Happy, Free, Confused & Lonely – MJ

Ask Mj Younkers at any given time this past semester for his to-do list and he would have rattled off for you the classes he needed to attend, the projects he had to work on, the pictures he had to edit, the homework that he needed to finish, the movies he was going to watch and the below 8 hours of sleep he got the night before. 

I really don’t understand how he fits everything in, but he somehow manages and even agreed to do this interview with me for the blog in the midst of the craziness! I am so grateful to be able to showcase the brilliant talent that is MJ Younkers and can’t wait to what he does next. Check out what he has to say about growing up and his love for photography!


Age: 22, Current Location: Azusa, CA

What has been most surprising/unexpected about being in your 20s?

I think the most surprising thing about being in my 20s is realizing that it’s kind of real life now and you’re no longer kind of given grace. It’s kind of like you’re an adult now. You need to step up and be responsible for the things that you want to do or the things you want to seek out. You have to take initiative and do those things.

What’s being the best thing about being in your 20s?

The best thing about being in my 20s is getting to be an adult and actually making my own decisions and having the freedom to do so.

What do you wish someone told you about being in your 20s?

I wish someone would have told me before I turned 20 how difficult it is to keep track of your finances and just to be more responsible with saving and spending.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in your 20s?

The biggest thing I’ve learned in my 20s has been that people will tell you one thing and then do another. It’s very frustrating but you kind of have to learn to be professional about that and say, “Alright, you know what? That’s fine.” And move on.

Mj stars in eyesWhat advice would you give to your teenage self?

I would tell my teenage self to kind of chill out and not be so worried about what the future holds. God provides so much just every day and getting to relax in that and be more calm about what the future might hold would have definitely helped me in my teen years.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received about life is from my dad. He told me, pertaining to going to college, “Go and major in something that you’re gonna love for the rest of your life. Don’t go do something that you think, ‘Oh, it’ll gonna make me money’ or whatever.” He just said, “Go with what you love and stick with that and work at it every day and you’ll get better and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

How would you describe where you’re at now as a 20-odd versus how you’re were as a kid or a teenager? How have you changed?

I’m a lot more independent now than I was as a kid. I think that I can–well, I can–make my own decisions now and logically think through decisions that are trying or difficult, and arrive at a conclusion that I act on and think, “Yeah, this is the right decision to make” now.

First Job? Current job?

Growing up, I was responsible for mowing the lawn every single weekend but my first real job was I worked at a golf course as a caddy in eighth grade. I got minimal pay and very little respect and that was hard, but it taught me a lot. Currently, I’m kind of self-employed as photographer and videographer and I sell my production services through my own media production company.

Where do you see yourself by 30?

Gosh… I have no idea. And I think that having that kind of no idea mindset really helps me in that I can kind of choose whatever I want to do and if my career ends up being something different than what I’ve planned or expected it to be, then that’s okay and I’ll move on with that in mind.

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What are some things that have inspired/are inspiring you?

I’m really inspired by both the expressionism and realism painting movements. They really are inspiring in terms of composition and lighting. As a cinematographer I feel that learning from the old classics and just masterpiece paintings, I learn a lot about what an image should look like and I use that to kind of decide how to frame up shots.

Do you have a life motto or quote you try to live your life by?

Kind of the phrase that has been pivotal in the last couple months has been “Why not?” And that kind of speaks to the idea of not limiting yourself and just being like, “You know what, why not? Let’s go and do this. Let’s go and find something interesting to do and do it.”

You mentioned earlier that you do both still photography and video photography. Can you talk a little bit about kind of what inspired you to get into it and how you feel about them separately?

Sure. When I was in my Sophomore year of high school, I started teaching myself photography. I took an art class and I took a drawing class and started learning about composition and balance and framing and just the classical rules of art. I wanted to take a film photography class but I never was able to because I found that my classes didn’t really allow for that to fit in. So I just kind of learned through friends and teaching myself online. Then my senior year, I bought my first DSLR and went out and just went crazy and took pictures of everything and there were like three that were good. But learning to kind of slog through the hundreds of pictures I took and finding out which ones were good, why they worked and then learning from that and moving on, that was really pivotal.

