So last night I went to dinner with my manager to celebrate some…recent successes and wins. And I remember being so incredibly happy. Just feeling overwhelming happiness. Because last year, I was not in a good place.
Right now, I’m unbelievably happy. I’m making a living doing what I love, I’m booking acting gigs, I just signed with a great talent agent, and I’m adding incredible people to my team that all believe in me and my potential. This is an incredible feeling. But that’s not exactly why I’m happy. You see, everyone on social media only shows you what they want you to see. You’re only seeing everyone’s highlight reel. Because the truth is, real life is not that exceptional or positive all the time and no one wants to publicly admit failure. So if you never see negative images from other people, you start to compare your average life to someone’s highlight reel. That’s toxic and self-destructive. But why?
In July 2012, I received devastating news that would change my life forever. After graduating high school the month previously, I was supposed to go to a four-year university. I was supposed to graduate in four years, and I was supposed to go on to get a ‘regular’ job working in I.T. or computer programming somewhere. I come from an upper-middle class, college-educated family. While many of my classmates were the first in their families to graduate high school (still an amazing achievement, even if many don’t think so), both of my parents went to college and have multiple degrees. Hell, my dad is nearly 60 years old and is working on his third Master’s. My dad is a black male that was two years old when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream Speech. My mother is an immigrant from the Philippines. They’ve faced such extreme adversity to get where they were. Both of my parents worked so ridiculously hard and sacrificed so much to provide an environment for me to learn and be successful. I taught myself how to code at 11-years-old. I was web-developing before I even started menstruating. I was supposed to do lots of exceptional things. People expected it of me. My parents expected it of me. So when I got this email from the four-year university that I was accepted to, I felt like I lost everything but more importantly, I disappointed my parents.
You see, I got a D in my senior year math class. It’s not that I’m bad at math. I taught myself how to code at 11. But I just didn’t do well in classroom environments and that thought only solidified as I took classes in community college to fulfill my “education deficit”. I’d say a good 80% of everything that I know, was self-taught. I hated sitting in a classroom with 30 other students for 2 hours listening to a lecture (which is really just a person talking to meet the state requirements; regardless of if students understand it or not), only to repeat the same exact thing 3 more times for the rest of day. Then to go home, do homework, and wake up to repeat everything over again. I love learning. I love researching, I love watching documentaries, and I love reading. That is how I self-taught most of the things that I know. I’d rather immerse myself in a subject than to listen to someone talk about something that I could learn on my own, even in a way that’s more fun and engaging. College just wasn’t for me, but everyone told me that I was just being lazy. Whatever.
But I when I got my acceptance letter from that college…I remember feeling like it was owed to me. Like I was just waiting for my acceptance, even though I know I didn’t pass my math classes. I was so entitled. This whole experience humbled me. I find it funny when people think affirmative action is the only reason why someone goes to college. People work really hard to get where they are. I didn’t work so hard, so therefore I didn’t get to experience the same as those who did more. I’m not entitled to anything, and neither are you. If you want more, then you’re going to have to work more. Had I done better in my high school math class, would I have gone to college and been successful? Maybe, I don’t know. But what I do know is that negative experience, brought me to where I am today. I was going to major in computer information systems, but now I’m an actor and content creator.
The success you see on social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Sometimes people lie, sometimes people exaggerate, and sometimes the success is real but you don’t see all the hard work that goes into it. A lot of people message me and tell me that they’re jealous of my life or how they want my life. But do those same people want the emotional stress that comes from being an actor? Do those same people want to put in hours of a full-time job plus overtime that goes into creating content? No one understands the time, energy, and mental stress that occurs behind the Instagram photos or Snapchat stories or an IMDB credit. No one actually understands the risk of dropping out of college and working hours upon hours with no real guarantee of success. There’s nothing tangible about creative careers. You’re working hard to achieve something you’re not sure is even there.
While I spent the next couple of years reflecting on my big huge failure, I took film production classes and I created my own website portfolio and I started modeling and I started acting. And then I did something crazy. I did something that I would have never even considered as a child. I dropped out of college. And I didn’t even drop out of a university, I dropped out of community college. I felt ashamed, my parents were angry, my extended family perhaps were wondering what the hell I was thinking, and my neighbors, whose kids went on to college in different states are probably wondering why I’m still living at home. Most of them don’t even know what I do now! But I did what I thought would make me happy. And I’ve never felt more liberated. To go through 12 years of school, only to fail…it taught me that you can fail at anything. You can do everything that you’re told to do; You can down that traditional route and still FAIL. What’s the point of spending all of your energy on something that makes you unhappy when you could still fail at it? Failure is inevitable, because life is about balance. Life is not going to be positive always, all the time. So if I’m going to inevitably fail at something at some point, I might as well do something that makes me happy. That way, if I “fail”, then I’ll always have that thing that makes me happy and that keeps me going.
Everything post-dropping out of college was going alright for a while until I just started feeling blue. I was comparing myself to people on Instagram who went the same route as me but are way more successful. Comparing myself to my high school classmates that were in college and were just semesters away from graduating. And while I accomplished great things the past few years, for some reason I couldn’t see those accomplishments, I could only see my failures. I just started feeling an overwhelming sense of failure, anxiety, sadness, emptiness. I felt worthless. I was going to quit acting because I didn’t book anything for an entire year. And I struggled with really dark thoughts. I don’t know officially if it was depression but it felt like it. But I’m so incredible happy today because I overcame it.
