Lessons Learned 2 Years in LA: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

I have said it a million times, and I will say it again. Making it in Los Angeles is hard.

There’s the gas prices. The traffic. Rent. And the people, oh the people.

I joke that living in LA is like being in high school all over again. There are the super popular kids clad in their designer shades with their puppies in tow. (Just to give you a taste of my personality, growing up, I always thought the popular kids were stupid because they didn’t think for themselves. Not cute, boo boo. Not cute.) Short anecdote: Freshman year of high school, a girl who would go on to be the queen bee of the popular girls invited me into the clique, but I avoided them at lunch simply because I knew they disliked one of my middle school friends. (Even at 13, I wasn’t about that “follow the leader” life.)

Then, there’s the ultra artsy Los Angeles people who take weird to a whole new level. I thought I was weird, and then, I met people here. Let’s just say everything goes in the City of Angels. Nothing I see shocks me at this point. There will always be something in 10 minutes that will out-weird what just happened.

If you let it, Los Angeles will eat you up, spit you out and then eat you again. That is…. if you let it. It can also make you a stronger, and, dare I say it, better person. In my second year in my dream city, with every turn, it seems I have faced a new set of obstacles. There were some moments when things were so bad I simply had to laugh to keep from crying. My friend Jade and I became masters at the “laughing at your pain” mantra.

“Los Angeles will eat you up, spit you out and then eat you again. That is…. if you let it.”

There was the job lay-off at 26. The roommate remiss of caring for her dog  (i.e. a regularly pee- and poop-stained carpet. You’re welcome for that imagery.) There was the vandalized car window. The getting rear-ended by an uninsured driver at a red light that nearly totaled my car. The five hundred plus dollars spent to get my Jeep fixed in order to pass the California smog test, just to spend nearly the same amount to get my California tags and plates. (Yay, me!) Then, there was the hurdle of getting over the three-year friendlationship that I thought just might be “the one.” Oh, and just this week, there was the moment where I nearly flooded my friend’s kitchen (sorry, Jade) and had my things attacked by ants in the bedroom the next day. (Shower, please?)

Like I said, rough year. But with every rainy cloud, there was a silver lining. There was crossing the finish line of my first half marathon. (I literally could not feel my legs but have never felt more proud in my life.) There was the benefit concert that an old roommate, myself and few loyal friends teamed up to create. I stepped out of my comfort zone and played MC/hostess for the night, and we raised more than $1,000 for Syrian refugees.

There was getting to go back home to Michigan, Oklahoma and Georgia (yes, I have a lot of homes) to see family and friends and get so much quality time, hugs and kisses to fill my heart up. There was the starting my freelance journalism career (more like stumbling into it) that pressed me to be more confident than ever in my writing, editing and negotiating skills. There was stepping out of my comfort zone, auditioning for my church’s music team and making it!

There were also some laughs. (Well, actually lots of those.) There was the time I ran through a fountain on Hollywood Boulevard and ran into a huge sign in front of hundreds of people. There were the awkward dates that made for lots of witty banter with friends later on. (A Mercedes-Benz will not compensate for bad grammar folks.) There was the guy I met at a party who told me I look like someone who has money. (Apparently, I look like I make money moves.) There was reconnecting with my middle school crush and realizing I can do so much better. (His loss.)

With every turn of the page this year, there has seemed to be a hurdle. Clearly, I must be on to something good. As one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist says in her book Cold Tangerines, “Nothing good comes easily. You have to lose things you thought you loved, give up things you thought you needed. You have to get over yourself, beyond your past, out from under the weight of your future. The good stuff never comes when things are easy.”

“The good stuff never comes when things are easy.”

2017 has shown me that I am stronger, tougher and more resilient than I realized. There have been a number of times when I’ve told my friend Sam that I was quitting, packing up and moving back to Oklahoma. I never once meant it. You see, what I have learned through of all this adversity is that I am no quitter.

