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.
I’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.
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!
Just like that, another year has gone by. One year ago, I made revisions to my bucket list that I started for my fourth anniversary of moving here, and in the last year I didn’t accomplish very much. I guess I need to give it another go, and set some hard deadlines for myself.
In the past year, I wouldn’t say that much big has happened in my life, but I feel I’ve grown even more as a person. Okay, I ran my first half, and my second 10-miler (pats on back). I went through a personal traumatic experience and had the support of friends and family to get me through it, and saw my family come together in tragedy and in celebration over renewed health. I took an absolutely amazing trip to Italy with my parents, and smiled through tears as my youngest cousin got married. I witnessed the joy of two different friends who got the proposals they’d been waiting for, and had to finally let go completely of someone who had been an important part of my life for years, as I reconnected with others I had been apart from for years.
So yeah, I guess that’s a lot. And if last year was about No Excuses, I think I followed through on a lot of that. I set goals for myself and accomplished them, whether it was at work, through races, or my 30 day paleo challenge. I shifted priorities as life happened, and learned to start setting boundaries for myself so that I could fuel my happiness. Most of all, I pushed myself to be fearless and to challenge myself to new adventures, new habits, and new perspectives.
As I begin my seventh year in DC, now only will I pursue my declaration “Here’s to love,” but I will remember that to get to my place, all of these experiences and moments of reflection are necessary. I will need to cry and get angry and frustrated, and I will need to question myself and others, and I will need to explore and discover and experiment, and I will need to reach and connect and take a leap of faith. I will need to trust that time does heal wounds, and that time also brings new opportunities, and a new chance at love. I will need to remember that being me, and celebrating me, is the first step at getting to where I want to be in life.
And while I’m at it, yet another revised bucket list for DC to work on this year:
- Visit Mt. Vernon & Monticello
- Go to Shenandoah
- Read at the Library of Congress and the National Archives
- Eat in a neighborhood I haven’t tried
- See a play at Folger’s Theatre (I am this coming weekend with Sarah!)
- Catch a show at the 9:30 Club
I think that’s a good start for now…
Thanks for being a part of my life in DC.
A year ago, I created a DC bucket list for my fifth year here, as a I celebrated my fourth anniversary of moving to the city. Below is the original list with the items I’ve completed crossed off. So I still have the remaining items to check off, and I’ve also added a few more things I want to do as I embark on my sixth year in DC. Thanks to all who have joined me in my bucket list adventures (and sorry to those that I haven’t yet arranged something with!) – I’m now accepting rolling offers to complete the rest and ideas to add to it! This year I will be much more diligent; I learned my lesson from the 11 things by 11/11/11 journey. And check out my Top 11 of 2011 for a short recap of what happened in my fifth year.
Must Do for Year 5
- Go to the top of the Washington Monument
- Eat at Art & Soul
- Visit Ben’s Chili Bowl (I’ve only had it at Nats Stadium)
Attend a Caps game
- See a concert at Verizon Center
Hike the Sugarloaf trail(thanks, Kim!)
- Visit Mt. Vernon
- Visit the Library of Congress
- Visit the Supreme Court
- Run the Capital Crescent trail
Do a night monument tour(technically complete as I did a night run around the Mall.) See a full show at the Kennedy Center (only saw a Millennium Stage show once)
- See a play at the Shakespeare Theater (ahh- I came so close to this!)
- Eat at Ray’s Hell Burger
- Visit the botanical garden
- Visit all the museums that I’ve missed so far
- Visit the National Archives
In addition to the yet-to-do above, here are some new ones for the list for year 6:
- See a show at the 9:30 Club
- Go ice skating in the sculpture garden
- Attend a DC United game
- Eat at all the Jose Andres restaurants that I haven’t covered yet
Eat at Old Ebbitt Grill
- Fly a kite on the Mall
- Visit the Goethe Institut
- Attend an embassy event
I have my work cut out for me! Thanks DC for another great year, and I look forward to another amazing one!