The Most Important Thing Every Actor Should Know

You may expect me to say something like, every actor should know their lines, how to audition effectively, how to network, and so on. However, I won't be discussing those elements of the industry today. 

The most important thing every actor should know is who they are. 

I believe the most important lesson an actor must attain is the solid understanding of their true identity.  Every person, no matter their profession, should have a firm grasp of who they are and where their identity comes from. When it comes to an artist who portrays or becomes an entirely different person on camera, they should have this knowing of their true self built within them. 

It may sound like the most obvious, simple advice. Then why do so many geniuses of this craft ultimately lose themselves to destructive influences? We hear too often of actors who took delving into the life of another character too far and thus struggle to return to who they really are. It becomes even more complex when you have such success as an actor that you live your life in the public eye and people are painting images of you that are false. We must learn now to always remain true to ourselves. 

I'm sure anyone who has studied acting has heard the phrase, 'acting is being.'  With the multitude of systems of the craft which has been introduced over recent centuries, it has revolutionized the way actors become characters. There are many schools of thought as to how one becomes the character, but not as much material on how one returns to being themselves. 

It can be a dangerous feat to literally become another person on screen. When production is complete, how do you return to your true self, especially if you don't have a clear understanding of who you are in the first place?

Often times people get into acting because they enjoy the escape. They get to become someone else for a while, say and do things they may not normally do in their real life. Some acting schools of thought teach actors to use memories from their own life as inspiration, or substitution, in order reach a certain emotional place in character. If the actor has not dealt with those personal memories properly, the line can become blurred between an expressive art form and an unhealthy release of repressed emotions. However, please know that I am not stating there is only one right technique when it comes to acting. It is what ever works for the individual actor and the role. 

Your life story and the character's story. 

I believe the greatest tools an actor has is their imagination and observations. You can create a character's entire life story with the written words and your imagination, which motivates your actions and reactions on screen. The character's life story is not your own, unless you are playing yourself, but that's not really acting. If the character you are playing is a drug addict, is it really necessary for you to start using drugs in order to play that role?  

Know your limits, your boundaries, the lines your not willing to cross and the things you are or are not willing to compromise. 

Even if you are just starting out, now is the best time to determine the things you are and are not willing to do on camera regardless of the money offered, because of your own personal morals, beliefs, etc. I've heard beginner actors say there's no role they wont take, or nothing they won't do. When I inquire, they usually confess; 'for the right amount of money.' If an artist truly knows who they are, that would not be their motive. I do believe it is vital to challenge yourself to play characters far outside your own personality. Even more reason to know yourself and know your motives. 

Knowing your motives. 

Why do you want to be an actor?  This is such an important question to ask yourself and be completely honest. Is it for the spotlight, the awards, financial gain, even approval or acceptance?  I personally believe none of these answers are good motives for pursuing this career. But, you have to know the answer for yourself. Once you do, it will be prevalent in the way you conduct yourself as an artist and a professional. It should be a part of who you are. 

As actors it is very easy to be our worst critic. We should never tear ourselves down. You may have been able to give a better performance in a scene which you and an entire audience are now watching. But, you have to let that go and be prepared for the next job. The best way to improve is to learn from your failures.

Stay humble. Yes, even when your acting alongside an Oscar-winning star, you don't want your friends and family becoming overwhelmed with your boastful posts. I want to be the same person whether I am eating dinner with my mom at the kitchen table or siting beside Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. Thankfully, I've been blessed with the ability to laugh at myself that she has. Haha. 

Don't compare yourself to others. I can assure you, you are going to face a lot of rejection as an actor. However, don't allow yourself take on every role you didn't get as a personal rejection of who you are. 

When you take a big leap, whether in a scene or in your career, do it fearlessly. Have confidence in knowing this is what you were created to do.

-From an aspiring actor who has discovered the freedom and peace that comes with truly knowing who you are, especially when pursuing a career in this industry.  

'How do you share your life with somebody?'

