Picture your most interesting dinner guest — the one with the best travel stories, the most thoughtful perspectives on art and vivid descriptions of recent meals, the friend who’s first to volunteer tales of her own mistakes, the easiest to talk to, with grit and authentic wisdom, the most confident and self-aware.
Did this person have a linear career path? Was she on a straight track from early adulthood? Did she never change her mind about where to live or work? Never felt stuck, lost or confused about her direction? I doubt it.
I have plenty of friends who found themselves in Bakersfield — by chance or by choice — and at one time did not see this town as part of the plan. Many of them completely changed their minds about this place over the course of a few months or years. And they provide needed diversity here. We can’t just have career-track professionals, overly confident insiders. We need passionate foodies, artists, those that bridge professional and cultural worlds. Initial skeptics should be welcomed with open arms.
Debbie Lewis is a fascinating study in contradictions, which is true for many of us. Life is not linear. And Debbie knows this well. The fact that she currently lives in Bakersfield and likes it here is just one of the many ways she’s been deeply surprised by her own path. She works for Moneywise Wealth Management and often serves as a host of the firm’s weekday radio show, The Moneywise Guys. None of this was part of the plan.
At one point, this smart, capable graduate of UCLA was living paycheck-to-paycheck in Los Angeles. She went from working for a purchasing company to a position in the TV/film production world, which is why she went to L.A. to begin with. As someone with immense drive and persistence, she had “lost a sense of connection to anything and anyone and felt no direction” (her words). And, on top of all that, her roommate at that time was a nightmare. She was ready to make a change. She didn’t have a plan, so she decided to come home to collect her thoughts, collect herself and be closer to her family. Moving back to Bakersfield was supposed to be a temporary stopover.
But years later, she’s still here. And her perspective has changed. Read on to learn how.
Q: Tell me a bit about what makes Debbie Lewis tick. What are a few obsessions/passions that keep you up at night?
A: I am always trying to surround myself with a good mix of people and interesting experiences. I am pretty geeky about food and drink, travel, music and storytelling. I think that we all want to feel like we are capable of and are actually making a difference in this wild world. Often, I wonder if everything that feels important to me is frivolous, but I hope I am contributing both positively and creatively in everything I do.
Q: Has your perspective changed since moving back to Bakersfield?
A: Even though it was a relief to leave L.A., I was scared to come home and felt I had to “swallow my pride,” that I should somehow apologize to imaginary people for moving back to Bakersfield because I had failed myself. As a young adult, I had not yet heard that Bakersfield was a thriving place for creative types, and I had no clue what I was going to do here. It took me a few years to feel good and feel connected.
Once I started to work at Moo Creamery and got connected with the Bakersfield Museum of Art, I began to blossom and discover all of these new things that I was passionate about within this town. I started to feel a tangible pulse, a synergy that was really exciting. There were people here my age, like me, who were hungry and doing exciting things. I instantly wanted to be involved and spread the word to as many people as possible, and I still do. Things are happening here. Come see. Get involved.
Q: How would you describe your job?
A: My job is unique and always evolving, which is exciting and keeps me on my toes. I am involved in a lot of different areas of the company, including marketing, branding, public relations and communications, working to better our clients’ experience, connecting our company with our community and building partnerships with individuals and organizations. I love helping empower people to take control of their financial well being through simple, accessible steps.
For the record, I was never interested in the financial world. I was a skeptic. Moneywise is not just a wealth management company or a radio show. I wouldn’t be here if the owners cared solely about making money. At its core, Moneywise is a close-knit crew of bleeding hearts from diverse backgrounds with different experiences. We are a sample of Bakersfield. We all want to be good humans and utilize our collective resources to make a difference and hopefully encourage and inspire others to do the same, both in their finances and in their lives.
Q: What could Bakersfield do better to attract/retain young professionals and creatives?
A: Let’s not pretend that Bakersfield is perfect; let’s not allow the negatives to define us. We need to continue to tell nuanced, self-aware and honest stories, harbor visionary ambition, have conversations and come up with pragmatic solutions. We should encourage and support people to take chances and think outside of the box. To make Bakersfield the best it can be, we should embrace change and diversity. This area is changing, lifestyles are changing, expectations are changing, the earth is changing. Life is change. We need to embrace it, adapt and use it to Bakersfield’s cultural and economic advantage. Everybody has something to contribute. Complacency and complaining isn’t constructive. If you’re not offering a solution or unwilling to do the hard work, don’t knock those that are attempting to put themselves out there and make an effort.
We also need to continue creating, supporting and merging existing cultural hubs. The most obvious example — and not exclusive to Bakersfield — is fostering a thriving downtown. We are all different, but we can come together and take pride in our central hub. We need more high-quality retail, restaurants, vendors and cultural spaces that encourage imagination and creativity. I would like to see Bakersfield’s downtown be our unique-to-us mecca that we all feel invested in, invigorated and inspired by.
Q: Does the typical outsider’s perspective of Bakersfield match the reality of your life and experience here?
A: For the most part, no. Some of it is true but it isn’t the full story. This is a multi-dimensional, rich, nuanced place filled with equally fascinating people. We are complex and raw and beautiful.
Q: You are supportive of diverse cultural scenes in Bakersfield. Why are the arts important to you?
A: Art is about sharing the human experience, sharing spaces, trying to feel understood and valid. No one wants to feel alone in the world. Humans need to express themselves in healthy ways. Art can be food, dance, music, film, literature, theater, comedy, and the list goes on. For me, art transcends a gallery wall. I really do believe that. Art matters.
Q: I’d consider you a foodie, of sorts (the best kind). Describe the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
A: There have been a lot, but I would have to say Akelarre in San Sebastián (the Basque Country), Spain. It orgasmically blew off the back of my sensory cranium. Despite our trusted friend’s insistence, we showed up extremely underdressed and were mortified. And it didn’t matter. They treated us like royalty. World class. This place was in another dimension. The service, the ambiance, the creativity, the quality and the thoughtfulness — it was life-altering. It was not cheap, but it was worth every penny. Chef Pedro Subijana came out and signed our menus, shook our hands and thanked us. We tried our best to communicate. That’s the way I want to go out in this life: death by a multi-course symphony, with at least one person that I love, full belly, full heart, wine-flushed cheeks that are tired from smiling and laughing and chewing, my pants unbuttoned and overlooking the ocean. Bliss.
Q: You love to travel. What inspires you about exploring other places?
A: Traveling is an education. It forever leaves its mark on you. I like to be reminded that I am not the center of the universe, that I don’t know everything and that there are other ways to live and enjoy life. It is an exciting, invigorating, humbling way to connect with people and to gain perspective and uncover a liberating confidence. I tend to come back appreciating what and who I do have at home. Aside from taking care of my basic needs, travel will always be a priority. It’s a big world out there. I want to see, experience and taste as much as possible!
Q: Use one word to describe your current state of mind.
A: Change. And hangry.
Thank you, Debbie. It’s people like you that make this place beautiful. You have an automatic invitation to my next dinner party. I can’t guarantee it will match Chef Subijana’s cooking, but there will be plenty of wine.