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 Girl Who Was an Outsider

People often romanticize travel and life abroad. Here’s an honest account of three months of my life abroad in Italy.

I have one full day left in Itay. I still have two classes to teach, goodbye lunches and dinners to attend, bus and train tickets to buy and bags to pack.

Before all the hustle begins, I wanted to just sit. Breathe. Take it in.

My time in Italy has been one of the craziest times of my life. It started with a bang, had lots of ups and downs in the middle, and is ending with another bang.

My first week in Italy, I was pickpocketed during teacher assistant orientation in Turin. Toward the middle of my trip, I was abadoned by new “friends” in London (in the middle of a snowy night.) My last week in Italy, my American checking account was hacked, and I had to cancel my debit card. You just can’t make up a better script than the one life writes for you.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh at the obstacles life hands you because it doesn’t always make sense. While some hard things just happen arbitrarily, other hard and painful things happen because of the person staring back in the mirror.

My time in Italy has been a lot of deciphering between the two, the things I cannot control and the things I can, like my attitude, my ability to communicate and listen, if I will forgive and let things go and my willingness to perservere and push through.

One of the hardest parts of living in Italy for me was the feeling of being an outsider. I am a brown, American woman with curly hair who speaks English walking up and down the streets of small town, Bra, Italy. There might as well have been a sign painted on my back that said: OUTSIDER.

It might sound harmless, but three months of getting stares wherever you go and few smiles or hellos from passersby is exhausting. I have been told by many Italians that this is the reality of northern Italy and Piemonte, the region where I lived, that people tend to be cold and not overtly friendly.

My semi-introverted personality couldn’t handle the stares and all the attention. My extroverted side struggled with the lack of hellos and smiles.

Within my teaching program, I had these “outsider” moments too. While a lot of my fellow teacher assistants had the financial ability to jetset across Europe every weekend, my bank account said a big, fat, “Hello….uh, no.” I am just a normal, middle-class, twenty-something American, who mommy and daddy cannot and will not foot the bill for. I was still able to travel to several really cool places though (Barcelona included!), but I was penny-pinching and saving money at every corner. I couldn’t go on all the pricey trips my peers went on, and when I did, I couldn’t do everything they did.

It’s true. I felt like an outsider here in my time in Italy, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. Being on the outside gave me an appreciation for some things that I may have previously taken for granted. It gave me perspective. It also helped me realize some areas where I can grow in. (Aaah, growth!)

For example, something as simple as a smile or a hello is magical. It can literally warm a person’s soul. Anytime a student stopped me to chat or said hello in the hallways or around town, it cheered me up instantly! I really appreciated a kind hello.

I gained an appreciation for a listening ear. The English department head at my school sat and listened to be rant and sometimes cry in the teacher lounge. I am so appreciative of her taking time to listen to my struggles. Several other professors helped me work through the stresses, or just got loads of messages on Whatsapp from me trying to work through them.

I gained an appreciation for friends. Friends back home kept me sane by checking in on me. The few friends I made here, English speaking Italians and assistants in my program, helped me laugh. One friend and I burnt a pizza and lost electricity all in one hour! Friends make a world of difference.

I gained appreciation for kindness. Daniela is a woman who works for my host family, and she is literally my favorite person in Italy. Get this- She speaks no English! But we talked every day. (Hello, Google Translate!) I learned that you do not need to speak the same language to communicate with someone. Kindness, warmth and a smile, they speak volumes. Daniela made me feel welcome and seen. (Boy am I going to have a hard time saying bye to her tomorrow!)

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody):

“A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference. You can always choose to be that one person.”

I was nervous to think what I would say when people asked how Italy was. What will they think if I’m honest? Will they judge me if it wasn’t this picture-perfect, movie experience? Can I be both positive and transparent?

I decided I would be honest. Italy was hard, but in the midst of the difficulty, it was still good. I learned. I grew. I was challenged. I cried some tears, and then, I got back up and put one foot in front of the other. I struggled. I made mistakes. I got frustrated. I frustrated people at times (I’m sure!) I laughed. I adventured. I lived well.

