How to Find Success on Your Own Terms
When I was around 12 years old, I decided that if no one was going to help me pursue a career in acting and music, I would figure it out myself. I convinced my parents to sign me up for local acting classes and eventually got my first agent the day after my 15th birthday. I spent most of my high school days balancing being a good student, scheduling my calendar, and trying to maintain a social life.
I’d bring a change of clothes and scripts to school and catch the train to Manhattan after class. My work paid off, because I ended up booking a handful of commercials, TV gigs, and film roles throughout high school. I also got introduced to a music producer and began writing and recording my songs.
Throughout this time, I felt like I had to live up to a certain ideal. I was juggling so many different identities: being a good student, building myself as an artist, and wanting to meet my parents’ expectations. I didn't let myself “mess up” or be irresponsible, because it meant the possibility of missing a critical career opportunity.
I started to construct a persona—a nice and contained one—that I thought would help me succeed. I never cut or dyed my hair; I was scared to change my look for fear of not being “commercial” enough or disappointing my agents. I was extremely non-confrontational and was scared to be anything other than agreeable. The story I told myself was that if I wasn't that sweet, happy, everything's great kind of girl, I wouldn't be accepted or liked.
Several years later, my life took a 180-turn when I booked the lead in a Nickelodeon show. It gave me the opportunity to fully pursue acting and music (I was a college student at the time). But that opportunity was cut short when the show got canceled after just one season. I was grateful for the experience and understood this was part of the industry. My world didn't shatter. However, the perception I had of myself did.
When I was going through the process of filming and doing press, I found myself doing what I was used to always doing: fitting into a mold to meet the expectations of others. I spent so long trying to present myself this way that I lost the ability to decipher the difference between parts that were authentic and parts that weren't.
The end of the show offered a clean slate.
A few months later I moved to Los Angeles. As I met and collaborated with new people, I kept hearing the same thing: “I wasn’t expecting your music to be like that!” or “You’re different from the way your music sounds.” Eventually I discovered something. I felt vastly different on the inside than the way that I am perceived by others on the outside. It’s pretty common, right? We’re all great at hiding the storm that lives inside of us. And it’s silly to assume we’re always as cheery or polished as our social media makes us out to be. But for me, the idea of perfecting my public persona felt like a war I had been fighting with myself. The desperate “need” for other’s approval ran deep.
So I did something that might sound super insignificant, but was extremely significant to me: I cut my hair short and dyed it black for the first time. And just like that, I cut away the expectations I put on myself. This fear of disappointing someone slowly began to feel less heavy, because I realized that the person I tried to be didn't exist. I began exploring my sexuality, got tattoos that felt meaningful to me, and started dressing and expressing myself in a way that reflected how I genuinely felt, rather than how I thought I was “supposed” to feel or look.
My message isn't not to give a f*** or blindly rebel. Because giving a f*** and disciplining yourself can lead you to accomplish amazing things. What I am saying is that no one gets to define you, except you. Ultimately, your art is going to be more authentic if it's coming from the person on the inside, rather than the facade we put up to look like on the outside."
By Esther Zynn (aka EZI), 22