How the Oscar nominated film 'HER' by Spike Jonze portrays the inherent desire in us all. 

As the 86th Academy Awards are merely days away, a few moments from the cinematically pioneering, Oscar nominated film remains in my thoughts and I pondered the questions they generated long after I viewed it. This is one of those moments. 

I should caution you, this is not a review of the film. But, rather a prompted discussion brought about by the protagonist Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) a lonely writer, his love interest; Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), a lovely voice operating system, and her proposed question about humanity, love, and connection.

"How do you share your life with somebody?"

As humans we have the desire to share our lives with someone. Yes, even those people who proclaim they rather die alone than get married or be in a relationship. There is the inherent desire in us all not live out our lives alone. Instead we desire to be loved, understood, cherished, valued, wanted, and fully connect with another human being. We all search for that sense of belonging. But, sharing your life with someone goes even further than that. 

Wholly sharing your life with someone without inhibitions or fears is essentially the most vulnerable act one can commit. It's when you share those moments that are typically hidden from the rest of the world. The 'you with no make-up, in your PJs, with your night-guard on' moments. Moments of great pain, slamming doors, and your tears on their shirt. A pain you're more than willing do endure. We share these moments with the person who sees all your weaknesses and flaws, up-close and in person. But it's allowed because they don't judge you for it or use it against you, instead they uplift you. A life shared with the right person, in the right order, comes with the most rewards. However, too often today people rush into sharing their life with someone with no commitment of being a part of that life forever. You see, sharing your life with someone can be incredibly dangerous. Once that person you've completely shared your life with is gone, then that overwhelming feeling of alone comes rushing back in. Alone with the void that person left. People go to great lengths to eradicate that feeling from of their lives. Most of those methods never work, just as we witnessed in Her

This typically happens because we are not fully whole in ourself. Therefore, we seek to find completion in another who is just as flawed as we are. Theodore sought completion in Samantha. Despite being an operated system, she had flaws as well. Instead of healing ourselves and becoming whole, we too often seek the next easy fix. Just filling the space that person left with another imperfect person. In Theodore's case; a voice. Theodore's estranged wife (Rooney Mara) blatantly stated, "You always wanted a wife without dealing with any of the challenges of being with someone who's actually real." Perhaps we should stop taking the 'easy way' and truly work on ourselves beforehand. You must first be whole in yourself, in who God created you to be, before ever attempting to share your life with another person and truly work at it. Two broken pieces can never make a whole one. 

 HER, Joaquin Phoenix, 2013, ©Warner Bros. Pictures

HER, Joaquin Phoenix, 2013, ©Warner Bros. Pictures

Often instead of healing, we distract ourselves from the brokenness. The social commentary of this film certainly rings true.  With the onslaught of technological advancements, I constantly question; has the means of connecting us become the very thing that isolates us? Are we so desperate for this fulfillment of common communion with another person that we have turned to a machine? Today it seems like our smartphones and technological devices have become our significant others. Sadly these may be the relationships we nurture the most. We spend the most time looking into a screen, not another's eyes. Holding our phones, not another's hand. Writing a status to hundreds or thousands of 'friends', not sharing a deep, meaningful thought with a loved one. 

 HER, Joaquin Phoenix, 2013, ©Warner Bros. Pictures

HER, Joaquin Phoenix, 2013, ©Warner Bros. Pictures

Personally, my writing is the most intimate way for another to discover who I am, the deepest parts of me. As a person whose writing is my greatest means of expression to other people, I found it intriguing yet disheartening that Theodore's very profession is writing personal love letters for other people. That just takes greeting cards to a whole new level. Have we forgotten how to express our love for each other that we need someone else to do it for us?