While I may get knocked down, I always, always get back up. Oftentimes, I have sold myself short, in friendship, in love, in career, but not anymore. If I want the best, if I want more, then I have to ask for it. No one will believe in me unless I do. LA has taught me that people will walk right over me until I say, “Enough.” Living here has taught me that a “no” isn’t a bad thing, but it just leads you to the right “yes.” It has taught me that rejection does not equate to failure but can be information to redirect you where you need to go.

If there’s any words of wisdom I can share to you as you wrap up your 2017 and start your 2018, I’d say this: Sometimes, you have to be your own best friend, your own cheerleader, your own advocate, your own defense, your own believer. If you’re going to bet on anyone, bet on yourself.

I’ve been backed in a corner a number of times this year, but I haven’t given up. And I’ll keep not giving up, dusting myself off, holding fast to hope while encouraging yours. Yet and still, I am hopeful, yet and still.

Happy New Years friends! And thank you to all my beautiful family and friends who made 2017 sweet.



This post later appeared on Hello Giggles.


How a Blast From the Past Taught Me About Self-Love

I nervously packed my bags for my Portland weekend trip. Should I pack heels? What about a dress? I need a hot dress. Maybe I should straighten my hair? My mom always said I looked better with straight hair. If I keep it curly, maybe I should wash my hair tonight so my curls look extra nice for the trip.

My stomach fluttered with butterflies, the kind you only get when feelings are involved. I was headed to Portland for the first time ever, for both business and pleasure. For business, I was covering a women’s soccer game for a news outlet. For pleasure, I was taking a weekend girls’ trip with a friend from L.A.

Then, in a momentous, destiny-calling kind of way, an opportunity presented itself to connect with an old friend who lived in Portland. This old friend, to be exact, was my 8th grade crush who saw me in glasses, pigtails and all the awkward phases that a kindergarten through 8th grade school entails.

We’ll call him Austin. Rumor had it, Austin had a crush on me too. (His best friend told my best friend. You know? The usual means of communication in middle school.) Austin also happened to be one of my cousin’s best friends, and his dad lived in the same suburban neighborhood as my cousin’s family throughout our entire childhood. While I hadn’t seen Austin in 10 years, I occasionally would hear tales about his adult life from my cousin or my aunt whenever I came home.

A few days before my trip, my cousin text me his number. I sent a nervous yet bold text asking Austin for the best places to go to and sights to see in Portland, and the deed was done. Austin was gracious and agreed to meet my friend and I for lunch and show us around. I ended up spending every day of my trip with Austin, every single day. I was enamored with the idea of him yet and still, and I spent the weekend hoping for something more than friendship.

To my inner child’s dismay, I realized Austin had not really changed, for both the good and the bad. Between the long talks, laughter, jokes and insults we exchanged, I realized it wasn’t so much him who I had admired all these years but the idea of him. I romanticized who I thought he was or who I wanted him to be. I made the middle school crush who I cried over at the end of 8th grade (yes, I was an emotional kid) out to be more than he actually was.

He was still the good-looking, funny and sweet guy I remember. Unfortunately, he was aware of all these things, his good looks, his charm, his confidence with the ladies. The same guy who every girl liked in middle school was now sitting across from me at a restaurant over drinks checking out women and asking me to be his wing-woman to pick up ladies. Some habits die hard, and I think being the popular, athlete who all the ladies want is one of them. He was still the same person, not ready to grow up or settle down.

The real struggle from that weekend wasn’t about Austin at all though. It was an internal battle within myself. A battle of whether or not I would allow the popular guy in school to unearth me the way he did when I was a kid. The nervousness. The shaky hands. The fast heart beat. It all came back to me.

As Austin scanned the bar for women, I began to look at myself and question if I was enough. What about me? I wondered. Am I not good enough? Why don’t you see me? Why not me? I stopped, gathered my thoughts and began to counteract the insecurities trying to surface.

