Yes, you can be both happy and ambitious

As I briefly noted in my previous blog post, I just made a surprise weekend trip to Santa Barbara for my good friend Nikki’s engagement celebration. Her boyfriend Robby called me Tuesday to say he’d be popping the question on Saturday, and because I could be there for it, I booked a flight to Santa Barbara moments after getting off the phone with him. This was really tough for me to keep quiet about, especially since I’m the queen of oversharing and was beyond thrilled to visit southern California for a couple days, but I just had to do it.

Luckily, I faced very little travel drama on my journey to SB. I got up at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday for my 6:00 a.m. flight and ended up in Santa Barbara in the early afternoon as planned. With a connecting flight, I was concerned about delays and possibly missing Robby’s scheduled proposal, but literally everything happened as it was supposed to. His sister picked me up at the airport, and I had an awesome California burrito before setting up the proposal spot on a cliff:

Nikki saw this and immediately thought it was a memorial, haha.
Nikki saw this and immediately thought it was a memorial, haha.

pro

View from the cliff
View from the cliff

SB

At 4:30, a couple of us hid behind trees and bushes to wait for Robby to propose. His photographer friend Matt was snapping photos from afar, and I curled up behind a large tree trunk. Nikki said she recognized my red hair from a distance, but she’s a tough one to fool, and she also had a weird feeling I was in Santa Barbara that day. As you can guess, she said yes, and we all went off to celebrate immediately afterward.

She said yes!
She said yes!
By the water
By the water
She got a manicure ahead of time because she suspected a proposal was near ;)
She got a manicure ahead of time because she suspected a proposal was near 😉
Aw
Aw

Robby’s sister drove them to McDonald’s shortly afterward and then we headed to his parents’ house for the surprise celebration party:

r and n

cake

Hangin' out
Hangin’ out

asw

Robby was nice enough to let me stay at their place that night, and though everyone else stayed up and hung out until the early morning, I went to bed at 10, as I was pretty exhausted from my flight. I got up at six the next day, and sure enough, Nikki came into my room minutes later to chit chat about the wedding and what not. It was pretty funny because Robby texted an hour later to see whether she was with me and joked that she’d abandoned him already. Nope, but if she’s going to leave him for anyone, it’s going to be me!

The rest of the weekend was fun and relaxing for everyone. We went out to breakfast, walked along State Street and the harbor, visited Nikki’s work, explored Santa Barbara, and sat by the pool. I got sunburned, but that’s become a good sign. It means the sun is legitimate, and I never feel the sun on the East Coast, so a little rosiness is fine if it means I can absorb the warmth of the sun.

in sb

sb love

hey sb

sbb

The weather was perfect, everyone was great, and Nikki and Robby couldn’t be happier. It was an awesome weekend and I was truly sad to leave, especially since trips to California always remind me that I’m missing out on a great life over there. If I wasn’t certain about moving back to my home state before the surprise engagement weekend, I’m totally serious about it now. Santa Barbara is just such easy living compared to NYC, and just because I’m returning to California doesn’t mean I’m any less goal-oriented or ambitious.

The funny thing about all of this is that Nikki almost didn’t move to Santa Barbara two years ago. She was going to stay with me in D.C. and take a job in political PR. Though she felt she should remain on the East Coast, she knew in her heart that she belonged out West. Sure enough, she met Robby, a Santa Barbara native, a year after accepting a position at a newspaper in town. Had she continued living with me in D.C., she would have developed a strong career in political communication, but been lonely and unfulfilled. I made the mistake of toughing it out back East and forcing myself to be a Type A New Yorker/D.C. resident, only to get battered every winter and mocked by Northeastern residents and Martha’s Vineyard vacationers.

I used to think it would make me a failure to return to California, but look at me now: I’ve had four jobs in online media and feel 100 years old. I hate the weather in New York, I’m constantly worried about what could happen to me if I have a medical emergency here (going to the ER solo was just so much fun in April), and I miss my family and friends out West. My nephews and nieces are getting older, and before I know it, they’ll be too cool to associate with me in public. They also don’t understand why they can’t see their aunt more than once or twice a year, and I worry they’re eventually going to be upset I wasn’t around enough for their younger years. I don’t have a strong support system on the East Coast, and it takes a toll.

Santa Barbara also showed me just how much work it is to simply exist in NYC. Just leaving my apartment for a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee is an adventure, as I live along 2nd Avenue construction and always have to endure sexual harassment from man-pig workers who clearly have no respect for women besides their moms or sisters, if they even treat them right (unlikely). I can’t walk two blocks without being visually assaulted or cat called in New York, and it’s tiring to have to:

a. tell the person off
b. make weird faces to scare them away
c. ignore them and pretend to be oblivious about the whole thing

That’s not even counting the hassle it is to take the subway anywhere, the stress of navigating clogged sidewalks, paying way more than you get back in rent, always encountering unpleasant and miserable folks, etc. I don’t want everyday life to feel like work anymore.

