Hello, my name is Lisa Jakub and I used to be an actor

This is a weird thing for me to write about.

You see, I’ve been spending the last 10 years running from my past. A friend said that I’m so dodgy about my old life, that I behave like someone who killed her entire family and moved out of state. I’m that elusive about it.

I didn’t kill anyone. I was just an actor.

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Psych 101: memories and lies

I was 28 years old and starting college. I had never really been a student before. I started working as an actor just before I turned four, so school always came second. Sure, I went to school sometimes, but it felt like something I did just to fill the time until my next job, like cross-stitch or tennis lessons.

But as I neared my thirties, I figured it was time to try that thing that other people did – get educated. I bought a backpack and a lot of pens.

The school thing went okay. Socially, it was challenging. I tried to just fade into the background but people would yell “Hey, Doubtfire girl!” from down the hall, and then they’d get nervous and run away when I turned around. I didn’t really have friends, but that was okay — I had all those pens.

I took an Introduction to Psychology class. The professor came into the room on the first day, shuffling a stack of impressive looking papers while extolling the importance of early childhood experiences on the adult psyche.

She asked us all to recall our earliest memory and share it with the random stranger next to us. I couldn’t have been more offended by the intimacy of this assignment if I had been asked to whip out a nipple for my seat-mate.

The truth is, there is footage of my earliest memory.

cottonelle

I am on the set of a Cottonelle toilet paper commercial. A man is standing on a ladder, pouring a cardboard box full of cotton balls on my head. The commercial will be in slow motion: me with my unusually large eyes, joyously attempting to catch the fluffy cotton balls that rain down on me. I’m thinking it’s strange that this grown man’s job is to dump cotton balls on my head. My job also feels ridiculous – catching aforementioned cotton balls – but I am barely four years old. I reason that it’s okay to have a silly job since I’m just a preschooler.

But that was just not a memory to share with a complete stranger on the first day. It would have led to more questions and the kind of attention that I was trying to avoid. I was already desperately attempting to blend in with kids who were 10 years younger than me, kids who didn’t have a husband and a mortgage and a 10pm bedtime.

So, I lied about my first memory.

“My first memory is of my grandfather,” I said to the teenager next to me, who was twirling her hair and trying to look interested.

“He was pacing the upstairs hallway of his house. He had a heart condition and was pretty much restricted to his bedroom and that one hallway. I was walking behind him, my hands clasped together behind my back, mimicking his gate and posture. He always sang these Scottish bar songs and he would close his eyes when he got to the high notes.”

This indeed is an early memory of mine – it’s just not the first. This particular memory appears to indicate that I am a born follower and some sort of copycat. And a liar.

What does it mean that my real first memory was on set?

I’m not sure.

Maybe it means that my identity as an actor is so deeply rooted that I can never completely rid myself of it.

Maybe it means that I always questioned the viability of acting as a long-term career for myself.

Or maybe it just means that trying to catch cotton balls is pretty fun.

——-

Here’s the whole commercial – if you are feeling nostalgic for Canadian toilet paper commercials from the 80s.

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Why I write: losing and finding my voice

CameraAwesomePhoto

Someone asked me recently why I write.

My immediate answer was: because I have to.

It’s like asking someone why they blink. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember and at this point it’s an automatic response. The part that is pretty new is the part where I actually let other people read the things I write. There was a very specific moment when I decided to do that.

Many people have stories of being reborn after an illness. They speak of the resulting spiritual enlightenment and a reordering of priorities. They wake up to their lives and are compelled to live in the moment. Usually, it’s brought on by cancer or something equally horrible.

I was lucky – my wake-up call was a little quieter.

I lost my voice.

I got a cold and just when I thought it was getting better, I went silent. Suddenly and completely silent.

This had never happened to me before. I always assumed that if you lost your voice, you could still whisper. Not true. Turns out whispering is just as hard on your vocal cords, so even that felt like I was being choked.

