Life beyond the Lines

Life beyond the Lines


“Their interests section isn’t important- don’t include it. Thanks.”

Swallowing a sigh, I deleted the offending line from the resume.

For the past month, I have been freelancing and temping to pay the bills while I search for my next full time position. A lot of that work has involved receptionist and office admin duties including the task of editing and reformatting client resumes for internal review at an executive level headhunting agency. After reviewing the resume of one prospect who felt compelled to relay his love of rock climbing right next to his real estate experience, I felt a sense of solidarity with this stranger.

As someone currently on the job market herself I have frequently found myself frustrated by the feeling of being reduced to the lines on my resume (which can be viewed HERE, in case you are curious). Don’t get me wrong- I’m proud of all the skills I’ve cultivated through my training in college and my first jobs. However, as I stared again at the plastic white lilies across the room from my receptionist desk I wondered how we can possibly attain jobs in alignment with our authentic selves when the lines on our resumes portray only part of who we are.

Part of me fears that this thinking came from falling prey to the infamous millennial sense of entitlement to job satisfaction that our society loves to hate. Simon Sinek’s famous rant about millennials in the workforce does a fair job of addressing the issue without demonizing us millennials outright. He attests that the challenges we face when seeking job satisfaction include coping with learned impatience from the instant gratification of our “swipe right” culture and the belief that we are all “special” and could become “anything we wanted” that we were taught growing up. While I don’t think this is untrue, I do think that it disproportionately applies to those coming from a more privileged background. It also overlooks what in my mind is a critical distinction:

The problem is not that we were told that “you can be anything”- it’s that by and large we have misinterpreted this to mean “you can be everything”. 

In talking with my peers, many of whom I would consider extremely smart and hard working, I’ve felt that what’s lacking when it comes to our careers is not drive, it’s decision making. Decisions, when backed with a strong personal “why”, naturally call upon our capacity for dedication and discipline. I can’t tell you how many twenty-somethings I’ve encountered (myself included) whose time and attention has been splintered between a number of passions and possibilities for their future without any concrete goals. They bounce from wanting to become a teacher one day, to an actress the next, then toy with the idea of becoming a travel agent, and…you get the picture. How can you pursue what you want when you won’t decide what it is? Clinical psychologist Meg Jay describes this quarter life crisis well in her book The Defining Decade.

Perhaps as we fight the feeling that our work reduces us to our resumes, we fail to embrace that not every one of our passions is a viable full-time profession for us. This is not a terrible thing! The world more likely than not won’t afford us a job that captures everything we want to be in life- this applies even if we create our own business. It’s up to us to choose to not to tie ourselves too much to our titles. In theory, we could start side hustles for any number of our interests- but for every passion we pursue, we further divide our resources of time, money, and attention. That’s a fact.

Don’t hear me wrong- there is a reason why on my own portfolio  my headline contains all of my main “slashes”. I believe 1000% that our passions and idiosyncrasies add tremendous value to our work. This is true of all people – and especially of giants in their respective fields.

Two of the books I have read in the past year have touched on this topic. In Originals: How Non Conformists Move The World , Adam Grant observes how some of the most innovative scientists, leaders, and artists alike have made stunning breakthroughs despite coming from professional backgrounds in wildly different arenas. Martin Luther King jr. aspired to become the president of a university until he was called upon by his community to lead the Montgomery bus boycott. Grammy-winning guitarist and songwriter Brian May left behind a doctorate program in astrophysics to go all in with Queen. In Enchantment, The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, Guy Kawasaki attests that the most enchanting people always have eclectic interests, from actress Geena Davis’s talent in archery to Tim Ferris’s for breakdancing. Even Einstein, who we know as history’s most famous theoretical physicist, was also an amateur violinist.

What all these wildly successful individuals have in common is that, despite having many passions, they made their mark by deciding what was ultimately worth the majority of their energy. As Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less ,“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” This is why I’m beginning to believe that the message that we all ought to “follow our passion” is deeply flawed- very few of us have just one! We must be willing to commit to at least one big goal for our future to gain clarity of the most essential actions to propel us forward. Those big goals tend to come from a place far more precious than passion.

Fred Rogers is one of my personal heroes as well as one of the clearest examples of an essentialist that I can offer. While famous for his work as the cheerful and compassionate host of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, one of the most influential children’s television shows of all time, he was also a jazz pianist and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He decided to create children’s television because when he first saw what kind of children’s content was being broadcast when he was a young adult in the 1950’s he “hated it so”. He resolved then and there that his purpose was to produce meaningful media for children that focused on building their emotional intelligence. His purpose was so powerful that he would go on to to testify in front of congress in its name.


Fred Rogers’s story illustrates how pinpointing our purpose puts passion into perspective. While neither were the primary focus of his programming, both his love for music and his faith had a huge impact on his work. Utilizing his background as a pianist he became a messenger of music  by composing several original songs (including the theme music) for the show, teaching short music lessons throughout the series, and making a point of introducing his viewers to visiting musicians and the band that recorded live on set. While he never spoke to his audience specifically about religion, the deep love and caring that stemmed from his faith defined how he chose to communicate with his young viewers.

By putting his purpose first, he forever changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children simply by being their friend. I strongly believe that his message, that each one of us can be liked “just the way we are” is needed  more than ever in an increasingly impersonal world.

As I sit at my receptionist desk taking in my first taste of corporate America (it tastes like crappy Earth-killing kcup coffee), I reflect on the decisions, and the decisions I failed to make, that brought me here. While I worried for years that I made the wrong decision by not pursuing my passion for music, those feelings came to a head in my last position, which was in children’s media but otherwise not aligned with my work values. I began to see music as an escape, and entertained the idea of completely shifting gears to pursue it as a new career. Without making a clear decision, however, I spent countless hours scrolling job openings with no sense of direction. By spinning my wheels, I burned myself out.

