Dirty Little Expectation Devils

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I have these Dirty Little Expectation Devils sitting on my shoulder. They come and go at their leisure enjoying the task of taunting me.  They particularly like whispering in intoxicatingly sexy hushed tones that I’m a fraud and a failure, and that everything that I have achieved and will achieve in the future will never amount to anything.

This is a hard article for me to write. As the founder of Ms. In The Biz I often feel like showing my own vulnerability or lack of “success” is a bad idea, which is ironic considering Ms. In The Biz’s strength is in the fact that we embrace and encourage vulnerability in order to learn and grow and change. Helping others and giving a voice to the community is why this site exists in the first place.  As I was writing and re-writing this piece, the founder of Seed & Spark Emily Best published a fantastic article on Medium titled “How Raising a $2+M Seed Round Really, Actually Went”. It inspired me to keep writing and share where I’m at in my journey, with the hopes that some of you can relate and know that you are not alone.

Nothing in my life has gone the way I thought it would go.  Case in point: I’m writing this article sitting at a picnic table in the nature-filled backyard of my house in Langley, B.C. Canada (forty-five minutes outside of Vancouver), the town I grew up in that I swore I’d never ever live in again.  But life and fate had other plans.

As a dual US and Canadian citizen, I’m very lucky that I’m able to go back and forth between both countries and until late 2016, I had spent a decade of my life in the sun-soaked technicolor city of Los Angeles pursing my goals in the entertainment industry.  I completely loved my life in LA, until I didn’t. (But more on that later.)

Similar to fellow Ms. In The Biz writer Shanice, my plan like a lot of other actors who pack up and move to the City of Angels was pretty typical: become a series regular on a TV show ASAP. I had graduated with a BFA in acting and landed some roles on a few Network shows in Vancouver, and while I knew that it was going to be insanely hard work, my goal stayed the same: move to LA, audition my butt off, become a series regular. While I did book a small part on a Network show in my first couple of months there, auditions started to slow as the writer’s strike hit and I was left feeling exceptionally bored.

At that time there was this shiny cool groundbreaking thing called “new media” and YouTube.  Yes, there was a time when every actor on earth didn’t have a webseries, and at that time in the late aughts there was an incredible freedom that the internet and DSLR cameras gave actors who wanted to create their own work. So, I dove in.  It was through producing and acting in various webseries and short films that I unearthed my deep love for story-telling and bringing creative communities together.

A number of years later I knew that there was something more that I wanted to be doing. In the same way that I loved bringing a team together to create a film, I wanted to connect people even further and I wanted to give back.  I also knew a whole ton of other women who felt the same way. And thus, Ms. In The Biz was born.

So, what’s the point of this backstory?  Fast forward to the spectacular now of it all.

My Grandmother who I was very close to, passed away and gifted her house to my Mother and to me.  Built in 1948 on land that has been in my family for decades, her house is a magical place sitting on a hill side overlooking a salmon spawning creek with deer regularly wandering in the backyard forest and owls swooping by.  I grew up playing on her property and cooking in her kitchen, and nearly 12 years ago my husband and I were married on the bridge over that creek in the backyard.  It’s a place full of history and love and glorious nature, and I realized that selling it would be like cutting off a piece of me.

Prior to my Grandmother’s passing, when her health was quickly depleting, she was moved to a care home. This marked a crucial time in my life. Aside from the fact that I was losing a very important person to me, someone who was truly my third parent, it was a time when personally and professionally things desperately needed to change. Every moment of every day for me was spent in the #Hustle #livingthedream #actorslife and all of the other hashtags you can think of.  I was busy with “busy work” all of the time and working a full time “thrival job” all to feed that “#Hustle”.  After a decade in Los Angeles I was swimming in a sea of exhaustion.  In order to stay sane, keep anxiety at bay, and not work myself into an early grave, I would often leave the city to recharge.  The desert became the only place where I could really regroup and unwind.  The true silence among the Joshua Trees was really freaking loud and would snap me back into myself.  But I was burned out in the everything-in-my-brain-feels-like-putty way, completely fried.

The turning point came when I finished starring in the second feature film that I produced in 2016 and I hit an emotional wall. Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love, love, LOVED producing those features and plan on producing many more.  But something needed to shift.

Careers and lives in the arts are difficult. It’s entrepreneurship in every way and hard work does not necessarily equal the elusive “success” we all strive for. There are so many variables that are completely out of one’s control that go into whether someone is able to make a living solely off of the entertainment industry.  Couple all of that with the fact that I hold myself up to a ridiculously high standard that I would never hold someone else up to, and it’s a recipe for brain, mind, and soul burn out.  This striving for my own “mythical mark of success” was, and in many ways still is, my Achilles heel. 

