Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do or be in the world and then they spend the first half of their lives working towards that vision. However, it’s not always that easy for everyone. Many will spend the majority of their lives looking for what will bring them joy and a deeper sense of purpose. Although I haven't always known exactly what I would do in the world, I always knew how I wanted to be in the world, and that, I later learned, was a very powerful distinction.
As a young child, if you asked me what I wanted to do I'd say be an actress, and years later, “the next Oprah.” If you asked me today whether I still want to be an actress or have a talk show my answer remains the same, "of course!" The truth is that this dream has not died. I’d love to act in a film or host my own show however, over the years, I've learned that it was never acting which I was ever chasing, but something acting provided.
One of my most valuable life lessons is around the power that comes from surrendering to the idea that anything in life needs to be a certain way -- neatly packaged up into one easily communicable box with a straight path forward. In fact, it didn't take long for me to learn just how limiting those neat and tidy boxes were, so instead of trying to fit into them I gave myself permission to explore all around them, following whatever passions came to mind. It was that journey of self-discovery and playing outside the box which led me to uncover some beautiful insights about our desires.
Although I cannot say I spend the majority of my days interviewing thought leaders on prime time TV or playing the lead female in Hollywood blockbusters, my life affords me the gift of being able to engage many of the same desires that led me to want to pursue acting in the first place.
I used to find it so fascinating how some people would be utterly shocked when they heard me talk about a commercial I was in or how when I finished undergrad I was contemplating whether to move to LA to work in the entertainment industry or move to Ethiopia to do global development work. They had such a hard time seeing the two as connected because for them, one conjured up thoughts of Mother Teresa-like compassion and nobility while the other reflected the ultimate vanity, a fast life of greed and superficiality. Fascinated by how I could be considering two roads that seemed so disconnected, people would want to know more. It was in the process of sharing my response that I realized in order for people to understand the connection I saw, they needed to change their focus. Instead of focusing on "what" I wanted to be or "how" I wanted to do it, they needed to understand the heart of the matter, "why" acting was an interest for me.
It's in this question of "why?" that I've been blessed time and time again and it's here that I want to invite you all to explore the fullness of your desires...not simply as a random mix of unrelated, distant dreams but as a tool for understanding your motivations and unearthing a sense of larger calling. When we focus on this "why"our deep concern for finding the right path to walk on becomes less important. Likewise, where that path leads us next also becomes less of a pressing concern. Instead, we begin to find rest in simply walking -- trusting that the path will appear under us at the exact time it's needed, that the surface will be strong enough to hold our weight and that the direction will lead us exactly where we need to go.
Acting was something I could easily grasp onto - even though there were many unknowns it was something others had done before which meant I knew that if I took certain steps I would end up closer to where I wanted to go. I knew I'd need to develop the craft so I signed up for all sorts of acting classes. I also knew I'd need to get an agent, so I did that too. When it came to university, although I had seen myself in front of the camera I decided to study for a career behind it (since I wanted better job security), with the aim of one day starting my own non-profit that worked against media induced stereotypes and cast actors in non-traditional roles. I followed a path I'd seen others with a similar goal walk before but then, when I graduated and the time came to start working full-time, I consulted my heart and decided that what felt right for me in that moment was moving abroad. This was the beginning of my work developing leaders across the globe, which I still do today. In my head I never looked at it as closing the door on one dream to step into another simply because I knew why I was so drawn to acting in the first place.
Exploring the deeper motivations behind my desire to be an actress would have revealed three truths about myself that have been and still are fuel to the work I do and how I show up in the world, regardless of the varying roles/titles Ive held or industries Ive worked in.
1) I am creative and I desire to express what's within me.
Acting is all about creative expression. Actors get to play, have fun, challenge themselves to think outside the box, and express so many parts of themselves through the characters they portray. In any type of work I’ve done, I've looked for opportunities that engage my creativity, allowing me to express parts of myself that haven't always felt welcomed. As someone who's struggled with expressing her voice, I was fascinated by how acting created room for me to creatively tap into so many part of myself by giving voice to the multitude of truths found in our shared humanity. Standing in our truth is what I believe life is all about.
2) I am compassionate and I desire to be a source of hope, love and acceptance in the lives of others.
Acting provides a platform enabling one to be known and heard. By playing a character on a show or in a movie, an actor has the power to normalize an experience or identity, to name that which feels unnameable and to give others a sense of community as they go through struggles. I saw acting as a way to support those who felt alone, voiceless and unseen. What gets me out of bed is the fact that my voice, if I choose to share it, can leave others feeling seen, heard, understood and no longer alone.
3) I am a global bridge builder and I desire to live a life of deep connection and transformational impact.
Acting provides a global reach as well as multiple routes for transformation and connection. If I had chosen to plunge into the entertainment industry I would have focused on one of two routes, either 1) acting in dramatic, thought-provoking roles which show complexity of character and target issues of race, gender, culture, worth, oppression, etc.; or 2) being my own personality (i.e. hosting a talk show where I could interview a variety of individuals to shed light on the gifts and challenges of life while lifting up the complexities of being human). I've always wanted my life and message to be one that united people across differences, highlighted our inherent wisdom, reinforced the truth that we are not alone in our struggles and elevated the fact that, regardless of what we've done or where we come from, ALL of us have something of value to offer and are worthy of love and belonging.
Fast forward a couple decades and today, I am most commonly known as a bridge-builder, facilitator, leadership coach and entrepreneurial spirit ( who you may catch engaging her "actress" every now and then). I see myself as someone who leans into creative expression, brings people together across differences, and fights for a better world by creating space for individuals to show up as they are, in exploration of who they are, at their truest and highest selves... As I continue to navigate forward, charting a path while I walk it, each day I must ask myself "how can I further deepen my understanding of why I am here, why I do what I do, and why it even matters?"
By leaning into these questions I allow myself freedom to release any idea of how I think my life should be, which is often tangled in other’s perceptions of worth and value. Instead, I trust my personal core of service and let that determine the road I walk on. Doing so allows me to unlock an abundance of avenues /channels for how I show up in the world, as well as how my desires are manifested.
Over the years I have come to realize just how big a blessing it was for me to naturally be drawn to my core "why's". If I would have attached myself to the typical journey of an actress or talk show host I would have robed myself of all the beauty and peace that has come from surrendering to a calling that isn't restricted to one road but which lets the road evolve into whatever it needs to be at a particular moment in time.
As you begin to explore your own motivations and desires, I offer you a few questions to help you lead with your "why" and build a path while you walk it.
Why do you do what you currently do?
What themes are arising?
Where and in what ways have these themes been present in other areas of your life?
What naturally brings you joy in life?
Go through these one-by-one, as each response builds off the other. When you're done, explore how your responses all relate and then try to articulate three truths about
who you are and how you hope to be in the world. Once you've jotted them down, I invite you to revisit them daily by asking "how can I live out these truths today?"