Right after Nikki got engaged, her sister Sumer said to the two of us, “Listen, girls. I want you to know something. Life can be good and STAY good. It doesn’t have to go up in flames even though that’s what you’re used to.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you were unaware, Nikki and I often expect the worst because we’re not used to anything lasting, her more so than me. We’ve both lost parents to cancer, and Nikki jumped from foster care to foster care as a kid, never feeling like anything or anyone would stick. People turned on her without warning and she doesn’t keep in touch with a lot of folks from her past. That’s why she wouldn’t accept my Facebook sibling request a year ago. Even though it was just a joke, she didn’t want it up there in case I decided I didn’t want to be her friend anymore.

“Nikki, that’s ridiculous. I’m never going to drop you,” I said at the time, laughing.

It wasn’t a joke to her, however, because she knows all too well what it’s like to be left.

That isn’t going to happen with Robby, and she’s going to continue having an awesome life in southern California. Things started looking up for her shortly after she decided to not to define herself by her profession. Her blog post on the subject really resonated with me, and it’s part of why I’m so excited to move back to California and start fresh. Here’s what she said about leaving journalism:

I’m glad I finally conquered that fear and made some welcome changes in my life. So, I’m not a reporter at a newspaper anymore, but I’m still a writer. And even if I don’t ever make it as an author (which, I still hope I will and am eagerly waiting on hearing from an agent about some edits I made to my manuscript, as well as attending a writers conference and spending time with my mentor this summer), I will still be Nikki. I am not defined by my profession, but by who I am.

Nikki and Robby think I should live in Santa Barbara before I head to LA, and I don’t think that would be a bad idea. I have a strong support system and social network there, and I could work a relaxing job by day and travel to Tinseltown in my free time to make connections and seek representation. It’s just a thought, and though it might seem a little scary to set aside my former identity as an online media professional forever, I’m going to allow myself to prioritize my happiness right now. Once I have that, I can get back to being ambitious and pursuing screenwriting.

I used to think the two were mutually exclusive. To be ambitious and accomplished, I needed to sacrifice my happiness. I had to suffer through biting cold winters in New York, take ridiculously low paychecks for years on end, work every single weekend, and recognize that employers could treat me however they wanted because I’d chosen a glamour industry. Nikki and I are done with the glamour for now. We’re still ambitious — she’s going to get her book sold within the next year and I want to write TV shows someday — but we value our well-being more than anything else right now, and that’s exactly why we’ll be able to juggle both.

I haven’t been in the greatest place the past weeks. Since leaving journalism last month, I’ve been a rudderless ship with no appetite or desire to fight for my NYC lifestyle. The Kardashians have become my co-workers, as I have their show on during the day to keep from feeling lonely (they’re a big family and life is never boring for them!). Some of my friends said they felt I seemed down in Facebook and Twitter updates, so it was really nice to receive this email from an acquaintance right before my flight back to NYC today:

“On a quick personal note … I just noticed your latest batch of pictures and you seem genuinely happy. I must confess that I was a little worried about you after what happened with your job – you always seemed so cheerful, but after that you were really upset – and now it looks like you’re happy again. Maybe looks are deceiving, but I hope they’re not and that all is going well with you.”

Even though I knew I was happier, it was reassuring to get that confirmation from someone else, if anything because I don’t seem like a total weeping mess. And you know what? I’m not. I am not going to act defeated or even resigned to NYC anymore, because no matter what happens here, I have a home and social circle in Santa Barbara, and I can go there before venturing out to LA. I can commute until that drives me crazy, but my SB friends will be keeping me sane. I was only there for two days this weekend, but I already feel like Nikki’s future family is my family, and they’ll be there for the both of us no matter what.

Once again, I always knew moving back to California would be the right move for me, but my trip to SB made that even clearer to me. Life in NYC can be fun, energizing, and exciting, but it’s work, and I don’t want life to feel like work anymore, especially when, you know, I’m going to be working full-time anyway. I am going to be just as ambitious in So Cal as I have been in NYC — but I’m going to be a lot happier (and warmer!) this time around.

Did I mention I’m going to start going by my middle name Elizabeth? I’ve never felt like a Laura, and the only reason my mom and dad went with that instead of Elizabeth was because of Lizzie Borden’s terrible life choices. Well, I’m 25 years old and haven’t killed my parents, so I think it’s safe to go by Liz now. After all, Nikki and Robby don’t go by their first names either — it’s pretty common, and now’s as good a time as ever to do what I’ve wanted to do since childhood. I know, I know, Laura Donovan has always been my byline — but I really don’t care about journalist Laura Donovan anymore. Liz Donovan (like Liz Meriwether!) is the person I’m going to be when I return to California, and she has so much more going for her than the perpetually freezing stressed out media worker in Manhattan.

sb airport
At SB AirportNIk
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2 thoughts on “Yes, you can be both happy and ambitious

  1. Hm. It’s definitely interesting reading about your metamorphasis. As you already know, I changed my last name which was an important step in rebranding myself. Of course I’ll always give you reasons for why you should stay on the East Coast (not the least of which is that I’ll miss you), but like the saying goes, you gotta do watchu gotta do, so fuhgettaboutit.

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