“I’m getting ready for the next chapter.”

Kelly Peckham
Kelly Peckham

Meet Kelly

I’m Kelly Peckham and I’m 54. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a reporter, work in tv, something like that. But once I graduated from journalism school, I found that I didn’t like day to day journalism as much as I like bigger broader storytelling. So I went into lifestyle television, documentaries, and current affairs. I’ve managed as a freelancer my whole career and have gone from kids programming to W5, to writing news in the newsroom, to longer format documentaries for Discovery Channel. I learned every step of the way because even though each is different essentially it all comes back to telling a great story.

On a personal level, I never met anyone or lived with anyone until I met my husband at 40. We were married at 45. The work put huge demands on my time and I was traveling a lot. Plus, a lot of men were intimated by what I do (even though it can be dirty and even stinky work sometimes, a lot of people thinks it’s glamorous). Fortunately, my husband is very excited by my work and gets behind it instead of being intimidated by it. If I say to him that I have to go to BC for 6 months to work on a series he says to me “okay, you just let me know what you need.”

What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40 (or 50)?

The biggest shift was realizing that I had hit a point where my focus was no longer on how to make my career bigger and better but instead on what kind of stories I want to tell and do I enjoy the people I work with. It’s worth more to me to wait for the right kind of project and the right group of people than it is to compromise in those areas. I no longer look at it as career building but rather career fulfillment. Meaning, I no longer take jobs to strategically place me in the industry. Instead, I take the stories I find interesting and that fulfill me in telling them; the things that I am proud of and want other people to see as opposed to what will bring in the most money and put me in front of the right person. 

When do you feel you are most powerful?

I am most my powerful when I have a really good crew and a really great story and a chance to sit down and tease that story out of one of my subjects. I love interviewing. The next project I’m working on is going to be a true crime series for OWN in the States. I’m excited about this because usually, I do everything: I set up the story, I do the interviews, I go out and I field produce, I shoot everything with the crew, I bring it back, I transcribe everything on the plane, I write the scripts, I see it through in the edit suite, I choose the music, I supervise the mix, everything. This one I get the story, I prep for 2 weeks, I go and do all the interviews and the soft reenactments and I tell the story with those interviews and that to me is very powerful because you’re taking people through their journey and putting it on the screen. And that’s what draws people in and I love that. I feel like that’s what I do well and this is a great opportunity to show that and to shine.

What are the top three most important things to you right now?

The top three most important things to me, I would say are:

  1. Telling great stories
  2. Having fun while I’m doing it
  3. Putting some focus back on my personal life

I find that I’ve done a lot of very high adventure, physically and mentally grueling things in my career, everything from going to war zones, to 2 weeks of 12-16 hour days, climbing a mountain with gear, and now that I’m over 50 I would say it’s harder and harder to do those kinds of things. The physical exhaustion catches up to me more in my 50s than it did earlier in the career. So I’m drawing back on those a little bit more. I still like hopping on and off helicopters and getting my hands dirty and traveling and seeing what’s going on for myself. But I want to focus more on good storytelling and that’s why I’m looking into doing a podcast. It’s strong storytelling and subject matter that I find fascinating and it’s a medium that’s interesting because you don’t have to think about the pictures. It’s pure storytelling.

But the focus on my personal life, I’m getting ready for the next chapter. I’m not ready to retire by any means but I’m in that let’s start poking our fingers into what we find interesting that could be what’s next. And that isn’t necessarily high-end television production that might be things like some travel writing, or more podcasts, or some branded content. So I’m looking at what’s next for the industry and what’s next for me and that means more time at home. 

How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?

I think it’s in just keeping the integrity on the job and keeping the lines of communication open with the production companies that I work with and the networks. If I take a job that’s going to compromise me and make me feel like I don’t have enough time for what’s important to me and I can’t tell the kind of stories that I tell, then I don’t do my best work. So if I focus on taking the projects that I think will excite and fulfill me, the people and the networks that are looking for the same integrity in storytelling that I have, and balance it out with my personal life than nobody feels shortchanged.

What seeds are you planting today for the future?

I am networking with everyone I can get my hands on that I like and find are doing exciting things in the industry. Although I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for nearly 30 years now, in all different areas of television production, I’m opening myself up to new ideas and new opportunities and I’m finding the people who will help me make that possible. As a freelancer, you have to basically cast out for your needs and wants: “this is what I want to do, this is what I need, and this is what I want to have happen”. And it’s amazing if you have a decent reputation, and you’ve treated people well on the way up, I find people rally to those needs and wants and we find mutually beneficial things that we can do together. I think that will serve me well. I know what I need to do to get there. And in the next 10 years or so I’ll going to plant those seeds,  and use my “spare time” to water them through to turn into something that will be fun and exciting for me. People like me we don’t ever really totally retire. We always have to keep our finger in something and have a way to be creative. It might not be climbing mountains for Daily Planet and doing things like that but it could be fitting in with the travel that I want to do and the stories that I want to tell on the road.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?

Somebody said something to me a year or two ago that was a big wake up call for me. They said, “Okay let’s say we’ve only got 30 more years to live.” when thinking about that that it sounds like a lot but what about if you say “we’ve only got 30 more summers to live”. That doesn’t sound like much at all. And I think at midlife you have to decide what you want, stop looking at the obstacles that could get in your way, and start thinking about how to make it happen. Hopefully, if I’ve done it right, at this point in my life I’ve got a decent reputation, I’ve got money put away, and I’ve got a nice place to live. Now’s the time I think about what else do I want, whether it’s my health, relationship, lifestyle, career, and be open to the change. A lot of people get stuck at this point. They don’t want to try something different, try something new. Our industry evolves so fast, the cameras, the technology, the Zoom interaction, the speed at which information travels and what you can accomplish. GoPro has revolutionized the way we tell stories. It moves so fast that the industry has been a bit of a breathtaking ride trying to keep up with all of that. And as you get older it’s a harder thing to do but I think you have to keep riding that wave and look to the future and just never get stagnant. Keep learning. If you stop learning and if you stop moving forward you get stagnant and you die.

How can people connect with you and your work?

My website is wideeyetelevision.com and people can connect with me on LinkedIn. That’s the joy of this. I like connecting with people, I like staying connected with people, I like networking — if you don’t like doing that you can’t spend 30 years hopping from gig to gig. Another big part of that is mentoring. I like to mentor as well because some people gave me amazing opportunities and support on the way up and I think it’s really incumbent upon all of us to pay that forward so I’ve done a fair bit of mentoring to open doors and give people the opportunity and whatever insights I can share.

Welcome to my Power Profiles Series

Here I introduce you to powerful midlife role models in our community. May these stories inspire you, motivate you, and show you what is possible.

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Hi, I'm Sara!

I'm here to reclaim the term 'midlife' and embrace the power these years offer us.

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About the author

Sara Smeaton

I help you discover the joy and power in midlife and navigate the transitions on your own terms. I am passionate about changing the narrative about aging and am trying to fill the world with profiles of real life people who are thriving and more alive after 40 than ever before. The best is yet to come and there are role models all around us. Book your free 30-minute connection call.

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