This Time Last Year

The Facebook feature I resent most is “On This Day”.

I could be going about my day, feeling like a completely normal, confident and fully-fledged grown-up, when I get the notification that “On This Day” 11 years ago High School Gina posted some embarrassingly angsty, passive aggressive status and actual people in the world saw it and associated my name with such profound immaturity.

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On the other hand, while I find myself cringing as these notifications inevitably lead me down a shame spiral, I do have to examine–with a certain degree of awe–just how far I’ve come. And you know what? It’s something to be not-so-ashamed of. I would even go as far as to say, it’s something to be proud of…

I was on a 15 minute break from a weekend-long yoga teacher training when I got a notification that reminded me that this time last year, I had just received a call from Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The voice on the phone offered me an understudy contract in the play, Baskerville. In that moment, driving down the interstate after having taught a yoga class with a disappointing turn out, I thought this voice on the phone was uttering the words that were going to change the state of my life as I knew it. However, as some of you might know from What I’m Doing While I’m Not Acting, the Philly experience lead me to my breaking point rather than my “big break”. I now think in terms of the “Before Philly Days” and “Post-Philly Days” because after Philly I finally drew a line in the sand. I finally decided to say “NO!” (or rather, scream it. In the movie in my mind, I’m screaming this declaration of independence from a rooftop bar with a glass of champagne in one hand and a burning headshot in the other.) to this career path that required so much personal sacrifice, but in turn gave me so little.

I was literally in Restorative yoga training; in the midst of filling my notebook and my brain with ideas of how to invite others to relax with a multitude of pillows, blankets, soothing incenses and recordings of Tibetan chants, when I realized: “This time last year I was the most anxious I had ever been in my life”. This time last year I was thrilled to get that phone call from Walnut Street Theatre because I thought it would save me from…

A) Admitting that I was in an unfulfilling, go-nowhere relationship that I was too scared to examine

B) Working 40+ hours teaching yoga, acting, nannying and doing odd side jobs (not to mention all the hours I invested in constantly interviewing for seemingly better jobs), but only making about $200 a week

and

C) Renting a room in a friend’s home— a home that didn’t have heat and that neither of us could afford to fix

And yet, immediately after I accepted the contract, brand new anxieties bubbled to the surface (“How will I make this work financially?”, “Is this really helping my career?”) and  when I arrived in Philly, even more anxieties reared their ugly head (“Am I really just not good enough?”, “This was a big mistake”). It was ten times harder than I ever thought it would be, and it was twenty times harder to move on from than any other impactful experience in my life. This time last year I had no idea that the worst was yet to come.

As I ate Thanksgiving dinner with my parents in Tallahassee a little over a week ago, I couldn’t help but think that this time last year I was instead at the dinner table with my ex-boyfriend’s family. His mom had delightfully announced that I was just offered a contract in Philadelphia. I remember everyone exchanging pleasantries and congratulations, while internally I was fighting back tears. I didn’t think that relationship was strong enough to hold up long distance, but I didn’t dare touch on any topic that might be categorized as a “serious” talk. I wasn’t confident that the contract was actually all I was banking on it being, but I felt so useless in my current positions and so behind in my field in general, that I thought I had no other choice but to pursue this opportunity. So, I was shaking with fear behind a bright and cheerful smile. The word “thankful” took on a whole new meaning this Thanksgiving when I bit into our Costco turkey, offering some to my dog, knowing that this time last year I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone another living thing. 

A few days ago I was journalling when I decided–against my better judgement— to flip back through the old and forgotten pages of the first few entries. I saw that this time last year my most commonly used words were “stressed”, “unsure”, and “stupid”. I circled the word “hurt” about thirty times over just three entries. My apparent favorite phrase, “I’m just sad” was only occasionally swapped out for, “I’m just not in a good place right now”. Most shocking, more than once I posed the question, “Why am I never anyone’s first pick?” I decided to rip out all the pages dated November 2017, crumble them up and throw them in the trash. This time last year I wasn’t even my own first pick, but today I take immense pleasure in the right to choose my happiness first every time.

This time last year I lived out of two suitcases and the weight of those two suitcases felt like the weight of every material pleasure I would never have– my own space to call home, a set of dishes to eat off of, a closet to hang my clothes, a bed to sleep in. Today I have an apartment all to myself and I regularly allow myself the luxury of daydreaming about how I’ll fill the space.

A couple of weeks ago the universe throw me an absurd challenge. It’s been months since my last audition, and yet I was randomly offered two different acting contracts at two companies that I love and respect within less than 24 hours. This time last year I would have been so desperate for anything that would give me validation as an artist that I would have instantly booked a flight and quit my day job before even drafting an acceptance email or signing the contract. Today I humbly declined both offers because I am pleased to say that I have a full-time job, a lease and a dog that prevents me from impulsively fleeing town on a whim, a hope, and a prayer.

This time last year I would have been devastated to know that my boyfriend would eventually leave me. I would have felt an even more intense version of the raw pain and rejection I actually felt when he stated matter-factly, “You just aren’t a priority”. This time last year, those words would have pierced through by very fragile being. Today, I refuse to let another person’s lack of emotional maturity and fear of commitment say anything about my self worth.

I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you would have told me that in a year’s time I’d have a full-time job where I’m valued and able to be artistic. I would have laughed if you told me I’d sign a lease, shocked to find out that I’d be sitting here now writing my innermost thoughts for the internet’s perusal, and I would have been baffled to know that I would someday in the near future put all my nurturing energies towards mentoring young performers and taking care of a dog rather than a man who took me for granted. Most of all, I think I would feel relief that I wouldn’t have to be the person I presently was for much longer and that my life as it was wasn’t the end of my story. Looking back, I can see that my unhappiness was largely impacted by a feeling of rejection. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere– in the theatre industry, with my family, or with my friends and boyfriend in Nashville. No place felt like the right place and no one could give me the solutions and comfort I was looking for. I’m currently in the middle of Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst (Highly, HIGHLY recommend!) and while having my mind blown on every other page, I found the perfect quote to sum up the pain that I was experiencing this time last year and why every “No” I heard from the 47 auditions I attended stung so deeply…

When someone of great significance in our lives makes us feel like our belonging is more of a question than a security blanket, we become sensitive to even the slightest hints of rejection.

Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

Where will I be this time next year?

Hopefully, I’ll be a graduate student. Hopefully I will be an even better dog mom, teacher, writer, listener, and friend. Hopefully I will have created even more art and had even more self revelations and dreamt even more dreams and boldly dared to do even more surprising things. Hopefully I will feel ready to share my heart with someone again. Hopefully I won’t feel quite so defined by pain, but rather by the beauty and grace I encounter each and every day. I can hope for all of these things but the truth is, I have no idea what I’m walking towards and where I’ll be this time next year… but for the first time, those words inspire wonder and they don’t scare me. Not one bit.

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Where were YOU this time last year? How have you changed? Let’s talk. Comment below.

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