Tax Tantrum

Ah, ‘tis the most taxing time of year – pun intended. I’ve always loved filing my taxes (because I always get money back, even when filing as a freelance artist), and this year I approached filing with the same enthusiasm. I had all my spreadsheets organized and ready to go and was eager to get (and invest) my refunds!

If you haven’t already inferred from the title, my taxes did not go at all as I planned.

I use TurboTax, which is a total godsend and very user friendly. Plus, the program has a fun, little money ticker on the side of the screen constantly adjusting based on your entries. It shows you in happy green numbers how much you will be refunded or it calculates in dark, angry red numbers how much you owe.

Usually the numbers start off in red before settling in the happy, green zone indicating a return. Thus, I try not to pay the numbers much mind until I get toward the end of filing. But as I approached the final pages of my entry, with red numbers still glaring prominently at me displaying a balance due of nearly $2,000…

Cue tantrum.

I wish I could say I took this surprise in stride and handled it maturely, but I would be lying to you, dear reader, and I don’t want to do that.

My chest began to tighten, my stomach dropped, and I repeatedly dragged my hands down my face as one does when in a state of overwhelm. Not only did I owe, but I also incurred a penalty for not filing quarterly which I am now required to do from this point forward.

I started whining: “This sucks! Taxes are stupid! This is unbelievable! Why is this happening? I always get money back! I had plans for that return!” My eyes teared up and there was a bit of profanity finally followed by the exclamation of, “I NEED A BIG GLASS OF WINE FOR THIS.”

Once I came to terms with the fact that my lovely tax refunds betrayed me and that I lost $2,000 instead of earning money like I anticipated, I endeavored to find the positive in the situation.

Looking over my documents I noticed that from 2017 to 2018 I more than doubled my income as an actor & model. MORE. THAN. DOUBLED. That is incredible growth for a business in the span of a year! A number of my projects had me on a W2 with taxes already taken out, which is definitely a luxury in the freelance world. I also realized more than half of my income came from projects filed on 1099s, which led to the fine and balance. However, more importantly perhaps, those 1099s came from exciting projects with some new clients but many repeat clients, which is cause for celebration!

The hit to my bank account hurt. A lot. Plus, now I have research to do about filing quarterly, which is a learning curve I did not anticipate nor desire. Whining aside, this all indicates growth. Oftentimes we mistake uncomfortable and annoying obstacles for inconveniences rather than recognize them as growth. It is a simple matter of perspective. By shifting perspective to consider an obstacle in a new way, and not lashing out in a tantrum like a big baby (*cough* like me *cough*), we might become more adept at recognizing the annoyances as growth worthy of celebration.

I learned a lot of lessons from this experience, but the most important one may be this: the next time an unforeseen obstacle comes along, look at it differently. I urge you to do the same, try not to react on instinct as that frequently turns out to be a negative response, but rather alter your perspective. If you do, you may be able to see you are growing!

Every Moment is a Resolution

I’m not a winter person. By any means. Never have been and never will be. But, boy do I love this time of year solely because December always holds such magic and power. Sure, it can be somewhat chaotic as we prepare for holiday gatherings and wrap up loose ends before the new year, but you have to admit, the air is charged with this intoxicating energy. Everyone’s looking toward the future and making resolutions; deciding how they want to show up in 2018. The coming new year is so shiny and pristine, completely untarnished and packaged with endless possibilities. Regardless of what happened during the past year, you’re now given a brand new, fresh year. It’s a great time to reflect, focus and center yourself before the coming year. While I love this time of year and am giddy with anticipation for what 2018 might bring, I just want to reiterate that you can have this restart sensation at any time.

We’ve all been there – we begin January feeling extra empowered and ready to make this THE year! This is the year that everything we’ve ever envisioned will happen and it will be stupendous! We all charge into the year determined to uphold every resolution! And maybe we’ll even find the cure for the common cold while we’re at it! Who knows! We’re unstoppable and ready to take on the year!