I could not voice a single word. No dinnertime conversation with my husband. No phone calls catching up with friends. No laughing. No errands that required conversing with anyone. No idle chatter with my dog.

Someone suggested to me it was like a silent retreat, which I’ve been wanting to do forever. I wish I had the inner strength to treat it as such — but it felt nothing like that. It was stifling and claustrophobic. I felt so miserable and bottled up that I couldn’t even write.

I filled my days with noise. The TV or the stereo was always on, filling the air with sounds I couldn’t express. I had always loved silence. My daily mediation was always so important to me, but now I found the quiet to be excruciating. The solace of silence that had been my savior through the hardest times of my life, was now mocking me.

I got depressed. I looked up voice loss on Web MD. I got more depressed. I was convinced I would be voiceless forever.

After ten days of silence, my throat started to heal and I got my voice back. I wanted to shout from the rooftop. I wanted to express every thought that came into my head. I just wanted to be me again.

For a person who always wants to just slide by and fade quietly into the background, the fact that I was desperate to embrace my me-ness was something of a revelation.

I’ve always been a people-pleaser. Never wanted to rock the boat. Always wanted to be a good girl. To fit in. But when I literally could not speak up and be heard, that was all I wanted.

In losing my voice, I found it again.

I realized that I had been choking my voice in the rest of my life, too. I never wanted people to read my work because I was scared of being vulnerable. The day I got my voice back, I decided to write the book I had been thinking about for years. I decided to start this blog. I decided to stop playing small and hiding from my life.

Having a voice is a precious gift, however you chose use it, by writing, painting, teaching, working out complex mathematical equations or starting a revolution. Sure, you might offend someone by speaking your truth. You might be laughed at or criticized or worst of all – ignored completely.

But all that is preferable to engulfing yourself in silence and never using your voice to better yourself or the world. Because one thing I’ve learned about life – you need to truly show up if you want it to be good.

Like the wise prophets Barenaked Ladies said:

“If I hide myself where ever I go, am I ever really there?”

- For You

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Now and then: lessons from a shelter dog

Three years ago today, my own personal guru moved into our house.

My husband and I went to the animal shelter just to “look.”

We went to look for a puppy. What we found was an eight-year-old malnourished little mutt with eyes that were two different colors. She was not at all what we wanted. We couldn’t imagine adopting a senior dog and having to endure the loss of her so soon. We hadn’t even completely recovered from the loss of Cleo a year earlier.

But when we sat with Grace in the courtyard of the shelter, I burst into tears. J immediately knew that this dog was our dog, because whenever something important happens —  I burst into tears. We decided that we didn’t care how old she was. Whatever time we could have with this sweet soul was completely worth it.

We paid our $50 and we took home our Catahoula leopard dog/blue heeler/who knows what else.

We joyfully surrendered to the unknown.

photo 1

Grace going to her forever home – because who says no to this face?

But Grace was kind of a mess.

We knew very little about her past, other than the fact that she had been living on the streets for a while. Her claws were so long they wrapped around and dug into the pads of her feet. Half of her teeth had to be pulled because they were rotted. She didn’t know how to play. The sound of clapping made her cower. She had terrible nightmares that left her snarling and whimpering and snapping at anything she could reach. Life had not been easy for this dog.

Even with that history, watching her come into her own over the past three years has taught me incredible lessons about stillness, joy, acceptance, love and indeed — grace.

She reminds me that everyone has a past, sometimes wonderful and sometimes challenging. It all needs to be acknowledged, learned from and then let go. I don’t know exactly what Grace has gone through. She has a deep affection for the sound of an ice cream container being opened, so she’s clearly got some fond memories from her old life, too. But really, the details are irrelevant.

That’s the amazing thing about her. Grace doesn’t care if you’re divorced or you got fired or your parents sucked at showing affection. She just cares about this moment right here. How it feels to be present together. Nothing else matters to her.

As I transition from total denial of my former acting career, to embracing it and defining its place in my current life, this is an incredibly valuable lesson.

