A Year in Review

Well, I have now officially exceeded my quarter-century mark. Ideally, I would have published this on my birthday, but life was moving just too fast at the time to make that possible. Hence the year in review post a month after the fact. Better late than never!

What a pivotal age 25 was for me. Filled with innumerable insights, opportunities and breakthroughs, it was truly a year I will never forget. It was a year that challenged me and changed me in the best ways. It was the year I decided to take charge and take total ownership of my life. A brief recap for those who are new to my blog (welcome! Thanks for stopping by!) and a refresh for those who’ve been with me from the beginning (thank you! I appreciate you so very much.): the day before my 25th birthday I left my full-time job at a performing arts center to focus my efforts on making my dream of becoming an actor & model a reality. I left steady employment in pursuit of an essentially unknown future. I had no idea where this change would take me and whether it would yield great success or total failure. But I had to give myself the chance, and that became the driving force behind my decision. I envisioned a different life for myself and I decided to march confidently in the direction of my dreams. (If you’re interested in reading the post that started it all, click here)

Now, one year later, I’m sitting in a completely different place (quite literally actually…more on that later) taking in the past year. All the ups and downs, the unknowns that became knowns and the new experiences which led me to where I am today. I believe reflection is important, so let’s review, shall we?

One year ago, I sent out my headshot and resume to countless agencies hoping and praying that one would represent me. The night before my last day of work, one agent decided to rep me (just in the nick of time!). Now I have three lovely agents vouching for me across a variety of areas within the entertainment industry. They work incredibly hard and I’m so grateful for all their efforts.

One year ago, I’d never been booked for a photoshoot and my modeling experience was extremely limited (read: I’d never modeled before. Ever. Never even took a class.). Now my photo has been spotted (#SpotTheRedhead) on products in Target and Buy Buy Baby and I have had the privilege of working with a number of outstanding clients. I’m grateful that I have the ability to say that photoshoots are a regular occurrence for me and my comfort posing in front of the camera has grown exponentially over the past year.

One year ago, I never knew that tradeshow modeling existed, let alone had its own place in the entertainment industry (there are models who do this full time. Interesting, huh?). Now I’m well versed in tradeshows, am affiliated with an agency that represents me solely for tradeshows, and have been fortunate enough to work at five tradeshows over the past year.

One year ago, the farthest I’d traveled for a gig or audition was only to a neighboring town. Now I have the experience of modeling at a tradeshow in Los Angeles. The first time I’d traveled out of state for a gig, which was one of my goals for 2017!

One year ago, I was wondering if I’d ever get back on stage. At the time it had been nearly three years since my last, live theatrical performance. My job placed me behind the scenes as stage manager for their youth theatre productions and although I was still involved in theatre, my performance skills became rusty. I was missing performing more than I can possibly convey. Thankfully earlier this year a director took a chance on me and cast me in a hilarious and incredibly fun show with one of the best casts around. The experience is one I will treasure forever.

One year ago, I was living in my parents’ house. My parents’ graciousness made this career change possible. Of course I wanted my own space, and my parents wanted their own space, but allowing me to stay there rent free offered me a chance to save my precious pennies and provided me with the opportunity to leap when I was ready and when the perfect apartment became available. Now I’m writing this post in my very own, charming vintage studio apartment. Funny story about this, at the beginning of the year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to move into an apartment of my own by June. I began searching in January and by April I was tired of constantly refreshing Zillow, Craigslist and two Facebook housing groups to no avail. It simply seemed that what I wanted wasn’t available and wouldn’t be available for quite some time. So I stopped searching and mentally adjusted my goal to say I would move in September. However, in a flurry of events, the perfect apartment found me just before June 1, following the resolution I wrote at the beginning of the year. Isn’t the power in writing things down fascinating?

Perhaps most important to note, over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with so many wonderful, kind and generous people who support me and inspire me in countless ways. I’ve built new bridges and strengthened existing bridges and continue to be filled with immense gratitude for those around me. Truthfully this past year would not have been possible without the encouragement from my family and friends. I’m surely the luckiest gal around to be surrounded by so many spectacular souls and I marvel at how the people I know and have met shaped my life this past year.

This is not intended to be a post where I flaunt my achievements of the past year. This self-reflection is intended to demonstrate the difference one year makes. It’s a small difference, and it’s nowhere near my end goal, but I am farther than I was before. A year ago I stared a daunting, seemingly impossible task in the face and somehow mustered up the energy to attempt to conquer it, one day at a time. Every single day built upon the last, propelling me forward. Even on the days where I felt stuck and hopeless I urged myself to look back at what I have achieved and reminded myself of one of my favorite quotes,

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I will continue to reach farther, to build upon what I started a year ago, what I’ve been building upon my whole life. I’m still giving myself this chance, still chasing the dream, but I’m celebrating the fact that I’m gaining ground. Slowly but surely, I’m gaining ground, which may be one of the most powerful motivators around.