Now I have multiple cameras. I’ve learned 35 millimeter film and learned how to develop film and do the chemical darkroom processes and that’s been really great for my photography as an art form.

As far as cinematography goes, I kind of picked up on the beauty of a moving image in my senior year of high school as well and that sort of inspired me to become a cinematographer and a film major.

Who makes up your support system and/or do you feel like that part of your life is lacking?

Man, I honestly have been so blessed to transfer to a new school and to make the friends that I’ve had. I feel that my roommates… I room with four other guys. There are five of us total in a four person apartment so we have a great time. They are always there for me, more than happy to sit down and watch and movie or struggling through my explaining some, like, French New Wave movement in film or cinema. They’re always validating and that’s been a huge blessing.

Something you can’t live without

Well, definitely cannot live without my camera. It goes with me everywhere. I feel like, if I didn’t have my camera, there’d be times I would really miss it. But that’s interesting because I’ve learned to– there was a quote I read recently and it was about, as a photographer, there will definitely be times where you wish, “Man, I just wish I had my camera with me right now” and the important thing is to remember that in those instances where you don’t have a camera, instead of saying, “Oh, I wish I had this with me. I would love to take this so other people can see it,” relish that moment and enjoy it and live in that moment and say, “Okay, this is something that only I get to see right now” and drink it in. It’s beautiful and it has been created just for you to see so enjoy it.

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One fun fact about you

I did improv theater all through high school and tried out on a whim freshmen year. If that’s not improv, I don’t know what is, so…

Favorite emoji

For the sake of the [interview], my favorite emoji is the lightning bolt.

Taylor Swift used the four words “happy, free, confused and lonely” to describe being in your early 20s. What are four words that you would use to describe where you’re at?

Independent, Inspired, Limitless Creativity (I know that’s two words) and Friendship… getting to know people is awesome and getting to understand what makes them work is even better.

What’s next?

That is the question… I just graduated from APU. I’m heading to Hawaii for the next 8 months. Returning in Spring [to LA] for my Masters in Cinematography.

MJ slates

Photography credits: Cassondra Barnes and MJ Younkers


Happy, Free, Confused & Lonely – Stephanie

STEPHANIE SWAIN may only be 19, but she is dealing with the same challenges as any 20-odd, trying to decide whether to pursue her passions or follow a more conventional route. The student/model/actress currently resides in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona following a brave move out to L.A. and back.

I was honored to work with Steph as the lead of my independent film “WENDY: Lost Girl” where she played Wendy Darling. She graciously agreed to video chat me from Arizona to talk about the joys and struggles of early adulthood.

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Age: 19, Location: Tucson, AZ

The most surprising/unexpected about being in your 20s?

I think it’s truly like going with something, running with something. It’s so surprising to me to learn about yourself and learn about what you really want to do and sticking with that. Once you find that, it really just surprises you that you can follow through with that and really have a love and dedication to go through with something. Because it’s hard, you know, when you’re [in your] 20s, you’re always second-guessing yourself.

The best and the hardest thing about being in your 20s?

I think the best part about being in your 20s is definitely having that independence that you didn’t have your whole life. Making your own decisions, all those things. And that’s also the worst part about being in your 20s because it can get very lonely…. You kind of have to jump out of your own and be strong because no one will catch you but yourself.

Something you wish someone had told you about being in your 20s?

I wish someone would have told me that it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to fall. It’s okay to second guess yourself. It’s okay to cry.

Biggest thing you’ve learned since graduating from high school?

This is kind of sad, but I’ve learned that you can only trust yourself and loving yourself and being there for yourself is probably the most important thing in life. Because if you don’t have that love, you’re gonna be searching for it through other people and it’s just gonna end up bad.

