That Time I Decided To Move To Los Angeles To Chase My Dreams » VSB

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That Time I Decided To Move To Los Angeles To Chase My Dreams

It was December 2014. A highly emotional and stressful year was met with a last punch to my gut when a significant friendship ended. I felt worthless, burdensome, insufficient, and abandoned. And, frankly, I was tired. I was tired of crying every day and every night, sneaking away to bathrooms to delete my cache of tears. I was tired of never feeling enough and also feeling like too much. Then, the wave of depression’s numbness washed over me like a tidal wave of completion.

I found myself gliding toward the train tracks, the train’s headlights glistening in the distance and illuminating my fate. And I just stood there. The vacancy in my eyes only matched the vacancy in my heart. I was ready to go. I was ready for the pain to stop. I was ready.

And then, something remarkable happened.

The sound of two little girls invaded my silence. They were playing Chicken, daring the train to hit them. I watched them as they giggled, and gambled with their lives and how it was a stark difference in tone than that of my own gamble. I remember feeling an urge to cry out and chastise the girls for playing with death and…

The railroad crossing’s chimes sounded. The girls scurried away and went on about their lives. I looked ahead of me at the approaching train and something — whether it was me or something greater than me — pulled me to the other side and onto the safety of the train platform. To be honest, it’s still all a blur. I’m still not even sure whether these girls were real or just a figment of my imagination.

Either way, I’m still here.

I’d been planning to move to Los Angeles for years. As a screenwriter/director, I fell in love with the bubbling energy of Los Angeles and its firmly cemented identity in the film/TV industry. As with every year’s beginning, I knew I would do it in 2015. I just knew this would be “my year.” I had the plan blueprinted in my mind: I’ll continue to apply for a day job, get a job, get a place, and just move. It was, in my mind, the “right” way to move. The safest way to move.

Of course, none of it happened that way.

One particular day in May 2015, a friend of mine sent me an airline’s sale promotion for dates in the fall. At this time in the year, I was overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, and a bit of hopelessness, especially since I didn’t believe I had made any progress with almost half of the year already gone. I sat with these thoughts for a while and in what seemed like a combination of divine intervention and insanity, I did it: I bought a one-way ticket from Chicago to Los Angeles. I booked it for September and for me to leave on my late father’s birthday, which was significant for a range of reasons. With no job prospects, no place to live, and the burden of a condo (and its lovely friend, mortgage) that I had to (ideally) sell or rent. Looking back, I can’t fully describe my thought processes at the time, but it seemed like both a huge adrenaline rush AND an ordinary decision, as if I was simply buying a pair of shoes. I suppose what made it extraordinary was that these “shoes” would walk me into the rest of my life.

After the decision was official, I scrambled to research for places, continued to apply for jobs, and saved every bit of my coins. I even set up a GoFundMe after tussling with my pride for a few rounds. Even with the immense pressure I suddenly placed upon myself, I felt free. Even the mundane tasks of adulthood excited me, because they were all linked to my move.

Now don’t get me wrong, fear wasn’t absent here. I’m of the belief that bravery isn’t being fearless, it’s being scared as shit, and doing it anyway. Fear especially reared its ugly head as the months crawled on by, with no hint of a safety net. I had placed my condo on the market in October 2014 and I’d received little to no bites. Though I would’ve had rather not be a 2,000-miles-away landlord, my main goal was not to have to worry about having an extra major bill, so I double-listed my condo.

In the final couple of months, I had a renter interested, tackled a major plumbing problem that almost halted the renting progress and set me back financially, signed a lease as a landlord, was offered a day job, and landed an apartment with about four days to spare. It’s amazing how things lined up for me just in the nick of time and just when I was starting to seriously worry. Divine order showed out!

Next thing I knew, I was on the plane to Los Angeles, wiping away the remnant of bittersweet tears I shared with my mama and sister. I landed and looked upward at the palm trees and thought: Wow, this is it. My life.

(Ok, I actually sung “A Whole New World” to myself, who am I kidding.)

Making the decision to uproot my safe Chicago life, pack it all into three suitcases, a duffle bag and a backpack was one of the most difficult and enlightening things I’ve ever had to do. I am immensely grateful for my village: from the small group of people who pushed me along the way from the moment I spoke this dream out loud, to the sea of strangers and friends alike who dropped cash into my GoFundMe account, to the timeline of folks who never hesitated to scream, “you can do it!” during this very-public journey.

As I lie on my air mattress during my first week in LA and look out the window through tear-strained eyes, I am certain that the trials of yesteryear were carefully painted so that I could step into this new chapter. I don’t even know exactly how yet, and that may come to me much later with the beauty of perspective and hindsight. But, I do know one thing for sure right now: I am ready. I am here.

(If you’d like to see more pictures chronicling my #LABound adventure, you can check out my IG account at @embracethej.)

Tonja Stidhum

Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter/director with cheeks you want to pinch... but don't (unless she wants you to). She is made of sugar and spice and everything rice... with the uncanny ability to make a Disney/Pixar reference in the same sentence as a double entendre.

  • WOW. This an amazing story. Very inspiring. I want to leave where I am to be who I’m meant to be and some of the same things holding you are holding me. I’m glad you cut those ties and set yourself free.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      I am positive that “ready” day will come for you too! Let me know when it does ;)


  • TeeChantel

    Congrats! That’s such a big step but a GREAT one. Continue to live out your dreams!

  • miss t-lee

    So proud of you Cheeks!!!!

  • M DAlessandro

    we don’t know each other sis, but i am SO PROUD of you.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    *Pinching your cheeks and hugging you at the same damn time*

    Live out your dreams lady!!

  • Dougie

    I tell every one of my friends that want to get into entertainment in any fashion, that LA is the place to be. It may feel overwhelming now, but you’ll find that it becomes small very quickly, and people are open to networking (despite the stigma). I wish you nothing but great blessings, happiness, and success. Congrats on finding your courage!

  • BeautifullyHuman

    I love when people manifest their dreams! I’m so happy you didn’t give up. I know you’ve been wanting to come to LA for a minute now. Congrats on making the move and following your heart! I be trying to tell people, The Law of Attraction is real. Ask, believe and and prepare to receive.

    You’re so dope for going after the life you want! :)

  • YeaSoh

    GO CHEEKS!!! OMG *faints*… *shakes off unconsciousness*… CHEEKS!!! OMG!!! *faints again*

    So so so proud of you girl… by the way, you wrote the HEYLLL outta that post. PLEASE oh PLEASE oh PLEASE keep us posted :-)!!! #YouAreMyHero GO GIRL!!

    @Tx10inch is out there… Y’all need to link up

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      We plan to! ^_^

      • YeaSoh

        Ok that’s awesome! Like really keep us posted… For real for real

  • LyricMeThis

    Thanks for sharing your story! We all face this dilemma but not everyone has the strength and courage to step out on faith, take a chance and live out their dreams. I will be rooting for you and wishing you all the best!

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