What have I done in one year?

whiteboard

 

A week ago was my one-year anniversary since arriving in California. When I stepped off the plane, I was excited to spend a few months in Central Coast’s wine country with my parents before diving into being a writer and consultant full-time. I figured I would end up in San Francisco, and life would be somewhat similar to what it was in DC, but with enough changes to suit my needs.

Talk about a change of plans.

A month in, I wondered if I was crazy for leaving a city I loved, a great job, and many friends. Three months in, after a visit back to DC, I was more comfortable with my decision, but wasn’t so sure about the plan to write full-time. Six months in, I had become a bit of a red wine snob, read more books than in the previous two years combined, and still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

That’s when I threw all plans out the window.

My parents and I started going stir-crazy at the same time, and as a family, we decided to move to San Diego. They had lived here for two years previous to Paso Robles, and I had enjoyed my visits, so I said, why not? Nothing else was calling to me, and it made the most sense. Who could turn down beaches and consistent sunshine?

So I’m here now, and still not quite sure what’s next. Sure, I’ve been writing, doing a fair amount of consulting (I still need an income), and still running and reading more than ever. But what’s next? There are days when I look at this past year and wonder what the hell I’ve been doing, and where I’m going. There are many days when I wonder if I’ll make friends like the ones I had before, and others when I realize I may not quite want all the friends I had before. I question why I can’t figure out what I want to do, and wonder if I’m making it too hard.

And yet, it’s easy to get comfortable. It’s easy to become okay with being stuck, to not make any movement, because it’s not as scary as making things happen. Which is what got me here in the first place, right? If I had stayed in DC, doing what I was doing…would I have grown? Would I know what I know now about my relationships, about my interests, about what and who makes me tick? Probably not.

My biggest weakness is still my fear of things not happening in the way that I imagined them for so long. The fear of turning 30 and still not having met the love of my life, of still living with my parents and not figuring out my career, and of starting over. But then I remind myself that my parents essentially did this very thing (for the most part) – they changed careers, they found love again, they moved and started over. A few times, in fact. And they made it work, far beyond what they ever imagined.

So it’s been a year and I haven’t figured it out yet. My ideas and feelings and passions are a bunch of sticky notes on a whiteboard. But what have I done? Run hundreds of miles, read dozens of books, written thousands of words, reconnected with people from my past, and imagined a few new ways to live.When you look at it that way, I’ve done a lot.

Here’s to year two of my new life. Surprise me.

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So it begins…life in the country

The view from the back of the house
The view from the back of the house

I’ve been on the West Coast for exactly a week, and in my (parents’) new home in Paso Robles for less than 24 hours. A slight hiccup means my stuff still isn’t arriving until Monday, but when it all gets here and I start a new work routine, it’s going to start feeling a little less like vacation and more like reality.

corgi signBecause so far, it hasn’t quite hit me yet. A weekend in Napa to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my friend followed by a couple of days in San Francisco with another dear friend who moved out here in 2011 has been a stellar introduction to my new life as a California girl. Imagine trying to answer people when they ask, “So, where are you from?” I used to have trouble explaining my Louisiana to Ohio connection, but now to throw DC in the mix, especially right at the transition, is another story. Because I did in fact end up making DC my home, and I felt more in tune to it than I ever did in Ohio, despite living in the latter for nearly three times as long.

First order of business upon arrival to the “farm” was greeting the Corgis of course. My boy McGee is the same as always, and it’s wonderful to be with him again. And Abbey, oh Abbey, she’s a just a little ball of fluff and cuteness that I can barely describe. To be with puppies again is so much fun! And exhausting, for sure. Leftovers for dinner and a glass of wine topped off the first night, and I went to bed with the windows open in my room, all decked out already with some personal touches from my parents.

New coop door!
New coop door!

Today started with a great long walk with Dad and the dogs in the neighborhood, and I got to see just how many great hill workouts I’ll get in. My runs won’t be boring around here. Life on a farm has its duties — I helped Dad build a door to the chicken coop, and later I’ll pick some tomatoes from the garden, and maybe we’ll go to a wine tasting nearby.

