It's the million-dollar question. And it seems to be simple to answer, but it's quite complex. What's interesting about this query? You get asked this at least once when you're in kindergarten or first grade. Or better yet, you get to dress up as the individual in that profession you want to be in.
Here it comes. Are you ready?
What do you want to be when you grow up? Easy, you say? Hell, no! It's downright difficult, especially for a kid. There are SO MANY options out there, and when you're a kid, that occupation you want to work in initially can change over time. No one knows for sure what they want to be when they're a kid, and if they do, they're a very select few who knows right away of what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Maybe it's because their parent's profession runs in the family, so it's only natural for them to follow in their parent's footsteps. Especially if the business has been in their lineage for generations. The best examples of this include working in a restaurant, being involved in a trade profession like carpentry, or even being in the same medical field. (I have heard on occasion there were family members in the same medical organization that worked together.) But there was no doubt in their mind they wanted to do the same work their parents had done which had made so many others happy, whatever it was. But there are cases where children may want to stray away from their parents expect them to be when they grow up, whether that is because it makes them happy or they want to make a difference in the world or both. There are times some parents would not support their offspring on whatever path they choose that is different from their expectations for fear of not being able to support themselves, or because their children's idea of working for an income is beneath them if they're given money on a silver platter, or even the fear of the family business not continuing or extending past the current bloodline. Usually, when someone decides a young age what they want to do for the rest of their lives, it may take just a moment that would start the wheels turning towards their future. It could be a job fair or professionals arriving at your school describing the work they do. It could be seeing your favorite individual in action at the field they excel at. It could be reading a great book or seeing an article in the newspaper that might just set you off with ideas of what you want to do for the rest of your life. It could be going to a new city or country away from home that may just inspire you to think outside the box. It could be seeing a photograph. It could be any of those things that may just inspire you to figure out and have your hearts set on what you want to be. For me, the only thing I ever wanted to do when I grew up was to be in a place where I was away from all the anger, confusion, upheaval, and hurt in my abusive household and just be happy. I wanted to be loved for who I was without any judgment. That's a lot to ask for from a kid's viewpoint, but I figured that if I found a job that would take me away from where I was at the time and be free to be the person I was destined to be, that was half the battle right there. But the question remained: what did I want to be when I grew up? When I was younger, I initially wanted to be a singer. I discovered this gift when I was 8 or 9 years old. I LOVED to sing. Sometimes, I would ask to sing in front of my class with some of my friends, and I thought that I had the best voice in the entire school. (Vain, much?) I even got assigned to be a cantor and song-leader at my church at a young age. It was quite the responsibility for a little girl! But I also loved to tell stories. Whenever there was a school play or a project, I would dive in head-first with passion and enthusiasm. How can I do a career as a singer and still keep my love of storytelling in the mix while I stand on stage singing ballads and uptempo hits and travel all over the world? (Not that I would mind doing that in this case!) Then, it happened. I found out what I wanted to do with my life. It took plenty of time to figure it out. But I'm grateful I discovered it, to begin with. Want to know what moment made me decide to be an actor? Read on, MacDuff!
Back in 2001, I was the new kid at a new school. I was feeling left out, angry, and confused. If only I could've stayed at that school I had been at for 5.5 years. But it wasn't meant to be. (The school I was at since first grade stopped at fifth grade after the remainder of the school year, which broke my heart.) I wasn't sure if I would be liked by my fellow classmates or teachers. It was pretty troublesome for part of the spring semester. Do you want to learn more about it? Check out my three-part "I'm A Survivor" series. Then, my mom found an opportunity for me that would change my life. The local high school in the area was looking for middle school singers to be in the children's choir for their production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It sounded like a great opportunity because I loved to sing, and it would be fun to do something new. I arrived at the school to audition, and then several days later, my mom told me that they wanted me to come and perform in the show with a great group of kids of varying ages. It was very exhausting, but also very exciting. Hearing new tunes and harmonies from something other than the Catholic church hymns brought a new fire and curiosity within me. The evening rehearsals were a lot of fun - interacting with other kids, meeting the cast of high school students who would play the principal roles and dancers, and then going on stage for the very first time during the final weeks of rehearsal to see where all the magic will happen. Sure, there were long nights after a busy day at school. But in all honesty, I wouldn't have it any other way. I was singing new music and learning something called choreography. I never felt more alive or freer than I did in those rehearsals. I must've had so many good nights sleep from those evenings. And