“I’ll never know and neither will you about the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
– Cheryl Strayed
It was two days after I booked a non-refundable flight to New York that I got the email. Shrink Wrapped, the web series that I created with three other people, acted in, and had worked on for four years to bring to fruition, had been accepted into L.A. Web Fest, and two of our actors were nominated for awards. I checked the festival dates. We were screening during the last weekend in April, right in the middle of my week-long trip to New York.
I couldn’t believe it. There’d been nothing of real importance on my calendar for weeks and then suddenly, two things that I very much wanted to do were both happening at the same time. What should I do? I could bite the bullet, pay the airline change fee, and go to New York later. But because of time commitments in May, if I postponed my trip it meant waiting another six weeks to go out there. And I didn’t want to do that, because I was eager to capitalize on the momentum from the recent L.A. production of my play War Stories to investigate relocating the play (and myself) to the opposite coast. In truth, New York felt like the next phase of my life, one that I wanted to begin as soon as possible.
But on the other hand, Shrink Wrapped’s acceptance into L.A. Web Fest was kind of a big deal. Named the “Sundance” of web series festivals by Los Angeles Magazine, L.A. Web Fest offers a weekend’s worth of film screenings, networking events and industry panels, all on the lot at Sony Studios. And aside from the cachet of being included, film festivals are fun. They’re an excuse to dress up and go to parties and celebrate all the hard work it takes to carry a project from conception to finished product.
I wanted to do both things, but I could only choose one. I consulted with friends. And someone asked the question that sealed the deal: “Which of these two events will get you closer to the life you want?” The answer was easy. I told my co-producers that I couldn’t make it to the festival, and I went to New York.
Long before the phrase became an annoying acronym, I’ve had an intense fear of missing out. Often, I find myself not wanting to pick something, because then it means that I can’t pick something else. But time and time again, that inability to decide has left me in a place of paralysis, not wanting to choose wrong, and as a result, choosing nothing.
In my early twenties, I was passionate about pursuing my dream of becoming a working actor. I read every book, took every class, went on every audition. I never considered any acting job too small, because I was always learning and building my resume. I worked hard, and I did everything that I was “supposed” to do. But I never seemed to get ahead, and spent years feeling like I was spinning my wheels. I had all this energy, and nowhere to put it.
It took me a long time to admit that the life I was living wasn’t making me happy. My every decision revolved around staying “available” – for auditions, for meetings, for networking events, for potential jobs – all of which meant that I could never really commit to anything. Life and work had to be flexible, because I never knew when an “opportunity” might come up. Which meant that I ended up turning down many other opportunities – ones that excited me – along the way.
And then, I started producing. I started writing and telling my own stories. I tried my hand at directing, which I loved. And before I knew it, my whole world opened up. Suddenly, I was no longer waiting for someone to give me a job, I was creating my own opportunities. And that life of perpetual limbo, of staying flexible and keeping my options open, no longer interested me.
It can be difficult to let go of the picture we have in our heads of the way that we think our life is supposed to be. It was scary for me to admit that life hadn’t turned out the way that I thought it would, scary to admit that my dreams had changed. After all, if I no longer want the things I always thought I wanted, then who am I?
But the older I get, the more I realize that life is all about making choices.
We have to, because we only have so much time. Time is the only thing we can’t get more of, the only thing, once lost, we can’t get back. In my case, I was spending hours a week in my car, stuck in traffic jams on my way to auditions that I didn’t care about. I was spending hours learning lines that other people wrote in scripts that I didn’t think were particularly good, when I should have been writing my own.
So, I chose. I chose to spend my time differently. I chose to stop making myself available to other people who might give me a job, and to instead devote my time and energy to finding my own voice as a storyteller. And in that choosing, I took a leap. And I haven’t looked back.
Speaking of making choices, how did my decision to go to New York turn out? I haven’t regretted it, not for one second. Even though I surely missed some fun times at the festival, I had a magical week. I met incredible people, learned a ton, and made the decision to move there this fall.
I will surely miss out on many more things when I leave Los Angeles. I will miss people, and jobs, and opportunities. But that’s OK. Because I will also gain plenty of new things too, things that can only come from the experience of starting a new life in a new city. Things that can only come from making a choice, from taking a leap, and from not looking back.