"I'm going to stay home, get a job and help my parents pay some bills." This is what I told my godmom after I received my Spelman College acceptance letter. I got an acceptance letter and no scholarship money, which was a problem because my family had no money. My godmother encouraged me to keep working towards my goal of going to school, even though I was facing a huge barrier called tuition.
It took a few weeks, but after I got over myself I decided to believe God to provide for me to go to school. It felt like an impossible task because Spelman College is a private institution and ain't cheap. I found a scripture about God honoring my desires and held on to it for dear life. Every time I was in the car, I repeated affirmations over and over again. And for the most part, I kept moving forward as if I was going to school. I didn't know how it could possibly happen, but I just kept moving forward.
The summer of my senior year, I got a part-time job as a receptionist in real estate broker's office, and I called the school to see if any new scholarships were available. They weren't. I was panicked, discouraged and frustrated. In my heart of hearts, I felt like Spelman was where I was supposed to go, but why did the school have to be sooooo expensive?! I couldn't choose some community college that I could afford on my own? I just had to choose the school in my home town that required some serious cash or debt to attend. Even though I was frustrated, I kept going. I told the school I would be there in the fall and kept receiving my materials in the mail.
Three weeks before orientation, I still had no money. I was still meditating on scripture and doing my affirmations, but something inside me shifted. I didn't care anymore. I wasn't quitting, but going to Spelman didn't feel so dire anymore. Somehow, I knew deep down inside that I'd get the money, and I stopped worrying about how. I felt a gut impulse to call the school again (even though I had already called them multiple times) about scholarship money....
This time, there was money. I still don't really know how that happened. Maybe someone turned down their academic scholarship or something last minute, but over the phone I was offered a scholarship covering half of my tuition. That was the exact amount I needed to get started. I was going to school!
I was over the moon excited. I still didn't have the total amount to go to school, but God got me this far, so I was going to keep going. During my first semester at Spelman, I dedicated at least an hour a day to applying for scholarships online. At the end of the semester, I was awarded more money, and I was able to continue my studies.
This part of my life taught me such a valuable lesson about faith. In high school I was a straight A student, but my SAT scores were just okay. I wasn't the first pick for scholarship money at my school of choice. I could have easily just chosen a cheaper school and gone on with my life. But there was something magical about believing for what I really wanted even though it seemed impossible. There was something about taking a step with no guarantees and seeing the path materialize for me right under my feet.
I'm learning to be THAT girl every day of my life, stretching myself to dream big and take a step, especially towards those dreams that feel impossible and scary. Fun fact, I graduated from Spelman College with a 3.9 GPA, owing only $4,000 in student loan debt. Crazy.
I'm learning that this stuff works, so I'm practicing it right now. I have a huge goal in front of me that seems impossible and feels scary, but I'm taking a step right now. I have no guarantees, but I'm sure this will be another faith victory story I'll get to tell you soon.
What about you? What goal or dream do you have that feels scary, but you know in your heart that you should be doing it? Comment below, and let's push each other to take that step.
As I write this, I'm sitting in a Starbucks in LA getting ready to "take a meeting." Take a meeting. That sounds nuts. My man told me that ten years ago, I would've been going crazy about these opportunities to meet with Los Angeles based agents and managers. But the truth is...ten years ago I would've had any context for being in LA to "take a meeting." Ten years ago, I didn't know who I was or what I wanted to do.
I'm a natural planner, so I like to know what I'm doing ahead of time. But the problem with also being creative is that there are a lot of different things I could be doing and a lot of different directions in which I could be heading. I was passionate about a lot of things, and my parents had no idea how to point me in the right direction. So, I spent most of my teenage years being confused and frustrated because I had no plan. I spent a lot of years hating myself for NOT knowing.
Sidebar: this is not a post about how I have it all together, and how I've arrived. I'm an actor, and in many ways I'm just getting started. I told my godfather a couple months ago that I feel like I'm stumbling through my life blindfolded just feeling my way around until something makes sense. There is no map or blueprint to get where I'm going. BUT I do know this: I am finally clear on my purpose. I love what I do. I'm good what I do. I feel alive while I'm doing it, and I'm finally getting paid to do it.
I hope by the end of you reading this post, you'll be okay with not knowing and give yourself permission to just stumble around and try new things until you figure it out.