then came opening night. When all of our hard work came together at last before an audience, I felt butterflies in my stomach but I was overjoyed. It was finally here. From the "Prologue" to "Jacob and Sons", and then from "Go, Go, Go Joseph" to "Song of the Pharoah", and then from "Any Dream Will Do" to the Megamix, it was an experience I can only describe as a dream come true. I was alive. I wasn't being judged for my exuberance. I felt pride in singing songs that weren't Gregorian chants. To put it bluntly, I found it. This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And every night and matinee performance I was in, it made me stronger, more confident, and happy. I wasn't being told to hold back my feelings. It was okay to let it all come out. It was fun being around kids my age and interact with high schoolers (even though I may have come off as a nuisance at times, but that's only because of my concern and curiosity of their immense talent. I was concerned when one of the actors had to run off stage because of a coughing fit. I hoped he was okay, and he seemed to be doing fine later on when I saw him during intermission.) On the days we had matinee performances, many schools from within the region came to see us, including my previous school. My mom told me that many people from my school recognized me in the choir, and considering I was the only one in yellow pants and raising my hands in delight during the Megamix, it felt nice! Plus, it was good to know that my friends would come out to see me perform in something new. I didn't expect to discover what my passion was other than singing. But I knew I had found it from doing this show. That was my moment. And it set me down on a path I wouldn't change in a heartbeat. Even the bad times that came with it. When you decide what you want to do for the rest of your life, sometimes it takes one person or a group of people to help you along your journey, or see your talent and cultivate it for your career. In my case, there have been plenty of people who helped me along the way and stuck by me through thick and thin, even in spite of the abuse I experienced throughout my life that so few people can scarcely imagine. But there was one person whom I adored who seemingly saw my talent. And sadly, it's someone who I've been just as confused by his behavior and his treatment of me. The man who directed Joseph was the high school drama teacher, Mr. Gloff. He was someone I admired from the beginning. His vision, strong attention to detail, sense of humor, and a strong belief in putting on a great show really inspired me. When I attended high school he was at, I sort of saw myself as a teacher's pet to him and really pushed myself to the same level of excellence he wanted. When I think back on my high school years, I had plenty of issues to contend with, and it all originated from my abusive and unhappy home. If there was anything I wish Mr. Gloff would understand was how broken, scared, lonely, angry, frustrated, and desperate for love I was. Those times I cried after not getting cast in the shows my freshman and sophomore was because I thought I wasn't talented enough or it was because I wasn't beautiful. That was reflected from being at home with my abusive father and sister. The time I almost got kicked out of the spring musical, Little Shop of Horrors, my junior year, and nearly got kicked out of the Christmas show my senior year terrified me because I didn't want to let anyone down. That also came from my horrible experiences at home. Also, my mom had lost her job in the spring, and I was worried about losing our home and finishing my education. I was scared to dance in front of an audience in Little Shop of Horrors because I was self-conscious about my overweight body shape. You get the idea. All I ever wanted from Mr. Gloff was the opportunity to talk about the rough things going on at home, how scared I was, how much I enjoyed performing since Joseph, and how much he was an inspiration to me. But if there was one memory that made me especially heartbroken and betrayed was one day during drama class when I came to him to talk to him about the song choices for the upcoming Christmas show. Mr. Gloff called me into his office and proceeded to berate me for not trying hard enough as the underclassmen have been doing with their song choices. I tried to explain to him that things were rough at home at the moment, but before I could go on any further and explain how my mom lost her job, he told me that "life is rough." All I ever wanted was a little bit of kindness and an understanding ear to listen to what I'm going through and why I'm struggling my senior year in high school, supposedly the best year of my life. I never got that. For someone who's been abused for most of her life, that's not what I needed at the moment. Mr. Gloff, if you ever come across this blog and are reading this, I just have one question to ask you: why did you give me such a hard time? Did you believe in my talents and capabilities? Did you see how far I could go with my talent but I was just too stubborn and broken to see it myself? I tried reaching out to you with this questions several years ago via snail mail, but you never responded. If anything, I want to thank you for the opportunity I had with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. If it weren't for you seeing my talent, I never would've realized how truly happy and free I was in the theatre. I never would've found out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Yes, there were plenty of growing pains along the way in college and in the real world, and they were VERY painful for me to handle. And yet, whenever my mom would ask me if I wanted to do something else, I couldn't give up the very thing that made me happy and free. Not now. Even if the hard times came in my career, I would still plow ahead. Eventually, I grew up, developed a thick enough skin to handle the rejections (though I do allow myself to grieve lost opportunities I really wanted, but not for weeks on end like I used to