I always knew I wanted to live in a big city, with bright lights and endless energy. I loved my town growing up, but I knew it was not enough to feed my heart and spirit. I began visiting Los Angeles as a teenager, when my brother moved to the City of Angels to pursue his music career. Instantly, I fell in love with the vibe, feeling as though I came alive when I visited. It was a feeling I longed for and dreamed of whenever I returned to my routine life in Arizona.
Once I graduated college, I immediately had my heart set on moving to the city. However, I did not yet have the courage to leave home, and I had just started a new relationship. So I decided to wait a year, save some money and prepare for the eventual move. As my relationship progressed, my partner decided he too wanted to experience a new adventure and continue our relationship, so he decided he would take the big leap with me.
The Unpaid Internship
In 2015, my partner and I decided to start planning our move, and anticipated a May move out. However, in January I took a trip to visit my brother, and on a complete whim I decided to take an interview for an internship with a fashion house. Previously, I had worked mostly in the education and nonprofit space. But after a year out of college, working full-time, I knew that this wasn’t the life for me. I needed something more creative, exciting, something I felt passionate about. I knew that I wanted to transition into the fashion and creative arts industries, but didn’t have any experience or formal education in that area. So I felt like an internship was a great place to start.
During my interview, I lied to my employer (not recommended) and said that I was already living in Los Angeles, providing my brother’s downtown address. To my surprise, I got the job! And so, began the painstaking and extremely rushed process to move our life to Los Angeles. After the struggling to find an apartment for about two weeks, we finally found a place, packed a Uhaul, and moved our lives – a new adventure into the unknown.
I was so excited to start my internship. Even though I was not going to be paid, I was just thrilled for the opportunity to learn about this industry from a top designer. I was in rooms filled with dresses worn by Jennifer Lopez, Nikki Minaj, and most importantly Beyoncé. I thought “Here I am, living my dreams, it’s all coming together.” But alas, not everything is what it seems.
I had the expectation that this internship would be providing me lots of opportunities, ways to network and really learn about the industry. However, I quickly found out this wasn’t the case. I spent my days folding fabrics and sweeping floors. All the unpaid dirty work that you can expect from an internship. My savings was starting to deplete and I felt extremely underutilized. I quit three weeks later.
The (Not-So) Dream Job
I began looking for a full-time job, and not long into my journey, I was excited to see a position at a top sustainable fashion brand. I applied, got an interview, and 3 weeks later I got hired on. Once again I thought “Here I am, living my dreams, it’s all coming together.” And sure enough, it was not long before reality hit.
Although I loved the company’s mission, and felt fulfilled and challenged in my position, the culture and work environment was a nightmare. I just knew from the start that I did not fit in. I was surrounded by what felt like high school mean girls. Very cliquey, very cold, and with no shared experiences. As hard as I tried, I just felt as if I didn’t belong. I was constantly being told that I wasn’t working hard enough and that I was in danger of losing my job.
I can’t tell you how hard it is to come home from work every day and cry. I felt constantly exhausted and emotionally worn out. I was so stressed out and it was clearly starting to affect my personal life and mental well-being. Just when I was finally considering leaving, and saving myself for more grief and stress, I was let go.
Rebuilding and Restarting
Losing my dream job was devastating for me. It seemed as though I was not meant to succeed and that this city had swallowed me whole. However, despite how bad I wanted to go home and forget it had ever happened, I couldn’t bear the thought of failure. And if Oprah could get fired at 23 and bounce back, surely I could as well.
I spent the remainder of the year working part-time for various places. I had a weekend job at a cute downtown boutique, and was assisting my girl b.Yellowtail on building her brand. It wasn’t full time, and it wasn’t consistent, but at least I was happy and didn’t hate every moment of my life.
It was during this time I began looking into Graduate Programs. It was always a goal of mine to obtain my Master’s Degree, and since I was living about 10minutes away from USC already, I thought, why not?! After a bit of research, I found the Masters of Science in Social Entrepreneurship – a program within the business school that had MBA classes with a social justice perspective. I thought, perfect, this degree program was meant for me! So I took the initiative and applied.
It All Comes Together
After a year of struggle, of heart break, and surviving off of pennies, just like magic it all came together. I was accepted to USC with a scholarship from my program. We moved into a beautiful, newly renovated two-bedroom apartment. And like a gift from the universe, I was offered a full-time job at will.i.am’s Hollywood studio and tech company, i.am+.
I truly feel that Los Angeles is a city where you have to pay your dues. You need to get kicked down, get back up, knocked out, and rebuild yourself. If you can survive your first year, if you can push through and find your space in this monster of a city, you can surely survive everything.
If I hadn’t had my first shitty internship in fashion, I would’ve never worked at my “dream job”. And if I would have never gotten fired from that not-so-dream job, I would have never looked into going back to school and fulfilling one of my dreams. I may not have the dream salary or job title, but I can assure you, I am much closer to those dreams than I’ve ever been before.
No matter what life throws at you, you can overcome. Just never stop rebuilding yourself, and never stop working for what you want.
Con Mucho Amor,
Dress By: LPA the Label
Photography By: Vanessa Acosta
Location: Echo Park, Los Angeles, CA