It’s been a tough couple of weeks to be a sports fan.
So many of us love sports, because sports provide us a break away from reality. They give us something to celebrate in the midst of a world that is chaotic and confusing. I think Earl Warren, the former Chief Justice of the United States, summed it up best when he said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”
The last two weeks, I haven’t wanted to turn to the sports pages. I’ve watched movies and TV and caught up on new music. I’ve read about art. I even turned on CNN one morning. The morning news was less depressing than ESPN. That says something.
We don’t turn to the sports pages to hear stories about men knocking their fiancees unconscious.
We don’t turn to the sports pages to see bleeding lashes on a young child’s body allegedly brought about by a 217-pound NFL veteran.
I started covering sports in 2011. While my main schtick then was sports law, what I really wanted to do, was tell stories about athletes doing good things. I saw the way that the media sensationalized the bad acts of a few professional athletes to make news. I knew, though, that for every bad apple, there were hundreds of athletes doing the right thing. For every Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson, there are hundreds of men who not only make the right decisions, but are working off the field to make this world a better place.
A journalism student emailed me early last week. He asked me, essentially, how do I keep writing about sports when there are weeks like these when everything seems negative? How do I keep a positive outlook on my subjects?
To answer that question, I need to go back to the first sports interview I ever did.
My entry into sports writing wasn’t grandiose. The first event I covered was the Manhattan Beach Open, a volleyball tournament, in California. The goal of my story was to highlight how during the NBA lockout, Kevin Love was playing volleyball competitively. While I was there, a man walked up to me and said, “Do you know who that is?” and pointed at an older, tall, African-American man. I said, “No.” He said, “That’s Rafer Johnson. That’s who you need to be interviewing.”
Seeing as I was holding myself out as a sports writer, I said, “Oh, of course that’s Rafer Johnson!” like I had any clue who he was. I then Googled him on my phone and agreed with the stranger who approached me that Rafer was someone I needed to interview.
Rafer grew up in segregated Texas and moved to California where he would become a standout athlete. He played for John Wooden’s UCLA basketball team, but his mainstay was track and field. In 1960, Rafer won the gold medal in the Olympics for the decathlon–arguably, the most difficult sport to compete in. He’d become a national celebrity of sorts thereafter, championing various causes, especially promoting the interests of people with special needs. In 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, Rafer was one of two men who tackled the man who shot him so that authorities could apprehend him.
On a July day, my 27-year-old self marched over to Rafer across the sand of Manhattan Beach. I introduced myself as Alicia from RulingSports.com and he was gracious enough to say he’d heard of it (which was a lie, since the site had been up for all of two weeks). The next thing I knew, we were making plans to grab lunch the following week so that I could learn his story.
Rafer was one of my early mentors in the sports industry. He told me things like they were. More importantly, though, he showed me that there is always hope in covering sports. Because at the end of the day, covering sports is about covering the human spirit. And the human spirit is one born to compete, to fight, to do anything at all costs to survive.
How do I stay positive about my decision to dedicate a large chunk of my life to covering sports and professional athletes after weeks like the few we’ve had in the sports world?
I stay positive because I know better.
I know that for every Adrian Peterson, there is a David Nelson who dedicates his time, money and heart to saving orphans in Haiti.
I know that for every Ray Rice, there is a Jason Witten, who through his SCORE Foundation, places mentors in battered women’s shelters in Texas.
I know these things, because I’ve sought these stories out. These are the stories I care about telling. They are never going to land me a job on ESPN–I’ve been told that in so many words. They are never going to generate significant traffic–I’ve had stories I’ve written on these subjects pulled by editors because they “aren’t newsworthy.”
And therein, lies the problem. We are told the stories that the media tells us. And the stories that the media tells us are the ones that they believe will generate the most views, clicks and traffic.
Last night I was out with some friends and one asked me, “Jessop, when are you going to write about Ray Rice?”
My answer? “Never.”
If we want to see positive news make its way into our media, we–the storytellers–must do our part to stop the negative news cycle.
That’s not to say there isn’t something positive that can come from the last two weeks we’ve had in sports media, where the news cycle isn’t about X’s and O’s or heroic victories, but rather two men beating women and children. What good can come of it? Change.
