The Adventures of Unemployment

In my last post, I mentioned how the past four months of unemployment have been an adventure. The old adage rings in my ears, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It hasn’t been easy, but I am reminded to take each day as it comes and to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

I wanted to share with you some of the ups I have found in unemployment. Gasp! Dare, I say it. There is a lot of good that comes with life’s unexpected, seemingly terrible situations:

  1. I get to sleep until 9 o’clock.
    I cannot explain to you how magical this has been. I used to wake up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. to workout before heading to work. On weekends, I would wake up between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. for church, to run errands or, to be completely honest, just out of habit. These days, I start my freelance work in the mornings between 9:30 and 10:00, and I workout at night. Since my desk is just in the next room from my bed, I can literally roll out of bed, make some coffee and get to work. It is a beautiful thing to get some extra Zzz’s.
  2. Afternoon coffee dates have become a reality.
    When I was working full-time, I remember friends asking if I could meet for lunch or an afternoon coffee. The answer was always a quick no. Distance, traffic and time kept me sanctioned to the area surrounding my job. I never left that area except for an hour at lunch. Nowadays, I can get a noon coffee or go for a 3 p.m. Chic-fil-A run with a friend. It’s such a great feeling to get up and go as I please.
  3. Travel is possible.
    At my previous job, we had unlimited time off, which was great, but anytime I asked off for a long weekend or for a wedding, I felt an endless amount of guilt. So much so, I usually would work while traveling. Nowadays, if I want to take a weekend trip to Portland, go home to see family in Michigan or go to a friend’s wedding in Texas, I can! I take my work with me, or I pause on taking freelance assignments. The luxury of flexibility is something not to be taken for granted.
  4. I have become more confident in my abilities.
    The freelance life is not for the faint of heart. Freelancing takes hustle, determination, grit and an entrepreneurial mind. If I am going to pay bills, then I have to write, period. There is no option. My ability to pitch stories, turn over copy in a timely manner and maintain working relationships has grown stronger.  I have grown exponentially as a writer, and I am more confident than ever in my skills. Through all the fears of unemployment, I have learned to believe in myself.
  5. My day-to-day is in my control.
    The coolest thing about working as a freelance journalist is that I set my hours. I come and go as I please. I determine how much work I take on and the type of work I get. It is up to me. I like being in control of what my days and weeks look like.
  6. I am free to use my time and energy on passion projects.
    Back in April, I ran my first half marathon, which has been a long time coming. I know if I was working full-time, I would have had less time to devote to it. Also, this month in June, a friend and I are hosting a benefit concert to raise money for Syrian refugees. Like many people, when I heard about the U.S. travel ban in March, I was angry. My friend and I wanted to do something. We put our heads together, asked some friends for help and Songs for Syria: A Benefit Concert was birthed. If you’d like to donate, check out our fundraising page here.
  7. I get to serve.
    Volunteering has been therapeutic for me. It has helped me get out of my own head and remember that there is a big world out there full of people. Since my lay-off, I have spent my time volunteering with kids and teenagers in L.A., and let me tell you. It has stretched me in a good way. The fourth Tuesday of each month, I have gotten to spend my days at in-school program where I help mentor high school girls by teaching them writing skills. Once a month on Saturdays, I read to elementary age kids in the LAUSD school district. On Sundays, I meet one-on-one with my mentee, and we work on writing exercises.

Life is all about perspective. I am so grateful for the new vantage point my time in unemployment has given me to learn about myself and to grow.

-Stephkt

Plan B Isn’t an Option

My life post lay-off has been a hustle. It has been nothing like the steady, consistent work flow of my previous 9 to 5 life. It has been unpredictable, uncertain and unsteady at times, but it most certainly has been an adventure.

When I got laid off,  I told myself I would look for jobs for a month, enjoy the free time and reevaluate my pocket book and my job status then. Well, a month came and went, February was fading into March, and I still didn’t have a job. Then, another month went by and April was knocking at the door. What did I do? I had a breakdown, ugly tears, worry lines and fear in my eyes.

It’d be two months and no job? What was going on? I had told myself I could manage a month of unemployment and make it. The second month, I told myself, “Okay, just a little bit longer.” Yet, when the end of the second month was closing, I freaked out. All my worries started to unfold and the dam to my fears was unleashed.

I started doubting. I started to worry. My tax return and unemployment benefits would only last so long. I started thinking maybe I should go back to working part-time job as a barista or perhaps go back to retail. I did it in college. So why not?