Creating things makes me happy. I’m in a pretty great place right now. I’m happy. But I don’t want someone to look at my highlight reel–my Instagram photos, my YouTube videos–and think, her life is so great, it must be so easy. Because it took a lot of failure and depressive episodes to get to where I am. And I’m not always gonna be happy from here on out. Life is a roller coaster, life is about balance. Negative things are going to happen along the way, but at least I’m doing something that I love.
Successful people aren’t successful because they were perfect since birth. Successful people aren’t successful because they never failed. Apple is successful today because it took years and years of bad decisions and failures. Steve Jobs took bad products and made them better because they once failed. I wasn’t always good at coding. I didn’t start typing on a keyboard for the first time and create Facebook. I spent hours and hours failing as an eleven year old. Debugging. Re-writing entire blocks of code. Being frustrated. But I learned, a lot. It’s these negative experiences and failures that make you better. School wasn’t the right environment for that. School doesn’t let you fail without severe consequences. If you fail in school, you’re made to believe that you’re failing in life, and that’s just not true. When I got an F on my math test, it didn’t inspire me to learn how to graph a parabola using the quadratic equation, it only inspired me to pass the next test, even if that meant cheating. When I’m teaching myself how to do something, I can fail and learn without someone telling me that I’ll only get better if I pass this test. The application of math in the real world has always been more important to me than memorizing something just to pass a test like a robot. That’s why coding is so fun–you’re applying math and science to create something. In school, I was just memorizing things just to pass the test. And I hated everything about that.
And that’s why I dropped out of college.
I’m not happy right now because I’m “successful”. I’ve still got a long way to go, and I’ve still got a lot of things that I want to do. I’m happy right now because I overcame negative experiences and depressive episodes. I’m happy because I suffered and I’m no longer suffering (for now). No one can truly be positive all the time, and if they trick themselves into thinking that, then they’re lying to themselves. It took a while, I accepted that I didn’t work hard enough to get to college. I didn’t work hard enough to get where I wanted to go. I accepted that I failed. And I’m accepting that I’m going to fail over and over and over again. And that’s okay. But you can’t wallow in self-pity. That’s self-destructive, and no one benefits from that. Negative experiences are inevitable, so you should learn and grow from them instead of being a victim to them.
When I started creating content, I told myself that I’m going to work harder than I ever have before. At first, I didn’t work that hard…I uploaded 2 or 3 videos a month. And nothing was happening. Then I was like, hey, instead of feeling entitled to attention and wasting my energy complaining that YouTube is biased and only pays attention to bigger channels…I said hey, maybe I should work harder. Because in the past, that’s proved to do something. So I started uploading 3 videos a week, instead of 3 videos a month. I started putting in more hours, treating it like a full-time job. Organizing, planning videos, creating content calendars, responding to emails in a timely manner, reaching out to people to collaborate, going to an acting class twice a week, writing scripts, acting in friend’s short films and web series, working so ridiculously hard that it became second nature. And that’s when things started happening. My YouTube channel started growing fast, I started booking more acting jobs than I ever had before, I signed with a great manager and new talent agent, and I’m in a really great place right now. The hardest part of all this is now over, but I don’t want to become complacent. I’m just inspired to work even harder.
It’s easy to blame other people for your problems instead of attacking the real deeper issue (for example: “YouTube is biased and only promotes larger channels blah blah blah” instead of being like “hey, I should create better content, and work harder in all aspects of creating content” or saying “No talent agent wants to sign me and no casting director knows me and those are the only reasons why I’m not a working actor!!!” instead of being like “hey, I should be in an acting class and improving my craft, and writing and shooting short films, creating content, collaborating with other creatives”) You have to do everything that you can control. Because there’s a lot of things that we can’t control. We can’t control the YouTube algorithm or control the casting director or control our teacher to give us a better grade. But what we can control are the quality and consistency of the videos we create. We can control our acting performances by being in class. We can control our grades by doing the work and studying. Great things do not happen because people put in a mediocre effort. Some of the least talented people in the world are successful not because of their talent, but because they work hard and they work smart. Talented people can feel so entitled to success because they’re talented, that they get comfortable in their talent. And they don’t work as hard as the less talented. But if you don’t put in the work, you’re not going to see the results. If doesn’t matter how talented you are.
Failure made me realize that I needed to put in the work. Failure taught me how to be a better thinker. Failure taught me how to work harder, but more importantly, failure taught me how to be a stronger and smarter person. I’m no longer afraid of failure. I welcome it with open arms. You can’t fix your problems if you can’t even admit you have problems in the first place. You have to ask yourself why you failed. You have to accept that you’re flawed, and do something to improve yourself. Life isn’t about chronic positivity; Life is about balance. To accept and openly embrace negativity, then working to better your circumstances. That is what generates happiness. Happiness is rooted in negativity and grows into something more beautiful. The branches of happiness can break sometimes along the way but they just grow back stronger. It’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to feel negativity. But don’t blame them on other people, don’t ignore the feelings. Accept them, and keep going.
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