Sports, unlike anything else, has the power to change the world.
Our sports stars are our heroes. When they slip up, we watch. And we talk. And hopefully, we change.
If there is anything good to come from the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories, it is this: They’ve forced us as a society to have tough conversations.
They’ve forced us to discuss the way lovers should treat each other and what type of behavior is acceptable.
They’ve forced us to discuss how billion-dollar leagues should handle domestic violence.
They’ve forced us to discuss whether a winning at all costs mentality should stand in the wake of abuse.
They’ve forced us to discuss how children are disciplined.
They’ve forced us to discuss if there are better ways to bring up a child than hitting him with a tree branch.
Through sports, our society has confronted some of the most serious issues the world has to face. AIDS with Magic Johnson. Dog fighting with Michael Vick. Homophobia with Billie Jean King. Racism with my friend Rafer Johnson.
So, how do I approach weeks like the last two we’ve had in sports?
I remember that there is always, always, always a positive story to be told in the sports world.
I remember that sports is one of the greatest facilitators of change in this world.
And then I get back to writing.
Her name’s Blossom.
I pray every night before I go to bed. My prayers are private conversations between me and God. A chance for me to lay out my fears, make requests for the people I care about in my life, ask for the world to change, and request His favor.
Last night, I prayed like I had many nights before. “Keep my parents safe.” “Help me do Your will.” “Let this world find peace.”
And then I added in this, “Lord, help me help someone else.”
Things have gotten out of hand for me. I’ve never been very materialistic. When I look back at the last six months of my life, though, my saying that is probably hard to believe.
I drive a brand new car. I live on the 19th story of a high rise on the water. I spent two hours of my day yesterday getting the new iPhone, because I HAD to have it on its launch day. I have a new wardrobe of designer clothes thanks to not having enough to do this summer and plenty of time to spend on a little website called RueLaLa.
I’ve become really good at looking out for me. I’m taken care of. I’ve become really bad, however, at doing what I used to love: Taking care of others.
And so, when I realized this last night, I prayed. I prayed for God to give me a chance. And as I explained earlier this summer, I hope that the one thing people see when they look at my life, is that God has always been so faithful to me. He faithfully answered my prayer this morning. And in doing so, He gave me more than a chance.
On the weekends, the first thing I do in the morning is hit the pavement for a nice, long run. This morning, I ran through a neighborhood of Miami known as The Roads. As I wound back to my house, I passed a large Catholic church that I’ve run by hundreds of times before. This time, though, tucked away on the grass next to the steps leading to the church was a woman lying face down sleeping. Her clothes were dirty and battered. There were large holes in her jeans. Other than the clothes on her body, the one thing I noticed was that she had nothing. I saw no bags surrounding her. No items of her own, except for literally what was on her body.
I was about .25 miles from my house. However, I knew what I needed to do. I began running the other direction–the way I came–and to the Publix. I bought groceries like peanut butter and Ritz crackers and those tuna salad packs my roommate used to always take to work. I grabbed toothpaste and a toothbrush and deodorant and Tums. I threw in some bottles of water and fruit snacks and when the lady rang me up, I got some cash back, because who knew if she was going to like any of this?
And then I began my walk back. And with each step I took, I thought about the blessings in my life. The two parents He gave me that would do anything for me. The friends I can call on at any hour of the day. The job I not only love, but that pays my bills. The brain He gave me that has helped me achieve my dreams. The able body rid largely of sickness. And with those steps, I realized that in those things alone, I have enough. I don’t need fancy clothes. I don’t need the latest technology. I don’t need the glamorous jewels. In these things alone, my life is fulfilled.
As I turned the corner to the church, I looked toward the sidewalk where she was lying before and didn’t see her. I briefly panicked, thinking I missed my chance to help her. However, as I scanned the church further, I realized she was awake and sitting on the steps.
I held my breath and got nervous for a moment. What was I going to say? What if she rejected my help? What if she thought I was rude?
I watched two people walk towards her and up the steps and into the church without looking at her, lest so much as saying anything to her. And then, I knew it was my time.
