A One-Way Ticket

Read my latest email from Sunday, September 13th.

By Camille Styles
zuma beach, malibu, ca

This morning, I took an early run on the beach. The freezing water splashed my ankles, clearing away sleep as I breathed in the salt air and looked out at the horizon, a view that’s always made me feel deeply calm. When I got back to the house, I sliced up tomatoes from the farm stand down the road and ate them on toasted sourdough with basil leaves and big flakes of sea salt. It feels like a scene from summer vacation (or Portlandia, lol) or from the fantasies of living at the beach I’ve had for as long as I can remember. When life gets stressful, my mind has always gone to the sounds of the sea, the dream of a slower pace against the backdrop of ocean waves. But for the first time ever, it’s real life… and we haven’t booked our return flight to Austin.

This summer, we took the plunge on our years-long dream of having a house in California, and it’s been exciting and stressful, messy and blissful. A total roller coaster, from “OMG we got the house!!!” to “We need to accept that this may not happen,” to “What are we doing??”

But even with the risks, the fears, the frustrations — it’s the greatest adventure we’ve had so far as a family.

Just three months ago, I had no idea this would be in the cards for us. Though living near the beach has been a lifelong fantasy, it wasn’t on our radar as something that would happen any time soon. There were a million reasons why, mostly: our kids were in school, Adam and I both worked in Austin-based offices, we thought we wanted to have another baby… Then a few months ago, it dawned on us that none of those reasons existed in this moment. In my last email, I shared that getting clarity on one major life decision (the baby one) opened us up to more possibilities — and this was one of them.

Along with the uncertainty of the pandemic came a new level of flexibility; no longer did we have to be in one location to function in work, school, and life. Suddenly we questioned why we weren’t actually doing things we’d been talking about for years. Instead of waiting for “someday” in the vague future, could we start moving towards our greatest dreams right now? Even taking just one baby step forward?

Looking back, it’s crazy to see how we’d been planning and working towards this step for years. Back in 2013, Adam and I took the leap and bought a fixer upper in Austin that would become my first real office. We remodeled on the cheap, and just when I thought I had my dream work space, we received word that our rezoning application wouldn’t get approved, and we were forced to move out. At the time, it felt like a step back to return to my home office, but selling that property enabled us to invest more budget in the next real estate project: a 100-year-old bungalow downtown in need of a gut renovation. When I think back on the creativity and connection that happened in those walls, the team meetings and photo shoots and hysterical laughter, I miss all of it. But things are different (I chronicled my decision to give up our studio here), and despite moments of sadness, I knew in my gut it was time for the next chapter. Selling the studio created an opportunity that Adam and I could invest in a new adventure.

So we talked to a realtor, got on Zillow, and figured out if we could make it work. It was both scary and energizing – there’s a lot at stake in making any big investment, and I’ve heard that having a second home is one of the most stressful and financially draining decisions you can make. And yet, we knew this was a dream worth exploring. I envisioned a place where our family would create memories, where people we love could gather, and a kind of “west coast headquarters” for my team to create and interview subjects and host retreats for other creatives. We knew that it might take years to find the perfect spot that checked all the boxes of what we wanted, and that was in our price range.

But there was this one property we found online, a bungalow with the craziest floor plan, in need of some major love. It had its issues, but it also had sunset views over the Pacific, doors that opened up to the sea breezes, and citrus and avocado trees. I caught Adam scrolling through the photos after we turned the lights off at night, and I kept watching the “virtual video” on Zillow in the middle of the workday. We got an alert that the seller dropped the price, and 48 hours later, we donned our masks to take our first flight since January to see the house in person.

In Haley Nahman’s recent newsletter, called “In favor of recklessness,” she talks about the need to do something that feels crazy once in awhile:

“I am careful and thoughtful, risk-averse and self-disciplined. In some ways these are points of pride, and yet all of my favorite decisions track almost perfectly with times I’ve railed against these qualities within myself… As a result I’ve become increasingly enamored with the idea that recklessness is inherent to a life fully lived. It’s an appealing yet threatening idea, because it takes my biggest fear—that through my own carelessness I will suffer unnecessarily—and posits that suffering is worth it.”

I’ll spare the details of the next few weeks of negotiation and uncertainty – many of you who have purchased a home will identify with the highs and lows that come from making an offer, getting a loan, wondering if you’re stretching yourself too thin financially, questioning – is this smart or incredibly stupid?, going through inspections, especially on an old house that is in less than pristine condition. But here we are, welcoming September in our little beach bungalow, and I’m writing this under the shade of our palm trees with views of a horse farm and ocean waves stretching in front of me.

There’s so much more I want to share with you guys about this place. We’re in walking distance of Zuma Beach, where it’s all about surfing, farms, and hiking trails. There’s a great burrito place nearby, a local grocery store that makes amazing smoothies, a surf shop, and not a whole lot else. The cell signal is terrible, and we’re out of range of delivery services. Tonight we’re venturing to a farm where we’ll eat wood-fired pizzas at a picnic table under the stars.

I’ve never felt this free-spirited. I’ve never not had a return flight on my calendar.

And the idea that a change in scenery sparks new inspiration has come alive for me. The past few months have been tough, in varying degrees for everyone I know. Even in the good times, there’s an undercurrent of anxiety hanging in the background – it feels redundant to list all the reasons 2020 has been a drain. I’ve felt stressed over being too busy with work, and then guilty for being stressed because – hey, at least I have work. While these privileges certainly make things easier, they don’t remove anxiety and real worries.

This new Sunday morning note has been a cherished creative outlet for me, but the lack of new places and new people over the past six months has taken more of a toll on my energy that I could have predicted. It made me realize how many of my ideas are sparked from long conversations over coffee or wine with friends, team members, and even strangers. My natural curiosity waned, and I was spending way too many evenings bingeing Million Dollar Listing (but seriously, best show ever.) I was in a rut.

Two weeks ago, the day we closed on the house, I picked up my rental car from LAX and drove an hour along the Pacific Coast Highway, windows down and sun on my face. I felt free to dive fully back into life, to see, taste, feel, and breathe in everything this new place has to offer. We’ll go back to Austin at some point in the fall, but I’m excited to see how our adventure here continues to unfold… and I’m surprised at the journey that’s already unfolding within me.

These last few months have shown many of us that in order to thrive, we need to see with fresh eyes. Sometimes you need to change your whole life or take a big risk… and sometimes you just need a shift in perspective.

Have you “changed your scenery” lately?



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