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Getting a New Leash on Life

From journalist to dog bather—how I followed the tug at my heart into the veterinary world.

About a month ago, I left a budding career in the journalism industry to clean up dog poop. And it just might be the best decision I’ve ever made.

It’s not an uncommon story, really. Everyone has days when they bury their head in their hands and sigh, “I should have been an architect/chef/EMT/interior designer.” What’s interesting about me, I guess, is that I’ve actually jumped the ship.

Some of you may remember me as the first editor of Encinitas Patch.  Now, I spend my days cleaning animal cages and learning about anal glands as a kennel assistant at . I am also planning a return to school to study veterinary technology. And honestly, I couldn’t be happier.

I don’t claim to know what I’m doing by any means. I don’t have tons of money in the bank to enable me, or any real backup plan if all of this backfires. I’m just a girl fetching dreams.

I’ve started over—and I’m here to report back.

A career is often regarded as a calling or purpose and in so many ways, it acts as our definitive identity in the world. In my case, it took getting my perfect identity to make me realize that I truly saw myself as something else.

When I was younger, my mom thought I’d make a great veterinarian.  I just wanted to write. The written word was my solace and strength—besides, I’d told her, a vet career would be much too sad.

By the time I applied to college, I wanted to be a more realistic and less starving-artist type of writer, so I chose a degree in journalism. I was going to be an editor—the kind with a sharp eye, irreplaceable Rolodex, glossy business cards and an impeccable wardrobe. I took my talent and ran with it, never looking back.

It was undoubtedly the safer bet: a four-year degree instead of medical school, not to mention a complete lack of needles, blood, euthanasia and exposure to sick, broken animals and distraught owners.

Because I thought I knew myself, even at a young age—I was emotional, squeamish and terrible at science—I dismissed the idea quickly and what I thought was for good, shelving it for a lifetime the way most people do a professional athletic career or life in rock 'n' roll.

It would be years before I discovered that talent didn’t equal passion and glossy business cards didn’t equal happiness.

You see, journalists are a different breed. While the mechanics of the profession are easily taught, the drive of a journalist is uniquely innate. They are born with adrenaline rushing through their veins, they have endlessly inquisitive minds and a forthcoming nature, and for many of them, writing is just part of the job. I simply didn’t have the right DNA.

Becoming stressed at my job was one thing, but the red flags really started popping up within my circle of friends—other journalists, PR reps, marketing people and media junkies. They’d be talking about journalism and I’d be waiting for the conversation to turn to something I could better relate to.

I began to realize that I lit up more when telling someone about my cats than I did discussing my job or even the industry in general.  Maybe this made me a crazy cat lady—or maybe it made me a crazy cat lady in desperate need of a life change.

At first, the thoughts crept in slowly, mostly after a particularly taxing day of phone tag, missed deadlines and late-breaking news.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered what it would be like to have a different life.

Then I really began considering leaving my life as a journalist. For a few months, I denied it, even to myself. I dismissed the idea as a pipe dream and nothing more and I didn’t mention my thoughts to anyone. Then one day, I asked myself how I would really feel if I wasn’t in the industry anymore. When a strong wave of relief washed over me, I knew what I had to do.

Many might consider my decision risky, even dumb. After all, I was fortunate to even have a job—let alone a steady, well-paying and even somewhat glamorous one—when so many others were struggling. 

It’s hardly a surprise that since the downturn of our nation’s economy, we’ve seen a surge in community college applications and demand for vocational training. In changing times, whole industries disappear, markets change and jobs fall short. We adapt, most of the time out of necessity, but I entered the pool willingly.

I think the general consensus on life is that if you choose a path, work hard and do the time, you’ll be just fine. The truth is, life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan. 

And you know what? That’s just fine, too.

Nicole Sours Larson August 12, 2011 at 04:03 AM
Congratulations, Jennifer! I wish you great joy in your new profession!
Christal Ferris August 12, 2011 at 03:53 PM
That is awesome! So many days I wish I could start over. Maybe I will once the kiddos jump ship! Good luck to you!
Susanne August 14, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Even though you said that I wasn't allowed on the computer, I must say that I am very proud of you! Love you, Dad
Joe Spencer August 15, 2011 at 12:27 AM
Very impressive....can totally relate. Best of Luck to you!!
S'hauni Waterdragon August 26, 2011 at 06:05 PM
Way to take a chance and live your dream. I whole-heartedly support what you are doing.

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