do), received feedback from my peers, hired an acting teacher, read countless articles from Backstage, studied the business and craft from books, realized my own worth through 6-7 years of therapy and saw that the abuse wasn't my fault, but most of all, I KEPT GOING. I didn't stop. I had to learn things the hard way from time to time, but I didn't stop. This is what I wanted to do, and somehow, I would soak up all of the information and experiences like a sponge. And I have, and I am still continuing to do so. All I ever wanted to hear from you, Mr. Gloff, is saying you're proud of me. That I was enough. I never got that. I had to learn that on my own. I hope you realize how many people you've inspired, pushed, and praised over the years. You've been an inspiration to me. And yet I'm not sure you how much I always wanted someone to really help and guide me in the dark periods of my life. If I wasn't abused or mistreated at home or didn't have issues, would you have treated me any differently? I hope now you can see how much I've grown and changed, and I'm a better person for seeing my own worth and strength, though it took me over 10 years to finally see that. I hope you can see how you've touched my life, but also how much I really needed a friend and someone to count on. I'm sorry I couldn't find that in you. But I hope you know that thanks to Joseph, I found my calling. And I have no intention of giving it up anytime soon. If you're reading this, Mr. Gloff, please say that you're proud of me and you believed in me. That's all I've ever wanted to hear from you. I know, I know. It's sad that you had a teacher who gave you a hard time throughout high school. But did you ever had a teacher who did believe in you? Yes. I found him at the University of Missouri-Columbia several years later. It was my junior year, and I was returning to acting again after several years in the music program. (I will save that for another blog post.) I wasn't able to get into Acting II because the professor of that class didn't respond to my emails. I decided to enroll in Acting III since the professor of that class was kind enough to offer a spot for me. It happened to be a course devoted to Meisner, one of the most beloved teachers of acting. His technique is a favorite of mine. What's the Meisner technique, you ask? According to Wikipedia, Sanford Meisner's approach was for the actor to "get out of their head" so that they behave instinctively to their surrounding environment. Some of the exercises used are rooted in repetition so that the words are deemed insignificant to the underlying emotion. There is a greater focus on the other actor as opposed to one's feelings or internal thoughts associated with the character. Students would work on on a series of exercises to develop an ability to improvise, then to access an emotional life, and finally bring the spontaneity of improvisation and richness of personal response to textual work. In other words, the main idea behind this technique is to bring authenticity to performances without relying so much on the makeup, costumes, sound effects, or even forcing your emotions to come out in response to the text and stage directions. Whew! What a mouthful. But I highly recommend studying the Meisner technique if you're interested. The professor behind this class is Dr. David Crespy and he was very different from Mr. Gloff in so many ways. He was kind, funny, encouraging, and knows how to guide you in the right direction. He didn't criticize or belittle me at all. In fact, there was one time where I found his support very refreshing. I was having difficulty with the repetition exercises, and I was struggling for the first few weeks of the class. I was forcing myself to be authentic and it wasn't coming out the way I wanted it to be. Dr. Crespy suggested that we all join our partners and do some more repetition with each other to end the class. At this point, I was very discouraged and upset. What will it take to get to authenticity? As my partner and I started the exercise, I did something both expected and unexpected. I began to cry. I was sad. I felt like a failure. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was confused. I was so many things and all I wanted to do was succeed in this class and in my career. I still remember some of the things we said to each other. "You're sad?" "I'm sad." "You're crying." "I'm crying." As the tears kept on coming, Dr. Crespy came by us and I felt his hand on my shoulder. "You've reached your authenticity." That meant so much to me. I was struggling, and I got the support I needed in a way that was both encouraging and compassionate. And for someone who was grappling with the effects of being abused for so long, that made a great deal of difference to me. And he wasn't just helpful in the classroom, He was also a big part in my life when I celebrated the victories of being cast in my first show out of college - 2016, of course! - and when I needed his help with recommendations for graduate schools. I hope he will still be a big part of my life when I need advice or guidance for my career. Dr. Crespy, if you're reading this, thank you for believing in me, even when I couldn't see my worth, talents, or strength for myself. If I could hug you right now, I would! Here's something I want to stress: if there's someone out there who possesses much talent, strength, character, and passion for a promising career in whatever they want to do, you shouldn't bully or belittle them. Especially when they're young. That forces them to be hard on themselves, be overly critical of every imperfection they have, and not release their best creativity when you aren't supportive or compassionate. And what's worse, they become afraid of their teacher and any future instructors who they would later be instructed under. The students would immediately get it into their heads that perfection is to be expected and making mistakes is not allowed whatsoever and only hampers them instead of helping them grow. I'm not saying don't give them tough love from time to time. The