About Stevie Taylor

A nomad soul looking for home. I write to connect, to express, to feel, to help, to grow.

The Power in Being Yourself

My first day of teaching classes in Italy was last Thursday. If I could pick one word for it, I’d say nerve-wracking!

I am teaching English at the high school in Bra, a city of about 30,000 people in northwest Italy. In and of itself, it is a daunting task- teaching English to non-native speakers without a teaching background or any proficiency in Italian myself. Yet, here I am, ready to take on the challenge. I’m always up for a challenge.

One of the English teachers (or professors as they call them here in Italy) gave me some good advice on my first day. She told be to just be myself and to speak English. Be myself. What a concept?! I have learned this lesson before, the importance of being yourself and how there’s an ease, a confidence and a simplicity in just being you.

Back in college (aaah the yester years!), I was in a beauty pageant. Think Miss America or Miss Universe but on a much smaller scale for university students. While I don’t consider myself a beauty pageant type of gal, the prize for the winner was a $1,000 scholarship. Sign me up! As soon as I found out that scholarship money was involved, I was all about it. I was paying for college on my own so I was always looking for scholarship opportunities (but what average college kid isn’t looking for money to pay for school?!)

The categories were interview, opening dance number, swimsuit, evening gown and on stage question. Contestants had a few months to prepare leading up to the big day. I got a new one-piece swimsuit, borrowed a gown from a friend and practiced my answers to all the questions. I was prepared but still nervous (really nervous).

The night before my pageant I got the news that a friend of mine had won a different pageant that she was competing in. I was so happy for her but also not surprised at all. My friend was kind, smart, beautiful and well-spoken. Of course, she won her pageant. I had no doubt that she would.

Then, I paused.

Why did I not have the same confidence in myself that I had in my friend? Why was I so certain that my friend could win but I was uncertain that I was capable of doing the same? Why didn’t I believe in myself?

The realization was eye-opening. From that moment, I made a deal with myself. I would just be me. I promised that I would not try to outshine the other women in the competition or mimic their talents or beauty. I would simply be myself and own that. I would be confident in my gifts and abilities, and I would own my weaknesses. I would bring this confidence to the table. I would be myself, freely, wholly, authentically, and I would trust that it was enough.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anyone): “Be yourself- freely, wholly, authentically- and trust that it is enough.”

I ended up winning the pageant. When I think back on it, I know that my changed perspective is what helped me win. For one of the first times I can remember, I believed in myself. I decided that me, just as I was, was enough. I didn’t try to be anything or anyone else. I silenced the voices in my head that said who I was wasn’t enough.

So far in my time in Italy, I have found this wisdom to be true- to just be myself. Otherwise, what am I doing? I have strengths and weaknesses, but I am always open to learning, growing and improving. There’s beauty in my gifts and talents, and there is grace for the areas where I lack.

For my first week of classes, I did a Powerpoint presentation about myself and life in America. Since I have lived in five states in the United States, I thought it’d be a good way to teach them more about America by highlighting the differences throughout the country. The seemed to really enjoy the highlights of the states! I played a little Jay-Z and Alicia Keys to represent New York (because that’s a classic vibe.) I talked about country music and Oklahoma and the endless sun of California. They seemed most intrigued by the concept of Chicago deep-dish pizza and what hash browns are.

First day nerves at breakfast

My first few classes were harder to break the ice with. I wasn’t sure if they understood me or if I talked too slow or too much, but it got easier as the days went on. I realized if I just be myself, my teaching experience can be not only good, but fun!

That’s my plan for the rest of my time here- to just be me, 100 percent myself, to love that and own it. Having the confidence to be myself frees me, and I believe it may help someone else do the same.

With hope,
Stevie

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A Taste of Italy: The Sweet and Salty

 

I’ve officially been in Italy for one week and four days. What a crazy 11 days it’s been.

At times, it’s been hard, tiring, overwhelming and stressful, but in the midst of all of that it’s been really, really good. I am not sure how good and difficult can coexist simultaneously, but it’s a part of this messy thing we call life. It just is. The hard things are sometimes the best things.