Advice you would give to your younger teenage self?

Take life a little bit more seriously. I wish I would have paid more attention in school and taken myself more seriously and worried about my future more because it’s really important that you’re serious about your life goals and not just like “Oh, this is just high school, whatever.”

Best advice you have ever received?

I’ve received a lot of advice that’s good. I think, I wanna say from my mom, she said that you can’t really change what other people think or feel. And to me, I let other people’s emotions and how they feel really get to me but I kind of realized that what other people want and go through is their life, it’s their path and as long as you know you can’t change that and just do you, it really helps me get through life and not be as sensitive and emotional as I am towards my friends, family and whoever else.

How would you describe where you’re at now versus how you were as a kid or a teenager? How have you changed?

I think I’ve become a lot more serious. In this particular moment right now, I’m going to school and stuff and I think that I never really imagined myself to be living such a “normal” life. Like after moving to California and stuff, I’m just going to school and having a job. And while that’s good and dandy, it’s just not where I see myself. And I think it’s kind of interesting, I surprised myself. I didn’t think I could do this and now that I know that I can, I can expand my horizons and do what I actually want. It’s a good surprise.

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First Job?

I was a buser at a cafe. It was horrible. I got soap in my shoes every day and I grabbed dishes and I felt like Cinderella.

Current job?

I’m a hostess at PF Chang’s. It’s definitely dealing with a lot of people who are cranky cuz they wanna eat but it’s pretty fun.

Where do you see yourself by 30?

I see myself living in definitely a different state than Arizona, having a family and being financially stable as well as traveling the world cuz that’s very important to me and I want to do that.

Tell me more about the move to and from LA:

I’m bittersweet about it because right now I know I’m taking a break and just kind of figuring out what I want and who I am. But you know, moving out there [to LA], it was such a hard thing for me to finally put my feet down there and follow my dreams and wake up every day and be excited to go to work. And now that I’m back here, I just find myself just living an average life and you know, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself just knowing that it’s really not for me and life is more about what makes you happy, what you’re passionate about as opposed to just doing what’s right. And that’s partly why I moved back here. I wanted to go to school, get an education, be financially stable. But in learning that, I just don’t think… you should do what you want. Life is too short. Just do what makes you happy. At the end of the day, it’s not about the money and as long as you just know yourself and what you wanna do. I know I wanna go back to LA for so many reasons.

Why did you move to California?

My whole life growing up in Arizona, I’ve always been like “There’s more.” There’s a fire inside of me that is unlike any people here and I just want to explore the entertainment world. So I moved out to California right after high school and I started pursuing acting and modeling and whatnot. It was just a crazy whirlwind. And it was terrifying at first and I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know anyone. But once I got that going, that ball going, it kind of gained momentum and it just kept getting better and better. Because once you break out of your comfort zone, it feels like there’s no boundaries. You can really just do whatever you want. And then you look back and you’re like “Wow, I did that.” And it’s truly like anything is possible. You can do anything you want. There’s nothing holding you back. I loved it. It’s probably the best decision I ever made and I recommend it to anyone in their 20s. Go out, break your comfort zone, do what you wanna do because at the end of the day, you’re gonna have a great story to tell as opposed to just doing what’s right, what you’re “supposed to do.”

If you loved it so much, why did you leave?

Last fall, I kind of went into a slump. I started seeing my friends in California become people I didn’t really admire. They were getting sucked into the social media world and sucked into the fame aspect. I kind of had this realization about what it was to be a young actor, young model in LA and it kind of scared me. I kind of realized I don’t want this. I want people with values that love their family and love their friends and would never use someone or mistreat them. At the same time, I was looking at people who were struggling to pay their rent in California and still doing background acting after all these years and I kind of was like, “You know, I think I could live a better life than this. I think I’m smarter than this. I think I could get my degree and then maybe come back out here.” But at the time, I was ignoring my passion…. So I came back to Arizona to get my education cuz it’s much cheaper here. I kind of missed my family. I wanted to see what it was like to live here because while in LA, I watched all my friends that went to high school [with me] go to college and have that experience and it was kind of like, “I’m missing out on something.” And every time I visited them, I felt like that. So I think I really needed to have this experience to see what it was like because if I didn’t, I would have wondered my whole life.

