As an actress, you have to find a way to exist in a business that does everything in its power to say you don’t exist. You’re not good enough, you’re too fat, too pretty, too quirky. This also changes on a dime based on someone else’s ill-informed opinion. I was once told my name sounded like a toothpaste brand, and I should change it immediately. I may not know much, but I DO know that Jen Dede is a great name! The frustration and confusion at times was maddening.
I was also told to be grateful for the shitty little crumbs I got and gobble them up before they get passed on to someone else! YOU ARE REPLACEABLE. I spent years “gratefully” choking on those crumbs, until I couldn’t do it any longer. I needed help. I needed someone to pick up the phone on my behalf. I needed someone to take a chance on me. I needed someone to not say “your name sucks,” but instead get me an audition…an opportunity to make a living at what I do. But still…nothing. So I started asking for help, for what I thought I needed in my career. In the beginning, I was terrified. I worked up the nerve to ask in many different ways, getting better at it with each ask. I started to realize that my problem wasn’t knowing how to ask for what I need. I asked. My problem was: What do you do when you ask and you get nothing?
Here’s the thing, it was like I was asking for a beautiful delicious ripe red apple and someone would throw a stick of sugar-free gum at me. I felt like I was living in a bad dream. I knew I had a gift, but I also knew it needed to be tended to daily. I did everything “right”. I diligently worked on my craft. Every week, rain or shine, I showed up to one of the most prosperous acting studios in town and challenged myself to learn more. I took every job I could. I got a few breaks. I came close to others. I said no to nudity and yes to pasties. I died my hair red, then brown, then red, then blond, then all of them (this is possible). I was stuffed into the sexy category, the funny category, the one who could “cry on a dime” category. The door I was trying to bust through was sealed tight with super glue and NO ONE was going to help me open it.
Then, I started asking myself, “If no one EVER helped me in the way that I needed, how could I help myself?” I also realized – the step of asking for help that seemed so entirely fruitless was actually crucial in my evolution because it made me brave. Also, no matter what the result, it always gave me clarity to get to the other side.
Out of utter frustration I began to write. In my mind, I wasn’t a “real” writer so I had nothing to lose. I took my writer friends out to coffee to pick their brains. I took their workshops, read all the books. I asked for feedback and gained champions along the way. Nikki Deloach was a big one, by the way! We all need champions to keep us going. I wrote and produced shorts. I wrote with different partners and in different genres. I started to write a film about a story close to my heart. I realized I had so much more to give. I ended up breaking through a massive wall, the wall that could have kept me in a small box. Playing the small helpless actor wasn’t working anymore. Begging for people to help was an afterthought. I found my WORTH and all my previous struggles seemed on purpose, for purpose for the first time in forever. I began saying a big fat happy NO to the work that felt demeaning. I said no to projects that paid nothing, unless it added immense value to my artistic career. The liberation of each NO became a high! Then, it hit me…
All these years I thought I was asking for what I needed and being ignored, dismissed, and rejected. The truth is, I was asking for what I WANTED and was actually getting what I NEEDED. I know. Read that again. And again. Now, sit with that.
Opportunities and people arrived in my life that empowered me to know my worth as an artist and to believe in myself enough to have my own back. I got real with that fact that no one was going to come along and do that for me. I believe it is one of the greatest life lessons we could ever learn as humans. Sitting around and waiting for permission, for someone to save you, heal you, or bring you success is a door that will NEVER open. Instead, I learned to do all those things for myself. Don’t get me wrong. We NEED people in our lives who love us deeply and care enough to step in to catch us when we fall or give us a helping hand or open a window of opportunity. I have intentionally filled my life with those people. But, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for that magical person that holds the one key to the opportunity door only to be disappointed if it didn’t work. I had to learn to swim without a life preserver. I hated it for a while. I down right resented it. However, I made it across the ocean. At the time, I had no idea what was ahead for my husband and I regarding our fertility journey, but I can’t help but think the journey I have been on as an artist has helped me to endure it and continue to inform and empower me. The evolution of life is beautiful like that.
I learned this simple poem in high school. It always stuck deeply in my heart. Maybe I knew on some other level I would be shown this lesson in a big way and that would lead me down the path to true happiness.
“Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul.”