The Happiest I Ever Was in Australia

DISCLAIMER: This post is really just to help me work through what's been a particularly hard year. Also just feel a need to put this all down somewhere for future reference. Apologies for the rather melancholy tone throughout.


Introduction

This time last year, I was quietly wandering around a Fijian island bracing myself for the adventure of a lifetime. I celebrated my birthday among strangers and resort staff who knew me only by my initials. I had spent half a year back in my childhood bedroom as an unemployed college graduate, and a reality competition show came along before a job did.

Suddenly, a million opportunities lit up behind my eyes. I saw financial stability. I saw independence. I saw business plans. I saw the ability to pursue my dream work without risk. I felt the world's grasp around my wrist finally start to loosen.

A turbulent year later, everything is different. Those opportunities all vanished on the beach. That grasp has never felt tighter. But I'm shaking my hand more furiously than ever before.

I remember talking with Survivor's therapist the day after my early elimination. She had me go through my goals for when I got home. The most important ones were as follows:

  1. Move out of my parents' house and into NYC.
  2. Get a full time job.
  3. Take voice acting classes and pursue it as a potential profession.

Part One: Insane, Momentary Highs and Harsh, Lengthy Lows.

For me, moving back home felt like failure. I had spent months applying to jobs and internships, fully expecting to leave school into work. In particular, I just barely missed out on an internship at NPR's Ask Me Another, a show I wanted to work at for years. And after graduating, I would no longer be eligible for that internship. There was no reapplying. Going back to my childhood bedroom was admitting defeat.

A few months later, I was confirmed for the cast of season 36. The minutes after that phone call were the most blissful, pulse-pounding moments of excitement I think I've ever felt. I had spent months doing nothing but hoping that my efforts would be worth it.

I banked on winning some money from the show. Enough to move out, hopefully to Brooklyn or somewhere else in New York City. I would be surrounded by potential work and creative opportunities in a city I'd grown up outside of, but always wanted to explore further.

When Survivor went so incredibly wrong, it lit a fire under my ass. It wasn't about creative exploration or personal freedom anymore. It was almost out of spite. I felt the world laughing in my face (both figuratively and literally, given how I expected to be portrayed on the show at the time). I needed to prove I could still be my own person. I made plans, but they would have to wait. Even when you're voted out on day six, you still have to hang around Fiji, and then go on a trip with the rest of the early boots to keep secrets from getting out.

The pre-jury experience was a tough one. I became reclusive and resentful of my situation. I felt uncomfortable more often than not. I was incredibly lonely, and found myself mostly incapable of connecting with my fellow pre-jurors the way I'd hoped to. Occasionally, some wild Australian escapade would bring a smile to my face. But the moment I was alone in my hotel room again, I would have imaginary conversations with people back in the States. I filled journals with confessional-strewn love letters to friends back home that I would never send. I stayed in bed a lot.

While others bonded, I binged Australian Masterchef and Big Little Lies. I purchased comics and poetry books. I attempted to keep a persistent sadness at bay with whatever media I had available. And it wasn't working. The only thing I accomplished was distancing myself from the rest of the group while simultaneously raising concern over my well-being. And, no offense to my travel partners, they were helping about as much as I was helping myself, which wasn't much.


Part Two: Luck

I hit the ground running as soon as I got home. There was not another second available for self-loathing and waiting around. Within a few days, I had signed up for my first voice acting class in Manhattan. Within three weeks, I locked down both a full-time position as an Assistant Preschool Teacher and a part-time position as a Music Educator at a Brooklyn synagogue. Around the same time, a random chance encounter with a friend-of-a-friend got me set up with an affordable apartment in Brooklyn, which I moved into just over a month after getting back from Fiji.

Suddenly, I was doing all the things I knew I needed to do. The work was exhausting and unfamiliar (I'd never worked in a preschool before) but I was learning on the job. I was getting to know the communities I was working within. I didn't have much free time, but I was making a good living and saving up for the future.

