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  • Writer's pictureKarla Ray

A new look and new outlook: How I transformed my trajectory in 2023.

Last December, I had my first viral LinkedIn post.


While most people use the pending New Year as an opportunity to brag about their achievements of the previous 12 months, my post resonated with thousands because it admitted that 2022 was simply a status quo year for me.


I hadn’t won any awards. Didn’t lose any weight. Didn’t get promoted.


From the post: As I get ready to anchor my final newscasts in 2022, I am reflecting on the idea of resolutions. If I had made any this year, I would be disappointed in all the things I did not accomplish… I got through 2022. It wasn’t a banner year for me, and that’s ok. We’ll see what happens in 2023.


As you can imagine, entering a new year with that type of recap wasn’t exactly the momentum that allowed me to immediately chart a path to make 2023 any better.


I flailed for months. I felt the lowest I’ve ever felt at work, fresh on the heels of not getting a series of positions I auditioned for over the course of a year. I wanted to break out of the funk and refocus, but I couldn’t even pick a ‘word’ for the year to set my intentions.


In this text conversation with my bestie Tasha, you can see just how lost I was:



Then in February, a young reporter at my husband’s station was shot and killed outside of a crime scene. Dylan was Brandon’s direct report, and a former intern at my station- everyone in town knew him. He was the type of intern who you just knew was going to surpass you in the business; he was driven, talented, and hungry.


The survivor’s guilt ruminated through our household. How many crime scenes had I stood in front of over the course of my career as a journalist, and made it home safely? Why didn’t Dylan?


He hadn’t even seen his 25th birthday.


A few weeks later, days before my own 36th birthday, I made the first in a series of changes that may seem trivial, but I truly believe broke me out of the funk that I carried over from 2022.


I dyed my hair red.


Please don’t stop reading. I promise this isn’t a shallow post about appearance.


I had been toying with a big hair change for years- specifically going red.


The minute my stylist and friend Kristin spun the chair around to reveal my new look, after a lifetime of perfectly highlighted blonde strands in the most stereotypical television anchor styles, I felt a shift. It felt like rebellion and radical honesty all at the same time. After years of trying to fit a mold that I thought would make me more marketable in television news- and years of fighting the urge to make a big outward physical change- I felt electric. I had finally done something for me- not for the job I do- and it felt like a separation of church and state, a separation of my true self and my identity as a journalist.



I don’t think people believe me when I tell them that the reason I finally went through with it is because of what happened to Dylan, but it’s true. Why would we wait to do anything that’s within our reach? Tomorrow isn’t promised.


Changing my hair transformed the trajectory of my 2023.


A physical change can trigger a mental one, too, but it did take my mind awhile to catch up. A week or so after the big blonde-to-red transformation, we traveled to Arizona for my birthday and my birthday present to myself- Floor seats to Taylor Swift’s Era’s Tour, night one.


I am a St. Patrick’s Day traditionalist, and fully expected to wear green to the show that night as I have for all of my birthdays. When I put on the outfit I had packed a week earlier in Orlando, I hated it. I hated everything I had in my suitcase- nothing fit the occasion. I wound up borrowing a pair of silver sequin pants from my cousin’s friend (who wasn’t even going to the concert) and feeling a little like I was having an out of body experience on the way to the stadium.

The anxiety was palpable. Traffic was awful. It was a Friday night- in Phoenix- and we didn’t really account for typical rush hour traffic… we certainly didn’t account for Taylor Swift traffic. It took us an hour just to get into the parking lot from the road leading into it… then we got lost trying to find the floor entrance and almost got separated in a sea of sequin-covered fans that filled every hallway at Cardinal stadium. We finally made it to the floor and our seats just in time to see Paramore play their last song as opening act.


Being there at the start of what would turn into the highest grossing tour EVER and not buying a single piece of merch will haunt me for the rest of my life. I regret this daily.


Every song was a surprise song. None of us- not a single person in the group of nearly 70,000- knew what to expect from one moment to the next. We didn’t know we were witnessing history.


