los angeles

When You Hear Those Little Demons

When you live in LA and do what I do, you can sometimes hear little demons inside your head. They say things like, "You're not good enough. You're not pretty enough. You're not this enough. You're not that enough." And sometimes, if you're like me, you wish you could pull those little demons out of your head and fight them head on. 

I imagine that if that could ever happen, this is what it would look like: 

But unfortunately for me, that above pseudo battle scene against imaginary demons is not a reality. I can't get rid of negative thoughts simply by ripping them up with my bare hands and throwing them away like trash. Like rubbish. Like unwanted matter. 

Where the little demons come from: 
It might be hard for someone on the outside looking in to know what it is that dancers/artists like me go through. Yes, I am the perfect example of the worn out Generation Y catchphrases: I am "living my dreams" and "doing what I love". However, in doing what I love for a living I am wholly invested in the results. I take every compliment, criticism, or judgement personally

No, it's not the most psychologically nurturing profession per se. But then again, a lot of my internal struggles are probably self-induced. It's ironic that someone like me who is outwardly conflict-averse can feel so much inner turmoil. When I dig deep enough, I can pin it on two lines of thinking: 1) Hard work and talent lead to inevitable success and 2) Always strive to be the best. 

1) Hard work and talent lead to inevitable success

Between the ages of around 14-23, and especially while I was studying at UCLA, I applied this method to everything from school assignments to dance auditions. My logic went like this:

If my work is good enough I get an "A" (success) and if my work is not good enough I get less than an "A" (fail).

If I'm a good enough dancer I book the job (success) and if I'm not a good enough dancer I don't book the job (fail).

Unfortunately, as hard as it was for my naive 18 year old self to believe, the industry is not wholly meritocratic. When my previous theory of success in the industry finally unraveled, I became hyper-aware of my appearance as a huge factor in job bookings. So now, my logic went like this:

If I'm [pretty, skinny, a good dancer, PERFECT] I book the job (success) and if I'm [ugly, not-fit enough, a bad dancer, NOT PERFECT] I don't book the job (fail).

With this new line of thinking, I saw "failure" not only as commentary on my skills but also as a personal jab at me. It's as if someone was saying that they don't like me. It's not my work, not my project, not my proposal. It's me. 

And the worst part is, I never knew what part of me the hiring committee didn't like. Unlike most normal job interviews after which one can follow up with an email or phone call, there isn't standard post-audition protocol. As such, there have been countless auditions that I've been through that have broken my heart and left me wondering whether I was: too short, too youthful looking, too slender, not slender enough, etc. The list of self-deprecating descriptions is never ending in show business, and made even longer by those inner demons that normally lie dormant in my head. Doesn't sound too healthy, does it? 

2) Always strive to be the best

It's healthy to be driven and to strive to accomplish great things. When I was growing up, there were clear goals in school and in dance for me to aim for: straight A's, student body president, title awards at dance competitions, first overall, etc. My improvements could be measured by my achievements, and I was given validation for my efforts through these material recognitions.

Me and Brian Friedman in 2008 when I won Pulse Elite Protege 
My UCLA diploma. Finished in the top 5% of my graduating class! 
Finished this half marathon in 1:37:36. First woman in my age group!

After I graduated from college and entered the commercial dance industry, I had fewer interactions with the types of people and activities that I felt gave my hard work any value. Those original metrics were replaced with things like Youtube views, Instagram likes, and job bookings. I'm neither a Youtube celebrity nor am I "instafamous", so that left me with job bookings. The only way I could tell whether or not I was "doing a good job" and excelling in my field was by how much I worked. It's intuitive right?

How to fight those little demons:

Nearly seven years have passed since my first day in Los Angeles, and nearly two months have passed since returning home from one of the (if not the) greatest professional experiences of my life. I figured after all of that, after all of the different experiences I've had in the industry, I would feel more confident in myself. I thought that by now my twisted view of the way my bookings/non-bookings in the industry corresponded to my worth would have morphed. Maybe I've taken a step forward and away from making everything so personal.

But a few weeks ago I attended an audition for a job that I was very excited about. I felt I had done amazingly (potential success), only to find out I didn't book the job (fail). All of a sudden, I was engulfed in an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. I started analyzing and second guessing every decision I had made that day: What did I wear? How did I do my hair? Did I dance too hard? Had I not danced hard enough? Just like that, I was back at square one. They say a tiger cannot change its stripes, and the competitive side of me wondered why I hadn't beat out the competition.  