While I don’t aspire to be the next Mister Rogers (there is no such thing), I know that I too can have a greater impact if I decide to draw more from my purpose than from the pleasure I get from my passions. I don’t pretend to have this all figured out yet- but I recognize that in pursuing a life beyond the lines, passion and purpose are not the same. By choosing to live from a place of purpose, we don’t abandon our passions- we just come to understand how they make us bold.

In short, I leave you with this powerful quote from the man, the myth, the neighbor himself:

Image source:

As I aim to share knowledge and make room for more titles in my personal bookshelf I’m gifting my gently worn/ doodled in copies of Essentialism, Originals, and Enchantment to three lucky readers- comment below on this post to claim one of them for yourself!

I look forward to seeing you here for another #ScrambledSunday next week!


Breaking through the BOO!

Breaking through the BOO!

Fear is such a funny thing.

Born from our inherent instinct of survival, fear can keep us and others safe. It informs us when to run from a sketchy situation, danger, or withhold a comment that might hurt us or another person. Fear can even promote productive behaviors. For instance, my fear of disease, carrying excess fat, and losing mobility as I age is my motivation for healthy(ish) eating and regular exercise.

However, in many instances the older we get the more fear begins to hold us back in ways that are not only unnecessary but actually detrimental to our growth. Fear is a force so strong that when it strikes it actually feels petrifying, like a physical threat. In contemplating fear I remembered a viral YouTube video I watched some time back by Prince Ea where he describes the richest place in the world- the graveyard.

Haunted by the souls of the stifled,”In the graveyard, you will find inventions never invented. Businesses never erected. Songs never sung, books never written. Ideas never nurtured, people never realized because they were scared… to take a risk. Scared like you.” This concept is also ardently expressed by Sara Bareilles in her song “Chasing the Sun” in which she comes to understand the value of life from spending time exploring a cemetery in Queens. Oof! This idea hits so close to home for me, as someone who has long battled her fear of failure.

Fear is what I allowed to hold me back from pursuing music as a major in college- which, until very recently (like, within the past month recently) I felt was the greatest mistake of my young life. Fear is what I allowed to keep me up at night while I stared at the blinking cursor on my empty Word documents many a night in college, paralyzed by procrastination. Fear is what I allowed to convince me that the children’s book I have been wanting to publish is not ready. Fear is what I allowed to convince me that I would never be “enough” until I looked a certain way, did all the “right” things and was liked by everyone.

The dastardly little boggarts of the Harry Potter series is in my mind the most perfect representation of fear and how it shifts to scare the individual. My fear is not your fear- at least not in the same form. At its core, my fear of failure is one in the same with my fear of not being “perfect” or “enough”- and recently, I decided that I was through with letting my fear hold me back. This song that I wrote during my senior year of college captures the kind of thinking that got me stuck:

In pushing myself past my perfectionism and reaching for what resonates with me, I’ve given myself permission to delve more deeply into music and performing, where I’ve faced a fair share of failure in the past few months: I applied to study with the legendary BMI Musical Theatre Workshop where some songwriting giants like lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen, In Transit) got their start. I didn’t get in. I auditioned for an awesome children’s theatre troupe in NYC. I didn’t get in. I applied and interviewed for a job as an educational media production specialist at one of the most prestigious performing arts institutions in the world. I didn’t get it.

And so on and so forth. While these “boos” stung quite a bit in the moment I genuinely don’t feel disempowered by them. When you’re in pursuit of your dreams, it’s easier to see rejections as part of rather than the end of your journey. As Paulo Coelho writes in The Alchemist, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

One of my other passions that I’ve recently rediscovered is drawing/ doodling- something that I loved when I was little but slowly abandoned once my little brother displayed a real aptitude for art. Both of my siblings are talented artists, but as a student at CalArts he is actively pursuing a career as a character animator and illustrator. For several years, I felt great shame when I thought about drawing again; similarly to how I felt with my music studies, I feared that without the training I thought I “should” have, I was no longer allowed to create art.

In the face of my own boggart I can now say that’s “riddikulus”! Sure, maybe I won’t become a career artist at this point, but I am no more or less qualified to pick up a pencil and doodle to my heart’s delight than you. Here’s my latest drawing- I whipped it up to celebrate my favorite holiday:


Through my lens of my perfectionism I’m looking at this and “booing” it. Now that I’ve posted it, you also have every right to critique or criticize my work if you so choose. But you know what? Given that I had the idea to create this image for over a year but was too scared to act on it last Halloween, sharing this piece is an accomplishment for me in itself. For every time I push past my own “boos” to sing, to write, to draw, and to otherwise expose myself to the potential “boos” of those around me, I face my fears head on. Creating something new always puts us in a place of vulnerability- the trick is embracing that this is a natural and necessary part of the process. Through facing our fears we can only build our capacity for courage and creativity- therein lies the treat!

Regardless of the outcome of any one action, there is power in putting yourself out there to be seen and heard as what you want to become. For me at this time, that means a storyteller in the broadest sense of the word (I find myself torn between my love of children’s media and music on a daily basis). I haven’t yet mastered any medium with which to channel my creativity, though I have proven myself competent in many. One of my greatest fears has been that I am and forever will be a “Jane of all trades” doomed to bounce between several artistic arenas but never truly shine in any of them. In facing my fears I’ve chosen to believe instead that investing in my diverse portfolio of skills and hobbies is how I will find my fortune.

What’s scarier- facing what are ultimately small fears, frustrations, and failures along the way or waking up one day when you’re past your prime, only to wonder “what if”?

Happy Halloween, readers! I hope you too learn to break through your “BOO”.