There was a time years a go when my writings weren't shared with anyone. Then during a time which I shared my life with someone, I released this vulnerable part of me had to be shared also.  Much of my life and myself has changed since then. Now it's necessary for me to boldly pitch screenplays and written ideas to others in order to portray the vision. Although every script, poem, or essay much like this one, is absolutely a deep part of who I am, it seems to no longer be that vulnerable, personal act with one person. I'll admit, I miss that. That person becomes the the one who watch you work at something and encourages you to keep going. Then there's that look in their eyes when you finally achieve it. I believe one day, at the right time, I will share those moments again. But, thankfully I can now share my work with many, in hopes it will touch more than one. 

 HER, Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, 2013, ©Warner Bros. Pictures

HER, Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, 2013, ©Warner Bros. Pictures

Yes, I too have known what it's like to share my life with someone. I also know what it means to be alone. I even know what it feels like to be alone when you're with someone. Although I may be alone, or single, or whatever term the world wants to call it, I am actually not alone at all. 

Something changes when you have to solely rely on yourself and God. When you're not woken up by someone next to you or the voice of an operating system, but it's you that has to pick yourself up and push forward. At the end of the day, you have to answer for yourself and what you're doing with the life you've been given. No one else. 

As I stated, I am not alone. I am very blessed to share my life with my greatest supporters; my closest family and friends. They may not completely understand what I am working towards; I can't necessarily discuss film terminology with them, but that doesn't change their desire to see me succeed.

Returning back to that enchanting yet intrinsic scene of Theodore revealing his feelings of marriage and the flashbacks which overplayed of those times. I was taken in as similar memories played in my own mind. But then the peace and motivation of the life I currently hold overpowered those memories. I thought, if an OS or even a person asked me that same question, how would I respond? 

I would say by first being truly and wholly okay with sharing your life with just you, in order to completely and fearlessly share your live with somebody, and wait for that right somebody.

- Jennifer Joy O'Grady

the art of working with what you have

As aspiring filmmakers we can easily fall into the if only mentality. You may have an inventive indie screenplay that would be sure to get noticed at Sundance. But, how do you get it there? More importantly, how do you make it in the first place?

We are prone to make the excuses: 'if only I had a bigger budget, if only I had that camera, if only I had that location, if only I had that crew, if only I had that actor,' and so on… This mind set will become a road block to your creativity. When you dwell on what you don't have, it will stop you from moving forward and that script will most likely not come into fruition.

When you start to focus on the resources you do have, this begins a momentum that will bring that film to life and ultimately onto the screen.

So how do you make a film with the little you DO have?

First, the foundation must be solid: the screenplay. If the script isn't good, neither is the film. It's a rookie filmmaker mistake to jump into production as soon as they've typed the last page. The best stories are developed, reworked, and rewritten. Get critiques from fellow screenwriters you trust. They will see something you missed. I know this takes time and like the rest of us you want to start your career already, but, as the old saying goes: good things come to those who wait. In this case, a better film in the outcome. Always study your craft. Read screenplays which have a similar style to what you wish to achieve.

Learn to adjust. Write specifically for the resources you have. I've encountered having to rewrite scenes because the location I envisioned it taking place was not feasible at the time. Instead of letting this stifle your production, let it become a creative challenge. With your imagination and skills you are capable of conquering it. The scene may turn out better than you initially envisioned because of your adjustment to the locations you do have.  

Once you feel the screenplay is perfected and your blueprint is mapped out, now it's time to gather all the crew and the tools necessary for this construction- the production. In order to lead a team to build a solid film, you must have a vision, a motive, and a goal. Why should this particular story be told? If you don't believe in your project no one else will. Getting others to understand, believe, and want to see that vision come forth is one of the most important aspects of directing. 

Build a team. It will take many years to find essential crew members you want to work with for the rest of your career. During every project your currently work on, connect with those who have mutual respect and similar motives with their work. I've been blessed to meet a few fellow filmmakers who I can call friends and work with me to achieve the vision of my project. 

Value those who do work with you. You never want to take those who are helping you for granted. This means doing more than supplying them with coffee, food, and compensation. If you genuinely care about those working with you, they will care about their job of piecing your film together. The director should know exactly what they want to achieve and be able to communicate that. But, I'll go even further to say when the director becomes selfless instead of selfish about their project, they are capable of accomplishing much more.