My gut gave me a firm but solid answer: No. No, what do you mean no? I have to eat and pay bills. If I can’t get an editor gig, then it’d be practical of me to at least have a back-up plan to keep myself afloat while I look.

But my gut instinct gave me a clear and precise no. No to going backward. No to settling. No to going for what seemed “practical.” No to what would provide a quick, easy resolution. No to easy. No to a back-up plan. No to Plan B.

Let me clear something up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a side job in the pursuit of your dreams. When I first moved out to L.A., I worked at Starbucks as a barista my first few months here to earn money for bills, gas, food (ya know, the basics) while I looked for a writing job. In college and post-grad, I was a part-time manager at a little girl’s clothing store. All of it was a means to an end.

I am not knocking anyone for taking a job that isn’t in their desired field as an “in-between” gig, a starter job or for extra money. I have done it, but here’s my point: It was for a season of time in my life. It was a necessary building block to get where I was going.

Yet, there has to be a line between being practical and settling for less. Some people take an “in-between” job at a cafe or retail store, and they look up 20 years later and are still there. They give up on their dreams and the path they set out for to be “practical.” The bills won’t pay themselves, right?

Twenty-something advice for anyone:
“If you want to succeed in your dream field, then you can’t have a backup plan.”

I am 26 now, and I know I am not getting any younger. Being laid off at any age truly sucks, but I have resolved that if I want to succeed in the media industry, I can’t have a backup plan. I can’t go back to what is easy. If I want to make the lofty dreams in my head a reality. I have to give it all I’ve got. I have to be practical and idealistic, realistic and optimistic, a doer and a dreamer.

Living in L.A., arguably one of the biggest media cities in the U.S., there are ample opportunities in the journalism and media industry. It would be haphazard of me to not pursue that with everything I’ve got and to use my time wisely. If I am working 20 to 30 hours at Starbucks or another part-time job, the amount of time I am able to use to pursue my career path dwindles exponentially. I would be spending my energy waking up for the job, training and learning new skills, energy I could be using building my writing portfolio, pitching freelance stories and applying for writing jobs.

My resolve to not go backward has worked out in my favor so far. I have been freelance writing and editing the last four months, and I am making it work! It has required a lot of hard work and persistence. I look back over the time since my lay-off, at all the tears and the worry, and I know I am doing well. Losing my job, something I thought would break me, has made me stronger, smarter, more assertive, more persistent, more earnest.

Cheers to all the people who are persistently pursuing their dreams with no fall back. To the ones who are both dreamers and doers, I salute you.

Best,
Stephanie

If You Do What You Love

A wise person once said, “If you do what you love, then you will never have to work a day in your life.”

I heard this saying so much as a kid. I understood it. I rehearsed it in my brain. I understood it. Or so I thought…

Recently, I had the pleasure of going home to Michigan for a high school friend’s graduation from the University of Michigan. She received her master’s degree in nursing and is now a certified midwife! It’s so crazy, yet fulfilling to watch old friends walk out the dreams that you once talked about in your teenage years. I’m so profoundly happy and proud of my friend.

While I was at her graduation and waiting for her to take what felt like a million pictures with her college friends and sorority sisters after the ceremony, a guy who I know from (wait for it) elementary, middle and high school in Michigan walks up to me to say hello. We start catching up and talking about how weird it is to be adults (so weird!)

He tells me about his corporate based job in Cincinnati, and I tell him about life in Los Angeles, the hustle to make rent, the fast-paced city life and the unique, quirky people. Then, he asks me the most simplistic yet real question, “Do you love what you’re doing?”

My response, “Yea, I really do.”

“Well, that’s all that matters,” he says with a smile.

Contemplating that conversation a week later, I now see a meaning I didn’t notice at first glance. My old classmate is so very right. Life in L.A. sometimes is so hard that life’s difficulties become my focus. Rent is crazy expensive. Traffic can be a headache. Finding and keeping true friends is an uphill battle in the city. Yet and still, I am here, and I am doing what I love. I am writing, and for that, I couldn’t more grateful.

You see, adulthood is hard no matter what city you live in. Life isn’t always fair or pretty, and when you’re an adult, you are responsible for every overdue assignment, every speeding ticket, every health bill and every dent in your fender. It’s all you, but if you are lucky enough to wake up every day and do what you love, well, my friend, you are living a real-life fairy tale.  Sure, it has it’s imperfections, but Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage was first a pumpkin and her ball gown was first a hand maiden’s rags.