During the Red Era, Taylor asked if we had ten minutes to spare, and I was immediately transported back to the Fall of 2021. Red (Taylor’s Version) was released while I was on maternity leave, and in the throes of postpartum depression and anxiety. I wasn’t a Swiftie when the original (stolen version) was first released, so I was experiencing the album for the first time as a new mom who would take daily walks and cry to the ten-minute version of All Too Well, my infant son tightly wrapped around my body in a cozy nap.


Surrounded by strangers, I cried for ten straight minutes. It was my birthday- a personal New Year- and it was like all of the pent-up emotion that I cannot find another word for other than grief? exasperation? restlessness? about the state of my self-actualization manifested itself in a physical release in the form of an ugly cry.


Why did I feel so unsettled? I was at my favorite artist’s opening night… and I was missing it. I wasn’t comprehending any of it. The fog from 2022 was still there.


The next day, my TikTok FYP was filled with clips from the night before, and I felt such regret that I spent so much of the 3+ hour show inside my own head.


Taylor Swift transformed the trajectory of my 2023.


I vowed after that day not to waste any opportunities to be fully immersed in what I love. In a lot of ways, being a Swiftie is being unabashedly yourself and fully immersed in your truth, and feeling like I missed out on the first night because I was in my own head was a wakeup call.


Lucky for me (though not so lucky for my credit card), I would get a do-over with Taylor. Not opening night or floor seats, but I had a ticket to see her again with my best friend in Kansas City a few months later, and I wasn’t going to squander it. Instead of being stressed about my outfit all afternoon before the opening act, I purchased it weeks after leaving Arizona- a pair of rhinestone Betsey Johnson sneakers that I’m obsessed with and a sparkly t-shirt dress that reminded me of the one she wore while performing Lavender Haze.


Before I could make it to KCMO, I got news a few weeks after returning home from Arizona that I was not selected for another position at work- the 5th opportunity over the course of two years that did not work out for me. It sent me into a bit of a spiral that heightened my anxiety to an unbearable point. I considered applying for jobs outside of the industry, jobs that would’ve in all honesty been boring, and not afforded me a platform to help anyone else, simply out of spite and despondence.


I didn’t sleep well for weeks. I was spinning my wheels on stories and purposely avoiding friends. I moved my desk in the newsroom to be away from everyone and did not speak unless spoken to. When station consultants came to town, I had no work to show them- I wasn’t proud of anything.


One day, I got up from my desk and asked my husband to meet me on a walk. Our newsrooms are a few blocks from each other. I met him on a one-way street and felt almost like I was having a panic attack, and I told him I needed to get on medication for anxiety, but had no idea how to start the process.


I first booked a telehealth appointment with a general practitioner, who very sympathetically told me halfway through our time together that though she agreed I needed to get on medication, she couldn’t prescribe it for me over a virtual visit. I’d have to come into an office, which, funny thing about anxiety, I couldn’t bring myself to do.


A good thing about reporters is that we have resources. I messaged a woman I’d gotten to know through a series of stories who happened to work for the largest behavioral health nonprofit in Florida, and she stopped what she was doing to walk me through what I’d need to do, step by step—she even called the psychiatrist she recommended to me to see if he would take my insurance, a phone call I surely would not have made on my own.

I felt relief before I ever got on the medication, simply by making the appointment.



Anxiety medication transformed the trajectory of my 2023.


I started taking a daily Sertraline (often prescribed under the brand name Zoloft) in mid-June. It takes several weeks for the benefits to kick in, so I was given a rescue medication for high-anxiety days, too. I used them quite a bit before the Sertraline finally settled into my brain and body and leveled me out.


Let me tell you- the ‘mild’ anxiety I thought I had? I now know it was simply not normal, and not worth living with for as long as I did. I’ve always been a high-performing, high-strung person, and I always thought I had to be- it was protection. It kept me sharp as a journalist. It kept me vigilant as a mother.


No.


Anxiety does not have to be your normal.


