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5 Brutally Honest Lessons Learned During My First Month In California

It’s been over a month since we parked the Forte hatchback right outside of San Diego. We left our comfortable Upstate New York lives in pursuit of the California dream — pacific sunsets, new challenges, and opportunity. I wish I was writing more of a positive, feel-good list, but if I did that I would be feeding the internet with more fake bullshit. We see enough “look at me” posts everyday. We are all guilty of putting up a facade and rightfully so. Why would we want to post the ugly parts of our lives to Instagram? That doesn’t make us look good. We need the world to think we have it all together. We need our personal brand to give off an image that we are doing well in life, even if we’re actually falling apart. On that note, this move has been hard. Really, really hard. Despite what you may think by what I post on social media, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows — or in California metaphors — ocean sunsets and In-N-Out.

Like everyone else, I need to give the illusion that I’m living my best life. Well, here’s the ugly truth — I’m not. It’s not easy knowing it will take an expensive seven hour flight just to see my parents or any of my friends. It’s not easy being WAY outside of my comfort zone. It’s not easy having no clue what the near or distant future is going to hold. Nor is it easy to watch my life’s savings dwindle at a rate I never knew possible. It’s not easy getting rejected from job after job when I was once a big fish in a small pond, and it’s not easy wondering how my bills are going to get paid if things don't start coming together soon. It’s not easy to sit in an unfamiliar place while looking back at the comfort and security I left behind and wonder “what the f*ck did I just do?”

And, perhaps worst of all, it is terribly heartbreaking when I finally accomplished that dream of moving to California I’ve had since I was a young teenager, just to find out it doesn’t make me as happy as I always thought it would.

But great opportunity can only happen in great chaos. Great reward can only come with great risk. And you can only find your best self when you’re so outside of your comfort zone that you have no choice but to find a way to be okay.

Here are the 5 biggest lessons I’ve learned since making the biggest change of my life: 1. You won’t know the good ‘ol days until you’ve left them. We were at our hotel near Grand Canyon National Park when a marathon of The Office was playing on cable (cable, lol, what a luxury). It was the series finale, the one where Dwight and Angela get married and Michael makes his short lived but epic final appearance as “bestest mench.” In Andy’s final talking head, he said he wished there was a way to know that you were in the good old days before you’ve left them. A thought of retrospect, wishing that you appreciated more of the everyday normalcy because usually at the end of that life chapter, you realize it wasn’t that bad. Perhaps, looking back, it was the best chapter of your life so far but you couldn’t see it in the midst of the mundane. The mundane that was actually quite beautiful and exciting, but you were too busy waiting for the next chapter because you were convinced that’s where happiness was waiting for you.

That line by Andy always struck a chord with me, but it's even more powerful and painful now. I think about home wishing I made more time with friends and family and said “yes” to every opportunity that presented itself. There was so much opportunity in front of me, but I was blinded by the irrational feeling of wanting and needing more. Why didn’t I just enjoy it in the moment for what it was? This move has been no exception. It’s hard to enjoy the present when you’re analyzing the past and feeling overwhelmed with uncertainty about the future.

Enjoying the moment exactly as it is requires two things — 1) awareness and 2) an insane amount of gratitude. Being aware of how you’re feeling in each moment gives you the opportunity to take control of your thoughts. Focusing on the things that are going right help you remember that you are indeed in the “good old days.” Right now, it’s hard for me to see through the constant tears, panic attacks, homesickness, and nauseating fear of the unknown and wondering how I’m going to make it to my next destination on this struggle bus. But I’m irrevocably thankful for my fiancée's constant reminder that this situation is no different than the ones I took for granted in the past. So much of our lives— like college or the financial freedom of your first full time job— we take for granted. Or at least I did. I couldn’t ever be happy because “my body isn’t at the size I want it to be” or “I’m still not making as much money as I want” or “I’m so busy I don’t have the time or freedom to be happy.” This move is no different. I am sure that someday I will look back and reminisce about the time I drove cross-country to challenge myself and experience something new. But like the way I look at the chapter I just left, I don't want to look back to my time in California wishing I lived more in the present instead of spending so much time searching for whatever skewed version of happiness I was looking for but could never find. This has become winded, but long story-short, I've learned that living in the moment is so important. Living in the moment means finding the good and happiness in every single second because someday you’ll look back and realize it wasn’t half bad.

2. We didn’t need to move across the country to be happy, but we wouldn’t have realized this if we didn’t. Living 3,000 miles away for an indefinite amount of time makes it easy to think about how truly blessed we were at home. Despite the monotony that we were so hell bent on getting away from, we had it good. Now, I look back and appreciate how easy it was to just walk out of my apartment and go for a run. It’s not that easy in my current living situation.

I miss and appreciate how easy Wegmans made it to get everything I needed for my quirky diet that made me feel good. I appreciate having doctors, my therapist, and the insurance that covered them.

I miss my boring old gym that I learned to feel comfortable at over the last 6 years and the yoga instructor that taught a class that perfectly suited me. I miss where I used to kickbox— they were beginning to feel like family and I was beginning to change my life. And despite how much I complained, I could afford it. Easily. And I purposely let that all go in search of something. Something to fill the void created by thinking I needed more.