P.S.- Just for fun, here’s one of my favorite spooky songs to get you into the Halloween spirit!


Saying YES to what’s next ->

Saying YES to what’s next ->


If you are reading this, I trust you with my story. I don’t and can’t claim to know much of anything at this stage of my life, but what I do know I’m eager to share with you. If you haven’t visited my blog before, welcome! Perhaps you’re one of the several wonderful people I’ve met within the past year.  If you have followed my blog you may already know that this is the first time I’ve posted here in a long while. It seems every day my life has been changing with dizzying rapidity. I’ve often found it intimidating to write in the midst of all this upheaval, but I feel compelled to revisit this platform in spite of that.

I believe that the truest thing of value each and every one of us has to offer the world is our story. Getting back to blogging is part of my effort to become more present to the power of my own personal narrative. God knows how I’ve been changed by simply listening to my peers discuss the trials and triumphs of their lives- both the big and the seemingly small. My hope is that by sharing my story, even the parts I don’t love, I can help empower others to share theirs as well.

New York
I made my home in the town all those old movies and songs talk about. =)

In the past year, I’ve made several big choices. In pursuing a career in educational children’s media and my dream to create and work within a dedicated arts community I chose to make New York City my new home. In an effort to save money I chose to live in a **relatively** inexpensive all female dormitory right in the heart of Manhattan, where every day I feel in full force the hustle and bustle of this incredible city. I chose to work my butt off as a video editor at a small children’s media company. I finally, finally found the strength in me to choose to let go of the boy I’ve loved for seven years. I chose to try to connect with someone new again, and for better or worse, I also chose to let that relationship go after a time. After months of feeling burnt out in my job, I chose to leave. All of these choices have contributed to what I feel is the greatest (mis)adventure of my young adult life: learning to let go and love life in the moment.

image1 (1)
Singing an  original song at a New York Songwriters Collective Member Showcase.

Perhaps the greatest changes I’ve experienced have come from choosing to explore a creative outlet I didn’t even know existed before this year. The first few months I lived in New York revolved exclusively around my job- until I was able to advocate for support for my role I worked until around 10pm almost every night. While I met one of my closest friends and mentors through work, my crushing schedule made it difficult to enjoy much of anything New York had to offer outside my office walls.

When I finally found some freedom in late February, I consulted to find some outlets to pursue one of my greatest passions: music (and more specifically, songwriting). It’s no surprise that I got involved with the New York Songwriter’s Collective, but curiously, I also stumbled into Circle Singing- something I had tried only in messing around with my college a cappella groups.Within Circle Singing I discovered the wonderful world of vocal improvisation for myself.

For the purposes of this post (I expect I will delve into vocal improv more fully in a future post), Circle Singing involves the spontaneous creation of vibrant choral music from a group of open and curious singers. Engaging in improv has been humbling in so many ways. For one, improvisation reduces all participating singers to our most raw and vulnerable selves. Whatever basic musical pattern an individual produces in any given moment is embraced and immediately built upon by another singer, who very well may be a complete stranger. It feels astonishingly intimate and familiar all at once to share songs and give way to the music moving through us in these spaces (special thanks to groups such as SoundingNYC for creating these spaces).

Rhiannon, one of a handful of prominent teachers of vocal improvisation, writes in her book Vocal River ,”Improvisation is a gift, a necessity, a skill, a dance with the unknown. It is the practice of approaching the unknown, not with fear but with curiosity and with trust that the path will be revealed. It is about staying awake, really awake, all senses vibrant, as you learn to be available to it all, including the fear and the endless possibilities of each new moment.”

When you really get down to it, all of life is one long improvisation, each passing moment filled with possibility and power. As I learned this year through taking my first courses in improvisation at the Magnet Theater in New York, the first rule of improv is to “Yes, and” your scene partners and the possibilities they present. In truly letting go and saying YES there is no room for the self pity, perfectionism, or pride that I’ve allowed to plague me in the past.

Making a regular practice of improvisation and mindfulness has given me greater confidence in my ability to trust my instincts and connect with others to create the life I long for, moment by moment. The song “Getting There” from In Transit (Broadway’s first a cappella musical) captures this feeling far more beautifully than I can hope to with this scrambled post. One of the greatest accomplishments of that song, and the musical as a whole, is the utilization of vocal music/ a cappella as a medium uniquely suited to honor the role our connections seen and unseen play in shaping and sharing our song with the world. In that same spirit, I aim to be present to all the people who have shaped who I am and who I hope to become. If you’re reading this now, I count you among my many collaborators.

Filming a keynote speech at one of my first videography jobs as a freelancer. I’m currently working as a freelance writer, editor, videographer, and video editor to diversify my portfolio and delve into projects that promote my passions: music, education, music education, nature and conservation, health/ wellness, children’s content/ entertainment, travel and exploration, books, self betterment, theatre and visual arts, and sharing people’s remarkable stories.

Deep down, I feel that something magic is about to emerge from the messy witches’ brew I’ve made of my life- I just don’t know what it is yet. Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism , says “there are two kinds of people in this world: people who are lost and people who know they are lost.” As a perpetual explorer, I’m proud to recognize my place in the second camp. I embrace that it’s going to take finesse, failure, faith, and good friends to find my way. I’m choosing a life of letting go, getting there, going with the flow, and saying YES to what’s next.

Thank you for reading- I look forward to connecting with you again soon! I’m challenging myself to write at least one of these a week, so check back for more #ScrambledSundays!