We all carry connections to our past – as we should – those experiences made us who we are and homage should be paid. Grace still gets excited when she sees a dumpster, since that was presumably the only way she ate for a while. Just like I still retain some of my old acting skills like hitting a mark and memorizing dialogue effortlessly. But those things don’t need to be in the foreground. They don’t need to take precedence over what is going on – just here, just now.

So, Grace and I learn how to put our pasts in the proper place. I still love and accept  her when she feels the need to defend her food, and she does the same for me when I roll my eyes at the red carpet coverage of the Oscars. Then we both take a deep breath and feel grateful that everything that ever happened brought us to this moment right here.

And there is a lot to be grateful for. Grace reminds me that just going for a walk can be the most thrilling experience. And that sometimes sitting quietly on the porch and watching the birds is the best way to spend an afternoon. And that when you love someone unconditionally, you wait for them right outside the bathroom door, because it’s just nice to be close by.

She teaches me that we are all in this together – this struggle to live the best way that we can, deciding how we want to respond to the world around us. We might not have control over everything, but we control our perspective and how we want to live in the uncertainty. Despite everything, Grace has chosen wholehearted joy.

And since we are all in this together, love is always the answer. Whatever wounds we have can be soothed by the love that comes from waiting outside the bathroom door for someone  - when you know they would totally wait for you, too.

Happy birthday, Gracie.

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If you’re a violet, be a violet: thoughts on authenticity

orchid

This is not me. This is an orchid.

My husband is reading this book for work called The Speed of Trust. He was telling me a story from it, that goes something like this:

The president of a university was preparing for a fancy dinner in his home. There were going to be government officials and major donors and other fancy people in attendance. As they were setting up, a delivery of beautiful, elaborate flower centerpieces arrived, which had been ordered by the development office of the university. But the president’s wife came to him and said there was a problem. The housekeeper had already prepared centerpieces: single violets that she had picked from the garden and placed in butter dishes. The president looked at the fancy flowers and said “No problem. Just send the flower arrangements back to the florist. We already have the centerpieces that Lola made.”

This story takes my breath away.

It’s supposed to be a story about respect, but it also signifies something else to me. It’s a reminder how beautiful it is when someone lives authentically and doesn’t cave to the grandiose expectations of others. For many of us, the simplest thing is the best thing.

Sometimes I feel like a violet in a butter dish, surrounded by exotic arrangements. Right now, my book agent is sending the manuscript of my memoir out to publishers. As I learn my way through this process, I hear that what “sells” in actor memoir is drama. Rehab, Twitter fights, scandals…those long, ugly roads that I intentionally bypassed.

My book doesn’t have those things. It has similar stories and themes as this blog – the challenges of growing up, figuring out who you are, and balancing that with what is expected of you. It’s about those real life questions we all wrestle with, like how do we peel ourselves off the couch after we’ve had our hearts broken? How much do we give up so we can discover our true purpose in life? It’s about the ways we are all the same and why it’s never to late to write the script for your own life.

The point is: if you are a violet in a butter dish, there is no use in trying to be an exotic, towering orchid. And if you are an orchid, it’s pointless to try to be a violet. One is not better or worse. They are just different. The real value comes in living whoever you are with wholeheartedness.

But it seems that because I don’t have orchid-type drama, it’s more challenging to convince publishers that people actually want to read that. According to those rules, if I would just have a psychotic breakdown and/or get a bikini wax on a reality television show, I would write a better book.

Sometimes that is frustrating, but this flower story reminds me that I don’t write for the people who just want orgies and car crashes. I don’t do it to be famous or to sell more copies than a Real Housewife. I am not going to dress myself up like an orchid and climb into a tiny box that someone else created, just to sell books. It’s not worth it.

I write for me. I write because it’s the air I breathe and it’s the way I relate to the world.

I also write for you. I write for people who love to read and love to connect. I write for those who feel that words have the power to change things. Inspire people. Provide comfort when everything looks dark and scary.

