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Conan's guitar: Finding meaning in L.A.

By Devon Shuman, Culture Editor

I don't remember what song he was playing.

I don't remember what skit he'd just rehearsed or what notes his producer had made.

To be completely honest, I don't even remember many of the jokes he made during the show later that night.

What I do remember about Conan O'Brien was the look on his face as he picked up a guitar and jammed out with his house band during the final rehearsal before taping.

Though normally the lanky personification of goofiness, the kind of ridiculous jokester who concludes every entrance by licking his own nipple, in that moment, Conan appeared very serious, very dedicated to the music he was producing. His eyes were closed as he bobbed with the beat and his fingers plucked at the strings. Despite his almost blank expression, he was clearly in a state of intense enjoyment and relaxation. He wasn't lost in the moment; he was immersed in it.

I had the opportunity to attend a taping of "Conan" over winter break as part of Miami's Inside Hollywood program, a three-week course designed to give students an inside look at Los Angeles and the entertainment industry. Through meetings with alumni and visits to some of the major studios, we were able to learn about all different aspects of the industry, including writing, directing, producing and marketing.

One piece of advice in particular that we heard from everyone we met with was the importance of hard work and perseverance. It's a cutthroat business and if you want to rise to the top, you have to work hard enough to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack.

While it's an important message to hear, it's not exactly eye-opening advice -- you can really apply it to any venture in life. The world doesn't reward those who slack off. We all understood that before we even departed for L.A.

In fact, it was this very idea that drew me to the entertainment industry in the first place. While I understand the importance of hard work, I wouldn't say it's something I particularly enjoy. Given the choice between hitting the books and hitting the sack, I tend to opt for the latter. So I wanted to seek out a career doing something I love, something that would make hard work seem not so... hard. As a lover of film and television, Hollywood was an immediate draw.

For the first week or so, it seemed I'd found what I was looking for. Every new day was a journey. I rushed into each speaker session and studio tour with an eager curiosity, in total awe of the seemingly magical world around me.

But by week two, that sense of wonder had faded. Exhaustion had replaced excitement at the start of each day. Instead of jumping at the opportunity to learn from the alumni, I found myself looking forward to the end of each session so I could stretch my legs and rest before the next one. Even the prospect of seeing celebrities on the street had grown lackluster, I realized one day as I nonchalantly noticed Sissy Spacek pass by on the Sony lot. What was once a glorious new experience had become horribly routine.

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This realization led me down a rabbit hole of depressing thoughts: If my excitement over Hollywood could only last a week, would I ever be able to find something to truly make me happy, to make the proposition of getting up and grinding day in and day out not so terrible? Or was I doomed to succumb to the monotony of routine no matter where I ended up?

The misery worsened during our Q & A session with Conan. The man who walked into the conference room to speak with us was not the Conan I recognized, his normal showtime suit gone in favor of a ragged Guinness sweatshirt, and his iconic perky hairdo arranged in a messy mop. I recognized in his wrinkly face, devoid of any makeup, the same exhaustion I had grown accustomed to. If Conan O'Brien, professional comedian, beloved celebrity and world traveler, couldn't overcome it, how could I ever expect to?

But then I remembered the other Conan, the one with the guitar in his hand in between rehearsals, the one who immersed himself in the joy of a single moment, and suddenly my fears dissipated. Maybe work is work, and maybe it will always be hard, even if you love it. But maybe if you find a way to break the routine every once in awhile, to get out of your head and appreciate a little moment here and there, maybe then, you can find a way to live.

Welcome back to Miami, and good luck to all in search of their own way to keep rocking on.