Perhaps my experience as an outsider would have been a bit different if I spoke some Italian or maybe if my skin were a different color. Perhaps, then I would have felt not so different. Italy is currently in a time of political tension as it faces a swell of immigration from Africa and with it, a swell in racism. I asked my students about the current state of politics in Italy and how immigrants are viewed here. They shared that immigrants are often looked down upon and seen as outsiders.

There’s that word again- OUTSIDER

I can only imagine what their lives are like, to live in a country as an alien, to be seen as different. I get to go home, but for them, this is their day-to-day lives.

Here’s what I know- A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference.

Thank you to all the beautiful people who made me feel welcome during my stay here. To the people who took me for coffee, traveled with me, made a seat for me at their dinner tables and showed me around wine country and small, Italian towns, thank you for making me feel like less of an outsider.

With hope,

Stevie

Thanks for Choosing Starbucks

Starbucks

“Thanks for choosing Starbucks, how may I help you?” I recently took on a second job. If you guessed Starbucks, then you guessed right! I’m saving for grad school and for my big move out west this fall. It’s a huge (expensive) move so I am saving every penny I make.

Today was my second official day on the job (outside of training), and let me tell you it was intimidating. I never knew how fast paced and detailed the behind the counter work at Starbucks or any food establishment could entail. I have much more respect for people who work in the food business now. There is so much to learn and an equal amount of things that you can possibly get wrong.

To be completely honest and transparent, I left work today feeling a little frustrated and discouraged. It seemed like I got more things wrong than I did right, and no matter how fast I moved, I could always use a jolt in my pace. I know I am new and I still have a lot to learn. I should probably give myself a break, but in the moment, all I could do was feel really discouraged.

Now, part of my stress could be the fact that I am working two jobs, one of which is the early morning shift (Hello to waking up at 4 a.m.!), all while applying for grad school and saving for a move. It’s a lot! Any normal human being might feel a little stress.

So when I sat to take my ten minute break (at the crazy hour of 6:30 a.m.!), I had to give myself a little pep talk. I had to counter all the negative thoughts in my head toward myself and replace them with some positive self-motivation: “You can do this. Keep your head up. You still are new. You are still learning. Show yourself some grace. You are brave to try something new.” The last thought it the one that really got me going: You are brave.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“It takes courage to try something new, to pursue a dream, to not quit. So keep going.”

You see, even though I screwed up countless ways on my first few days on the job, I do not completely and totally suck (the way I told myself in my head). I am still learning. There is guaranteed to be some trial and error at the beginning of something new. So yes, I made and will make plenty of mistakes, but I am brave for giving it a shot.

Some people would be too intimidated to apply to such a fast, paced environment as Starbucks. Other people might be too lazy to get a second job or to wake up at 4 a.m. to work. Others might be to prideful to take a second job at a coffee shop. Did I mention that I don’t drink a lot of coffee and thus, I don’t know a lot about coffee? Hence, another reason as to why I am brave.

So yes, I am brave. It takes courage to try something new. It takes courage to take little steps toward your dream: like taking a second job at Starbucks. It takes a bold person to clean bathroom floors, work long, early morning hours and smile through tired eyes with the warm greeting, “Thanks for choosing Starbucks. How may I help you?”

If you are a twenty something, working toward a goal or dream, then this post is just for you. I want to encourage you to keep going. Work those odd jobs. Bust your butt. Save, budget, and plan. It takes courage to try something new and even more courage to relentlessly pursue a dream. Don’t look down on yourself for starting out in humble beginnings or for not having it all together. We all have to start out somewhere.

Still learning,

Stephkt

Hold On to Let Go

LettingGo

If you’ve listened to the radio the last few months, you might guess that the title for today’s blog comes from the Top 40 hit, Lean On (by Major Lazer and DJ Snake). The song, with an eclectic mix of reggae, pop and electric, repeats the line “We would only hold on to let go.” This message has been etched into my head: That sometimes, even though all we want is security, the best thing we can do is hold on to the idea of letting go.

