What do you want to feel when you grow up?
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe a fireman, a doctor or a mailman? Or were your sights set on being the next Gandhi, Muhammad Ali or even Martin Luther King, Jr? You probably didn’t know you couldn’t major in “Martin Luther King, Jr.” Even if you didn’t, you could still be Martin Luther King, Jr. anyways. It was what you wanted to do. It was simple. Life was simple.
What did I want to be when I was a kid? I wanted to be famous. A famous Act-a-ress. And also a singer, a dancer and ice skater on TV.
I grew older. Suddenly, I was about 9 or 10. I was old. Acting looked like it would be hard work. I still believed I could do it, but I needed a back-up plan. A Rabbi. I would be a Rabbi.
But that was a lot of Hebrew to memorize. The whole Torah? Would I have to memorize the whole Torah? ‘I am not that focused!‘ I would think to myself. And so, since I couldn’t memorize the whole Torah, I turned back to singing, acting and dancing. Becoming the next Madonna would be hard, but easier than learning how to pronounce all of the Hebrew words without any vowels to help. That would have been really difficult. If I had a congregation someday, and I mispronounced the Hebrew words, that would be really embarrassing. Nope.
Madonna it was.
And so I took steps toward my dream. I wished every year on my birthday candles to be the star of my 8th grade musical. I made sure all of my teachers in New Jersey knew this so that even if my audition was sub par, they might at least feel bad that I was using this as my one birthday wish and give me the leading role anyway. Then, at the end of 7th grade, my mom moved me to Houston, Texas. They had an 8th grade musical at my new school too, but all my years of making sure everyone knew my intention to be the star were lost. The musical was Bye Bye Birdie, and I had a supporting role. It was okay. I’d moved on to new steps in my dream.
I’d auditioned for Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as a Vocal Music major. At the time, only 1 in 4 who auditioned were accepted. I was accepted. I was going to be famous.
And so I went to the world’s most incredible high school. There, every day was a live episode of “The Voice”. I was surrounded by talent that surpassed my understanding. I was no longer one of two or three singers in my class. Everyone was a singer, and I was only one. I wasn’t the best one, either.
Year 1 and 2 went by and one of my teachers would ask me occasionally if I could really see myself giving everything up for music. Year 1 and 2 I said yes. I said I would take eating Ramen noodles for the rest of my days if it meant where I might be able to make it on Broadway.
Then, year three rolled around. I wasn’t sure I liked Ramen anymore. Would they come out with new flavors? I was tired of Oriental, Beef and Shrimp. What if I couldn’t stomach it?What if there were no new flavors? I re-evaluated my commitment and looked at my options.
All I knew was that I was no longer willing to give it all up for music. I could see myself doing a number of other different things, maybe becoming a psychologist or social worker, and then I had a revelation while making a guest appearance on a local talk show: I wanted not to be Dr. Phil, or Madonna…I wanted to be Oprah.
So I went to school for Oprah. They called it Broadcast Journalism. I didn’t know very much about the world of TV news, I just wanted to be a talk show host, and this was how I would go about getting there. My professors likely all thought I wanted to be a news anchor, because that’s what I told everyone. In reality, I didn’t really like the news. I wanted to create good news by interviewing good people. I still wanted to be Oprah, I just told everyone something else when I felt like I had to.
Graduation rolled around. Oprah was hiring but it was only for a very low level position at her magazine. Too far away from what I really wanted to be doing. TV Reporter positions were available, but most of them were in the middle of nowhere. One in particular was in Billings, Montana. I’d been applying for reporter jobs I wasn’t qualified for because they were in big cities, but the one in Billings was asking for my exact qualifications. I found the position on TVJobs.com and paid the $30.00 fee to apply for the job three times, each time biting my nails and waiting for it to expire. I couldn’t get myself to apply. I knew I didn’t want to live in Billings but it seemed like an awful reason not to go for the job. I would live in Billings for two years and then move on to somewhere else, and somewhere else after that. I wanted a family. I was only 23 but I knew I would want one eventually. I couldn’t set myself up to move around all the time, even though I know many reporters are able to pull off having a family. I wanted to be surrounded by loved ones. I wanted people in my life. People seemed more important than anything else. I wasn’t willing to make such a huge sacrifice, to be around no one I knew, to be without a Neiman Marcus in driving distance. I thought these reasons were horribly embarrassing and stupid, I thought they made me a wimp, but I stuck to them anyway. Voices in my head told me I was throwing everything away. You need people? Wtf? I wasn’t being gritty enough. Every night I went to sleep and only saw BILLINGS when I closed my eyes. I still couldn’t get myself to send them my audition tape. My reasons didn’t feel good enough, but I still didn’t apply.