That’s why I write.  And why I will keep writing. I thank you for reading the words of a happy little violet in a butter dish.

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Conversations in Common: March Madness Edition

When it really comes down to it – we’re all the same.

Even, unfathomably, me and this guy. This is my friend Jim Miller.

LJ7

Jim and I have many things in common. Like:

- we were both more famous in the 80s than we are now
- we both wore short shorts for our jobs*
- we both retired in our 20s and needed to figure out what the hell to do next

But unlike me, Jim wasn’t an actor – he played basketball. When we first met, I didn’t know anything about him. I was mostly just concerned that the 17-inch hight difference between us meant that I needed to talk louder. But, it turns out that he could hear me just fine up there and we became friends.

And then people said stuff to me, like “Do you know who that is? That’s Jimmy Miller.”

There were actually italics in their voices.

The italics were well earned. Jim was MVP of the 1984 NCAA Eastern Regional championships as the University of Virginia advanced to the Final Four. He was a Parade All American, Converse Academic All American, he won a Hertz Number One Award that OJ Simpson presented to him (and no, he’s not sure how to feel about that either). He played with Ralph Sampson. He was drafted by the Utah Jazz. He played in Austria and Spain. He was on little cards looking very sporty, like this:

BiJ4ZJ0IYAEKe7s

Photo courtesy of Rachel Miller

After years of having people whispering about me, now they were whispering to me, about Jim.

Let me make something clear: I think Jim was more famous than me. There was actually a POSTER of him that college students used to hang in their dorms. Sure, I was on the Mrs. Doubtfire poster but I was one of five people, and my face was mostly obscured by Robin Williams’ breast. So I’m pretty sure this means Jim was more famous than me.

But regardless of who was more famous, we have a lot in common and that’s incredibly comforting since I have spent so much of my life feeling like a weirdo. It’s good to know that other people have left high-profile careers and are doing just fine.

I sat down with Jim recently to talk about his past and his experience with retirement – things we had never talked about before. After several hours of comparing notes, I was even more reassured that the superficial differences between people are so misleading.

When he thinks back on his career, his favorite things sound just like mine. He found that relationships and travel were the most rewarding part of his job. It wasn’t all about the fancy things like sitting in the VIP section of a club on Sunset with Lawrence Fishburne. It wasn’t all about the awards that he keeps in his basement somewhere. It was about the people. The places. The experiences.

I was most interested in how he made his decision to retire, and wondered if it had been as difficult as my decision had been. After being drafted by an NBA team and released, Jim was playing in the Continental Basketball Association – the minor leagues – playing with guys who were 10 years older than him. They were well into their 30s and still clung to their hopes of playing in the NBA. That possibility became less likely by the year, but they were still chasing the dream. Seeing that made Jim realize that he didn’t “want to be one of those guys, lost in the CBA.”

That instantly reminded me of a very similar moment in my life. I was siting in a waiting room in a casting office. It had taken me two hours in L.A. traffic to get to the audition and it wasn’t even a script I was excited about. I saw a woman in her 40s come out of what must have been a bad audition. She looked exhausted and decided to take it out on the receptionist and yell at her about why they didn’t validate parking.

There are moments in any profession where we get a glimpse of our own future – and it might not jive with what we want for ourselves. I was 22 years old. I really didn’t want to be 40 and still going to crappy auditions where they decided to hire the buxom blond instead. I didn’t have a devotion to the work that could fuel me through the hard times.

Jim and I talked about the difficulty of deciding to retire, even when the job was not fulfilling anymore. With professions like ours, you feel obligated to stick it out, give it one last try. But, finally, he said you just have to “have your ‘Come to Jesus’ moment and look in the mirror” and make the hard decision.

In his mid-20s, Jim retired from basketball – the thing that had been the center of his life since he was 9 years old. He had to figure out who he was beneath the basketball player, but he felt that since all his energy had been so focused, he was not properly trained for the world outside of professional sports.  I totally related – it seemed that neither one of us had any direction after retirement. So, he took to a trial and error approach, just like I did.