So I came back for several reasons but mostly because I was second-guessing myself which goes back to what I was saying. In your 20s, constantly second-guessing yourself. You know, you’re just like “Ooh, am I doing this right? Should I be doing this?” And you’ve gotta do that to figure out your path and I think that’s just what I’ve been doing.

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What inspires you?

This sounds cheesy but I inspire myself. I try to compare myself to my past self and kind of improve on that as opposed to comparing myself to other people which I find really kind of drives me down and makes me sad. I’m kind of like “What can I do to make myself better?” So, using yourself as inspiration, as weird as that sounds, really benefits you.

Is there a motto or quote you try to live your life by?

I think it’s just what’s most important to me. I guess, it’s not like a motto but more like what I always am thinking about is you, I mean as the stereotypical as this is, you only live once. You should make it as fun and happy as possible.

I think it’s good but it’s also bad cuz I don’t think about the serious things in life. I’m like “I just wanna have fun.” Just enjoying yourself. I don’t wanna live as one of those people who have a cubicle and hate their life. Just enjoy life.

I know that you recently started modeling again. Can you talk about what inspired you to start modeling and to continue in Arizona?

I moved to California to act and every time I was on set, people were like “Oh, you should model. You’re tall enough.” I never really thought about it. And then, I figured out I could make money this way if I tried and I was like, “Wow, I should start doing this.” So I started to, you now, apply myself, go on different shoots and things like that, kind of dip my toes in it. And I found out that the modeling industry is pretty harsh on self-esteem, your body weight and all that. So I took that into consideration and I made it so that modeling wouldn’t be my end goal. It would be a pathway to where I wanted to be so that if I did get rejected, it wouldn’t hurt me as bad. And I think it’s a really fun way to express myself. Why I love modeling the most is seeing the pictures and the art in them. How they’re styled, how the photographer did it. I think that’s more important to me than ever looking beautiful or “hot” in a picture. Just kind of like a storyboard of all these different shoots you did and the art and the energy that the photographer did. I really love that. ANd right now, I’m trying to get signed to an agency but it’s really tough. The restrictions they have for you, you’ve gotta be like a perfect Barbie doll. I definitely don’t let it get to me that much though because it’s more fun than anything.

Has it been something that helped you stay tapped into that creative part of yourself while you’re in AZ?

Yes, definitely. I think for a while I kind of think I stopped doing everything in Arizona cuz I was so sad that I wasn’t in LA and that nothing could compare to the energy and things I was doing there that I was like “Oh, it’s not worth it to do photoshoots here because it won’t be like LA.” And then I kind of realized I was losing myself, that once yous top creating art and doing what you love, you completely go delusional and aren’t yourself anymore so I kind of forced myself, as hard as it was, to go out into Arizona and explore that and I think it’s really helped me keep who I am in LA together and like keep that passion alive so that I can go back.

Who makes up your support system and/or do you feel like that part of your life is lacking?

I think I have a ton of friends who make up that support system like honestly you. I love you and you just support everything I do no matter what, so that’s awesome. And just like some other friends I have in California, mostly I’ve found that people who are also artists are the best supporters to have because we truly understand the struggle of not the rest of the world understanding what we’re doing. I think having friends that are artists really does help.

Something you can’t live without?

I’m gonna say chocolate… I eat it almost every day. I’m like a chocoholic.

A fun fact about you?

I like to eat lemons… I don’t know why. I just started doing it at restaurants. I was like, “I bet I can eat this. It’s so sour.” And then I started liking it and now I’m like, “I’m curing cancer and cleansing my body” so I eat lemons. What the heck? But it’s kind of fun.

