How Life in L.A. Reminded Me of the Value of a Friend

Whenever I talk to friends back home about life in L.A., one thing I always hear myself repeating is the difficulty in making friends.

Sure, meeting people here is easy. There’s more than 4 million people in the Los Angeles metropolis area. With the endless amount of happy hours, networking events and social media professional groups, there’s an endless possibility to make connections here. However, making actual, genuine friends in L.A., that my friend takes work (effort, intention and maybe a dash of luck in meeting the right people at the right time.) Bebe Rexha so eloquently explains how she suffers from the “lack of realness” in L.A. and how friends come and go like the seasons in the song F.F.F.

As I’m writing this, I am sitting in a coffee, and to my left there are two women talking. It seems one has just been laid off (maybe just as recent as today- my creeping skills could use a little more work), and the other is playing cheerleader, counselor and career coach all at once.

Lay-off. Ouch, been there. It absolutely sucks, and it can feel painful, blindsiding, and like a stab in the back all in one fell swoop.

The cheerleader, counselor, career coach friend offered some very wise words to her hurting amiga. She told her she might have to cut Hulu or Netflix for ahwile. (I kept Spotify and Netflix when I lost my job. A girl needs her entertainment in hard times!) She told her of course to prioritize paying rent, but if she ever needed a place to stay, then she could crash with her. She also told her, most importantly, not to isolate herself but to continue to talk to people and network. Only by putting herself out there would she be able to hold her head up and not allow the job loss to hurt her confidence. Only by networking would she make connections that would lead to her next job.

I so wanted to lean over in their conversation and give them both the biggest hug, but considering that I am a complete stranger, I won’t do that. I loved this conversation. I loved this moment in my day (though only made possible through easedropping) because it reminded me of what true friendship looks like.

Friendship shows up in the hardest of times. Friendship offers comfort and a shoulder to lean on when you are having trouble standing on your own. Friendship isn’t concerned about what it can gain or get. Friendship doesn’t give up without a fight.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Friendship can be messy, hard and stretching, but guaranteed, if after all life’s curveballs, unfair hands, ups and downs, you find yourself with a true friend, you are blessed.”

I think finding true friends in adulthood can be difficult no matter where you live but especially in L.A. With the Hollywood culture, there comes a lot of fakeness, people who smile at your face but whisper behind your back, people who use friendship as an opportunity to promote themselves and their careers.

The irony is that often some of the most real and down-to-Earth people in Los Angeles are the people who are actually from here. The wishy-washy, opportunistic people are often transplants from small town, Midwest or suburbia America who bring their ideas of the City of Angeles with them.

While I love L.A., the wishy-washy culture can make thriving here difficult. Everytime I meet a genuine person, it’s like a breath of fresh air. It seems so rare.

A true friend is a precious gem worth holding onto. Making and keeping friends in adulthood can be tough, but I encourage you to fight for your true friendships and to not be afraid to put yourself out their to make new ones.

With hope,

Stevie

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The Power of One

Hi readers! First off, I just want to thank you for following along in my Italian adventure and my journey as a twenty-something. My hope for each post is that you can relate, walk away inspired and perhaps have a laugh or two. (Because I am definitely a twenty-something still figuring out this thing called life, all the while facing embarrassing, cringe-worthy and humorous mishaps and missteps along the way.)

It means the world to me to be able to share my experiences with you through the written word and photos. I am currently teaching a lesson on writing to some of my high school students and trying to convince them that writing can be fun. (Mind blowing idea!) So thanks for reading along and reassuring me that the power of the pen has not been lost.

In one of my recent posts, I shared with you about the ups and downs of living in a foreign country and about learning to embrace the differences. I still am encountering the culture shock I mentioned before, the learning a new language (I am reading a book in Italian at the moment), the stares when I’m out in public and the food, language and other differences.

Last week, there was a point where I was feeling pretty down. I messaged a friend who is living in Israel and teaching there for nine months, and I told her I was feeling pretty defeated. I didn’t understand just how she was doing this for six months longer than I was and how she was able to muster the strength to overcome the inevitable obstacles of life in a new country.

Of course, like the good friend she is, she encouraged me. She reminded that I have faced hard things before and I will surprise myself at my ability to overcome the obstacles I am facing now. Her words gave me a glimmer of hope. She reminded me of my own ability to do hard things, but she also reminded me of the power of a friend.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “One friend, one person, one kind word, one act of goodness can make all the difference.”