A January March

A January March


While the last official protest I attended was the Million Puppet March for PBS in 2012, with the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency (a man who has shown such great disrespect for the women, immigrants, and non gender conforming people of this nation) I felt compelled to show up and be counted among us who refuse to be silenced by this devastating loss of trust. I could not make it to Washington D.C., but instead attended the March and rallies in Philadelphia, where I’m proud to say there was a turnout of nearly 50,000 women, men, and children of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. Together with participants in almost every major city around the world, our numbers exceeded 2.5 million, all marching for our own reason but all to assert our collective power.

Today I marched so that come the time I bring a daughter or a son into this world they may know the unfailing truth that they live in a country where their hard work, character, and smarts are paramount to their success, their leaders model empathy and aplomb, their bodily autonomy is respected and protected, and their voices are valued. I marched so they could know that it is their heart, not their “pussy” that holds power. I marched today so my children can take these things in stride.

Women's March
A beautiful moment from the Philadelphia Women’s March. I was touched by the number of mothers who brought their daughters to participate in the day’s events. A sure sign of a collective commitment to show girls the way forward in these trying times.


2017- New Year, New City, NEW YORK!

2017- New Year, New City, NEW YORK!


And in another scrambled episode of my life, I am posting this from a ritzy bathroom in Atlantic City.

It’s no matter that my sister and I came up with these plans to be here just this morning. It’s no matter that the ticket cost more than two days worth of my commute to and from my job in New York City. It’s no matter that just beyond these walls people are tipsy and bubbly and singing and I feel awkward.

What matters in this moment is welcoming the new year with open arms. Soon, I’ll be starting a new chapter of my life in NYC, where I’ve been commuting to for work over the past few months and where I will finally be moving in just a few short weeks! I’m excited, nervous, and eager to try my hand at life in the city made of songs and towering stories.

And because no New Year’s Post of mine would be complete  without it, here is a recap of my resolutions from last year. While I’m honestly proud of what I accomplished this year, it’s not entirely what I set out to do. After all, the year turned out so differently from what I had envisioned… this time last year, I was in Ethiopia with no intention to leave before my contract was to end in October. Instead, after having to leave Ethiopia in May, October is was when I secured my job as a video editor in NYC. More on how I came to leave Ethiopia early HERE. The change of plans aside, let’s see how I did:


1) Become a more grateful and generous person- focus more on how I can help other people.

While I commend my well meaning 2015 self for such a noble aspiration, I say with no pretense that I made little progress on this front.

2) Write, read, repeat.

Well, I fell woefully behind on blogging (my last post was from before I started my new job a few months ago!) but I definitely did make great strides on my reading goals since last year. My favorite read this year? How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

3) Trust my creative impulses: explore, take risks, discover.

While I haven’t made the progress I had hoped in moving forward with some of my personal projects, I am lucky to have secured a job that affords me quite a bit of creative freedom on a day to day basis. While I don’t ultimately want to be a full time video editor, I genuinely enjoy my work and find great satisfaction in the process of crafting a story will be out of a heap of footage. I feel good about where I am right now and the unforeseen opportunities afforded to me by my work- such as recording voices for animated characters on my company’s original children’s show!

4) Make my bed every morning.

Ha. Moving right along…

5) Continue to build my self-confidence the Mindy Kaling way: “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.”

I’m proud to say that I’ve definitely experienced an uptick in my general level of confidence from the time I wrote this last year. I secured a new job, I have proven my competence in this job, I lost a fair amount of weight, and I had a few personal breakthroughs in the way I view myself and my work. The one thing which bothers me now is the thought that while I work hard, know my stuff, and show my stuff, I know I’m just not working hard enough at the right things- the things that would move me toward attaining the major accomplishments that I ultimately want to achieve in my life. I’m also questioning- do I really want these things, and for the right reasons? The thought of compromising or letting go of the future I’ve been pursuing since my freshman year of college (a career as a children’s media producer) terrifies me.


In an effort to keep things simple, I only have two overarching resolutions this year:

1) Do more of what moves me forward and brings me joy. 

• Running

• Working up the courage to meet new people

• Eating lots of greens, protein, and healthy fats

• Complimenting strangers

• Reading

• Journaling

• Songwriting

• Singing

• Drinking tea

• Setting multiple alarms for when I need to leave

• Pursuing informational interviews with professionals I admire

• Doing research to discover my dream career

• Making my bed every day (still a noble goal)

• Dressing for success

• Following up with people I want to become friends with

• Spending more time with my family

• Using my favorite brand of handmade soaps (LUSH <3)

• Being honest with myself and others about my desires, feelings, and ideas

• Choosing the best takes and graphics to include in the show I edit

• Asking people to tell me more about the things they are passionate about

• Walking around the city

• Enjoying the new gems in my “Discover Weekly” playlist on Spotify

• Spending time with people who inspire and energize me

• Having hearty debates after thought provoking films

• Petting cute animals

2) Do less of what holds me back and causes me pain.

• Complaining

• Blaming

• Eating too much sugar, starch, and fried foods

• Procrastinating

• Acting cold or disinterested for fear of getting hurt

• Taking things too seriously

• Overthinking my work

• Committing to projects and plans before thinking critically

• Worrying

• Aimlessly scrolling and posting on social media

• Comparing myself to others

• Spending time with people who drain me

• Forgetting to take out my contacts at night

• Thinking about doing things more than actually doing them

• Getting stressed out over what others may or may not think of me

• Taking my family for granted

• Giving myself too much credit for my past accomplishments

• Giving myself too little credit for my present accomplishments

• Giving myself any credit for intended future accomplishments

• Letting my room get hopelessly messy


My hope is that these two big resolutions will help me recognize the power I have to turn the dial toward becoming my best self by identifying the small, everyday changes I can make to create lasting impact in my life. Let’s see what changes 2017 brings…


Things I learned in immigration…(a farewell to Ethiopia)

Things I learned in immigration…(a farewell to Ethiopia)