Even though I’m technically beyond a quarter century now, I still want this blog to be a part of my journey. This outlet holds its own special role in my quest and I admit there were plenty of times where this blog helped me maintain my sanity. Therefore, allow me to introduce you to “Quarter Century & Beyond,” a revised title to this blog so I may continue to chronicle this marvelous adventure as I add to the foundation I spent the past year establishing.

As I set out on another year of reaching farther and aiming higher, allow me to remind you, dear reader, that if you’re not quite where you want to be, trust me, you’re farther than you think. You’re farther than you were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, even one hour ago. You have no idea how close you may be to your next breakthrough, your next great milestone. The important part is just to keep going. You did not come this far to only come this far. Stay true the course and trust the process while holding your vision front and center. Keep reaching beyond and you’ll make it.

Five Days in the City of Angels

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Well now I can officially mark off an item that’s on every actor’s bucket list – venture to Los Angeles.

At the end of February, I was having coffee with one of my mentors and we were discussing future plans for my career. He mentioned he felt I would need to relocate this year, which seemed obvious to me as I’ve been scouting apartments closer to downtown Chicago. But he said, “No…I think you’ll have to move out of state. To Los Angeles.” I quickly refuted that idea, explaining that I’ve never had any interest in LA. I have heard from many other professionals in the entertainment industry to avoid going to LA as it is a place where “your dreams will die.” Heeding that advice and also understanding the extreme pollution plaguing the city, the traffic, and the ever-rising economic disparity in the city (read: the homelessness situation) I swore to myself I wouldn’t go to LA unless it was absolutely necessary.

One day after this conversation, a modeling agency I work with for trade shows emailed me saying they showed my portfolio to a client out in LA and out of all the talent they showed him, I was the only one he liked. The agency explained that he’s interested in booking me as a model for a fitness show and wants to know if I can be out there in two weeks.

Well. Of all the times for this to come up…OK, Universe. Message received.

So with a nod to the Universe, and after reading the email thread to my parents (the best advisers out there), I responded that yes, I would work the show and quickly began to make travel arrangements.

Since the show, IHRSA, was only two days, I decided to head out a few days earlier to explore the city, and soak up as much as I could. The agency that booked me said they would provide me with $100 to offset travel expenses. Being mindful of my budget, I quickly searched for the cheapest flights roundtrip, nonstop from Chicago to LA with Spirit Airlines. With checking a bag for both legs of the trip, my total airfare cost was a whopping $205 – actually only $105 out of pocket when you deduct my agency’s contribution. Travel tip: if you’re in a pinch for a cheap flight within the US, I would recommend Spirit. It’s not a glamorous ride, but it gets the job done if you’re on a budget and you’re not picky about legroom. The seats were very squished together and since space was limited you couldn’t board with a personal item and also a carry on, limit was one item per person unless you paid an additional fee. Also considering the tight quarters I wouldn’t recommend flying Spirit for trips longer than 4 hours. But for my purposes it was perfect!

Lodging was quickly taken care of because as it turns out I know a considerable amount of people out there and they were gracious enough to let me stay with them and show me around the city. Every travel detail aligned beautifully and before I knew it I was on my way to Los Angeles!

As a Chicagoland native accustomed to cold, gray winters that seem to stretch on forever, I first noticed the weather. Oh, it was glorious! Over eighty degrees in early March! I wore shorts! It was warm enough to stroll along the beach and I even got a little sunburned! I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled to get a sunburn! The sunshine and warmth alone were inspiring and invigorating and instantly upped my energy level. This climate change also helped me realize the importance and the affect one’s environment has on their mentality and overall productivity. Some people function best when it’s chilly and gray out, others need the warmth to feel functional. I am not a winter person, and often notice a decrease in my overall happiness and productivity during the winter. I expend more effort just trying to stay warm and assure myself that summer will return, so this was just the pick me up I needed.

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From my stroll on Redondo Beach

The strong creative vibe of Los Angeles also contributed to this energy boost. As a major hub for artists, Los Angeles pulses with this incredible creative energy that is totally intoxicating. You can feel it and see it everywhere – especially in cafes. I frequent coffee shops and stepping into a café in LA was a radically different experience than the cafes I’m accustomed to. Each coffee joint I went to was filled to the brim with creatives, the next wave of great entertainers and artists, writing scripts, creating animation, rehearsing scenes, designing clothing, sharing their latest photography projects, anything and everything artistic collaborated in these cafes. It was amazing. My favorite coffee joint was actually outside downtown LA in Sherman Oaks, which my lovely friend June introduced me to called M Street Coffee. Wow, what an awesome, unparalleled vibe! If you’re in the area I strongly recommend you check it out!

The creative energy wafting through the LA air is unfortunately accompanied by thick pollution and smog creating a definite drawback to the area. The difference in air quality is immediately noticeable and suffocating. Most of my contacts in Los Angeles moved out there from the Chicagoland area and they all noticed a drastic difference in their health as a result of the pollution. One friend now needs to use an inhaler at least twice a day. Another now says she gets sick more often than she did living in the suburbs of Chicago. And another became so afflicted with pounding migraines her doctor recommended she leave the city on the weekends in search of fresh air and she now receives acupuncture treatment a couple times a month to cope.  My stay there lasted less than a week, but by the end of the week my voice faded to a hoarse whisper, which those I know living in the area attributed to the pollution. It is entirely possible this could have resulted from travel, adjusting to a new climate and an overall lack of sleep. However, hearing about the ailments from my friends and knowing my immune system is pretty strong, I feel convinced this was a result of the smog in LA. Especially since when I returned to Illinois, my voice returned within 24 hours.

