"What Are You Proud Of?"
It was a very good question she posed.
"What are you proud of?"
I glanced around the warmly-lit table, littered with appetizer plates and cocktail napkins, earnestly seeking the eyes of my friends as they processed this question for themselves. These women. Each one present at this table, each one here to celebrate the wonderful year we had. A post-Christmas, post-New Years get together, a celebration of all kinds of sorts. These dear old friends whom I trusted and loved and yet, I didn't know their answer to this question. Which means they probably didn't know mine.
What am I proud of. What am I proud of?
"Babies aside, of course," she qualified.
Well, of course. We all had given birth to our first babies within the past 18 months, so that trump card had to be set aside. Which, in all ways, made the question even more challenging. And surprisingly intimate. Having a baby is such an obvious answer to this question, which meant I would have to dig a little deeper to pinpoint exactly what else I am proud of. What made me proud over the course of the past year? What did I accomplish? What did I surprise myself by doing?
Other than birthing a human?
Suddenly my answer was very very clear. As I began speaking, my body was pulsed with a kind of euphoria that comes from an incredible sense of clarity. It's what we external processors experience when we realize we are finally coming to terms with something as we discuss it. And I want to share this bit of revelation with you today, because my "ah-ha!" is not an obvious one. It's not a duh, I-won-the-Nobel, nailed it!- kind of answer.
I am proud because about 18 months ago, I moved to New York City and attempted my life-long dream of becoming an actress. And I am proud because I kind of fell flat on my face in doing so.
This might seem like the wrong approach. Like, hello Kristen, did you hear the question correctly? But this is precisely why I am proud of what I did. I set my sights on something incredibly scary. And you know what? A lot of things that I was scared of, well, they came true. But I'm here. I lived through it. I didn't crumble.
I want you to imagine the biggest dream in your heart, ever. The thing you're scared to think, let alone actually voice to anyone. The thing that you're so embarrassed that you would ever even dare to dream. The thing that makes you sweat and tremble. That thing, for me, has always been acting. It might always be acting. It's been a life-long hobby, the earliest desire I can remember, a kind of dream vocation, and last year, it was my number one priority. Until I saw this strip turn pink. Suddenly my life just changed. It was no longer my own. But that's another story. Not the story I'm here to tell you today.
But when I moved to New York (three months prior to the whole strip-changing-pink-thing), I did so without any real connections in the business. I decided to dig my heels into the swirling world of auditioning for television and commercial roles in hopes of landing some awesome gig and then, you know, figured I'd be hitting the Oscars parties later in the year. Just kidding (I mean, only a little.) But I was committed to this dream. I built myself a business plan. Fresh head shots, brand new website, new reel, new business cards, the works. And I put myself out there in a big way. I auditioned for an artist development program (and got it!), landed two agents and a talent manager, and auditioned for all kinds of roles that made me uncomfortable and challenged and sweaty. So sweaty. I carried deodorant and applied it in the elevators on my way up to each audition room. I got lost on the subway, attempting to find my way to different studios around town. Clutching my headshot and resume, and later, pregnancy books and healthy snacks (to keep me busy in the waiting rooms), I did some strange auditions. Once I was asked to portray complete "frailty" and vulnerability by using only my facial features. "No words?" I asked, trembling and clenching the script close to my heart. The script they had given me, the one I had memorized. "Forget the words," the director answered. "Feel the moment. Use your expression." Ummmmm k. Then they ran the camera for 5 minutes of silence. That was awkward. Needless to say, I was pretty frail and vulnerable when I left that audition. And no, I did not get the part.
In fact, that brings me to what I wanted to share with you next. I didn't get the part. I didn't get hardly any parts. I was in New York for just shy of a year, and I don't really have any substantial *wins* to my acting resume from that experience. I just auditioned a lot. I auditioned several times each week. I took a ton of classes, usually along with 2-3 seminars per week. I had private coaching sessions. I met with agents and casting directors and other actors. I made actor friends. I made a fool of myself so often. Each time I stepped out my apartment door, I took a deep breath and knew that I was walking into the unknown. Knew that I could get asked all kinds of strange questions in the audition room. Knew that I had to prepare for literally anything. "Get down on the floor and bark like a dog", could be the direction once I got in that audition room, and I had to prepare myself for that. I pushed all kinds of personal limits and challenged myself every day. I was really, truly, squeamishly uncomfortable for the good part of a year.
And I have very little to show for it. At least on paper.
And you know what? I feel really, really proud of this. I do! I am proud of being a risk taker and going for my dream. So often, people only share their harrowing stories once they accomplish their big dream. I'm here today to tell you that you don't just have to be proud of yourself once a big, monumental, Frodo-esque journey is behind you. I am proud of myself for the strange, semi-awkward, mid-journey swagger of which I am currently toeing the line.
I am a work in progress.
I am not finished becoming me.
I am not finished taking risks.
I didn't become a famous, accomplished actress last year. I did everything in my power, everything I knew to do, even after I became pregnant, and you know what? My dream did not come true. It just didn't. But that's not the end of my dream or the end of my story. I didn't shrivel up and just die.
Instead of the year being all about me and my dreams, it became all about this crazy wonderful unexpected little person named Everett. So even though I invested all this time and energy into my own self, it became entirely about someone else. Him.
I became his mom. That was an enormous surprise to me. And you know what's funny? Becoming a mom, well, that's someone else's big dream. And somewhere out there, someone who always dreamed of becoming a mom is probably having the big break of their lives in Hollywood because they just nailed an audition for a killer part. That. Is life. *Cue this Alanis Morissette jam*
Do I question the timing of everything? Sure, who wouldn't. But I want to encourage you, especially if you're mulling over the dreams in your own heart, the personal risks that you have taken, and the supposed "failures" that you've had. If you feel like you fit into one of those categories, I congratulate you. You are awesome for taking a risk and for enduring all the voices who said you couldn't/shouldn't do it. Because that incredible risk you took, well, did it kill you? If you're still breathing while you read this, it didn't. Which means your likely to take another risk in your long, delicately lovely life. And for those of you who are pre-risk? You are toying around with the idea of doing something "insane" to go after your dream? I encourage you to do it. There might be all kinds of "failure" at the end of the rainbow. There might really be. Or there might be an entirely new opportunity that ironically appears like a diamond in the rough. You might realize your dream has morphed. You might realize the dream isn't really the dream. You might realize you embody the person you've always wanted to be, and the dream was just a driver to get you to that personal place of bliss and success.
Welcome to the club. This isn't the club of snazzy do-ers. This is the haven for risk-takers and situation-celebrators. The lemonade-makers, the challenge-attractors and the laugh-instead-of-cry-at-my-circumstance-ers. I am proud of you, and I am proud of me.