That's why you must learn to be a servant before you lead. Those who understand how it feels to work as a PA for 14 hours on a shoot with no pay, will treat their crew with the same respect they desire. As the director you should take all responsibility, even for mistakes that weren't your own. You are the captain of the ship, and the captain goes down with the ship. As an aspiring filmmaker I can assure you the first attempts will not be smooth sailing. However, you will reach the destination if you have the right mentality and approach.

You cannot accomplish this alone. Mother Teresa once said; "You can do what I can not do. I can do what you can not do. TOGETHER, we can do great things." I believe this also applies to filmmaking. Remember, your job as a director is to convey the vision to those you work with so that they can help you accomplish it with their skills and abilities.  A leader inspires and encourages their team to act.

Ur Allure Media Production shoot

Ur Allure Media Productions shoot with Ali Happer, Maria Ramirez, Vanessa Figi, and myself.

Start small. I'm sure you've realized your first project may not be a action thriller feature with car chases and explosions. Unless you somehow procured a Michael Bay budget. Personally, I am a fan of simplicity. I'm sure you have heard 'less is more.' Perhaps, try starting off with character-driven short films that take place at only one location. You are sure to learn from each project no matter how small and build upon what you've learned. This doesn't mean to let go of your big ideas. Save them and continue to develop them for when the right time arises. 

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Many filmmakers go the route of raising funds for production on Kickstarter.com or Indiegogo.com. Once again, your vision has to be attainable for others to believe in, to the point that they will invest in it. Family and friends want to help you accomplish your dreams. Don't be afraid to ask them if they know someone with a camera, equipment, or a location you could use. But, be sure they are reliable. Demonstrate you are reliable with their resources as well. Out of everyone, you have to be willing to invest the most time, energy, work, and money into your project. 

Don't compare. Don't always be a perfectionist. Your short film shot on a DSLR may not have the same look as a major motion picture with a multi-million dollar budget. Although, if you know what you're doing you can accomplish something very close, maybe even better. I desire to do everything in excellence. Many times I have to remember this is the best I can do with what I have and I can't wear myself or my team down about the minor things. I continue striving to do better with each project, and it should remain that way forever.

I may not have a long list of credits on IMDb or an Academy Award. These are just the thoughts of one aspiring filmmaker to another, sharing what I've learned so far. As soon as I stopped focusing on all the things I didn't have, I was able to accomplish much more than I once believed. I am simply working with what I have. One step at a time towards the destination. I hope I can encourage you to do the same. The world is in need of new artist to rise up and shine. 

full tea cups & empty journal pages

This new year I am thankful for the little things.

I also prepare for the big events ahead. Some planned, others I may not even see yet. But, I am in great expectation. I believe 2014 will be a year of open doors like no other. I only desire the right doors at the right timing. 

I wouldn't call it a resolution, but I make a point to set aside time to read and write while sipping my favorite green tea.  I cherish my collection of unique journals and beautiful mugs. The simple yet invaluable things. 

We should strive to take a moment of quiet time out of every day to write, reflect, and observe, with no other distractions pulling us away. The act of writing our thoughts down on paper seems to be lost due to the open outlet of the world wide web. I personally rather flip back through journal pages to reminisce where I've come from then to scroll through my Facebook timeline. 

At the closing of 2013, I wrote out my goals for the new year. Before doing so I read the goals of years past. All were made with very good intentions of completing them. Some I superseded. Others I never touched. However, the ones I didn't reached, I understand now I was never meant to. In comparison, my current list of goals are so much more focused. I have a clear vision of where I am going. This is because I have gained the revelation of specifically that which I was created for. In the past I would've never thought theses goals would be possible for me to pursue.  And here I am moving forward in a new year with the best yet to come. 

 

2014 is a new blank page. How will you fill it?