In the last few months, I have seen a lot of change in my life. From moving out of my parents’ home, to watching my closest friendship grow apart, to dating a guy to back to being single, change has been happening all around me.There have been a number of days where I wanted to stay in bed with the pillows over my head (and let’s be honest, I definitely had those days).

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“If you try to hold on to everything from seasons past, you’ll never see the beauty of today.”

Change will do that to the best of us. It’ll leave you scared, cringing in pain or running frantically in the opposite direction. I think what I have been realizing is that change, although painful at times, is necessary. If I try to hold on to everything and everyone from seasons past, I’ll never see the beauty of now, of today, of this moment. Everything and everyone isn’t meant to travel along with us into our futures. Although painful at times, letting go is a necessary part of life.

My godmom gave me a pep talk a few weeks ago, and she told me, “Stephanie, if someone is for you, they will be a part of your life.” What a relief that was to hear. I won’t have to beg, plead, force or finagle a person or a thing into my life. If it is meant to be, it will be. Sometimes you just have to let go. Whether it means forgiving someone, quitting a job, moving away, sometimes letting go takes more strength than holding on.

So for all my twenty something readers, maybe there are things that you can let go of. As fall steadily approaches and the new school year begins for so many, it may just be the perfect time to let go of something or someone. As you let go and release whatever you’ve been holding on to, it’ll be amazing to see what new things you make room for: adventure, growth, love, independence. The ball is in your court. Here’s to letting go!

-Stephkt

Fork in the Road

Everywhere I look lately, it seems that change is all I see. A close friend is getting married and looking at buying her first home. Other people I know are leaving jobs and transitioning into new ones. Some friends are recent college graduates and are in the midst of figuring out their next steps out into the real world.

forkintheroad2

Change. Sometimes the word change rings with a sweet resound and sometimes it reverberates with echoes of panic. The one thing that is constant in life is change.

If there were an ongoing theme for the twenties, then it’d be change. Every corner, every new season, every turned page, every fork in the road, a change is inevitable. I am learning to embrace it. Though scary at times, I am learning to embrace the change as it comes.

I recently moved into my own apartment and helped my parents move out of the house they have lived in for 9 years. The transition was weird and slightly difficult, but I believe it was well worth it. My parents’ apartment is much smaller than their house, but I know they are happier there and things are easier on them. I really like my apartment too! The change has been weird but good.

Change can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be bad. I think it’s all about perspective. Change is necessary for growth. It also helps heal a broken heart, rekindle old dreams, bring new perspective. The possibilities are endless. You have to embrace the change to see all the beauty that it can bring.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Yogi Berra

Throughout your entire life, especially in your twenties, change will be present. I would encourage you to not fight it or run from it but to welcome it with open arms. Change can be a beautiful thing.

-Stephkt

Right Now

Change

Change. That’s what my life has looked a lot like lately. Everywhere I turn, all I see is change and to be honest I haven’t always dealt with it the best.There’s been so much change lately I haven’t written in a month! That’s nuts!

Earlier this month, my parents left the house we have lived at for the last 9 years. I am crashing at a friend’s apartment for the next few months. My closest friendship ended recently. I am looking at moving out of state in a few months to pursue my writing career. Change.

The twenties are all about change. Around every corner, every turn, every side road, it seems there is a change awaiting. How do you keep your head together during the change? How do you manage to keep your footing when the ground beneath your seems to be shaking? When the life you’ve known for so long seems to be coming undone, what do you hold on to?

I cannot pretend that I have all the answers to this. As I am still very much figuring out the tumultuous twenties, I think I am starting to realize the best way to handle change is to focus on right now. Instead of worrying about what will happen or being afraid of letting go of what used to be, focus on now. Enjoy now because right now is all we’ve got.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“We’ll never be as young as we are right now. We’ll never see the world like we do right now. So take in what’s around you. Take a shot. Give it all you’ve got.”

Don’t get stuck looking back at what was. If you’re always looking forward or always looking back, how can you enjoy right now? Take in what’s around you. Let go a little. Enjoy the ride you are on now. You can navigate the change just ahead.

