Reflections

Do the Things That Scare You

I sit on the couch in the audition green room, silently gripping my music book. The other two auditioners nonchalantly browse their phones, as we wait for the auditors to return from their break. I try to calm myself, but familiar thoughts start flooding my mind:

“Why did you sign up for a singing audition? You should have just done two monologues — your acting is much stronger.”

“It doesn’t matter how much you’ve practiced. You’re going to get nervous and screw up like you normally do.”

“I bet those other auditioners are much stronger singers than you.”

A little background — I got my start on the stage doing musical theater. I did it throughout high school and a little in college. And when I moved to the Bay Area and decided to get back into theater, I did musicals.

My very first play in the Bay Area – Oklahoma! Jud, Laurey, & Curly

But I almost always get nervous during singing auditions. I suddenly lose my confidence, drop all my support and slip into bad singing habits. I also get so preoccupied with how I sound that I forget to actually act during my audition song.

I would consider myself a decent singer, but not amazing. And I am definitely a much better actor. So, quite a few years ago, I made a conscious decision to shift my focus to straight plays.

I will always love musicals. And I do enjoy being in them. I love singing. I just hate singing auditions.

But one of my big rules during this sabbatical is to do the things that scare me. If there’s a choice between the familiar, something I’m comfortable with vs. something new and a little scary, I am determined to pursue the latter. Because if I don’t, there will always be that nagging thought in the back of my head: “What if?”

So, whether it’s producing a podcast even though I had no experience or taking interior design classes after being out of school for over a decade, I want to embrace it all.

And the little mantra that helps get me through it: It doesn’t matter how well you do it. The accomplishment is in doing it.

So, as I sat on that couch, doubts and fears bombarding me, I took a breath and just reminded myself that I will succeed as long as I go in there and just do it.

And that’s what I did. It wasn’t perfect. I definitely sang it differently than I had practiced. I didn’t have the proper breath support for some of the notes. And I could have acted a little bit more. I don’t anticipate being called back for their musicals. But it was also the most relaxed I’ve been for a singing audition in a very long time.

And when I left that audition and hopped into my car to head home, I couldn’t help but crack a huge smile. Because I had done it.

Reflections

Shedding the Mask

Tonight is opening night for the newest play I’m in, Sojourn at the Pear Theatre. I portray an astronaut on a one-way mission, and the show dives into the psychological ramifications of this type of isolation. This play has forced me tap into some pretty intense emotions, has pushed me as an actor, and has really made me grow as an artist.

Sojourn at the Pear Theatre. Photo by Michael Kruse Craig.

I’ve been reflecting on whether or not I would have been able to do this role justice, if I had never quit my job and gone on this sabbatical. For the past two shows I’ve done during my sabbatical — both new works, both requiring me to do some wild emotional and physical gymnastics — I given more of myself and grown more in skill set than I’ve done in probably my entire acting career.

And it’s not just the fact that I have more free time to rehearse and develop my character. It’s also not solely the fact that I now have much more mental energy to be present and and give my all during rehearsals and performances. I think an equal contributing factor has been the fact that during this sabbatical, I have found myself being more open and vulnerable.

I think a lot of us experience this — we have a “work self”. The version of you that is a little watered down, buttoned up and guarded, especially when you are in a corporate environment or just a more conservative workplace.

Now, I’ve always prided myself in being pretty open, honest and quick to speak my mind, even at work. But there was also a lot I kept to myself. It’s one thing to be the passionate theater kid in the office that is quick to voice her opinion on a project, but it’s another thing to admit you’re going through serious things like anxiety and depression. It was always calculated and measured outgoingness, with a lot hidden beneath the surface.

But what I didn’t realize, until this sabbatical, is how much I kept that mask on outside of work. I spent so much time being guarded and shielded in the office, that it actually spilled over into my everyday life — even theater! I was always cordial in social situations, but never really animated and open, unless it was with people I was really close with.

It’s been amazing and a bit shocking to see this change in me since the sabbatical. I am more relaxed, open and raw. And I’ve been able to bring that to the rehearsal room and on stage.