Last time I wrote was right before my big voyage, my flight from New York City to Istanbul to Milan. (Yes, this flight schedule is slightly backward since Istanbul is past Italy, but that’s the flight Turkish airlines selected for me!) In 36 hours, I got two hours of sleep, but when we landed in Milan, we had a two hour bus ride into Turin, and then, we went straight into the teachers’ assistant orientation. So basically, it was all go-go as soon as we touched down in Italy. We literally hit the ground running!

The teaching program I am a part of is under two organizations- the World Education Program (WEP) and Greenheart Travel. There are about 25 teacher assistants in my program from all over the world, mostly America but also from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and South Africa. The group was only together for a few days, but we quickly bonded over our similarities as Americans, as English speakers and as twenty-somethings. Our differences (between states, countries and ethnicities) sparked conversation and a lot of laughter. (The New Zealand teacher assistant asked a few of the Americans if Boston was in New York, and you would have thought he said a bad word. All the Americans gave him an adamant NO!)

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A few of the teachers assistants

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The joy and excitement of being in Italy with new friends experiencing this adventure together was briefly put on halt. On my second day in Turin, Italy, as the group of teachers assistant and I were headed back to our hostel, I was pickpocketed on the city bus. Frustration quickly turned into panic when I couldn’t get in touch with my parents in America for more than an hour to suspend my phone. (I was nervous my phone- which has my bank app on it- would be hacked into.)

If you have ever been robbed, then you know the feeling of helplessness and violation that overtakes you. One of the teacher’s assistants (Anna) stayed with me as I struggled to contact anyone back home in the states. It was comforting to have someone stand with me and help me figure out what to do.

All in all, getting your phone stolen in a foreign country really sucks, but it could have been worse. I wasn’t hurt, and my passport, money and credit cards were safe! My Italian host family was so concerned I’d think badly of Italy because of the experience. I smiled and told them I have lived in Los Angeles and New York City. Hence, I have seen it all, and I know that bad and good people exist everywhere, not just in Italy.

 

After orientation, on Friday afternoon our host families came to pick us up in Torino. All the teachers assistants nervously and excitedly parted ways to spread across the Piemonte region to our new temporary homes. My first full day in Bra (where I am living and working) was plagued by jetlag, but I managed to stay awake long enough for mealtime and to run a few errands around town.

Sunday and Monday, I spent my time in the Alps with my host family and their friends. I have never skied or snowboarded before. So instead I hiked with the parents. My host sister and her friends skied. Boy was that a workout. It was so hard climbing the mountain with all the layers and gear, but the view from the top? It was probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. All the sweating and shortness of breath was worth the destination.

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The Alps

Overall, the Italian people I have encountered so far are loving, welcoming and caring. Everyone instantly becomes like a mom or a brother or sister to you. There’s always someone looking out for your or ready to lend a helping hand or plate of pasta!

All in all, my time so far has been sweet and salty. Good and hard. It’s been fun and eye-opening meeting new people and learning about a different culture. It’s also been difficult being at a dinner table or in a room where you don’t understand the language everyone around you is speaking. Good and hard. Sweet and salty.

Isn’t that such a metaphor for life though? There will always be another mountain to climb, an obstacle to overcome, but the view on the other side is marvelous. I think what’s most important is how we choose to handle each mountain. We get to decide if and how we will face the hard things in life. We get to choose whether we will have the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Here’s to three months in Italy and a lot of putting one foot in front of the other!

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With hope,
Stevie

 

Just Passing Through: Lessons From a Cross-Country Trip

From Los Angeles to Minneapolis.

Minneapolis to Vermont.

Vermont to New York.

Next up, New York City to Turin, Italy.

So I did this crazy thing. I spent the last month traveling throughout the country visiting friends before a three-month trip to Italy. The past few weeks and days before my trip, I’ve been asked the same question: So how do you feel?

Honestly, I have been so busy traveling and wrapping up loose ends in Los Angeles, I haven’t had much time to think about Italy. Well, of course I have thought about it. More so, I have not had time to worry and over-analyze my trip to Italy. (Because I am really good at that.) I have my passport, flight numbers, a bag of clothes and an open mind headed into the trip. That’s all I need.