So, I approached with my green Publix bags. And I said the most obvious first thing, “Hello!” And she said, “Hello.” And I sat down on the steps with her. And I said, “I saw you sleeping when I ran by earlier. And I thought maybe you could use some things. So I went to Publix and got you some stuff I thought you might like. And if you don’t, there’s $40 in there so you can buy what you want haha.”
And she looked at me and said, “God bless you. Thank you.”
And I looked at her and said, “What’s your name?”
“Where do you stay, Blossom?”
“Usually I stay in a room off of 10th, but I’ve run out of money. My husband was killed by a drunk driver five years ago.”
“Is that when you became homeless?”
“Yea. My babies were in the car, too. They died. The drunk driver took everything from me. He took my life. I woke up in a hospital six months later. I had been asleep for six months. And when I woke up, I had nothing.”
As she told me this, she showed me the scars on her face and arms from the accident. Blossom was the only member of her family to “live” after the accident. But if you asked her, she might say that her light was stripped from her that day.
I did what I usually do when I’m about ready to cry but don’t want to. I scrunched up my nose, raised my forehead and looked up.
She, though, went on.
“I was a nurse. I had a good job. We had money. But my head was messed up after my life was taken from me. I couldn’t do anything. And so I didn’t work. And then I lost my Green Card. And now, there’s no one to take care of this old Jamaican woman. I have nobody. No family. No one.”
I collected myself and looked at her. “You have me, Blossom. I’m going to look after you. I’ll make sure that you always have something to eat. And we are going to work on getting you a place to stay.”
So often, I think as society, we are quick to label homeless people. Lazy. Drug addicts. Drunks. Criminals. Wastes.
Blossom doesn’t fit any of those stereotypes.
Her name’s Blossom.
And she’s my friend.
Being 30 is weird. The world expects you to have everything figured out. You carry yourself through the world like you have everything figured out. But in all actuality, you don’t.
I spend probably far too much time questioning whether I’m doing the right thing with my life. Recently, the questions have been spurred by my declaration that I am going to purchase my first home within the next year. I’m the last of my friends from Colorado to buy a home. Yes, this is a bit of a hit to my ego, until I remember that my path was delayed by law school and living in really expensive cities. So, it was with much excitement that I announced, “I’m buying a house within the next year!” to all of my friends.
As the words flew out of my mouth, my anxiety went up. A house is a serious commitment, quite possibly only second to locking it down in marriage with someone. For someone like me who has trouble making choices, the thought of settling on one place to live and staying in that home for a considerable amount of time is frightening. The battle inside of my head goes like this: “I really like living by the water, so I should probably buy on the beach or the key. But, I also like living in the suburbs where things are more quiet. The suburbs aren’t by the water. Fort Lauderdale is nice, too, because it’s more kitschy, which is more me. That drive to work would be a nightmare, though.”
They say when you know, you know. So, for my sake, I’m hoping within the next twelve months some neighborhood rocks my heart as being “the one.” Or, that I find a realtor who all but makes the decision for me as to where my future house exists.
I share the story above, because it’s so indicative of me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do everything. I wanted to be good at everything. I wanted to be friends with everyone. I wanted everyone to like me.
For a long time, I was able to dabble in everything. I was the president of this club and a member of that club. I studied this and that. I had a social circle that was ridiculously large and included all different types of people with all different kinds of interests.
One thing they don’t really tell you about growing up is that when you do, your time becomes more limited. I’m still trying to figure out why. 30-year-old Alicia has 24-hours in her day, just like 21-year-old Alicia did. However, 30-year-old Alicia’s time is more limited than 21-year-old Alicia’s. I definitely don’t do more than I did then, so the only logical reason I can find for why this is, is traffic. Yes, traffic. When you’re 21, you’re probably living on a college campus or close to one. Your life is centered in an area that at most, is several square miles wide. You have more time, because it’s all spent in one place. When you’re an adult, your life is spread all over the place. Literally. Your commute to and from work can take hours. Your friends don’t live down the block. Heck, I get on airplanes on a pretty frequent basis to see my friends! Traffic, people. It’s a time killer that is wasting our productivity as adults. It’s preventing us from doing everything we want to do.