Audiences might think that acting is all about wearing a mask. You’re playing a character that’s not you, so you’re hiding yourself behind this role. But, in a lot of cases, it’s actually the opposite. As an actor, I tap into real experiences and emotions to portray the feelings of my character. It is actually one of the most raw and vulnerable things one can do. It’s opening yourself up and giving a little (or big) piece of yourself to the audience night after night.

When I do find that next career path, I hope it’s one where I don’t need to wear a mask. One where I don’t have to be so guarded and cautious. I want to remain open and honest … and yes, even a little vulnerable.

Reflections

Tracking Progress

In early December, I starting dieting and exercising regularly in an attempt to lose weight and get in shape. I figure I should take advantage of this free time to not only focus on my next career path but also on personal goals like my health and wellbeing.

I’ve taken on this challenge many times in the past. The two most recent successful attempts, I had something big to work for, that helped me stay on track — one was a trip to Hawaii and the other was my wedding.

Both times, I used an app to track my calories. I regularly weighed myself and took measurements to track progress. It was nice seeing hard numbers to gauge my success, but it was also frustrating when I had a week where I didn’t see the numbers go down or, even worse, when I saw the numbers go up.

And the problem was — once I hit the big milestones I was working toward, I no longer had anything to motivate me, so I would fall off the wagon and slowly gain the weight back.

This time around, I’m not working toward a specific event; this is a long-term — nay, lifetime goal. Once again, I’ve tracked my calories to make sure that I stay within my limit for the diet. And I’ve set various exercise goals. But I haven’t been weighing or measuring myself. Success has solely been measured by how consistent I’ve been with staying within my calorie limit and with how I feel.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was (embarrassingly) running low on clean clothes. It was a busy time, and I hadn’t done laundry in a while. Facing the possibility of donning heavily Febreezed jeans, I remembered that I had a box of old clothes from the last time I had lost a lot of weight but had since outgrown. I was convinced they’d still be one size too small but I thought I might as well give it a shot.

I pulled out the first pair of pants I could find, and braced myself for the disappointment of desperately trying to pull together that top button and hole, only to find that they don’t quite reach. But to my surprise, they buttoned and zipped with no problem. They actually fit!

Without really tracking and paying that much attention to progress, I had gotten back down to my wedding size. The feeling was nothing short of elation and a renewed, stronger sense of motivation.

It served as a good reminder that sometimes, if you’re just looking at the day-to-day, it’s hard to see that you’ve made much progress. Because day over day, or even week over week, that change can be small. But when you look at a larger period of time — say, a few months — suddenly you can see a huge jump in progress.

And it was made me reflect on how much progress I’ve made in other parts of my life, in these five months I’ve been on a sabbatical:

  • I figured out a career — web development — that I now know that I do NOT want to do.
  • I’ve launched a podcast!
  • I’ve worked on a couple of short films and written even more.
  • I learned to improvise and pivot and not be so obsessed with everything going perfectly.
  • I’ve grown leaps and bounds as an actor, taking on two original roles that really pushed me.
  • I kept up this blog! Two posts a week, without missing a single week. And I’ve written over 40 posts.

I don’t need to see big gains every day or even every week. A lot of accomplishment can be felt in just setting my mind to something and following through. And with that diligence, the progress will reveal itself — even if it takes a few months to do so.

Reflections

An Inspired Life – Answers

As a follow up to my last post, below are my answers to the self-reflection prompts from the An Inspired Life journal.


If my future self came to visit me today, I think she’d tell me to start:

My future self would probably tell me to start to proactively and seriously research ways to make a living through acting. It’s funny — despite the fact that it’s the one career I’ve dreamed about since I was a child, it almost didn’t make my list of careers to explore during this sabbatical. I think I had convinced myself long ago that there was no way I’d be able to get by as an actor, so I didn’t even dare pursuing it.

