tenuous. We have all been or will be in the same storm at some point so it makes sense to send each other a life raft when we can.
6. Stay Resilient: This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have those days when you’re feeling worried, scared, insecure, sad, angry. It simply means somewhere amidst the rollercoaster of emotions you maintain the perspective that things are constantly changing. There is no reason why the pendulum of positivity won’t swing towards you. Have faith in your abilities, your experience, your story. Use that pride of having worked at an exciting job or huge company to your advantage. The job may be gone but the prestige attached to it isn't. It's part of your story and your experience is part of what you bring to any table. What brought you to success once will bring it to you again if you allow yourself to evolve, to be open even to unconventional ideas or opportunities.
7. Be Kind To Yourself: Speak to yourself the way you would a friend who is going through the same thing. We tend to be our worst critics but this is the time to practice self-compassion. You don't deserve to punish yourself, you don't deserve to kick yourself while you're down. No one does. Life happens. Decisions are made. Not everything is in our control. What is in our control is what comes next and that begins with how we treat ourselves and that includes how we speak to ourselves.
I've Been There
What occupies our minds the most when we find ourselves on the outside of an industry we have spent much of our lives working for are a few things:
Finances—how are we going to pay our bills? It’s all well and good for us to talk about taking the time to reevaluate what we want in our lives (and trust me, that is crucial going forward), but when there are bills to pay and mouths to feed, the fear is real. This is the time where we have to put pride to one side and go all out in the search for the next gig, whatever it may be and that means reaching out to your network. It also means being forensic about your finances. Separate your expenses into the 'must haves' and the 'nice to haves'. That's what my husband and I did. We even moved out of the city and into the countryside where expenses were lower. Now what we did was drastic but it was in line with the kind of life and future we actually wanted for us and our little family. This was us making choices aligned with our shared values. This was after doing Step 1 above.
Identity—the pride that comes with having a job at a Big Brand, with a Big Title is huge. But when those things are gone we wonder who we are without them. This is where you get real and deep about what it was that brought you to this role in the first place. Ask yourself questions like 'what does success actually mean for me?' 'What does success look like and where did that vision of success come from?' Plus, 'was it a vision that was working for me?' Be brutally honest with yourself. You’ll be glad you did. It will either reinforce your love for your current career or direct you towards a different path.
Ego—we all have it and it will have taken beating. We will question ourselves, our abilities. We will blame ourselves for not being good enough. We will wonder what we did wrong. The media business isn’t for the thin-skinned but even those made of the toughest of skins will feel it. We have to remind ourselves that at the end of the day it is a business, a numbers game. Plus, I am a firm believer that things happen in our life for us not to us. If we put our ego to one side for a moment, we can see what it is we need to learn about this experience and what needs to change.
Leaving a media career and going through the detox-like experience of feeling lost can be a daunting challenge, but it can also be a transformative one. Yes, our emotions can feel overwhelming but when you give yourself a moment, remind yourself that emotions are not facts--they are information. They can guide us--even the uncomfortable emotions can give us clues as to what is really going on for us, nudging us, urging us to live authentically and aligned with what it is we truly want by shining a light on what is stopping us from doing so. More often than not, it is fear. Fear of stepping outside of our comfort zone. Fear of judgement. Fear of not being good enough.
Remember that you're not alone, and many have walked this path before and will continue to do so. Embrace this transition as an opportunity to reinvent yourself, discover new passions, and ultimately find your way either at a different place in the same industry or in a different direction altogether. Your skills, experience, and resilience will guide you towards new horizons. And know this, you will be ok. You didn't come this far to just come this far.