I’m not doing everything I want to do. I’m obsessed with my job and my career is progressing better than I ever could have planned. That’s not everything to me, though.
Yesterday, I got to thinking about what 16-year-old Alicia wanted to do with her life. She wanted to save the world. And she was naive and bold enough to believe that she could. She didn’t care about money or clothes or where her house would be. She just cared about helping others and finding ways to make life easier for them. That’s why 22-year-old Alicia went to law school, if I am to be truly honest with myself.
I think sometimes in the traffic and searches for the perfect home and while climbing the career ladder, we lose ourselves. We let go of our original, organic intentions for our life. We get caught up in keeping up with the elusive Jones’ and building a life that looks good on the outside. We do all of this while letting our hearts go. The truly successful people, though, find a way to wrangle their hearts back and to get back to what really matters to them.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all of the things in my life that I take for granted. There are so, so many things. Yesterday, as I walked to the restroom I thought about how blessed I am to work at a place where there is running, clean water. I thought about how when I buy my house–wherever it may be–there will be running, clean water that pour out of faucets inside of it. I thought about how when I have my babies, they will run through sprinklers and never have to search too far for a glass of water. I then thought about the little girls, career-driven women and mamas elsewhere, to whom finding clean water is the biggest obstacle they face in a given day. Clean water is their life’s battle. They need it to survive, yet they have to search for it.
Suddenly, the fact that purchasing a home was causing me anything resembling anxiety seemed horribly embarrassing. What was more embarrassing, though, was my realization that I’m not doing everything I want to be doing with my life. We, as Americans, are basically given cleared paths to pursue our dreams. More importantly, though, because of the comforts we live in, we are given a clear path to serve and help others.
I’m not doing enough of the helping others thing. And it’s eating at me. It’s eating at me, because I know I’m in a position to and that I have opportunities to. For me, I use time as an excuse. “I don’t have time right now.” If I don’t have time now, when will I? When I have a husband and kids? When I’m old and not in as good of health as I am now? The time is now, and I know that.
Mothers have a weird way of sensing things. I talk to my parents on the phone at least once a day. My conversations with my dad are generally much more serious than my conversations with my mom. My mom and I talk about TV shows and the weather and my friends. Our conversations usually leave me rolling on the floor in laughter. Yesterday, though, out of nowhere she said, “It’s ok to be average, Alicia. You don’t have to do everything.”
For those who know my mother and how much she dotes on me and everything I do, the fact that she said this was surprising to me. I almost wanted to stop her as she moved on to her next random topic of discussion and say, “Wait, did you really say that it’s ok for me to be average? I don’t have to do everything, either?! SWEET.”
My mom’s comments shouldn’t have been surprising to me, though. That’s because throughout my entire life, my mom has consistently given me one piece of advice. Until yesterday, it was a one-liner that I hated. I hated it, because I thought the point was so obvious and more importantly, that it didn’t apply to me. “Just do one thing at a time,” my mom always tells me. “Well, obviously, Christine,” rolls through my head every time she says it. Followed by, “I don’t have time to just do one thing. I have too much to do.”
Yesterday, after she told me it’s ok to be average, my mom said, “Just do one thing at a time” in her typically cheery voice. This time, though, I didn’t roll my eyes on the other side of the phone. It finally made sense. Like I said above, being 30 is weird. You may finally come to understand what your mother has been trying to tell you your entire life.
I didn’t tell my mom how when I walked to the restroom earlier in the day I made a mental note that I wanted to join the clean water movement. I didn’t tell her that I was thinking about picking up my life and going to Africa to help women locate clean water for their babies. Truth be told, telling her these things wouldn’t have been the weirdest things to have ever come out of my mouth to her. However, I’m glad I didn’t tell her these things.
There are people who can be radical in the way that they give to others. There are people who can literally lay down their lives to serve others. They pick up, they move and they go to where the problem is to solve it. These people are my heroes. I am not those people. Yet, that doesn’t mean that I can’t help. That doesn’t mean that I can’t do more with my life than what I am currently. And I think that’s what my mom was saying to me.
