When I was eleven years old, I discovered acting. I became obsessed with it like a magical something I had found under a rock in my backyard, a magical something that was all mine. Once I turned the rock over, I found my little private kingdom and got lost in it, spending afternoons after school cleaning toilets or sweeping so I could be part of the acting troupe.
It was all mine, and I loved it.
I remember jumping up and down yelling “Energy and Enthusiasm!” as we were directed to do when the teachers asked us what are the most important qualities in acting. (Not sure that I agree with that answer anymore, but we were like little soldiers waving our flags energetically, enthusiastically.)
Prior to moving to California, my father had just quietly slipped away one night in July. Slipping right out his body and right out of this world, and I knew very little of energy or enthusiasm.
He had ducked out of his life by way of his heart, and it is no small irony that the heart is the great focal point of my teachings now, on and off the mat. So my father had passed away and left us stranded in Pennsauken, New Jersey, right outside of Philadelphia. What were we to do besides remodel our kitchen and spend a lot of money fixing up our house before deciding we wanted nothing more to do with this, with any of it?
By “we,” I am speaking of my thirty-four-year-old mother, but when you are eight and your sister is five, your mother gets to be the decision maker. She gets to be the we.
So we agreed to leave it all behind and move to California to start over. We are starting over—we would say when people would ask why we had moved from New Jersey.
I made friends for life in that acting bubble. I would sit in seventh grade and doodle, as my teacher was talking about maps or math, and write I looooooooove acting.
I stopped writing when my dad died. It reminded me of him, and I resented it and wanting nothing to do with it. It embarrassed me like I was a teenager and it was my parent. Go away, I yelled at it.
We write to remember, and I in no way wanted to remember.
We moved back to New Jersey, and my energy and enthusiasm was nowhere to be found. I was now in eighth grade, possibly the worst grade ever, and everything that had made my life worth living was now 3,000 miles away. Here I was in a place with seasons and regional accents and cheesesteaks and obsessions with Philly sports teams.
Later, much later, as I lived in New York City and was studying at New York University, I fell back in love with writing—like I had left my teenage years and could once again be seen with my parents in public places.
I thought about acting a lot and considered trying it in New York, but I thought I would rather get a “good” education as an English major.
I was very sick in my final years in New York, starving myself, abusing laxatives, and freezing all of the time with big dilated pupils and purple fingernails. I hated the city as much as I loved it. Actually, I think I hated it more because I felt swallowed and alone and, honestly, a little crazy. Maybe because I never ate?!
Here is a fact: Not eating makes you a little crazy. And very cold.
So I left New York to go back to California at age twenty-one to feel safe. My mom and sister had moved back to California. You may start to see a theme here with all the moving. Not sure yet what that theme is exactly.
Here we are again in California.
I start hosting, then waitressing, at The Newsroom Cafe in West Hollywood where I stayed for thirteen years. I had no clue what I wanted to do with myself. I had gained weight, not enough to not be thin, but enough that I did not look like I was dying. That would change over the years. I would go up and down.
I didn’t know what I wanted, so I went to acting school. This one was different than my earlier affair with acting. This was a serious, and I mean serious, two-year Meisner Technique Program. We did not jump up and down yelling Energy and Enthusiasm, I can tell you that.
After the training ending, I was twenty-three or twenty-four. When people would ask me what I did as I took their order for veggie burgers or chicken pot pies, I would say I am an actor, and do you want anything to drink with that?
Most people assumed I was an actress. It’s part of the territory of waitressing in L.A., I suppose. I wasn’t doing much about this acting business except charming people that came in and making them laugh and hoping that one would stop and say, “There you are! I have been waiting for you! Come with me, and I am going to make you a star! Put down that apron now!”
This. Never. Happened.
What also never happened was that I never really tried to work as an actress. I had a commercial agent and went on the random audition, but here is the thing: I don’t think I ever wanted to be an actor.
I think I knew this early on but was so scared because if I did not want to act then what would I say when people asked me what I did and what did I want. I will just stick with saying I am an actor.
And then ten years passed.
My commercial agent dropped me because I never booked. They never sent me out, and I never really wanted it so I don’t blame them (although their line of “we think you are more dramatic and not really commercial” was actually a line of bull, if I may say so).
I took a deep sigh in and exhaled: I am done.
I changed my mind.
I went to a very Hollywoody party last Saturday, where I realized the freedom I had given myself. Not because I wasn’t in the cesspool of insecurity and competition and heartache anymore, although that does feel really good, but because I can say No, I am not an actress. I used to be.
So what if I never booked a job? I used to be an actress. I did! I loved it, and I certainly acted, although I lied to others and myself by saying I wanted a career of it. I was so scared for a long time to give up that identity because it was all I had.
Who would I be if I said I wasn’t an actor?
Would I be “just” a waitress?
That thought used to make me want to hide in shame. I look back now and can see I am the same Jen now as I was then.
I could never visualize myself on a movie set. True story. I just couldn’t do it. That should have been my red flag, but I pretended for years that if I could just get a break, then I would book a job.
The truth is if I could just be honest and change my mind about who I was, or even about the fact that I had no idea who I was, then I would get a big break.
I did, and I did. I changed my mind, and here I am doing very well at something I love and making money and living my bliss.
Is my life perfect?
No. It’s a little messy and disorganized and over-caffeinated, and I love it.
Do I miss acting? Yes! I’m a ham who loves performing and telling jokes and stories and laughing and being different people. But it’s ok. I tell stories in my writing, and I laugh with my friends, and I tell jokes in my classes. I get my fill.
I am no longer scared to say who I am or what I want or that I don’t know what the heck I want.
Or that I waitressed at the same cafe for thirteen years after being a scholar at NYU and majoring in English because I was too stuck and terrified to move in any direction.
You can change your mind at any moment.
Go ahead. Change it right now.
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and take one of her yoga classes online at Yogis Anonymous.
Jen will be leading a Manifestation Yoga® weekend retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires, Massachusetts Feb 1-3, 2013.
*Photo by Ev0luti0nary.