Another shock to the system, pollution of a different type one could say, was the blatant promotion and discussion of Botox, plastic surgery and other vanity related procedures. Everywhere I went I saw signs – for eyelashes, butt implants, lip injections, you name it, I saw it. It was totally mystifying. I overheard a woman in the restroom, ironically at the fitness show I was modeling at, talking to her physician saying her face felt funny after her most recent Botox injection, and all I could think to myself was, “Maybe that’s because you just pumped your face full of unnatural and unnecessary chemicals? What normal person does that?” But in many cases that IS the norm for Los Angeles. And it’s not just women! Men partake in these same procedures and value it the same way women do. It was heartbreaking to witness and only made me love and appreciate my body more as it is now, because it is real; completely and 100 percent mine and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Traffic on a Friday night on Hollywood Blvd. Took about an hour to go 10 miles. At least the sunset was pretty!

It goes without saying that Los Angeles offers a lot to the artistic community. There are big opportunities there to jump start one’s career that may not be available elsewhere, especially if you’re an actor wanting to partake in pilot season. Acting studios and classes exist in abundance to serve the growing population of aspiring actors. Being in a city totally inundated with actors is both intimidating and motivating and I feel would require one to have an exceptionally thick skin, a humble and gracious personality, a great support system and unwavering self-confidence in one’s abilities. Anything short of that and one would quickly flounder.

Since I’ve returned I’ve been met with the question from numerous friends, “So, when are you moving there?” After considering all I learned during my short time there, the answer is no. Despite the delightful weather and incredible creative vibe, I cannot see myself living there, at least not yet. I’m still incredibly happy where I am, challenged and inspired by the entertainment industry opportunities here, and with more productions moving to Chicago it would be silly to leave now. What I do see myself doing first is splitting time between the two locations and building a network and reputation between both locations. While I was in Los Angeles, I had the privilege of observing an acting class and learned that the instructor was a Chicago native! We chatted about the industry as a whole, but we kept coming back to the opportunities in Chicago, which reaffirmed for me that this is where I need to be – at least for now.

Although it was a brief trip, my time in Los Angeles was unforgettable and highly insightful. It was a trip I obviously needed to take, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I look forward to my next venture out West – and this time I’ll be prepared for the pollution and influx of Botox ads 🙂

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Modeling for ProSourceFit at IHRSA 2017

Liked these photos? See more on Becca’s Instagram: @BeccaMecca3

Pursuing the Dream: What They Don’t Tell You [Part 2]

Well at long last, here is the follow up to my Part 1 post from July highlighting what I’m learning over this journey. (If you missed Part 1 catch up here.) As I alluded in Part 1, this thread will be ongoing for “Quarter Century” as I continue building a career as an actor/model and even sitting at just over nine months of work and experience, I have no doubt that’s true. But as I continue to collect more tidbits of information of what it means to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, allow me to share a few new insights…

You meet some of the most interesting people.

As you might imagine, an industry that emphasizes creative expression and frequently encourages weirdness becomes completely inundated with the most intriguing and vibrant personalities. That may be one of the most liberating truths of the entertainment world – nothing is too farfetched and nothing is too silly. Anything you can imagine is within the realm of cinematic and theatrical possibility. This unstoppable passion paired with a dreamer/creator mentality incites some very dynamic conversations and projects, which provide me with endless amounts of inspiration. I’ve met many whose story echoes mine and we’ve banded together to support each other. I’ve met people who’ve made incredible sacrifices such as leaving their home country to come to Chicago and build their career. Modeling on the trade show floor I’ve met innovators from all over the world, been surrounded by a cacophony of languages and witnessed fascinating cultural traditions. I must admit, modeling at these events sometimes feels like I’m traveling the world and brings invaluable insight. Each day I never know whose story I’m going to encounter and that always makes the adventure a bit more exhilarating than it already is.

Cattiness abounds, but never prevails.

Yes, I know this one seems like a no-brainer given the entertainment industry often perpetuates vanity and emphasizes popularity as its own role in one’s success, but I’ve adopted a new spin on it. Those artists who do not feed into the catty behavior, remain humble and are secure within themselves and their own talents ultimately win, sometimes regardless of their talent level. Why? Because it makes you easier to work with and this is definitely an industry built on reputation as well as talent. If you’re kind and respectful, people will enjoy working with you and promote not only your work, but how great of an experience they had working with you. This industry is very karmic – what you put out comes back to you. Thus, those who thrive on catty, belittling and pompous behavior find themselves stuck in that cycle and will eventually be phased out. But those who approach each individual and opportunity in this business with graciousness, gratitude and humility find more success. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that kindness is key.

