Phantom Planet on Aux: California (Here I Come)
I have officially been a tenant of my parents’ residence again for 15 months. I remember during the summer before my senior year of college how much my mom and dad would relish the nights we had family dinners. “This is probably the last time we’ll all be living together,” one of them would say as we sat down to recite the same prayer we’d repeated for over a decade.
They were right - I was going to study abroad in London that fall and then spend my spring semester interning in LA, crossing my fingers that I’d find a job out there to make the smooth transition from graduation to employment. My sister was entering her sophomore year in college and my brother was gearing up for his final year of high school. My parents were on the brink of becoming empty nesters (albeit we did have Kodi, our elderly chocolate lab, and later on Tucker, our rambunctious yellow lab puppy, for a bit of extra company).
I distinctly remember calling my grandma in the middle of February 2020 while on the drive home from work, filling her in on my day-to-day activities in the City of Angels. “This is the happiest I’ve ever been,” I admitted, one hand holding the phone up to my ear, the other pumping unspeakably overpriced gas into my car. “I really want to stay.”
I honestly thought I was on the brink of finding out who I was and what I wanted to do post school. I worked four days a week at Sony Pictures as an intern for the Emporium Photography building, photographing events and tours, and then one day a week at Highland Film Group helping with script coverage. After work I got a lift in at the Sony gym, and then a few nights a week I had evening class at Raleigh Studios, a working film lot, watching and dissecting famous films or hearing from guest speakers with prominent track records in the industry. If I had the energy (and my savings account allowed it), I would head to Hollywood at night and go to a House or Dubstep show with some new friends. I even joined the recreational soccer league at Sony, fully prepared to risk tearing my ACL for a third time, for some added entertainment.
And then Covid happened.
I won’t go into too much detail about what came next, because I already wrote an entire blog post about it (and we all lived through March 2020, no need to take unnecessary trips down memory lane). So long story short, within 10 days, I went from talking with friends about the best LA restaurants to hit up on Cinco de Mayo, to debating my family on which Mexican restaurant we should get takeout from in Carmel, Indiana, and whether that restaurant was even open for carryout at all.
The next couple months felt like a fever dream. I “attended Zoom University” and then had the pleasure of experiencing a pre-recorded virtual graduation ceremony. Still, I was pretty optimistic I’d find a job and get back to LA before the fall.
If I thought having to wear my cap and gown in my living room was bad, was I in for a surprise when it came to the 2020 job market - deemed the worst job market since the Great Depression. I spent my summer working out in the home gym I’d put together (will never take the gym for granted again) and sifting through Indeed and LinkedIn job postings in exclusively LA. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and by the time July hit, my thumbs were tired of refreshing my Gmail inbox for responses - I’d even take rejection letters at this point - and my bank account was starting to bruise from my frequent $10 smoothie purchases I wrote off as “self care.”
I caved. I got a part-time job at a supplement shop to make some money while I tried to figure out what exactly I was doing with my life. I’d worked at a supplement shop before and enjoyed it, so I thought this was a good fit for the time being. A few months in, I took over the store’s Instagram page. (Social media has always been a double-edged sword for me; it’s been the source of so much self-criticism and so many wasted hours, but at the same time it’s brought me some of my closest friends and given me opportunities I never would have had otherwise. At the end of the day, I really believe it’s what you make of it, and that’s how I chose to approach this new venture.)
I fostered a major TikTok addiction after the lockdown hit. Some might call it unhealthy. I call it subconscious tactical studying and preparation. When I started finding myself in a rut with my work’s Instagram, I decided to make a TikTok page for my own amusement. Supplements had been an interest of mine for years now, and making videos about them didn’t feel unnatural.
The page grew practically overnight. I went from filming a video here and there when the store was slow to taking on a new position as a Marketing Coordinator, with TikTok in my job description. People were driving to the store from Chicago. People were stopping by on their cross-country road trips. Online orders were selling out multiple products. These small wins were what solidified my desire to pursue a career in social media marketing.
That’s all to say I hadn’t gotten comfortable in Indiana again. I still wanted to move, but my application submissions slowed over the months, and by the time my job started taking off, I’d given up hope that I’d find anything in LA anytime soon. I started contemplating new escape routes - so naturally, like many recent college graduates, that meant grad school.