You see, I am not the little, straight- A, shy girl from middle school anymore. That girl has transformed into a twenty-someting woman who has scars from heartbreak that have healed with time. She has wisdom lines on her brow from the mistakes she has made and the lessons she has learned. She has miles under her belt from the states she has lived and the countries she has visited. She has laugh lines on her face from times spent with friends who have become more like family. She has muscle from the hours she has spent serving others and learning to enjoy the moment.

Eighth grade me is gone. Although parts of her make up the mosaic of the woman I am now, that little girl grew up and is now a woman who knows she is. She is confident, strong and knows her value, and no guy, not even the hot middle school jock, gets to challenge that knowledge.

Everyone gets older but not everyone grows up. Growing up requires doing the work to learn, to change, to better yourself. Austin hasn’t grown up and reconnecting with him taught me that trying to force someone from your past into your present doesn’t work. The pieces won’t fit.

Sometimes, oftentimes, you can’t go back to the past. You might be able to revisit it momentarily or for a weekend trip to Portland, but you can’t stay there. You aren’t meant to. Life is about moving forward, letting go and accepting the now. Austin and I got older and went our separate ways, and I really believe it was for the best.

My blast from the past brought laughter, moments of self-doubt and most importantly a revelation that I am good enough, who I am now, present day me. Our last day in Portland, Austin dropped my friend and I off at the airport, and I haven’t heard from him since. I walked away from the experience knowing it’s OK to grow up and not look back. You simply have to trust the process and let go of what you thought life would look like and accept it for what it is.

This post originally appeared on Hello Giggles.

Thanks for Choosing 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,


Hold On to Let Go


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!


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.


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.


Right Now


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.


No Five Year Plan


“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

A typical question for a twenty something. A simple, terse question that leaves the average twenty something grappling for the perfect, flawless response that will appease the ears of the listener.

I was recently asked this question. My response: “I am not sure.”

Gasp! You said that to someone? You don’t have a five year plan? You couldn’t give them some sort of idea? Why didn’t you make something up?

Five years ago, when I was 19, I could’ve never imagined what my life would be like today. Five years ago, I would have answered that question differently. I would have given some eloquent response about how I see myself living in New York after college graduation, and by 24 working my way up the ladder at some big name magazine. Well folks, the plan I had for my life five years ago, did not quite come to pass, and I’m okay. I am more than okay. I am better for it.

When a friend of mine recently asked me about my five year plan, I so eloquently and bravely, in all my 24 years of wisdom, told him the truth: I am not sure. At 24 years of age, I understand life does not work according to plan. Yes, I have dreams, goals and ideas in my head. I have passions that I am actively pursuing and would like to continue to pursue. However, I feel like creating some sort of masterful plan, 2.5 kids, married with a white picket fence by age 25, is a bit silly and honestly just downright stressful.

Five years ago, I was a sophomore in college. I was 19, working hard at a magazine on campus, interning at a local newspaper. I had big city dreams, dreams of New York. I wanted to be at a top women’s magazine straight out of college. Coming from a university in a small Oklahoma town didn’t discourage me at all. It just fueled my drive.

Nowhere, in my five year plan back then did I write down: fall in love for the first time, experience heartbreak, travel cross country, join a women’s ministry, live in New York for a summer, travel to Ireland, run a 10k and train for a 15k, move to Minneapolis, work for the top travel magazine in the world. That’s what my life has looked like the last five years, full of unexpected turns, curveballs, knock outs, and lots of second chances.

Those things weren’t in my five year plan, but I sure wouldn’t change them. So now at 24, I threw out the “list making” mindset because I know that life doesn’t work that way. In five years, I will be almost 30. I’d like to say I’ll be doing some screenwriting, while also working for a women’s magazine, maybe married or maybe just in a serious relationship. But who knows! That’s life! And I’m okay with not knowing and not pretending like I do.

The biggest lesson I have learned so far in my twenties is this: Life doesn’t go according to my plan. It’s cool to have dreams. Those are from God, but it gets messy when we try to dictate and pinpoint every detail of our lives. I’ve come to accept the not knowing, and I am learning to trust God more with the next step.

– Stephkt