Redheads are everywhere.

It appears people have discovered the magic of red hair, because after years of being a rarity, I now see redheads EVERYWHERE in the entertainment industry. Some are fake – and yes, I can always identify the fake ones – but regardless, it feels like redheads are flocking to the industry. I’ve acted and auditioned with more redheads in the past four months than I have in my entire life. It is somewhat amusing to see so many of us in one place, but also a bit jarring. It also serves as a good reminder that a look can only take one so far. Even with modeling, there has to be more behind the look.

Maybe my fellow redheads and I will band together for an entirely redheaded TV show…stay tuned on that.

People come out of the woodwork to support you.

One of the most astonishing and heartwarming experiences since launching my career is the amount of support I’ve received. The messages, comments, letters, and phone calls I’ve received since I began this adventure have left me speechless and deeply touched. People I’ve lost touch with are now cheering me on alongside my closest friends and family. Strangers that I met through a commute, in a restaurant or while working another gig have found me on social media and are now following my journey. This sensation is truly too amazing for words. Granted there are some (not many) who aren’t genuine in their support and instead view my small successes as something they may be able to bank on later for their own interests, which is another lesson I’ve learned. But that’s another post for another time. But the true, sincere support I’ve received stuns me on a daily basis. I am incredibly humbled and grateful to each and every one of you and want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will never understand how much your support and words of encouragement mean to me.

And thus concludes Part 2 of Pursuing the Dream: What They Don’t Tell You. Stay tuned for Part 3. Now I head back to the daily adventure of making my dreams a reality and living the life I have imagined! What a thrill and honor it is!

Let the Universe Do Its Thing

As many of you know I frequently work as a background actor for many of the television shows filmed in Chicago. (Fun fact, production is pretty adamant on abandoning the term “extra” and using “background actor” or “background artist.” Pretty cool, huh? #TheMoreYouKnow).

Anyway, I was on set the other day for a rather long, extensive scene, which we worked for about 16 hours. This was one of my first gigs for 2017 and although I started the new year with tremendous vigor, feeling totally empowered, somehow my enthusiasm for the year ahead began to dwindle and it ironically happened to occur while I was on set.

I was waiting while crew set up for a shot and just letting my thoughts wander and much to my chagrin, they went to a dark place. I started to feel hopeless and somewhat pathetic thinking about the future of my career. I ended 2016 on a great note with some exciting prospects for 2017, but since the new year, everything’s taken its time getting started, which results in a lot of frustration and anxiety on my end. I watched the stars of this show who were physically so close to me yet their status & success so far from me and just felt like I was hit with a brick. What am I doing? What am I thinking? I must be insane to think I can get from here, working in background, auditioning with hundreds if not thousands of other hopefuls, doing small photo shoots here and there and think that I can get THERE, to the entertainment promised land. I felt stuck. I felt daunted and afraid by my dreams and doubt crept in. And once I started on that line of thought I couldn’t stop. I began to panic. To the cast and crew I probably looked cool, calm and collected but on the inside my heart was pounding and my pulse racing as I allowed myself to ponder statistically my chances of making this a viable career. I’m an optimist through and through and thus felt surprised to be feeling such dismay.

I’m standing there, silently imploding and a crew head walks over to me out of the blue and says, “Hello!”

Now for anyone who does background, you know you essentially don’t exist. You’re a set piece helping create the tone and atmosphere for the production. And you also know you cannot speak with any crew or cast member unless they initiate a conversation. So imagine my surprise when this department head (I’m being vague with titles just in case) approached me on set.

Upon his greeting I instantly snapped out of my mental, downward spiral. We small talked for a bit but then he launched into a story about how his career started.

“I’ve been working in production for a while. But for years many of the shows I worked on failed. I don’t know why, hopefully it wasn’t my presence, but they failed. And one day I found myself without anything lined up. I began calling show after show asking for a job. No one had anything. I spent days, weeks searching and pleading and had nothing. I reached out to this show for the pilot and they rejected me. So I just let it go for a bit and then production called me back and asked me to join their crew. And now I’m coming up on four years with this show.

“I was grateful for the job, as anyone would be, although when they called me it was for a low man on the totem pole kind of job. I was a dolly grip, so I just pushed the camera where it needed to go. And again I tried to promote myself. I asked for more responsibility, and told production I wanted to move up, that I could do more. Again, no positive response. So finally I said. ‘Ok. You know what. I’m here as a dolly grip. That’s it. But I’m going to be the best damn dolly grip this production has ever seen.’ And then, boom. They had an opening for a head position and they offered it to me.

“So it’s a tough grind sometimes. You have to put your whole body and heart into the work. Be persistent, stay dedicated and have patience. And sometimes you just have to step back and let the universe do its thing.”

By the time he finished his story, crew was set up and we were ready to continue filming. So he said his farewell and headed back to work. But the spontaneity of this conversation and the message behind it left me stunned and chilled long after it ended. Hearing this man’s story of perseverance and passion was exactly what I needed in that moment. This man doesn’t know anything about me; not my name, nor that I’m an aspiring actor. (Although I’m sure the crew assume most background actors are somewhat affiliated with the arts.) He shared his story on a total whim completely unprovoked by me. But I’m forever grateful that he did.