Life abroad has shown me the difference one person can make. My third week in Italy was rough (i.e. a no-show train to Milan, language barriers and adjusting to my new home and job). Other than talking with my American friend in Israel last week, I was able to spend time with another teacher assistant in a nearby town called Savigliano.

A friend was just what the doctor ordered. He showed me around his town, introduced me to his host family (they’re the sweetest people), took me for coffee and dulce (yum, Nutella croissant), and we went shopping! (Retail therapy is a thing!) It was simple and sweet, time with a friend on a warm, sunny day (the first in my time in Italy).

Slowly but surely, I watched my perspective start to shift simply because of the encounters I had with people. The next day, I had lunch with a professor from my school. We sat for hours just talking, and I was honest with her about the ups and downs of my time in Italy. There was no sugar-coating. (Gah, doesn’t it feel great to just be authentic with people?!) She took me for a tour of my town, and she showed me places in Bra where I might meet people my age to hang out with. She took me for coffee and dulce. This time I had torta al cioccolato. (If you couldn’t tell, the way to my heart is clearly coffee and sweets.) Yet again, time with a one kind person shifted my perspective. It was so simple, but it really made my day.

Fast forward to the weekend, on Friday night, I visited a nearby town, Saluzzo, with a friend who is from there. We had pizza and tiramisu, and I remember making a joke about how good it was to see people in their 20s and 30s out and about at night. We even laughed at the people staring at me! (My friend threatened to stare back on my behalf.)

The next day, Sunday, I spent a rain-filled seven hours touring Milan with another teacher assistant, my friend Gabby. We were soaked. Our hair, our shoes, our purses, everything wet. Our paper shopping bags were useless and dripping with water, but we had the best time. We joked about Italian men, and we laughed about how we missed American breakfast and earlier dinner time. We talked about spring break plans and how we want to see a soccer game while we are in Italy. Within my first hour in Milan, I saw a man steal something and get chased by police, a pregnant woman expose herself (and also run from police), and a young woman have a crying session in the train station. (Aaaah back to big city life!) It was a humorous and cloudy day well spent because of good company.

Plain and simple, life can be hard. We have curve balls thrown our way when unexpected things happen. We make mistakes and bad things happen. (Did I mention I got on the wrong, more expensive train to Milan and had to pay the ticket price plus a surcharge?) I think one of the most valuable tools we have in overcoming obstacles is a friend. One person can truly change your perspective and open the curtains on an otherwise dreary and dark life.

I am really grateful for the people, near and far, in my life who help find perspective and let the light in to the window of my heart.

Here are some photos from the last week. (Click on the image to enlarge and for captions.)

Savigliano


Saluzzo

Milano

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The Milan Cathedral, Duomo di Milano

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The Kardashians are all over Milan. This is the Milano Centrale train station.

With hope,
Stevie

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

 

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: When You Know Better, You Do Better

I sat next to my best friend on her queen sized, pillow top bed, surrounded by a mass of pillows doing what best friends do best, heart to hearts.

Her words stuck.

“As painful as it was, losing that friendship wouldn’t have mattered if you hadn’t learned anything.”

We were rehashing the loss of one of my closest friendships. What had gone wrong. Mistakes made on both sides. The scars it had left. What I learned from it. How I was planning to let go and move on.

I had done the unthinkable. I had written an emotional note ending the friendship. Worse than that, I sent a text. A text saying I couldn’t be friends anymore. The emotional, disgruntled note came later. (A note, might I add, that was written while I was slightly tipsy. Something I highly warn against- drunken notes.)

In 2016, I was a hot mess in more ways than one. 2017 saw a lot of growth, a lot, and boy, was it painful but so good. I grew to be more confident in my talents and gifts. I came to get to know and actually like the woman I saw staring back at me in the mirror. I learned to say no, to set boundaries with other people and to make self-care a priority.

Twenty-Something Advice (for anyone): “When you know better, you do better.”

I am realizing that sometimes, in order to move higher, whether in relationships, friendships, career or love, you have to let go of some things, some bad habits, some old ways of thinking, some hurts, some insecurities. Letting go is the only way to move forward, to improve, to go higher.

My poor decision making has made some of my weaknesses rather apparent. Avoiding confrontation. Check. Writing break-up letters to friends instead of communicating. Check. Holding on to people and things past their expiration dates. Check.

