Every adversity, every failure, and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.
—from Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
I don’t even like lifting weights, running, and almost everything I did to win the 2015 Bodybuilding.com Transformation Challenge. I only did it because I wanted the money and the body, in the beginning. So, I did every planned friggin’ exhausting workout and ate every planned tasteless or straight-up nasty meal, pill, and powder for three consecutive months, no matter how I felt. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. I didn’t break any rules or go off-plan, ever. This miracle was possible for two reasons: FAITH— I believed I had a real chance at winning, I trusted God, I knew deep in my heart that if I stayed committed, it would be worth it—and I stayed fiercely FOCUSED. My story is about the power of FAITH and FOCUS.
As the days went on, my FAITH and FOCUS intensified and I became obsessed, which resulted in a big win at a time in my life when I really needed it. At the time when I did the contest, I was living in a nice apartment that no one would guess was low-income housing, just a five-minute walk to the ocean in beautiful Santa Monica with organic stores everywhere, fancy dogs, and chiseled six-packs jogging on every other block. I had a decent car and nothing was stopping me from living a fulfilling life, that is nothing . . . but me.
I felt like a loser, a phony pretending to be doing OK. After ten years of half-assedly pursuing acting, I only had a handful of credits: three national commercials with my voice deleted out of all of them, a few print ads that I never got to see, and a split second of me saying, “Cheers!” in a big movie.
I loved acting, but I didn’t have the thick skin and unstoppable fire for it. The endless rejections felt personal. I repeatedly told myself: “If I was prettier . . . ,” “If I was thinner . . . ,” or “If I was smarter or funnier, I would have gotten that gig.” I didn’t put in the necessary hundreds of hours of hard work to strengthen my acting, which would have built a foundation of confidence, or at least made me feel that I was good enough as a performer. Instead, I was hoping my acting dream would come easily, which led to me continuing to project my insecurities. And my self-worth continued shrinking.
With negative thoughts come more negative thoughts. Every new “survival” job reinforced that I was a loser. I guess I’m only good enough for: making and delivering cheap-ass sandwiches; cleaning off tables for celebrities at a high-end sushi restaurant; driving drunk people home at 3am on weekends (that includes providing a throw-up bag, helping them put their shoes back on, and carrying their wobbly-ass bodies to their doorstep—for women . . . for the guys, I’d just shove them out of my car, just kidding, not really); selling alcohol in a cheap tight dress with a high slit in the back as I stood in front of the whiskey section at ghetto Korean grocery stores (I made sure to wear stockings as thick as yoga pants. As an extra insurance against perverts, I wore a business suit jacket and my mom’s old dust-encrusted marshmallow nurse shoes, instead of the required sexy heels. As hard as I tried to avoid any Koreans I might know, I ran into my dad, my grandma on my dad’s side, my grandpa on my dad’s side, my aunt, my uncle, my cousins, an old friend, all at separate times, and each looked at me in horror-pity. Geezus! It’s not like I’m some prostitute . . . almost not. Honestly, though, they were flabbergasted by my bad career moves). I’ve quit jobs on the first day of working, others after a few weeks; no matter what though, I was done within several months of starting a job. No one could tame this beast.
An insensitive friend who’d been at her same unfulfilling job for more years than she was proud to admit, laughed in front of a group of mutual friends, “What job hasn’t Nina applied for?!” At least I have the guts to leave a dumb job, I thought. But her words stung.
I insanely resented working at lame survival jobs. But it was the only way I knew how to have a flexible schedule to attend auditions at any time of the day. I considered putting my acting career on hold in order to be a postal worker, a nurse, or a police officer—legit, respectable stable jobs that would end this pathetic pattern of begging for money from my parents whenever I was broke as f***. But I just couldn’t see myself keeping those jobs, even if I were to invest a lot of time and money into them.
I almost completed an accelerated emergency medical technician program, until the reality of what might happen on a late-night shift in an ambulance really hit me. I thought working as an assistant to casting directors in the movie business would be a good choice, but after a fun brief stint of hiring a bunch of my friends and family as extras, I got laid off. Extras get paid so much more than you’d think, so I even tried that. It’s a non-commital job, so it seemed natural. But the biggest blow to my ego was being a background extra on movie sets amongst hundreds of weirdos and wannabes. Ask any somewhat sane person who’s been there.