Twenty-Something Lessons:
“If you are lucky enough to wake up every day and do what you love, then you are living a real-life fairy tale.”

There is so much joy and fulfillment in doing what you love, whether it’s writing, creating, directing, singing, acting or what have you. Pursuing your dreams and sticking to them is hard, I know. Yet, you have the courage to go after what you want whole heartedly. So many people are in unfulfilling jobs because work is, well, just work. Work is just a means of paying the bills. They wake up with that Sunday night dread every weekday.

You are pursuing your passions. The things you love. The things that make you so angry you want to change them. The things you are talented at. The dreams you had as a small kid? Hold tight and don’t let go.

If you are doing what you love, then that’s all that matters.

-Stephkt

Why Rejection Is a Semicolon and Not a Period

Life is hard, plain and simple. It is a truth that will forever withstand the lengths of time. Rejection is by far one of the hardest realities in this life. Whether it comes in the form of a breakup, a friendship ending, not getting accepted into a school or a job loss, rejection of any kind is extremely painful.

If we allow it to, it can leave us paralyzed with fear, the fear that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not talented enough, not beautiful enough, simply not enough. We can allow rejection to set the trajectory of our thoughts, in turn our behaviours and ultimately our lives.

Rejection doesn’t have to get the final say though. We need to go back to the drawing board. Instead of seeing rejection as defeat or the end of our stories, why not see it as a new beginning, a chance to start again? I know it was probably a devastating blow. It may have caught you off guard and left you on your knees, but there is hope for you, yet and still, my friend.

What if what we really need is not the thing we think we lost but a perspective shift? What if rejection is simply a teacher? All rejection holds universal truths and lessons we can take with us for the road ahead. So grab your hiking shoes and let’s get to climbing out of this rut.

Don’t let rejection define you.

I know I am so guilty of this. Anytime a relationship didn’t work out, it meant there was something wrong with me. I am not pretty enough. I am not witty enough. I am not kind enough. I am too much. When I recently was laid off from my job, it was so easy to fall back into this trap of allowing the job loss to determine my value. I began to think: Maybe I am not a good writer. I suck as an editor. There are people who are better at this job than I could ever be. I’m not good enough.

Haven’t we all been there? When we lose something that is so important to us, a job, a marriage or a friendship, we begin to let the loss communicate to our minds a lack of value in and of ourselves. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our careers, our dreams, our passions and the things and people we love can easily start to define us once we lose them. I would challenge you to not let this be the case. I know it is hard, but remind yourself that no one person or thing determines your worth. You have intrinsic value that can’t be shaken.

Allow a “no” to serve as a confidence builder.

This might sound counterintuitive, but anytime you hear a, “No,” a “I’m sorry but we have to let you go” or a “It’s not you. It’s me,” be grateful. One door closing releases you from something that wasn’t the best fit for you. That’s all a no really means. Pick your head up and keep going.

This no will only make your skin tougher and your bounce back stronger. If things were always easy and all we ever heard was “yes,” then we would never know what resilience looks like. Rejection is the perfect time to see the stuff we are made of, perseverance, endurance, strength and grit. Confidence is built out of enduring hard times.

Surround yourself with positive voices.

When I lost my job earlier this year, I didn’t tell many people. I partially kept it to myself because I was in shock. I also didn’t tell many people because I was hurting and in a sensitive place. I knew the people I told would have to be people who would let me grieve the loss and then encourage me. I needed people who would sit in my pit with me and then help me climb out once I was ready to.

When you face rejection of any kind, it is painful, so very painful. The load of rejection gets lighter when we ask for help to carry it. Reach out to positive people who will be a voice of encouragement in your ear. Tell them about the rejection you are facing. Delve into all of your feelings of shock, sadness, hurt and fear. Be 100 percent real. This is your time to grieve. Be careful not to share with anyone who will cause you to worry or allow you to stay in a place of pity or bitterness. Positive voices are the key.

Determine that this is only temporary.

When we are faced with rejection, it is often unforeseen. We didn’t see it coming, and it can be difficult to know when it and the feelings that result from it will end. While there’s no definite answer, we have to remember this is just a drop in the bucket of time of our stories. It is only one chapter. Now is not your forever. Storms always come to an end. This is only temporary.

Get back in the game.