Here's my crazy journey to figuring out I wanted to be an actor.
1. I started as a figure skater! That's right, as a kid I wanted to be a young black Michelle Kwan. I wanted to be a legend in the USA skating world and eventually win Olympic gold. While training as a skater...
2. I took ballet classes, and fell in love with dancing. I danced in church and in some classes. Then...
3. My family moved to the metro Atlanta area. The city we lived in was NOT a skating town. All the rinks were too far, and training was too expensive to maintain, so I stopped skating. It broke my heart, but I kept dancing.
4. I went to Spelman college and danced in their dance department. At the time, they required their dancers to take acting classes. I was cast in a theatre production because I had some acting potential, could dance and could sing. I still didn't take acting seriously.
5. Mom passed. My world stopped, and I was suddenly fearless. I jumped into an opportunity working as an assistant to the owner of AGI Entertainment in Atlanta and starting taking acting classes there once a week. I threw myself 100% into that job and the acting class. In that class, I learned that acting was therapeutic. It was my outlet. Between God and acting I made it through those first two years of grief.
6. I fell in love with learning about acting and took other classes. I loved how free I felt when I was acting and figured out that I have a knack for it.
Now I have a crap ton of acting friends. I've worked in multiple productions, and I'm writing my own material. I definitely haven't arrived yet, but I feel like "my thing" found me. It found me because I was open and willing to take risks. I was down to learn and not pretend that I knew everything.
My point is I think our path finds us. We just have to pay attention. My mom told me years ago that she took me on an audition when I was really little. A New York agent was interested in working with me, but my mom didn't want to have to travel back and forth between Delaware and NY for auditions. I used to wonder what would have been if I would've started as a kid, but I don't anymore. It's just another sign that God was leaving me breadcrumbs my entire life. For that I'm thankful.
Look back over your life the last five years or ten years. Have there been any recurring themes or breadcrumbs that could help you identify your path?
Image by Mike Coletta
This week, a conversation I had with a friend brought my attention to something. Early in the conversation, she jumped into how much she was learning about herself and the areas she needed to grow. In 2019, she was going to do better, BE better. This went on for a while. On the surface, it sounded like she was all about self-improvement, which I guess is a good thing, but the more she talked, the more negative she sounded about herself. This wasn’t self-improvement anymore: this was “fixing” herself. She didn’t have one positive thing to say about herself. This bothered me. And I told her that.
Here I was on the line with an amazing individual. She's hard-working, strong, persistent, beautiful, loyal. She completely disregarded her dopeness and jumped into self-improvement mode. With all the chatter around the New Year, I hear a lot of people talking about what they are leaving in 2018, but there was some awesomeness in 2018 that you need to bring with you.
I think focusing on what we do well will give us the energy and inspiration to improve and grow. For example, let's say I'm killing it in the money management department. I'm going to celebrate that! And if I notice I'm not the best at spending time with the people I love, I'm not going to beat myself up about that. My self-talk should probably sound like this, "Cyrah, you are great at budgeting resources. Look at how well you balanced your household budget last year. This year, I really want to spend more time enjoying my family and friends. I know you spend a lot of time working, but my relationships are valuable to me. Time is a resource, just like money is a resource. You can do this."
If I talk to myself this way, I'm way more likely to actually change. Most likely, I'll implement a baby step like putting a non-negotiable bi-weekly date night on my calendar. Then, when I do that well, I'm going to celebrate that too!
I'm not perfect, but I'm getting better at treating myself with kindness and grace. Yes, I want to grow, but I will celebrate who I am on the way to where I'm going.
With that being said, here's this week's exercise; write a list of the things you love about yourself. No negativity allowed. Focus on your strengths. When you're done making your list, treat yourself to something awesome. It doesn't have to be anything complicated or expensive, just something you enjoy. (I normally treat myself to a fruity smoothie when I do something awesome.)
Here's a little bit of my list.
1. I am kind.
Someone in my inner circle just told me I’m too nice. I was offended at first because I don’t want anyone thinking they can take advantage of me, but the more I thought about it, the more I enjoyed the thought. I’m kind. Warm. I love being around people who make me feel good about myself. I'm one of those people, so I should enjoy that.