-Stephkt

Life After College: For the Class of 2015

I wrote this post a year ago after talking to a friend who had recently graduated college. Hopefully, the class of 2015 can benefit from these words, as well. Welcome to adulthood. It’s not nearly as bad as it seems.

I am not sure who coined the phrase, “College is the best time of your life,” but I have never been one to agree with it.

I sat down today for tea (very grown up, right?) with a friend, and we got to talking about post grad life. We soon found that we had experienced many of the same things, setbacks, disappointments, growing pains and a surprising amount of happiness on the other side of growing up.

Now don’t get me wrong…..I loved college. Everything from the people you meet, the places you travel and all the experiences that only a college setting can provide are priceless. Some of my most stressful college times, like bad roommate situations, crazy parties or astronomically priced texts books have now become some of my funniest memories to look back on.

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(Photo via hercampus.com)

The four years I spent in college, were pivotal for me. The 18-year-old girl who walked on campus was not the same person as the 21-year-old young woman that packed her bags and moved away from little Stillwater, Oklahoma. I made some of my best friends in college. I stayed up for hours studying for finals, never sure how I was going to pull off a passing grade but somehow always did. I had my first love. I landed an internship at a major magazine in New York. I won a pageant in college. I started a magazine. I met people from all over the country in college. I traveled to some of the smallest towns and some of the largest cities. I took lots of sporadic and fun road trips. I tried foods that I would have never thought to try (and even liked some). I joined a sorority and actually liked it. I started a chapter of a nonprofit organization and was able to volunteer at countless other organizations.

I can look back on that time with a smile. College was SOME of the best years of my life, but it was not THE best time of my life. Although, I truly loved my college years, I cannot and will not settle on the notion that those four years will be the best of my life. I graduated when I was 21 years old. Most people complete undergrad between the ages of 21 and 23. If the best years of my life are over after not even a quarter of a century of life, well then man…….that’s depressing.

Here’s how I look at it: Each chapter of life should get progressively better because you grow. Every season we are in will have its ups and downs. Post grad life is full of them, from moving away from home, bills, jobs woes, adjusting to a new city and meeting new people. Sometimes it can get overwhelming. Sometimes all those newly found adult responsibilities can be hard to balance, but lets not forget that college had its share of problems too. Think overpriced books, finals stress and weight gain just to name a few. With the downsides of post grad life, don’t forget the good: independence, travel, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones, career advancement and did I mention freedom and independence already?

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Never get so stuck in one season of life that you cannot enjoy the present one.”

I never want to get stuck in one season that it stops me from enjoying today. For now, I am a young adult living in her post grad years. I am in my early twenties still trying to figure things out. I have bills to pay, a job to go to in the morning and dinner to get on the table. Yes, it can be stressful, but I wouldn’t change it. I am sure that when I am in my thirties and have kids crying, laundry to finish and diapers to change, I’ll look back on my twenties and miss them, but I also hope that I will be content with all the blessings that season provides.

Today, my friend and I will were able to rehash our college years and all the highs and lows. I am so happy that she is working in a career that energizes her and brings her to life. I am even happier that she has grown since college and has become this radiant, young woman. That is my wish for myself and every twenty something. That life after the college years only gets better.

I hope things aren’t easy for you. I hope you are challenged, pressed and pushed to grow. I hope that when opportunities for new things come knocking on your door that you take them. I hope that you are constantly learning, changing and growing into a better version of yourself.

So for all you college students who are cringing at the idea of graduating and leaving the college bubble, take it from this post grad. Life is what you make it. Life after college will be as good as you make it. Don’t spend years of your life trying to relive the college life. When it’s over, accept it and gracefully close that door.

To all you current, post grads, maybe some of you are job hunting or others are getting settled in new jobs and cities, remember to enjoy this time. Heck yea, it’s hard! But enjoy this season for what it is: one with ups and downs. A season that brings laughter, tears and a chance to grow at every turn.

-Stephkt