But one of the greatest benefits of my sabbatical has been how much more time and energy I’ve been able to dedicate to my craft and the quality I’ve been able to get out of my performances. And as I juggle so many projects during this time, I often find myself prioritizing and getting the most energy out of my acting. I’ve even had the chance to take on a little paid work. There are opportunities out there; I just need to more actively and diligently pursue them.


These are some of the most important mistakes I’ve made in my life:

I hate calling decisions in my life mistakes. Every decision I’ve made is what led me to where I am now. So, let’s call them tough lessons.

For lack of a better word, I would call going to grad school a mistake, mostly because I did it for the wrong reasons. I had wanted to live in New York, but I didn’t have the courage to just pick up and move out there on my own. Also, I graduating college and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do next, so I figured going to grad school was a good way to delay entering the “real world”.

And my lack of passion for the path manifested itself in me not finishing the program and ultimately having a nervous breakdown (yes, I can finally admit that).

But although a very expensive mistake, that experience also pushed me to be more independent than I had ever been. I moved out there by myself. And I don’t just mean that I lived there by myself. I literally hopped off a plane by myself, rented a car and navigated the crazy New York streets to buy furniture and other supplies, and learned to get around this bustling city all on my own.

I learned what great art could be and how absolutely invigorating it can be to be surrounded by it. I learned how to be comfortable exploring on my own. And I learned more about what I did and didn’t like.

Sure if I could go back, I’d do things a little differently. But that doesn’t change that I got a lot out of that experience.


These are some old patterns and behaviors I’m beginning to question:

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that one of the biggest habits I’ve questioned and tried to detach myself from is the propensity to talk myself out of things before I even try. This behavior has stopped me from pursuing so many things in the past. But my mantra during this sabbatical has been to try things against all odds, jump into the unknown and embrace the scary things.

Another pattern that I’ve begun to liberate myself from is my obsession with perfection. Actually, it was through the process of launching the podcast that I realized how much I’ve grown in this area.

Because of our limited time, we weren’t going to be able to launch the podcast with all of the bells and whistles that we had originally discussed. However, I quickly pivoted and was able to separate the “must haves” from the “nice-to-haves”. In the past, I would have beaten myself up about not launching the perfect product. But this time around, I was just proud that we had launched something, and I knew we could just iterate on the first version.


This is how I would describe the person I have chosen to become:

I would say that I’ve chosen to become a person that prioritizes creativity and artistic fulfillment. Also, when faced with the decision to do something and not, I will lean toward action, doing something. I opt for the new rather than the status quo.

I’ve also become one that has learned to appreciate the journey, not just the final destination. I appreciate detours as learning experiences. I see the value in trying and failing over never trying at all.

And I’ve chosen to become someone who is honest. Honest with myself and others about what I want and don’t want.


Here are some things I’m afraid of, but I want to try anyway:

I am a bit afraid of pursuing acting on a professional level because major imposter syndrome starts to set in. But if I don’t try, I’ll always wonder. And again, trying and failing is just fine!

I’m also a little afraid about the risk of starting my own business, but I want to try. The freedom and sense of ownership you get through entrepreneurship has long been calling my name. And a lot of the careers I’m exploring can be entrepreneurial in nature. I have a few ideas for businesses that I could get off the ground (even if it’s just a part-time thing), so what am I waiting for?


How would you answer these prompts? Feel free to share in the comments section!

Reflections

An Inspired Life – Prompts

A few weeks ago, I wrote about finding an old document where I had answered a number of prompts meant to suss out the type of work and projects I was passionate about. I’ve always loved doing these types of exercises. It’s a great, guided way to do some self-reflection and help organize your thoughts and feelings.

At the beginning of the year, my friend Vera gave me a journal call An Inspired Life, which includes a lot of these types of prompts. The journal contains a wide range of questions that encourage you to think about your passions and strengths, your fears and hopes.

Having just hit a major milestone in my sabbatical with the launch of the podcast, it feels like a good time to stop and reflect about how I’m feeling today. What are the things that drive me? What am I most passionate about?

