The Importance of Not Giving Up

girl on bridge looking out at the ocean at twilight

Photo Credit: Cecy Young/Shutterstock

I have a high pain threshold physically, and a very low pain threshold when it comes to situational suffering. The result is that when something isn’t working, I immediately want to fix it. This trait has also made it impossible for me to work in a miserable environment just for the money. So it’s not surprising that I work for myself and run a company whose mission is to create positive organizational cultures for the employees of leaders who care.

Not that this was an obvious path for me, a girl born in a small town in New Zealand whose parents never went to college or even spent time outside their bubble. Some lucky people are born into their vocation; however, many of us are not, so if you are not sure of where you are going, or if you are in a place where you can’t see an obvious path from where you are to where you want to be, keep reading.

My first love was performing — singing, dancing, and acting. Really, my core dream was to be on Broadway, a dream that is now dead. It wasn’t easy to let that dream die, but I am grateful to that dream for propelling me forward and propelling me to make big, scary decisions.

The first scary decision was to not immediately follow my dream but instead spend four years earning a degree in physical therapy. This would allow me the opportunity to feed myself (because no one around me thought for a moment I would make it as an actor; turns out they were right) so that I could eventually follow my dream of song and dance.

Those were four of the most miserable years of my life. It was mental torture and I came out a mere shell of myself. I limped to my mother, who wouldn’t have me stay unless I worked on the kiwifruit orchard — more mental torture and #notanoption. So I limped onward to Auckland and got a job as a physical therapist. #continuedmentaltorture. Words or hashtags cannot express how much I hated that job.

Good news! My low threshold for situational suffering took over and I decided it was time to get back to the dream. I quickly found an acting teacher from America who had studied in New York City at the Neighborhood Playhouse, and I signed up. He would yell and shout and be so deeply dramatic that I could smell Broadway and had my first real taste of it.

Then one fateful morning, the local radio station called to inform me that I had won a trip to Los Angeles for what they called The Hollywood Experience. Back in the 1990s, all that most people in New Zealand knew about America was The Dukes of Hazzard, soap operas, and Happy Days, plus my all-time favorite show, Fame! It seemed completely obvious to me to stop over in New York and attend summer school at the Neighborhood Playhouse.

To put this in perspective, I lived in a country where you could fly from one end to the other in just over an hour, and I had left the country only once, to visit Sydney (a flight less than four hours) for a few days, so this idea, in hindsight, was nuts. I also assumed I would meet someone on the plane and they would have me come and stay with them. You already know that didn’t happen.

My coming-to-America (comedy) story can wait; the life-altering experience was that I LOVED New York and I fit right in. I loved the energy and the intensity; people either ignored me or thought I was the cutest little thing they had ever met. This was before the Lord of the Rings movie franchise, so most people had either never heard of New Zealand or thought it was part of Europe.

It took 10 years longer than expected to find my path. But by constantly following the opportunities, being brave, and never giving up, I was firmly on track.

By the end of the summer, my path was set. I would meet my boyfriend in L.A. for our Hollywood experience, break up with him (I actually only decided that when we met in L.A. and his inability to drive or read a map seemed unforgivable at the time), go home, get a green card, and come back to live in NYC and attend drama school.

This actually happened — thank you, God, and yes I even got a green card.

As it turns out, acting was not for me. I discovered that my fight, flight, or freeze response is so strong that standing up in front of a group of people to be judged was a terrible plan. However, as I was working my way toward this realization, I produced a short film, then produced a feature film, and I found that I loved it! Sadly, the industry was deep in Harvey Weinstein culture at the time, so I decided to walk away.

Hellllooooooo, business school! Now, let me be honest: The GMAT (business school’s equivalent of the LSAT) was extremely difficult for me, and what made it worse was that the friend I made in the prep class surfed through the test — literally. She didn’t study and spent all her free time surfing in Topanga and aced it, scoring over 700 (this is incredibly high). I failed my first time taking the test, scoring 100 points less than when I took the test with no prep! After months of study, I increased my score by 200 points (no easy task) and was accepted into the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten how difficult it is for me to sit still and listen to people talk about things I have zero interest in. I dragged my way through finance, statistics, marketing, operations, economics … all the way to the mediation and negotiation class, where suddenly it all came together. I loved it. We would have three-hour negotiations that felt to me like five minutes.

That summer I interned at a community-mediation clinic. Little did I know this was going to be my path. I was going to be a peacemaker and make the world a better place.

In May 2010, I graduated from business school, got married, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, made a baby. Rather than just relax upon finding out I was pregnant, I enrolled in Pepperdine's Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution and went on to complete another master’s degree soon after giving birth to my first son. Whew! It wasn’t easy, but I did it.

It took 10 years longer than expected to find my path. But by constantly following the opportunities, being brave, and never giving up, I was firmly on track to what over the next 10 years would lead to me teaching a class at USC very similar to the mediation and negotiation class, the very class that led me to a career that is exactly what I am supposed to be doing, where I am supposed to be, and where, most importantly, I am happy.

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