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.

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This post later appeared on Hello Giggles.

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Begin Again

Begin-again

“Blood shot eyes, bruised knees, sweaty forehead, she wipes her brow and presses on. Past the obstacles. Past the hurts. Past the failed relationships and friendships. Past her own mistakes. She dusts herself off and decides to keep going.”

My life has looked a lot like this lately. A lot of having to choose whether or not I will press onward or allow the circumstances around me, in this current (temporary) season to define me and my future. Life has required a lot of, as so eloquently put in Taylor Swift’s hit song, shaking it off. (Sorry, TSwift will be referenced again in this post but there’s a purpose, so keep reading.)

Life is like that sometimes– rough. Just plain, old hard. There’s no pretty or eloquent way to word it. Life can be hard sometimes and I think in your twenties you are rudely awakened to this harsh reality, on a weekly if not daily basis. To be honest, a lot of things, including blogging have been difficult lately. Because when life is rough, it is almost innate for me to want to run away or crawl in a ball in the corner where no one can see me. Continuing to write through what has been one of the hardest years of my personal and professional life, has felt nearly impossible.

But here’s what I have been realizing, it’s the hard stuff that makes us strong, wise, better. Like gold being refined in fire or a diamond being cut, drilled and polished, sometimes to get where you are going and to see the end result, you’ve got to go through hard things. I think the trick is whether or not you allow the things you go through to define you. Whether it’s financial woes, work stress, a heartbreak, a loss of a loved one, an illness, whatever unexpected turn life has taken for you, it is your decision whether or not that thing defines who you are and who you will become.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

Baby steps they may be, but baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

Here’s my advice and one word to keep in mind through hard seasons: RESET. According to Webster, reset means to set again or to adjust or change the reading. I want to challenge all my fellow twenty somethings reading this, that when life is crappy, reset. Hit reset in your mind. Begin again.

So you lost your job or that friendship fell out or that guy broke your heart….allow yourself to feel how you feel. Be angry. Be sad. Be disappointed. Be real about it, but don’t stay there. Take some time to yourself, gather your thoughts, reevaluate and take from it what you can. Learn. Then, begin again. Dust yourself off and begin putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps they may be, but baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

One last thing before you go, here’s an awesome video of encouragement along the lines of beginning again by none other than Taylor Swift. Enjoy!

-Stephkt

Say Yes

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My closest friend has on more than one occasion accused me of being a man hater. Her exact words….. “Stephanie is skeptical of men.” No matter how much I try to refute this, my friend is in fact right. When it comes to my friends and guys, I am the mother hen, waiting to swoop in and save the day from any man whore, liar, Mr. Here Today and Gone tomorrow. I stand ready and on guard to help my friends avoid having their hearts broken by guys who do not see their value and worth.

I can tell you for 100% fact (and yes, I may indeed be biased), but my friends (most of whom are single) are AWESOME! They are gorgeous, educated, independent, well-traveled, witty, adventurous and fun. What more can a guy ask for, right?!

Not only am I defensive when it comes to guys whom my friends show potential interest in, but I am also defensive regarding myself. What I realized as of late is that in all my strong, independent and vivacious nature, I have also been afraid. Afraid of what you may ask? Afraid of getting hurt. Afraid of going back to a place I have known all too well before: heartache. If you’ve never been there, trust me. It is not the most fun place to be.

My light bulb moment about my fear came recently when I was asked out on a date and gasp! I actually said yes. However, very quickly my fears manifested. I couldn’t allow myself to be open very long without the fear creeping up in the back of my mind. There were those nagging questions, “What if this guy hurts me? What if I start to fall for him and he leaves?”

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Say yes, more than you say no. Even if you turn out to be wrong. Because every mistake, every heartache and every blunder is just another step on the journey of where you are ultimately meant to be.”

What I realized is that by allowing my fears to dominate my thoughts, I’m doing myself a disservice. Often times, the thing we fear the most manifests in our lives. It’s almost as if we attract the very thing we fear. Yes, there’s a possibility that I and my friends may date Mr. Not So Rights, but there’s also a chance that we might each find really, great guys. Sometimes you have to stumble along the way in life and love until finally you get it right!

My recent dating situation did not turn out the way I had hoped it would. But you know what? I am proud of myself because I said yes. I said yes to a first date, and a second and a third. I took a risk. I took a chance. So what that it didn’t turn out to be happily ever after! In all honesty, it hurt. I got hurt, but I know I will be okay. Every mistake, every heartache and every blunder is just another step on my journey of where I am ultimately meant to be.

You know what I also learned from this situation: I can trust myself. There’s this still, small voice on the inside of me (some may call it a woman’s intuition, others’ a gut feeling, others’ the voice of God) that I can trust not to lead me astray. I can feel free to say yes to a date without fear. In this last dating situation, that still, small voice told me this guy wasn’t best for me and that is completely okay. Saying yes to a date is not the same as saying yes to an engagement proposal. It does not mean forever and always. It simply means: Yes, I will be brave enough to take a chance on something new.