It’s not normal to be up at night, unable to sleep because you’re backtiming the day ahead of you, or doom-spiraling every worst-case-scenario in your life. Being ‘high-functioning’ is a fallacy. Now that I am leveled out, I know just how unhealthy what I thought was normal was. I told my psychiatrist that one of the strangest side effects I’ve experienced is feeling like I am forgetting to do something, because I am so used to functioning at such a high-level of stress.


Finally getting my brain on my side meant better sleep, better workouts, more energy, and more capacity to say yes to experiences I would’ve otherwise missed out on. Instead of holing up on my days off to recuperate from life in general, I started going for more outdoor walks, meeting new friends for coffee or lunch, and signing up for networking events.


Trying to meet new people when you’re coming out of feeling your lowest isn’t easy, and I really had to force myself to invest the time and energy in trusting the process. Eventually, when the anxiety medication leveled me out, I started to look forward to the busy schedule and all that came with it.


If your network is your net worth, my bottom line grew tenfold this year. I don’t think I’ve experienced a year with more new connections and friendships as an adult as I did in the second half of 2023, thanks to putting myself out there and attending conferences, mixers, and volunteering. I joined a second nonprofit board, two gala committees, and helped another nonprofit secure a $25,000 end-of-year gift. This paid off almost instantly, earning me a Women of Achievement Award through the Women’s Executive Council, and it’s still paying off in the form of end-of-year social events I’m being invited to for the first time… putting me in rooms of powerful, thought-provoking, strong women who I look up to.

Ramping up my networking and nonprofit work transformed the trajectory of my 2023.


Meeting new people in this community I’ve called home for a decade- and specifically meeting the women who make our city work and thrive- has made me feel more fulfilled as a person and journalist, and it has opened the door for me to tell some incredible stories. I wrote in my opening blog that the Barbie movie prompted me to start writing for fun in addition to the work I am paid for, and many of my Beyond The A Block interviews have stemmed from these networking events.


Writing begets writing. By practicing long-form storytelling on a regular basis, I’ve also co-authored a text book, knocked out a children’s book (stay tuned for 2024!), poems, and done some of my strongest news pieces of the year since starting BTAB. I now introduce myself as a writer as often as I do a journalist, and even if no one ever reads anything I put out into the world, I can feel a physical weight lifted from my body with every story I tell.


Every blog interview has taught me a lesson and helped me grow as a person, instead of the status quo I had grown to be okay with in the rut. It might be hard for some to understand why I would spend so much time and effort working on a blog and podcast that 1) doesn’t make any money and 2) isn’t leading to chart-topping reader/listenership, but it has given me a creative outlet I didn’t even know I was missing.


I look forward to sitting down and knocking out a post, and I enjoy the challenge of making each one better than the last.


Writing for fun transformed the trajectory of my 2023.


The basis of the blog is to tell the stories written beyond life’s lead- the second act that so many people are performing now at the mid-point of their careers (or mid-life, which often coincides with the former). Of course, when I launched this project, it led to a lot of questions- both internally and externally- on what it implied about my own career.

As previously noted, I was going through a very rough time at work for much of 2023. I questioned my own abilities, and my future as an on-air journalist, to the point of considering leaving my position and the business altogether.



I am at a point now that I can admit that the time I spent second-guessing whether I wanted a future in news was ego-driven.


It was my ego that made me feel slighted for not getting moved into positions I wanted, and my ego that made me consider leaving out of spite.


This wasn’t an easy thing to admit or even realize until very late in the game- as in, weeks before I would sign a new contract to stay in my position.


I owe this, in part, to my friend Nate, who is the type of guy that asks questions like ‘What are you looking forward to right now?’ instead of ‘How are you?’ at parties.


Nate, and everyone else in my inner circle, could tell I wasn’t the most jazzed about life for much of the year. At a party for our toddlers, he asked what I was interested in doing if I ever left news, and though it wasn’t the first time I couldn’t answer the question, it was the first time that a follow-up got my wheels turning.


