How Did I Get Here? My Career Evolution: From Journalism to Social Media to a One-Year Sabbatical

Things happen in life that change you in a really, really big way.

Sometimes, you see the asteroid coming, and you know the impact is gonna be huge. Other times, it just looks like a small, average snowball, and you would never anticipate the avalanche — or how long the freeze will last.

This website was born in the fall of 2017, but my journey started much earlier than that. And while I’ve talked about some of the various big moments I’ve experienced, I’m going to try something different — chronological order! — in a new 4-part blog series called “How Did I Get Here?”

Chapter 1: My career evolution

Youth to college graduation: Becoming a writer

How did you play when you were a kid? I’m convinced the answer to that question holds the key to our calling.

When playing the universal game of “house,” future chefs might focus on preparing meals. Future stay-at-home parents or veterinarians might focus on caregiving their dolls or stuffed animals. When I played house as a child, I spent hours writing up the daily newspaper on Microsoft Publisher, complete with clipart and formatting (this was the 90s, mind you), and printing it out for the “postman” (my brother) to deliver. 

So I know: I’ve always been a writer. (I also placed in a few creative writing contests growing up, so there’s that.)

I had a hard time finding my place in high school. I was a choir nerd, but I wasn’t the best singer; I got good grades, but I wasn’t the valedictorian; I joined a few sports, but I wasn’t very athletic; I had a few close friends, but I didn’t fit in to any cliques; I was shy and cared what people thought of me, but I loved performing, theater, and music.

In 10th grade, I registered for Drama class, but it was full — instead, my advisor asked if I would take a new class, Mass Media. It was in that class that I got my first taste of how to (really) be a storyteller and how to use different formats and mediums to tell stories and facts. We all rotated roles, and I anchored the 7-minute daily newscast for a time. Back then it was announcements like what was on the menu for lunch, and how we were adding an extra minute between classes, but still… it was then I decided I was going to be a journalist when I grew up. (Marine biologist was a second choice. I STILL LOVE killer whales.)

When I graduated high school, I enrolled at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota to pursue a major in broadcast television. The university was affordable (if I recall, tuition and room and board was somewhere around $4,000 a semester), and had a strong reputation for its broadcasting curriculum. I originally planned to minor in marketing, but I was extremely bored with every class except business law and accounting, so I switched to international relations, and instead learned about politics, criminal justice, anthropology, world religion, and other subjects that interested me. In 2005, I took a study abroad program in Poland, visiting Lodz, Krakow, Warsaw, and Auschwitz. 

In my senior year of college, I served as the “News Director” of our campus news station, UTVS, and in that year, we won our first College Emmy Award for Best Newscast. A handful of classmates and I were flown out to Los Angeles for the Emmys gala, and I went a few days ahead of them all for my very first “solo trip.” I felt so mature, adventurous, and DECADENT, and I loved it. 

2007 to 2013: A layoff, a cross-country move, and a sexist workplace

A few months after I graduated, I got my first job. I was hired as a web content producer at a news station in Minneapolis, DMA 15 — a big deal for someone just starting out as a professional (I was told at the time I was the only college grad they hired that wasn’t an intern or an associate producer first). I wrote news stories, edited videos, created photo galleries, and more, and I also went to concerts on behalf of the news station and wrote concert reviews. On some occasions, I went backstage, interviewed the musicians, or otherwise was treated like royalty. Hey John Legend, remember me?! 

I made very little money though (my pre-tax salary was $33K a year), and my lifestyle “creeped,” so I had to get a second job in the cafe at Lifetime Fitness. So much for “making it,” right?

Then, in March of 2009, days after signing a lease for a new apartment, the news director called me into his office to tell me they were laying me off. I was the last hired and would be the first to be laid off at the station, and my shocked colleagues all rallied around me and put feelers out into their networks. It was only a matter of days before I had a job offer over the phone — for a 25% higher salary — I just had to move to Phoenix.

I worked in that news station for four and a half years, and initially, my work got rave reviews, and I even took on extra responsibilities on-air and with the station’s social media pages. But over time, it became a hostile work environment — especially if you were someone who questioned inequity and sexism in the workplace. The final straw came when management gave the promotion I deserved to a man who didn’t even meet the minimum job requirements — and then asked me to train him. 