I’ve gone through the journal and picked out a few prompts that really resonated with me and this sabbatical journey:

  • If my future self came to visit me today, I think she’d tell me to start:
  • These are some of the most important mistakes I’ve made in my life:
  • These are some old patterns and behaviors I’m beginning to question:
  • This is how I would describe the person I have chosen to become:
  • Here are some things I’m afraid of, but I want to try anyway:

I’m going to reflect on these prompts over the next few days and jot down my thoughts. Looks out for my answers in my next post.

How would you answer any one of these prompts? If you’d like to share, leave a comment below.

Reflections

Our Brains, Our Hearts, and Our Guts

Which way to go …

I’ve been thinking a lot about decision-making lately. Whether to take or pass on an opportunity. Whether or not to tell someone something. And, of course, for this sabbatical — what do I focus on next in my life?

And it has me pondering on the various ways we all go about making decisions.

There’s, of course, using our brains. What’s the logical thing to do? We look at the pros and cons. We weigh the advantages and disadvantages. We calculate the risks and rewards. We do all this work to figure out the rational decision to make.

Then, there is following our hearts. What are our passions urging us to do? We think about how we would feel going down one path or the other. We sometimes laugh in the face of reason and make the most illogical decision because it feels right.

And finally, there is going with our gut. What’s our instinct telling us? We tap into something primitive, survivalistic even. These are often our snap decisions. The decisions we make without too much analysis or reflection.

So, what method to use?

Oh yes, that’s right, we need to decide how to decide. How meta.

Of course, the answer is — it depends. For financial decisions, we might use our brains more. For personal relationships, we might follow our hearts.

And for me, a lot of times, I’m using a combination of these various decision-making organs. Take theater, for example. It is my hobby — my passion, really — but I approach it like a job because it requires the same hardwork and discipline (and time commitment!). And I have to make a lot of decisions — from choosing what to audition for, to accepting or declining a role, to opting to do one show over another.

I find that I first do a gut check. What’s my first instinct? Then I use reason to weigh my options. Does the timing for this play work for me? Will I grow from this role and gain new skills? Will having this credit on my resume help get other work? This is the stage where I’m often using others as a sounding board. But ultimately, I feel like I solidify my decision with my heart. How will I feel if I accept or decline this opportunity?

Yes, sometimes conflicts arise when our brain, heart and gut point us in different directions. But again, I think that figuring out the best approach to take depends on the type of decision.

And then there are the decisions you make where you know neither outcome is great. These can be draining decisions to make, and I find I usually just go with my gut or follow my heart.

Oh, and of course, there’s the fear. The absolute terror that we’ll make the wrong decision. But that’s where I think it’s good to recognize how I’m making the decision. It’s the thing I can point back to when I’m having doubts.

Now, things get even harder when looking at much bigger decisions, like … oh, I don’t know — what new career path to follow! But I think the key for me will be breaking down this massive resolution into micro-decisions along the way. And I’m sure I’ll have to use my brain, my heart, and my gut.

Reflections

Digital Archeology

Last weekend I decided to do a little organizing — digital organizing.

Between working on my blog, drafting assignments for my interior design classes and collaborating with folks on the podcast, I’ve been using my Google Drive a lot. And it was driving me crazy how unorganized all the files were!

So, I took the time to go through each loose file and either delete it or place it in a folder. Now, I’ve been using Google Docs and later Drive ever since it was in beta, which means I had a lot of documents … and a lot of old documents.

Going through these files was a fun little excavation into my past self. There were old job resumes and cover letters. It was humorous to see how much I needed to pad my resume as a young professional first starting out. I had also forgotten how many different jobs I’ve applied for over the years.

It was interesting to look back at those old documents and reflect on how much I’ve changed over the years. I’ve gained more experience and skills. I can speak more confidently about my qualifications.

But was what surprising was uncovering many old files that revealed how much I really haven’t changed.

There’s the document from 2010 where I listed content ideas for a blog I thought about starting — Fashion, Food and Frugal Fun. I had even drafted a few possible posts for the blog.

There’s the file from 2014 where I brainstormed ideas for articles I could write and submit to online publications.

