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

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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.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Hollywood Cheeks.

    That’s either your new reality show or my first tattoo.

    Choose. Choose wisely.

  • My dear Cheekie, LA ain’t ready for all the special you’re bringing, but I am so, so glad you were ready for it. Super proud of you!

  • StillSuga

    So happy and proud!

  • Mr. SD

    Doooooope!

  • nillalatte

    Moving across the country with no job, no place to live, no family support, etc., is a VERY difficult thing for anyone. I’ve done it three times, so far, and survived, barely. It takes a lot out of a person, and I did it with three kids and two dogs to boot. But, once things get rolling and you’ve got six months behind you, it does seem to get easier.

    The last time I almost made that 4th cross country move, girl, it couldn’t have been any worse. Out of contracts, out of a job, and renting a house that the owner had let go into foreclosure, which was then auctioned off while I was still living in the house. But, as fate would have it, God blessed me one more time.

    The best thing about adversity is you learn a lot about yourself, and others. You learn to adapt and you become resourceful on your own. The draw back is once you’ve mastered independence, it’s kind of hard to let someone help you.

    Keep following your dreams Cheekie. It’s never easy, but well worth the rewards. :)

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      Definitely needed to read this. Thanks for the good vibes and support!

  • You are going to do it. I don’t envy the air mattress but I envy your drive. Keep it up.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      Yo, the day I get my bed is the day I jump around in it in triumph like a child. Can’t wait lolol

  • DIANA MURDOCK

    SO VERY PROUD OF YOU AND YOUR DECISION TO MAKE THAT MOVE!! YOU WILL BE SO SUCCESSFUL IN LIFE AND I CAN’T WAIT TO GO TO THE AWARDS WITH YOU……..I LOVE YOU CUZZOSUGA #SQUADDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD
    #BORNTOBEASTAR

  • fuzzydred

    I needed to read this. My hubby found a job in Tampa (his hometown) and I’m scared of uprooting my five children and putting them in new schools. I’m still employed in the city we live in and I’ve been scared to put in my two weeks notice. We haven’t found a place yet in Tampa, but our house – which we didn’t think would sell because it’s in the middle of nowhere – sold and we moved in with my mom, who is using me as her personal escort/secretary/slave for the time being. I just can’t set up a GoFundMe page and I’m at my wit’s end. Now, after reading this, I finally feel like maybe I just need to step out on faith and stop being scared. One of my friends just moved to Japan, so I think I’m getting signs for me to stop being a scaredy cat. Congratulations on the move!

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      Wow, so powerful! The steps you took alone are such an testament to your faith! They may seem small but that one step will lead to other things falling in place.

      • fuzzydred

        Thanks so much. Congrats on the move and wishing you much success in your endeavors!

    • LMNOP

      It’s okay to be scared. It means you have sense and can think things through rationally. Which are good things. And being worried about your childrens’ well-being is a very, very good thing.

      Bravery is, as the inspirational facebook meme informs me, not the absence of fear, but doing things despite being scared.

      • fuzzydred

        Thank you so much. I just want this move to be right and I’m not a free spirit like my husband. But you’ve encouraged me. I appreciate that.

  • GirlMelanie86

    I am trying very hard to not cry in the car but this was really touching and inspiring. I think about doing something like this all the time. ALL.THE.TIME. I thank God in advance for your success and pray your cup runs over with blessings.

    Okay, I’m crying but they are thug tears, lol.

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      *hugs* Ya know, I’ve been thinking of doing this for years and this was the right time for me to do it. Yours will come as well. If it’s in your heart, it’ll never stop nagging you lol. Thank you so much for the prayers. Same to you and your journey!

  • Echo

    I wish I possessed the guts you have to do this. I’m only contemplating a career change and I’m scared of that… Live your dreams baby! I’m sure you sharing this has motivated someone to take a step out on faith!

    • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

      I know you’ll find the courage to take the leap… because then you’ll realize you can fly! ;)

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