Jennifer Wielage, of Bradley Beach, N.J., reached out to the JCR Weekly staff about her personal experiences with being a court reporter. She told us that, as much as she loved her work, she knew she needed a way to find greater balance in her life – and, in the process, she became a certified life balance coach.
How did you learn about the career of court reporting?
When I was growing up, my best friend’s mom was a court reporter. We were in middle school, and she had an antique steno machine in her living room. I remember staring at it in awe. I didn’t understand exactly what she did at that time, but I had always admired her. She dressed impeccably, drove a luxury car, and had an attractive house.
While she worked hard, she was home a lot, too. Sometimes, she would arrive back from work midday. I thought it was fascinating that she had a job that allowed her to go out in the field for a few hours and then back to her home office.
I saw that she made her own schedule, and this was thrilling to me.
Then, in my high school typing class, some representatives of a court reporting school came in to give a presentation.
When the reporter read back verbatim, I was immediately hooked. I knew right then and there that I was destined to become a court reporter. I graduated high school early so that I could pursue my dream career.
What has been your best work experience so far in your career?
The best experience has been taking cases overseas. I have seen so much of the world as a result of saying yes to foreign assignments. Some reporters I know prefer not to leave their county, but I have always had the motto “Have machine, will travel.” Seeing and experiencing other cultures, being able to sightsee on my days off, reporting in breathtaking locations, including Greece and Italy – this has been the highlight of my reporting career.
What has surprised you about your career?
I have always been a hard worker. Work and making money are two areas in which I have always excelled, starting with my first job serving pizza at the age of 14, saving a boatload of money and purchasing my first car (1986 Toyota Celica GT, candy-apple red).
As a reporter, I have always been a very proficient and accurate writer and use my time at the job to ensure that the attorneys get the cleanest draft possible.
What has surprised me is the intensity and the speed at which attorneys want the final transcript. I have been asked to provide instant transcripts countless times in my career, and daily orders are also very commonplace.
At some point, I realized that to keep up with the demand of such rapid production, I had to learn to write without conflicts, develop brief forms for everything, and make sure I was on top of each word, no matter how technical and rapid-fire the Q&A.
I came to the realization that I could not change the intensity of my clients. I was working with the best of the best in their fields. They expected a certain level of performance, and I was willing and able to deliver.
In the process, the fast pace at which I was operating started to take its toll on my health and well-being.
I was really good at work, but I was terrible at making time for other very important things in my life, such as having real connection in my relationships, pursuing creativity. My prayer life left something to be desired, and my physical and emotional health began to decline. Eating from vending machines while sitting all day started to impact my physical health. I had asthma, Graves’ Disease, body aches, ovarian cysts, and to top it all off, heart palpitations and panic attacks that landed me in the ER on multiple occasions.
What made you start looking for a more balanced life?
That is when I knew I had to do something to bring more joy and peace into my life. As much as I loved my career, putting all of my energy into my work had me physically and emotionally drained. I needed to rest more, to slow down, to sit in stillness, to rediscover all that I had been neglecting in my personal life. Mind you, I did not stop reporting. I just was more careful not to schedule myself too thin.
My husband and I decided to buy a beach cottage, and as simple as it sounds, taking walks along the water’s edge began to heal me. We started riding bikes everywhere. I was able to sit on the sand and gaze at the ocean and actually be still. I joined a yoga class and started to feel like I truly belonged in my local community. I decided to pick up the guitar and signed up for lessons. I was put into a rock-and-roll band that, to this day, practices every week and performs at local bars and restaurants. I started packing healthy lunches for my workdays and made what I put into my body one of my top priorities: no sugar, nothing processed, mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. All my ailments vanished.
How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
I know now that, as important and amazing as my work is, I have to take time for other important aspects of my life. I make balance a priority. The amazing part is that I am much more productive than ever and have massively increased my yearly income.
Most importantly, I feel as if I have plenty of time to travel and to do the things that I love: spending time with my husband and family, having brunch with my girlfriends, playing my guitar, exercising, eating well, praying and meditating, cuddling with my dog – all the while having more energy and vitality.
Do you have any advice for students?
I encourage you to pursue your dream of being a reporter no matter how overwhelming increasing your speed and building your dictionary can be. Reporting is such an incredible career choice, and it is well worth the hard work that you put into it. I also advise you not to lose sight of what you love in the process of your career pursuit. You can have a fulfilling career and also enjoy your personal life immensely. It is not an either/or. You can be dedicated to both and be happy and successful!
Do you have any advice for reporters?
As demanding, and sometimes overwhelming, as reporting can be, the good news is you get to decide how to approach your career and the thoughts that you have about it.
I choose to look at my career as a gift. I am very grateful. When we are grateful for what we have, we feel abundant, content, and at peace. What more can we want out of life?
Jennifer Wielage, RPR, CRR, of Bradley Beach, N.J., can be reached through her website, rainbowbalance.org. She is offering JCR Weekly readers a complimentary consultation.