So say yes. When a decent guy who you potentially could be interested in and are attracted to asks you out, say yes. Of course if you notice big red flags about the guy (like approaching you in a creepy or disrespectful way), feel free to say no. Just don’t be afraid to take chances. Yes, you may get hurt and you may mess up, but there’s grace for that. In this very moment, I am choosing to show myself some much needed grace. It’s not the end of the world. This guy just wasn’t best for me, but I won’t allow it to make me afraid. I’ll keep going and only be stronger because of it. There’s grace for you too. You will learn from it and only be stronger in the end.

-Stephkt

Color Outside the Lines

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Crash and burns, falling outs, mishaps, mistakes, failures…..

The twenties are  full of them. If this decade could be nicknamed anything, then I’d name it trial and error. You think when you are a kid that by your twenties you’ll have everything figured out. WRONG!!! So miserably, terribly and wholeheartedly wrong.

In your twenties (and for a matter of fact, every chapter of your life), you are bound to fail at something. Maybe you got that degree but didn’t land your dream job right after college. Or maybe you never finished college. Maybe your love life is a mess and that relationship you thought would be always and forever suddenly ended. Maybe you had to unexpectedly move back in with mom and dad. Maybe you set a personal goal for your twenties that you failed to reach. Maybe you dropped the ball and have more mess ups than you can count. If so, welcome to your twenties.

Here’s what I’ve been learning: Mistakes are bound to happen, but whether or not you rebound from them, that is up to you.

Thinking about my own mishaps and blunders in the first half of my twenties, sometimes I cringe from embarrassment and other times from pure horror. But then I stop and think, maybe there are lessons to be learned from them. Maybe these mistakes are all a part of a masterful painting called my life, where the mishaps blend so gracefully into the strokes that make the masterpiece.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):
“No one ever discovered anything new by coloring inside the lines.”

Thomas Vasquez

Something else I’ve been learning: Don’t last your past failures stop you. Whether your mistakes pertain to career, relationships, or personal goals, don’t let them stop you. The twenties are all about learning. So keep learning. Keep trying. Keep going. Keep making mistakes and keep learning from them. That, my friend, is what we call progress. Otherwise, you will just be living in fear.

Writing this blog every week for me is a constant “putting my foot in front of the other” thing. In the early days, there were definitely a number of posts that weren’t so good and that I would deem as mistakes. Sometimes I wonder if people are even reading. What if no one cares what I have to say? But I write anyway. It’s an act of faith, to keep trying and doing something I am passionate about despite any shortcomings thus far.

Forward motion. Growth. That is probably the best thing we can ask for in our twenties. So you had your heart broken once upon a time. Say yes to that date anyway. Ask that girl out for coffee anyway. Didn’t get the job you imagined? Get some more experience and apply again. Or better yet, apply to another position you are just as passionate about and qualified for. To be great, you must first dare to make mistakes and blunders.

I am sure Picasso colored outside the lines a few times as a kid before he ever mastered his art. Do the same. Make mistakes and learn. Try again.

-Stephkt

The Twenties: A Time to Deal

Aaah the twenties! Such a formative decade, full of ups and downs. Full of growing pains. This blog is all about chronicling my life as a twenty something and my lessons learned. Hopefully, all you twenty somethings can relate to the embarrassing moments, life lessons, love mistakes, job woes and friendship growing pains, I divulge each week and that you find them to be both entertaining and inspiring.

Awhile ago, I heard someone say something that piqued my interest. They said something along the lines of,” Your twenties are a time to work through all the issues you’ve developed since childhood, grow and learn how to take the good into your adulthood.”

Here’s what I took from that statement, your twenties are a great time for counseling, whether unofficial or official. I don’t say this in humor or in jest. Get some counseling, whether with a professional in an office with a leather chair and polished furniture, at the foot of the bed with your head in your bible or in long talks with a trusted friend. Start learning to deal with things now. Whatever that looks like for you, start processing through the last twenty something years of your life and deal with stuff.

Twenty Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Your twenties are a great time for counseling, whether unofficial or official.”

Between the ages of 20 and 29, you are kind of in the in between. You’re no longer legally a minor, bending at the word of whatever adult is in charge, but you’re not quite an adult yet either. You’re still figuring out how to balance work life, bills, travel, family and friends. You’re taking baby steps, but steps nonetheless, on the road to becoming a full fledged adult. Why not use your “in between” to take the stuff that’s happened to propel you forward?

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.”  Whether you are a spiritual person or not, you can still find some relevance in this statement. This verse and really this whole chapter explains that there is a time for everything under the sun. I guarantee you, as a twenty something year old, you probably have your share of baggage, little secrets and parts of your story that aren’t so pretty. There’s a time to deal and to tear down old walls, and that time my friends, is now.

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Each of us has a story. Maybe your childhood was all bunnies and roses. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe college for you was full of nothing but studying, acing classes and volunteering in the community. Or maybe it was full of heartache, wreckless nights, and stories you may never feel quite comfortable sharing with your future spouse. Whichever is true for you, it’s okay. It really is.