I don’t have to be the best giver to give. I don’t have to be at every event my friends around the world host to be a friend. I don’t have to be published the most to be a writer. I don’t have to own the biggest home to be a homeowner.
The secret to getting things done is twofold: First, do one thing at a time. Whether that one thing is working a job that provides an income for your family or moving to a third-world country to serve others, pick one thing and do it until it’s finished. The second is, it’s ok to be average. It’s better to give at least a little bit of yourself than none of yourself. It’s better to dabble in hobbies than to have none at all.
Things only get done when people do them and no one said you have to be the best to get something done.
Today was my first day of teaching for the fall semester. On the first day of class, I always ask students what they want to be when they “grow up.” Beforehand, I take them through my career journey. I tell them about wanting to be an engineer when I was 17, then realizing by the time I was 20 that the world was better off without me mixing chemicals or building bridges. I tell them about thinking law school was the answer for me and chasing a career of entertainment and corporate law. I tell them about the misery I found in my first legal jobs and literally being nearly unable to coax myself out of bed some days. I talk to them about being honest with myself and realizing that my greatest passions in life are writing and sports. I talk to them about the luck I’ve found since making that realization. I tell them all of this on purpose, so they can realize that it’s ok to not know what they want to do and even more acceptable to sometimes have to change your plan entirely.
As a sports law professor, I realize that only 15 to 25-percent of my students have any interest in going to law school. Thus, I need to create value beyond the in-class material for the rest of my students. For me, I work on creating that value by hopefully inspiring them to do something with their lives after they leave my classroom. Whether it’s narrowing their focus upon a particular career, finding an organization they want to give back to or deciding where they want to call a home, I want to leave them with something deeper than textbook lectures.
When my students went around the room today, I heard many of the answers I was prepared to for: Professional baseball player (which is realistic given our program at the University of Miami), NFL scout (also realistic), brand manager, agent, athletics director, general manager.
Sitting in the corner of the classroom was one of our basketball players. When his turn came, he looked at me and said, “I just want to be happy.”
In the three semesters I’ve done this, it was the first time I’ve been given that answer. And I told him it was the best.
So often in life, we get carried away making plans that we forget our happiness. We worry about relationships and careers, houses and bills. In the midst of all of that, happiness slips away. Real, pure, unadulterated happiness. Then, we wake up one day and realize that the opportunities we had to foster our own happiness and to build a life greater than any other have all but disappeared.
There is a real epidemic in this country when it comes to happiness. We tell and demonstrate to our children and young people that happiness is based upon things. “You’ll be happy when you get married.” “You’ll be happy when you buy the new car.” “You’ll be happy when you move into the new house.” “You’ll be happy when you get the promotion.”
It is true that many of those things can cause happiness. However, they are not capable of creating permanent happiness. Permanent happiness, rather, is internal. It’s created from within. It’s born from a spirit that life–as it is–is enough. It’s generated from the realization that waking up on any given day is reason enough to celebrate. A blessing. A gift. A cause in and of itself to be happy.
For nearly 30 years of my life, I believed that happiness was a contingency. Happiness was based upon degrees, men, new shoes and where I was living. It was found in events and trips and expensive dinners. Truth be told, I looked for happiness everywhere but in myself.
I’m grateful that that cloud has parted for me. I’m happy that when I wake up in the morning, I stretch my arms and whisper a little prayer that most days goes like this, “God, thank you for legs strong enough to walk and eyes bright enough to see and for giving me this day. Let me do something good with it. Thank you for this happiness. Thank you for this life. Thank you for this gift.”
I’m going to teach young people about sports law for the rest of the fall. And while I hope they take away how to interpret case law and read statutes, I want them to walk out of my classroom with knowledge greater than that. I want them to understand that they are capable of anything. And by anything, I mean what they are the most capable of, is creating their own happiness.
Today is the first day of the 2014-15 school year at the University of Miami. For me, the first day of school always signaled new beginnings. And for someone who likes adventure, new beginnings were always welcome.
I remember when I graduated law school talking to one of my best friends, Lindsay, about one of my greatest fears: That life after school was over would be boring. I imagined myself stuck behind a desk, with my days punctuated by trips to the coffee maker and lunch. I vocally worried about life becoming habitual and predictable and my fun dying.