Thanks to old and new friends who welcomed me into their homes the past month, I also have a full heart and a rested soul. The sweetest part of my trip so far has been quality time with people. I spent the first two weeks in Minneapolis, at the coldest time of the year. Let me remind you, I live in Los Angeles. Although I may be a native northerner and have lived in Minneapolis before, blood thins people. Scientific fact. It really does.

My first words when I landed in the Twin Cities were, “It’s like real snow!” (Yea, so sometimes I don’t think before I speak.)

Luckily, my parents came through in the clutch, and they mailed me the winter coat I left behind when I was California dreamin’. Minnesota is still the same, cold and aesthetically beautiful. Oh and the Minnesota accents are still going strong! (Those over-pronounced a’s and o’s though? Gotta love a good Minnesotan accent.)

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Next up on my cross-country adventure was some time in Vermont. A friend moved to Burlington, VT a few years ago for a magazine position. What better time to see a new place and an old friend? Vermont was beautiful. Lots of snow and cold. If you like organic, grass-fed beef, then Vermont is the place for you. The vibe was outdoorsy, home-grown, evergreen tree lovin’, farmer-esque. The air is crisp. The sky is bright with stars at night, and the snow, well the snow is your picture-perfect winter post card.

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Last up, I boarded a Greyhound to the city that never sleeps. It’s been seven years since I moved out of New York. It is still the same bustling, dirty, crowded, in-your-face New York. I was surprised by how easily I picked up on navigating the subway. I even had an older lady ask for my help getting a Metro Card. Perhaps I seemed like a real New Yorker? (I was definitely wearing a Dodgers baseball cap though.)

It was a long month of travel, and it was so worth it. Most important were the people I got to spend time with. I won’t forget nervously laughing as my friends and I walked on a frozen lake in St. Paul. (Don’t worry. That’s a thing in Minneapolis. There were a ton of people and even free skates.)

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Walking on a frozen lake in St. Paul

I won’t forget the crazy snow storm that hit Minneapolis on the day I was supposed to fly out, how my flight got cancelled, and my friend Michelle and her husband opened their home to me. I literally came to her doorstep covered in snow, and she had hot cocoa and a warm dinner ready for me.

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The morning after the storm hit Minnesota

I won’t forget seeing Bernie Sanders in downtown Burlington. I freaked out, and my friends were completely calm. I won’t forget going to see The Post with my friend Lucy and a group of other journalism and media professionals and nerding out about the importance of journalism and the First Amendment. I was really excited! Moral of the story: Journalism is needed for checks and balances. (Didn’t your high school government class teach you anything? Watergate people!)

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Lake Champlain photo just moments before spotting Bernie Sanders

I won’t forget making it to NYC, taking the subway with a crap ton of luggage, and my friend’s mom and sister welcoming me into their home. They literally picked me up at the subway exit in Brooklyn in the pouring rain, and they had dinner ready for me when I walked in the door.

So far in my time away from my LA home, I have been reminded of one important thing: the value of people and human connection. Any house, city, or state can become home, but it only becomes home because of the people who make it that. I think back over the last month, of the hugs, the good heart to hearts, the home cooked meals, the laughter, the movie nights, and I think what I am most grateful for in all my travels is people. The people who give. The new and old friends who open their homes. The people who live with extended arms.

That’s the kind of person I want to be. One who opens her heart and home to new and old friends. One who always lights a candle for the traveler just passing through.

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The Dodgers hat came with me cross country

Stevie

P.S. Just because Minnesotans are super cute, I thought I’d add this quintessential Minnesota moment I spotted at a Trader Joe’s in St. Paul. Because #onlyinMinnesota.

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The Importance of Dreaming in Adulthood

Have you ever had that moment when you recall the words of a parent or adult in your life years later and you realize he or she was right? I’ve had these “ah-ha” moments numerous times. Keep your hands away from the stove. Don’t date that guy. Be careful of the company you keep. One moment stands out particularly.