Not just regular grad school, though. I wanted to go to grad school in London. For starters, programs there were only a year long. They were also a pretty penny cheaper in the UK than they were in the US. I had some money I could use toward it, one of my best friends said she’d room with me, and I didn’t have a lease to break. When I studied abroad there, I took a class at City, University of London. They had a master’s marketing degree that appeared to be a good match. As my dad said, it seemed like one of those moments in life when everything aligns and it’s meant to be.
So I made peace with giving up on LA - for the time being. I perfected my personal statement. I hunted for Youtube videos on London universities and toyed out where I wanted to live with my friend that fall. “Take Me Back To London” by Ed Sheeran became my anthem. And in early May I clicked “Submit Application.”
“I’m for sure going to London,” I kept saying, “unless something crazy happens and I get a job offer in LA that I can’t refuse.” This seemed like a sad joke, since I’d stopped applying months ago and couldn't even get computer-generated rejection letters.
Cue the curveball of the century. A few months back, I’d let my previous employers from my LA internships know I was still looking to return to the city and to keep me in mind if they heard of any opportunities. Now, as I was dreaming about weekend trips to Paris and exploring the ins and outs of the British drum & bass scene, I was poised with a choice: continue down the path of pursuing my master’s in London, or further my career in the city I’d dreamed about making home for twelve years.
I’d spent months laser-focused on getting back to the West Coast. Now I’d become excited about living across the pond again. When I previously studied in London, I spent a lot of nights in my room, turning down offers to go out, opting to cure my homesickness with some takeout and Youtube. Going back would be my redemption. It would be a second chance at putting myself out there and exploring Europe to the fullest.
But going to LA would be like redemption too. A chance to go back to the city I’ve always called “Endgame,” this time with a stable job (which is a unicorn situation for incoming LA transplants). Within a week, I’d accepted both of the positions I’d been offered.
No more expat fantasies. No more Skyskanner browsing sessions for weekend escapades. I had to take an immediate hiatus from listening to drum & bass and anything that reminded me of what I was giving up. The thing was, no matter which direction I chose, I knew I’d be swamped with “what if”s. The grass is always greener, as they say. I needed to take hold of my decision and run with it. Instead of focusing on what I was losing, I needed to focus on what I was gaining.
Yes, going back to London would have been a chance to redo my study abroad experience. But going back to LA was a chance to redeem the opportunities I’d lost during my final semester of college. I was essentially picking up relatively close to where I left off.
London would have been a dream. There’s no doubt I would have loved every bit of it. But I was going for the wrong reasons. I was going to have a year of semi-controlled stability, like I’d had for most of my life. My heart wasn’t in it for higher education. Besides, I was going to get a marketing degree in order to get the kind of job that I was literally just offered in LA.
On the outside I’ve painted myself to look like a risk-taker, but in comparison to the rest of the world, I’ve always played it sort of safe. This is my chance to stop playing life on easy mode, to take a leap of faith and not bank on a safety net.
I received my acceptance letter to the university last week. Mixed emotions, obviously, but school will always be there should I decide to return later on. Besides, my friend Ashleigh will still be there, and if it weren’t for Covid I’d have a visit planned by now.
All this is to say that coming back to Indiana during Covid worked in ways for me that I didn’t see at the time, but were necessary in my long-term growth. It gave me a chance to reconnect with friends and family, the opportunity to jumpstart my career, and the mental clarity to refocus on what I want out of life and where I hope to be. (Shoutout therapy and consistent journaling. Self-reflection ain’t easy.)
To my friends and family in Indy, I’m sorry I didn’t really have much time to say goodbye. I’ve had just a few weeks to finish out my job here, start my new ones remotely, and pack my things - and if I haven’t shown it, I can assure you my anxiety is through the roof. But I’ll be back - this will always be my home base.
To my friends in the UK, sorry for getting your hopes up. I got my hopes up too. (Roundtrip flights from LAX to London are surprisingly affordable though. Just let me know when Boris gives the thumbs-up to “holidays” again.)
And to my friends on the West Coast, my car is finally packed. I’m ready to be criticized again for drinking tap water and wearing North Face. I’ll see you soon. :)