And then there’s another document from 2016 where I drummed up more content ideas and even listed different formats — blogs, videos, podcast, tutorials — that I could explore. I wonder if 2016 Laura even remembered that 2010 Laura had also dreamed of blogging and had even already written a few posts that never saw the light of day.

And then there is a questionnaire document from early 2016, back when I was still working at the ad agency and more than a year before I started working at Facebook. The questionnaire included a number of fill-in-the-blank prompts meant to help you surface the type of work you were really passionate about.

Here were the questions:

  1. If I could choose one friend to trade jobs with, I’d choose _____ because _____.
  2. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do _____. It’s interesting to me because _____.
  3. If I had the right education or skill set, I’d definitely try _____ because _____.
  4. If I had to go back to school tomorrow, I’d major in _____ because _____.
  5. My co-workers and friends always say I’m great at _____ because _____.
  6. The thing I love most about my current job is _____ because _____.
  7. If my boss would let me, I’d do more of _____ because _____.
  8. If I had a free day that had to be spend “working” on something, I’d choose _____ because _____.
  9. When I retire, I want to be known for _____ because _____.

And here were my answers:

  1. If I could choose one friend to trade jobs with, I’d choose Kirin (television producer) because it seems like she gets to travel and work on new and interesting projects.
  2. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do travel writing. It’s interesting to me because you don’t have to work in an office, you have flexibility in your schedule and you get to talk about your opinions.
  3. If I had the right education or skill set, I’d definitely try video production because you get to constantly work on new projects, you’re not chained to a desk, and you get to be creative.
  4. If I had to go back to school tomorrow, I’d major in theater/acting because I love acting and I’ve learned that studying it in school can put you on a good path for a career (at least in theater).
  5. My co-workers and friends always say I’m great at being creative because I’m resourceful and good at DIY projects (e.g. Halloween costumes, handmade invitations).
  6. The thing I love most about my current job is presenting our capabilities because I like presenting and also explaining things.
  7. If my boss would let me, I’d do more of market trips/in-person meetings because I like to travel and socialize.
  8. If I had a free day that had to be spend “working” on something, I’d choose a DIY project (either home or fashion related) because I like creating, and doing something physical is easy for me to keep doing without my ADD kicking in.
  9. When I retire, I want to be known for creating some type of art/entertainment because I like being creative and the idea of having some type of product at the end of it (e.g. a video).

When I came across this document again this past week, almost three years after I did the exercise, I gasped at my answers and shook my head. These interests and passions are the same things I’ve highlighted during this sabbatical. The blueprint was there three years ago, but it would take me another 2.5 years and a whole new job and company before I finally worked up the courage to pursue these interests.

I try to look back and think — why didn’t I start that blog back in 2010? What would have happened if I had? Why did I go into another marketing job in 2017 when I so clearly articulated a year before that I was craving something more creative, that got me out from behind a desk?

Of course, I know some of the answers. I was afraid it was too late to make a change. I talked myself out of it before I even tried. Pride and ego and caring too much about others’ perception of me soured me on the idea of having to start at the bottom again.

Uncovering these old documents, seeing the black and white evidence of dreams deferred just reinvigorates me during this sabbatical. It reminds me that if I’ve always wondered about doing something, I should just go out and do it. It pushes me to take advantage of this opportunity to explore and try new things and not worry about rejection.

Because as many popular sayings go: I’d rather regret the things I’ve done rather than the things I haven’t done.

Sometimes, it just takes a little longer to get where you’re going.


Reflections

Dealing with Setbacks

At the end of December, I started the couch-to-5K program, a regimen that helps people with little experience get into running. Through the program, you slowly build up the amount you run each week, with the goal (as the name implies) of being able to run a 5K at the end.

woman tying running shoe
A good practice in discipline and determination.

Now, I’ve started this program a few times in the past but have always given up part-way through. I’ve either gotten to a point where I felt I couldn’t do it anymore or my schedule just got too crazy. This time, though, I was determined to see it through.