The best service you can do yourself and the world around is to use this time in your early adulthood to grow, to mend, to learn how you think and why you think that way, to understand your triggers, to reflect on how your parents’ shortcomings or struggles may have affected you, to heal from past hurts, to figure how who you are and who you want to become.

On the path to becoming who you are meant to be, you have to first deal with the person you have become. Take sometime to reflect. Take a little rest and relaxation to deal with what life has handed to you. Sometimes reflecting back helps you find the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

– Stephkt

I Lived

Almost a year ago, I graduated from college and what a year it has been! If you would have told me a year ago that I would be living in Minneapolis, I probably would have given you a strange look. The past 365 days have taught me about life, its ups and downs and, most importantly, about change. Life does not always go as planned and that’s okay. Sometimes things don’t turn out too great but you learn important lessons. Sometimes it turns out even better than you could have imagined.  The important thing to remember though, through the highs and lows, the dusks and dawns, the beginnings and endings, is to live life to its fullest.

This past week has been a great example of this. With the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the explosion at the West, Texas fertilizer plant, we have yet again have been reminded about the frailty of life. Just as last year’s shootings in the Newtown, Connecticut schoolhouse and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado taught us, this past week has painted a grim image of how easily life can be taken away. Subtly, behind every horrific image flashing across our television screens and every morbid headline, the idea was broadcast that this life is short and can easily be taken from us at any moment.

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My goal, my plan, my passion for this life is to live and live to the very fullest. I want to travel, take risks, meet people whose beliefs are different from my own, serve people, make a difference and really get my hands dirty. I want to live and live abundantly. This doesn’t always have to be in the form of grandeur or equate to glitz and glam. This life is full of big moments and little ones that should be as equally embraced.

I want to travel to Africa someday but I also want to remember to take frequent trips to visit my brother in Nashville and my family in Detroit, Tulsa and Atlanta. I want to serve at a national non-profit for young girls but I also want to volunteer at the Humane Society and walk dogs on weekends. I want to go to the Academy Awards someday but I also want to have movie nights with my roommate on Fridays. I want to eat at the finest restaurants in Italy, France and England but I also want to remember to take the time to chop, cut, bake, blend and use my own hands to make a meal. I want to travel the world but always come home for the holidays. I want to taste all different kinds of wines but never forget my Sunday cup of tea. I want to keep up to date with what’s happening in the world through social media but never forget a friend’s birthday card or phone call. I want to cherish every hug, every tear, every smile and every dance this life takes me on.

I want to live. When I look back on my life someday, I’d like to know that I tried. I put my best foot forward at loving others and pursuing my dreams even when it got hard. I want a head full of gray hair, a face full of laugh lines and a bunch of grandchildren sitting around  me because these are the signs of a life well lived. I want to push myself to never give up on this life, to continuously forgive others as well as myself, to be open to change and to keep living. I challenge you to do the same.bostonstrong1bostonstrong2bostonstrong3

“Until my moment comes, I’ll say I did it all.

I owned every second that this world could give.

I saw so many places, the things that I did.

With every broken bone, I swear I lived.”

I Lived by OneRepublic

With Arms Wide Open

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I’ve heard time and time again that there is nothing new under the sun. (Actually one of my older posts was exactly about this topic: https://stephkt.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/nothing-new-under-the-sun/)

One word of wisdom that I am realizing the importance of is about living with your arms wide open. You know that saying, “If something or someone is yours, let it go. if it is meant to be, it will come back to you.” My dad once gave me this wise bit of advice, and I let it fall by the waist side at the time. Knowing me, I probably disregarded it because as a twenty-something of course I KNOW EVERYTHING! (sense my sarcasm please)

In my 22 years of life, I have had a number of things pass me by. Whether it be relationships, friendships, jobs, colleges I was applying for, in my life some things, well a lot of things, have seemed to slip through my fingers no matter how hard I tried to hold onto them. Being the control freak that I formally was (and am currently growing out of), I tried to force things and people into my life that weren’t meant to be. Looking back, the harder I tried to fight for these things, the more they seemed to evade me.

Here’s what I have learned: Life is just as much about holding on as it is about letting go. It is important to balance the two and to know the difference. While you are fighting and struggling to hold onto that relationship, maybe you are missing the lesson you need to learn from it. Instead of holding onto to that friendship that seems to be falling out, let it go and open the door for new friendships to take its place. Instead of seeing not getting that job or into that university as rejection, just know that there is something else out there for you.

A truth that I want to live by is to love well and live my life with open hands. I want to show up every day, pursue my passions, love others well, give my all and be willing to let go. This is not an excuse to not fight for things. I fervently believe in fighting for family, friends and love, but I also firmly believe in loving with arms wide open, giving my all and being willing to let go.

Will you join me and live this life with open arms and open hands?

Here are two great songs about that topic:

Stephkt