It was my senior year of college, and I was home in Michigan for winter break. My uncle worked in Ann Arbor so I drove with him into town to visit friends at the University of Michigan’s campus.

On our ride home that night, we were talking about my college career and my plans to pursue a career in journalism and writing post graduation.  We talked about how the average salary for a journalist compared to that of other, more lucrative careers, and I told him how that didn’t matter to me. Writing was it for me. I just knew that it was what I was supposed to do.

Then, my uncle said the most profound words. (Drum roll please. The ah-ha moment is acomin’.) He said, “You are one of the lucky ones. You know what it is you are passionate about, and now, you get to spend the rest of your life doing that.”

21-year-old me didn’t quite understand what he meant, but his words stuck. They were there when I moved to Minneapolis, a city where I barely knew anyone, at 22 years old to work at a travel magazine. They’d come back years later when I moved to California without a job lined up. His words would ring in my head when I got laid off from my editorial assistant position almost a year later. His words would echo in my head whenever a new person would ask, “So what do you do?”

Writing is something I have always just done, and I absolutely love it. I wouldn’t want to live a life or pursue a career without passion. Money will come and go (like literally this happens. Just ask my bank account.) Yet, at the end of the day, I know I am truly blessed to get to do what I love.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “Live a life of passion. Keep dreaming of the world you want to make.”

Living a life of passion propels me forward during uncertainty, struggles and loss. It helps me put one foot in front of the other even when I cannot see the full staircase. Knowing that I have a passion and using that gift for a purpose fuels me every day I wake up.

I have had to learn the hard way, no, I am in fact not what I do. I am not just a writer or a journalist. Writing is what I do, and I love it. Yet, it is not who I am. It is not my identity. Having this realization allows me to freely and passionately pursue a life of purpose using my gifts, writing being one of them, to make an impact on others.

As far as my uncle’s words, he gave me a new perspective on the importance of dreaming and living a life of passion. My uncle has worked at a job he hates for years. He explained to me how draining it was but how it paid well.  He talked to me about how his focus when he was in his twenties was making an income and how if he could, he’d go back and discover his passion. He instead pursued the good old, practical American dream, making a dollar.

I’ve always been of the mindset that if I persistently pursue the things I am passionate about and that I am good at, the money will come. It may not be easy, but dollar signs can’t be my motivation. I think a successful life is just as much about having your head in the clouds as it is about keeping your feet on the ground. You can be a realist and an optimist. You can be a dreamer while being practical.

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We shouldn’t allow practicality to overtake our dreams. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I think my younger self would be pleased to see adult me walking that dream out. I recently found an old journal of mine from high school. I wrote down a list of life goals and dreams. A handful of them made me laugh, but a lot of them I was proud to say I had accomplished or I was working to accomplish.

One dream I had completely forgotten about, and there it was in my own handwriting from almost 10 years ago: Travel to Italy. I am headed to Italy for a three-month teaching assistant job in less than a week! Apparently, going to Italy was something I have been dreaming about for  a really long time. It was exhilarating to see myself accomplishing something I set out to do a long time ago.

What’s my point? I think in adulthood, we often get caught up in trying to make a living, buying the nice car, making a name for ourselves or just being practical that we forget to dream. We forget to live a life of passion. I never want to live like that. Even if they call be crazy, I want to be a dreamer. I want to be surrounded by other dreamers who are actively pursuing their passions despite the odds and the naysayers.

I hope your dreams keep you up at night. I hope they give your life color. Never stop passionately pursuing your purpose. Never settle for practical. After all, you’re never too old to dream again.

Stevie

 

What Burn Out Can Teach You About Yourself

As I wrapped up my last few days of work for a freelance gig, I could feel the pressure in my chest surmounting. Even though my time with this client was coming to an end, I still felt stressed and overwhelmed. Every extra task asked of me in my last few days left me feeling jaded, taken advantage of and slightly bitter.

How had I gotten to this point? When did this working relationship go sour? Did I miss the red flags? Why had I stayed in a bad working relationship?

The first thought that comes to mind is three words: my bank account. Yet, somehow the payment and compensation I was making didn’t make up for the stress the position had caused during my time there.

