Turns Out It Was Up To Me All Along

Life has a weird way of setting expectations for us. It's not that anyone sits you down and tells you what they are, but we all know they're there.

Like, when you turn sixteen, you're expected to get your license and start driving. When you turn eighteen, you buy a lottery ticket with your friends. When you’re twenty one, you go out and buy a bottle of alcohol by yourself for the first time ever.

Nowhere is it written that you have to do these things on time. But, if we don’t, we feel like we’re missing out on the experiences of life. We don’t want to be the ones watching all of our friends driving around while we’re stuck taking the bus or waiting for Mom to pick us up.

Those are just the small things, but what about the bigger ones? The ones that you tell yourself are totally going to happen, but end up very different than expected? Like, going to your first choice college, picking a major, graduating on time, getting married in your twenties, and having an amazing job that you love.

These are more unspoken rules that we're told to follow. But, in reality, these expectations often don't line up with reality. They get delayed, sidelined, or turn out to be the opposite to what we originally thought they were going to be. Instead of appreciating the journey we are on, we stress out about getting back on track so that we know we’re doing everything “right”.

For me, it was college. I graduated high school in 2012 and did not get into my first choice school. In fact, I was rejected more than once.

However, I had fallen in love with another one that had accepted me: Sarah Lawrence College. This is a school that doesn’t have majors or any kind of set curriculum; it relies on the students to explore academics in their own way.

I loved that. I had a bunch of varying interests (writing, acting, language, literature, psychology, etc) and here was a place where I could study them all.

I knew exactly what path I was on when I enrolled. I was going to study writing and acting, I was going to study abroad my junior year like everyone else, and I was going to proudly graduate in the spring of 2016 with all of my peers and all of my friends from high school.

That didn’t happen.

My life plan came so far off track that if I was driving, I wasn’t even on the road anymore, I was deep in the woods somewhere without any sort of compass or Google map to help me.

I found myself halfway through sophomore year freaking out about the fact that graduation was two years away and I was not at all ready to go out and conquer the career I wanted.

But it was already too late to transfer schools, deadlines had passed in December (God, I wished I had figured it all out sooner), and I had no idea where to go or what to do. All I knew was I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t want to drop out of school, but I also didn’t want to spend more money flailing around trying to grasp onto some sense of purpose.

I was lost and depressed and felt like I was falling into a black hole, conflicted between what I knew I needed to do, and what life was making me feel I was supposed to do.

So I decided to make a change.

I made the most impulsive, last minute decision I have ever made in my entire life, and I do not regret it one bit.

Within the span of a week, I had researched a new school, decided to apply, and gone to the open house with two monologues I worked on and memorized for the admission audition.

Unlike Sarah Lawrence, this school drew me in with its structure. There was no extraneous academic details that I needed to sift through to find out what I wanted to do. If you were going to attend, it was because you wanted to be an actor. And I did. They assured me that I was going to leave the school 100% prepared to go out and conquer the acting world.

In a life that was already confusing, and with my deeply rooted desire to go into one of the most challenging and mysterious professions, this was exactly what I needed. By the end of February, I had gotten my acceptance call. By May, I was free of sophomore year and I was off to begin my new life studying as an actor.

It was an adjustment. I was no longer going to a four year college, but a two year conservatory. I didn’t have any written work aside from character and script analyses. I sat in classes for three hours straight with a single hour lunch break in between. We didn’t have a dining hall. My “campus” was three floors of a building in Manhattan, and I was living in Brooklyn in dorms that weren’t as full of character as the ones I was used to.

Had I made a mistake? What was even the right choice at this point? I was off track, but I was here and I was still going, and I ended up being right. This was the better choice.

Okay, so I wasn’t at a huge university with football games every Friday and dances once a month, but I was at a school that took the education of its actors very seriously. The classes were long and intense, but I could feel myself learning from the minute I walked into the room. They took my huge dream and broke it down into step-by-step instructions that I needed to follow to reach it. There was so much support in the classrooms, both by teachers and students alike. The whole school was a safe space where “failing was encouraged."

I actually had a teacher that told us right out that if we didn’t fail in her class, we weren’t going to get a good grade. The mentality of school switched from “ace the test” to “fail spectacularly and learn from it." It was incredible.

I had spent the last year agonizing over what to do to get my life right, and here were people telling me that failing was okay. Not just okay, but encouraged and necessary. It was freeing, and once I started taking those risks, the whole world opened up to me.

I’m finishing up at NYCDA right now. In fact, I have three weeks left of classes before I graduate. The last two years have been the most intense, the most amazing, and I have taught me so much about myself as a person, as well as myself as an actor.

Acting already is a tough thing to do, it forces you to connect with yourself on a level that most people don’t ever reach. You give and give and give pieces of yourself in a performance, you spill your soul on the floor. Learning how to do that is even tougher. But by doing it, you learn so many things about yourself that you didn’t even know were there to discover.

With each passing day, I felt a confidence grow within me that I had never felt before. I was always the shy, quiet student that didn’t speak up in class or take risks. Now? I raise my hand multiple times in class, I have opinions I’m not afraid to share, I go up in class and give 100% of myself and don't worry about what anyone else thinks. I trust myself, trust my ideas, and know that I can do this. I know my place in the world now -- something I had no idea about before -- and I have the confidence to tackle my dreams and make them into a reality.

I don’t regret my decision to leave Sarah Lawrence. But earlier this semester, when I realized all my high school friends will be be graduating "officially from their colleges, that feeling of worrying what I'm “supposed to” be doing began to stir up inside of me. They are still part of the “Class of 2016” that we all posted about on Facebook when we decided which schools we were going to senior year. I’m not.

All of my peers from Sarah Lawrence will walk across the stage together, and I will watch them from a live stream online somewhere. I’m on a very different track.

I didn’t do the “normal”, expected thing. I screwed up the timeline society set up for me. Instead, I’m graduating with an Associate’s degree and my graduation ceremony will be in a movie theatre rented out by my school to showcase our reels that we have spent months working hard on.

And that’s what I have to remember. I took the different path, and I did it to do something I love, and I feel like I’ve discovered who I am in the process.

It turns out, I didn't need to worry about doing things the “right” way. What does that even mean? To me, the right way is whatever way is going to make you the happiest, most confident, and best version of yourself.

Once I learned that nobody is in charge of my journey except for me, things started to click into place. It’s an exciting feeling -- knowing you are in control of you and everything you want to do. Nothing seems impossible that way. Any time I find myself wavering under the pressure, I can remind myself that if it’s something I’m passionate about, nothing is going to stand in my way. I will do all those things I’ve ever wanted -- I will be the star (and writer and director) in the movie of my life, no matter how many takes I need to go through.

I say we should all go out and tackle our dreams and not care if it’s right, wrong, okay, or proper. Let's not stress out about “I’m too old”, “I’m too young”, “I don’t know how”, or “That’s not what I’m supposed to do”. We are supposed to do what we want. This is your life, these are your dreams, and your timeline is what you make it.

After graduation, I’m returning to Sarah Lawrence College to finish out the rest of my Bachelor’s degree -- on my own terms this time -- and I am so ready to take on whatever challenges I encounter. Come on world, show me what you got.

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