“Move back just a little further,” I said to Rob, motioning towards the sand. He took one step back onto the bike path.
It was a Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. on Venice Beach at the beginning of October. Instead of an office desk, my battered 2009 MacBook Pro dangled from the edge of a planted palm tree, tethered to the lapel mic that was clipped to Rob’s sweatshirt. It had seen worse.
Surfers passed by and somewhere in my subconscious I wondered how they managed a morning like this. The only reason I could swing it was due to unwillful unemployment following a lay-off, and even so, guilt lingered. I should be using every second to apply to jobs or hustling to make money or whiteboarding out what I was doing with my life.
I peered through the portrait lens of the camera propped atop my tripod. The top of his head was still cut off, and a part of me panicked, knowing there must be a better set-up that a more seasoned videographer would know.
“Umm move back a little more.”
“I’m going to be in the ocean soon, Annie!” Rob replied with a laugh, taking a giant step back and pulling the laptop along with him.
Fortunately, Rob was as unfazed as my Macbook and the type of person who I felt connected to the moment we sat down to talk at the coffee shop for his pre-interview. His instant vulnerability made me eager to tell his story, no matter how little I technically knew about filming it.
“So, who’s going to tell your story?” he had asked, leaning across his coffee at Rose Café.
I shrugged and looked down at my notebook, not knowing exactly what to say. After several months of not knowing what the next day would bring, it was difficult to see past the next few hours, much less the year to come.
The Stories Behind the Stories
On January 18, 2018 I published the first article of the year about how, after years of scattered content, some soul-searching and a third-life crisis had revealed a new focus. I called it “meaningful storytelling” defined as “real stories about my life and others’ about challenges faced and their silver lining.” A natural assumption was made that half of the stories would pertain to my own life, half to others’.
However, as the year crept by, I quickly realized the limited perspective that my personal lens provided, as well as the frivolity of most my challenges. Consequently, each month I sought out someone, sometimes unconsciously, who could shed light on an area of life that I struggled to see clearly. While they acted as the main character of the story, I can vividly recall details of what was happening in the background of my life as I told them.
John | Life Without Limits
The Uber stopped at a stoplight outside of TJ Maxx, en route to take John’s photos on the beach. Because of a self-imposed phobia, I wasn’t driving. “So, if you’re telling the story of your friend’s sobriety, does that mean you’re giving up alcohol?” my driver asked. She had been sober for 7 years. I stared out the window at the discount handbags in the window display and quietly replied, “No, I could never do that.” I can’t even drive 3 miles.
Lauren | How to Coach to Build Badasses
Nearly all of the tables inside Rose Café were full so I sat outside. It was 12:05pm, and I wasn’t sure if I should text Lauren. Does she remember we’re meeting? Where would we sit? What questions do I ask? She walked up with wet hair and an oversized sweatshirt that said “THUNDER” in bold letters. The topic was confidence, and I coveted hers. I hid behind my lipgloss as I applied another coat.
“No, I’m sure I can drive,” I told Rachel as we left to the Montelucia Resort pool to take her photos for the article. Perhaps it was the quiet Scottsdale streets or maybe it was the rearview camera on my brother’s car, but I was determined to be the friend who drove for once. An hour later as we sat by the pool, I felt content despite any cocktails. Perhaps we were growing up.
My feet felt light against the pavement as Shelby and I ran along quiet Santa Monica side streets. Just before we left the office, the guy I was dating said he loved the article, even the anonymous mention of him at the end. As I ran, my phone buzzed, and a text from him asked if I could block off my birthday weekend at the end of the month. The excitement fueled an effortless sprint down 7th Street, and I suddenly felt confident in my ability to have a relationship with someone for the first time in 10 years. And not lose myself along the way.
Clouds of mist floated above us as sat outside Sip Coffee & Beer House in Scottsdale. It wasn’t enough though; I felt frazzled. “I’m sorry, I’m just really hot, and really flustered..” I leaned on Cody to ease my anxiety, but for the first time that I could remember, my best friend seemed visibly stressed. I took a drink of beer to make up the difference.
