In the year since Jerrid Sebesta quit his job as a TV meteorologist, there have been a few surprises — some more mundane than others.
“There are carrots in my sunglasses case,” the former forecaster for KARE-TV, Ch. 11, said one recent morning from his home in Willmar, Minn.
Finding your kid’s snack next to your designer sunglasses is the kind of moment a lot of guys in their 30s wouldn’t think twice about. But it’s exactly what Sebesta wanted after years of missing out on family reunions and bedtimes with his children.
So he walked away from his job, with its health benefits and public profile, and moved two hours west to a small town where TV weather guys don’t quite have the same cachet in the grocery store checkout line.
“Leaving KARE was either going to be best decision I ever made or the dumbest decision I ever made,” he said.
Most everyone has thought about giving it all up to pursue a passion, but few people actually follow through. We have bills to pay, college to save for, elderly parents to take care of. Mostly, though, we’re scared of the risk. What if we fail and lose everything?
Sebesta had those thoughts, too.
“Not only had I made it to the Twin Cities market in my mid-30s, I was at KARE 11, arguably the cream of the crop,” he said. “I’m a small-town trailer park kid from Montevideo, Minn., and by 35 years old I’d done everything that people dream of.”
His friends, family and colleagues were shocked by his decision. People told him it was a mistake. Many wondered if it was a midlife crisis.
“People were bashing me as a father, a husband, a provider,” Sebesta said. “They were questioning my character.”
When they found out he was leaving without another job to go to, they were even more shocked.
“At that point, I realized I had a powerful story,” Sebesta said.
What people didn’t know was that he had been preparing for this for years. The Sebestas had simplified their lives and worked to eliminate $20,000 in debt — mostly his student loans. Following the steps of financial author Dave Ramsey, they were debt-free within three months.
Sebesta said: “That moment changed the course of our entire lives.”
A sudden star
After college, Sebesta, now 36, became a TV meteorologist in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he met his future wife, Emily. From there, he went to a station in Phoenix. He got the call from KARE in 2010.
His popularity in the Twin Cities soared quickly. Fans stopped him at the supermarket and fitness center. He made appearances on KDWB Radio, where Dave Ryan of “The Dave Ryan Show” recorded “The Jerrid Sebesta Song,” an ode to the “dreamiest weather forecaster in the Twin Cities.”
“When I’d go places with him, we might as well have been a block apart because everyone wanted to talk to Jerrid,” said his father, Dave Sebesta.
He was a magnet for fans on social media, too, where the #blamejerrid hashtag went viral on Twitter a couple of years ago after he was blamed for two inches of traffic-crippling snow that another KARE meteorologist had forecast to be a sprinkle.
Growing up in a mobile home in Montevideo, Sebesta always had kept an eye on the weather. With no basement to provide shelter, he urged his mom to take him to safer locations when he knew a storm was coming.
“He told me, ‘If you want to blow away, go ahead. I’ll be in the car,’ ” said mom Eileen Ulferts.
Sebesta initially wanted to work at a weather service. His high school guidance counselor had other ideas.
“I remember thinking ‘If he’s going to be a meteorologist, he needs to be on the 10 o’clock news,’ ” said Dan Gentile, Sebesta’s middle and high school guidance counselor. “In his junior year, I told him, ‘You’re tall and you’re handsome — you should be on TV.’ ”
As exciting as the job seemed to his fans, not everything about it was bright and sunny. As the weekend meteorologist, he worked nights, weekends and holidays. He also was on call to cover severe weather.
“I was the guy who never showed up at birthday parties, weddings and barbecues,” he said.
He tried to balance his personal life and his career. Nearly every day between the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts, he’d drive from the station in Golden Valley to his home in Maple Grove to spend time with his wife and two young children.
“I constantly had my foot on the brakes trying to slow down the pace of life,” he said.
On May 15, 2014, Sebesta walked into his boss’ office and announced his plans to leave the station and move to Sioux Falls, S.D. Soon thereafter, the Sebestas found out they were expecting their third child.
They ended up moving in with his in-laws in the small farming community of Winnebago, Minn. Emily Sebesta remained optimistic.
“I knew from the way we had chosen to live our lives early on that we had a financial cushion that a lot of people don’t have,” she said. “We could live for five or six years with no income — not because we have so much, but because we know how to live on very little.”
With no job, Sebesta spent time taking his kids to the park and pool. He went to a family reunion in Colorado with his son and dad. He hunted for the first time and helped out on the family farm. “I had the summer of my life,” he said.
But after three months, the TV position Sebesta had hoped for in Sioux Falls still hadn’t materialized. That’s when he got an e-mail from a stranger in Willmar. Ben Taatjes owns a retirement planning firm. He wanted to hire Sebesta to inspire clients to do what he had done: to live a debt-free lifestyle and have the power to position themselves to follow their dreams.
Sebesta took the job, but not without reservations. “After our first night here, I woke up and looked at [my wife] and said, ‘What the hell did we do?’ ”
He had traded away his career, income and beloved public identity. “Those three things to a guy are of über importance,” he said.
Now the newly minted life coach works for Taatjes Financial Group and travels throughout the Midwest, sharing his story of financial freedom. Sebesta speaks to people about redefining success and having the financial power to follow their bliss.
Keith Palmquist, 38, was motivated to make financial changes after he met Sebesta at a men’s group at their church.
“Jerrid’s teaching us that we can control our money rather than having our money control us,” Palmquist said. “When he talks about financial freedom, it just makes sense.”
At a recent talk at Caribou Coffee headquarters, Sebesta left his audience with four concepts to achieve financial freedom: Get out of debt. Get on a budget. Save money. Live on less than you make.
“If you do those four things, you’ll be able to do whatever you want on a modest income,” Sebesta said.
Sebesta and his family still have their heart set on moving to Sioux Falls someday. But from his perspective, at least for now, he’s exactly where he needs to be — creating his own opportunities instead of chasing a dangling carrot.
There’s plenty of those in his sunglasses case.