Stephanie Hoff on Passion, Purpose, and Redefining Success
Sometimes one moment can change a lifetime. As a student in the eighth grade, Stephanie Hoff committed her life to becoming the next Katie Couric. When the long-time journalist retired, Hoff would be there to take the reins. She poured herself into studying journalism and communication, and when she graduated from high school, she slammed the door shut on her way out of town.
"You know those kids who say the grass is always greener and they're going to go find it?" Hoff asks with a smile, "Well, I was one of those."
Maybe it was the impetuousness of youth, but she was ready to set the world on fire. Hoff entered a course on journalism and communications at a nearby university, fascinated while studying the delicacy of objective journalism. She worked side-by-side with journalists in the field and in the studio. Through the lens of their experience and her own, she saw the challenge of a 24-hour news cycle and the sacrifices required to succeed as a television news anchor. In some ways, the reality didn't match her expectations.
During her senior year of college, Hoff and a fellow student took on a self-appointed final project (an unconventional decision, she jokes, that is telling of her personality). They would film a documentary, covering women as journalists at the local, regional, and national level. The project took her as far as New York City, where she scored an interview with, well, who else?
"Since I was going to be Katie Couric's successor, I figured I should interview her," Hoff explains.
Everything was to plan, but there was a problem – a growing unease. News personalities like Couric (whom a starstruck Hoff interviewed at NBC studios) were running themselves ragged. Working lengthy shifts, missing their children's milestones. Many of the anchors hired professional nannies to supplement their own absence, and often the newsroom and breaking a big story took precedent over friends, family, and compassion.
Her big break wasn't seeing her name in lights. Instead, Hoff was traveling to location with another journalist to cover an accident story. That was all they had been told. The team rushed to the scene to learn the horrible truth: a child, drowned and lifeless. Her job was to tell the world, and the realization crushed her.
"That was not our story to tell, but we told it," Hoff recalls, her tone somber, her voice just louder than the air blowing through a nearby vent. "It made me ill. This was somebody's baby."
That one moment changed everything. Hoff faced an impossible decision. Would she back down on her dream and a promise? Could she walk away from the journey she was on?
"I had to choose. I could stay on this path—and I could slay it—but what would it do to me? I didn't know what I was going to do, so my fiancé and I moved home."
Finding Herself at Home
Stephanie Hoff's life was on pause. She returned to her hometown, but what she found was more than breathing room. She found friends. She found family. She found her memories and her future alive and well in Fergus Falls.
"It wasn't in our life plan to move to Fergus Falls," she says. But "I discovered this is aligned with my values; this is aligned with the person I want to be."
She wanted to know her neighbors, recognize the faces at the grocery store. An opportunity came with the area Chamber of Commerce, and Hoff became the new executive director. Then, a few years later, she assumed a role in communications (today she serves as Director of Communications and Public Relations) with Otter Tail Power, headquartered in Fergus Falls, and she's been there ever since.
There was something unique about Hoff. She was a woman succeeding in fields dominated by men, and that made her a mentor to other women seeking help to balance work, life, and personal passion projects. Many of these women had hit a wall and needed direction. Big ideas always ended with the question, "How are we going to do this?"
"It's scary." Hoff says, "Especially if you don't know how to answer those questions."
To bolster her mentorship, she enrolled in a professional coaching course on her personal time, spending 10 months and hundreds of hours learning how to ask questions that fostered introspection, that encouraged taking time to understand the person in the mirror rather than a prescribed recipe for success. Meanwhile, the isolation of the pandemic left many alone to their thoughts, and Hoff says some responded to the disruption by working harder than ever.
"All they knew was that running felt safer and easier than doing nothing and not knowing – so they kept running."
Hoff's mentorship training put her in contact with people from across the globe. She studied in workshops, was coached through her own development, and served as a coach to others. In the process, she developed a digital curriculum, something that she calls I CHOOZ.
"I had no idea that this was what I was preparing for three years ago," Hoff says. All she knew was that, "there were women coming to me with life's questions, and I wanted to do better for them."
With the upheaval of the pandemic and major national and global events, Hoff believed her program could be used to help others. She reached out to Greater Fergus Falls, hoping to bring her classes to the masses, and she walked away with a plan.
"NeTia and her coaches have been just awesome," Hoff says. "They quite literally were the experts that this John Q. Public needed to create a plan."
Hoff is passionate about her role at Otter Tail Power and remains committed to that career and that company's work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. She will launch her online course to the public in hopes that the training—narrated by Hoff and including documentation at every step—can help more people than she ever could in a one-on-one capacity.
The new program goes live in June, and Hoff plans a grassroots messaging campaign through social media and word-of-mouth advertising. When women just like herself see their plans fall apart—as hers did many years ago—Hoff hopes this training (available through her website, http://www.stephaniehoff.co – also launching in June) can provide guidance and inspiration. She wants others to feel that, "It wasn't easy, but I did me."
Hoff will also launch a series of speaking engagements, beginning with a major entrepreneurial training series in development through Greater Fergus Falls. You'll find more information on that in the days to come!
Ultimately, Hoff hopes to foster a community of women working with and for other women.
"Why I was put on this earth, I know with every fiber of my being, is to help other women through the experiences I've had. It's really important to me that we're here for each other."
- R.C. Drews for Greater Fergus Falls