It's a terrible circumstance, having one's self-esteem tied to a turbulent work environment. In one day, I can go from feeling like I am standing at the top of the highest mountain to feeling like I am sinking to the lowest depths of the darkest ocean. So it turns out that while many things have changed since I was 18 years old, the way I internalize "failures" is still very much the same. Now what?

The answer to that question is one that I still am trying to find out for myself. For the record, I don't feel this way about everything I audition for. There are certain projects that I get really excited about, and the mere idea of the opportunity is enough to get my hopes up. So I suppose it's just a matter of me managing my expectations. That's Tool Number 1 to defeating those little demons. Tool Number 2 is finding other ways to measure my worth and value in the creative world. This includes being more diligent in nurturing my other interests like choreographing, teaching, doing yoga, and visual design.

Spent the day at MOCA on Grand Ave. last week

Teaching flier for class at Edge PAC

Tool Number 3, and perhaps the most vital one of them all, is openly discussing my disappointments with loved ones. I've realized that in verbalizing my thoughts I shine a bright light on those demons that dwell in the darkest corners of my mind. My family and friends help me identify exactly what causes my negative emotions and help me find ways to change that mentality. It's like aiming before pulling the trigger.

The most supportive family

The greatest lady friends

At this point in my career, I know I've accomplished plenty to be proud of. But I don't care about what I've done in the past. I'm much more concerned with what I'm going to do in the future. I'm looking for the next project to work on. The next marathon to run. The next way to be better than I was yesterday.

I'm determined.

My determination is one of my greatest strengths, but if I'm not careful it will also become my achilles' heel. Those little inner demons are a byproduct of my determination. And even though seven years in this demoralizing yet beautiful city was not enough time for me to build mental immunity to their cruelties, I've FINALLY realized that I have the means to combat them (Tools 1, 2, and 3).

Who knows if and when I'll ever be rid of them but for now I'll be fighting, one battle at a time. 

#AdventureswithKaren: Adventures in LA

After traveling and adventuring around the world for about eight months in 2014, the question I am most often asked since being back in Los Angeles is:

"Where was your favorite place?"

and the answer I most often use is:

"Oh gosh, every city was so different and unique. I don't know if I can choose just one!"

Some people see this as an easy way to avoid answering the question. But truthfully, I don't know if I have a strong opinion on any city in particular. The whole traveling abroad experience was surreal, and each moment in each new city was refreshing and exciting.

Athens, Greece

Tokyo, Japan

What makes it even more challenging to have a definite favorite is that I only had a few hours in some places compared to a few days in others. My memories of some cities include only the paths on which I jogged or the interior decor of hotel rooms in which I stayed. Because of that, I feel like my opinion is not as developed or informed as it should be.

Bored in some hotel somewhere in Europe

So let's skip that question.  Instead, let's talk about something else that I realized during my time abroad.

September 2015 will mark my seventh (let me repeat, seventh) year in Los Angeles, and my third year living on the Eastside (though Silverlake is hardly the Eastside, according to some). Despite my seemingly long tenure here in the city of angels, there are actually quite a few places I have yet to visit  (like the MOCA) and quite a few things I have yet to experience (like hiking the Escondido Falls in Malibu). I haven't done nearly as much exploring in the seven years I've lived in LA as I did in the two months I spent in Europe. How embarrassing it is to realize that I am a stranger to my own city!

There is a variety reasons for this lack of enthusiasm over the years for adventuring in Los Angeles including being too focused on school and dance, putting too much pressure on myself to be "productive" with my time, etc. But all of that excuse-making ends today!

Hopefully I can maintain the same spirit of adventure and exploration in this new year. Join me, won't you?

First #AdventureswithKaren back in LA at the Bootleg Bar

CicLAvia on 4/15

There is a fun event happening tomorrow, April 15th,  from 10AM-3PM during which 10 miles of road will be closed down for bikers and walkers in and around downtown LA:

If you want to know more information or support the event check out the CicLAvia website

I'm thinking it'll be a beautiful day for a ride on my trusty red foldable bike and then a picnic at Macarthur Park. Maybe I'll see you there?