My appreciation for what I had is overwhelming to me now, but I couldn't see it in the midst of it all and I don't think I ever would had I never left.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of a good friend. First of all, it’s hard AF to make friends as an adult. Especially while you’re (f)unemployed and aren’t forced to make those connections. At this point in life, in your mid-twenties, everyone has already established their social circle and has significant others they spend majority of their time with anyway. The friends you have and the friends you do make — CHERISH THEM. Tell them you love them. Send them a card. Make them feel special. Call them when you’re on the brink of a breakdown. Friends are actually angels in disguise and want to be there for you more than you think. Reach out to your circle, because they can literally save your life. The biggest challenge for me has been to force myself to not hermit. I get so comfortable in my metaphorical corner, on my laptop, doing things I think are “getting me ahead in life.” But what does "getting ahead" in life matter if you have no one to share it with? Shout out to my friend, Jaimee for letting me cry and talk it out. You the real MVP 💛 Cortney and Danielle -- your check-ins and positive vibes truly make my day and remind me of my purpose. I am irrevocably grateful.

4. Do what you have to do to feel okay during a rough-patch in life.

I’m not talking like hardcore drugs to completely alter your mental state, and I’m not encouraging you to dabble in alcoholism. But if you’re going through a hard time and your anxiety is getting the best of you, do what you have to.

If you need to cry multiple times a day, do it. If you need to lock yourself in your room and sleep, do it. If you need to pour a glass of wine and binge a full season of Queer Eye because watching other people change their lives makes you feel inspired, do it. If you need to see a doctor and inquire about medication, do it.

BUT -- promise yourself to give 150% in the moments you do feel good, and always have a goal in mind to bring yourself to a better state more often. It won't happen overnight, so do what you need to do to get through and be patient.

5. “Wherever you go, there you are.” I first heard this saying from my dad when I sent him the picture of us underneath the “Welcome to California” sign.

I told him we made it when he responded “Wherever you go…there you are. Love you. I’m so happy for you.” I took a few minutes to think about what it meant and realized it’s a fancy way to say “you’re still going to be your same neurotic self no matter where you run off to or what you leave behind.”

Of course, I’m over exaggerating. My dad’s intention behind it had no harsh undertones, but I was mad. Not at him, but at myself. This move was supposed to change me. The second I stepped over the California border I was going to eat healthy and have the most positive mindset 100% of the time. California was going to bring out the best in me immediately… DUH. Reality hit me hard. Barely three weeks in I was sobbing on the phone to my dad when I realized what I had done. He again repeated, “wherever you go, there you are.”

I left behind a full time job with bonuses and benefits, a beautiful comfy brand new (and cheap compared to California) apartment with a fireplace and ensuite bathroom, my “status,” and all of my friends and family. Jack and I were big fish in a small pond. But even with all of those things we had, I still wasn't happy.

3,000 miles away, I can't help but wonder if all these things I intentionally left behind are what people strive to achieve in life. Once you have these things aren’t you supposed to be irrevocably happy? Isn’t being comfortable the point? Why would I give all of that up to move to the other side of the country without a safety net? Our savings is depleting — fast. I received my very first job rejection that I truly thought I had in the bag (and I did, but they went with an internal candidate). And then I received two more rejections after that, and I'm sure there are more to come.

Now, I realize. Wherever you go, there you are. My anxiety is still here. It’s the same anxiety I had at home. The constant, unsettling feeling of not being or doing enough still makes me crack my knuckles and chew on my lip until my mouth is a big bloody mess. It’s still hard to stay consistent with nutrition and working out. I’m still taking the present for granted. I still feel not good enough, except now I REALLY feel like I’m not good enough. I’m still who I was at home in New York. During my sob session to my father, he reminded me that “if nothing else comes from this other than you forging a new perspective on truly appreciating what you have then it was still well worth it. At least you’ll have a better outlook on whatever your situation is for the rest of your life… and that’s not for nothing.” He’s right. Deep down, I am confident that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Honestly, I have no doubt in my mind that California was always destined to be this specific chapter in my life. Believing that fact still doesn’t make it easy.

I can’t say that I’ll ever purposely throw away a comfortable life like that ever again, but for now I am confident this decision is the biggest blessing that I just can’t comprehend yet.

I’m far enough outside of my comfort zone that I have no choice but to make the most of being here. I’m choosing to look at my dad’s quote in a different light. Wherever you go, there you are. Wherever you go, you have yourself — your body, your thoughts, your mindset.

Wherever you go, you can guarantee that you’re taking yourself along with you. There you are. Who do you want that person to be? It truly is up to you, just as it is up to me to make the most of this decision. It certainly hasn’t been all bad. The dog beach has given me life and so has all of the Mexican food. We now celebrate little victories with In-n-Out and the ocean is only a 10 minute drive away. It’s been so exciting listening to Jack’s voice on the radio in a major-market, even if only on a part-time basis. I have my incredible human being of a fiancé and I have my squishy-faced Bixby. I have my friends who are just a phone call away. I have a fall-scented candle in my room that makes me think the leaves are changing color outside my window, and it makes me feel like I’m home. I have my headphones, my laptop, and an Apple TV that can quiet all the craziness inside my head, even if only for a little while. I have a cheap gym membership that can (and will) be worth millions once I force myself to put it to use, and I have been -- slowly but surely. I haven’t lost it all, not even close. Though it feels that way more often than not.

It’s only been just over a month and I know this is an adjustment period. I hope to write again at the six month mark to share what I’ve learned thus far, and I’m hopeful that post will be a happier and more inspiring one.

I hope at that point I look back at this post and laugh, and I hope that I soon realize this chapter in California is actually "the good old days."

Until then, I hope this post at least connects with someone, anyone, and makes them feel like they’re not alone. In the words of Meredith Palmer, "You're not alone, sister. Lets get a beer sometime."

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