Alissa standing on a beach boardwalk.

I Learned How To Love Myself In California

anxiety inspiration Jan 20, 2020

I’ve really gotta thank the people who once treated me poorly. The ones who made fun of me and made me feel small. They fueled my desire to live a great life.

To the boys in high school who prank called and made fun of my acne. To my first college roommate who gossiped about me any chance she could get. To my unfaithful ex-boyfriend who loved to tell people I was “a cry baby”.

Thank you for giving me the drive to become a stronger person.

I didn’t know how to stick up for myself at the time. I couldn’t find the courage to speak my mind or fight back. I’m quiet by nature and when I was younger, I was especially timid. But, through every hurtful action, a fire grew in my belly. One day, they’ll see how great I am! They’ll regret treating me this way. Maybe fighting back wasn’t in my nature, but quiet resilience was.

By the time I was 22, all I wanted to do was escape my life in Minnesota and start fresh. Graduating college felt like my opportunity to finally live the life I’d always wanted to live. I vowed I’d live a cool life; one that people would be jealous of. To be happy and successful felt like the ultimate payback.

“Your luck will soon be at a high point.”

Going off and living my “cool new life” didn’t happen immediately. I graduated college in the winter of 2014 without a solid plan in place. So, as one does when they’re having a “quarter life crisis”, I booked a solo trip to Europe for later that spring.

For the time being, I worked as a sales associate that winter selling denim at Nordstrom. I loved being surrounded by well-dressed people and feeling the buzz of the mall on a Saturday. I knew it was a temporary stop on my journey, but I had fun nonetheless.


One evening, I sat in the food court of the Mall of America eating Panda Express. It was early January and I was enjoying my dinner break until I had to be back on my feet again for another three hours. As I finished my meal, I got to my favorite part. The fortune cookie, duh!

I unraveled my fortune and it said, “Your luck will soon be at a high point.” I swear, it felt like a tiny magical moment. A glimmer of hope. I even posted it on Instagram that evening with the caption “One can only hope!”

A week after receiving that fortune, I was driving home in a blizzard with my girlfriends when I got a phone call from an Anaheim, California number. “What the heck? I don’t know anyone there,” I said to my friends. So, I let the call go to voicemail.

Minutes later, I listened to the voicemail. It was from a recruiter at PacSun! “Oh my gosh, call them back, Alissa!” my friends exclaimed. I was shaky and shocked. I thought my application was such a long shot that I hadn’t even expected them to call me.

The recruiter said they wanted to interview me for an internship position. “I’m so sorry for the short notice, but the position starts on February 1st. I know that’s only a few weeks away. Would you be able to move out to Southern California if you got it?” the recruiter asked.

Without hesitation I said, “Yes! Absolutely.” I mean, I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime knocking on my door. I didn’t care how I made it happen but I was going to make it happen.

Living The California Dream

I’d never been much of a studier, but when I landed that PacSun interview, I prepared for days. It was go time. My preparation and enthusiasm served me well. I got the job! For ten weeks, I would intern at PacSun’s corporate office. There was no guaranteed job afterwards which made it the perfect opportunity to get my feet wet and see if California was right for me.

In record time, I found a room to rent in a woman’s house from a Craigslist ad. I packed up a giant suitcase and flew to California with my parents alongside to help me settle in. My mantra for life was proving to be true, “things always work out.”

As an adaptable Gemini, I thrive off of change and adventure. I quickly found a rhythm in my new home. I loved driving with my windows down in the middle of February. I loved the warm sun on my skin, the palm trees, the blue skies. I felt free.

Many, many miles stood between me and the people who once made me feel so miserable. I smiled to myself as I thought of those people hearing I’d moved to California. Taylor Swift’s song Mean would play in my head, “One day I’ll be livin’ in a big old city and all you’re ever gonna be is mean…”

Was my desire to prove people wrong a healthy motivator? Perhaps not. But, it was a motivator nonetheless. California was my opportunity for a new life. A new me.