But inevitably, our superpower energy starts to wane. We might fall off the proverbial wagon. Maybe other unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances come into effect. Or the life we envision for ourselves may require more patience and perseverance than initially anticipated. Whatever the case may be, the superpower energy that launched the new year dissipates and it becomes a struggle to find more.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret: Despite the societal emphasis that this power to restart occurs only once per year, remember that within every single moment YOU have the opportunity to redirect and reset as you need or desire. Yep. YOU. You have to ability to change course or get back on course whenever you like. It’s all you, my friend.

Allow yourself to feel this invigorating charge of the coming year and let it propel you into the new year, but remember to carry this unstoppable energy through to every single minute of 2018. The seasons will change and before we know it 2018 will be well underway. Understand that not only are you able to carry this energy with you constantly, but you are able to create this “new year sensation” for yourself any time. You have everything you need within you to have the most fantastic year and can recreate the energy you have at the cusp of 2018 for yourself every moment. You simply have to recognize this ability within yourself and pledge to recommit to your new year intentions multiple times throughout the year. Heck, sometimes you’ll have to recommit multiple times throughout the day. And trust me, that is A-OK.

I like to write (obviously) and I write down everything and anything I want to bring into my life. I tend to write the most at the end and beginning of the year as I evaluate my past year and define how I want to show up in the coming year. As I wrote out my vision and resolutions for 2018 I wrote this reminder for myself:

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This mantra allows me to forgive myself when I don’t feel like things are working out. This mantra gives me an energy boost when I feel my drive begin to slow. This mantra reminds me to listen to myself and determine my next best move to keep moving forward and continue creating the best life for myself.

If this helps you, feel free to borrow it. Print it out and place it somewhere you’ll see it whenever you may need the reminder. Or use this as a starting point – modify it, make it your own. Write whatever suits you to remind yourself it doesn’t need to be January 1 for you to kick start your life.

Be good to yourself & cheers to the most magical 2018!

Not Like This

Two days ago a photographer (male) told me that “we could make some good pictures IF you can let go a bit. Push back the conservative and let out your crazy fun, sexy side that possibly you keep hidden. IF you can do that, I would love to see what we can create together.”

My feelings after reading this?

I. Was. Livid.

Let’s back up a bit. His project I submitted to was a portrait project showing various artists, men and women, photographed against a plain, white backdrop rocking their own vibe. In the casting description he listed that all body types, heights, vibes, hair colors, tattoos, piercings etc. were welcome to be a part of the project. I applied under those pretenses, wanting to bring my vibe to the project.

Nowhere in the casting did it say “looking for a sexy side”

I think it goes without saying that this request was totally unwarranted and extremely inappropriate, especially in light of the #MeToo campaign and the other stories that continue to surface.

You know what’s almost worse than his skeezy demeanor and lack of respect? The fact that I nearly went along with it. I almost responded back assuring him that I can bring sensuality to a shoot, eager to defend my talents as a model.

I also nearly responded by verbally ripping him a new one…but decided to rise above that.

I simply responded by saying that I felt this project no longer felt appropriate to lend my talents to. If he responds back baiting me, then I’ll happily shed some light on my reasoning and his inappropriateness. But honestly, I don’t have anything to prove to this guy and really I just wanted to move past this ASAP and get back to the many other clients who want to book me for me.

I’ve been doing this more and more lately. I’m putting my foot down on many opportunities and situations I feel are disrespectful, inappropriate or not up to my professional expectations. I’m ruffling feathers with every decline and each time I do part of me is worried I’m diminishing my reputation in this very small industry. I’m concerned that by advocating for myself I may end up becoming labeled as “difficult to work with” or “high maintenance.” The fact that a fear like that even exists within me (and many other artists) is a huge issue within itself.

Before I began my performance career I wrote out a mission statement for myself dictating what I want my “Becca Morello, Actor & Model” performer brand to convey. One component of my mission statement was:

“I aim to show others who want a career in the entertainment field that they can do so without losing themselves; without sacrificing their morals and integrity.”

