A Hollywood tale: you never start over
By Tess Brigham, MFT, one of reflect's unique & talented therapists
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” – Joseph Campbell
When I was 26 years old, I attended Jennifer Aniston’s 30th birthday party thrown by her then husband, Brad Pitt. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to work in entertainment. This was my dream. I felt like a real Hollywood Insider.
As I would soon realize, Hollywood parties were quite different from my fantasies. Most of my time was spent talking to people who had no interest in engaging in a real conversation. Instead, they preferred to look over their shoulder and see if there was someone “better” to talk to. Needless to say, I left feeling pretty empty and unhappy.
It would've made for a great Hollywood story if I had realized right then that this was not the place for me: an amazing “a ha” moment where the skies would open up, and I would drive off into the sunset toward bigger and better things. Sadly for me, this wasn't The Devil Wears Prada.
My story was much messier.
My dream growing up was a career in entertainment, and I worked hard to get there. The summer before my senior year of college, I interned (for free) in the publicity department at Columbia Pictures. I paid my dues at several other jobs in Boston and San Francisco before finally getting “the” job as an assistant at a mid-level talent agency in LA.
After a year of crazy hours which can best be compared to being in battle, I got the opportunity to work for a talent manager at a top agency in LA. We represented big name actors. I hobnobbed with Jennifer and Brad. My hard work had paid off. I finally made it – right?
The plot twist
I kept thinking that once I got promoted, I would be happy. Once I start making X amount of money, I would be happy. The problem was I wasn’t happy. I started to sink into pockets of depression. It'd hit me like a wave, and no matter what I did I could not shake out of it.
Anything would set me off: a casting director yelling at me, having to work later than I thought, someone canceling plans on me. Crying in a bathroom stall became a regular occurrence. I tried every trick to feel better. I started making lots of plans, meeting people for drinking, coffee, dinner -- anything to feel like I was having the fabulous life Hollywood promised me. Those were all distractions.
By the summer of 2000, I had had enough. I made the decision that I didn’t want to be a talent manager any longer. My plan was to stay in LA and take a couple of months off to “find myself.”
The week after I quit, I got some terrible news from a former college roommate: our friend Heather had died.
I was shocked. Heather was the person I'd always wanted to be. She was fun, relaxed and carefree. She made me laugh and let go.
The happy ending...or just the beginning?
Maybe Heather’s death switched something in my mind. Maybe I had just reached my breaking point with my dream that turned into a nightmare.
I stopped thinking about what should I do and started thinking about what could I do. I set aside expectations and preconceived notions.
I asked myself, “What I did like about my job?”. The one thing that kept coming back to me was that I really enjoyed talking to my agency clients. I liked helping them with their problems. I liked listening to them and feeling like what I said meant something. I wondered, “Could I be a therapist?”.
After taking a psychology course at the local community college, I was hooked. This felt right. I could do this. A weight had been lifted. I found my path, even if I took the long way. It's now been over 10 years, and I haven’t cried in a bathroom stall since.
The two big lessons
Making a change in our lives is hard, no matter what it is -- for me, it was my career; for others, it might be a new relationship, a baby, divorce, or something entirely different. I learned many lessons from my time in Hollywood, but I often go back to two of them.
First, real change requires you to let go of the dream you think you wanted. You can’t find what truly makes you happy when you're holding on to something else. I went to a lot of horrible Hollywood parties before I gained the courage to realize this wasn’t my dream.
Even with my newfound path, my future was not certain. Part of me worried that I had failed. While it had been my choice to leave Hollywood, I still felt a bit defeated because I wasn't strong enough to “hack it” in the biz. My ego was bruised, and I lost a bit of confidence.
Gradually, with each new challenge, something shifted. I discovered that I wasn’t starting over. I wasn't that naïve, unsure 22 year old. I knew what hard work was. I knew what it was like to lose someone. I knew the value of friends. And I knew how to pick myself up from defeat and try again.
That brings me to my second lesson: “You never go back to square one.” I use this expression often with my clients when they feel fearful of making a big career move. I think of a career trajectory like a board game. As you learn and grow at work, you move one square closer to the finish line. There are times when you need to take a detour or get stuck on a square for a while. There are also be times when you draw a bad card and are sent all the way back to the beginning. That’s ok.
We all have regrets in life, but for me, leaving Hollywood isn’t one of them. My previous work experience helped me tremendously during my first internship, throughout my Masters in Counseling, and in my early experiences with therapy clients. It’s helped me every day since. I didn’t start from square one.
Navigating life’s changes can be difficult. I became a therapist to help my others through these transitions. And that’s one of the reasons I’m excited about being part of reflect. We share a common belief that everyone can benefit from having a sounding board. If you’re going through a tough transition -- whether it be career, family, love, or otherwise -- talking to someone who’s helped others through similar situations helps. Click on the “Get started” link above to take the first step.
And remember, even Jennifer and Brad couldn't last -- but they’re both happier once they embraced that change and moved on.