One thing I’ve learned in the five years since I graduated law school, is that in order to create excitement for your life, you need to be open to new beginnings. New beginnings can be as simple as picking up a new hobby or joining a new gym. Or, they can be deeper, like beginning a new relationship or moving to a new place.
With the start of the new school year comes the end of summer, which is always bittersweet. This summer was special for me, because it saw a lot of new beginnings. As crazy as it sounds, when I woke up and was 30 on June 20, my life turned a new page. Suddenly, I felt as though I really knew myself. It was like a lightbulb went off where I realized I was in full control of everything in my life. I finally understood my wants, needs and idiosyncrasies. I accepted my faults, found joy in my quirks and figured out ways to exploit my talents. Each of these led to new beginnings in my life. And as I travel down the roads these new beginnings are leading to, I’m grateful for my willingness and openess to change and accept each day as it comes.
I took a bit of a “soul searching” trip a couple weeks ago up the California coast. I drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco alone on a Sunday. As I wound my car around curves that felt like those of a roller coaster, I thought about the path that my life is on and where I want it to go. I thought about the joy that awaits me and the things I’ve left behind. Close to the end of my drive, I stopped at Pebble Beach and the famed 17-Mile Drive. There, I paid a visit to the famed Lone Cypress tree. This tree, that stands alone, is estimated at being 250 years old. It has been there far longer than anything around it, save for the rock it sits on and the ocean below it. Yet, it persists. It actually does more than persist–it lives.
Why? Because it’s been able to adapt to change.
What is it, that with growing up, makes us resist change? I told someone yesterday that the biggest regret I have from the last five years, is my unwillingness to let go of the past, change and find new beginnings. Why is it, that when we were young, new beginnings were exciting? Why was the first day of school–and all of the newness that came with it–celebrated? Why did we look forward to moving to college, getting a new car and going new places when we were young, but look at similar situations as adults with fear?
This week, one of my closest friends in Miami, Tyger, moves to New York City. To say that the last month of life has been crazy for Tyger would be an understatement. Imagine every personal battle one can face and then put it into the timespan of 30 days. I remember driving Tyger to the airport a few weeks ago and telling her one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the last five years: With chaos comes change. And it’s only through change that we can finally find happiness.
Some of the greatest things in my life have been preceded by chaos. However, the great things only came because I was willing to change. I was willing–and ready, because of the chaos–to begin new. To start over. To move on. To let go.
Last week, the president of the University of Miami, Donna Shalala, spoke to our faculty. One thing she said that stood out to me, is that working at a university keeps one young. I couldn’t agree more. Being surrounded by young people and their hopes, dreams and ideas is one of the greatest things that has happened to me. It’s one of the greatest things that has happened to me, not only because I get to learn from these young people, but because every fall I am reminded that life can always start again new.
We are all given an unlimited amount of opportunities that matches the number of days we have on this earth. We are given more chances for change than our mind can even begin to wrap itself around. Life doesn’t need to be stale. In fact, it’s meant to be an adventure. It’s meant to be celebrated and something that causes joy. It’s meant to be pushed to its boundaries and to be tested, so that you can figure out your full potential. It’s meant to be redeemed and refreshed. It’s meant to give you a chance to start new and begin again.
To those starting a new school year today, good luck! Make the most of it. It’s a gift.
And to those of my “older” friends, make something new today. Make the most of this life. It’s a gift.
I was standing around a cocktail table at a party on Saturday night when a friend looked at me and said, “Alicia, you travel like an NFL player does in the middle of the season.”
The first thing I thought was, “Solid sports reference.” I then chuckled, swished some champagne around my mouth and made a mental note that she was right.
When it comes to playing the career lottery, I hit the job jackpot at the University of Miami. In case anyone needs proof about that point, I have two words for you: Summer vacation.
Remember when you were in elementary school and the first day of school expectantly brought the, “What did you do this summer?” game? Remember how you would stay up in bed the night before rolling through memories you made over the prior 90 days? You’d sift through trips to grandma’s house, roller coaster rides, new pets and family vacations to pick the one memory that had the greatest chance of eliciting “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” from your childhood classmates.