We both felt the pressure to do something “important” to fill that void. We needed to do something that somehow justified our decision to leave. Something that seemed just as cool. But really, what were either of us going to do to fill the massive void left by Hollywood or professional sports? Those careers have been idolized to such a degree (just check out E! or ESPN for a reminder of the extent of the hero-worshiping) that it’s hard to imagine where you go from there that doesn’t seem like a disappointment to other people.

But as Jim said, it can be really dangerous when you tie up your self esteem with what other people think of you. Because then you are living for others, not yourself. Your sense of self-worth needs to come from somewhere else, somewhere deeper than your resume. But that can be difficult when you’ve tied up your identity with one thing for so long.

Jim now loves being a husband, a dad and running his own financial consulting firm. He talks about this phase of life being his halftime. He is assessing the things that looked important in the first half of his life, and seeing if they still deserve his focus and energy. He is making adjustments. He is choosing to do some things differently in the second half. He’s not afraid to change the line up of his priorities.

I find that so inspiring, because I think many of us operate from a place of momentum. We do what we’ve always done. We think we are too busy/tired/stubborn to do something different, even if it would make a huge difference to the quality of our lives.

But if we can just give ourselves a little break and really examine where we are, we can get back out there even stronger and play this life according to our own rules.

*proof of Jim and I in our short shorts.

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Jim, playing for the University of Virginia. Me in Independence Day.

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Flying in full color: how to travel without getting divorced

Travel tip #1 : get good at waiting

Travel tip #1 : get good at waiting in airport lounges

I’m a travel junkie.

I want to go everywhere.

I don’t care to spend money on jewelry or shoes or a new car. Just give me Southern Africa or Honduras or Tuscany. When I check into some tiny, dimly-lit hotel that is run by a little family and their mangy dog –  that’s my happy place. My husband and I are starting to make some international travel plans for this year, so I thought I’d share my hard-won travel tips.

For the sake of preserving your relationship with your partner, it’s important to expel any preconceived romantic notions of traveling.

The actual traveling – the airport, plane, train, bus and taxi –  is about as romantic as bedbugs. You will not have bathed, eaten properly, nor slept a reclining position in an inordinate amount of time. You will be uncertain of what possessed you to leave your own zip code.

He will be worse.

He will smell like a sweaty donkey and will make stupid jokes to the guy at the check-in counter. He will not stop bouncing his leg.

I don’t recommend watching those old movies with the soft, dreamy, black and white travel scenes on ships or trains. It will skew your expectations. In reality, you will not be wearing one of those pillbox hats with the net thingy over your face. You have no hankie to wave. It will be nothing like that. Watching those films and thinking it should be like that, will just break your heart and cause you to wonder why your spouse is not acting like Cary Grant.

You did not marry Cary Grant. You did marry the live man that is standing next to you in the Munich airport, giggling at the prevalence of German porn.

But don’t go thinking you are some great prize at the moment, either. Your pants that still have something sticky on them where you sat on something sticky at the train station. Your underwear, (not the fun “vacation panties” that you have stashed in the bottom of the suitcase) will be the same underwear you have been wearing – if you have calculated time zones correctly – for three days.

So if you must, go ahead and watch the romantic travel films of the 1930s and smile smugly because you know it’s all a big myth. Because the sooner you get to that place where you smile kindly when the stupid jokes are made and the taxi driver uses twine to keep the passenger side door shut — the better your world will be.

Because then, without resorting to murder or divorce, you arrive at your destination and are confronted with all the wonderful and terrible experiences that come with being in a foreign place and needing to learn how to use a composting toilet.

That’s when you understand who you really are.

