Adrian Elliot is one of those humans that you can’t help but feel drawn to. He’s unabashedly and theatrically himself; he has a big personality that he isn’t afraid to share with the world. Adrian is a director, writer, photographer, and creative director with an interdisciplinary creative background. For our Gutted conversation, I spoke with him in his new home in Los Angeles—a city he has just landed in after 14 years in San Francisco.
We start our conversation on the topic of home—and what it means to lay down roots and establish yourself in an apartment and in a city over a long period of time. Adrian lived in the same studio apartment in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco for 12 years. When he first moved into the studio, he was 21 years old, in college, and looking for a place to land for a long period of time. He had grown up moving around a lot and was resolved to firmly plant himself somewhere and set up shop. He reflects on this decision:
“It was this interesting balance of the comfort of familiarity and also the comfort of knowing that I had achieved something that I set out to do: make San Francisco my home, with my tribe, my people, my community, and my family all there—and it was. But what I ultimately learned, is that it wasn't serving me professionally and [it] wasn't serving me in other ways. And also that I just needed a change. Just change for change’s sake on its own. It's something I needed after being in the same city since I was 18 years old.”
After spending over a decade of his life in the same physical environment, Adrian had come to feel like he had outgrown many of the things that had at one point led to his growth. Finding his way in his new life in Los Angeles, he is learning new things about himself and how he operates in his home environment and surrounding community. Things that he feels proud of—but was blind to. Things that required him to step far outside of his comfort zone in order to truly feel how much they were no longer serving him.
Our conversation takes an interesting turn as we begin to talk about the fact that both Adrian and I still wear retainers for our teeth every night. Although the topic of conversation seems random, it in fact is not. Adrian feels that taking care of his teeth is merely a small reflection of a larger life theme of self-care. Each tiny act of care that we do to support our overall health and well-being is important and makes a difference.
The theme of care flows over into the next part of our conversation, as I share with Adrian a ridiculous story of what my current retainer looks like, how I know wearing a retainer is good for my oral health, but how I can’t help but feel some shards of insecurity about wearing it with new people that I date. Adrian is quick in his response to note the delicate spectrum between carelessness and being carefree. Adrian defines this spectrum for himself: “I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m just doing this for my own person. Nobody can judge me. And more often than we’d like to admit, there is a layer under there—a very nuanced, delicate layer of maybe actually caring.” These are the parts of ourselves that we have to be committed to and it’s important to remember that being whimsical and imperfect is what makes us each a unique human.
Our conversation shifts gears to Adrian’s father and the relationship Adrian had with his dad while growing up. Adrian shares that his parents were amicably divorced when he was two years old, he was raised by his mother, and he would get to see his dad a few times a year. Adrian recounts an experience he had when he was around seven years old in which he had to make a decision and in which his dad imparted a very important life lesson. It’s a lesson that still impacts Adrian to this day: “Always trust your first instinct.” Adrian notes, “I understood those words. I mean, I knew what he was saying—but I didn’t. I was a kid. I heard what he said. I could comprehend what he said. But I didn’t really know what that meant.” This lesson now holds even more significance, as Adrian’s father passed away in a car accident when he was 14.
The wise words that Adrian received from his father have inspired many years of intentional inquiry for Adrian on what our instinct is and what it is not. After much exploration, Adrian believes that our instinct is simply an act of listening. He explains,
“It’s just about listening. Whether you’re listening to something you believe is outside of yourself or whether your listening to your human body and the inputs that it’s receiving. It’s just about listening.”
A few years ago, Adrian was tested in listening to his instinct when he was invited to two weddings of very dear friends on the same day in different locations of California. Both couples were very important to Adrian and his first instinct was to make a strenuous effort to attend both of the weddings in one way or another. Rather than blindly listening to his first inclination, he decided to ask for feedback from a few friends that he trusted. The opinion that he received from his friends was that he could not go to both weddings as it would prevent him from being fully present at either one. When hearing this information he remembers thinking, “That doesn’t feel right to me. That doesn’t feel like me.” And although he still had a strong voice inside of him telling him what he needed to do, he began to question his own intuition and inner knowing and eventually decided that he would only attend one of the weddings.
Adrian had a wonderful time at the wedding that he did attend, but he woke the next morning feeling really uncomfortable in his own skin. After a few days of walking around with those feelings, he called his mom and explained the situation, to which she very plainly replied, “You didn’t trust your first instinct.” Adrian reflects on this statement:
“That is exactly what it [was]. I [felt] that I betrayed myself. I [felt] that I [had] betrayed my friends. I [felt] that I did something that was not authentically me because I was concerned about how people would judge me for making that choice.”
“I felt surprisingly bad about it. It really took up a lot of space. And in a shocking way because it wasn’t of course just about the wedding. It wasn’t just about my friends. It wasn’t just about missing out on witnessing something that was important to me with people that are important to me. It was bigger than that. It was a bigger discovery. . . This is a symbol for a realization and a discovery about me and how I listen to myself.”