During the first week, you run/jog for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds and do six sets of that. Week 2, you move up to 90 seconds running, alternating with 2 minutes walking. And so on. You complete three sessions each week.

I started out strong. Week 1 was a breeze. Even Week 2 felt pretty manageable. For me, Week 3 was the first test of my endurance. During this week, you jog for 90 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, and then jog for 3 minutes, walk for 3 minutes, doing all of that twice.

Something about moving from 90 seconds to 3 minutes seemed daunting. And the first session of that week was definitely tough, but I got through it. The second session felt a lot easier. But then, before I could complete the final session of Week 3 … life got in the way.

I had to go out of town for my grandmother’s funeral. And then, when I returned, it was raining non-stop. I had already gotten sick from running in really cold whether; I wasn’t going to chance it by running in the rain.

Once the weather got nice again, I was back at it. Now, I probably should have gone back and started at the beginning of Week 3 again, since it had been almost two weeks since I did any running. But I’m someone who hates to backtrack, so I decided to just do that final Week 3 session and move on.

Yesterday, I started Week 4. If Week 3 was daunting, Week 4 seemed terrifying. The regimen during this week is 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, and then 5 minutes running, 2.5 minutes walking, completing all of that twice.

Going into that session, I already had my doubts. 5 minutes just seemed insurmountable. That’s longer than most of my running songs! But I knew I at least needed to try.

The session started out well. Getting through that first 3 minutes was surprisingly easy — I didn’t look down at the timer once. I steeled myself for the first 5-minute jog, found a long song with a good beat and took it easy. I did pretty well. I only looked down at the timer once and powered through to the end.

But by that halfway point, I was feeling pretty tired. The second 3-minute run came up, and it took everything I had to get through it. I was winded and thirsty and hot. Right before the last 5-minute jog segment came up, I paused the workout to try to collect myself. I continued on, but I could only run for about a minute before I had to stop.

I was devastated and discouraged. All that work, and I had hit a hurdle I couldn’t get over. Negative thoughts flooded my brain:

“See, this is why you’ll never be a runner.”

“This is probably where you quit last time.”

“All that work down the drain.”

But then, a friend brought up a good point — “where you are today… could you have done this like 3 weeks ago?” Of course, the answer was “no”. I had built up to that point. Those weeks prior had led to significant progress. I had simply hit a bump in the road.

I tell this story because I think it will be a good perspective to have during my sabbatical and career exploration. I will inevitably hit a point where something doesn’t go to plan or something doesn’t work out the way I thought it would. I’ll probably hit that point many times!

But instead of looking at what I couldn’t do, what I didn’t accomplished, I need to focus on what I have done and how much progress I have made. And it’s ok if I have to go back and do something over again, or if it takes just a little longer than I expected to get where I want to go.

And you know what? I’m going to go back and repeat Week 3. I’m going to build up that endurance again. I’m going to get myself to a point where I am better prepared to tackle Week 4. And I am not going to give up.

Reflections

Lessons from Loss

Last week, my maternal grandmother passed away. This past Saturday, family and friends all came together to remember her and celebrate her life.

Christine Rodriguez, 1931-2019

It’s funny how little we know about our parents and grandparents until we become adults ourselves. Growing up, my grandmother was just a sweet old lady who was good at sewing and lived on a farm. It wasn’t until I got older, that I heard more stories about her life.

And on Saturday, as I listened to my Uncle Tony deliver the eulogy and talk about my grandma’s journey, it really hit me what a strong and inspiring person she was.

A life of resilience

My grandmother was born in Henryetta, Oklahoma in 1931, right in the midst of the Great Depression. She was the oldest of five children and had all the added responsibility that comes with being the oldest child (as an oldest child myself, I can attest to that!).

She excelled in school, making top marks in her classes and lettering in basketball. She even wrote an award-winning essay about the freedoms granted by the First Amendment. Her teachers urged her parents to send her to college, but this was a time and place where you didn’t send many of your children to college, especially not the girls.