As the weeks passed, I made friends with the other interns. One of those interns was a bubbly transplant from Florida named Jess, still one of my best friends to this day. Jess and I spent every weekend together going on different adventures.

We went on hikes in Laguna Beach and rode our bikes to the Huntington Beach pier. We went to a music festival in San Francisco and wine tasting in Temecula. We covered a lot of ground and eventually became friends with a group of girls who lived on the Newport Beach peninsula.

We began spending most of our Friday nights in Newport Beach. Tipsy and giggly, we’d run down to the beach after a night at the bars. With my bare feet in the cool sand, I’d breathe in the salty air and marvel at how beautifully mysterious the ocean is at night.

It was amazing. I was living a life better than I’d ever imagined, yet I felt this heaviness in my heart. Being thousands of miles from the people I loved, I developed a new sense of loneliness. And the anxiety I thought I could leave behind in Minnesota, was still there. Sure, I’d escaped the mean people back home, but I couldn’t escape the mean voices that lived in my head. The voices were incessant and cruel.

‘You’re socially awkward.’

‘No guy in California is going to like you. There’s way prettier girls here than you.’

‘You’ll never make enough money to afford living here. You’re going to go into debt!’

Happiness Is An Inside Job

After interning for ten weeks, I was hired full time! I was ecstatic and proud. It’s official! I live in California. The happiness lasted for a while, but as the normalcy of life started sinking in — paying bills, finding a new place to live, dating — I felt the emptiness return.

I’d thought my new life in California would bring me happiness. I thought sticking it to those “mean people” would bring me satisfaction. From the outside I had a “cool life” and a “cool job” but inside, I was still anxious, lost, and insecure.

I wrote this journal entry on 1/3/16, after living in California for a year:

I’m feeling weird. Like it’s so hard to just be happy. I’m always letting something taint the current moment for me. I’m always letting my mind go to bad places. I’m so anxious. Do other people feel this way? Is it normal? I wish it was easier for me. I have it all. How am I not content? That worries me.

We often have to reach rock bottom before we can turn our lives around. While I didn’t have a big turning point moment; achieving my goals and still feeling unhappy was a red flag. This wasn’t the way I wanted to live. I was in a beautiful place and I wanted to enjoy it.

So, I started reading self-help books. The first book I read was called “Escape Anxiety” by Suzanne Jessee. It helped me see that I didn’t need to live with anxiety and opened my eyes to the power of meditation.

The book “You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero was really the gateway drug into an obsession with personal development. Once I read her book, I was fired up, inspired, and hungry for more. As I devoured book after book, I began noticing a common theme.

If I wanted to live a happy life, I needed to:

  1. Love and believe in myself
  2. Talk kindly to myself
  3. Exercise and take care of my body
  4. Eat healthy
  5. Take care of my mind (meditate, practice mindfulness)

And so, I actually listened. I took action on what I was reading. I built a meditation practice into my life. I began writing five things I was grateful for every morning. I started working out and eating healthier. I traded Netflix binges for self-help podcast binges.

Slowly but surely, the fog began to lift. I rewrote the way I talked to myself. With the help of mindfulness meditation, I learned to separate from my thoughts. Every day that I followed through on improving myself, my confidence grew stronger. It felt good to be the type of person who sticks to her word and takes control of her life. I was loving the woman I was becoming and that was a breakthrough.

Fast forward to today. I’ve lived in California for five years. I’m engaged to be married to an amazing guy. We own a house in the mountains of Orange County. I have a fun job at Vans and a group of friends who mean the world to me.

But most importantly, I’m able to actually enjoy and appreciate those things because I feel good inside. Those five steps I learned from self-help books? I integrate them into my life every day. There’s no hemming and hawing, I just do it. It’s a constant, daily practice that strengthens the way I feel about myself.

What I learned from this experience is that it all starts inside. You can achieve the greatest dream of your life, make a ton of money, and go on the coolest trips but if you don’t deal with the stuff in your head, you’ll never be fulfilled.

With love,