This whole exchange reminds me of author Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech from 2012 in which he mentions how beginning a career is often like sending out messages in a bottle and hoping someone will find your message and write back. While it might be easier to blame the other party for not picking your bottle, it’s the repetition that leads to successfully having a message received. Sheer grit and focus even when nothing comes drifting back, and above all trusting that eventually something will come from your effort. Acknowledge that you must do everything in your power to make it happen and never relent on that commitment. But also acknowledge that timing plays a role as well, and while it may sound cheesy to say, one must allow the universe time to respond. Learn to trust that your bottle will be picked at the exact moment it’s meant to.

This bout of radio silence leads most people to falter and compromise. Based on my observations, many reach this point and consider it the end. Consider it a failed attempt at making something happen, despite having come so far. On the contrary, I believe it is the beginning. As Eric Thomas says, “You must outlast your old you long enough to get to your new you.” This is that moment. And this experience affirmed that truth for me…especially since within the twenty-four hours following this conversation I got an audition and a booking. (Eerie, right?)

So wherever you are, whatever you’re striving toward, if you’re feeling panicked, stuck and hopeless, don’t give up on yourself. Just breathe. Trust yourself and your abilities. Keep grinding and let the universe do its thing.

Oh, the sacrifices you’ll make

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You realize the true depths of your desires when you recognize just how much you’re willing to sacrifice. That realization becomes even more profound when you find yourself not missing the sacrifices. Certain sacrifices create momentum to propel us forward to our objective. Making sacrifices are not easy, we all know that. To make the difficult sacrifices easier requires one to hold a concrete vision of the future. Without that vision the sacrifices prove futile and arbitrary because you cannot identify the extraneous details within your world. Knowing what one must sacrifice does not make sacrificing easier, but makes it easier to justify. Sacrifice now to obtain a better future.

The greatest and perhaps only equalizer in life is that we each wake up with the same 24 hours ahead of us. (Remember the quote “You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé?”) Time possesses tremendous value and beauty in the fact that it is constantly fleeting and every minute must be spent wisely. In my humble opinion, time is a multi-faceted sacrifice we make continuously to other significant sacrifices such as relationships, money and rest. Lately, I’ve noticed how much I manipulate time and how time manipulates me. Everyone has the time to do what they constantly tout they never have the time for, that is an inarguable truth (And quickly becoming one of my greatest pet peeves. “I don’t have time” is NEVER an excuse). It becomes a matter of prioritizing and maintaining focus of one’s goals. Time is sacrificed when you choose how to spend it. When time is spent incorrectly, it deters your overall momentum.

Over the past few months, my personal life and my relationships have become very calculated. (Just to clarify, I’m referring to all types of relationships – familial, friendly, etc.). My personal life still exists, but in a very structured form. Since the entertainment industry runs constantly, I am never off the clock and often running from gig to gig, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While I love the constant, exhilarating grind and hustle of this industry, it’s not very nurturing for relationships and not everyone understands. Despite my attempts to keep everyone in my life, I’ve felt more and more connections fade lately as my time becomes scarce. Of course, I strive to be there when it matters most and I will move heaven and Earth to be there for my family, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Thus, people remove themselves from my life. Although that can be bittersweet, a pleasant and comforting boon is I’m quickly begin to discover my “ride or die” people, the people who understand me inside and out, who understand my objectives and goals, and will stick with me as I see them through. Having this clarity becomes paramount to success, and not just success within a career, but within life. It allows me to move forward in the most profound ways, reassured that who is by my side should and will be by my side.

Investing in this new venture has not been financially easy. With the right network, experience, and break this can be a very lucrative endeavor, but it also takes time to reach that level of income. Financial compensation within this business varies tremendously. For instance, I have projects that pay $100/hour all the way down to $10.50/hour or nothing at all. Every artist’s conundrum is not necessarily deciphering or seeking which project will pay me the most, but which project will pay off the most and instill the greatest feeling of fulfillment. For the right project, money plays no motivator. Often the gigs that fulfill me the most are the ones doling out $10.50/hour or nothing. Although these don’t pay much, I believe they will pay off. They invigorate me, remind me why I love this artful expression, and reinforce the important impact the entertainment world has on society. Furthermore, those lesser paying gigs connect me with individuals with the same dedication as myself. Each project provides me with a sense of purpose, but my sense of worth within each project is not perpetuated by the dollar sign tied to it, but the connection I personally have to it, and that is worth more than any paycheck.

