surviving the crack-pipe no-tell motel (an origin story)…

Strap in kids… it’s about to get heavy.

It might surprise you to hear this, but my career trajectory was far from being a straight line from Point A to Point B… it was all over the friggin’ map.

And at one point, I hit a very clear crossroads.

I was living in the SF Bay Area at the time, and was about to lose the apartment I was living in because I couldn’t afford it anymore and couldn’t afford to move.

I was surviving off unemployment benefits and desperately trying to build my freelance hustle with little to show for my efforts. My friends and family begged me to get a job, any job, just to make it work.

But I had this little voice yelling at me, from somewhere deep in my gut. It told me I was where I was supposed to be, and that this was the career move I needed to make.

To this day, I can’t explain it logically. I had people that love and care for me, who were willing to take me in while I got back on my feet. All it would require was me going back home to Texas to live with my parents, and probably crawling back to my old job waiting tables.

It was either that or stay in California and live in my car.

Can you guess which choice I made? (Hint: it’s the one that seems pretty fucking stupid and reckless)

I chose to live in my car. My parents were NOT happy.

Hell, I was not happy.

I cried myself to sleep most nights thinking about what I was getting myself into, worried about how I was going to support myself.

One image is burned into my brain from that period:

I remember sitting alone in the apartment on a mattress one rainy night, applying for any and all copywriting and marketing jobs I could find, and crying. All I had left was the mattress and a suitcase packed with toiletries, a few changes of clothes, and my laptop/business cards. I’d put everything else (what little I actually possessed) in storage, and figured I’d just make up the rest as I went.

With a couple days to go until I had to be out, I had secured a sleeping bag and some window coverings for my car. I’d found a cheap insulated bag to carry ice for my cat’s insulin. I’d scoped out places to park my car that seemed relatively safe, and less likely to be hassled by cops and passers-by.

The final day, I handed over the keys, grabbed my suitcase and my cat, and set off for the great unknown.

Thankfully in that part of California, most days are fairly mild in terms of temperature. I let the cat bask in the sun on my front seat with the windows down as I sat outside at Starbucks.

And I shit you not, checked my email to see that I had a job offer. The VERY SAME DAY I was out on the streets.

I saw a glimmering of hope… I wasn’t quite out of hot water, but this was a great sign. I’d applied for that job months back and had gone through multiple writing tests. This was the first time I felt like a legitimate writer… someone wanted to hire me for a writing JOB!

So I stuck to the plan that first night… camped out in the car.

The next day, I tried to find the cheapest no-tell motel I could, figuring it’d be temporary.

I’ve stayed in some pretty cheap places before, as I’ve driven across the states multiple times by myself. But NEVER had I stayed in a place quite like this.

The room was about 10-ft by 10-ft, with a Murphy bed (the kind that folds up into the wall) and a small sink. It smelled like the only cleaning they’d ever done was to walk in, sprinkle some scented carpet powder, and walk right back out.

No ensuite bathroom – to feel any semblance of clean, you had to wander down the hall to the shared bathroom/showers.

The first morning I woke up and found a shattered crack pipe outside my door as I headed to the communal shower.

I readied myself as best I could, fed the cat and gave him his insulin shot, and met up with a prospective client to put on a happy face and pretend everything wasn’t horrible. It must have worked, because I left that meeting with a signed agreement and a check.

Later that day, I was sitting at Starbucks again, getting started on my new project. Some friends stopped in and wandered over to my table to ask me how I was.

That was the first time the facade cracked… I’d meant to say, “hey I’m great! How are YOU?”

What I actually said was something unintelligible about being in a horrible motel in between snot-bubble sobs.

They graciously offered to let me crash on their couch, and my fierce Southern pride instantly and adamantly denied it. They hugged me and said it was good to see me… and left me to my work.

Later that night, back at the horrible motel, I cried myself to sleep again while the cat did his best to calm me down.

The next morning, I got up to shower. Some random lady was drunkenly staggering down the hall, and informed me “someone made a mess of the bathroom”. Someone (probably her) had Exorcist-barfed ALL OVER the communal bathroom. No surface was spared.

I ran back to my room and immediately called my friends from the day before and sobbed as I asked them if their offer was still good… I quickly ran down what I was dealing with in the motel and they invited me to come over immediately.

Never in my life has checking out of a motel felt so good.

The rest of the story is actually kinda anticlimactic by comparison…

Over the next few weeks, I couch surfed as I got acclimated to the new job. When I got my first paycheck, I reached out to my network to look for a roommate. I met someone amazing and wonderful (she sold wine for a living – it was a match made in heaven), and moved in shortly thereafter.

I slowly rebuilt my trainwreck of a life, one painstaking day at a time.

Eventually I outgrew that role, as it was a part-time, junior writer role. When I started feeling restless and like I needed more of a challenge, I tried my hand at a full-time salaried role… and got it, instantly tripling my take-home pay. I went on to build and train a team. Earned a promotion to senior copywriter. Eventually felt confident enough in both my copy and my survival skills to try that freelancing thing again.

And now you’re all caught up.

I tell you my story for a reason…

I hear all the time how people think I’ve always had everything figured out.

“You look so put together, it’s hard to imagine you struggling.”