But my grandmother was determined to get out into the world! After graduating high school, she got hired as a flight attendant for American Airlines. But at the last minute, she was disqualified from the job because at 5’7”, she was one inch too tall.

And so, like many women of that time, she got married. And in these first years of her adult life, she would face heartbreak. She had her first child, Debbie, who died six days later. By the time she had her second child, Christopher, her husband was out of the picture.

Christopher had cystic fibrosis, a disease that was just beginning to really be researched at the time. My grandmother recounted that everyday she would need to rub his back to clear his lungs. Tragically, at 4 ½ years old, Christopher died.

My grandmother married her second husband and had my mom and my uncle. This husband was also in and out of the picture, so my grandma was often full-time caretaker and breadwinner, cleaning houses and picking up work as a seamstress.

Grandma holding my mom

A knack for entrepreneurship

She would later put her sewing skills to good use when she opened her own dress shop with a friend. My grandmother ran the shop and did a lot of custom dresses. Eventually, though, they couldn’t get enough business from the small town, so they closed the shop.

My grandmother then worked at a large corporate construction company, where she learned bookkeeping. Shortly after, she married my grandpa, who was a marine. As with most military families, they had to move a lot, but my grandmother was always able to find bookkeeping positions.

When they settled in San Diego, my grandmother worked as a bookkeeper at a CPA firm. One of the clients was so impressed with her work that he poached her to be his bookkeeper year-round! And then the business owner’s partners hired my grandmother to do their books.

Soon enough, my grandmother had her own bookkeeping business. She would often be hired by small businesses to set up their bookkeeping system. The business was so successful that when my grandfather retired from the marines and they were looking to move, my grandmother was easily able to sell her business.

Defying norms and the odds

My grandmother had already defied many social norms at the time. She twice ignored the threat of social stigma and had the strength to divorce men who didn’t treat her well.

She not only worked, but owned two businesses!

And in the mid-1960s, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. A disease that still claims the lives of so many, my grandmother fought breast cancer and won.

When my grandpa fought in Vietnam, my grandma had to play the role of mother and father. My uncle fondly remembers my grandma taking him hunting and attending every football game.

A writer at heart

After my grandpa retired from the marines, he and my grandma moved from San Diego to Oklahoma, for a quieter life, with more space. They built their own house on a large plot of land, and my grandpa raised cows for years.

It was during this time that my grandma returned to one of her earliest loves — writing. She took a night class on creative writing and really enjoyed it. She wrote and submitted articles to magazines, many of which ended up being published, including a couple in Reader’s Digest and one in Mother Earth News about how they built their barn.

Then, her local newspaper, the Bristow News, needed a part-time writer to temporarily cover for one of their reporters who was going out on maternity leave. My grandmother got the job and learned a lot about journalistic writing. When the reporter decided not to come back to work, my grandma was hired as a fulltime reporter. So much for retirement!

My grandmother covered everything from local news to state events, even once meeting the Governor. The sheriffs would call her out to crimes scenes so she could get the story — sometimes in the middle of the night!

She also learned how to take photos for the newspaper and became an accomplished photographer. One year, she won 2nd place in a state-wide journalism photography competition.

Inspiring my own journey

I look back on my grandmother’s life and am inspired. She had far fewer opportunities than I do and accomplished so much. She refused to do things the way they are “supposed to be done”. She found strength in loss and rose up to challenge after challenge.

And as I reflect on her life, these are a few things that I’ll hold close, as I go through my sabbatical journey:

  • Forget about social norms
  • Take advantage of surprise opportunities
  • Always come back to the things you are passionate about

When the time comes and people are looking back on my life, I hope they see the same determination, courage and strength that I see in my grandmother’s life.

An inspiring woman


Career Exploration, Reflections

Year-End Review

It's been a busy year!

With 2018 coming to a close, it seemed like a good time to look back on the first 2 ½ months of my sabbatical and reflect on what I’ve experienced and learned.

This fall, I mainly focused on careers related to the online and digital space:

  • Web Developer
  • Video Producer
  • Content Creator

My exploration was mainly self-led, relying on free online resources, as well as training from friends. I enjoyed having the flexibility to own my schedule and to jump between the different career areas. However, I did find there were certain weeks where I wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped.

