2014: Change Your Life

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

I saw those words graffitied onto a wallet at the Hollywood & Highland mall right after I finished a hike up Runyon Canyon.  It was late September 2012, and I was wrapping up my first visit to Los Angeles. I desperately wanted not to be returning to Wichita, KS the next day. Such was my fate.

That’s exactly why those three simple words painted onto a red-bricked backdrop and mass-produced for consumption on a faux-leather money-binder arrested my attention.  They were calling out to me, screaming at me really, to do the one thing I’d long been afraid of doing: changing my life!

Whatever else happened, 2013 will always be remembered in the annals of my personal history as the year when I did, indeed, change my life. I bought the wallet for my best friend that night, but somehow I knew those words were as much for me as they were for him. The next day, I returned to Runyon Canyon early in the morning.  I climbed to the pinnacle and stood on top of a rock. The sun beamed down warmly. To my right, the Hollywood Sign sank royally into the towering hills. To my left, the pacific waters of Santa Monica glistened as sunlight danced across the beach. In front of me, a sea of soaring towers and sprawling buildings lit up.

I knew that I belonged down there.  Somewhere in the midst of the congestion, someplace in the middle of the cacophony, I was certain there had to be a place for me. Where I was—and how I would get there—I did not know. But standing alone on that rock with this panoramic vision unfolding, my eyes had seen the future. There was no turning back. There was no looking elsewhere. There could be no more delay. I had to change my life.

I made a promise to myself at that spot. By the end of the next year, 2013, I would be living down there. I would make a plan. I would make it happen. I would just do it.

“I’m just going to do this,” I said out loud.

Those words set in motion a roller coaster 14 months that would test my will, challenge my values, try my patience, and see me nearly lose my sanity. Yet, I ultimately found grace, peace, and satisfaction within that did, indeed, make that intention a reality. Today, I’m sitting in a Hollywood coffee shop reflecting on that experience, with my own studio apartment a few miles away and a job I’m eager to return to after the holidays.

But getting here wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t supposed to be.

I’m not the only person who has been fundamentally unhappy about a specific, key aspect of my life.  I needed to live in a big city, and as much as I love many of the people in Kansas, Wichita just wasn’t where I belonged anymore. I know a lot of people who are in places where they don’t belong, too…and it’s not all about geography. It’s the dead-end job depleting your ambition that you won’t leave because you fear the financial unknown. It’s the failed relationship you rekindle because the thought of being alone scares you more than the idea of being continuously wounded by someone who doesn’t fit you. It’s an ideology you cling to—maybe political, perhaps religious—that doesn’t align with where your core vales are anymore. It’s facets of our life, some big and some small, that add up to setting us back more than they do moving us forward. Once you know you’re going nowhere—and don’t fool yourself, because you do know—you, too, have to change your life.

It’s one thing to have that ‘Runyon Canyon magical moment’ where you see the dream you want to claim; it’s quite another undertaking to execute a plan to make it happen. When the scenery is grand, the temperature is warm, and you are high on the possibility of life, it’s easy to say that you will do something big. Inevitably, though, we all climb down the mountain.

For me, that climb was literal and fast. A few hours after I made that bold pronouncement, I wasn’t in California anymore. I was in Kansas, where the land was flat, the views were nil, and wind-chills had temperatures somewhere in the high teens.  So I did what we all do…I started making excuses:

  • I have too much student loan dept. I can’t move until I pay that all off (that will be never).
  •  I work at a non-profit. I can’t possibly save up enough money to move in one year.
  •  My resume sucks. My career path is weird and disjointed. No one in L.A. will ever want to hire me, especially since I’m from a flyover state.
  •  I’m not pretty enough for Los Angeles. I have curves and stretch marks. And dark circles around my eyes. I’ll be laughed out of town.
  •   I barely know anyone in L.A., and I pretty much know everyone in Wichita. I’ll have no support system if I move!

Self-flagellating excuses…sound familiar? Your list will read differently than mine, but all those excuses are doing the exact same thing that mine were doing: holding you back! Everyday, every moment really, we have an opportunity to see our life through the veil of fear or the veil love. I had conditioned myself into seeing life only through frightful sepia. All along, though, I’ve had a choice. After much reflection (including 10 days of not talking and doing nothing but sitting and meditating at a retreat!), I finally chose the wiser alternative. I re-wrote my narrative (and you should re-write yours, too!):

I always made the payments on my loans, and my credit was strong. I didn’t exactly make a ton of money at my job, but I was far from having to penny pinch. We also did just institute a new flex-schedule policy that allowed me to work 4 longer days a week and have 3 days in a row off, giving me the ability to get extra income from part-time work. My resume was as strong as I sold it, and I had solid references eager to help me get where I wanted. While I couldn’t do anything about somebody else’s prejudice toward Kansas, I could resist the ridiculous impulse to indulge it myself.  I’d been single my whole time in Kansas; even if the guys in LA all thought my hideous, at least it would be warm and I’d have millions of things to do. Not that such a scenario is likely in a city with 10 times the number of people and probably 20 or more times the number of out, gay men! And not knowing anyone, well, I’d just have to make new friends and fresh connections!

With a more honest account of my life in the forefront of my mind, I was better equipped to make and execute the actual plan that was going to get me to Los Angeles. It included working four jobs and cutting back my spending drastically to save up $20,000 so that I could get here and have enough money to stay afloat until I found employment. I wasn’t going to rely on anyone else to get me out of Kansas; I couldn’t hope to be hired away. I–and I alone–would have to get myself to California. Like I said on that rock on top of the canyon, I just had to do this!

And I did. I worked the jobs. I saved up the money. I survived some intermittent drama. I even ended up getting “hired away” and got to leave Kansas a full month a head of when I intended. While I’m beyond grateful for my new job, I got myself to California. I was coming with or without it. That mindset actually made the search and interview process a lot more seamless and natural. There really WAS a place for me down there in those lights, and because I was of the right mindset, I was able to find it!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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Change doesn’t come easy. There were a lot of struggles to get me to where I am today. I wanted to give up…several times! But I knew I couldn’t, and I needed a consistent reminder. Mid-way through the year, I got those formative words tattooed onto my stomach…in the tongue of a giant Buddha. After doing some research, I discovered that the wallet image was actually taken from a mural painted onto a piece of the Berlin Wall. A concrete slab that divided and oppressed was repurposed to uplift and inspire.

My move to Los Angeles is about more than a geographic climate improvement, and it is much grander than an upgrade in city cachet (though those two facets are quite awesome!).  In moving, I truly am changing my life because when I drove out of Kansas, I left behind some tired, old ways of thinking that had nothing to do with where I was physically and everything to do with where I was mentally and emotionally. There are things I would have done a year ago that I won’t entertain now…and when I think about regressing, those three words are permanently affixed on the front of my person to remind me that I can’t!

Most of you aren’t going to brand yourself with a grandiose tattoo and move half way across the country to a city where you barely know anybody.  For each of us, the change we need is different. Whatever it is, though, do it. CHANGE YOUR LIFE. You don’t have to carry anything into this new year that you don’t want. Really, you don’t!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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Aside

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. T. Allen Culpepper
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 09:20:28

    Inspiring.

    Reply

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