Aurelia Grayson never missed a deadline. Even when those deadlines were at 4:00 in the morning.
The former CBS This Morning and Saturday Early Show staffer logged long hours, starting before sunrise and often not ending her work day until 7 or 8 pm.
Despite the hours, she says hers was a “sweet” job.
Over the course of 20 years, Aurelia worked her way up from Desk Assistant at a local Cleveland station to writer at WABC-TV in New York, to Special Projects Producer at WCBS-TV, and later became a Broadcast Producer at the CBS National morning show.
In 2008, she left morning TV to oversee newscasts and features as Broadcast Producer for NBC Nightly News. Along the way, her assignments took her to Cuba for the historic visit of Pope John Paul II and to South Africa where she had the honor of interviewing Nelson Mandela.
But the appeal of live television began to wear off. The hours were increasingly challenging for a mom of three. Aurelia’s two oldest kids were out of the house and in college but her youngest was still in middle school. She wanted to make the most of the time she had left with him.
“The family piece was huge,” she admits.
Her job was to put the news on the air, whenever and wherever it happened. The news cycle – particularly bad news – often made uncomfortable demands.
“Things that were once so thrilling were not that way,” she says. “I realized that I was waking up at 4 in the morning, my phone was ringing, some horrible thing had happened overnight and I had to get people on a plane (to cover the story).”
The grim nature of the news was weighing on her.
And then came Newtown.
It was Christmas of 2011 when 26 students were gunned down in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
It shook Aurelia to her core. The stories of families going through sudden, violent losses left her feeling helpless.
“There was nothing I could do for those victims,” she says. “I decided that day I have to get out of news. I want to use my storytelling skills to do some good.”
She began thinking about a transition out of television but, unclear of what would come next, she stayed put. That is, until the following July when her role became part of a network-wide staff reduction and her job was eliminated.
The loss gave her an opportunity – a small financial cushion and the impetus to find her next challenge.
“It was scary,” she recalls. “I had a kid in college and was still paying off loans from my first kid. My husband had been in a truck accident and couldn’t work. But I always felt in my gut that if I could just hold on long enough to do what felt right that it would all work out.”
She started with a list, noting the parts of her job she had “absolutely loved” and those that she absolutely did not want to do any longer. Looking at the list she had created, she asked herself, “What makes sense?”
She was drawn to altruism and the world of non-profit based on her experience overseeing features for NBC’s “Making a Difference” series. She felt her skills and knowledge of the media would be transferable. But she didn’t feel entirely ready to pivot.
So Aurelia enrolled in coursework at Pace University, studying not-for-profit leadership, and digital marketing at Rutgers Business School. Many of her classmates, she discovered, were also mid-career changers.
Like her, they were all looking for what to do with the next chapters of their lives, something that would give them better quality of life along with fulfilling work.
In 2014, Aurelia began a new role as Senior Director of Media Strategy for Autism Speaks, a global organization dedicated to science, advocacy and providing resources to enhance the lives of children and adults on the autism spectrum.
Her primary job is as a storyteller, placing stories about research and people with autism on different media outlets. She arranges interviews with experts and calls upon her producing background to write and oversee big video projects, like Autism Speaks’ campaign “Get the Full Picture of What #Autism Is,” aimed at increasing understanding and acceptance of people with autism.
What she loves most about her job is the impact each employee can have and the benefit of spreading knowledge and information about the challenges and strengths autism can bring.
“At the end of the day I feel like we’ve done something good for somebody somewhere,” she says. “It’s rewarding.”
She says she still watches TV news and reads several news websites a day, but now she’s interested in everything happening in the world – even the toughest news – without being consumed by it. She’s grateful for the years she spent in the newsroom and the people she worked with.
“Once I changed careers, several friends said they wondered how I had stayed so long in such a chaotic business because I’m known for being fairly calm,” she says. “What kept me there was the privilege of being invited into someone’s life to tell his or her story. It wasn’t until I got quiet enough to listen to my own mind that I figured out what fit my interests and family life.”
She feels she’s now where she’s meant to be. And she knows that’s a good place to be.
“If you do something from a good place in your heart, it really does sort itself out.”
Profile: Aurelia Grayson, Senior Director Media Strategy, Autism Speaks
Title of Your Current Chapter: “A Work in Progress”
Motto to live by: Figure it out. Get it done. Be kind along the way.
Daily Ritual: Every day starts with prayers and ends with a crossword puzzle. My weekend ritual includes way too much HGTV.
How do you get Un-stuck?: I studied piano for 20 years, so when I get stuck, I listen to music or, better yet, go to a concert: classical, R&B, jazz – the genre really doesn’t matter.
What’s Next?: Once my son heads to college this year, I plan to take piano lessons again and volunteer for a literacy organization.
What advice do you have for others looking to create their own next chapters? You don’t have to do the same thing you’ve always done. Trust your gut, make the best plan you can, then share it with people you trust. You might be surprised how many people are willing to help you find a great fit.
Valerie Gordon put stories on television for years. Now, as the founder of career and communications firm, Commander-in-She, she helps women capitalize on the power of their own stories for greater success and satisfaction at work. If you know of someone who should be featured in the “Next Chapter” series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.