5 Years Ago Today...
I moved out of the childhood home I grew up in and moved to New York. I didn't realize what a monumental moment it was at the time. I didn't exactly believe that I would really be able to pull off supporting myself. There was a lingering fear that I would have to give up and move back home. I was like one of those contestants on a reality show that keeps complaining, "I don't want to go back home yet."
When I reflect back on the last 5 years, I get incredibly nostalgic for those times in my life. I will never again see New York from the same perspective as when I first moved there. When I go back now, every block has a memory. I remember trekking up to Times Square for my very first audition and thinking, "This is it. I'm here." I had such a distinct plan and vision for how my career would unfold. I was so completely innocent and trusting of the people I encountered. When I imagined my life 5 years away, I didn't picture myself being where I am now.
The little turns and surprises ended up bringing the greatest joy that I never could have predicted. However, things weren't working out the way I had planned and it freaked me out. It caused me to start doubting whether I was really meant to pursue a place in this business. For instance, after my first year working in New York in a restaurant at night, auditioning during the day, working on short films during the weekends to build my reel, and standing in on Gossip Girl to make extra rent money, I was burnt out.
I thought of all my friends in Florida living in dorms paid for by their parents, going to football games, using pre-paid food allowances for the commissary, and hanging out with all the friends we had grown up with since kindergarten. Part of me was envious at how easy their life seemed. I didn't know anyone in NYC and I was incredibly lonely in the beginning. Yet, I knew if I moved back I would feel like I had given up.
Frankly, I was exhausted and not stimulated intellectually. I worried that I was losing sight of my goal to be a working actress because of the day to day grind of just earning enough money from my three day jobs to continue living in Manhattan. It began to overtake the whole reason I moved there. More than anything, I wanted to go to college. I began to crave something that the entertainment industry couldn't take away from me; an education.
A huge part of me felt like I was giving up acting by taking time away to focus on school. I resented my professors for not letting me miss class to make it to that one huge audition that I felt could be my ticket out of school if I booked a worthwhile part. At the same time, it felt liberating to earn something that had absolutely nothing to do with my looks. No one at school cared if I looked enticing enough as the young ingénue actress to carry an indie film. They just cared if I could theorize my opinions into coherent form in class discussion.
As I think of all the aspiring performers graduating high school and planning/scheming/dreaming of ways to get out of their hometown into big city life, I remember exactly what that time in my life felt like. When things don't exactly unfold the way you planned on them happening, it can lead you to wonder what the heck you're even doing to sacrifice so much to pursue a dream that doesn't always give back in the time frame that you predicted.
Looking back now, some of the things that went unplanned actually lead things to fall into place the way they were meant to be. I'm sure those of you that are graduating high school and ready to pursue a professional acting career have a very clear vision and hope for how things will turn out. I just want to gently tell you, that if it doesn't go exactly as planned, remember that it usually never does and let yourself get lost to find your way back again.
Besides, some of the best actors are the ones who had some real soul searching to work with. I once heard that sometimes the best thing an actor can do is go away for a little while and live a normal life and come back with a refreshed perspective. When I lived in Manhattan, I gave up a lot of invitations to travel because I didn't want to miss out on any opportunities to audition for a role. Oh and by the way, pretty much every time you book a flight, you will book a job.
The number one thing I've learned is to never compare someone else's successes to your own. It robs you of your own individual path. It can be bittersweet when a close friend books something huge. At the root of it, you're thrilled for them but also wondering if you will ever get such an exciting chance to work with such dynamic actors. You will, when you least expect it. I just wanted to share some of the things that I learned that I didn't know five years ago today.
Always remember, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss
All the best,