If anyone knows me, they know that I am a very intense person. I take things to heart, especially things I am very passionate about. I am a 110% kind of gal. I think a lot of people in my generation have this kind of go-getter, make-things-happen type of attitude. We are a generation whose parents said “You can do anything you want. You can be whatever you want to be.” We are a generation who gets the privilege of saying “I am the first person in my family to go to college.” Continuing education is the new high school. I think because of this, a huge part of my childhood was centered around answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” A simple question that we have probably all been asked from the time we were just learning to talk all the way to graduation day 16 years later. As lucky as we are to be presented with this freedom to make such a huge decision, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with this question, at least for me. Because when I heard this question, it wasn’t a question that would simply help me pave the path towards future career goals, but more of an existential question. “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” We were encouraged to give answers such as “A Firefighter” “A Doctor” “A Vetrinarian” “A Lawyer” A Movie Star” etc. Once we established a solid answer, and received a few encouraging words from family and friends, we pursued this life of learning and training towards BEING this certain label or person. Well, me, being the intense person that I am, took this VERY seriously. I said “I want to BE an Actress. I want to BE a Singer. I want to BE a Dancer. I want to BE a performer.” I had complete tunnel vision focusing on being this identity. It defined me as a person. My whole life was dedicated on figuring out how to be a professional theatre performer.
So like most theatre folk do, I dreamed my whole life of moving to New York City. I wanted to be at the center of everything, contributing to the hustle and bustle of crazy city life. I was going to be on Broadway, maybe even a celebrity one day! I spent my whole life as long as I can remember focusing on that one dream. I would always be the one who never gave up. I was going to make it despite the warnings and the ridiculous odds. I was different! (Weren’t we all?) Except, when I got there I was sort of paralyzed. I used to think I would do whatever it took to follow this one narrow-minded, poorly planned dream. But when I was face to face with the reality of the industry, the early mornings, the politics, the countless uncontrollable factors, the games, I found that I had to force myself to even go to an audition, much less take a class or practice. The dream I had chased was not the reality I was living. I felt like a complete failure. That haunting question played on repeat in my mind. I had no worth if I didn’t accomplish this one thing I set out to do because I had defined who I was by what I DID.
I started tossing around the idea in my head that maybe it is okay for dreams to change, or at least the fine print. I knew that before I made any major life altering decisions, I had to get to a point where I wouldn’t feel like a complete failure for changing my mind. It was very difficult because people would reach out to me and tell me how brave I was and how much they looked up to me for having the courage to leave everything behind to pursue my dreams. Though I gladly accepted the kind words, it secretly put a lot of strain on me to live up to their expectations. Even more so, I felt that I had to live up to my own unreachable expectations. I could see my younger self in my mind’s eye shaking her head at me. “You were supposed to be the one who made it.” The phrase “making it” bothered me for years. I finally discovered that “making it” doesn’t only have one definition. I remember when I was younger performing at local theatres in Oklahoma City and Dallas and looking down on those who had day jobs and pursued theatre as an extra curricular activity. I thought, “Well if you were really serious, you would be in New York trying to have a REAL career” or, “They are way too talented to be performing here. What a waste of talent.” What I didn’t stop to realize is that they WERE making it because they were happy. After all, if BEING a performer was the goal, those community theatre actors were doing that way more than I was sulking in my over-priced, 600 square foot excuse for a suitable living space in Queens.
At the end of the day, I still felt like a complete failure. Yes, I had excelled in many different areas of life, but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t this specific thing that I told myself and everyone else I was going to be. Then one day it dawned on me, probably after talking to my mom on the phone or hours of pinning motivational quotes on Pinterest, that (as cheesy as it sounds) all I was required to BE was ME. IF “me” didn’t want to live this supposed life that a theatre artist is suppose to live, then that is okay! I had always defined who I was by what I did, all because of that one question. “What do you want to BE when you grow up?”
Well what I want to BE is kind. I want to BE loving and a good spouse. I want to BE helpful and encouraging. I want to BE a good friend and a good listener. I want to BE educated and interesting. I want to BE well-rounded and cultured. I want to BE fun! I want to BE happy.
At the end of the day, I wasn’t happy. I had to make a change. I let the weight of trying to BE something instead of trying to DO something become two separate entities and a huge weight fell off of my shoulders.
The many sacrifices we had made to live that lifestyle were no longer worth it. We had been miserable for several months. Ben had been experiencing similar feelings artistically over the course of living in New York City as well. We would alternate between who was inspired to be there and who hated it. He even wrote a musical about it! We said that we were worried for the day that we both hated it at the same time, because we knew that would be the end.
It was Easter weekend, the season of new beginnings. After 3 years in New York and 2 in Boston, we decided it was time for a new chapter in our lives.
So 6 weeks and 1500 miles later, we landed back in the land of the OCU stars, Oklahoma City, OK. Random, I know.
Honestly, it’s very strange. I never thought I would EVER be back in Oklahoma City, much less living here. Like Dorothy, I feel like I was in a weird dream, then I woke up and realized I never actually left Kansas (or Oklahoma). Because as wonderful as Oz is, what is a life where happiness can float away as easily as a bubble in the wind?
So here we are, back in Oklahoma City, filled with wonderful memories of talking scarecrows and dancing tin men, flying monkeys, glittering buildings, strange roads, and a lot of evil witches. But Oz isn’t going anywhere. That’s the beauty of it. It’s always there. Who knows, one day a twister of fate might sweep us back that way but I now can reflect on a very different message that Dorothy taught me. That no matter how wonderful Oz might be, and it is wonderful, the true message of The Wizard of Oz is to remember that “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t go looking any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with….”
Well…you know the rest!
And as far as that QUESTION goes, I hope we can re-word it just a bit for future generations. Maybe we should take a hint from the French who ask “Qu’est-ce que tu fais dans la vie?” which translates literally to “What do you do in life?”
I love that! It empowers and comforts me to know that there’s a limitless amount of things I can DO in life but only one thing I can BE and that is ME!