It has taken me several months to work through some thoroughly unpleasant feelings about the way my time living and working in Ethiopia came to an end. In many ways, I’m still processing everything I learned in my time there…not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of life back in Addis and wondered what I might be doing if I was still there. We’re coming up on what would have been the one year mark of my time abroad, so this has been weighing on my mind a lot recently. Back when I left Ethiopia in May I was feeling very upset, hurt, and disappointed by the circumstances that changed what should have been “see you soon” to “goodbye” to the people I had grown so close to over the course of my eight month journey.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of how I came to leave Ethiopia early, here’s what happened:

For months, I had been eagerly anticipating this trip. My bags were checked and I was at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport ready to board a plane for Munich to attend  Prix Jeunesse, a festival showcasing the best and brightest of children’s media from all over the world. Whiz Kids Workshop was the recipient of the festival’s “Next Generation” prize for Tsehai Loves Learning back in 2008, so it was an honor to attend with the winners of one of the industry’s most prestigious awards (and as they were about to launch an amazing new project no less).

I had high hopes that my attendance would further expand my worldview and help me build contacts in the industry, so I had spent ample time researching the work of people I thought might be in attendance and preparing my portfolio for the occasion. From there, I was to fly to Rome where my mom and sister would be waiting for me for a mini-reunion and mother daughter trip around Italy before I returned to Addis to complete my time working with Whiz Kids Workshop. Things were going pretty well at work- I genuinely liked my colleagues, I was passionate about the projects I was assigned, and with the emergence of exciting new opportunities I was even considering  extending my contract with the company.

Imagine my alarm then when I excitedly presented my passport to board the plane and I was told that not only was I barred from my flight, but also that I had been living in the country illegally. Somehow, my immigration papers were processed incorrectly so until I went through immigration again I wasn’t going anywhere. My heart sank, thinking back to the month-long ordeal I had with customs just to enter the country. It hadn’t been easy, and I expected nothing less of what now lay ahead. My daydreams of electrifying conversations about children’s television, networking, gondolas, gelato, and time with my family were crushed in an instant.

And so ensued a hurricane half week of trials, tears, and tremendous disappointment as I learned that I would have to leave Whiz Kids and Ethiopia prematurely. Let’s just say it involved a lot of running between various offices within the government immigration compound and all over Addis, frustrating gaps in communication, rescheduled flights, uncertainty, stamped documents (Ethiopian officials loooooove their stamps), and a large fine to top it all off.

A picture is indeed worth a thousand words…

The short version of the story is that while I sadly missed out on Prix Jeunesse, by the grace of God I was fortunate enough to make it to Italy and then return home to the US in time to work a fourth year with my old summer job at Discover the World of Communication. I could write much more of a play by play retelling of the craziness I endured that week, but I just don’t feel it would be productive at this point. What I will share with you here is what I can safely say are the most important things I learned in immigration:

Unless someone died, things are probably not as bad as they feel.

In the moments where my chances in immigration seemed bleak, I felt truly devastated and let this lack of morale get the best of me. While we recognized from fairly early on that we couldn’t get the immigration paperwork processed in time for me to make it to Prix Jeunesse, there was still a sliver of hope that we’d make it in time for me to see my mom and sister in Italy. I now understand just how lucky I am to have had the problems I was dealing with in the first place- I was in a position where going abroad was even a possibility for me, I was well fed and had a comfy bed to sleep in at night, and had good friends supporting me throughout the whole ordeal. Many people dream of having such problems.

I also said some pretty cringeworthy things in my disappointment and disgust. One of them was a Facebook status saying that my situation trying to obtain an exit visa was just like “Casablanca minus two men”. While I would give anything to channel the lovely Ilsa Lund, the reality is that in Casablanca the main players were also up against Nazi Germany and the very real danger of being thrown into a concentration camp. Yeah, that was not quite my situation.

A more appropriate Casablanca reference would be one of the most poignant quotes delivered by Rick, the unlikely hero of the film- “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” If the problems of three little people are insignificant, then the problems of one are microscopic. Which brings me to my next point-

Maturity is just as much a learned skill as it is a trait.

I’ve been told that I am a “mature” person. That idea, that I might be somewhat wise for my age, has always been a personal source of pride. However, I don’t think such “maturity” is truly tested until you’re put into a particularly trying situation. When put to the test in immigration, I know I didn’t always pass the bar. When I expressed my shame for my panicked (and pretty self-absorbed) state, my dear friend who helped me through this process in more ways than I can count gently reminded me that it often takes going through difficult experiences to build maturity, and that it’s okay and normal to react to a stressful situation imperfectly. It was one of the most empathetic things anyone has ever said to me, and exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. While I’m far from perfect, I’m proud of myself for where I did carry myself with decorum through this process.

The value of a helping hand cannot be overstated.

I am incredibly fortunate to have had the support of so many wonderful people. There was my Amharic speaking American friend who stood by my side to help me make sense of everything, as most of the exchanges with the immigration officials were in Amharic. One of my colleagues from Whiz Kids put everything on the line to help me, even though that meant missing out on time with his girlfriend who was visiting from out of town. A friend from the U.S. Embassy, a random person waiting in line at the immigration office, and my friend and her family all lent me the cash I needed to pay the large fine which was issued entirely in USD (they sure don’t make this easy for foreigners). My good friends consoled me both from Addis and abroad. Eventually, my boss and her husband absorbed the burden of the fine. Someday I hope to make good on the sacrifices they all made for me and similarly support a friend in need.

Blame is an empty action. 

In the heat of the moment it might feel good to pin your problems on something or someone else, but that satisfaction wears off fast and leaves you in the exact same place you were before you blew off steam. It’s much better to either spend that mental energy seeking solutions or to suck it up and keep your mouth shut. While there are many people who could have been responsible for this unfortunate event, ultimately who did what wrong is irrelevant. Blame can’t change the past, but left unchecked it can prevent you from moving forward in the present.