The saying goes, “Old habits die hard,” meaning it is hard to stop doing things that one has been doing for a long time. While this bears much weight, I believe it is possible for old habits to die once you acknowledge that they no longer serve you.

One of my favorite sayings of all time I first heard from Maya Angelou. She said,”When you know better, you do better.”

I know better now. While I’ll never be perfect (and that’s perfectly OK), I know better than I once did. So I am going to do my darndest to apply that knowledge and be a better version of myself. Mark my words- I will never write an angry breakup letter to a friend again. (It kinda sucks for the other person, and it is just really unfair in terms of healthy communication.) I will be more brave in the face of conflict and confrontation and not shy away from it just because it’s hard.

In what ways in your career, relationships or friendships, can you apply the  knowledge you’ve attained through self-awareness? What habits can you let go to move higher? Here’s to moving forward in 2018 to better things!

-Stephkt

I’ve Been Social Media Free for 6 Months and Couldn’t Be Happier

This afternoon, I went for a walk with my roommate’s dog. It was nothing extraordinary. I just wanted to take in the fresh fall air. While, it’s almost winter and snowy in most of the country, in L.A., it’s crisp air, 50-degree weather and golden leaves.

On my walk, I took time to look at the imprint the tree limbs made as they swayed against the wind. I looked at the tops of the trees, observing the changing colors, the lively leaves up top and the dying leaves hanging below. I listened to the wind whistle around me, the car horns honking, the music blaring from the speakers. I smiled at passersby and let one pet the dog’s belly. (Boy, was she happy- the puppy I mean.)

Moments like these, when ordinary, everyday sights and sounds can be appreciated and soaked in used to be rare for me. These days, I am more present. I am more aware of life around me, of other people, of the frailty of time and how quickly it comes and goes.

Maybe this change of mindset is a testament to getting older, growing up and becoming wiser, but it would be narrow-sighted of me not to connect the dots between being more present and disconnecting from social media. In June of this year, I decided to go completely dark online. I deleted my accounts for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. All that I have left are my LinkedIn page and a professional Facebook I use for work purposes (on which I have a whopping seven “friends”.)

Let me tell you, I have not once regretted my decision. I couldn’t be happier. I sometimes forget I am not on social media until someone asks me about it or talks about something they saw on Facebook or Twitter that day. For me, it feels like a breath of fresh air. It feels like freedom to just be myself without performing for anyone else. It feels like freedom from running a race I could never win. It’s sweet. It’s quiet. It’s simple. It’s real.

“It feels like freedom to just be myself.”

When I first went social media free, my roommate at the time asked me, “But how will people know you?”

To give you a little background about my old roomie, she is the type of person who shares pretty much everything, everything, on social media, car troubles, work troubles, the dress she bought today or the celebrity she meant at Target. Everything from the extraordinary to the mundane, she crafts and cultivates into an exciting post for eyes to see and join in on a conversation about her life in Los Angeles.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that- if that is what brings her joy. For me, social media is burdensome. It is draining. For me, it became a rat race to keep up with the Joneses. It was a false sense of community and relationship.

It seemed as I was growing, maturing, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, I was taking people from my past with me into my present, and it didn’t feel good. It seemed unnatural. It was an open door to pry into the lives of people from different chapters of my life while giving them permission to do the same to me.

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I am not sure what I said to my old roommate when she asked how people would know me once I was offline. Now, if I could answer, I would tell her that they’d know me how they always have, through phone calls, through cards and kind notes sent, through quality time spent, through wine nights with friends, through happy hours and bible studies, through community, real, authentic community.

In my time off social media, I honestly can say I haven’t lost one friend. If anything, my friendships have been strengthened. I talk to people on the phone regularly. I remember birthdays more. I check in to ask about hospital visits and sick family members. I am more present, not perfect, just present.

I am more present, not perfect, just present.

Don’t get me wrong. Social media isn’t bad, but the simple fact that millions of people around the world use it daily, multiple times a day should be a cautionary sign. There is no one equation to life that works best for any two people. It makes perfect since that social media won’t work for everyone. I am one of those people. So please, don’t judge me for not being a fan of social media, and I won’t judge you for being attached to your phone and taking photos everywhere you go.

Recently, on a visit to Georgia, my godsister told me that I seem happier. This brought me so much joy. It was better than being told I looked pretty or in shape, that my outfit was nice or that I was successful in my career. She said I seemed happy. And I am. I truly am.