But of course, a coin has two sides. Even the luckiest of us eventually land on tails. And I was far from the luckiest. The loneliness I felt in Australia reemerged in full-force. A combination of legitimate alienation by old friends and internal anxiety sent me into a full-blown downward spiral. I would come home at the end of the day and curse myself out while preparing dinner. Or as I put it in an email to a therapist:

"...the moment I was alone at home, back in my apartment, I was trying to figure out exactly why I’m such a screw-up."

It was early October, and I'd already found myself in trouble. But I couldn't run away to a game show or abandon my students for my childhood bed. I needed to address the issue, whatever it was, head-on. Soon I began to see a therapist once a week after work to help me out. Throughout Autumn and Winter I became constantly sick, likely as a result of working with children six days a week. But between September and today, I have only ever taken one sick day off of work due to an intense migraine, and three vacation days in order to attend the season's reunion show. That's it. I couldn't let the weight of my stress or the sniffles stop me from earning my paycheck. Stability and independence were too important to me.


Part Three: Endeavors

I found myself excelling in my voice over class in the Fall, receiving consistent praise from our established instructor and fellow amateur and professional students alike. In one odd but insightful exercise, each student was asked to record a quick 15-second ad for A1 Steak Sauce. We then listened to each recording as a class and each picked whose interpretation we would choose to use in the final commercial. A majority of the class chose my reading as their top pick. It's silly to say the least, but it was the first time I truly realized that I might be cut out for this line of work.

After a private coaching session with another seasoned pro at the studio, I decided it was time to invest in a demo reel, which I recorded on Tuesday. The next step will be to send it to every agency in the New York area and beyond in hopes of turning this curiosity into a legitimate career. By the end of the summer, I hope to have a plethora of auditions under my belt, and hopefully some work in the commercial VO world.

I'm putting quite a bit of pressure on me to make a name for myself in the New York voice over scene as quickly as humanly possible. It's not easy work to get. Like any other acting job, there's hundreds if not thousands of others similar to you who are also applying.

But you know what? I think I can do it. I have the confidence of several voice acting veterans/directors/casting directors behind me. I'm building my own network of people in the business with endeavors of their own. And above all, I enjoy the work. I enjoy the medium. I've always wanted to be a voice actor, even if it means starting out in the commercial world rather than the animation one like I may have planned at the beginning of this studio adventure.

And if I fail? Again? If that record skips and skips some more? Well, I'll have to figure out what to do when that happens. But as a wise woman once told me, "you could die tomorrow. So might as well try."

And so I will try.


Conclusion

22 was a hard year. Dreams crashed into the South Pacific. Work was chaotic and never ending. Dear friends were lost and experiences were wasted. But I'm forced to acknowledge what those primary goals of mine were.

  1. Move out of my parents' house and into NYC.
  2. Get a full time job.
  3. Take voice acting classes and pursue it as a potential profession.

Things fell apart, but I built the pillars I wanted to stand on from the wreckage. My emotional health suffered, but I have help. And the friends who have stuck with me through the turbulence mean more to me than ever before. 23 will have its fair share of challenges, but I will persist; 22 can't be for nothing.

I love you very much.

And now, here's a picture of me at my happiest during our Australia vacation.

 At a touristy hostel in Cairns, my travel partners encouraged me to sign up for a weekly talent show, despite never having seen me perform for an audience. I played  Revelation Song , a song about a variety of places that most of the European audience had probably never heard of. I have no idea how good the performance truly was, but it felt good.  I did not win the talent show. I ended up losing to a young male backpacker who stripped down to a thong resembling a crocodile who proceeded to shotgun a beer. But something about that felt more right than winning free drinks I wouldn't drink.

At a touristy hostel in Cairns, my travel partners encouraged me to sign up for a weekly talent show, despite never having seen me perform for an audience. I played Revelation Song, a song about a variety of places that most of the European audience had probably never heard of. I have no idea how good the performance truly was, but it felt good.

I did not win the talent show. I ended up losing to a young male backpacker who stripped down to a thong resembling a crocodile who proceeded to shotgun a beer. But something about that felt more right than winning free drinks I wouldn't drink.