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This is what I am when I grow up?! (And Other Tequila-Induced Realizations)”

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Erin Hen riques.jpgIt happened about a year ago when I was having drinks with a girlfriend I’ve known since high school.  We were laughing about stories from our past over a pitcher of margaritas, when it suddenly hit me:  “Holy crap, this is what I am when I grow up!”

You see, in rehashing the past with my old friend, it became glaringly clear that not only was I past the high school and college phases of my life, I was also past that I-just-got-out-of-college-and-it’s-cute-that-I’m-getting-my-shit together/Girls phase.  I was a full-fledged adult!  In the middle of my adult life!  The only problem was that I felt like I was still waiting for my life begin.

I’ll backtrack a little here. I’m an actor, and although I used to be embarrassed to call myself that, I have wanted to pursue an acting career for as long as I can remember.  I was in a theater group in elementary school, joined the drama club in high school, and eagerly left for college at 18 to study acting.  (My journey through actor training wasn’t as smooth as that sounds, but I’ll save that for another entry!)  The point is, when I came back home to LA after drama school in my early-mid twenties, I was was well-trained, driven, and excited to start my fabulous life as an actor!

Flash forward several years later, and here I was in this bar with my friend at age 30, still waiting.  I had done all of the things I thought I was supposed to do:  diligently taken acting classes, attended casting director workshops, self-submitted myself to everything I could find on casting websites.  And while I had kept myself busy over the years doing plays, sketch shows, student films, and a number of independent-ish things, I didn’t think that I had had a break that was big enough, a TV credit that was strong enough, or a contract with an agency that was star-studded enough, to actually call myself a actor.

And while my acting career trajectory felt like hadn’t changed much since my early twenties, a lot of other things had.  Some of the actors I had started out with had become household names while others had quit the business altogether.  I, on the other hand, had reached a point where I couldn’t avoid my credit card debt any longer and had taken a part-time job at a finance company.  Soon I began working more and more hours, and my once-flexible part-time job was becoming less flexible and more full-time.  I vowed to never officially accept a full-time position (to keep myself available for acting work, of course), but it soon became clear I wasn’t actually pursuing any of this acting work I was so worried about being available for.

Cut back to me with half a margarita in my hand, struck with the realization that I was half-assing both by corporate job and my acting life!  I chugged the rest of that margarita, and let my panic flag fly.  I could quit my day job, but not having money seemed at lot scarier now than when I was 24.  What other job was I even qualified to do now anyway??  Wasn’t I too old to be a hostess??!  Then two margaritas later another horrible thought occurred to me: I might be too late “make it” as an actor anyway!!  I hadn’t “made it” yet, what if I never did??!!  What if this is what I am when I grow up??!! I immediately tried to drown my nerves in a bowl of guacamole. And then something miraculous happened.  It was right after our waiter insisted on serving us more complimentary chips and water.  My friend (who is not an actor) blurted out that she wished she had something she felt passionate about.  That was when I saw a shining of beacon of hope through my sloppy tequila haze.

You see, my friend and I had the same frustrations with our lives:  we felt trapped in jobs we didn’t like, stuck with disturbing amounts of college debt, and disappointed we weren’t living the fabulous lives we’d always thought we’d living by now.  But the difference between us was, I did have a passion.  (Now before you think I’m some shitty person who gloats over her own friend’s misfortunes, please know that since then, my friend has done some soul searching and discovered some passions of her own).  My point is, I had forgotten how lucky I was to have a passion because I was so caught up in my own preconceived notions about what I thought my life as an actor should look like at this age.  Not to sound too sappy, but the whole reason I chose to become an actor in the first place, is because I love acting.  I love storytelling.  I love scripts.  I love going on a journey with a scene partner.  I am by nature a neurotic, anxiety-ridden person, and the times I feel the most centered and grounded and okay with myself are when I’m working.  I am the best version of myself when I’m acting. It’s a part of who I am and so much so, that I’m not me without it.  Maybe, just maybe, having this thing that I loved to do, that energized me and fulfilled me, made other the other stuff I was so worried about…well…not such a big deal.

The next morning I woke up with (a massive hangover and) a revived commitment to my creative work. Since then, my boyfriend and I have downsized our apartment, and I’ve left my old position at the finance firm (although they’ve been cool enough to still offer me temp work).  I’ve decided to embrace this crazy artist’s life:  my schedule is always changing, I don’t have financial security, and there are a lot of things about the business of acting that can be frustrating, but that’s just part of the deal.  I’ve stopped being embarrassed to call myself an actor.  I think I used to think if I called myself an actor, I’d sound like Tobias from Arrested Development, but the more and more I thought about the training and the work I’d committed myself to over the years, the more I realized I wasn’t giving myself enough credit.  I didn’t need to wait for my career to begin.  It had already begun a long time ago.

Finally, I don’t even really know what it means to “make it” as an actor anyway, so why stress out about it?  Yeah, I have goals I’m striving for.  Sure, it would be great to be able to support myself solely with acting and to be able to have an impressive answer the next time some member of my extended family says “Have you done anything I’ve seen yet?”,  but that stuff isn’t what drives me to lead this life.  It can’t be.  It just isn’t enough.  I know this sounds a little squishy or whatever,  but at the end of the day, it’s about this crazy, wacky, wonderful work I love to do.  So yeah, I guess this is what I am when I grow up.  And, you know what?  It’s not easy, but it’s pretty freaking great.

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About Erin Henriques

Erin Henriques is an actor and writer. Originally from Los Angeles, she studied acting in Chicago (DePaul University) and London (LAMDA), worked as a make-up assistant on a movie in Mexico (Master and Commander), and briefly lived in New York (seemed like a serious actor thing to do). After amassing a lot of new life experiences and more than a lot of debt, she finally returned home to LA where she’s been working on film, television, web, and theater projects ever since. A fan of LA’s comedy scene, she completed the program at the Groundlings and has performed at IO West, UCB, The Steve Allen Theater, and The Hollywood Improv Lab. Currently, Erin can be seen in “Mandie and Earring”, a comedy web series about a pair of eccentric children’s singers. She is also writing her first feature-length screenplay. But not at Starbucks because that would be a cliché.