No problem. It happens.

Sometimes, life just really sucks. No person gets through it without episodes they would have rather skipped. There’s a fitting term I learned in Amharic for “no problem”/ “It happens”: “minim aydel”. Uttering this phrase was just short of a prayer during my last and most frustrating days living in Ethiopia.

So the airline lost my luggage, leading to hours spent trying to track it down through phone calls and visits to the airport? Minim aydel.

So they sent it to Munich without me? Minim aydel.

So all of my underwear was in that bag? Minim aydel.

So we decided I should get an exit visa with the hope we would be spared the hefty penalty fine, only to be charged anyway? Minim aydel.

So this shouldn’t have happened to me or my colleagues because we’re all good people. So what? Life isn’t always fair. It’s not anyone’s fault. Minim aydel.

Minim aydel.

No problem. It happens.

And so it happens that I write now from my family’s home in South Jersey, feeling a bit apprehensive about where I stand. Essentially, I’m in the same position that I was around this time last year– scared and standing before my next unknown.

I don’t know how long it will take to secure a steady job in my field in this highly competitive job market.

I don’t know exactly what that job will be or where it will take me. While I am generally open minded about where I pursue work opportunities, at this stage in my life I am also craving to move forward in ways that I know are largely inhibited by hopping from city to city (or from country to country). I am looking for longevity in wherever I move next and have focused my search accordingly.

I don’t know and can’t know exactly how the dominos of my life will fall, despite all my hopes and plans for the future.

Until fairly recently, I didn’t even know if I made the right choice in moving abroad. The tumult in which I left Ethiopia left me so full of doubt.

It wasn’t until August that I came across all the evidence I needed that living abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. Following the end of my summer job, I was freaking out because I had booked extra time out in California with absolutely no plans. Zilch. Nada. None. But suddenly, something inside me clicked: wait, I’ve DONE this before. Completely on my own, I had an amazing day exploring Vienna on my layover and then eight awesome months getting to know the incredible country that is Ethiopia. 

It occurred to me that the girl I was a year ago would not have known that she had it in her to chart her own course with such confidence.

Wasn’t my quest for self empowerment precisely the biggest reason I chose to move to abroad in the first place? Revisiting everything I learned while living in Addis and working at Whiz Kids Workshop, I discovered that I learned so many new things about myself- things I never would have expected when I first moved to Ethiopia.

Sure, I learned a ton about making media for children- but what was more important was the inspiration I found in the people behind the craft. I learned a lot about what happens behind the scenes to run a successful show, and found that above all else demonstrating respect and appreciation for hard work is what keeps a good team together. While I learned a lot about my long-held interest in international children’s programming, I found I was even more excited about using media as an agent for health education. Completely unrelated to work, I found that I do really want to have kids someday (I blame my boss’s adorable children for this). I met people from all over the world who taught me to embrace calm, treat everyone like a potential friend, recognize and run from red flags, look out for the new kid, and know that with drive and dedication, you can create anything you imagine if you work hard and work smart.

Everything that we know was once unknown. Every new exciting place, every new spice we taste, and every new friendly face holds the power to sweep out the corners in our mind that we never knew we left untended. In these corners relationships are forged, ideas are born, and lives are changed. All it takes to is the courage to board that plane, smile at that stranger, send that application, pick up that book, or pursue that passion project- whatever it means for you to take a step in your search for everything you hope to know.

This I now know- while I may not have all the answers I sought from moving abroad a year ago, I returned with more questions- and questions are what help us grow.


My Personal Mission Statement

My Personal Mission Statement


I post this in isolation of my other writing because I hope to share with you what I feel to be the secret to success. At the very least, this knowledge has never let me down before. The topic of goal-setting and life planning has been covered my so many, and yet I personally feel it is a topic we cannot discuss enough. We all have just one life to live on this Earth, one chance to make a mark and leave our gifts,whatever they are, at the great table of humanity.

It is for this reason that over the past few years I have taken up a special interest in self-betterment, reading such timeless classics in personal development as “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and more recently, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.

Covey, in particular, begins his book with the principle of “Beginning with the End in Mind”- or creating a powerful mission statement to guide our lives. While reading this I realized that, to a large degree, this was something I already believed in and had been practicing for many years. I have been writing/ journaling from early high school, and given my constant desire to aim high and deliver the best work I can, goal setting has always been a major theme in my entries.

Recently, I was reviewing the goals I had jotted down my freshman year of college outlining all I hoped to achieve over the next four years. To my happy surprise, I realized that with a few essential exceptions, I had accomplished everything I set out to do. Score a Dean’s Internship? Check. Make the honors program? Check. Join an a cappella group? Check. (Heck, I STARTED an a cappella group) Work for the summer program that first brought me to my University? Check. What’s more, for the things I wanted that didn’t come to fruition I often noticed that the end result was in actually more in tune with who I am and my broader life ambitions.

Take one example: one of the pie-in-the-sky fantasies I held close to my heart was the dream of being the speaker at my graduation ceremony. While I didn’t obtain that coveted position on the platform party stage, I did have the honor of singing the National Anthem  to kick off the commencement ceremony. Given my lifelong passion for singing, and the fact my contribution to my University was the creation of my a cappella group, this in fact was the perfect culmination of my college years.

As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, has famously said,“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” When I first wrote down my goals, they left me scared silly. However, by writing them down and fixing them in my mind, I found that slowly but surely they became my reality. Once I wrote down all the dreams floating around in my mind, they became something real- something that maybe, just maybe, I could have for myself.

