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I spent my 20s as a workaholic journalist. Then I retired at 30

Story published on

11 February 2019

If you could take a break and travel the world, would you do it? You know, retire young, work old. What if I told you money is not the main thing that keeps you here, that it’s something else completely? This is the story of my leap into the unknown, the unpolished and the unplannable. This is my terrifying transition from the TV glam to not knowing what tomorrow’s bed will look like. All in the name of rediscovering stories and the world.

Very often in life there is that one thing in the back of your head that nags you and become part of each of your existential crises. A big regret, an even bigger dream or a feeling that you know you long for but can’t really put into words. For me, ever the journalist, it was neither a feeling, nor a statement or an aspiration. Rather, it was a question: I really wanted all of THIS, but is THIS all? 

Let me explain. We go back to 2017. By then, I had been walking in the well lit and well made up world of television for a couple of years. I was doing Foreign Affairs for the evening news program. I was talking to interesting people from all over the world, reading a lot for a living, always looking pretty and with the mornings off to go to the gym and do things for myself. I was, by most measures, doing just fine in my career.

Only I wasn’t. The field reporting was almost inexistent, I grew tired of covering the same topics (Rusia, fake news, the rise of populists). I still loved journalism and believed in it, but I didn’t love the journalism I was doing anymore. We now get to that nagging question. The problem was that I felt stuck. As in a lot of places, the media landscape in Romania is so damaged, underpaid, understaffed, that I simply felt I had no better place to go. 

Interviewing the Irish Prime-Minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Nothing more terrifying than a panick attack on live TV

Depression In Numbers

over 300 million people living with depression in 2015, according to WHO

that is 4.4% of all the people in the world

the overall number increased by almost 20% between 2005-2015

single largest contributor to global disability, according to WHO

Anxiety Disorders In Numbers

over 260 million people living with anxiety disorders in 2015, according to WHO

that is 3.6 % of all the people in the world

the overall number increased by almost 15% between 2005-2015

6th largest contributor to global disability, according to WHO

Every now and then, my husband would jokingly ask if I didn’t want us to go and travel the world for a while. I would say that that we didn’t have the money, it wasn’t a good idea, a journalist can’t simply disappear for a time, because he would lose his sources and quickly be thrown in the wastebin of current history that is the used-to-be-a-journalist tag.

I had been struggling with episodes of anxiety and depression loomed large. I can now tell you that there is nothing more terrifying than having a panic attack on live television. You feel like all your clothes and layers of makeup are falling off at the same time and that everybody sees the most naked version of you there ever was.

I had done a lot of work as a journalist covering mental health and was acutely aware of the bigger picture. Enough so that I feared I would eventually become part of it.

Did you know that, according to the World Health Organization, depression is the single largest contributor to global disability (7.5% of all years lived with disability in 2015) and that anxiety disorders are ranked 6th (3.4%)? What is even more counterintuitive is that the overall number of people thought to be living with depression or anxiety disorders increased by almost 20% and 15% respectively between 2005 and 2015.

That’s the saddest irony of them all: by all measures, we live in the most prosperous, peaceful and healthy times in human history, but are struggling more than ever to be happy and fulfilled.

Interviewing the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, in Strasbourg, at the European Parliament

One night there was this movie…

We go back to my story. Get ready for the cheesiest reveal: one evening me and my husband were watching “Hector and the search for happiness”. You know, the control-freak-lets-go-ventures-into-the-world-and-discovers-happiness kind of flick. “Let’s do this. Come on, what do you have to lose?” The answer was staring me in the eye. I really had nothing to lose. “Okay, let’s do this”.

$50/day/person to travel the world, according to travel guru Matthew Kepnes, author of bestseller “How to travel the world on $50 a day”

We didn’t really tell anyone about our go-away plans for the first months. I think we wanted to be sure we wouldn’t chicken out. Immediately after that fateful movie night, we started to reorganize our lives so that we could save as much money as we possibly could.

By the Summer of 2018 we had already started actual planning, shopping (since I never did own practical walking shoes or a backpack). And yes, it was time to break the news to our parents and close friends.

My husband, who barely just got his small company off the ground, discussed it with his main client and we all decided to try out a compromise: instead of travelling for a whole year, we would do it in 3-month installments for as long as we could afford and enjoy it.

The quitting day

Since I never had a long break in my career (my two-week honeymoon had been the most extensive in recent years), I couldn’t JUST (yes, hate me!) travel. This was my big shot of getting back out there, seeing the world and telling stories about it. It was a rare opportunity to know real people from afar, who had struggles both foreign and very similar to ours and could tell us something relevant about how life is to be lived.

I set my deadline for quitting the station for the Fall. Of course, I kept postponing it. Until I decided I would leave by November 1. Which I did.

At 10 PM on the 31st of October, after our show was over, I told my boss, the anchor of the show and the then editor-in-chief of the station, that I was leaving. The following day, I broke the news to others in the newsroom. I didn’t share the seeing the world part of the story. Weirdly, it still felt like something I could jynx.

I did my final program on the 15th of November and that was it. If you’re curious to see how that unfolded, have a look at the video below:

Our steps to travel the world

What came between that mid-November day and today was an emotional and physical whirlwind. Apparently that’s what happens when you live a very busy life and then you stop cold turkey.

In need for a challenge until we were off into the world, I did a very impractical thing: I stubbornly and painstakingly learned how to design this website, which took a lot of time and a lot of meltdowns (please like it!).

Then it was time to learn how to edit video. Coming from TV, I obviously knew how to preedit and write scripts, I knew what to ask for in the editing room, but never really did the whole thing on my own (please be merciful on my YouTube channel!).

The most exciting step was that we set the date: February 18th, exactly one week after my 30th brithday. Now that’s some way to escape a huge age-related crisis, right?

We bought stuff, too much stuff that will definitely not fit in our 70l and 40l backpacks. We looked for plane tickets and we stopped making longterm plans, stocking our pantry or buying random things just because we liked them. 

Taking cover behind the barricades, during the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine, in 2014

Reflections on leaving

I obsviously have no idea what this whole new stage in my life will be like. I don’t know if I’m the backpacker kind. I don’t know if I’ll adjust to life in very cheap places, to being on the move so much. Perhaps I’ll discover what being homesick is. But there are things that I have found out. One would be how much I long for this, how much I want to reset my personal and journalistic radar and look for stories that mean more than a fleeting piece of news. 

It’s weird for me to talk about myself so much, so let me tell you something more general that I’ve learned over the past year or so.

This whole leaving your current life to see the world thing is by no means something that we’ve invented ourselves. As we started buying second-hand equipment off the Internet, we found several people who quit their jobs to pursue longterm travel. And that’s only in Bucharest!

The Internet and YouTube in particular are full of people who do this, one way or the other. There’s a movement of sorts, which seems to have as an underlying drive the need for discovery. Either personal or societal.

Might this be what Yuval Noah Harari talks about when he describes the looming struggle for relevancy in a world where AI does more things and better than we ever did? How will we, millenials (ages 23-38 in 2019) struggle in a world where we feel we become increasingly less relevant, our jobs less needed? How will we adapt to constantly reinventing ourselves so that we could fit in an ever-changing society? 

Try asking me these questions in a year or so. I’m barely a 30 year-old journalist who quit her job in order to rediscover the world she had been talking about all along.

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