There had been a number of red flags throughout my time with this client, poor communication, untimely communication, aggressive communication, unprofessional communication. (So clearly a lot of communication issues.) Also as the breadth and depth of my job duties expanded, my pay did not. I was making a meager hourly rate based on my experience level and compared to many freelancers in my state and industry.

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Yet and still, I chose to ignore the red flags and keep keeping on. I chose to fight the good fight as they say in church, but the good fight left me feeling burnt out by the end of the job.

When friends asked how much I made for the amount and type of work I was doing, the common response was: “You make that for all that? You are not being paid enough for your services.”

You see, at the end of the day, a service is exactly what I was providing. I realized I needed to value the services and work I provide. Otherwise, the professional world will not either.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “In work, in love and in friendship, you set the bar for how you will be treated.”

Here’s what I have learned since the end of this work relationship: I will only get what I ask for. If I don’t ask for better pay, then, certainly no one is going to just give it to me. My innate response of feeling weary and worn at requests to do more work from this client surprised me as I am usually the type of worker who goes above and beyond in her job. I now understand the direct correlation between valuing your craft and the ability to produce high-quality work. If my work is not valued, eventually it will be hard for me to produce it.

Just as important as pay, I learned that the communication between this client and myself was not normal nor healthy. The unprofessional emails and texts left me feeling frustrated and disrespected. You never want to not feel valued by a person or company you are working for. Respect is key in any working relationship.

This wisdom does not only apply to career. How similar are friendships and dating relationships? You get what you ask for. People will treat you how you allow them to. If you never learn to set boundaries, one day you’ll wake up wondering how you got here, underpaid, over worked, taken for granted, ignored and not valued.

Burn out is real- in career, relationships and friendships. Maybe the best way of avoiding it is knowing your worth from the beginning. Perhaps, setting boundaries and requiring a certain level of respect is as much for you as it is for the people around you.

Stevie

The Imperfection and Beauty in Adventure

I am a newly, self-diagnosed perfectionist. If wanting my i’s dotted and t’s crossed is wrong, then I don’t know that I want to be right.

Being a perfectionist and travel enthusiast is a unique pairing. When you travel a ton, you know imperfection as a way of life. Nothing will ever go exactly right all the time. I was painstakingly made aware of this fact earlier this week when my flight from Minneapolis to New York was cancelled due to a massive winter storm pounding down on the Twin Cities.

I had a hectic travel schedule set for the day. A afternoon flight from Minneapolis with a layover in Charlotte. Then, another flight to NYC’s La Guardia airport. Next, I’d either take an Uber (the more expensive, easy option) or take the subway (the less expensive but longer, harder option– I had three bags to carry.) I’d arrive at the Port Authority Bus station to take a 12-hour (yes 12- hour) Greyhound bus ride from New York to Burlington, Vermont. There, I’d be staying with a friend for two weeks before heading to Italy for a three-month volunteer stint.

It was already an advantageous trip. Then, snow happened, and it completely threw my plans for a loop. No one can halt Mother Nature.

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The morning after the storm hit Minnesota

Yet and still, my situation actually ended up working out for the better. I was able to rebook for a flight the next day straight from Minneapolis to Burlington (with no crazy bus ride from NYC.) I retrieved my checked bags within an hour, and I stayed with a super generous friend for the night in St. Paul. (Thanks Michelle!)

Things ended up working out. Dare I say it, things turned out for the better.

When I look back over the last month since I’ve been on this crazy adventure, it’s been a whirlwind. I moved out of my apartment in Los Angeles exactly a month and a week ago, stayed with friends for two weeks in Los Angeles, stayed with another friend for two weeks in Minneapolis, and I am now finishing up my last few weeks in the states in Vermont/New York before leaving the country.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “Take any situation, curve ball or plot twist you encounter and have the courage and perspective to call it good.”