But what’s most important is what’s happening right now: the dogs are laying on the floor, I’m in a chair writing, and my parents are nearby doing their own work. Beautiful scenery is all around us, and I get to wear stretchy pants and drink Dad’s fresh coffee. Life’s pretty good in the country so far.

As I settle in to my new home and figure out this journey, I hope you’ll stay tuned. Readers of my blog know I’m not really a daily update type of blogger, but I did want to share this first one with you from California. And if you really can’t get your fill of the Corgis, you can start following corgisandwine.tumblr.com, for lots of updates on… well, Corgis and wine.

A day at the new office
A day at the new office

All the feelings

A moment in time still rings true
A moment in time still rings true

Two weeks from today will be my last full day at my job. Three days after that, I get on a plane to California, and I’m not using my flight back. Whoa. (Catch up on the situation here.)

In the last few weeks, the emotions that accompany a giant leap like quitting your job and moving across the country to the unknown have been all over the place. Mostly anticipation and excitement, but also fear, sadness, nervousness, and doubt. Some mornings I wake up ready for the world, and ready for this new adventure, but within hours I’m freaking out about health insurance, not having enough moving boxes, and not being able to have a spontaneous happy hour with my best friend after work anymore.

As I’ve been cleaning out boxes and papers and stuff in my apartment, I came across an old journal I kept for a few years in high school specifically about my interests. My dad recommended it so I could narrow in on what I wanted to major in at college, and really start thinking about my career. It was hilarious to see how despite some phases of thinking I wanted to be a forensic psychologist or a counselor, I would charge back with notes about how I couldn’t stand math and science, and how I loved writing, reading, theater, and helping people. “Is there a job that pays well where I can just sit and read all day?” And the best: “I love writing. But it might not fulfill my wishes to help people.”

Today, I can look back and realize how those interests and passions we have in our youth are often the most real and true even after years of school and different jobs. And you know what? I feel pretty good about the fact that my work to date has both involved writing and helping people, or helping to do good. And now, I am going to do more of that, but just in a different way. I’m going to do what I wanted to do all those years as I sat in my room trying to write the next best-selling young adult series, and I’m going to help people, too  — maybe to be better writers, or readers.

Just now on TV, Madonna was being interviewed about a daring, yet very classically Madonna outfit she wore to an event. “There are no rules,” she said. “Just go by what you want.” I’m reminded by something my dad told me when I was struggling with an article for a magazine during an internship. It was a very dry piece, and I didn’t know much about the topic. Despite this, my dad said, “You can write it as is, or you can write it Madonna-style.” Over time, I’ve tried to remember that with my writing, no matter the topic, and with my life — to be true to me, to forget the rules, and to do what I want. It’s not always easy, but it is possible, and it’s worth the risk. And that’s what I’m doing now.

IMG_3955I’ve realized that in the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to set rules for myself, and unnecessary deadlines. I’ve tried to force myself to come to decisions about my work, my relationships, and my future, all by the time I step on the plane on May 24. But what I also realized, with the help of some friends and my parents, is that I’m under no one’s deadlines, and nothing has to happen, except of course the basics, like packing and getting out of my apartment. I can sit around for two months and not do any work, or I can have as much work as I want. I can embrace love and see what happens, and I can change my mind about any of it, whenever I want.

My apartment may be getting emptier as furniture is sold and boxes are packed, but my life is feeling more full by the day. I have been so fortunate to have all these wonderful friends and family and colleagues whom have been supportive and caring and proud and happy for me — and yes, sad — and that have been there for me to be all of those things with them, too.

In the next two weeks, as I’m thinking about spending time with my parents and Corgis and being able to pursue my dreams, I’m also thinking about leaving behind an amazing city that has provided me with opportunity, adventure, and the best friends I could ask for. As an only child, I always treasured my cousins and extended family so much in place of siblings. But these people here have become my family, too. They’ve watched me grow and evolve, they’ve seen me at my happiest, at my lowest, and all the in betweens. And I hope that you are all still there in the months and years to come, so I can be there for you, too, and we can share all the feelings, whatever they are, together.