Consider this: sometimes everything has to fall apart for you to know how it all gets put together. That’s been my experience, at least.

If you’re trying something new and scary and you’re not making the progress you’d hoped… that doesn’t mean you’re a failure or you’re not cut out for this. It just means you found a couple ways that aren’t working for you, and now you need to find another way.

I’ve got a bit of potentially shocking news for you… none of us has it all figured out. Not even your gurus. They’re all guessing as to what their next big thing is going to be and hoping it’ll work like they imagine.

Just like you and me.

Every single one of us has to fail to find the best way forward.

I mean, theoretically there could be a few lucky SOBs who fall into the right gig and never have to struggle.

But for the rest of us, failure is part of the process.

You could let it kill your hopes and dreams, stopping you dead in your tracks…

Or you can keep moving forward, knowing someday it’s going to make a killer story.

22 Comments

  1. Pennie Zumbro on August 6, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    Angie Colee you are amazing and l love you for sharing this !

    • Angie Colee on August 7, 2019 at 4:15 pm

      I’m glad you got something from it Pennie – thanks for taking the time to read it (and comment)!

    • Angela Tanger on August 7, 2019 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you for being real! Love you bad ass warrior! ♥️

      • Angie Colee on August 9, 2019 at 1:44 pm

        <3 <3

  2. John on August 6, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    This post came at a perfect time for me.

    Thanks for the encouragement and reinstating the dream I was questioning if it was still alive.

    • Angie Colee on August 10, 2019 at 1:11 pm

      There’s always a way forward, my friend! Keep your head up!

  3. Lorrie Morgan on August 7, 2019 at 1:39 am

    Whoa, girl! Love your transparency. It shows what a tough constitution you truly have. That was deep, dark stuff. And it helped shape you into the badass writer you are!

    • Angie Colee on August 9, 2019 at 1:42 pm

      LOL if you only knew how much internal fighting I had to do with myself to put my ass in a chair and get it all down on paper. The struggle was worth it, seeing the response. *hugs*

  4. David Kirshbaum on August 7, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you Angie, for another great reminder to believe in ourselves even – and especially – when life seems hardest.

    • Angie Colee on August 9, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      Happy to do it, my friend. I’ve discovered right at the point when I’m suffering/struggling the most, is the point I’m about to break through. It’s almost like a test from the universe – if you quit now, you weren’t ready for it. But if you push through…

  5. Nicole Piper on August 7, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Wow Ang. Wow wow wow. That’s an amazing story.

    From the first time I met you (in Copy Chief), I knew you were a rock star. And now I find out you’re Wonder Woman, too.

    I am humbled.

    • Angie Colee on August 9, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      LOL I would LOVE to be Wonder Woman (minus the costume, which looks like it’d be pretty chafe-y), but alas I am human. You are awesome and I adore you.

  6. Eric on August 9, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    I don’t know how you got into my brain but this totally reminds me of a conversation I was having this week. Not so much the crack pipe part but the part where you get an idea that you might not ever be able to take that very last step to where you’re trying to go.

    I’m going to write all of those feelings down today so I have them to share later, after I make it.

    I’m a sucker for an underdog story and this one did me good today.

    • Angie Colee on August 9, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      We all have those underdog stories waiting to be told 😀 I look forward to hearing yours!

      And keep up the good fight – when you’re struggling, that can often be a sign you’re about to make a big leap forward, if only you keep fighting and tapping into the resources/friends/family/network around you.

  7. Kevin Rogers on August 9, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    You never stop inspiring and amazing me Angie. I’m so proud to be your friend, and work alongside you.

    This is next level stuff and I know you are still only scratching the surface of your powers.

    • Angie Colee on August 10, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      LOL I’m glad my story wasn’t what you thought! Thank you for being such an important part of my life, and for being my friend and mentor.

  8. Chrys Clay on August 9, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    You don’t become a Valkyrie Queen if you’ve never seen the battlefield. Your ability to own and share this story is what makes you so critically needed in our world. Thank you so much for being the REAL presence that you are and for helping fight off countless fledgling copywriters’ imposter syndrome with your Sword of Truth!

    • Angie Colee on August 10, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      LOL I do love that imagery. Here’s to fighting (and winning) future battles.

  9. Kimberly Houston on August 9, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    Loved hearing more of your story, Angie. Like you mention in one of the follow up comments, sometimes circumstances like these are a test from the universe, and once you get to the other side you have an incredible story to tell. Like this one, which I’m sure was not easy to write, or to share publicly. Kudos to you for sharing this!

    • Angie Colee on August 10, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      It was a struggle to tell for sure. I’ve told it in person many times but committing it to print was another exercise entirely. Thank you for taking the time to read!

  10. Ian on August 10, 2019 at 8:03 am

    Wow! Angie this is one powerful story and certainly takes me back to similar experiences I’ve kept hidden away. It’s a great inspiration to the new guys getting started and to the old farts like me, who’ve had many encounters and a belly full of working in a place they don’t want to be. here’s to those who want to make a change in their life. Thanks as always for sharing your heart!

    • Angie Colee on August 10, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      Here’s to those dreamers who want to make a change, indeed. May we always find the courage (or the support system to encourage us) to do what must be done.

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