Becoming Mr. "TV-One."
But by the time I turned 33, being an adult had worn on me. You go through several hardships in life that can leave you jaded and discouraged. Making things worse was that the career I was so used to (journalism) has been dying a slow and painful death.
Oh, for no real reason, watch me dance!!!
Anyway, anyone can start their own blog or website and hire people to write for them as “reporters.” There are bloggers who don't know a thing about journalism but write online pieces regularly. This, and the decline of newspapers and ads, have hurt journalists a great deal. Each time I applied for a new journalism job, I got the same result: “We love your resume. It's real strong. We'd love to have you on our team. Unfortunately we can only pay per article and it's $25 a story.”
Some places pay $50, and occasionally I'd hear $75. But that isn't enough to pay the bills, obviously. All of the writing, researching and interviewing journalists do....for only $25 an article? That is beyond ridiculous. If you're in the later stages of college or just getting your feet wet as a journalist, then these freelance gigs will cushion your resume and prove useful. After all, it is experience. But for someone like me, who has written books and done so much in this field, that chump change will never do. Nope, nope.
So I had to work other jobs full-time, and spent some years working at social work jobs for people with physical and mental disabilities. I also worked in education as a preschool teacher. I had a lot of fun doing this but it's not my calling. For several years I was just coasting through life, punching the clock and stressing out over bills like every other miserable adult. I had my highlights – I got married in 2017, and wound up being featured on an episode of the popular crime show “For My Man” on TV-One. Although it was great exposure and I was a natural, it didn't excite me the way it would have if I were younger. I basically considered myself retired from journalism.
One day a few weeks ago, my mother texted me a letter I wrote to my parents when I was 18, very early into my first semester at APSU.
NOTE: I was dating a girl named Monica at the time, hence her reference in the letter.
But reading that letter woke me up. The 18 year-old me would despise the uninspired 33 year-old version of me. That cocky 18 year-old would be greatly disappointed. He would be ashamed of becoming a man just coasting through life with no real goal or purpose. I decided that I wouldn't let that 18 year-old down, and decided to become “that guy” again.
That very night, I decided to re-publish my old journalism page on Facebook. I started sharing things online again; not just my old journalism articles and interviews but also asking for opinions on other random topics. I was starting good conversations, and within days my followers began to increase. I already had a pretty big audience. (Years ago whenever I'd interview a celebrity, his or her audience would in turn become my audience. “Oh, this AJ dude is pretty funny. And he talks about cool stuff. I'll follow him, too.”) But as the days went by, my numbers began to go up much higher. The same happened on Twitter, a website I had virtually abandoned.
It gets better. A day before I got there, they told me to bring a change of clothes because I'd be appearing on TWO episodes and they were DOUBLING my pay.
I'll say it again...
But wait. There's more. My wife and I went to Knoxville last weekend to celebrate not just my TV spots and our two-year wedding anniversary, but my new job. In the midst of my social media blitz (That rhymes!) I was hired by a Memphis online newspaper called Higher Ground News. I've been selected to cover community news – local businesses, human interest stories, events, etc) so I won't be covering crime, politics or anything like that. (I got burned out on that stuff in my other journalism work). I'm also only doing 5 articles a week so I can work from home primarily (aside from going out for interviews and media coverage).
And we'll be moving back to the MEMPHIS area! It'll be nice to be near our families again. I of course give thanks to The Man Upstairs, but I also wish I could go back in time to thank the 18 year-old A.J. Dugger from 2004. I owe him big-time. He and he alone inspired my recent success.
So, A.J., The Duggerman from 2004 dancing around at Austin Peay, I thank you.
Your future 33 year-old self. “Mr. TV-One.”