As I mentioned earlier, this industry never stops and thus adequate rest becomes a consistent sacrifice for me. Despite becoming more accustomed than one should be to waking up at 3:00am in order to make a 5:00am call time to set, I rarely feel tired. Sleep is scarce, but I find myself leaping out of bed when my 3:00am alarm goes off because I simply cannot wait to start my day doing what I love! No matter that I only slept three hours each night the week before, I am exhilarated by my profession and the direction I’m going that I can shake off any exhaustion I feel. But don’t be fooled – when I have a chance to sleep in, you better believe I take it. I know I function best on 6-7 hours of sleep, but when every part of me is engaged in what I’m doing, sacrificing a full night’s sleep becomes easy to justify. Especially for someone like me who’s striving to break into a tough and highly competitive industry, turning down a great job because I’m “too tired” is simply not an option.

One fact of life we can always depend on is that it will be in constant flux; constantly changing. Our balance is constantly threatened, and thus our goals become consequently threatened. We make sacrifices daily, and some are easier than others but these sacrifices carry the most weight when we know WHY we’re doing them. Life is short, which makes sacrificing intelligently and intentionally essential. Work like no one does to live like no one does. One way to know you’re making sacrifices for the right reason is when each sacrifice becomes unnoticeable and that becomes a real testimony to your passion. When they’re made effortlessly and still leave you feeling energized and happy, you know it’s right. Know what you want, find what feels right to pursue, and sacrifice as needed to create the life you envision.

“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice.”

Your & You

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This quote became a mantra of mine a number of years ago bringing me courage and reassurance through any obstacle and remains my favorite quote to this day. Through my own journey, different words or phrases of this quote will resonate with me more at one point over another. Many times it’s been “confidently” or “imagined.” As I adapt this quote to my life yet again those words are currently “your” and “you.”

At first I thought it a bit strange and random that out of the whole quote these two particular words started to stick out more. But lately as I mentally, and sometimes verbally, repeat this quote to myself, I find myself emphasizing “your” and “you,” as a reminder that my journey is personal. It encourages me to maintain focus and clarity on my own objectives and standards, and to constantly strive to break my own records, excel at my own pace and celebrate my own accomplishments.

In our fast paced and ever changing world, we are constantly pulled in a million different directions, exposed to a variety of routes and possibilities which all have a certain allure to them. There are so many options popping up all over it could give a person whiplash. More often than whiplash though, it often results in confusion, self-doubt, and adopting another’s goals as your own. Especially in the age where social media rules our world it is easy to get caught up in each other’s lives and wonder maybe what “Person X” posts should be something you’re also working toward. After all, it appears Person X discovered the “formula” for success…

We all know Person X. Person X works 3 jobs, serves on 2 committees, is writing the next bestseller, and might be on the verge of discovering the cure for cancer yet still has time to knit a lovely scarf for a friend’s birthday. People like this are definitely people to admire, but they can also make others feel they aren’t doing enough to make their lives great. While their stories can be extremely motivating they can also deter focus from one’s own path to adopt a similar lifestyle.

“Go confidently in the direction of YOUR dreams. Live the life YOU have imagined.”

What does the life YOU imagine involve? Do YOU imagine yourself backpacking across Europe? Does YOUR vision feature getting married and having a family? Do YOU see yourself as CEO of a company?

Stressing “your” and “you” in Thoreau’s quote provides a valuable and reassuring checkpoint when it seems everyone around us accelerates past and we feel stagnant. When it appears everyone else is achieving endless promotions, completing academic degrees and certifications, or having the wedding of a lifetime, it sometimes creates a type of urgency for others not making the same accomplishments to reset and chase similar goals. While I believe it is greatly important to surround yourself with people who attract success and provide inspiration for your own life and goals, it is also important to know what you want and need for YOUR life.

All too often I hear myself, my family, my friends and strangers measure their personal victories and failures against those around them. To compare yourself to others is easy and frequently encouraged in our society but is futile and irrelevant. You must make choices, take risks and seek achievements that resonate with YOU. No one else has the power to dictate our ultimate dreams and desires. Our passions are so intuitively based, that no one outside can truly comprehend and thereby judge, quantify or schedule whether anyone is “on track.” To dilute and alter your vision because of another is a tragic disservice to yourself.

This habit of comparison is one I’ve been working to combat for years. Thankfully, I’ve become better at battling my own insecurities sparked by other’s successes, but it is nowhere close to being eliminated from my psyche. And perhaps it never will be, for me or for anyone else. What I understand more clearly now, especially as I’ve immersed myself in an industry essentially governed by status and image, is acknowledging or congratulating another on success does not impede or diminish your own success. To applaud another as they pursue or achieve their own goals does not threaten your own dreams. Cheering others on, especially your competition, demonstrates tremendous strength, selflessness and maturity and should be done more.

Along with comparison, we’re often also swayed by other’s input and advice on our actions. I will never forget high school for multiple reasons, one of the biggest being the number of teachers who held me after class to talk about my future. They were so concerned about me pursuing theatre in college telling me I was “wasting my intelligence” and I would be better suited for a career in politics, international studies, foreign languages, science, math etc. Truthfully, I was interested in all the areas they suggested and could see myself working in any of those fields but it wasn’t what I imagined for myself. Besides, as an actor I can experience all those professions and more!

