Acceptance is an inner state of humility achieved only after a period of grueling and thorough hard work. Falling flat on your face and then getting up for more.
I shudder to think of the way my life could have gone if I had talked myself out of auditioning for the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, due to the fact that I didn't have the money to afford the tuition, even if I was accepted. In fact, it would have been even easier for me to give up after I did muster up the courage to audition right out of high school—only to be subsequently rejected. They told me 'no.' I had failed . . . but I knew that I could do better.
So I came up with a plan.
I decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh because (A) I could afford the instate tuition, (B) they had a liberal arts theatre studies program, and (C) the campus was within walking distance to Carnegie Mellon.
It was time to go to work.
That first semester, I took every acting class I could fit into my schedule. It got to the point where my guidance counselor pulled me aside and suggested that I ease up, due to the fact that I would use up all of my theatre courses in my first two years . . . but I never had any idea of being there past the first.
I auditioned for every play I could at Pitt and wound up being cast in lead roles in several of them, much to the chagrin of some of the graduate students.
I answered every possible casting notice I could find in the paper. I rode endless subways and bus transfers to auditions and shoots for the most amateur, local, nonpaying, crazy video jobs you could possibly imagine, just so I could get in front of a camera.
I took classes studying all of the classic plays and signed up for film philosophy classes.
I volunteered for photo shoots with up-and-coming photographers in return for free headshots.
All the while, I was developing new audition monologues that I would practice performing for the kids who lived down the hall from me in my dorm.
After being rejected by CMU, I spent every single moment of that year making myself better and finding out how much I could change and grow. If I was going to be rejected a second time after that year, then I needed to be able to look back and know that I did everything I possibly could. That was the only way that I knew of that I could possibly walk away from my dream.
That year flew by, and one fateful Saturday morning in early February, I walked across Forbes Avenue from Pitt to CMU and tried out again. I didn't apply to any other schools and I never had a backup plan. That was it. There was no 'Plan B.'
I got in.
That year, I was one of only seventeen actors accepted out of eight hundred, and upon learning of my financial situation, the head of CMU's acting department found a 75 percent scholarship for me to attend.
Looking back at my life, it was the obstacles, the shortcomings, and the failures that forced me to fight harder, to reach inside and pull something truly extraordinary out of myself that I didn't even know existed. My failure was essential to my growth, because every time I failed, I learned that it was because I did not fight as hard as humanly possible.
Notice I didn't say 'fight my hardest.' There are a lot of people who try as hard as they can. But their ceilings and limitations are perceived barriers that restrict what they can achieve. We don't know what we can really do until we push past the farthest point we've ever been and go where we've never gone before. There is a place beyond the conscious perception of what is achievable and that is where real success occurs.
After years of failure, I learned that there was another gear somewhere inside of me, and oftentimes it took failing to find the upshift. I began to believe that if, given enough time, and if I followed an intelligent and disciplined plan, I could change so drastically that you wouldn't even recognize me. I had learned to evolve.
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