My husband and I realized that we could either continue working ourselves to the bone for the pursuit of a dream that may never materialize in the way we thought it would, or we could take a moment to reflect, to breathe, and truly enjoy life for a hot second. So we made the choice at the end of 2016, when my Grandmother was moved to the care home, to return to rainy British Columbia to take over and renovate the house.

The timing for this transition could not have been more perfect.  We had just finished principal photography on our sci-fi/horror feature film and were about to start post-production, Ms. In The Biz was already planned to be on hiatus to give the writers a much needed break, and a big bonus was that Vancouver was still an ever growing hub for the film and TV industry.  We would be able to slide back into life in B.C. with the plan of marrying everything we’d learned in LA with the industry here.

Now that we’ve been back up in B.C. for over a year the expectations of where I “should” be by this time in my life versus where I am, are really strong and can sometimes feel crippling.  So many of my goals and dreams have become a reality after a lot of hard work and a little fairy dust, but many of the goals that I had way back when (stuck forever on my “vision board” a la “The Secret”) are still the same, and that’s a weird and disappointing feeling.

And thus, enter the aforementioned Dirty Little Expectation Devils sitting on my shoulder poking me with their dumb little pitch forks.  The mouthy little bastards saying, “How much longer are you going to pursue these frivolous dreams?” And you know, sometimes I feel like they have a point.

But the answer (at least for now) is, until I stop loving it.  And man, do I love it. Career coach and fellow writer for Ms. In The Biz Barbara Deutsch calls it a “pilot light,” and says that all creatives have a tiny light inside of them that needs to be stoked and never goes out.  And that’s the truth. I’m a lifer. My pilot light is something I will have until the day I die.

So yes, stupid Dirty Little Expectation Devils, until I no longer have a passion for getting up in the morning and creating art, building community, and living in a world where I’m inhabiting another character’s words, I am going to keep on doing all of those things.  And truth be told, if that passion died tomorrow I’d be ok with it because now I am starting to familiarize myself with what having a FULL LIFE looks like.

Coming back to this house, living right IN nature, taking care of our enormous pup Ella, being able to visit my parents at their place by literally walking across our bridge, all of that FORCES ME to actually BE “in the moment” instead of thinking about the fact that I need to be in the moment. Do I miss Los Angeles?  Absolutely.  There is an entrepreneurial artistic spirit that is unlike anywhere else and yes, I definitely miss that, and I miss all of my friends who share my same drive and passion.  But my husband and I are doing our best to set up our life to be able live half in B.C. and half in L.A. and overall, I’m loving rediscovering Vancouver, the industry in this city, and everything that living here has to offer me.

Thanks to the good ol’ internet and to those very #Hustle muscles that I acquired in LA, I’m able to work more efficiently and effectively in the time I do spend at my desk.  I’m able to pursue work here, stay connected to my friends and community in Los Angeles, run Ms. In The Biz, and produce some kick ass indie feature films at the same time.   I used to spend a lot of time trying “Super Hard”, reading all the books to figure out how to get out of my own head and stop the OCD anxiety train from running all over my insides.  And now, for this part of my journey, British Columbia is where I am starting to become truly grounded.  I’m beginning to learn that life is just darn better when you relax.  I’m now doing my best to focus on the totality of my life instead of always trying to walk up the down-moving escalator to get to some mythical top of a fictitious mountain.

And while I’d like to pretend the Dirty Little Expectation Devils aren’t there or that I’ve found a magical way to shut them up through tons of meditation, positive thinking, and drinking all of the healthy green smoothies my Vitamix can make, at the moment I haven’t. And perhaps I’ll still have the same goals another decade from now, we’ll see.  But right now, I feel like I’m truly discovering the Ms. In The Biz mantra of “creating career success while living a purpose-filled, passionate life,” and no matter what lies ahead, that feels pretty damn good.

Helenna Santos

About Helenna Santos

Helenna Santos is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ms. In The Biz. She is also an actor, writer and producer with Mighty Pharaoh Films and can often be found on panels at conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con, and has been interviewed by major press outlets including CNN. Her work as a contributing writer has been featured in MovieMaker Magazine, Backstage Magazine, and IndieWire. She has produced numerous award winning short films and digital series, and her latest projects the feature films “At Your Own Risk” and an “Untitled Sci-Fi/Horror” movie which she produced and stars in, both release in 2018.