Dust yourself off and get back up. This is probably the most important truth to remember. Rejection can feel like a punch in the gut. It leaves you reeling and knocks you to the ground, but you don’t have to stay down. You can get back up. It’s a choice. It’ll more than likely hurt at first, but get back up any way.

Rejection is not the end of my story, nor yours, my beautiful friend.

This post originally appeared on Darling Magazine.

How the Job Hunt Is a Lot Like Dating (and How to Deal)

Dating is rough — especially in today’s millennial, app-driven, and instant-gratification society. The game of going to countless dinners with different people, having numerous awkward first dates, and swiping left and right based on a cursory glance, is not an easy process. And the job hunt is no different.

Both dating and job searching is so much alike, in fact, that you can’t help but laugh at the similarities.

It’s always a waiting game. You send in your resume, cover letter, and references. Then, you wait. HR emails you to set up a phone call and you respond right away. Then, you wait. You nail the phone call, they ask you to come in for an in-person interview and you agree. Then, you wait. You interview and follow-up with a thank you. Then, you wait. It sounds a lot like waiting for a guy to text back, waiting to see if a guy will you ask you out again, and waiting to see when he might call.

There’s a lot of uncertainty. With job searching, there aren’t any guarantees. So often in the job search, a person will walk away feeling like they’ve landed the position, only to not receive a job offer. Same goes for the dating world. Those who date are in on-again, off-again relationships or are in relationships they thought were for the long haul but suddenly ended. However, with all the uncertainty, comes a chance for adventure and an opportunity for something great.

You want the best fit for both parties involved. The older you get, the more you understand this rule of thumb in job searching and dating. You want a career and relationship with a person who is the best fit for you and for you to be the best fit for them. There’s no room for settling. If the pieces don’t truly fit, then you’ll only be doing yourself a disservice in the long run.

The initial interview (or date) is nerve-wracking. The first date butterflies are all too familiar. They’re similar to the experience of going on an interview for a job. You want your hair, your outfit, and your makeup to be just right. Whether you’re meeting your future partner or your future employer, you want to impress the other person sitting in front of you.

Confidence is key. You have to know who you are, what you want, and what you bring to the table. If you’re not confident, then the job recruiter or potential boo will see right through you. Know your worth, and you’ll find the right job and person for you.

This post originally appeared on FabFitFun.

How a Layoff in My Mid-Twenties Gave Me the Jumpstart I Needed

“You are good enough.”

I sat across the table from a friend in a dainty coffee shop on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Her words reverberated across the room, bouncing off the table, clanging across the window chimes, spinning around the revolving door back to slap me in the middle of the face.

Good enough? Am I really?

In that moment and in the weeks leading up to it, questioning my worth had become the norm. I sat there, hair in a messy ponytail, wearing oversized sweatpants, clearly too underdressed for the swanky shop, pondering her words, the simplicity of which left me befuddled. A true moment of authenticity and profundity on a cool, February evening.

Two weeks prior I had been laid off from job, abruptly, unexpectedly and painfully. It was my first big girl job in L.A., an editor job at that. I was pursuing my passion of writing while living in the City of Angels. My dreams were coming true, until suddenly my train was derailed from the track. The dream I had been holding so dearly had been swept out from under me.

I was at a loss.

In the weeks and months post job layoff, I would learn enough lessons to write a book. Lessons about rejection, bouncing back, how a “no” isn’t always a bad thing, the importance of an emergency fund and the value of authentic friendships during hard times. In these lessons, there are some universal truths I have found that apply to any rejection, whether it be a job loss, a breakup, a “no” from a college or university or a friendship ending. Sometimes, the most painful events that seem like endings to a story are often the beginning of a new, better story.

1- Rejection forces you to reevaluate what’s important.

Prior to my job loss, I made a list of things I was passionate about as a part of my New Year’s resolutions. I wanted to focus on the areas and subject matters that deeply mattered to me, things that excited me to wake up each morning, things I wanted so desperately to help change and make better, things that I would work on even if there was no income. I came back to this list after my layoff, and I quickly realized that perhaps losing my job was a chance to pursue a career path that was more authentic to my own passions. This season of my life has helped me to become reacquainted with the woman staring back at me in the mirror, what matters most to her and the kind of work she is most passionate about.

2- An unexpected turn can lead to unexpected opportunities.

In my time without a full-time job, I have decided to say “yes” more often. I say yes to things that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do with a full-time job like going to museums, volunteering, taking on freelance work, trying out morning and afternoon workout classes and going on coffee dates with friends. Sometimes a closed door redirects you and opens you up to other opportunities and doors that may not have been available before.

