In 2003, I graduated from college. From the end of my internship to the day of my graduation ceremony I applied to 60 jobs. I kept a list. Sixty jobs. One or two applications resulted in interviews. It was incredibly frustrating.
And so, when I finally got a job offer I went. I moved to Alberta. I drove across the country by myself and I started a life in a very small time. But not much of a life.
It turns out that the job I had gotten was not everything that had been promised to me over the phone. I was the only reporter and photographer trying to fill a paper – but filling the paper got easier as less and less advertising was sold. As it became clear that this small town didn’t need a second newspaper, and I was making very little money for a lot of work, I decided to quit.
And so I arrived back in Ottawa at the end of the summer, jobless again, and had a breakdown.
Months went by, we rang in the new year. I landed a retail job and quickly discovered that they had hired the wrong person – I told them I knew nothing about wine products, they told me I would learn, and then provided no one to teach me.
And so I started applying for journalism jobs again, because that, at least, I was good at. Or I had been in school. One of the top in my class, super confident that I had found the right thing for myself.
When I got offered the job in Fort Frances, I debated whether or not I really should go back into journalism. Even though this was a job as a sports reporter, which was my goal when I started school. I went to talk to my dad and felt pretty sure that it was the obvious choice – take the job rather than staying at home, broke and jobless.
So off to Fort Frances I went. Northern Ontario in February. I flew to Thunder Bay and caught the bus, and when I arrived in town I was picked up and driven directly to my new office. Which felt pretty shitty, actually, not having any time to think or even put down my bags.
I didn’t have many good days in Fort. Eventually I made friends with one of the other reporters and our summer student, but I spend my days from 8 am to 4 pm in the newspaper office, my evenings at sporting events, working. With the summer student there, we each got one day off a month. And, of course, I often had to work weekend events. I ate only take out, mostly fast food. I spent the little time I had left watching bad television in my apartment.
I was exhausted, I gained weight. I had to buy a car to do my job properly, and thus was paying rent, car, food, insurance all on an annual salary of $23,000. Oh, and my student loan payments started.
It was a completely miserable life that I was not adjusting to, and when my mother and grandfather came to visit me, my mother took one look at me and said “we’ve got to get you out of here.”
The next Monday I walked into the managing editor’s office and quit. I told him I would stay while he found a replacement, but I planned to be home by the end of June. A plan was developing. I left his office and applied to university.
This time I chose the program that had the most courses in the calendar that sounded interesting. I had just enough time left to complete a three-year degree before my free tuition expired at Carleton. (Dad was a professor, the deal stopped when I turned 26).
It turns out that quitting my job and going back to school was one of the best decisions I ever made. I got my degree, met my husband (who spent his first decade or so in Fort). I got a job that helped me pay my expenses through university – literally making as much as I had as a professional journalist. All of my skills came together to get me a great job working for a great man.
This week we went back to Fort Frances. We drove through on our way home after visiting family. It is a nice little town, a lovely place to have a cottage. It was not an easy place for me to live and I had some very rough times there – the time I got hit on the head with a puck, the time I was so sick I actually called my Mom and begged her to come thousands of kilometres to take care of me. I felt perhaps more alone there than I ever have anywhere. But at the same time Fort Frances was the end and the beginning.
If I hadn’t moved there, I may not have decided to go back to school, where my story continued.