The First Year is the Hardest

All of my friends who have built a foundation in Southern California have pretty much sang the same song to me. It has only been eleven months, and aside from the glorious amounts of rejection I’ve received occupationally in the beginning, I have become more self-aware than I have been in almost a decade. But, its not that I lived in a perpetual state of blissful ignorance while in Orlando. I just dedicated my energy to one focus at a time. 

In 2011, I moved back to my hometown of Orlando, after living in Boston for a bit. After I graduated Berklee, I was already in a weird disposition. I knew I had a $100k+ student loan debt looming over me, my parents were retiring; I didn’t feel equipped to face the world I coveted, and time just seemed to stop. I felt like I just ended a long-term relationship with my music career because prior to the schooling I felt like everything I did (my guitar playing, my songwriting, etc.) was at this high caliber until I witnessed better people than I, and I turned inwards. The hardest part was how supportive my loved ones have been, because I’d spent the first half of my life thinking I deserved it, and this portion feeling kind of useless. Then as the years passed quickly, all the people I comfortably played music with, moved on with their lives to become something else, and the people who still played wanted my advice more than my abilities. I still kept my nose down and wrote, but I felt like I had dug myself into a hole that I would probably never come out of.

The first year back was hard. I took on a job at a hotel, because I had a background in front desk work, and despite my absolute adoration for the people I worked with; my heart was never in it. But sometimes we need familiarity to make life’s transitions feel less jarring. Six months into working at that hotel, I still felt off. I thought: maybe I just need school in my life. I graduated Berklee early, mainly because I tested out of a bunch of classes and was doing obscene amounts of approved credit hours just so I could learn as much as possible. I think the highest I got to was about 24 hours in a semester, while still writing for the paper, and playing with a band. So, I applied to the University of Central Florida’s master program. I got in, and started juggling graduate school with hotel work. But I still felt empty. That is when some of my former teachers at the local community college contacted me and told me I would be a perfect fit as an adjunct professor. I interviewed and I got in. I worked the hotel for three final months, taught my first class, and took a tedious research and bibliography class. I then spent a year or so just focusing on my degree and teaching, but the money was not very good, and especially when Sallie Mae kept knocking on my door to happily take most of my paycheck, I was put into a position of needing to sell some of my worldly possessions just to stay afloat. 

My best friend worked at a high profile retail store and nudged me to start working there to supplement my income. That was the best decision I could have made at that point in my life, because that place not only got me financially balanced, but paid for my masters, and had some of the finest human beings I’ve ever met. I spent three and a half years there, graduated with my degree, put out an album, worked on some short films and jingles, taught some of the most promising students, and bonded better with my childhood friends. Yet, I still felt empty. It is these moments when you question your own sanity. I kept wondering if I was just an insatiable person, or I just didn’t find the right kind of sustenance yet.  Seven years had passed since I came home, and all I could muster up in my mind was that I was in a perpetual state of feeling everything and nothing at all. 

My current roommate, and long time friend, had already moved out to SoCal for years, and was really coming up in his own way. He kept telling me I was in a prime position to do some good, but I needed to act on it. After much convincing on his behalf and a series of disappointments on my side of the world, I decided to move. I have been terrified ever since. See, the weird thing about moving to Boston was I knew I wasn’t going to stay there once I met my goals. The weirder thing about returning to Orlando was I knew I wasn’t going to stay there once I figured my life out. The weirdest part about Los Angeles is even though my short term goals are to make money with all the skills I have acquired as a musician, I am learning how to be my truest self in the process. I don’t know if it is the location, or the fact that I am thirty-two, but in my life-long quest to make things happen, this is the first time I have not had the need of being detached. I had developed a strong ability of being both highly connected and emotionally detached for some time, but this LA version of me has stirred the pot. 

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was six or eight years old, documenting every new sensation or experience I have ever had because I couldn’t trust my memories. At an early age, I knew I had to write about what mattered with the best communication skills I could muster up, and then years later I would explicate the moments and why this was the best word I could use to describe a person, place, or thing. I would juxtapose how I remembered the moment, to see why my wild imagination emphasized some things over others. The thing is: I didn’t keep a journal of my time in Boston. I was having too much fun expressing my thoughts publicly, and I ended working as a journalist anyways. Save the occasional blog on Facebook, I haven’t been keeping up with my journal here either. No doubt, I have plenty stories and experiences to write about, but I’ve gathered that I don’t journal when I fully embrace living in the moment. I don’t second guess my feelings, thoughts, or relationships. I know what needs to be done, and I do it. I don’t label or define everything like I used to, because I just accept how things fall in and out of place and react appropriately. 

Sure, the first few months living here were hard. But, we all experience growing pains.  I am not some happy shiny person. I still get home sick. I still get frustrated. I still experience my crippling bouts of loneliness mixed with the irrational desire to push people away. That is just a part of me. But my work ethic, networking skills, musical abilities, unstoppable ability to tell a story, and overall disarming charm are also a part of me. Every friend I’ve ever made is also a part of me. Every song that is in my repertoire is in me, too. Even with the strength of my mother, and the courage of my father as honorable badges placed upon my heart, I get rejected all the time, but I also get referred all the time now, too. I will never say the grass is greener on the other side. It’s the same no matter where you go, but we do what we can with what we have. What do I have right now? I have skill and value, love and wisdom, heart and soul... and all the music in the world in my corner. Here’s to the next year, California. Let’s see if we can turn it up a notch.

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    Jehad, I enjoyed this post very much. I want to be like you when i grow up LOL. Your fun times in Boston and the closing was my favorite parts. Even with all you have accomplished remain grounded. Never give up, stay blessed!.

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