3- Life’s hard realities not only act as teachers but help you to help others.

So many people have been where I have been before. So many people will be where I am standing once this is all a memory to me. At first I felt so much shame about losing my job. I told friends that I felt like I had gotten all A’s in adulthood and then all the sudden had been handed a D. However, I realize now that a job loss doesn’t make me a failure. It makes me human, and if anything, it gives me empathy to understand other people struggling with rejection of any kind.

4- You realize where your value lies.

Sometimes, we hold onto things so tightly that they start to define us. When we lose them, we lose sight of who we are. We all desire love and success, but it is life’s greatest balancing act to not allow those things, what we do, the passions we have and the people we love, to define us.

What’s for me will be mine. I won’t have to beg, plead, bend or break for it. What and who is for me, will be, pure and simple. I have learned and am still learning to hold the things and people in my life with a loose grip. To embrace them but to not be defined by them. To not allow the absence of a thing or person to break me.

5- During life’s storm, your roots grow deeper.

I hate cliches, but they are typically accurate. As the saying goes, “When it rains, it pours.” I am learning, though, that the rain isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rain helps you grow, and when you are faced with adversity, it really shows you how strong you can be. I have been reminded of my own inner strength to keep pushing forward and to get back up.

Life is hard sometimes. I don’t think there any other way to put it. Sometimes, life just sucks. It deals you an unexpected hand, and it is up to you to make the most out of it. As I sit in this season of rain in my life, I am reminded that I am not defined by the things that I lose. I look out with hope, knowing the sun will come again.

This post originally appeared on Darling Magazine.

10 Lessons I’ve Learned On How to Survive in Los Angeles

1. Uber is a way of life.

Even if you have a car, which most people do, sometimes you don’t want to deal with the hassle of paying to park and dealing with traffic. Uber (or Lyft) is life in L.A.

2. Wear black.

When you don’t know what to wear, wear black. When you are trying to look professional, wear black. When you are trying to look fancy, wear black. When you are trying to look laid-back, wear black. If you wear black in Los Angeles, then you will instantly fit in. Trust me.

3. Parallel parking is mandatory.

I parallel park my car a minimum of once a week, and I would say my experience is a rarity. Most people, parallel park several times a day. So if you don’t know how to parallel park, that is a skill that is essential to survival in this city.

4. Only go to restaurants with a recommendation or a good Yelp review.

This is not New York. The food in L.A. is more like hit or miss, not really in between. Not every mom and pop shop restaurant is good or even decent for that matter. I’ve tried some hole in the wall places on a whim and gone to sleep hungry. Just don’t do it.

5. Get used to the smell of urine.

I know that sounds gross but its a reality. In certain parts of L.A. county, the faint scent of urine is always present. Two common areas that fit this description are downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood.

6. In-N-Out is the McDonald’s of the west.

I’m sure without even living here you could have guessed this one. I don’t even eat meat, but I stop there for a milkshake from time to time.

7. Rent is the biggest reality check of all time.

I don’t understand how people can get a big head living in this city. One word: Rent. It is the biggest piece of humble pie you could ever be served. Even if you are “balling out of control,” my mentality is life can change in a minute. Be grateful and stay humble because rent is a beast.

8. Time is of the essence, but you can get away with being late here. (But don’t push it.)

So in Los Angeles, when you make plans to meet someone at 7:00, what that really means is closer to 7:30(ish). Traffic is no joke here. If you are running late just because you are behind, well good luck. You definitely won’t arrive at your destination on time. Even if you budget your time properly and leave an hour early to be somewhere, you still might not make it on time. Traffic is always a given. (And don’t forget about trying to find parking!)

9. Making friends takes time.

This is probably one of the hardest lessons to learn when you move to any city, let alone one as large and spread out as L.A. Meeting people, solid people, takes time. I have definitely been discouraged at times, but in time, you start to meet people based on your interests and hobbies. It gets easier. It does.

10. Los Angeles is not for everyone, but if it is for you, then you’ll know it.

When I pulled into L.A. that first night and saw the skyline and all the headlights, I knew I was home. It has definitely been hard, but it’s been worth it. I know, for now, that this is where I should be.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“If you have a dream, something you are passionate about, something you can’t get out of your head, even if you tried, go after it with all you’ve got.”

-Stephkt