Personal Stories

One Year On: How Bourdain’s Death Changed My Life

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Photographed by Robert Ascroft for Adweek

When I was young, I wanted to be an actress.

This is a common dream for lots of young people, I think. Fame, riches, and hordes of fans – what’s not appealing about that?

At some point, my mom asked me: “why do you want to be an actress? You don’t even like to be in front of crowds.” My mother (always in retrospect) has a very good way of getting to the root of the issue when we talk. I remember sitting in the kitchen of my childhood home, and I realized that it wasn’t the acting, the fame, the riches, or the fans that appealed to me about being an actress. It was that when the cameras turned off, I could be in some exotic location. I could explore the world. I imagined myself seeing the blue waters of Fiji or the mountains of Europe while filming the latest blockbuster.

Acting, as far as I could see, would be the primary mechanism to travel the world. I didn’t understand there were other options to have a life of travel.


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One year ago, Anthony Bourdain died. It still hurts to say that, but I try not to sugar-coat my language because I think Tony would have wanted us to be honest: he died. He’s gone. All we have left is the hole his personality used to fill.

I need to be clear: I didn’t know him personally. We never met. I wanted to, and like so many things in life, I always assumed I would have the chance. It’s a testament to his legacy that through his words and videos, I still feel this gaping chasm that still hurts so much. I can barely imagine the pain his family has felt in the past year and feels today.

Since Tony died, I’ve struggled with a lot of emotions, mostly anger. I’m angry that he couldn’t see the light he shone and how much he meant even to strangers like me. On the day he died, I remember my shock and realizing that it was possible to have everything I dreamed of as a child – a life of travel, fame, riches, and fans – and still be deeply unhappy. Since the day he died when Mr. V and I toasted his legacy with cheap beer and episodes of Parts Unknown, I haven’t been able to watch another episode. I read Kitchen Confidential once, and retired it onto the shelf until it hurts a little less.


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Before he died, I called him Bourdain. In death, he became Tony. A friend and a guide… but also a cautionary tale. I resolved that between my then 31 years and the 61 Tony lived, I would do my best to not reach his age and feel that darkness I couldn’t see through.

When Tony died, I was working a full-time job. I was moderately happy with most of my responsibilities. Today, I work for myself again, and have no plans to get a ‘real job’ again. I’ve written one book and part of another for one of the world’s preeminent publishers on that subjects. I contribute regularly to some of the world’s top publications on an area of expertise that I carved for myself in the market. I’ve traveled over 50% of the last three month, almost all of it for professional reasons – to see the night sky and to speak about the path I’m on. In the past year, with Tony as my guide, I restructured my future.


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Pier 57. Photo by @voguemagazine:

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How did I get from there to here? I asked myself what I was afraid of and what risk I was afraid to take – and whether I would be willing to own that fear if I ever met Tony again.

Within a few weeks of Tony’s death, I realized I had a deeper misery in the work I was doing. Not because of the people I worked with or the work I was doing, but just because it didn’t make enlighten my soul. It didn’t push me to constantly improve in the direction I wanted to go. It wasn’t the extraordinary life I feel compelled to live.

I gave my notice to leave my job within just two weeks, and was back to self-employment and freelancing in about a month. I quit my job because I realized that I had more to do, and that my occasional mantra of “What Would Bourdain Do?” was deeply underserved. When I talk about it now, I directly credit Tony’s death as the primary event that caused me to question my future and to decide I needed to change – and to not wait another minute to make that change. I made the leap before my book deal was confirmed, before I had any income lined up, before I knew I could build my parachute or land.


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It often takes the death of someone we care about to force us to question our future and what matters most to us. In my case, I looked at Tony and his legacy, and decided I couldn’t help but chase the pipe dreams and side hustles with all the gusto I had in life. If I am going to reach 61 and question it all, I want to have given it my very greatest effort.

As we make our second circuit around the sun without Bourdain, it’s important to honor his memory. To carving one’s own path in the world. For always striving to improve beyond the past person you were. To embracing the world with an open mind, and challenging those back home to do the same.

Rest in Peace, Tony.

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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