When you’re 30, the summer memories you get to sift through are not only more grown up, but as luck would have it, they’re more awesome.
For me, they involve airplanes.
I touched down in LA last Thursday for the last trip of my summer vacation. I headed straight to Laguna Beach for a photo shoot with the very talented Natalie Schutt. Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known them forever? That was Natalie. She was such a happy, fun and excited spirit. Not only did she put up with my near neurotic particularity when it comes to getting pictures taken, but she told me about her dreams and goals. We talked about our love for Jesus and how we both want to make this world a better place. She was real and awesome and cool. And dang, can she take a picture! She’s your woman if you need photos! Seriously.
Sometimes I wonder why I travel so much. Yes, a lot of times it’s for work. A lot of times I can avoid work trips, though, Yet, for some reason, I choose not to. I’m a rolling stone who hopes to someday be tied down. For now, though, I go.
I go, because every time I leave, I find a little bit more of my heart. I go, because every time I leave, I realize that my heart stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. There are pieces of my heart scattered across many states and throughout different cities. The pieces are held by people who I don’t see enough, but who when we’re together, nothing’s changed.
Southern California is special to me, because it’s one place where I can show up late at night to old friends’ houses like it’s no big deal and stay up past our bedtimes shooting the breeze and laughing about life. This trip to California was special, because I got to celebrate some exciting moments with friends. I saw Ashleigh’s baby bump and Kim’s new ring. Both were darling. I heard how Rebecca and Jenny both plan on being engaged by the end of the year. I made a mental note to try and get a boyfriend by then. So, there’s that.
There is nothing better than going to a place where you feel safe, regardless of who you are, what you did or how you feel. My friend, Rebecca, is one of the people I feel the safest around. I can tell her anything. Any crazy idea, bad decision or confusing thought. What I love about our friendship, is that there’s never been any judgment. Ever. Nor will there ever be. On both ends. Spending time with a person like that is refreshing and welcome.
One thing that’s cool about being on the road, is the new people and hearts you can meet. I didn’t start traveling alone for work until 2012. And at first, I hated it. I was so lonely and bored. I felt isolated.
For those who truly know me, I’m pretty shy. This strikes a lot of people as surprising, but while I have to be outgoing in my media jobs, I’m not naturally that way. I’m a big fan of consistency and comfort zones. Until recently, I never went too far out of my social circle to meet new people or make new friends.
I love that traveling a lot has forced me out of that shell. I love it, because it has brought me to some of the most amazing, interesting and kind people. These days, I almost make a game out of finding cool new people on the road. I make it a point to visit kitschy coffee shops or cool boutiques to strike up conversations. I’m building a tapestry of friends these days, and let me tell you, the tapestry is pretty diverse, pretty wild and pretty dang cool.
This trip to California led me to the Bits Shop in Costa Mesa. The Bits Shop is home to 31 Bits jewelry. I first learned of 31 Bits on Instagram and was initially attracted to the brand because of its bold colors and unique bead work. I then realized that 31 Bits empowers African women and helps provide them with sustainable incomes. I also learned that the company has a Christian foundation. After that, I was smitten.
So, it was with excitement that I popped into the Bits Shop. I just expected to stroll around and buy a couple pieces. To my luck, though, one of the co-founders, Jessie, was in the shop. She and I chatted for what seemed like forever about everything under the sun–from empowering women and friends’ wild bachelorette parties to Los Angeles traffic and boys. Talking to her was easy and fun. And again, I was thankful for the journeys I get to go on and the amazing people they allow me to meet.
Southern California will always be a pseudo home to me. Its coasts are dotted with my memories. Its big cities are filled with my friends. And my favorite summer vacation memories will probably always be born from it.
Summer vacation, people. It was good. Really, really good.
I spent time this weekend mapping out the trip to California I’m taking later this week. To put it mildly, it’s going to be epic. Very, very epic.
The last time I was in California, I asked my friend and old roommate, Alex, what it is about the place that holds my heart so deeply. Whenever I let my mind wander about dream places, it always winds up in California. I think Alex summed it up best when she said this, “It’s the place where you really grew up.”