And I didn’t just want to leave this particular station — I wanted to leave the news biz completely. I wanted a higher salary. I wanted normal working hours. I wanted to take holidays off. And I was tired of writing about horrible and negative things. 

I applied to so many positions. It was extremely difficult for me to find a new job, especially in the early 2010s, when content creation and brand storytelling were unknown and untested marketing tactics — but I listened to hundreds of podcasts in the field I wanted to enter (social media!), learned all there was to know about the work, and eventually found a company who saw value in hiring an ex-journalist. 

Read: Career Pivots: How I Broke Free of the Trappings of My Degree»

2013 to 2017: I had my “dream” job, and it had its flaws; but then I lost it

In that next position, I played with social media, and learned all about content marketing: landing pages, downloadables, email newsletters, and blogging — primarily about health, fitness, and diet. (I maintained my own blog, but it was secret, more for expressing my thoughts and feelings, and mostly focused on dating and relationships. Maybe I’ll share it one day… but no promises.)

Then, in 2016, I got my dream job in social media: at a national retailer, one of the biggest companies in Phoenix. I got to do so many incredible things in that role, it was very high visibility, and I learned so much; my direct boss was brilliant, supportive, and held me to very high standards. (For example… I went to The Secret Life of Pets movie premiere. I visited The Today Show. I met countless pet influencers and attended exclusive launch parties. I flew to New York City multiple times a year, I live streamed and collaborated and filmed and interviewed, and my content was seen millions of times over. Hey, all that broadcasting came in handy!) However, it was a very different working environment than I was used to — there was office politics, there was cattiness, competition, sabotage, and even cruelty, and I cried on multiple occasions. My mental health suffered, and my longstanding eating disorder reared its head. 

Then, in early 2017, my boss left, and I more-or-less stepped into her role. (At the time, she didn’t have anything else lined up — she was just exhausted, overworked, and needed a break. I reveled in the idea that she could do such a thing, as I was living pretty much paycheck to paycheck. I dismissed that it would ever be possible for me.) And when she left, I discovered just how much she had shielded me from, and how dysfunctional the company really was. 

In June of 2017, I — and a few hundred other people — became the victims of a mass layoff. We were sent to a conference room, handed a severance packet, and then security officers marched us out the door. (They didn’t even ask me for passwords. Boy, was THAT a meltdown a few days later!)

Crazily, the day after I was laid off, I was scheduled to go on a business trip to Colorado. I went anyway, and visited my friend — we went to a beer festival, went hiking, ate all the good food, and otherwise enjoyed ourselves immensely — a welcome respite from the huge loss I was trying to process. 

Being laid off was devastating on multiple fronts. One, it was the place I had wanted to work, the job I wanted to do, and I was a high performer — I didn’t deserve to be let go! It just felt so unfair. And two, it was devastating because my job had become my identity. I knew the workplace was toxic, but I thought that’s just what people had to tolerate if working in a large corporation; and I was so wrapped in the work I did that I didn’t even know who I was or what I liked to do in my free time anymore. What would I possibly do now?!

I saw multiple coworkers (who were also laid off) find jobs quickly, and as much as I wanted to get busy, I resisted this urge. I traveled with my family to my brother’s wedding in Connecticut, I went camping with my dog in Northern Arizona, and road-tripped to Southern California. I joined a choir, and rediscovered the joy of singing I had suppressed back in college. And even though I was burning through my severance and my savings, I booked a one-way flight to Madrid and went backpacking through 10 countries, late July through late August.

Read: My Rebound Story: I Lost My Job, But I Found Purpose and a New Outlook»

When I returned to the states, I started to get busy on the job hunt, while dog-walking and dog-sitting for Rover. I also pawned jewelry to make money, and tried to consign clothing (without getting much back for it at all). And spurred on by the interest I had received on social media from friends and followers about my four-weeks abroad, I put my creativity and marketing acumen to use, starting my public blog:!

Read: I Am Not a Travel Blogger»

Once my severance ran out, and I was eligible for unemployment benefits (in Arizona, a measly $240 a week) — and I started to get worried. That wouldn’t even pay my mortgage! While I had had a few interviews, most of the jobs came back with low salary ranges, and I didn’t want to take a step backward in my career. I wondered whether to waver and lower my asking salary, and even a recruiter friend said I was probably asking for too much — but I knew what my experience was worth. After five interviews over exactly two months, I got an offer, and I started on October 30, 2017!