I knew this part of my mission would be challenged the most, and this photographer is not the first challenger I’ve encountered. Although this was the first one that really got under my skin and made my blood boil. In reality I’m exceptionally lucky because most of the clients I work with are fantastic and courteous almost to a fault. Many artists encounter this much more frequently than I do, and that’s just disheartening.

When I set out on this path, I knew I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t negate my values. What I’ve learned is many photographers, directors, producers, etc. will push to see how far they can get you to go in the interest of “bringing you out of your comfort zone.” Trust me, I’m all about growth and challenging myself as a performer, but there is a time and a place for that. There needs to be a dialogue in place about the new level or circumstance being broached and a trusting relationship established between whomever is guiding the project and the performer.

Actors and models strive to tell stories, and their strongest tool in accomplishing that task is their body. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, this translated to the objectification of women within the industry. Seriously, if I were a male model applying to this casting, do you think the photographer would have responded the way he did? Especially when the project never specified sensuality? No.

I’ve known of many performers, some on a personal level and some only from their work, who entered the industry intent on remaining true to themselves by selecting projects that depict them in the way they want to be seen. Most are able to maintain that…for a while. But then projects come across that are “too good to pass up” with “great exposure” backed by a “highly accredited team” and results in compromises. I want to show others that they can pursue this career without compromising their integrity, even if it means saying no and ruffling feathers. Furthermore, this should not be something we fear. Everyone has the option to say “No. Not like this” and pursue their goal through another avenue. It is my belief that the right avenues will always appear if you stand your ground.

As difficult as it sometimes is to stand up for myself and other entertainers, I will continue to stand by my morals. I know myself. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I know what I bring to the table. I know where I need to grow and I know the circumstances in which I would like to grow. The unexpected boon of this experience is it reminds me that I always have to power to walk away. No matter how great an opportunity may sound, if it doesn’t feel right intuitively, there’s probably something wrong there. Those are instances where you should walk away and understand that the decision to walk away is perfectly acceptable. I am recommitting to my goal written in my mission statement and re-enforcing my right to say “No. Not like this.”

When it comes down to it, I’d much rather be known as the artist who isn’t afraid to advocate for herself. Even if it prompts some to label me as “difficult” or “conservative.” Even if it means passing up “incredible opportunities.” My work ethic, integrity and dedication to my craft will precede me and eventually connect me to the right people in this industry. The professionals I ultimately want to work with will be the ones who respect my stance, admire my self-awareness and ability to stand up for what I believe.

Here’s to proudly proclaiming, “No. Not like this.” Have you tried it lately?

Not Like This

Know Your Terms

One of my biggest goals for 2017: book a commercial. At the beginning of 2017 I had cultivated a modest number of acting/modeling credits to my name, and it seemed to me that booking a commercial would be the next big goal to work toward. I can’t tell you how long I’ve lusted over booking a commercial. Not only would it be a blast to shoot a commercial, but who knows what opportunities a commercial gig could create?

I’ve come close three times this year and watched each one of those opportunities slip by.

The first opportunity, I made it to the final round of casting but didn’t make the cut.

The second opportunity, I had a last-minute scheduling conflict.

The third and most recent opportunity, the production team and I couldn’t agree on the contract.

Allow me to elaborate on that third one.

A couple weeks ago, I responded to a casting call on Facebook (where I find many reputable casting calls actually) seeking actors for an insurance company commercial. It was a small project in the northern part of Illinois, about 100 miles away from my place near the city. Yes, there would be quite the commute involved and the rate of pay was practically pennies, but I liked the script, thought it sounded like a fun project, and I was intent on reaching this goal.

I submitted my taped auditions and the production company supporting the project emailed me back: I was booked for the commercial! Huzzah!

We emailed back and forth discussing wardrobe and scheduling options. I had yet to see a contract, but I wasn’t concerned! I was going to be in a commercial! I mentioned my achievement to a dear friend of mine, and her infinite wisdom urged me to request to see the contract ASAP and ensure the terms of usage were appropriate.

