• Jessi Stone

The Fool’s Journey — Part 2

Updated: Feb 9

In last week’s Rumble, I shared part one of my Fool’s journey — starting my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training at Waynesville Yoga Center.


When I signed up for the program last summer, I imagined the rest of my life would look the same when I started in January. I had six months to prepare, do some reading and really elevate my personal yoga practice at home.


I never imagined that come January, I’d be changing careers and starting my yoga training at the same time — proof that you never know where the fool’s journey will take you in life.


After spending 15 years in journalism working for community newspapers, I will soon embark on a much different career path, yet it’s one I feel like I’ve been slowly preparing myself for for years. The same passions that led me to journalism are the same passions that have led me to work for a nonprofit working to improve people’s lives in Appalachia.


I’ve always been a writer. In high school, I chose to go into journalism because I wanted to use my writing talent and my curious nature to help people. I was swept up in the power of the pen and convinced that if people knew better, they could do better. I truly saw it as a calling and found myself so fortunate to end up working with incredible people who taught me valuable lessons along the way.


The road was never easy — long hours, low pay, constant deadlines and an unimaginable amount of self-induced pressure to be credible, accurate and objective. The last several years has been incredibly challenging for journalism and for journalists in the wake of social media, fake news, distrust of the media, and people who would rather get their news from TikTok videos than their trusted local newspaper, but I digress.


I have had incredible colleagues and an audience that appreciates the work we do, and I’m not saying community journalism isn’t still making a huge impact in the community. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the pinch, the burnout and disillusion from dealing with the constant fact-deniers at every turn.


I know our newspaper makes a difference every day, but somewhere along the line, it just stopped being enough for me and I just kept trying to hang on hoping my feelings would change. It’s been hard to accept — being a journalist and being embedded in my community has been so much of my identity, I wasn’t sure what would be left if it went away.


For the last two years, I’ve done my personal work around that thought and I’ve truly re-evaluated who I am, who I want to be and tried to align that with my values. I knew I wanted to be more of an advocate for the issues I care about — social justice, equality, affordable housing, accessible and high-quality public education, and affordable quality health care.


When that opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t let it pass me by. Beginning Feb. 14, I will be working for Pisgah Legal Services, a nonprofit organization that offers free civil legal representation for people who can’t afford it. In addition to that mission, PLS received a multi-year grant from Dogwood Health Trust to expand their services and programs into the far western counties.


The goal is to decrease child poverty and increase the number of people who have affordable health insurance in Western North Carolina by helping people sign up for health insurance on the marketplace and help them file taxes so they can take advantage of the earned income and child tax credits available through the federal Economic Recovery Act.

I will be the WNC Economic Recovery Program Director for the seven most western counties. It’s a brand new position and it will be a challenge, but I trust that I have everything I need to be successful. If I don’t know something, I will figure it out. That’s been my mantra — I will figure it out.


The great thing is I get to stay in Waynesville and maintain the relationships I’ve built with people in the western counties over the last decade. I get to work closely with other nonprofits who’ve already been doing this work in their communities.


The Smoky Mountain News has been my home for more than seven years. It will be hard to not be in the newsroom everyday, and I have a lot of mixed feelings about leaving my work family. Going from working with a team of 15 to working with a staff of more than 100 will be something completely new. Building a position and a program from the ground up is intimidating.


“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask "What if I fall?"
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
Erin Hanson

I have so much gratitude in my heart for my colleagues and their ability to be happy for me while also letting me know how much they’ll miss me. That’s all I could hope for during this transition. Thank you to my amazing support system of family, friends, mentors, and cheerleaders for getting me through the last couple of months of doubt, anxiety, and now celebration.


Just like with my yoga journey, the Imposter Syndrome thoughts are real.


What if this is a mistake?


What if I fail?


What if this is not the right path?


I tell my brain we’re not going to worry about those things right now. We’re just going to follow our heart and take a leap of faith, trusting that wherever we end up is where we’re supposed to be.


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