Full text of author Felicia Ricci’s talk: How to Change Careers When You’re Lost at TEDxYale conference.
Felicia Ricci – TRANSCRIPT
Hi, everyone. I’m Felicia, that says there. This is really exciting. I actually took professor Chun’s class when I was at Yale. He is awesome. So, it’s honored to be here. The past three years of my life have been a whirlwind.
I moved three times, I wrote two books, I published one of them, and I actually started my own business. Three years ago, my life looked incredibly different. I was living in New York City, and I was working full time as an actor. I had an agent, I was a member of the Actors Union, and I have just come off being in one of the biggest musicals of all time, which was “Wicked.” Any of you have seen Wicked? Yeap! So, it’s a really big musical.
And on the outside, you know, everything was going great. If I kept going in this direction, maybe I could do a lot in theater. And sort of all seemed to be pointing in that one direction. But on the inside, I was wracked with doubt, and I was incredibly scared. The reason being, you know, theater and acting was what I have thought to be my life dream.
Ever since I was two, I went to see my first Broadway show, which was “The phantom of the opera”; claps for “The phantom of the opera.” I don’t know why I was obsessed with theater. I went to theater camp. I would sing in the shower, my parents heard me.
I would sing soundtracks all the time, so I was obsessed. And then, in college, even though I did have a lot of interest, and I actually majored in English, I decided, when I graduated, that I had to go for it, I had to go for the theater because if I didn’t, I would regret it. So, I did.
And the relative success I had early on with “Wicked” was very complicated for me. Because on one hand, you know, it was amazing. It was the fulfillment of literally a lifelong dream. But on the other hand, it made me see pretty quickly that what I have thought was my lifelong dream might not actually be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I was researching this experience, I thought this is like a footnote in life, right? So, you start one place and you end up another, but what we don’t know is talk about that process.
And I wanted to get in the mindset of what that felt like because I am an actor, and I wanted to access those emotions. I pulled up a bunch of the emails. I’ve been writing at that time, I found the one I wrote to my agent when I finally had made the decision and said something like: “Hi David, please cancel all my auditions. I need to take a long break from acting.
I don’t know whether or not this will be permanent. I’m sorry, but my heart is not in the business. And it doesn’t fulfill me in the way I thought it would. Please know that it is not impulsive but comes after many months of trying to figure out what to do with my life. Sorry if I wasted your time, but this is my truth.” So, phew!, even in saying it back now, I kind of like, relieve the feelings of being there. And it’s a horrible place, right? To not know what you’re going to be doing with your life.
And that horrible thing, my friends, is what I want to talk to you about today. And that is the process of revision. So, the official title of this talk is: “There is no final draft: keep revising your life to create your reality.” So, maybe some of you can relate to what I have just described that feeling of going in one direction or maybe trying to figure out where to go next? Or maybe some of you are lucky enough to never have been confronted by those feelings of doubt yet. But, just so we are all on the same page, I want to delve into what I mean by revision.
So, the first thing that I think of when I think of revision I try to make clear by this visual aid, which is the process of submitting a paper or an essay to a teacher and I know we can all relate to that, and getting it back and then seeing all the nasty red ink on the page, and Xs, and underlines, and the question marks. And it’s just like the worst feeling to think that you’re completely done with something, but then to read the margins that say, “Not quite,” or “Go deeper,” or “Think again.” So, this experience is a microcosm of what I’m talking about on a grander-scale which is a life revision.
So, I wanted to define what I meant by that. And a revision in this case means any change that meaningfully alters your day-to-day life in the long term, right? So, a revision can be something that is planned – in the case of taking a break from acting, I thought about it for many months – or can be unplanned. Life sends you so many curve balls, and a lot of times, a revision can be a reaction to that. Revision can also be at varying degrees. It can be a 180 degree change; that’s very drastic, but I’m not necessarily talking about starting over or completely leveling your life.
There can be varying degrees. There can be a recalibration or a refocusing. So, that’s what I mean by revision. And then when I was thinking about giving this talk, I knew that this topic meant a lot to me, but then I thought to myself: “OK, so I am talking to everybody as like this expert in revision?” and the answer is, “Absolutely not.” I’m not speaking to you as an expert, but I realized that I’m speaking to you as a revision advocate or a revision agent.