A Poetic Wednesday

I hope you are having a wonderful Wednesday!

These past few weeks have been filled with difficult decisions concerning my career. I am in great expectation for what is in store in 2014. As I prepare for the new year, I look back at my previous goals and writings. While working on many creative projects, I realize I don't write poetry as often. I would love to share more new original poetry with you. For now, this is a poem I wrote in 2012.

 

REMNANT RAIN

 

Rain seeps through the cracks

of old stained glass.

Water pools upon the window sill

bubbles arch above 

magnified dust.

Abundant,

to spill over 

nearing the edge 

but never pours down

to soak 

the already warped floors.

 

Remain, stagnant

harsh tones which deem 

this dwelling.

The pieces change

dull colored walls 

the same

until prism light

ignites the dust

upon the remnant.

 

New water finds any entrance in

overcome

the entire room to flood,

drench from a single drop

an unsealed split

shatters mirrored glass,

 

the water spills over.

A Letter to My Teenage 'Chonga' Self

There is no going back. However, sometimes looking back to see how far you’ve come is vital to your progression forward. 

We all feel it at some point when thinking about our past: “If I would’ve known then what I know now.” If I could communicate with my younger self, here’s what I would tell her. 

 

Dear Teenage Self,

 

I should tell you I am not writing this from my apartment in New York City. I know you envisioned us at nearly 25, confidently striding the streets like a model in a pantsuit on my way to my own production company meeting. Well, that’s not happening today. And that’s perfectly okay. Actually better than okay. You may think I’m crazy for saying that. I’m probably writing this in the same place you are reading this right now. No, life in our mid-twenties is not how we envisioned. As I said, that’s better than okay. 

I know dad often mentioned that one day Martin Scorsese will discover you and the rest will be history. I’m sorry to inform you that didn’t happen. At least not yet. Don’t worry, so much has occurred between 16 and 24. I’ve experienced absolutely incredible things. Both moments of unbelievable pain and moments that truly take your breath away.

There are so many events, situations, and choices I can tell you to handle differently than I did. Things I regret, I’m embarrassed about. But, instead I want to say I’m proud of you. It may sound odd coming from me. I say this because you are a fighter. Always will be. Despite not seeing yourself that way. I know it’s impossible for you to say you’re proud of yourself right now. But, after many years you will. Your dreams, your passion, your faith, and your kind heart drives you. That will continue on forever. 

However, there are a few things you need to know. 

Although we've been through more challenging circumstances, it’s still not easy going to three different high schools. This last one is the toughest transition. I know you much rather be back at Dillard HS where you were the only ‘white kid’ in your classes than with the rich kids that drive their Hummers to school. You can stop eating your lunch in the bathroom like Lindsey Lohan in Mean Girls though. No one is writing about you in a ‘Burn Book.’ At least not that I know of. Try just a tad bit harder to make friends. Yes, you’re right to avoid that clique. But, there are people who will see who you truly are within. Gravitate towards them. Putting up that tough-girl front is useless. Later on you will discover you see yourself quite differently than others do. Perhaps this letter will help you realize that. 

That English teacher is found of you because she sees something in you which you can’t. She sparked your passion for classic poetry. That Theater teacher who notices your talent and director’s eye; he encourages you to pursue film. He will write your recommendation letter to film school. Be extremely appreciative and learn all you can from them. 

You know how dad says “People are like anchors or balloons in your life.” He was actually completely right with that one. Stay away from the anchors. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Hold onto the balloons. They may be very few, but, don’t let them go. 

Hug your best friend as much as possible. Talk to her any chance you get. Even sacrifice things you may believe are more important in order to spend precious time with her. Always say how you feel. This is a friendship you don’t want to take for granted. Trust me. 

Stop waisting time on Myspace. Myspace is obsolete now. Social media websites like Facebook have taken over. There are things called apps, you’ll learn about later. Please don’t waste your time on those either. Instead you should read more literary fiction. A lot more. You will thank me when you’re in college english classes.