I was close to all my teachers and valued their feedback and frequently felt the pressure to change my focus, and consequently felt the sense of disappointment from them when I didn’t. Despite this prominent memory I still find it extremely valuable to seek advice from others, trusted advisers and even acquaintances, provided you have a strong sense of self-awareness to take whatever comes back in stride. Outside influences can be greatly motivating and beneficial, if you know how to use them to supplement your own vision. Researching and branching out based on a suggestion when it feels right, disregarding it when it doesn’t. Pursue the life you have imagined even if others think you are better suited for another. They don’t have to live your life, you have to live your life so it is imperative to make it one you love!

Everyone is different and everyone’s aspirations differ thus everyone’s path to success will differ. Written out and articulated this statement sounds incredibly simple and obvious yet becomes difficult to internalize. Strive to outdo yourself. What works for others may not work for you and vice versa. Let another’s work inspire you if it helps you with your own objectives. If adopting another’s tactics as your own provides a breakthrough or brings you added happiness, then by all means integrate them into your day, make them your own, but remember to focus on you and your journey. Challenge yourself to reach new heights. Seek outside influences that are not detrimental to yourself and invest in what has meaning to you. Prevent anyone else’s journey, their successes and their failures to stifle your own growth. Never doubt the passion and fire inside you, allow it to direct you to the life you have imagined. Trust it. It won’t lead you astray.

Pursuing the Dream: What They Don’t Tell You [Part 1]

As I alluded in my first post, this transition hasn’t been solely an array of sunshine and butterflies. For all the ups there are inevitable downs, and my story is no different. Every moment of exhilarating empowerment comes with it a moment of doubt, fear, or frustration. There weren’t many concrete details when I embarked on this journey except that I was doing it, it would be an adventure and that it was going to be a steep learning curve. With that latter part in mind I have a feeling there will be more posts similar to the theme of this one, hence the presumptive addition of “Part 1” to my title. However, nearly two months into my quarter-century mark, here’s what I’ve gathered thus far about what they don’t tell you when you decide to take full ownership of your life…

You are ultimately alone. After the high of taking the leap diminishes and the congratulations and well wishes quiet, you are ultimately alone; left with yourself and your dream. Although I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful support system and am definitely not lonesome, I acknowledge this venture is entirely self-driven. Despite having connections or representation I cannot rely solely on others to make my dream a reality. My dream is not their dream and vice versa, thus our ultimate motivations differ. Outside connections are valuable resources, but it’s up to myself, the boss, to decide how to cultivate those resources. As I assert myself as my own boss I am completely responsible for steering myself toward success. That offers a lot of freedom, but also a lot of ambiguity and stress as I craft my day-to-day goals to achieve my overarching goal. I’m learning to become protective of my time. I have to identify and set my priorities. I have to achieve balance within my days, between work time and free time. I drafted my very own work schedule, with non-negotiable work times to ensure I am constantly building my career, and I mentioned this schedule to my friends and family to enforce boundaries during my workdays. I leave gaps within my schedule to allow free time or break time to prevent me from obsessing over my career and guarantee I give myself the necessary time to relax. Pursuing a passion is addicting and exhilarating but can potentially burn you out if you let it consume you. I am simultaneously responsible for pushing myself while also recognizing when I need time to recharge. Establishing and following my own schedule requires an extraordinary amount of self-discipline and it is difficult and exhausting to personally set a professional rhythm.

You are forced to be extremely honest with yourself and your habits. Where are you devoting your time? What are your professional struggles? Where do you excel? Who and what make up your surroundings? How do you react to the ups and downs? How do you talk to yourself? Are you making excuses for yourself? Self-awareness is essential for me in my career, but also for anyone’s venture through life. You must know how you operate. This self-acknowledgment instills a great, indisputable strength that helps you advocate for yourself, both professionally and personally. It provides insight to how you measure your success. Once you know yourself, you can trust yourself.

I discover more about myself as I am tested daily to stay encouraged in a field with thousands of hopefuls just like me. I’m assessing my life and my surroundings with an honest perspective, noticing what’s working and what’s not. I’m taking note of any negative perspectives I possess and try to make them positive. I’m refining what influences me, disconnecting from people, places and tendencies that don’t leave a positive mark on my life. Making those honest realizations becomes quite challenging, especially when longevity becomes a factor. However, understanding that I have the power to decide what influences my life and how is amazing.

Be prepared to network anywhere. I now understand the necessity of self-promotion and recognize promoting myself as a business is a full-time job. And when I say networking can happen anywhere, I mean ANYWHERE. In your front yard, at the grocery store, in a public restroom, in the club, at the train station, just about anywhere you encounter people lies an opportunity to connect. And yes, I’ve made connections in all those aforementioned areas plus more. Be ready and be prepared to network at any time. I heard this advice once before but remember thinking “Surely they don’t mean ALL the time.” They do. Potential connections are everywhere. For instance, by simply updating people at church about my life, I learned a member of the congregation babysat Cindy Crawford and still remains a family friend. At a recent wedding I attended I told a guest I was pursuing acting/modeling and he told me about his work as a crew member for “Empire.” You never know when you’ll make a connection with someone who might be able to offer advice or a lead for you. Now I bring my business cards with me everywhere!