Here are some highlights:

Web Development

I started my sabbatical exploring web development, through FreeCodeCamp, a website with free online lessons. I breezed through the lessons, enjoying the interactive element to each lesson.

I completed all of the lessons in the Responsive Web Design certification area. However, when it came to the sample projects, I had a hard time getting through them. I found I hadn’t retained that much information and constantly had to go look up how to do things. But more than that, I just didn’t find the projects very fulfilling to work on. I found myself just doing the bare minimum requirements to get the project done and wasn’t inspired to go above and beyond with set-up or styling.

I do think it’s useful to have basic web development knowledge, and I could see myself doing some part-time web development work. However, I don’t think I would get enough creative fulfillment out of being a fulltime web developer.

Video Producer

I had the chance to work on a film shoot, as well as try my hand as producing my own video. I also got a great filmmaking 101 lesson, where I learned everything from pre-production and planning to using a camera and editing.

It’s been interesting — and at times surprising — to see which elements of the video production process I’ve particularly enjoyed. For example, I found that I have a talent for and really like script-writing; since the Four Points Film Project (for which I helped write lyrics), I’ve written two short-film scripts. I also loved set dressing, which I suppose shouldn’t have been that surprising since I do have interior design as a career area of interest.

I definitely need more hands-on experience, and I’m excited to continue to explore video production, even if it ends up being just a hobby. My next steps here are to continue to get more production experience and to build up a portfolio.

Content Creation

This has been the area of career exploration that has been the most varied because there are so many different outlets and media for content creation.

When I first listed this career, I was focused on video content creation, so obviously there’s a huge overlap with my exploration into being a video producer. I analyzed my favorite YouTube channels, picking out elements that I particularly liked and would want to include in my own videos. I even started working on my very own video, which is currently on hold as I wait to upgrade the storage on my computer so that I can start editing. And I’ve created a plan for a whole series of food-related videos, the first of which I’ll be shooting this weekend.

I also worked on a content medium I didn’t expect to when I first started this journey – podcasting. After volunteering to help a couple of friends produce their new movie-themed podcast, I learned a lot about putting together and managing a project plan for the podcast launch. In fact, we are recording our first episodes starting in January, aiming for a launch around the Oscars. I’ve really enjoyed working with a team on this creative project.

Finally, I’ve kept up this blog! I’m proud that I’ve been able to regularly post two times each week. There have definitely been a lot of learnings and a lot that I could do better. But at the very least, I’ve reaffirmed how much I really do enjoy writing, when it’s a topic I’m passionate about.

Even if I don’t end up being a fulltime, paid content creator, I think this will be an element or at least a side project of any career I pursue. For example, if I end of being an interior designer, I could see myself also having a blog or video series about home decor and design tips.

What’s Next?

I will continue to explore video production and content creation because, as I mentioned above, even if those don’t end up being careers, they are hobbies I really enjoy.

However, this winter, I see myself shifting into the home-related careers:

  • Interior Designer
  • Furniture Upcycler
  • Real Estate Agent

I’ve signed up for a couple of courses through Cañada College’s Interior Design Certificate Program, and I’ll be starting classes in mid-January. I’m excited to go back to school again! This will be a much more structured approach to career exploration, and I’m interested to see if I get more out of it.

For furniture upcycler, I’ll probably try my hand at giving new life to existing pieces we have or free furniture we find. I think this could also be a good overlap with video production and/or content creation, as I can create a video or write a blog about the upcycling process.

I’ll need to do a little research about the best way to get a taste of the real estate world. This may be a career area where interviewing people in the field could be the most fruitful first step.

And that’s actually a good segue for another big sabbatical goal in 2019: connect with and interview more people who work in the various career areas I’m interested in.

It’s been a great first few months. I’ve learned a lot — not just about the careers I’m exploring, but also about what I really want to prioritize in life and what fulfills me. I’m excited to continue this journey in the new year!