Patricia | The True Source of Strength
“Mom, I just need to talk to someone.” At 3 a.m. on a Monday morning I awoke on an air mattress in a Venice garage/home office. Before recalling where I was, I reached for my phone and drunkenly calculated the time difference between LA and Illinois. 5 a.m. felt reasonable. On the other side of Venice, Patricia awoke to study before our workout class that I would miss. I was supposed to have her story done but had been distracted by the overwhelming feeling that things with the guy I liked were done. Despite my best efforts to not lose myself in a relationship, I had.
“You need to get creative,” Ruben said as we sat outside on his patio. “Now is your chance to do something that’s in-line with what you really want to do. Look at it as a blessing.” The contents of my office desk were still packed in cardboard boxes in my bedroom. While I wanted to look at the previous week’s job lay-off as a bandaid that needed to be ripped, I was also terrified. I didn’t have much savings, and I needed an income. I didn’t have time to figure out a more creative path.
Amanda | How She Found Freedom and Purpose
The saran-wrapped rice krispie treat tasted like a small piece of heaven, and my hangover thanked me for it. Amanda and I sat in the courtyard of the Getty Museum’s cafeteria enjoying the sunny views of West Los Angeles between her photos and video interview.
“Isn’t this ten times better than when we met for your pre-interview coffee?” I asked. That morning we had sat at Rose Café both in an anxious state, confused over others’ actions and regretful about our own. Now in the warm air, weeks later, we felt a little sense of the freedom Amanda would later talk to the camera about.
Juan | The Purpose of Tough Love
My alarm clock sounded at 3:15am, and my creativity and will to capture the last shot to tell Juan’s story, pulled me out of bed. On a normal night, I might still have wine in my system; however, the night that I came home from filming him on the beach is when I drank two bottles of wine. And that was the last time that I drank. Now, two weeks later, I found myself with the mental strength for heavy back squats at 4:15am.
By the time I reached Rob, I still didn’t have a job, struggled to make freelance money and grappled to accept the many ways I felt turned down. I desperately wanted something to shift externally. In the meantime, I turned my attention inwards and began to cultivate the internal strength I had witnessed in others, through yoga, meditation, sobriety and breathwork.
What I Learned
As I folded up the tripod following Rob’s video interview he handed me an album cover adorned with his art. “Thank you, Annie!!” he said. “I made this for you.”
“On a clear day you can see forever,” I read aloud. It reminded of the past year.
On some days, rejection rains so heavy, it causes leaks in our self-worth. On other days, fear hangs so close, it fogs our vision, making it hard to see past. We hope for a change in conditions, a clearing of clouds, so we can move forward and know which way to go.
As I held out hope, this is what I learned along the way.
5 Things That I Learned in 2018
1. When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
- First, my Property Manager lent me his lapel mic.
- Then Evan told me try out his audio mixer.
- John indefinitely lent me the camera I once told him to buy.
- And Will allowed me to test drive his podcast equipment.
Over the past five months I’ve faced over 100+ job rejections for Product Manager roles in LA. As a result, my budget for storytelling has suffered, including cutting my video editor and learning audio production myself. However, small signs and gestures from friends have reminded me of what I’m meant to do. On foggy days when you lack direction, look for even the smallest signs in your daily life because The Alchemist quote above is true.
2. You must live it yourself. But you’re not alone.
John’s sobriety didn’t end my drinking. Lauren’s confidence didn’t hold the key to my own. And Patricia’s strength didn’t give me superpowers.
Hearing others’ experiences in life won’t directly dictate what we do with your own. We must experience the rock bottoms, obstacles and victories for ourselves. However, what they offer us are glimpses into what’s possible and a knowing that we’re not alone. When we feel less alone, we’re able to focus less on the shortcomings – knowing that they’re universally shared – and more on leaning into the possibilities.
3. Your thoughts are very powerful so choose them wisely.
The power to manifest what we want in life through our thoughts seemed like hippie bullshit and the type of witchcraft my parents warned about as I navigate the spiritual health world of LA.
