Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying

That’s us in the studio of WMC-TV5 Memphis, TN (Action News 5) Circa 2000.

Nelson County, Virginia

In our former lives we were TV News reporters. Primarly in Memphis, yes, that Memphis you have been hearing so much about lately. Yvette was a metro reporter in the thick of it inside the city. Convenience store robbery of the day, corrupt city councilman or whatever. I’d been a regional reporter since the early 90s that covered portions of several states including Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, and far Northwest Alabama. I also did fairly regular on-air TV weather. So I did have it somewhat better, but it was still TV News, and the industry today that’s essentially a cesspool. Mostly it’s entertainment masqueraded as news. There’s some good people left in it, but they are becoming a rare breed, and most today lack basic journalism skills. But I digress.

Long before Yvette and I met I’d been a regional reporter, getting my start at a competing station WREG-TV (News Channel 3) – At one time in my life I thought I’d be there until retirement. It was a sweet place to work back in those days. One news director they hired changed all of that and it became a pretty miserable place. It was just a matter of time, they all fell to their own demise we see today.

A year or two after we met, it was obvious TV News wasn’t the place we’d eventually want to be raising a family in. Stupid overnight hours at times, silly assignments, downright dangerous assignments at times. We didn’t want our legacy to be getting shot while covering the armed robbery story of the day at Circle-K. Or, being struck by lightning on the side of the road covering a tornado.

We knew if we wanted the life we wanted to live, we had to get busy doing it. Morgan Freeman said it best in Shawshank Redemption. “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” First it meant getting out of the rat race TV industry. Back then you could make pretty decent money, but it wasn’t worth the sacrifice. Today starting reporters and tv meteorologists make nothing in comparison. But our decision wasn’t just financial, it was lifestyle. We knew to eventually have a farm in the mountains, space for our kids to grow, and so on. We had to start making the moves.

When Yvette told one of her fellow reporters in the station that she was planning an exit, her exact words were, “But you won’t be on TV.” Yvette replied and said, “Yup, that’s the plan!” We knew, even back then, it was a shallow, egotistical business. It’s only gotten worse.

Circa 2002. There we are with the company we founded. RuralRoot. We literally sold drinking and canning jars on the internet to get out of the TV news business.

So we began selling drinking jars on the internet. Think Yahoo days, not Google. That eventually gave us the money to make the move to the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. We were still working in TV News almost to the end of the move, but we clearly had a plan of exit and at 3 years we were able to pull the trigger. Mentally we’d left the day the decision was made.

The first home we bought after moving to Virginia in 2004. This was 5 years later during a major blizzard dropping 2 feet of snow in 24 hours. (That’s a very rare event here, by the way!)

Once we landed in Virginia, (2004) we eventually sold the mail-order company and started a local lifestyle, features and recreation magazine. Years after starting that magazine we rebranded it to cover a larger area of the Central Virginia Blue Ridge. Think the late Charles Kuralt, but in print. We were the bosses and decided what and when soties were covered. Not some crazy news director detached from real people trying to make a name for him or herself. It was another building block on our way to the life we wanted. Those magazine days were actually some of the best. We learned the area, all of the people and made new friends for life.

We started a family in that house, built another successful business, and started the lifestyle we wanted. We didn’t ask permission to go on vacation or when. We went. Our health insurance was our responsibility not that of HR. We got all of the responsibility, but also got all of the freedom.

After 10 wonderful years in that first Virginia home, we bought a 46 acre farmette, if you will. It would need a lot of work, but it gave us even more space for the kids to grow and roam. We’ve been here now for 9 years in May.

By 2014 it was time to move one once again. The home we’d bought along that sweet little two lane highway was becoming a busier area. We needed space and moved 12 miles down that highway, across a mountain, to Roseland. Bryant to be exact.


We eventually shuttered the magazine in 2021 after 16 great years. It was time. I was spending more and more time tending to the farm and Yvette finally pursued something she’d been wanting to do, real estate. Particularly land. Just last year she became a broker. Again, a lifestyle change that allows us to pretty much to determine our life. I guess you’d say I’m semi retired. I’m ok with that.

Just before the covid scare Yvette began preparation for a new change. Something she’d wanted to do for over a decade. Real Estate. 3 years after that she became a broker.

Most people think they are tied to a job. It’s easier to stay and complain than move and get what you want. Or so you think. The costs are great. We see everything our kids do and learn, we homeschool, have since the start 14 years ago. (that’s another post one day) We aren’t trying to juggle work life with home life. This is life. We aren’t scheduling around someone else’s wishes in a corner office.

I watch a lot of people I know, that have the means, continue identifying themselves in their work. They can’t sit still and just watch the sun rise, or set. I ask them often, when is enough, enough? When? They almost freeze at the thought of not working. There’s no real exit strategy.

If you believe working somewhere until you’re 62, 65, 70 or whatever to retire and live a few more years, you’ve got it all wrong. Make those moves now, while you’re able to.

You won’t be sorry. Never will you be sorry.

I got very lucky. After screwing up most of my early life, being reckless in relationships, and being a poor money manager, I found the sweet spot. Had I to do it over again I would have set my sites on being done by 45. Financially that is. But there’s always time as long as you are still living and breathing.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed. Start now.

That’s us in the studio of WMC-TV5 Memphis, TN (Action News 5) Circa 2000.



About tommystafford

Recovering from life as TV news reporter. Airplane & helicopter pilot. Weather guesser. Farmer. Trail runner, dad & husband living in the beautiful Central Virginia Blue Ridge mountains!
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