Speaking of college, watch and study more classic and indie films. You’ll be ahead of the game in the film classes. There’s a reason why you are drawn to classic cinema. Let it inspire you. Also, go rent them at Blockbuster. One day Blockbuster will be gone too.

Cherish your time in college as much as you can. Don’t rush through it to get to the ‘real world’. Actually be thankful for the assignments your given. I know it sounds crazy considering the busy work in high school seems torturous. Soak up all the knowledge you can. 

Never stop writing. You don’t currently share your writings with anyone because it’s essentially a stream of consciousness and deep seeded emotion put into stanzas. One day you will share it though. It will be honed and developed. It’s a strong part of your voice and your heart.   

While in college you may doubt yourself. Thinking we will never be able to produce, direct, screen-write, act, and teach. So you’ll hold yourself back. Do the opposite. Go for it with everything in you. You may not believe it now, but, we will be doing all those things we never believed we could. 

Please, PLEASE, stop wearing bracelets from the Swap Shop and Brazilian jeans. I know you’re from Miami and half Puerto Rican, so it was almost inevitable for us to go through this phase. But it’s not necessary. Just like your goth phase when you shopped at Hot Topic and the preppy phase when you attempted to emulate Summer from The OC. Thankfully this one will end as well. It’s okay to express your love for vintage through your clothing choice. It may seem quirky or weird to wear fashions inspired by past decades. Believe it or not our quirky uniqueness will actually be admired. In my time they refer to people with such taste as ‘hispters.’ But, we both know we loved this style long before it was cool to dress like you’re from the 1920’s. Or uncool. I’m still trying to comprehend the hipster psychology.

Oh, we both know also you don’t really like reggaeton as much as you listen to it. It’s perfectly fine to turn off the Daddy Yankee and instead play those classics from Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra we're so found of. Basically yes, you are quite different from those currently around you. Embrace it. 

You don’t need a boyfriend. You don't need to date. Just do us a favor and don’t even look at guys at this point. For a long time actually. No, not even that guy that looks like an Abercrombie model. It will only last a month. I’m saving you. 

It’s perfectly fine that you go to homecoming and prom solo. At my age, people don’t even talk to their prom date anymore. Enjoy that moment. Stop trying to skip ahead to the future. Even though people say this is the best times of your life and that terrifies you. Don’t worry it gets far, far better. 

I know it seems like you’re waiting forever for someone who makes you feel like you’re not alone. For someone who will treat you like the amazing person you are deep down. Past all the brokenness and scars that will one day be restored. Well, I can tell you that I’m not waiting anymore. Not because I’m in a relationship or married. I know you assumed we’d be married by now. Possibly starting a family. Although, not long ago I did have a life planned out with someone I believed to complete me. I’m not going to give you any warning on that. It’s for you to decide, experience, grow, and learn from. 

Once again, our plans are not necessarily meant to happen. There is a better plan we could've never conceived with our own mind. No, I’m not waiting for an empty space in my life to be filled by a man. I’m already fulfilled. Life is so much more than finding completion in another person. I’m already complete. Complete in God and whole in myself. That’s the only way I can truly be with another person one day. You will be so much happier once you take hold of that revelation. 

Most importantly- You are never alone. It is not all your fault. Stop blaming yourself. You are valuable, beautiful, worthy, intelligent, talented and incredible. I know it may be hard to understand the things we’ve been through, but, you will have peace one day. Those experiences will be used for good, to help others. 

Never stop dreaming, ever. Keep practicing your Oscar acceptance speech with your hairbrush in the mirror. Even if it never happens. I reiterate; it’s okay. His plan is for us is far better than okay. Trust in that. But, when you dream, always remember; it’s not merely for us or our own fulfillment and accomplishment. It’s for others. 

Perhaps I’m writing you this letter in order to completely let go of the past. Maybe I’m writing in hopes you can look in the mirror and see who you truly are. Who you are becoming.  