Whatever I tried felt like the wrong turn. And it killed me inside to feel so lost for so long. Ten years of making no progress in my career and no personal sense of achievement. I didn’t have any goals that excited me. I didn’t know what I really wanted, except for the occasional gung-ho desire to lose weight. I was often frustrated, angry, or crying.
I was getting annoyed at myself: the same complaints, the same uneventful day-to-day living. Maybe I had serious issues, so I googled it: depression, what’s wrong with me, quarter-life crisis. Maybe I was so mentally ill that I didn’t know I was mentally ill! That must be why my family gravely worried about my future. No, I was just different, I hated settling for predictable, boring, and “normal” . . . right?
I admired risk-takers. But what risk was I taking? Why wasn’t I able to decide on anything new? Why wasn’t something pulling me to change? I’ve watched many great motivational youtube videos, but I didn’t act any different after they were over.
I felt like a burden to those close to me. My mom begged me to join the military, my dad wanted me to work for his construction company, my aunt tried to bribe me into her real estate business, my lawyer sister yelled at me to get a real job! Everybody and their neighbor had a better idea for my life than I did.
I didn’t know what the heck to do. I went back to Berkeley twice when I had both quarter-life crises, feeling like a failure who’s best bet was to finish a sorry degree in theatre arts (a joke on campus; maybe they all knew I had to act like a tree in front of my class) that I’d started years earlier as an undergrad. But I couldn’t stand even a minute of listening to an old fart professor blaming Hollywood as racist because she didn’t live the life she wanted, or cringing as I read a few sentences about ancient theatrical acting in Greece. My heart kept taking me back to LA.
I hated telling people I was pursuing acting so much that I eventually stopped talking about it. I wanted to be successful already, be a powerful actress, what I thought was a badass somebody. Definitely not a pathetic 30-year-old wannabe actress.
I knew I was so much better than all this, but was I? Maybe I’m not that interesting. Maybe I’m not good enough to deserve the kind of life I want. I was definitely not thin enough according to two very successful talent managers who both rejected me. One of them was known for having a slew of up-and-coming hot young actors, her top client was the Superman in the latest Superman movie. The first thing she said was, “You look like you’re hiding something. Lift up your shirt and come closer to me.” I wasn’t trying to hide my belly! I just like baggy shirts! And I wasn’t interviewing to be some model, so what the heck? I sucked in my flab slightly, careful that she didn’t notice my effort.
Intimidating like Judge Judy, she proclaimed, “You’re competing with girls that are a size zero. Unless you want to be the fat funny girl. But you can’t be in-between. If you’re serious about acting, come back to me after you lose the weight. You’re cute, but you’re starting late.”
I didn’t know how to respond. She called me sort-of fat, but at least she called me cute, but she also called me old, but at least she said I could come back, but that means she doesn’t think I’m good enough to work as an actress right now just because of the flab she saw only when I lifted my shirt?
By the time I got in my car, I burst into a broken fire hydrant of tears. I shouldn’t have lifted my stupid shirt for her. I shouldn’t have let her talk to me like that. I should know how to stand up for myself, I should know how to be grounded and strong. I should be better than this . . .
I was sick of being a nobody beggarly actress at the mercy of someone’s opinion of me. But mostly, I was angry at myself. Sometimes it was a full-on rage at this stupid stupid life I created. (Two “stupids” for emphasis.) I was like a pissed-off hamster furiously spinning in my stupid wheel, angry that it was getting me nowhere but maintaining that pointless, angry sprint to nowhere anyway. Full-on rage at the stupid wheel I’d stayed on for too long. I wasted so much of my life . . . doing what?
So, when I came across Bodybuilding.com’s Transformation Challenge, I grabbed it subconsciously [n2] and made it into the fight of my life—the fight for my life: I will prove to myself that I have what it takes to be a success, that I know how to give it my all, that I am much more than this life I have lived so far.
So, I decided—JUST SMASH THROUGH IT ALL.