2. I enjoy learning.
Give me a cozy place to sit and a good book, and I'm in HEAVEN. I can’t help it. I love learning from people who've gone before me. I love challenging my brain to engage.
3. I’m a planner.
I used to HATE this about myself. Why do I always have to feel like I'm in control of everything? Why can't I just go with the flow? Why do I always have to have a plan for everything? As an artist, I thought I needed shed that part of my personality, but that's not true.
I've just repurposed it. I can't control the outcome of the audition. But I can control being prepared and doing my best work. The more often I am prepared and do my best work, the better I feel. I've also found that when I'm acting or creating in some other capacity, the creative act is the one place where I'm free from having to have all the answers. I can just play when I create. And that is refreshing and freeing. I can be my true planner self in my life and let myself run wild when I'm creating.
4. I’m quiet.
My immediate family might argue with this a bit because I can get loud when I want to, but I genuinely enjoy observing and speaking only when necessary. It makes me feel wise to not have to be the loudest in the room. I’ve learned how to be interesting without being noisy.
5. I’m spiritual.
I take my spiritual life very seriously, and I like that my beliefs are mine. I like that I feel unapologetically close to God and have been that way for years. It grounds me and brings me so much joy.
I could go on and on, but I will say that I feel lighter and happier after writing this small list. Focusing on the good has a way of doing that me. In the coming years, my prayer is that we continue to be kind to ourselves and allow ourselves room to grow with grace.
What's on your list?
If I could write a letter to the person I was ten years ago, it would go a little something like this….
I’m Cyrah… the future you (the 2019 version). For the sake of time, let’s skip the part where you try to figure out how this is possible. I've boiled down all of my advice for you into four points. I think these ideas are the most important for a pleasant journey to your future.... Here we go.
1. Take risks. You love to have it all figured out, but here’s a spoiler for you… You don’t. And that scares you, but it shouldn’t. Being a planner has gotten you this far. Congrats on being a straight ‘A’ student by the way, but there is no blueprint for where you are going. My advice is to be okay with discomfort and discover. Follow your curiosity! Try new things. If you want to move to New York for a year, do it. If you want to study abroad, do it. If you want to build a company from the ground up, give it a shot. It’ll be easier for you to figure out what you DON’T want than it will be for you to force your brain to make a hard core career decision. Instead of being in your head, try stuff, and use the process of elimination. You will bump into your passion, no question about it.
2. Trust your gut. There will be times when the people you love will disagree with your life choices. It’s okay. Having a different opinion doesn’t make you disloyal. It makes you an individual. When your spirit is telling you to go left, go left, no matter what others tell you. Looking back on the last ten years, I can tell you, that inner voice has never been wrong. I’ve never regretted following that voice, but I have regretting ignoring it.
3. Love yourself. Putting your desires and your needs at the top of the priority list does not make you selfish. I’ve learned that I’m better at loving others when I take care of myself. Depending on someone else to make you feel loved all the time will make you miserable, and that’s an unfair expectation for the people in your life. YOU are responsible for what you think and how you feel. Take responsibility for your own wellbeing, and you will be a much happier person. Do the things you love to do. Read. Travel. Perform. Spend time with friends. Spend time alone. Listen to music. And do these things unapologetically. I know you don’t have a whole lot of confidence yet, but keep taking care of yourself, and the confidence will come. You are brilliant, beautiful and have a servant’s heart. Don’t apologize for any of it.
4. Enjoy the journey. It’s cliché but super true. The next ten years will change your life, but you don’t want to miss any of it, even the bad stuff.
That’s it for my advice, but I have a couple more thoughts to share. Life will get harder, but you will handle it like a pro. There will be a time when you’ll be angry at God, but you talk to him about it (a lot) instead of running away. You don’t let go of your faith. Thank you for that.
You will also feel courageous and jump into a job in entertainment that challenges you beyond your limits. It will exhaust you, but it will also show you what you’re made of. It will give you everything you need to get started in your career of choice. Thank you for that too.
Finally, you will fall in love, trust that love and fight for it. That means the world to me. If I could hug and kiss you to tell you how much I appreciate you for that, I would.
I’m so proud of the person you are today, and you will absolutely love who you become. Let’s make the next ten years magical.
With all my love,
About me . . .
I'm Cyrah Hill. I'm a woman of faith, an actor and an everyday black girl.