The Full Story …

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I vividly remember the day I decided what I wanted to do to earn a living as an adult. There were no neon signs pointing me in a specific direction and it wasn’t spelled out in the stars. No, I decided when I was 15 years old, which was 10 years ago depressingly enough, that I would be a writer. Not just a writer, though. I wanted to be a journalist.

If there wasn’t a heavenly revelation guiding me down this path, then why would I choose journalism as my career goal? Simple. I needed to be “more involved” at school and the journalism class had an opening.

That’s what got me there, but it’s not what kept me hanging around. I fell in love with my job as a staff reporter and then editor-in-chief for The Hoofbeat, Charles D. Owen High School’s student newspaper. I took an internship at The Black Mountain News during my senior year to gain experience in a newsroom, and I continued to contribute stories as I started my first year UNC Asheville. I laugh now because in high school I thought this job that I loved so much would pay the bills. Thanks Carrie Bradshaw for making women everywhere think they could live off a columnist’s paycheck.

I busted my ass in college working full-time and managing a full course load every semester, on top of dealing with family issues at home. I had my eye on the prize and didn’t pause once on my way to the finish line. I became a staff writer for UNCA’s The Blue Banner my sophomore year. And when the first edition of the semester hit stands, I was already in love with my byline. Those were my words — they flowed from my brain through my fingertips, straight onto the page I was clutching. A page that somewhere had the words “By Hali Ledford, Staff Reporter” printed on it.

My college newspaper career continued, and I worked my way up to Editor-in-Chief by my senior year. Somedays I remembered to eat in between classes, homework, my internship at WNC magazine, and the countless hours I spent hiding in the newspaper office at school. Most days I was so busy trying to get the newspaper out that I didn’t know what time it was until my dad called me at 10 p.m. asking if I was still alive.

All this work felt good, though. At this point, I was an award-winning journalist and my resume was packed with experience I was sure would land me my dream job after graduation. Lucky for me, it did.

The wonderful and talented women who put WNC magazine together every month called me up shortly after graduation. It turned out I captivated them with my hard working nature and level head during my semester-long internship. They wanted me to join their team, again, this time as an associate editor.

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The first issue of WNC magazine I worked on as Associate Editor.

This was my dream job. I would be doing exactly what I set out for at 15. The only problem? It was a four month contracted position. I loved every minute of those four months, though. I soaked up as much knowledge as I could from these women I admired. I polished my writing and editing skills, building a stronger portfolio. Those four months came and went, and I’m proud to say I helped publish some beautiful editions of WNC mag.

It was a sad farewell, but my young, naive self actually thought I was well on my way to a career and life I would enjoy. From there, I stumbled from one miserable job to another and managed to kill every dream I’ve ever had in less than two years. That deserves some kind of award, right?

I wound up as a newspaper designer in a newspaper sweat shop in Hickory, NC. I commuted an hour to work five days a week for two years before I found a job closer to my new home outside of Charlotte.

When I joined the skilled team at The Charlotte Observer I felt like I was finally getting back on track, back to where I wanted to be. It was another design job with a schedule that was just as bad as the one in Hickory. I wasn’t driving an extra 10 hours a week, so that was the silver lining.

I never wanted to be a newspaper designer, though; words were my passion. I thought I could look past that once I got to the Observer because, well, I was at The Charlotte Observer. Most people in this field dream of one day working at a paper of that size, but most never get there.

I was good at what I did; at designing newspapers. I won NC Press Association awards for several front pages and am very proud of a handful of the projects I worked on. There’s a difference between being proud of your work because you did it and being proud of your work because your passion is pouring through into the finished product.

I was learning that the only reason I was proud of any page I sent to press was because it’s what I spent a 9 hour shift creating. Any passion I had was quickly dying.

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A post shared by Hali Dawn (Ledford) Schaefer (@halidawnschaefer) on

My front page remembering Dean Smith received national praise. It’s one project I’m proud of because of the passion I put into it. 

It had been almost three years since I last saw my name in print. I missed interviewing people and hearing their stories. I missed crafting articles instead of being the person who put them in a design. It was tough reading poorly written features thinking how I would have approached an article differently.

I knew if I stayed at the Observer long enough, I could apply for a reporter position and maybe have a chance of getting it. How long would that take? Did I have the strength to wait it out? No. When layoffs were announced in March 2015, I viewed it as my ticket out. All things happen for a reason.

I had a job interview the week our team at the Observer learned McClatchy would layoff around 10 of us. Two weeks later I put in my two-week notice. My boss asked me what she could do to get me to stay, which felt nice. There was nothing she could offer, though.

Now, here I am, performing the ultimate journalism betrayal. I’m crossing the battle line and transitioning into marketing. Digital marketing.

What professional training do I have in digital marketing? Very little. But, every day is an adventure and I’m learning much.

While I love my new job and the life I’m living now that I have daytime hours and weekends off, I’m not exactly sure this is what I want to do when I grow up.

But if this isn’t it, then what is?

I’m fighting a battle with myself daily. Because my degree is in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism, I feel that I need additional training if I want to continue in marketing. Do I go back to school? What degree do I go back for? Should I just take some classes here and there? Where do I see myself in the future? Why did I only focus on journalism for nearly 10 years?

And then there are the essential life questions I ask myself. Can I just get paid to Pinterest? Is it really OK to only eat cake for dinner? Should I put my pajamas on as soon as I get home, or wait? I washed my hair two days ago, does it really need to be washed today? How many more miles can I drive with my gas light on? How many hours of Netflix is too much?

So, here I am: 25, working at a job I love but feeling like my degree is a waste, and living in a city I never wanted to be in, but I’m learning to enjoy it. The world keeps spinning and life keeps happening. One day I was playing in the mud puddles at the end of my parents’ driveway then I blinked and all of a sudden I’m paying bills and shopping for furniture I can’t afford.

Don’t blink. It’s a trap.

In an attempt to get back to what makes me happy, I’m writing again. Not for publication, but for me. I want to document my journey through this quarter-life crisis so that when I get past this hump or turn 30 (whichever comes first), I can look back on all the dragons I’ve slain and maybe a smile will stretch across my face with a sense of accomplishment.

A professor once told me to forget about writing about what I know and instead write about what I don’t know. “It will help you better explain things to your readers because you’ll be explaining in a way that helps you understand, too.”

Well, we’re about to find out if there’s any truth behind that because there’s a whole lot I’m realizing I don’t know about life and whole lot I’m trying to figure out, and I am writing down all my confessions, adventures, and tales of stumbling & soaring as a motherless daughter.