And, hopefully, my goal is to encourage you and empower you to be able to embrace this process of change as opposed to be totally freaked out by it. So, that’s where I am coming from and in order to do that, I figured out I would give you my top three tips for making a revision. And that’s actually a photo of me because it was royalty for it, so I put that photo of me right there.
OK. So, my top three tips for making a revision. The first has to do with ignoring the odds. And that is, if you are innovative, the odds would never be in your favor. My path in particular has led me to the arts. I’ve always been really into theater, and now, writing. The chances and the statistics of someone actually making a living doing these things were horrible. So, I had to get used to ignoring the odds, and completely drowning out the sound of people telling me whether or not this looks like a good prospect for my life.
And similarly, if you’re contemplating a change of direction, a change in gear that is unorthodox or innovative, the same is going to be absolutely true for you. You are by definition going against the odds. So, my point is that it’s a sort of an irrelevant data point to think about: “Well, you know, let me consult the statistics on this.” And the thing is that people who care about you the most are going to be the ones who are telling you that they’re going to want a more secure life path for you, so they are going to point these things out to you, but I would encourage you to really listen to your gut; and when you really consider what step to take next, to just ignore the odds. Because if you go against the grain, you’ll be going against the odds by definition. That’s my first tip.
My second tip is that revisions can be terrifying and stressful, and you will freak out. I thought of a little visual humor for you. OK. So, basically I want to tell you guys to embrace the fear aspect. And I feel like that this part could lead to 100 TED talks, the aspect of fear when you are going through any life revision. But I didn’t want to bring this up because I feel like it’s such an universal experience and it’s almost so obvious, right? That change is scary.
But when I was at first writing the speech, I didn’t think to mention it. Because we have a tendency when we’re being, like, polished and talking about a topic and I want to be academic about it, like: “I can talk about how scary it was.” When in actuality it was incredibly scary, making this huge change. You would think that since I’ve been on stage and I like acting, that I have these nerves of steel; but that’s absolutely not true. I’m very nervous right now.
I’ve encountered a lot of anxiety in my life, and particularly involving huge revision. So, I just want to put that out there that everybody freaks out, you freak out, I freak out, we all freak out. The most successful people do; but it’s not something that’s really talked about. There are a bunch of resources out there that can help you if you are currently going through a scary time or if you do in the future I actually want to invite you to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a bunch of resources that have helped me to channel my anxiety and my fear. And I’d be happy to share those with you, so, I want to put that out there.
So, my final tip for you is probably the most important tip. And it is that you can’t decide by thinking, you can only decide by doing. And this one is a really annoying truth because if you’re like me, you like to think things through, you just want to analyze every possible outcome, and that’s great. Researching what you want to do with your life or where you want to go is very valuable. Making pro and cons charts. I did that as well. But the fact is, when it actually comes to making a decision, you’re never going to know how it’s going to turn out until you actually do that thing, till you actually follow through. And that’s just true.
I have two examples of this. And one is when I wrote my first book I really wanted to make sure that I would be really good at writing a book before I wrote the book. So, I read all these books on books. And I read, you know, how to write books. But it wasn’t until I actually sat down and I wrote the damn book that I realized that I could do this. This is actually something that fit me but it was in the doing. On the flip side, after I wrote my first book which was actually a non-fiction book, I thought to myself: “OK, my next goal is I want to write a young adult novel.” So, a similar thing. I read books on young adult novels, I read young adult novels, I watched the Twilight series. Twice, no, just once. And so, you know, I was like: “You kind of think it through.” And then it wasn’t till it took about eight months, and I wrote 200,000 words that I realized that I actually hate young adult novels.
No, I don’t hate all the young adult novels, but me, personally, it was not the right fit for me as a writer, and I didn’t know till I actually did it. So, this is, I think, where you combine the embracing of the fear and ignoring the odds; is just putting that all behind you, and actually doing it. I mean, it sounds simple, but it’s a process. And it’s one that I hope I can demystify for you all, and encourage you to do.
So, this is my final slide: “Go forth and revise!” Today, I live in Pennsylvania, and I spend a lot of my time writing. I teach voice lessons, I run my own company, I help my fiancé run his company; I do a lot of stuff. And it suits me for now. So, it’s an ongoing process of revision. But it’s such a crucial element of life. I just want you all to go boldly forth, and create positive change for yourself and also for the world.
It’s a tall order, but I think we can do it, my friends. Thank you so much for having me.