California was the first place I lived all alone. With family and friends 1,000 miles away, I was forced to figure it out. To navigate places I’d never been. To search out good people. To make somewhere I never knew a home for myself.
I guess for me, California is nostalgia. A special nostalgia that grips me unlike much else. I love nearly everything about it. I say “nearly,” because I don’t love the traffic. I don’t hate it either, though. Which is strange. LA traffic is unlike any other in terms of its density. Yet, there’s something oddly energizing and freeing about being trapped in it. If you can conquer it, you feel like you can do anything. Anything.
The deeper I got into my trip planning, the deeper my heart yearned to be in California. I love Miami. I have the best job in the world. I have amazing friends. I live in the sickest condo. Really. Sometimes I pinch myself and wonder how I got so lucky to live here.
But I still miss California. When I let myself think about it, I get sad that I haven’t felt crisp air once in Florida. I miss sitting on a towel in the sand watching waves crash against cliffs. I miss nature and exploring new places of beauty. I miss beach towns–real beach towns with bars and kitschy shops and weird people. I miss the strange, free vibe that California sends out to the universe.
I called my mom and said, “I miss California. I just really, really miss California.” And as I uttered the words, something hit me. I hadn’t even given Miami a fair shake at being California.
Miami might not have crisp air. It may not have cliffs. In actuality, I’m pretty sure the highest point in Florida is a dump on I-95. I’m not even kidding about that. Miami will never be California. Realizing that was a bit of an “aha” moment for me. No, Miami will never be California. But what’s to say it doesn’t hold its own magic? What’s to say it can’t grip my heart even harder than California?
There’s a quote from the Dalai Lama that reads, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” I’ve believed for a long time that happiness is a choice. In large part, we hold the keys to how we unlock the world around us. Will we choose to be happy? Will we choose to find joy?
On Sunday, I decided to find joy in Miami. I decided to wake up early and hit the pavement and find a place in this city that grabbed my heart. And I did.
A few years ago, I went to my favorite store in the world, Tuvalu in Laguna Beach, and ended up buying Anna Quindlen’s “A Short Guide To A Happy Life.” It’s a short book, so I read it all that night. And what I took away from it, is that a happy life is one that finds joy in the ordinary. A happy life is one that finds the greatest joy in the simplest pleasures. Like the colors of flowers. Or watching a baby learn how to walk. Or a call from an old friend.
So yesterday, I set out to find joy in Miami’s simple things. Writing that seems silly, because there really isn’t anything simple about Miami. Yet, what I found the most joy in yesterday was colors. Bold, bright, beautiful colors.
South Beach, in all of its art deco awesomeness, is home to the most amazing lifeguard towers on the face of Earth. Granted, I haven’t seen all of the lifeguard towards spread across Earth, but I’m pretty sure these take the cake.
I started on 10th and Ocean and walked north on the sand. And at each block, I was met with a new design and new colors. And I was joyful. I was joyful for creativity and excitement and risk. I was reminded that living is about all three. You can’t have one without the other.
Ever seen an American flag inspired lifeguard stand? Well, now you have. There’s joy in that lifeguard stand, people. It stands there in all of its gaudiness and causes you to feel joy in recognizing that someone decided that was a great way to honor our country. It surely was great. And creative. And exciting. And risky.
What I’ve learned about finding joy, is that joy is made of layers. There are layers of big things, like trips to the Super Bowl and Greece. There are layers of moments, like falling in love, first kisses and butterflies. Then there are the layers of what otherwise could be seen as mundane, like falling in love with your home, making it your own and turning it in to your own little paradise.
I guess it’s no surprise that joy is made of layers. Joy is found in the world. And the world is made of layers. Sand and sea and sky. Each of them carries their own joy; their own way of doing what they need to do to make the world go on as it should.
The other thing I’ve learned about finding joy, though, is the most important. The most important thing I’ve learned about finding joy is this: Joy eludes no one who seeks it honestly and authentically. If you want to find it, it’s there. And you don’t need to look hard. It’s in the sky and sea and sand. It’s everywhere. It’s in us. And it’s for the taking for the people who want to find it.