On May 18, 2015, a good friend — who had moved to Hollywood, a year prior — sent me an airline sale promotion. I can’t quite describe the sensation that washed over me. It was a mixture of insanity and complete confidence… and I instantly booked a one-way flight, departing Chicago and arriving in Los Angeles on September 27, 2015, my late father’s birthday.

Cut to today.

It’s almost been a year since my official LA-resident status and it has been nothing short of amazing. I’m in the honeymoon stage. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I first got here, I went through an entire week of an imprisoning anxiety that strangled me to the point where I couldn’t even go outside and enjoy my newfound Los Angeles sunshine. As I woke up that first morning to glance at the unfamiliar palm trees, I felt it all. I was terrified. I was excited. I was overwhelmed. I was… deliriously happy.

Of course, I eventually gained my footing and found a new home here. Thankfully, I already had a small, yet solid village in the city, but I also made a point to go out and meet new people. The foundation I’m building is a recipe of randomness: with equal parts degrees of separation, networking events, social media, and spontaneous street conversations.

Then, comes money. Like many people who venture out into “LA-LA-Land,” my dream is to work in the industry. And as a writer/director, I have a day gig. A non-industry day gig, but it keeps a roof over my head and keeps me away from the smog.  I was told that the key to “making it” in this industry is the contacts (and more importantly, relationships) you make, and I quickly learned that it wasn’t just talk; it was truth. So, even as I toil away at the office for 8 and a half hours, I make sure to dedicate the remaining hours to my craft, whether that be creating and producing content, or creating and producing key relationships.

This journey is quite the roller coaster, and while I’ve had and still have my bouts of self-doubt, I can honestly say that being here is nothing short of fate. The opportunities I’m experiencing (including my presence on this very website!), the exclusive rooms I’ve gained access to, the people I’m meeting… would have never happened if I stayed in my comfort zone in Chicago.

Not only did I need to move out here for my career to evolve, I moved out here so I could evolve. The ways in which I’ve grown has me in complete awe. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve exclaimed both internally and externally, “How is this my life?!”

And yet, it is, simply because I made it so. I took that frightening leap… and I flew.

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As I continue to spread my wings and explore all possibilities, I entered the #TIFFxInstagram digital shorts competition! My 60-second short film, Worth a Thousand explores the obsession with social media validation and how it affects our mental health and self-worth. A picture is worth a thousand words; or a thousand likes. How much are you worth?

Please take a moment to watch it on Instagram, and feel free to share your thoughts! If you enjoy it hit the heart, and let’s keep chasing our dreams in this wonderful land of dreamers!

Instagram Short Film



About The Author

Tonja Renée Stidhum is a screenwriter/director with cheeks you want to pinch... but don't (unless she wants you to). She is made of sugar and spice and everything rice... with the uncanny ability to make a Disney/Pixar reference in the same sentence as a double entendre.

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