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  • Writer's pictureMillie Liao

Losing And Refinding Your Passion

I've been fortunate enough to have a family who supported me throughout pursuing my acting career, starting with moving to Los Angeles four years ago to study at LA County High School for the Arts, and start acting professionally.


But after getting here, and sort of being "set loose" into the big, wide, world, I realized that really, I don't have more than a clue of what I was doing.

Lesson Number One: If the pool is big and deep and wide, never jump in headfirst if you can help it.


I'm all for taking risks, don't get me wrong, but once I came to LA I was hit with the reality that my big dreams simply did not coordinate with reality- wanting to become an actress, or see my face on a billboard, etc. etc. simply didn't happen overnight, even if I moved to the biggest city for show business.


If I had perhaps planned a little more thoroughly, thought through a five-year plan for myself, or paced myself, I could've prevented a lot of the pain and obstacles that slowed my progress towards my goals and dreams. So while many people will tell you to "chase your dreams," I would say YES, go chase them, but make sure you get a clear view and assessment of the track first so you know how long you're going to have to run, and what the terrain's going to be like.


Being prepared is key to being successful in almost everything in life, and because I did not pace myself in the mega-marathon that is being a professional actor, I ended up getting burnt out really fast. After signing with my first agent, sending out as many self tapes as I could, doing any acting projects I could find no matter the size / with or without pay on Actors Access, I suddenly found myself losing the flame that burned so brightly within me just one year ago.


By the time COVID hit, I had already lost sight of my ultimate goal to work towards acting as a stable career, and divulged into any and all other interests that caught my attention. Being moved from the relatively small pond of Novi, Michigan to Los Angeles, California exposed me to so many opportunities aside from acting almost immediately that I got distracted and lost my drive to single-mindedly pursue my beloved craft. COVID only worsened this as I was unable to "really" engage with theatre except for online, so I found other ways to spend my time and feel like I was accomplishing something.


This isn't to say that all of the other interests I pursued were useless, but rather (and this is not a good or a bad thing necessarily) they made me lose sight of what I moved to LA for- to pursue my dream of acting professionally.


This brings me to the central topic of this blog post- the periods of time where I lost my love for acting. I say "periods" because this isn't a set time frame, but rather moments in time and pauses between one project or another where I felt like I truly just couldn't go on.


Even now, I'm not sure if I can say that I always, in every single moment, know that acting is what I want to do for the rest of my life and as a professional career. Thinking about going to college in an acting conservatory, and just honing my craft for 12 hours of my day actually physically makes me cringe and want to pull my eyeballs out.


But at the same time, I can't deny that I don't want to give up on acting, and I don't think I ever will entirely give up- it's just that I've realized my love for my craft isn't something that's steadfast and constant and unchanging, but something that shifts with time and with life experiences.


Let me explain- for me, as I began to understand the reality of what it meant to pursue acting professionally - living an extremely unstable lifestyle, auditioning often but never getting a role, enjoying every project you land but not knowing how much the time and space will be until your next one, and ultimately having to confront self-doubt and insecurity at every twist and turn. Oftentimes, it's been heartbreaking and exhausting to put my entire heart and soul into an audition, only to not even get a callback for it.


Sometimes, sending in self tapes feels dreadful to me, like something I'm just wasting my time on doing because at the end of the day, I won't be getting a callback anyways. It feels like I'm just holding out until I get my next project, but I keep on getting closer and closer to just giving up altogether and never sending in another self tape.


Furthermore, I get frustrated during the long periods when there aren't any self tapes to film at all- it's depressing to go long stretches of time without auditioning because that's when you know for sure that you won't be getting any work anytime soon.


Ultimately, the entire process of acting can be summarized in this quote one of my teachers at my school once said: "they pay me to audition, not to act." In other words, actually acting isn't the job, because that's the fun part- the part that's the job is getting yourself to do your best and film the self tape, edit it, and submit it, even if it comes to no fruition and it feels pointless.