I hope to leave you today with the similar conviction that you can have the things you want (or most of them), if you first write them down and fix them in your mind. It is for this reason that I am sharing my own (current) personal mission statement, developed over the course of four years. Just as we are all constantly changing, so can the nitty-gritty of our mission statement- but I think you’ll find that the core of what you want out of life, the feelings you hope your accomplishments will bring, will remain the same.

Some people may confuse this attitude with the popular idea of “the Law of Attraction”, which states that if you visualize the things that you want and imagine yourself as having already achieved them that you can easily manifest them into your reality. While I don’t believe this concept is wholly untrue, I think the key thing”the Law of Attraction” misses is that you have to actually WORK for the things you write down. Writing down all your goals and dreams is just the beginning of creating the life you desire. By having your goals written before you, you can better align your daily actions and major, life-changing decisions with the accomplishments of the person you hope to become.

Without further ado, my (current) personal mission statement:

Joanna K. Sobieski’s Personal Mission Statement

(updated 10.30.17)

Beginning with the end in mind:

I will be remembered as a writer of stories and songs, a speaker, a teacher, a mentor, a mother, a wife, and a friend who left a legacy of music, love, and laughter.

I will have been someone who treated every day as an opportunity to learn and grow, who made the absolute most of the time and talents God gave her on this Earth.

I will be remembered for my enthusiasm, creativity, spirit, and the passion with which I chased – and achieved- my dreams.

I will have profoundly touched and impacted the lives of those most important to me as well as those who listened to my music, read my books, or watched the content I created.

I will have inspired people to chase their dreams by having followed mine.  

I will have had a strong, happy, and lasting marriage and have built close relationships with my family members.

I will have been a person of great integrity who treated all people with respect and compassion.

I will have made my holistic health a priority and have encouraged others to do the same.

I will have accepted full responsibility for the choices I made in my life, for all the things I did and did not create with my time on Earth.

I will have been an independent and esteemed figure in my field who created ample opportunities to collaborate and connect with like-minded creatives.

I will have created something or contributed an idea bigger than myself, something that made the world an even slightly better place.


At this point in my life, my main objectives are: to make better use of my time; tidy up; become well versed in personal finance; consume less sugar; ready myself to run my first half marathon; improve my personal and professional relationships; identify mentors in music, songwriting, children’s media, and education; seek out freelance work with clients that I admire; solidify my sense of spirituality/ get clear on the faith I want to follow; learn the skills I need to create my own music; make the most of my life in New York City; and break my plans into measured steps that I can climb to achieve my goals. I will make choices that honor myself and show up as my true self every day. I must learn to pursue my dreams with a level head and the grace that comes from acknowledging that it won’t all happen overnight, but with a sense of urgency informed by the awareness that I have limited time to make my mark in this life. 

This is a living document that will grow with me over time. At my core I am a unique, intelligent, creative, and warm person and I must not lose sight of my strengths in moments where I feel weak. Every day I am getting better and better- as long as I take initiative to pursue my goals, I can be satisfied in knowing I’m on the right track.


Who I am (the real me):

I have a big heart, a big imagination, and big dreams! In my book anything is possible if you work hard enough for it. At heart I am a performer who strives to position her talents center stage. I love music, museums of all kinds, flowers, singing, movies, bugs, and medical oddities. I embrace and celebrate my idiosyncrasies. In my life I wish to see the world, to appreciate, to love, to create, to teach, to sing, and most importantly, to never stop learning. All of my most important aspirations, both long and short term, fulfill these overarching life goals and actions facilitating the achievement of these goals should be held as my highest priorities.


to See the World.

  • I will work/live abroad after graduation (Check! Ethiopia)
  • I will incorporate travel into my career / find a career that affords me the finances and flexibility to travel
  • I will travel to Italy (Check), Poland, Ireland (Check), Peru, Tibet, India (Check), England (Check), China, Australia, Ethiopia (Check!), Morocco, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Czech Republic, Israel, Turkey, Chile, Mexico (Check), Russia, France, Spain, Iceland, Uganda, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, and many more…
  • I will pursue solo international travel
  • I will make at least one lasting friendship/ relationship/ work connection with someone from another country
  • I will visit at least 30 countries by the time I turn 30
  • I will plan a long trip once my automatic savings account hits $5,000
  • I will plan and go on an ancestry trip with my family where we visit the towns of our origin
  • I will not limit the idea of “seeing the world” to international travel- I will also make the effort to spend time exploring my surroundings, visiting parks, being outside. (I will be an explorer in my own back yard)
  • I will participate as a volunteer in a bioblitz (intensive weekend of citizen science) at least once
  • I will prioritize having a travel budget in my savings over having expensive material goods (experiences > items)
  • I will make an effort to meet and engage with local people on my travels
  • I will go skydiving at least once in my lifetime
  • I will hike the Appalachian Trail with Dad 
  • I will incorporate the things I learn in my travels into my future works
  • I will be a resource for those who want to travel to approach and ask for advice

to Appreciate.

  • I will show the people in my life that I care about them through listening, acts of service, and sincere praise
  • I will recognize that every person I meet is more talented and knowledgeable than myself in some way and seek to learn from their experience
  • I will acknowledge and celebrate people for their talents, accomplishments, and good deeds
  • I will allow people to have their own opinion and approach opposing views with curiosity instead of contempt
  • I will often and openly express gratitude for my good fortune
  • I will take time every evening to write down at least three good things happening in my life
  • I will not fear approaching songwriters and creative professionals I admire- I will embrace opportunities to express my appreciation for the work of others
  • I will take care of the body and mind God gave me through healthy eating, exercise, active learning, and mindfulness
  • I will host friends and family at regular get togethers/ dinner parties/ game nights at my home
  • I will commit myself to meaningful service projects whenever possible, especially ones that focus on the arts, education, public health, or environmental conservation.
  • I will understand that any reality worth creating takes time and sustained effort and not allow perceived roadblocks to discourage me from pursuing the goals I wish to achieve for myself
  • I will have confidence in myself and cherish the gifts God gave me

to Love.