“Sometimes, it’s easier to identify what you don’t want, and work backwards,” Nate said.


I knew I was at a crossroads in my life and career, and it was time for radical change- a literal one, or a mental one. I needed to figure out a way to be satisfied with my professional life and align it with my personal goals. But when I took a hard look at the things I didn’t want- a longer commute, starting over in terms of seniority or time off, micromanaging- I realized the position I was in was actually pretty great.


Two days a week, I work with one of my best friends and we get to put on a newscast that people love to watch.


The stories I get to tell as an investigative reporter create impact and change and help people. I’m given the autonomy required to produce these stories and rarely have interference to do so.


Because I work a nontraditional schedule, I have more time during the week to pour myself into giving back and using the platform I’d built as a journalist for more than 16 years to help others.


The only con I could list when forced to come to terms with my feelings about my job was that I wasn’t put into a position of higher prestige when I felt I deserved it- and that is an EGO problem, not a real one. Not having the more prestigious position in terms of title or daypart does not make my current position any less great.


Letting go of ego transformed the trajectory of my 2023.


After months of feeling unsettled about whether I would continue in my role as a journalist, I feel more at peace than ever having signed a new contract. My daypart as an anchor does not limit me in what I can do for the community, and it does not define my talent and ability to help others.

This sounds so obvious now, but it took years of clawing my way toward positions that weren’t for me to make me understand and come to terms with it. My plate is full, and my outreach is growing every day; I always have something to look forward to, and an answer for the next time I see Nate.


Making the decision to go all-in on my current role paid off almost immediately when my son got sick in November and had to be hospitalized due to RSV and pneumonia. I knew I had the support of my workplace to take as much time as I needed with him, and it solidified that I made the right choice.


That trip to the hospital was so trying. A toddler does not like to be tethered, especially to an oxygen tank in an unfamiliar room with an uncomfortable bed. The 3 days we spent in that room were a real test for our little guy and for us as parents.



After hours of struggling to get our son to sleep on the second night, I had hit a breaking point. My husband had gone home to walk our dogs and get supplies, and I begged him to hurry back because I needed to leave the room. It was the first time I had ever felt like I was going to lose my cool as a mom.


Within minutes of my husband getting back to the room and taking over, after a burst of tears by me, our son was asleep.


Even though he was the one who helped him eventually get rest, my husband took the time to boost me up and praise me for being a great mom.


Of all the achievements or milestones that marked a successful 2023, my partnership with B is the top of the list. 


My partnership with B transformed the trajectory of my 2023.


He helped me battle through the bad times, and cheered me on during the good ones. With every new networking event or responsibility I took on, he was there to pick up the slack at home, all while managing an extremely demanding job of his own. My confidence has grown as a wife and a mom, thanks in much part to his cheering me on.



What word would I give 2023, now that we’re at the end?


Transformative.


I changed my look, and my outlook. I took steps to become healthier by addressing my anxiety. I loaded up my calendar with opportunities to make new friends and make an impact, and I reframed my relationship with my job title and right-sized my ego. And though, in many ways, my end-of-year post from 2022 still holds- I haven’t lost the baby weight, I didn’t pay off my debt, and I didn’t get promoted—I know that 2023 was not a status quo year for me. It was transformative.


And with this type of trajectory, I know 2024 is going to be even better.



 

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4 Comments


molly0033
Jan 13

Thank you for sharing your story! i enjoy watching you on the news - such a beautiful smile and love that red hair! Life is too short to not be able to enjoy the many blessings you have and have around you!

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bright32724
Jan 10

you are so beautiful, sweet and a strong and positive woman, loved reading this and have been keeping up with your since before becoming a mother, please know you have a big fan base out here

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Abigail Balthazar
Abigail Balthazar
Jan 08

You are amazing!

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branton4
Jan 06

Thank you for being able to verbalize what so many are experiencing . You hit the nail on the head for many of us … 2024 is going to be your year😉👍🏻 you got this girl!

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