For me, someone who is very goal-oriented and needs outward validation to prove that I am worth something, this is quite the nightmare and dilemma. Not being able to have a stable source of fulfillment as I was only able to be on set once or twice a year made me feel like I lost the love that pulled me towards acting in the first place- the joy of getting to be a character and share that character's story with the world.


Lesson Number Two: When burnt out, find small ways to slowly rekindle the flame.


It was after having many bouts of self-doubt, borderline self-hatred and frustration for not being good enough, that I realized that something needed to change. I couldn't live dormantly, in a state of waiting for something to happen, for a project to hire me. But I also couldn't continue distracting myself with other miscellaneous interests in an unproductive way, that ultimately left me feeling still unsatisfied with myself.


So I set out to find activities that could make me feel fulfilled during the long pauses between acting projects, while also honing my craft in a way that was healthy and helped me combat my burnout.


I knew that acting classes weren't the way to go for me, because I spent half of my day at an arts high school doing acting classes already. But on the other hand, what worked for me was trying to incorporate acting into daily moments of my life. By this, I don't mean pretending to be a character on the street or psyching people out- I mean imagining myself as a movie character, a book character, or a character I just make up on the spot when I'm doing my homework alone in my room. I ponder what it would mean for this character to be experiencing this night, and try to outwardly express that in my mannerisms. Another exercise I do is creating characters based on whatever song I'm listening to, and then act out them singing the song or just speaking the lyrics.


As someone who's very imaginative, these exercises really feed my creative brain, by allowing me to have fun with my acting. I also enjoy watching good acting- in movies, in TV shows, in dramas (see my k-drama review section of my blog for more...), etc. I love watching breakdowns of cinema on YouTube so that I can see from an audience perspective what worked in the acting and what didn't.


But most of all, protecting my passion has been immensely helpful and important. Before, I tried to ignore the gaping hole that occurred every time I pretended that I no longer cared about acting, or felt like I had lost my purpose of coming to LA. Because I was "failing" in that moment, by not realizing my dream, by not actively working towards it in some way, I felt that I wasn't worthy of even recognizing it or acknowledging its presence. This is what truly destroyed my love for acting at some points in my past four years of living here.


However, I've now learned how important it is to protect the little flame that burns within me, screaming "I LOVE ACTING!!!" because it is necessary to continuing on this difficult, unstable life path. I'm still working on this- sometimes, I protect my passion in unhealthy ways, like guilt-tripping myself over everything others have given and sacrificed for me in order to allow me to pursue acting. But this is not an ideal way to go about staying passionate, because it also makes you dangerously desperate and frantic, which is never good for a race like a multi-marathon where pacing is the key to success and survival. Instead, I try to use healthy methods of protecting my passion by practicing mindfulness, meditating, and studying acting outside of just doing it- researching on how theatre can positively affect others, taking courses on different modes and methods of performance, etc. etc.


(I like listening to music, podcasts, and watching YT videos while meditating/in order to practice mindfulness!!)


I hope that no matter what it is that all of you decide to pursue as you grow up, you remember and take away from my experiences this lesson: that you should prepare your best by getting as deep of an understanding as possible of what you're getting into when you decide to pursue your dreams, and ask yourself whether you can stay in it and brave the obstacles to get there. Once you're sure, and you're prepared and ready, remind yourself that progress is rarely ever stable and steady. You can lose your love for your craft, it's okay, as long as you still have that passion for it burning inside you, it will naturally find its way back to you, or you can take the initiative to refind it again by trying new methods.


I hope that you all will take something positive away from this blog post, as I don't want this to be hindering you from going out and getting what you want. I just want to make sure you know what you need to know, what I didn't know, so that you can succeed faster and brighter, because that is what you deserve.


Shine on, friends! Best of luck in all of your future pursuits, and I'm cheering you on. Let's keep at this together and reach our dreams.


With love,


Millie

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