 

Love,

 

Jennifer Joy O'Grady

A PERFECT WAVE FOR NIKKI

                                     A creative essay by Jennifer Joy O'Grady

                                     In memory of Tinikka Lorene Kowlessar

 

    As a girl I dreamed of becoming a mermaid. Once my body grew, the sea was cruel to my naive heart. I was fascinated by the fictitious freedom of traveling the depths of blue diamond worlds beneath. Only a girl trapped behind a rattling window could dream of such things. However, there were never siren’s songs. Only the call of the car radio rising through rolled down windows. The sound resonated off the waves and intermingled with the thrashing noise of city streets. The weekend drives on A1A with my best friend, destined for the place of childlike painted images colliding with our shared visions for the future. Our teenage dreams were sparked the moment our eyes captured the opened cage door of our youth in the perfectly simulated liquid. Everything of reality melted outside the world of a seagulls joyful cry. Although the sun, and it’s ally the sand were relentless, comfort was found in the motherly coddling of the water. We were held there together with one heart.

    She would scrub the wave ridder till the salt was imbedded like the pores of her bronzed skin. Her trembling hands were water tamers to me. I watched as the sea recoiled to her rising power. Sparks of the crests bowed at her feet. Her beauty was complete in nature’s art gallery. In that moment she was a princess, born to the most powerful King. The water throned her. Perhaps I was unworthy as I ignored the sea’s love for her. Her royalty was adorned in this kingdom. At the call of setting sun, we reluctantly returned to the concrete. But, her salt water cloak never seemed to leave her. 

    After many seasons of her young reign, the sea was no longer my home. Although the adult world beaconed, she never betrayed that majestic place. One day the great sea took it’s admirer home with the ascending swell. Daybreak left me searching for the princess of the ocean; the only companion who accompanied me to the world of mermaid dreams. I heard her call from the depths of the crash; “Fight for this kingdom. You are not alone. You are royalty as well, my sister.” In losing her to the recoiling water, another ocean developed in my eyes as the royal cloak fell about my shoulders. I refuse to look at the outstretched kingdom without seeking a glimpse of the other side where the princess is still riding, forever rising. She now lives in the rare, breathtaking, perfect wave. 

Coming Home: why living with your parents after college isn't so terrible.

College graduation came with two extremes: the high of accomplishment and the low of great uncertainty. After living seemingly independently for four years, how could one return to the same dwelling of embarrassing adolescent years?

As graduation quickly approached, my optimal plans dwindled just as rapidly. There was disappointment from turned down internships in New York. Venturing out to LA to become an artist/waitress just wasn’t feasible. My personal plan including marriage, moving to Austin and pursing my masters to teach, shattered with it’s share of heartache. Moving back home to my humble beginnings in Miramar, Florida was not even plan Z in my mind. I failed to realize then how incredibly thankful I would be over two years later that my plans didn't come to pass, because a greater plan did. 

As quickly as we turned the tassel, I found myself nudging my belongings tightly into the garage of my parent’s home. With much resistance, I returned to my hometown; a city which never quite felt like home to me. I often scrutinized, focused on the ugly, loud, and harsh of the urban south Florida environment. Traveling the same roads which I once rode my bike and learned how to drive a car, seemed to bring back negative imagery of painful memories from my youth. However, returning forced me to seek out the beauty in the imperfections and eventually cherish it. The same can be applied when moving back in with your family. 

You are not alone. Roughly 45% of college grads move back in with mom and dad. Despite what your Facebook newsfeed tells you, you are not the only one. Relax in the reassurance that your situation is not unheard of, nor will it last forever. We’re going through this together. Stop comparing yourself to friends who are married, starting their own families or the ones who are ever too busy with their career advancements. Find friends who share the same priorities and are experiencing the same chapter in life. Read from their past experiences, like mine, I’m here to encourage you!

