First Person: Liz Breen, East Coast Exile
Not long ago, I had a conversation online (God bless the Internet) that went something like this:
“Hey, Liz. It’s _____ from the BU in LA program. How are you?”
“I’m great, ____. How are you?”
“I’m good. Did you move out to LA after graduation?”
“Nope. I’m actually living in Boston. I’m working for WGBH and doing some writing on the side.”
That was the end of the conversation. Radio. Silence. Yes, my dirty little secret right now seems to be that I work in the television industry on the East Coast.
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I went to college at Boston University with the understanding that the moment that I tricked those fools into giving me a degree, I was gone. I was leaving the only home I had ever known in New England and moving to sunny Los Angeles. I spent my last semester in college interning out west, where I did everything a Californian 20-something was supposed to do. I had bonfires on the beach, ate excessive amounts of Yogurtland, and even got within inches of Jon Hamm (yes, ladies, we breathed the same air).
I worked hard, schmoozed a little, made connections… and then I left. I accepted a job back in Boston working for WGBH, PBS’ main content producer, and began working there before I even received my diploma. To my parents, this was a sure sign of future success. To many of my peers in the television industry, this was seen as the exact opposite, as a huge step backwards from where I was. In fact, I was even called a coward by a classmate back in Los Angeles when telling them of the new job awaiting me in Boston.
That classmate is now working in Los Angeles as an assistant for a high-powered network executive, probably entirely unaware of how that comment has affected me. But that label, “coward”, when combined with the emails from connections asking eagerly when I will return to Los Angeles, asking what in the world I could possibly be doing in Boston, has created a stomach churning, acid reflux inducing anxiety that has actually left me staring up at my ceiling until 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, asking myself one question, “Have I made a giant mistake?”
After a lot of thought (and a lot of Tums), I can answer that question with a resounding no. I like my job. I really like my job. It is a job with benefits and competitive pay and job security. It is a job where my boss wants to see me grow, wants to expose me to new things, teach me new skills. It is a job where I make decisions of consequence, decisions that directly affect what people see on TV and hear on the radio. It is also a job that allows me to see my family on a fairly regular basis, something I didn’t even realize would be a determining factor when I was in college. Lastly, it is a job that ends before dinner, a job that fulfills me, but doesn’t define me.
During my first internship while studying at BU, the only critique my supervisor had written in my evaluation was “Liz has too many interests.” She was right. I have far too many interests, too many interests to be working a 60-hour a week job that leaves me emotionally and creatively drained. Instead, now, I work a 40-hour week at WGBH and spend the other 20 hours writing blog posts, hacking away at a script, attending lectures and participating in workshops. I feel like a sponge, soaking in resources and knowledge from all sides, and I’ve never felt that way before, not even during my time in LA.
So, did I make the wrong choice? No, but I definitely made the harder choice, the less conventional choice. It is a choice that still causes bouts of anxiety, and when in such a state, I often find myself longing to pack it all up and move back to Tinseltown, but I know I won’t, not yet. There is a lot of good that can come from my job in Boston, from this crazy East Coast industry, and I want to make sure that I take full advantage of this opportunity before I decide what comes next.
There are television shows and films produced outside of Los Angeles, kids, and it’s okay to take part in them. I’m saying now for the sake of conclusion, but also as a gentle reminder to myself. It’s okay, Liz. It’s okay.
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