As she explained, if you’re not careful with your terms of usage on a project, a client could end up using your work forever (typically phrased as “in perpetuity” or “indefinite usage” in these contracts) and only pay you once for your work (total buyout). Furthermore, when an actor transitions from non-union to union status with an “in perpetuity” project on their resume, there’s a chance they can never do a project for a different business in the same type of industry as it is considered a conflict. So, if I were to go through with the commercial for this smaller insurance company and sign a contract allowing them to air it indefinitely, and in two years State Farm approaches me to do a commercial, there’s the possibility I wouldn’t be able to do it because my likeness was already associated with another insurance company; a competitor.  As far as my research says, most of these “indefinite use” projects are non-union, and the union has more stipulations in place to prevent this from happening. But for us little guys not at union status yet? You gotta know your facts and be careful.

With all this insight, I requested a contract from the company. They responded saying they wouldn’t draft an official contract for this project (strike 1) and sent a generic actor release form. In this release there weren’t any specific details about the commercial, no beginning air date or end date, except for “indefinite use” (strike 2). I communicated my concerns, and they responded with an addendum stating a maximum air date throughout Illinois only for 18 months, but the spot would be promoted online indefinitely (strike 3).

At this point I ran this by my agent, who knows I book a lot on my own as well as through her, heck she encourages it. It’s a very collaborative effort, which I’ve always valued and I often ask her opinion on projects I book on my own. I brought this scenario to her and her response was, “No. Just no. Absolutely not. They’re not using an agency for a reason. They’re hoping to take advantage of you. You’re worth more than what they’re offering.”

So I backed out of the gig. I was devastated to do so and felt awful about leaving this team without an actor, after I gave them my verbal commitment for the project. My decision was also continuously challenged when the production team emailed me back with a series of harshly toned and not exactly understanding messages…Although, I have to say their reaction to my concerns confirmed for me that it was not the right opportunity for me.

While this gig would have been a good milestone for me creatively, it would have been a bad business decision and could have potentially jeopardized future commercial opportunities. I’m running a business. Sure, it’s a creative and fun business, but it is still a business. It’s one that I devote myself to each and every day, building slowly each day, strengthening my foundation and growing my knowledge about the industry daily.  Could I have handled this differently? Absolutely. And thanks to this situation, I understand what to ask for moving forward during other negotiations. I also have a further understanding of the responsibility I have to myself and to my business to pursue opportunities that will propel my business forward. In addition to seeking projects that satisfy my creative desires, I must ensure that these projects also measure up in business terms. Understanding this balance between business and creativity, I acknowledge now that it is not only my duty, but my right as an entrepreneur to remove myself from a project when it doesn’t align with my terms and values. And as tough as it was, that’s exactly what I did. Well, after consulting with a few of my closest confidants who lent me their ears during this day of length negotiations, that’s exactly what I did.

Here’s the really eerie part – after I sent the final email declining the commercial spot, my agent called me with a booking for a commercial. Not a starring role, but a supporting role – complete with the proper terms of usage. Thanks, Universe.

After this experience, I am reminded to be patient – sometimes it’s not the best idea to jump for every opportunity. I am reminded to always get a second opinion when dealing with contracts, and that there isn’t anything wrong from backing away from a bad business deal. I am reminded to know my terms and stand by them, upholding them in every business interaction. I am reminded to listen to my gut and to trust that with hard work and perseverance the right opportunities will find themselves to you.

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

Taking Charge

One day after my 25th birthday, I found myself lingering at the kitchen table sipping a cup of black coffee and taking stock of my life. At a quarter of a century, I am essentially unemployed and still living in my parents’ house in a bedroom that hasn’t changed much since I was 14. Ironically, I could not be more excited by my current position.

Now I understand it’s not an ideal or glamorous scenario. Trust me I am craving my own place, but by the tremendous generosity of my parents I am living at home rent-free while I map the landscape of my new career. Let’s rewind and fill in the gaps on how I found myself here.