Time to accept. This does not mean become complacent in your current position. This is the time to pursue your dreams more than ever. Don’t be afraid to fail; you have a support system backing you. When you’re figuring out your future, what better place to do so than in the comfort of your family. In case you haven’t already realized- they want the best for you. The greatest joy in their life is to see you happy and fulfilled. Those habits or characteristics of your family which once irritated you to no end; its time to accept them. In fact, embrace it. I know we hear it often, but, I can’t stress enough: cherish the time you have with your family now. You will miss this time, during the periods when you only see loved ones by flying home for the holidays. We take for granted the time with our family during our teen years with it’s fair share of “I’m out of here when I turn eighteen!” moments. For the first time in our lives we can glean from our parents, as one adult to another. View dad and mom as your mentors, closest friends, and biggest supporters.

Time to prepare. Most likely, you don’t have to worry about rent. You now have the benefit of working to pay off student loans, or save up for your own place. Develop management skills for your finances and time before you enter into the responsibilities owning your own home. Learn from a pro. Nothing says ‘wife material’ like a woman who's cooking is just as good as her mother’s. I’ve learned to serve my family just as my mother has all my life. Learn to be a servant to your family, not a squatter, during your time of free home-cooked meals. Instead of longing for the past where my household duties consisted of cooking for myself and cleaning after myself, I’ve embraced this training for the day I have a family. What better way to say thank you to your parents for the lifetime they have cared for you, than to serve them?

Build & restore relationships. Living with my mom again caused misunderstandings to be mended and barriers were torn away. Our mother-daughter bond is stronger now than ever. I can proudly say she is my best friend. We recently took a road trip to Savannah, Georgia just the two of us. We wandered through the historic district and enjoyed the vintage/antique shopping. The unforgettable experiences we shared, and lessons I continue to learn from her, I will carry with me into the future. Share an activity or hobby with mom or dad. You never know, they may enjoy it as well. These are truly once in a life time opportunities with your family. I may have missed out on the opportunity to have such a close bond with my mother had I not returned home. I would’ve truly regretted that later in life. View dad and mom as your mentors, closest friends, and biggest supporters. 

A lifelong student. Although our schooling may have ended, we should never cease to be scholars. Create a summer reading list that you would enjoy. Perhaps reread books that were assigned to you in college. I guarantee you will discover something new this time around. You don’t have to go by a professors syllabus anymore, instead create deadlines for your own creative projects or writings. Continue to develop your gifts. Challenge yourself to read material daily that will further assist your growth in your chosen field.  Develop a plan for growth as found in Self Improvement 101 & Leadership Principles for Graduates by John C. Maxwell. Instead of sinking into post-grad sadness, I suggest reading one of those encouraging books. Keep a journal with inspirational quotes and helpful points to turn back to often. 

A new routine. The void of schedules can actually become stressful. For the many post grads in search of employment, it becomes an easy habit waking of up at 12 pm on a weekday and grabbing a bowl of cereal to watch a marathon of your favorite show on Netflix. Just as we once had class schedules, create a daily schedule for yourself. Set your alarm, and although tempting, don’t hit that snooze button. There are gifts in you longing to be poured out. Inventions in your mind in need of creating. You may be the next award winning writer, successful entrepreneur, or a leader of this nation. The world is earnestly awaiting people of this generation to rise up and take their place, using what God has placed within you to influence, impact and cause change. What you choose to do today, will determine that outcome.  

The constant in life. Sometimes life can change so rapidly, other times you're counting down the seconds in hopes the day on the calendar will change. Whichever season you're in, take a deep breath, and a mental (or physical) pictures of your current surroundings, environment, and situation because one day, sooner or later, this will all change. 

As a college graduate, filmmaker, writer, actor, artist, entrepreneur, teacher, leader, dreamer and doer, living at home with her parents, (and pet bunny), I am absolutely cherishing it. Change is quickly approaching. I don’t want to miss this moment. Neither should you.  

- Jennifer Joy O.