  • I will meet and marry the love of my life, my life partner and best friend with whom I will work to create a lasting marriage, a shared adventure, and a happy home. I have listed the most important traits I am seeking when keeping an eye out for my future husband in a separate document
  • I will respect myself in dating and not waste time with men who do not treat me well, do not put forth effort to maintain and nurture a relationship with me, do not possess the above traits, or do not complement my personality and desired lifestyle. 
  • I will not seek out men to date or chase relationships- I will allow men to enter my life organically. I will connect with men through the spaces we share in pursuing our shared interests
  • I will not reflect on past relationships more than is necessary for self-growth
  • I will understand that love is an action, not a feeling; a choice, not an impulse
  • I will make my family a priority and devote ample time to nurturing these relationships
  • I will allow my family to become a bedrock of inspiration for my work
  • I will encourage my family members to be the best they can be, not to be someone else
  • I will demonstrate love openly and allow myself to be vulnerable
  • I will not play games or manipulate to get what I want in my relationships
  • I will have the courage to address concerns with my partner, understanding that communication is key
  • I will be direct, yet gentle, in expressing what I need from my partner
  • I will say “I’m sorry” and mean it when I am wrong
  • I will extend warmth and acceptance to everyone in my life
  • I will try to see the good in people first/ give people the benefit of the doubt
  • I will show myself the kindness I deserve; I will not allow myself to wallow in excessive self-criticism
  • I will take care of myself so I can take better care of others
  • I will pursue my dreams from a place of love, not a fear of failure


to Create.

  • I will create the life I desire through the implementation of the ideas rooted in this document
  • I will embrace my past (failures, insecurities, regrets, and all) without letting it determine my future. Everything I’ve done up to now is part of my story and who I am, and will ultimately play a role in what I create in the future
  • I will publish my first book before I turn 30
  • I will write and publish original children’s stories that teach valuable lessons to kids with relatable and compelling characters
  • I will create songs/ pieces of music that resonate with people
  • I will paint a mural on my children’s nursery room walls
  • I will create a mosaic piece over my kitchen sink
  • I will exercise my creativity by doodling and writing as much as possible
  • I will create / contribute to exciting shows or films that inspire young minds
  • I will create media that celebrates and shares the creative works of others
  • I will infuse my stories with the values I hold dear: tolerance, empathy, health, essentialism, self management, environmental conservation, family, courage, exploration, and an appreciation for the arts
  • I will recognize that play is essential for fostering connection and creative growth, not an indulgence
  • I will continue to share what I learn online through freelance writing and this blog
  • I will celebrate the power of improvisation to exercise and embrace new ideas
  • I will recognize that I am the source of all my achievements in life
  • I will promote my work and receive great recognition for what I have created

to Teach.

  • I will infuse my children’s writing  and music with lessons I hope to impart with the world
  • I will model my values by example through my life and work
  • I will speak about my life and work on panels, at elementary schools, and at conferences 
  • I will do more than just raise my future children, I will teach them all I know and expose them to as many ideas and experiences as I can so they can become informed and independent thinkers
  • I will teach workshops, seminars, and give lessons on songwriting, singing, and creative expression
  • I will inspire and support young people figuring out where they want to go in life
  • I will gladly mentor young professionals who look up to me down the road

to Sing.

  • I will learn to share music through songwriting, piano, live looping, a cappella, and vocal improvisation
  • I will embrace the uniqueness of my sound and let it resonate through my singing
  • I will sing as a part of service (caroling for charity, benefit concerts, etc)
  • I will record my original songs 
  • I will spread the work of musicians I admire and share music that inspires me from around the world. In turn, I will seek out the musical recommendations of others to broaden my horizons.
  • I will facilitate creative, collaborative, compassionate spaces for singers
  • I will regularly perform my original songs for groups large and small
  • I will use music as my main outlet for connection with others
  • I will write and develop musicals or musical films 
  • I will infuse the children’s programming I work on with music, or work on a program with an explicit focus on music 

to Never Stop Learning:

  • I will frequently read books on topics that excite and inspire me
  • I will keep my mind fresh by reading instead of wasting time on social media
  • I will talk with people who can offer different perspectives from my own
  • I will join groups to learn more from peers on specific areas of interest
  • I will engage in meaningful and enriching conversation whenever possible
  • I will seek to learn from the stories of others and ask people about their lives
  • I will keep myself aware of current affairs so that I can be an informed and socially conscious citizen


Current Values:

Of course, in reaching these broad goals, it is important to acknowledge the values I want to guide my decisions on the way. At this point in my life, my five most important values are:

– music

– health 

– faith

– exploration 

– self love (as the root of love for all others) 

My current roles:

Fulfilling these values all more or less fall within performing to the best of my ability within my five main roles as of now:

Self-development/ renewal: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual

A singer and music student

An explorer at cause for self discovery, clarity in my career, and a greater understanding of what I need from the people and pursuits in my life

A creative professional / freelancer

Daughter/ sister/ relative/ friend 


So there you have it- a pretty intimate glimpse into the life I intend to lead.

I hope this inspires you to write your own personal mission statement, if you haven’t already. Write yours in a way that will excite and inspire you whenever you look at it. For instance, I like beginning with “I will” phrases to solidify my statements. As Henry David Thoreau once said “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Whatever it is that you want: Memorize it. Meditate on it. WRITE IT DOWN.

Know your story and you just might become it.