real world can be a scary place, and it's overwhelming to learn so much information in order to survive and thrive. There were times I received tough love and I was angry, but that also made me think and see how much strength and perseverance I need to grow and thrive in my career. But constantly admonishing pupils for every mistake they make, highlighting their faults and imperfections, and being an otherwise bad person to them is not the way to help them learn about the career they want to pursue and how to succeed. That's unhealthy. Sure, there were times when Mr. Gloff was nice, but I was still so broken and scared that I felt like I had to be perfect in order to please him. It's one thing to make your teachers proud of the work you're doing, but to be constantly walking on eggshells all the time to make sure everything is perfect all the time is another thing entirely. All I ask for is for teachers and those who inspire you to be supportive, understanding, respectful, kind, encouraging, and strong. A little tough love here and there is appreciated, but nothing demeaning or cruel. You see the potential of your pupils, and help them to grow, learn from their mistakes, and go out into the world with as much determination and passion as you have given them through your instruction. You can inspire your students to be better individuals the right way, without criticizing them or forcing perfection from them day after day. There is a way to balance hard work and perseverance for them to succeed without demanding so much from them and hurting the students verbally and emotionally day after day. It is okay to make mistakes along the way. It's what helps us grow and learn more about ourselves as human beings. No matter how big or small they are, they're essential to our education, both inside and outside the classroom. And it's also okay to admit you're wrong about something or someone. That helps us to be better people and to even heal. I guess I got my wish for what I wanted to be when I grew up, in a threefold way. One - I wanted to be an actor and perform onstage. Two - I wanted to be in a career where I can be happy and use my feelings to inspire others to remember their humanity and see how connected we all are. Three - I wanted to be a better person than what I experienced at home. Or even at school. Maybe your situation was better than what I experienced. Or perhaps it was worse than mine. But whatever happened in your lifetime thus far, I hope you had that moment when you realized what you wanted to do for the rest of your life. However long ago it was, I'm sure it was enough to convince you to pursue your dreams and find happiness. If not, I have a message for you: it's not too late to follow your dreams. Even if you're 89 years old, it's still not too late. Or if you believe it's time for a change, there's no fear in that either. The best advice I received from someone: if you can't imagine doing anything else, go for your dream. Do what makes you happy. But also remember to take breaks if you've felt burnt out. It's okay to step away for a while for a recharge. Take up a new hobby. Go on an extended vacation. Attend a seminar on something other than what's in your field. Read a great book. Or even do what I do - write a blog! And it can be on anything you'd like to write, as long as it's respectful and has a lot of your experiences and knowledge on things you're passionate about. Allow yourself to be a well-rounded individual and have interests outside of your field of work. That's where you can be creative at just about anything you can put your mind to. Before I end this week's blog, I have to reiterate that I'm not an expert on any of this at all. These are just my experiences and thoughts that I witnessed and discovered from learning on my own and from others. It took me a while to find out what I wanted to be when I grew up. It not only has to be about the fame and fortune that comes with that career. Or lack thereof. Happiness has to play an important role in whatever path you choose. It may not be the easiest way, but if it feels right to you and makes you happy, go live out your dream, by all means. What made you decide what you wanted to be when you grew up? It may have been the same thing along the lines of being in a show or seeing a show. It may be seeing a professional at your school or at a job fair. It may be reading a book. It may be seeing a picture. Whatever it was, I hope it was enough to inspire you to go after what makes you happiest, and money and security aren't the only reasons for pursuing your career. That single moment may just be enough to spark a flame within you. Don't let it die, no matter what happens. And don't be afraid of change! Maybe there's a reason for feeling burnt out or struggling to find the same job in a new city or state or even country. Try rounding yourself out with new ideas, crafts, hobbies, and letting your mind wander for a while. It's okay to do something different from what you're used to. It may just be the ticket to getting your creative mojo back. And here's something that's important for all of us to know. At that moment we find our dream careers or life goals, there's someone or a group of people that help us along on our journey. If you see their potential, be kind. Be strong. Be encouraging. Be one of the reasons they go towards their dreams. Don't belittle or criticize them. Give them tough love from time to time. And remind them that it's okay to make and learn from mistakes. That's what makes us all human. If we didn't make mistakes at all, we'd all be robots. And that's no fun at all. Be the teacher/instructor/professor who inspires others to never give up, no matter how hard things are. As Jimmy Durante once sang, "Fame if you win it, Comes and goes in a minute. Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?" Don't lose sight of what makes you happy. If you do or lose your way from time to time, remember that moment which started it all. Let that be the reason you do what you want to do and do it well. Carpe diem!