I began doing photography and making some side cash while I continued my post-graduate job search. Side cash was great but, don’t forget, I don’t like Ramen that much. I needed another job. I came back home to Houston.
I took current job working for my mom’s web design and development company as a project manager. I had another platform from where I could dream about what I wanted to be when I grew up, because clearly I wasn’t there yet. I was doing something I was good at. I had a place to go each day. I was thrilled to have 9 to 5 structure and my own apartment that I could decorate all by myself. I felt like no one understood, even my mom told me to reconsider taking the job, but I went with my gut. I wanted some normalcy. People kept reminding me of how “talented” I was. I felt ashamed, but I carried on. I did what I wanted, even though it didn’t seem to make any sense. I had a hunch that my new-found structure might make way for more creativity than jumping ship and leaving it all behind would have.
I was right. It took a while, but my structure began allowing me to make more space for what I loved. I had a great job, one that also afforded me time to pursue my outside passions without having to give everything up for them. I still loved being on camera. I still loved and missed media. So, I started my own radio show. I began appearing weekly on a local Houston news station. I built this website (the one you’re on) to follow through on that “being the good news” thing. About a year into all of this, I met Ben. The little voice in my head that told me not to apply for the job in Billings finally got to say “I told you so!” 11 months later, we were engaged. I’d found my family.
I still felt guilty. I still had and have moments where it seemed like I should have gone all-in and cared less about my silly structure, my eventual family. I still remembered not just Billings, but the musicals I was in in high school, the countless hours of voice lessons. The producer of my radio show even told me he was scared I might turn into a house wife. I got scared wanting a family would mean I couldn't want all the other things I'd been dreaming about since I was 6.
I still want to be an actress. And a singer. And a writer. And Oprah. I still want to be all of those things. I might ultimately only be those things to my best friends. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll be those things to my community. Well, I am supposed to think that would be lucky. Want the real truth? I am not quite there yet. Ben always tells me that he grew up wanting to be Bobby Kennedy. Now he says he’s the Bobby Kennedy of his own world, and that he’s perfectly okay with it if that’s the only Bobby Kennedy he ever is. I admire him. I might only be Oprah to him, or to you if you’re reading this, but he will be there to tell me that’s perfectly acceptable. Oprah would tell me it was too. Maybe I’ll take her advice.
I’m learning it’s okay that I need people, too. Oprah also needs people. Everybody needs people. All of the choices I’ve made as detailed above were made with the underlying desire to connect, to be surrounded by those I love, even those I didn’t know yet but knew I could love someday. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up thinking that was a good basis for decision making, even though it was the subconcious basis of all of my decisions anyway. I’ve talked a lot in my life about what I want to be, but every important decision I’ve made in my life has been based on how I want to feel. I compare myself as someone who makes feelings-based decisions to people who do the opposite, and wind up in total internal catastophe and fear that I am “not doing enough.” Not to self: Stop doing that. Love you.
Today I look at how my next steps will make me feel and pay less attention to what they look like. If someone thinks I’m better at something else that I’m not pursuing right now, that can be okay, and I can still continue trusting myself and letting my life grow the way I always secretly imagined. That will be okay with the one person it has to be okay with: me.
I trust that I’ll end up on the right stage. I’ve always wanted it to be a big one. Maybe it will be. Or maybe it will be smaller. Whatever size it is, I know it will be enough. I will have soaked up all the life I had on the road to get there. I will have enjoyed the ride. I will have spent it knowing I have people in my life who are cheering me on, no matter the result.
I’m pretty glad they’re there.