There have been so many ups and downs in the past month and a half. There was the stress of cleaning and moving out of my apartment. There was the ant attack of my laptop bag at my friend’s North Hollywood condo. The flooding of the kitchen counter at the same apartment. Putting my two weeks in for a freelance client. The disagreement with a friend. Finding out my security deposit return for my old apartment had been mailed to the wrong address. Missing my connecting flight and bus.

It’s been a lot, but when I take time to get some perspective, all in all, it hasn’t been too awful. It’s been imperfect but not unbearable. If there’s anything travel has taught me is life and all that it entails (people included) will never be perfect. The trick is being able to look at a situation, a curve ball or a plot twist and to find the perspective and foresight to call it good. In the midst of what seems awful, find the positive thing in that imperfection.

As far as the uncertainty and adventure of travel, I have learned there’s no point in worrying about tomorrow. Today has enough cares (flights to rebook) of its own. Take it one step at a time, find the beauty in the imperfection and get some perspective. Just because life isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t still worthwhile.

-Stephkt

Lessons in Adulting: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

As I am typing this, I am sitting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. The weather forecast says 100 percent chance of snow, and boy, was The Weather Channel right. Looking across the airport monitors, it reads “CANCELLED” in big bold, red letters numerous times. Luckily, my flight is not cancelled. It’s just delayed 30 minutes right now.

Today, marks the next chapter of a new adventure. I am headed to Italy for three months to teach English. (Che magnifico!) Before then, I am traveling east from Los Angeles throughout the country. ( I miss the City of Angeles already, especially the sun. Oh, the bright, beautiful, relentless sun.) I’ve been in the Twin Cities for a few weeks visiting a friend, and next, I’m off to NYC/Vermont to see friends there.

Today’s travels are hectic. The schedule looks like flying from Minneapolis, MN to Charlotte, NC, and then, I have a connecting flight from Charlotte to NYC. (Fingers crossed that the snow doesn’t make me miss my connecting flight. I’ve already had to be rebooked once.) Once I arrive at La Guardia airport, I am off to Vermont via bus. So like I said….a lot.

I am nervous, excited, eager and sleep-deprived. (I woke up at midnight, then 2:00 a.m., then 3:00, 4:30, 4:45 and at this point I just stayed up until my alarm went off at 5:15.) As I tossed and turned, wrestling with getting enough sleep last night, the day’s plans ran through my head as I figured out Ubers, planes, buses, subway rides, etc. Basically, I kind of, sort of freaked out a little.

Nervousness turned to worry. Worry turned to anxiety. Anxiety turned into nearly freaking out (which can show itself in a number of ways.)

Then, I took a breath. I remembered why I am doing this. Adventure. Opportunity. Experience. Fun. Change. Growth. I reminded myself that I am brave and that I am stronger and more capable than I often give myself credit. I told myself that I can do this. Basically, I gave myself an inner pep talk.

When it comes to life and career, I have a motto I live by. “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Whenever I dream of doing something, big or small, I repeat this phrase in my head. This is what I told myself when I went to New York City for the first time at 20 and took an internship at Time Inc. This is what I told myself when I moved to Los Angeles. This is what I told myself when I ran a half marathon last year.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

I think it is perfectly OK to feel fear. In fact, it’s natural. Like a point blank, non-negotiable, gonna happen, fact of life type of thing. Fear will come and go just like any emotion, but it’s up to each of us what we will choose to do in the face of fear. Will we let it conquer us and have the final say so? Or will we stare it in the eye, like a bully on the playground, and choose to get back up when it knocks us down?

So many of my friends and family think I am this brave, adventurous girl who isn’t afraid of anything. I’d hate to ever disparage this lofty idea of me, but I feel fear all the time. I just choose to not let it stop me. I never want to look back and live a life of what-ifs.

Here’s the thing, if you wait until it doesn’t feel scary, you’ll be waiting your whole life. So don’t wait. It might seem crazy to others looking on from the outside, but you will never regret actively pursuing your dreams in the face of fear. A life of passion is never something you regret.

I’ll leave you with a quote I overheard last week from the show Master of None (which by the way I have never watched), “Our time to do crazy shit is winding down.” So feel the fear and do it now. Living brightly, richly and passionately.

Adventure

-Stephkt