However, through stories, I’ve witnessed the power that the mind has on the outcome of one’s life, from career opportunities to physical feats to moving on. Many of the people I’ve interviewed have been athletes, and I’ve wondered if the athlete mindset of visualizing wins translates to everyday life as well.
Meanwhile, the greater clarity I had in my thoughts, the more coincidences began to pile up until I realized that they weren’t coincidences. I had created the opportunities through a positive mindset and follow-through. I’ve realized that meditation, prayer, breathwork, affirmations and even a healthy dose of confidence all create the life you want to live.
4. Personal growth is non-linear.
I loosened the top button of my blouse as my car turned onto I-405 towards Santa Monica. My job interview had not gone well, but a text from Cody received moments before gave me hope. His Etsy shop made the front cover of Buzzfeed and orders poured in. In idle traffic I texted, “YESSS all your hard work has paid off!!!” It felt like he had finally leveled up after overcoming countless setbacks.
“My Etsy shop is gone. They closed it down.” A few weeks later, for a variety of reasons sparked by the Buzzfeed article, Cody’s business was instantly non-existent. The feeling of hope was replaced by cynicism and despair. When was I sold the idea that life would continue to improve? And what was there to look forward to if it didn’t?
Over the year I’ve watched this happen in some way to each person after the publish date. A new round of challenges presents themselves and sometimes we forget how we got through them before. However, a strong foundation has been formed over time, one that is better and better able to withstand falls.
5. “Do good stuff and be around good people”
How do you find a job that doesn’t suck your soul? How do you make new friends? How do you meet a love interest? How do you figure out what’s next?
In the midst of job rejections, a new gym routine and moving past my old one, the answer to each of them was realized and became more clear as I sought out interesting people and spent time telling their stories.
“Do good stuff and be around good people” became my mantra because when good leads, good comes. Spend time doing things that feel right, that utilize your unique skills and that make you want to soak up each moment. Be around people who light you up, who make you laugh and who you want to text after seeing them, saying, “That was really great.”
It’s what has helped me the most.
New Year’s Eve
At 9:30pm on December 31, 2018, Evan and I tiptoed across a warm studio floor, dodging yoga mats and electric candles that lit the narrow pathways. The quiet calm was in stark contrast to the rowdy house party where I thought I would be that evening. Just that morning the glittery crop top hanging from my closet door was swapped out for a cotton, athletic one from Target.
Gently, we made our way to the front of the room. And there was Rob. It was my first time seeing him since the holidays. We hugged, and Evan and I claimed the mats to his left.
“How have you been? How’s life?!” Rob whispered.
“You know, nothing has changed…” I replied. I still didn’t have a job, income or male interest. And, yet, life felt so different.
“But you’ve changed.”
“Yes,” I said. “Exactly.”
I smiled and glanced at my reflection in the mirror a few feet from me. The veins in my shoulders showed thanks to nourishment, increased strength and shedding a layer of wine I had carried around for a long time. In the absence of a spray tan was a subtle glow and look of contentment. It felt good.
After two hours of meditation, yin yoga and a sound bath, everyone in the room created a circle. With our backs against the wall and eyes closed, we held hands with the person next to us. One-by-one we voiced something we were grateful for from the year, as the person to our left finished sharing theirs.
My left hand held Rob’s, the last story of 2018, and my right hand held Evan’s, who would be the first story of 2019. It felt as if the torch was being passed, not just from one year to another, but from one chapter to the next. All of the challenges of the year had led me to this moment, and if this was exactly where I wanted to be, then maybe the stories weren’t even just a “silver lining.”
“I’m thankful for setbacks that were opportunities,” I said to the circle just moments before midnight. Perhaps, they were exactly what life was leading me towards.
And as I held Rob’s hand, I thought about the answer to his question.
No one needs to tell my story because I’m telling my own as I narrate people’s lives. My story is found in telling theirs. They provide new perspectives to old problems and unique insights to universal experiences. What I’ve learned is that collectively, with a variety of lenses, you can see a little further, a little clearer. And, perhaps, sometimes, on a clear day, you can see forever.