Being removed from everything that is familiar uncovers aspects of you that lay dormant at home. You look at your Not Cary Grant and watch him come into his own perfect focus.  You’re able to unabashedly adore his floundering attempts to use Pimsleur’s Beginning Italian to talk his way out of a parking ticket in Lucca. You will respect his willingness to try the pile of “meat” that the street vendor in Cape Town just offered him. The conversations that arise while enjoying trdelnik at the Prague Christmas market have a different depth than the ones occurring in real life, which tend to be interrupted by the need to switch the clothes from the washer to dryer.

Travel strips you down. By removing the veil of habit, routine and conventional existence, travel reveals who you both truly are.

So go, even though travel can be uncomfortable and dirty and exhausting. Forget how you think things are supposed to go and embrace the unknown. Go see the world – go get lost and get found.

There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.*

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Weighing in on weighing in: celebrity gossip

As per usual, there have been a lot of celebrities in the news lately. It’s all:

  • Shia LaBeouf
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman
  • Justin Bieber
  • Woody Allen

And I wonder if I should write about these things. Sometimes people expect me to have opinions, perspectives and profound thoughts that shed some new light on the drama. I’ve written about those things a couple of times in the past and the articles tend to get shared a lot and the blog hits go through the roof.

But it just doesn’t feel right to me.

Because really, I can’t explain why Philip Seymour Hoffman fell off the wagon after 24 years and why Shia LaBouf put a paper bag on his head. I’d just be speculating and rambling and really – I don’t think it’s any of my business.

I tried writing something about Justin Bieber a while ago. Something about how I, too, was once a 19-year old Canadian with questionable decision-making skills. But after I wrote it, I thought “so what?” This is not what I care about anymore. I deleted it.

Sometimes I wonder if all this celebrity media attention is not just a big distraction so that we don’t have to sit quietly with ourselves and our own lives. It’s way more fun to judge Justin Bieber than it is to deal with my own shit. Criticizing someone else’s life means I have less time to notice the ways that I deal with the world. But spending my time condemning others is not really going to make my life –  or anyone else’s – any better.

So what do I care about? I care about the stuff that we all go through. The stuff that is messy and complicated and in need of constant re-examination. The stuff that keeps us all up at night. I care about trying to figure out how to be an authentic person when so much in our culture is centered around image and status. I care about contributing to the world even though the problems are so much bigger than me. I care about finding different definitions of success. I care about life lessons I’ve learned from my dog.

I’d really like to avoid having posts on here that are like – “Huh. Yeah. I donno. Some people are weird, I guess.” I’m just going to write about things when I feel I have something worthwhile to offer to the public conversation. I’ve decided that sometimes it’s okay to just be quiet.

It’s not that all celebrity commentary is trite. There are people who write about entertainment issues and do it really well. My faux little sister Mara Wilson is one of those people who does it thoughtfully, while offering insight and wit. But I realized that I can’t do it and feel like my authentic self. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate these waters of being me, and this particular channel is too turbulent.

Instead of writing something about Woody Allen and feeling like a fraud, I’m just going to stick to the things that are really important: how to survive almost being killed by a manatee.

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The Tiger Mother: race, success and lessons on the wrong thing

The Tiger Mother is at it again. She’s getting folks all riled up by saying that the parenting style of some groups (such as Chinese, Indians and Mormons) primes their kids for success more than others.  Personally, I can’t offer any opinion on parenting, since we’ve not chosen to go the kid route. My only parenting advice is that liver treats work well for convincing Grace to not attack the neighbor dog.

People are getting all flustered about the racial implications of what she’s saying – but I keep coming back to one thing:

What the hell does “success” mean?

Tiger mom says it’s clear – income, occupational status and test scores. That kind of makes sense. It’s a nice, clean, empirical way of measuring something.

  • Higher income = more success
  • Higher status = more success
  • Higher test scores = more success

That seems to be a widely accepted definition in our society. But I’m not sure I like it. By those measurable accounts, I was much more successful when I was 15 than I am at 35. Twenty years ago, I had:

  • Higher income – I got paid more.
  • Higher status - I was more “famous” (whatever that creepy word means).
  • Higher test scores – I rarely went to school, but the movie marketing people told me that I “tested well” with screening audiences, which resulted in more work.