2017 to 2021: I cultivated a new outlook, and started remote work

This job was a really good fit for me: crafting the social media strategy — what we would do and why, and how to measure it all — for a large hospital system in the United States. Finally, I had work-life balance. My coworkers were helpful and… actually nice. It was an amazing change being at an organization that had values and lived by them. There was collaboration instead of backstabbing, and my leaders gave me full autonomy to do (most of) what needed to be done in the social media realm. I traveled on business, I was invited to important meetings with leaders and vendors, and in 2020, I was the keynote speaker at a conference in Orlando. 

Read: How to Get a Kick-Ass Job in Social Media»

Year over year, I received outstanding feedback and took on additional projects when the company went through a merger. I received yearly bonuses and merit increases, and I finally cracked a six figure base salary. But I didn’t receive the promotion from manager to director I coveted. And I never lost the perspective — that at the end of the day, I was an employee. My job did not define me, I define me.

I didn’t expect to stay at the job as long as I did — I liked the work, I liked the pay, and I was hoping that promotion would come. Plus, I had been fully remote since the pandemic, which enabled me to become a nomad and work from anywhere in the USA and Canada — I had location independence while others were office-bound. But ultimately, the job competed for my time and mental energy with my other aspirations (growing my blog, building my brand, and writing my memoir), and I finally gained the courage to quit. My last day of traditional employment was December 10, 2021: I started my one-year sabbatical, and my time was mine again.

Read: Upping the Ante: I’m 36 and I’m Retiring (Temporarily)»

2021 to current: I’m a nomad on sabbatical, and I’m prioritizing my TIME

Now that I had no regular paycheck coming in, I decided to take my sabbatical where I’d get more bang for my buck, where I could drive, and where I could bring my dog easily — Mexico (and later, central and eastern Europe).

Crazily enough, in the same month that I left my role and started my career break, I was headhunted for a full-time, temporary maternity-fill position that paid almost TWICE what I was making at my full-time job. However, it required me to stay in the United States. I was committed to my escape plan… so I passed. (Go ahead, judge me.)

In 2022 and the months that followed, I ramped up the frequency of my blogging and content creation, I opened up my availability to speak to readers who had questions about what I was doing (for a fee), and a secured a handful of “collaborations” where I traded content and links for experiences or accommodations. My blog was seen and my channels grew, and I received some amazing feedback from readers. But I didn’t make any money… not really. 

I’ve welcomed over 90,000 unique visitors to my blog since its impetus… and still, I don’t make real money from ads or affiliate links: I tell aspiring bloggers not to blog to make money, but to blog because you love to share your thoughts and opinions with the world —because you have something to say that someone needs to hear. The same will be true of my memoir.

I tell aspiring bloggers not to blog to make money… but to #blog because you have something to say that someone needs to hear.

Read: 7 Surprising Realizations I’ve Had Since Quitting my Job at 36»

While I don’t make money directly from this website, it has helped me ink a few partnerships (that DO compensate!) in late 2022-2023, including a partnership with Boutique Travel Advisors for travel coaching, a deal with another business that is not public yet (can’t wait to share!), and a third partnership that I’m awaiting an offer on. It’s exciting times!!

And in early 2023, I also published the eBook: “Money and Mindset: How to Take a Sabbatical,” after realizing how powerful this freedom and opportunity to reset is, and how much support people need due to the lack of advice and reliable information out there. Pick it up!

What’s in store for my future?

My number one goal (the one that would make young Julie both shake in her bones and giggle with glee), is to publish my memoir — that’s still a year or so away. Of course, I want that to be the best thing I’ve ever produced, and it will outline my personal and deeply vulnerable journey in travel, love, money, and career in far more painstaking detail than this — to inspire and motivate people, especially women, to follow their hearts and be true to themselves, in defiance of societal and familial expectations. Oh, and I want to land a TED Talk. Hit me up, Ted! 😉 

The moral of the story, besides for you to get to know me better? That:

  • your career path doesn’t have to be linear
  • your job title or employment status doesn’t define you
  • money doesn’t automatically equal success
  • there’s usually a long and twisted story (and a lot of hard work) behind whoever you might idolize

To be continued with Chapter 2 next week… ❤️ 

Catch up on the full series:

Read: Homeless, Jobless, and Happy: But I Still Feel Successful»

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