New beginnings: California, here I come

East Coast to West Coast
East Coast to West Coast

I’ve been thinking about what to say in this blog post for a few months, maybe even more, since the idea first started forming in my head. And in the last couple of weeks, saying it out loud and in emails have made it more and more of a reality, but somehow, saying it on this dear old blog of mine that I’ve been writing for six years is what’s going to really do it for me… so I’ll just say it:

I’m leaving DC, moving to California, and pursuing my lifelong dream of being a writer. And I’m doing it just short of two months from now.

For many of you on the inside circle of my life, this isn’t a surprise. You know the story, or you at least knew it was a spark of an idea at one point. To you, I say thanks for listening, and thanks for challenging me to go for it.

But let’s back up a bit to the beginning. I moved to DC in February of 2007, a semester early out of college, and raring to get started in the city I had pined for since my first visit at 12 years old. “I’m going to move there someday,” I told my parents. “I’m going to write for The Washington Post.”

Fast forward about 10 years — I still wanted to move there, but I was also debating giving magazines a shot in New York City. “Newspapers aren’t hiring,” I told my parents. “So I’ll get some other writing job, and maybe do advocacy work.”

Six years later, I’ve had some of the most amazing career experiences anyone could want. My first job was at a top PR agency, my second had me meeting Ted Turner and Rick Reilly and kids who wanted nothing more than to prevent malaria and help girls go to school. And in my most recent job, I’ve worked with some of the smartest, most connected, and creative people I’ve ever met — all of us inspired by our two fearless leaders who have made the communications, technology, and philanthropy worlds a better and cooler space.

I wouldn’t give any of it back, not for a second. But it’s not my dream. In a “book” I wrote for school at nine years old, my bio said, “Jenna’s favorite food is macaroni and cheese, her favorite movie is The Sound of Music, and she wants to be an author or a teacher when she grows up.” Nineteen years later when I started to think about what I wanted next in my life, I realized it was all still true…but I wasn’t doing a very good job at really pursuing that last piece. Sure, I write this blog, and I write for my employers’ blogs. But Tweets and email marketing don’t make a writer — at least not the type of writer I always wanted to be.

I’m not heading off to another job. I’m not going back to newspapers, and I’m not running off to write the next 50 Shades or Harry Potter. What I will write for, and what I will write about may cover the extremes — health and food, and culture and family, and love and life…I’ll figure it out. What will matter most is that I will be giving it a shot, the shot that I swept under the rug when I left school because I thought I wouldn’t get hired as a journalist, because it seemed silly to try to actually get a career doing what I did for so many nights at the school paper.

About three years ago, a friend on his own journey to figure out his next step asked me what my perfect day looked like. I couldn’t answer him then. But when my dad asked me two months ago, my mind started churning, and within 24 hours and a couple of conversations with friends later, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And that I wanted to do it now.

So why California? There are two reasons; one is more simple, one is harder to explain. The first is family. Anyone who knows me knows how close I am to my parents. As an only child, they are my best friends and my rocks. With my extended family in Louisiana and no other obligations, the idea of being near them for the next chapter of my life makes me feel whole and happy. And the fact that they now live on a ranchette in the middle of wine country doesn’t hurt. And that they have another Corgi coming to join McGee.

The second reason — it’s just time for a change. I love DC, I love my job, and I love my friends. But for the last couple of years I’ve been feeling restless, and I knew a scenery change was imminent — it was just a matter of figuring out what I wanted to do. I could write here in DC, sure. I could do a lot of things here, though, and since factor number one is pretty important, factor two makes it easy to make the switch. There’s something in my bones telling me that California will suit who I am as a person, and bring a sense of place to me that I was starting to miss here in DC, without family, without a companion, without a dog.

So that’s the story, for now. There is so much more I could say about my friends here in DC, about what’s next, and how I came to this decision. And I will say it — in this blog, and to you, if you’d like to know more. And of course, I’ll be writing about this journey, fittingly, a journey to be fearless, and a journey back to the person I wanted to be as a nine-year-old little girl.

Thank you to everyone who has made me feel like my dreams are worth pursuing. I’m ready to find out what happens next!