Why I left my dream job to come home to New Orleans
A little over two years ago, my life was completely different. I was working with the international division of CNN in Atlanta — what I considered my dream job. It was an exciting time to be a budding journalist. We were just coming off of the news high of the Egypt uprising. As a young journalist, I had the opportunity to be a part of the live coverage. In essence, I witnessed history unfold. At the time, there were rumblings of an Egypt-like revolution beginning to simmer in Syria. The network had a great need for Arabic speakers. My career was about to take off.
But that suddenly changed when my health plummeted in October of 2011. After several hospital stays and countless doctor visits, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. It forced me to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life. After months of deliberating, I decided to step away from my career at CNN. In the beginning of 2013, I returned home to New Orleans to recover.
My plan was to come home, rest, regroup and return to CNN. In my mind, New Orleans was a place where I could relax and live a little. It wasn't a place that I considered viable for my career or future.
During that time, I dedicated all of my efforts and focused on improving my health. And in less than a year, I am so grateful to say that I made what my doctor called a remarkable recovery. My health had been completely transformed. I had accomplished what I set out to do, and I was ready to get back to my life, to my career.
But something else happened.
As I recovered, I spent many of my days becoming reacquainted with the city I’d left over seven years ago. While I fell in love with all of the things that people fall in love with New Orleans for--its' charm, mystery, its warmth and culture, there was something else.
There was a stirring energy in the city, and you could feel it. There was an unspoken excitement in the air. This was not the same city I'd known as a young girl growing up.
As I contemplated my next step, I interviewed for jobs in New York, Atlanta, and London. I toyed with the idea of moving to San Francisco (the only other city I’ve ever visited and seriously considered not leaving). Logically, it seemed that I should return to Atlanta, where I'd established roots and made friends who were the second closest thing I have to family.
But I couldn’t ignore that feeling that was tugging at me. I remember calling my sister in New York, who's lived in half a dozen cities all over the world since first leaving New Orleans in the late 1990s.
Something special is happening here, I told her. It seemed as though all the signs were leading me back home.
So, I listened. And in the summer of 2014, I decided to stay in New Orleans.
Connecting the Dots
Later that summer, I joined The Idea Village to launch this blog. I'd first been introduced to The Idea Village when I wrote a story about the flourishing entrepreneurial community in New Orleans post-Katrina. At the time, I'd interviewed Tim Williamson, the co-founder and CEO of The Idea Village and he told me about his desire to bring New Orleans' kids, like myself, back home. I had a strange feeling when we first met that I would somehow be back there. I just didn't know how.
Fast forward to today. Here I am. And that brings me to New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. Last month, I had the opportunity to be a part of what has been the most exciting thing to happen in my career since over one million people filled Tahrir square in Cairo demanding change. March was one of the most exhausting and exhilarating experiences of my life.
For the first time since I decided to take a leap of faith and return to New Orleans, I felt assured that I’d made the right choice. In my role, I have the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs and leaders who are committed to the future of New Orleans. I get to listen and learn about their experiences. It's my job to tell their stories. Yet people have often asked me why I would leave CNN and come back to New Orleans.
This is why.
Because something special is happening here. During New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, I witnessed people from all across the country (New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia to name a few) connect, share their journeys, and express their deep loyalty and love for New Orleans. Entrepreneurs from all walks of life told us why they are choosing to build their lives and futures in New Orleans.
Last month, I got to witness magic happen. I saw a community support each other in a way that no other city in the world does better than New Orleans. All year long, I have had the privilege of working with an incredible team that works tirelessly to make it happen. This team hustles.
My decision to stay in New Orleans has not come without its doubts, and my own struggles. Just before New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, I read a story about the lack of readership on coverage of the civil war in Syria, and I was so disheartened by it. It stayed with me like many of the stories I’ve covered in the past. Did I turn my back on journalism—a career that I'd long felt was a calling, a responsibility?
Big stories break, and at times I feel that urge that journalists feel to be a part of it. I see news happen, and I know that my colleagues whom are some of my closest friends, are working day and night to tell those stories. Yes, at times, I do miss it. And I do sometimes wonder how my life would have been different. But I don’t believe in living in the past. I believe in embracing the present, and looking towards the future. Will I return to CNN someday? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
What I do know is that something great is happening here in New Orleans. And every day I get to be a part of it. I get to tell the stories of people who are relentlessly pursuing a greater city. I get to be a part of the story. We are making our own history in New Orleans. And that opportunity does not come around twice.
So, for now, I know that I am right where I belong.
Summer Suleiman is a health writer and blogger who writes about her experience living healthy (or trying to) in a city best known for its fabulous (unhealthy) food and debauchery. You can read about her journey saying no to po’boys and Sazeracs, and yes to kale and juicing, at www.HealthySummer.me or on Twitter @summersuleiman.