A year and a half ago I gained employment working at a company within my field, which as a drama major renders quite the sense of accomplishment. I got along with my coworkers and was generally happy with my position. After six months I accepted a promotion for a full-time position with the company, ecstatic that I was working full time within the arts. However, despite my greatest balancing acts and attempts to devote time to developing my own career aspirations as an actor/model, I lost focus of my dream.

I found myself settling. At the young age of 25, I allowed myself to get comfortable and knew if I continued coasting along, making countless excuses for myself and my ambitions, I might never see my dreams come to fruition; a truly devastating thought. I felt like a fraud, teaching and encouraging my acting students to chase their dreams while I did the opposite. I inadvertently allowed every voice throughout my life that told me I would never become an actor ring victorious because of my own complacency and fear. The time I spent daydreaming as a child of the stories I would tell the world through my acting would prove to be in vain. I felt an overwhelming need to reclaim my life and reset my course in life to ensure I give my best effort to making my dreams a reality. I refuse to find myself in the crippling position of regret many feel later in life as they realized they neglected their dreams.

Thus, I resigned from my full-time position without having anything concrete lined up to support me.

Just to clarify, this career change decision did not happen overnight. My passion for performing first developed when I was 4 years old and I’ve been chasing that dream ever since. The idea to leave my job and finally focus entirely on performing sparked a couple of months prior to the actual execution, and from that moment I began strengthening the foundation for launching my dream career. Luckily I have many financial factors working in my favor which helped with the decision process: I live at home, I don’t have any student loans to pay off, I’m not married and I don’t have any children. My parents taught me to practice frugality and stick to a budget to help manage my small, monthly expenses such as car maintenance and a cell phone bill. From those insights, it was full steam ahead as I made as many preparations as one can possibly make when breaking into the entertainment business: I invested in new headshots. I recorded a new voice-over demo. I started taking networking seriously. I revised my resume. I consulted my mentors. I researched agencies, casting calls, production companies, auditions and the best cities to live in for film and theatre. I made a demo reel. I applied to freelance proofreading and copywriting jobs to help keep me solvent. I made spreadsheets of theatres and their upcoming audition dates and wrote dozens of cover letters for agencies. Miraculously, one day before my last day of steady income, an agency responded and told me they would represent me.

What a whirlwind! Of course, acquiring representation doesn’t offer a tremendous amount of job security, but it offers a starting point. I was bursting at the seams with excitement, basking in the first ray of success by having the courage to give myself a real shot at my dream. Naturally I experienced a myriad of other emotions as well, not all of them positive which I will elaborate on in a separate post, but for the purposes of this first post, let me focus on the initial and the strongest emotions felt when taking charge of your life. I felt total empowerment and a rush of adrenaline as I let my heart take control and act as my guiding force. I allowed my imagination to run rampant, feeling for once the hopes and dreams in my mind were not as unattainable as I previously thought. I grew determined and confident, ready to take the world by storm, hungry to create and share my art with other creative individuals embarking on the same mission. I felt ready.

I’m taking a risk. Correction, a huge risk. For an organized, meticulous planner like myself this is a BIG deal. Although big risks often yield big rewards, the chance for big losses becomes just as probable. Too often we ignore encouragement by teachers, leaders, mentors and society to take a leap and discover what one is truly capable of accomplishing. Instead we opt to play it safe. Follow the safe path, wait for the right time, gather more savings and simply make excuses for ourselves while we “wait” for the right opportunity. But I am tired of playing it safe. Despite any fears and doubts I may have, I am ready to take the risk.

I contemplated the big crossroad in front of me for a considerable amount of time before, like Robert Frost, ultimately choosing the road less traveled to give myself this chance. I am making the choice to advocate for myself and ask the world for what I want. I may get it and I may not. No matter the outcome, I have already succeeded because I chose to try. I owe myself this chance, as I believe everyone does. I will never find a perfect time to pursue my aspirations, and that realization propels me to try now.

Despite any moment of doubt or criticism, of congratulations or applause, whether from others or myself, I believe we can all agree that my choice will lead to a great adventure. And at the end of the day isn’t that what everyone wants?

So, here’s to a quarter century & here’s to adventure!