At 4 p.m. on the Friday before Thanksgiving, I was calmly called into a closed-door meeting and let go from my job. After four years of climbing from editorial assistant to executive editor at the magazine of my childhood dreams, my career came to a screeching halt in a matter of minutes, punctuated by the hollow words, "No one's denying that you're extremely talented, but our decision is final."
It wasn't even worth arguing because, to be honest, I was relieved. What had started out as the perfect entertainment job -- interviewing dozens of stars, writing cover stories and jetting off on media trips around the world -- had, by the end, been restructured into oblivion.
It was time to move on.
While I tried to figure out exactly where "on" was located, I alternately reveled in my newfound freedom and suffered daily panic attacks and identity crisis meltdowns. And so it went for the month of December. Cover letter after cover letter. Gilmore Girls rerun after rerun. Until one day, it occurred to me that I could use this unexpected limbo to check something completely and wonderfully random off my life list: Sundance.
My infatuation with the Sundance Film Festival likely stemmed from an after-school routine of poring over InStyle's red carpet photo spreads. I loved how, unlike the poised shots from the Oscars or Cannes, stars showed up to Sundance slumming it in their snow boots and parkas, linked arm in arm with their castmates and crew. Maybe I was a thinking child, keen to see Hollywood rid itself of glamour excess, but it's more likely I was just a Florida girl enchanted by the idea of anyone actually wearing snow boots and parkas.
Now, it seems logical that as a journalist my goal should have been to go to Sundance as a member of the press. But instead, I held on to the fantasy of venturing to Park City as one of the 1,200+ volunteers who essentially run Robert Redford's love child of a festival each January. There was just something so irresistibly alluring about teaming with a motley crew of strangers united only by a love of film. Every year, they come together to work hard, play hard and wear matching Kenneth Cole jackets for two beautifully escapist weeks. It sounded just like camp, but without the horrors of a ropes course or bunk beds.
I was determined that Sundance 2014 was going to happen. And when another volunteer conveniently dropped out, it took me about five seconds to book my plane ticket to Utah.
From the first glimpse of snow-covered peaks outside Salt Lake City to a final standing ovation when Whiplash swept the festival awards, Sundance was exactly what I'd always hoped and just what I needed in a moment of transition. Scanning tickets and ushering excited patrons (and the occasional Paul Rudd and William H. Macy) to their seats, I had the time of my life doing something that didn't come with a swag bag but was still brimming with perks. Working side by side, day in and day out with volunteers ranging from students to seniors, Southerners to Brits, I saw more than 20 films, sat in on amazing panels, ate my weight in Clif bars and made what I hope will become lifelong friends.
Losing a job can be like losing an identity, especially in a city like New York. But there, in a microcosm of the film industry, I learned that not every meaningful role in life has to come with a LinkedIn title change. And the love of entertainment that had been slowly sucked out of me amid the day-to-day drama of office politics was suddenly restored tenfold in a tiny ski town in Utah.