But what about…oh, I don’t know…happiness? Where does that rank? What about passion? Purpose? Authenticity? How do you measure that stuff and roll it up into success? In our culture it’s pretty simple: you don’t. You toss them to the side because you can’t buy yourself a boat with purpose.

I have so much more joy and passion now than I did when I was an actor, but those intangibles don’t seem to carry as much weight in some circles.

I recently made a list of the things that equal a successful life for myself. It mostly had to do with my family and friends, contributing to the greater good and taking care of my mind, body and spirit. None of them had to do with being on the cover of People Magazine.

But it took me a while to develop this way of thinking. When I left my acting career, I was scared of what people would think. Would I get thrown in a pile of useless “has beens”? Was I, at 22, washed up and destined to never do anything as good ever again?

I went through a phase where I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I even visited a law school to sit in on classes and went to their campus store and looked longingly at the sweatshirts. At least if I was a lawyer, I’d have a fancy degree I could wave around. Something that proved to other people that I was still worth something.

It finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be a lawyer (no offense to the lawyers out there…especially my dad). I was just trying to feel like I had a justified place in the world and people would think that I was still successful. But what I really wanted was to be a writer. That less prestigious, less financially rewarding occupation was what made my heart flutter.

Ambition is wonderful. But I was being ambitious about the wrong things.  What I really wanted was a life that really fed my soul – not just my bank account and other people’s opinions of me.

Being successful now means that my life has meaning. Being “known” never made me feel successful. Doing interviews didn’t do that. Getting invited to fancy parties didn’t do that.

What does make me feel successful is volunteering to clean litter boxes and write thank you notes at the animal shelter. Or getting an email from someone who was touched by something I wrote on this blog – which I offer for free and get paid absolutely nothing. Or making my husband laugh.

So, what if we thought about success differently? What if we thought about:

  • passion instead of income?
  • authenticity instead of status?
  • happiness instead of test scores?

I’m not sure that the Tiger mom would understand, but you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to go back to being “successful.” I’ll take my poorly-paying, lower-status profession that makes me deliriously happy. And besides, I don’t think lawyers are allowed to wear sweatpants to work.

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“So, what is Robin Williams like?”

Sometimes I try to estimate how many times I’ve been asked this question over the years.

And if you replace Robin’s name with Will Smith/Pierce Brosnan/Sally Field/Timothy Dalton….

Innumerable times.

I understand why. These people are beloved. Folks want to know if he was funny or she was nice or he was high. I get it.

But I’m curious, how do people expect me to answer? All of those actors were lovely and that’s how I respond. But even if they weren’t – I’m NEVER going to say that. Why would I slam anyone to you, a person who I just met at the grocery store? Would you say something other than “they’re great” about your co-workers to a random person in the cereal aisle?

I guess people want a funny little tidbit about what that famous person was like, but here’s the truth — I am too preoccupied trying to look composed while chatting with a stranger and simultaneously attempting to hide the dandruff shampoo in my cart to come up with a pithy story at that moment. Plus the fact that it was like, 20 years ago, and many of those stories are not crystal clear anymore.

It also brings up another uncomfortable aspect of this whole thing. If that’s the first/only thing you ask me – maybe you don’t really care anything about me as a person. Maybe you are just using me to get a story about someone else. It’s like having a super popular older brother and everyone just wants to know about him.

I’m interesting, too. Not because I might be able to tell you something funny about Robin Williams, but because I’ve danced in the baraat at an Indian wedding, once fed carrots to a wallaby and have undergone hypnosis. And I’ll bet you’re interesting, too, but I’ll never know because I’m trying to come up with a cute story you can retweet.

But since I still get asked, I’ll go on autopilot and say the thing I’ve said a bajillion times:

“Yeah, he/she was really great…”

And it will be true.

But I’ll always wonder if there wasn’t a more interesting conversation we could have had.

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