Favorite emoji?

I think my favorite emoji is the little angel one with the little halo. It’s just so happy and cute. I just love that one. I use it all the time.

Taylor Swift used the four words “happy, free, confused and lonely” to describe being in your early 20s. What are four words that you would use to describe where you’re at?

I think that’s pretty spot on but I’ll try to think…

Lost… happy… nostalgic, definitely one of them and hopeful.

What’s next?

Alright. What’s next is I’m planning on my move back to California this summer, actually, I was planning on going back and just doing school while pursuing the entertainment industry so that I’m not missing out on any part of being in your early 20s. So that I can just fully experience both of those things.

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Photography by Rayann Marie Photography


Happy, Free, Confused & Lonely – Sara

Sara is recovering from one of the biggest seasons of change in her life. She recently split from her boyfriend of three years, graduated from college and moved across the country to live with her mother.

In the very first interview for the new Happy, Free, Confused & Lonely segment of the blog, Sara spills all about change, growing up and what’s next. Continue reading “Happy, Free, Confused & Lonely – Sara”

Happy, Free, Confused & Lonely


You can say whatever you want about Taylor Swift, but she got one thing right:

Being in your early 20s is weird.

You’re an adult… sort of. But you also feel like a kid… sometimes.

Many of us still live at home. Most of us depend on our parents financially in at least some capacity. Some of us are still in school. Others of us are trying to navigate the job world with this new “2” tacked on in front of our age or a couple new letters behind our names (BA, BFA, etc). And a few of us are sporting a ring on the fourth finger of our left hands and some have even taken on the title “Mom” or “Dad.”

Taylor said that those in their early 20s are “happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.” She accused us of having “breakfast at midnight,” dressing “up like hipsters” and purposely forgetting about deadlines. She claimed being 22 was “miserable and magical” and even had the audacity to say that we were “happy, free, confused and lonely in the best way.” Not only is this all happening at the same time, it’s also happening in the best of ways?!?

Well, when this song came out, I was a blissfully ignorant 18 year old who thought it was cute. As soon as the novelty of being 21 wore off, however, I realized every day that the lyrics of the song were becoming my truth. I also realized the best way to deal with it was indeed to dance it off and enjoy this crazy, confusing time of my life with my friends who–gasp!–were feeling the same way.

Taylor told Billboard magazine in 2012, “For me, being 22 has been my favorite year of my life. I like all the possibilities of how you’re still learning, but you know enough. You still know nothing, but you know that you know nothing. You’re old enough to start planning your life, but you’re young enough to know there are so many unanswered questions. That brings about a carefree feeling that is sort of based on indecision and fear and a the same time letting [loose]. Being 22 has taught me so much” (“Taylor Swift Q&A: The Risks of ‘Red’ and The Joys of Being 22”). In a separate article reviewing the Red album track by track, Billboard called the hook of the song 22 “a rather stunning meditation on being in your early 20s” (“Taylor Swift, ‘Red’: Track-By-Track Review”).

I, for one, think that Miss Swift hit the nail on the head with this one. Unfortunately, I think that instead of embracing the weirdness that is being in your early 20s, many of us buckle down and try to figure it all out as if somehow having a twenty in front of your age means that you know how to “adult” now.

I thought that I would create a space for twenty-odds to be able to share their stories and admit that we don’t have it all together. We’re still figuring it out and messing up and restarting. We really are happy (for the most part), feeling more freedom than ever (but also more restrictions… $$), walking around confused as hell most days and also, feeling strangely lonely (sometimes).

This space is going to manifest itself in a new segment on my blog known as “Happy, Free, Confused & Lonely” where I will interview twenty-odds about being in their early 20s. The goal of this blog has always been to tell personal stories transparently so that they can touch and help other people. Well, I’ve gotten a little sick of only telling my story and am looking forward to bringing other voices to the table as well.

Keep your eye out for the first interview, coming soon!