Your phone will drive you crazy. When I began this career change, I had no idea my phone would affect me as drastically as it does. This small, rectangular electronic device determines so much of my day and I despise my newly formed addiction to it. Full disclosure: in the writing of this post alone I have tapped my phone and refreshed my email after every 3-4 minutes. Disgusting, I know. There are days where it doesn’t stop buzzing and there are days where it remains fully charged at 100% because nothing comes through for me. I could spend hours emailing and submitting for auditions or photo shoots and not hear a peep from my phone in return. I keep it close to me at all times in anticipation of a phone call or email for a project but there are also times where I try to trick the universe and separate myself from my phone in the hopes that a project will come through while I’m nowhere near my phone. After all, a watched phone never rings, right?

The ever looming financial fear factor. Despite my low, monthly expenses I can count more money-centered freak-outs in the last month than in the last year. Any artist will tell you the difficulty of making ends meet so I anticipated this to an extent. I’m constantly rotating between being an employed and unemployed actor/model; employed when I’m booked for a project until completing said project and finding myself technically unemployed. When I was out on my first few projects or auditions, instead of enjoying the opportunity to do what I love, I found myself mentally crunching numbers of how long one job could tide me over. That’s not what I want my career to be about and not only does it make me grouchy, but it also inhibits my ability to perform. A wise mentor of mine urges me to stop focusing on the money, “Follow your passion and the money will follow.” Definitely easier said than done, but he highlights the power of mentality. If you don’t make money a concern, it won’t be. Invest in what ignites you and the money will figure itself out, somehow it always does. Our society aligns success with a dollar sign. I’m learning success is relative. It’s personal and while you need enough cash to get by, I realize I don’t need a six-figure paycheck to measure my success. I’m tired of finances ruling my life. Going forward, I’m restructuring my mentality to focus on the art within each project and how each project provides me with a sense of fulfillment and purpose, the best payment I could ask for.

Taxes are more confusing than before. This I did not expect nor think about until I booked my first gig. With normal jobs, portions of your checks are automatically withdrawn and once a year you get all your materials in the mail and file accordingly. I currently have money coming in from multiple sources, from gigs booked by my agent, from gigs I book myself, from an encyclopedia I’m writing for, and proofreading work. All those paychecks come directly to me without taxes withheld. (Please, no one report me. I’m figuring it out, I promise.) Furthermore, I am tracking all work-related expenses, such as mileage to and from auditions or any wardrobe purchases I need to make. I was always told of the difficulty of making money within the arts, but never instructed about what to do with it when it actually started appearing, as far as taxes are concerned. Do I file quarterly now? Or can I still file annually? Can I do that with TurboTax or do I need an accountant? I have yet to find a good guide for this portion of my career and it’s proving to be one of the more frustrating parts of this transition. (If there’s an accountant out there reading this, can you lend me some advice? Please and thank you.)

Self-doubt is persistent and powerful. No matter how confident, driven or self-aware I become self-doubt never leaves completely. It searches relentlessly for any crack in my foundation and seeps in the instant I entertain it. It’s less prevalent than before, I’m proud to say, but I know it will always exist in varying degrees. As an actor/model I’m no stranger to rejection and criticism; that’s part of the industry. You’re told that day one. From these past two months alone, my skin is thicker thanks to a whole new slew of criticisms. Most recently, I met with a director about modeling for a jewelry catalog’s upcoming collection. She was eager to add in a red-haired model and thought my look would be a great fit. When I met with her in person she kept looking at my arms and eventually expressed her concern about my freckles, afraid they would be too distracting for the shoot or create too much work for the editor to eliminate. Needless to say I didn’t get the gig. I left her office shocked. I love my freckles and always considered them an asset and never thought they would hinder my career. I ruminated over that director’s comment much longer than I should have thinking, “Are there other traits of mine that I love that will hold me back?” With that thought, I created a small fissure in my confident foundation. (Remember what I said earlier about knowing yourself and your habits? Allowing scenarios like this to replay in my mind tends to be one of mine.) I foolishly allowed one woman’s opinion take root in my mind and affect how I viewed myself.

There are times I feel terrified by the path I’ve chosen; afraid I won’t succeed, afraid I won’t be enough, doubtful of my own abilities. To combat this tendency of self-doubt is a lifelong mission and requires a strong, positive mentality. I tackle it by envisioning myself in two different settings. First I imagine what my life would be like pursuing an alternative career path, as a teacher, writer, director, anything. I can create the picture but it’s fuzzy and doesn’t feel quite right. I then envision myself acting or modeling, creating an image that comes effortlessly and vividly, electrifying me. That distinction and recognition assures me that despite every fear or criticism that causes me to doubt myself, pursuing this path is the right choice for me. Regardless of any hiccups or frustrations in my plan thus far, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I have the privilege of chasing my dreams and I know any struggles and learning curves I face only place me one step closer to success.

With all that in mind, it’s onwards & upwards! Stay tuned for Part 2!