By Denise Steller
Back in the late 1990s, when I was 18 years old, I was obsessed with leading a life of creative expression in the Toronto film industry. I secretly planned my move from Brampton to Toronto, and while my parents were in Mexico on a month-long vacation, I packed my stuff and left home. For months I had spoken to my parents about moving to the city, but when the time came, their jaws dropped. They didn’t think I would last three months.
Within four months of networking and meeting new people in the city, I finally landed my first film job through a friend. And after about nine years, I gained a long list of film credits, practical experience, and a university degree in film studies from Ryerson. That’s when things changed for me, and I left Toronto to do some travelling.
To be honest, I needed a break. I booked a one-way ticket to Vancouver because I wanted to experience something new and see if I could break into the film industry on Canada’s west coast. As it turned out, Vancouver wasn’t as busy as the Toronto film scene at the time, and I ended up working odd jobs in catering and serving tables as I enjoyed a more relaxing lifestyle for the first time in a long while. It had been years since I could actually have a life to do things such as snowboarding, surfing, running, and hiking without those long 12-hour work days, and it felt good.
Over many months of living by the ocean in my Kitsilano basement apartment, my heart told me there was more to life than just work, and I subconsciously began to daydream about other career options that I might enjoy when I wasn’t serving beer.
As six months turned into almost two years of living in Van City, the recession hit North America and I decided to go abroad to teach English. I knew that I loved learning about new cultures and I was great with languages, so I wasn’t scared to take this bold leap of faith, by myself, with yet another one-way ticket.
Learning how to teach English in my TEFL course in Hua Hin, Thailand, was a wake-up call. I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about my native language, and it inspired me to learn more. I wasn’t the most qualified teacher, but I was dedicated to making an impression on these kids’ lives. When teaching, I excelled in the classroom, and I loved how satisfying it was to see my students learning English in front of my eyes. I was placed in a rural government school in the middle of the northeast, which was mainly jungle land and rice paddies. I had a lot of time to myself to think about what I wanted to do next in my life, and that’s where I decided to learn about editing and writing when I returned home to Canada.
I couldn’t believe how much my outlook on life had changed. I was once a workaholic in film, who cared for nothing more, and now I had a completely different view on life itself. I wrote in my travel journal every day, and it gave me so much joy to express myself with words. It felt like I had finally found my calling.
After living in Thailand for 18 months and then living and exploring Europe for a few months on my way home, I finally returned to Canada as a new person. I had all these journals filled with my thoughts, stories, and experiences, and I knew one day I would turn them into something bigger.
Researching many school options and programs was time-consuming and worth it in the end. Two years ago, I finally enrolled in the Editing Certificate program for continuing education at George Brown College. I wanted to make sure I found the right program for me with the editing courses I needed to build my skills and stay within my budget. The grammar courses were challenging at first, but my persistence to learn was stronger. I loved every class I had.
The first year of night classes were inspiring because deep down I knew this was something I could actually do in the next chapter of my life. It would give me the freedom that I wanted with working from home and managing my own schedule, just like I once did when I worked in film. The best part was that it made me happy, and I could have a life.
After I got my business cards made, I started offering my editing services to students at George Brown with student rates, and it was a great starting point for a freelance career in editing and writing. I then enrolled in EAC as a student member. I plan on building my client list with the advice and knowledge of an EAC mentor this spring to help me with my business from home, now that I’m gaining more work and experience every day.
I never knew I was capable of change until it finally hit me long ago. My career change was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I will always quietly thank myself for listening to my heart and my gut feeling. My search is over.
I’m currently editing and writing articles for an online teen magazine called Faze, which I absolutely love. On the side, I edit the novel that I wrote in November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It’s loosely based on my travels in Thailand and is called Lost in Paradise. I plan to make it a trilogy and get the first book published one day soon.
Denise Steller is a freelance copy editor and copywriter in Toronto and loves to express herself through art and the written word.
This article was copy edited by Nadiya Osmani.