How Facing My Fear led to a New Acting Job

If there’s anything I’ve learned from facing my fears it’s that once I do I effectively change my life. I create and share new work to inspire people, get a new job to work hard on, or meet new friends to enjoy life with. In this case, facing fear led to a new acting job as a standardized patient (SP), but I almost didn’t even make it to my interview for it. If you don’t know what an SP is, more on that in a bit.

My interview was out in Long Island and I’m based in Queens so I didn’t think it’d be too challenging to get out there. The directions told me the fastest route was to travel into Manhattan first and then take an express bus out. I hopped on the subway and zipped out to Manhattan. Then things started to not go so smoothly.

After a fight with a metro card machine, it wouldn’t read my metro card because there was a little dent in it, I finally refilled my card with the funds for the express bus. Having conquered that machine I walked over to the bus stop in Midtown. I was right on time for a bus that wound up being 45 minutes late. At this point I was an hour away from an interview that was supposed to happen in 15 minutes.

I was freaking out. I very nearly walked away from the bus stop and went home. I told myself the job is too far away, they’ll never want to hire someone so late to an interview, and why do I even want to be an actor maybe this was a sign, yeah I was spiraling into that negative self talk zone. I realize now I was trying to rationalize my fear of disappointing people I’d never met and who might actually be understanding.

I forced myself to keep waiting and got on the very late bus when it arrived. I then charged straight to the back of the bus and just let the tears roll, interview makeup be damned. I was mad at myself for not being in control of the bus, for not finagling the situation perfectly and mostly for being late.

Yet even as I was having a moment I found the courage to email the guy who had set up my interview and tell him I was running late. Then I realized he might not get that in time and I called him and told him I was running late, forcing my voice to sound calm. He thanked me for calling and said he got my email as well and wished me good luck on my interview. I took positive action and got a little positive energy sent back my way. I started to calm myself and prepare for my interview. I reviewed my notes, fixed my makeup and took in the trees rolling by my window.

I finally arrived at the office and checked in for my interview and agreed to let someone else go in before me who had waited longer. During the hour I waited I continued to prepare for my interview/ audition. When I finally got in the room I was completely honest with them about my morning, told them about the emotional bits, how I recovered and how I’d plan better next time. They were understanding, maybe even a little amused, and told me about their amazing SP program.

SP actors take on the personal history, physical symptoms, and emotional characteristics of actual patients and then improvise with student doctors to help them train for optimal patient interactions. This hospital goes all out with their doctor/patient simulations. Cases I might play as an SP include a pregnant woman in labor, a homeless person sitting in an entryway (for this one they shut down the whole office building and put makeup on us to help us look more bedraggled), or a victim of sexual assault where they’d actually pick us up in an ambulance and drive around doing an entire intake scenario with an EMT in training. Those are just some examples of over 50 different training cases they have.

They interviewed me for an hour and then they offered me the SP job on the spot!! Flash forward to today, one month later, I’ve just had my first orientation for the job. The President of the hospital came and spoke to us, about 100 new hires across all departments of the hospital, and said something that really resonated with me: ‘You don’t fail when you lose, you fail when you quit.’

I would say the inverse is also true: you don’t succeed when you win, you succeed when you keep going. My success on that interview day was in getting on the damn bus, even though it wasn’t perfect, even though I felt embarrassed and emotional. If I hadn’t persevered I wouldn’t have won later in the day and booked the job. My success was in taking action and facing my fear of disappointing someone.

Today at the orientation they asked us to fill in the blank, ‘I am made to…’ My answer? ‘I am made to inspire people.’ I can’t predict when I’ll have an opportunity to do so, but often times I just have to show up and be present for whatever the Universe sends my way and it gives me that opportunity.

At one of the break out sessions during the orientation today we had to share personal stories about what we wanted to be as a kid and how it connects to our job at the hospital now. My answer? I’m doing what I wanted to do when I was younger, as a standardized patient I get to use my acting chops to help train doctors in patient care. My table mates told me that inspired them. See what I mean? Thank you, Universe.

Facing Fears: Solitude & Self Love

I recently separated from my boyfriend of many years. We’re still friends and didn’t break it off because of drama or anything like that, but after several years of being romantically attached I’m now single. I’m taking advantage of my newfound solitude to strengthen my inner core, not my abs (yet), but my will and drive and focus.

Solitude is a really marvelous thing. It’s kind of uncomfortable to acknowledge you’re a solitary being on your own journey because it doesn’t feel safe. Embracing that requires you step up to the plate, pick up the bat, and swing for what you want. It requires you to do that again and again and again and if you don’t you will yourself to sit on the sidelines and watch an empty field that could be filled with home runs.

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

I’ve recently discovered the only way to enjoy solitude is to love yourself and that I have not loved myself in a while. I love other people, I love the feeling of sunshine on my skin, I love the ocean, I love laughing with friends and family and I love home cooked meals. I love a lot but I’ve neglected loving myself for a long time.

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

A lack of self love is hard to recognize when you’re being loved by another human being because they help to fill that void. On the other hand when you’re in a relationship with someone else you still need some solitude and a ton of self love, and I believe it’s vital to learn to embrace self love whether or not you’re in a romantic relationship. Also, although Hollywood routinely shows us accomplished men as solitary figures and women as partners to them, it’s a journey worth taking no matter what your gender.

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

I’ve been practicing self love, in the past four months or so, by bringing things I loved to do when I was a kid back into my life: martial arts, writing poetry, and traveling. I’ve been spending more time with my friends, specifically female friends and that feels so good and safe and fun. I’m completing projects I’ve had in limbo for years. I’m noticing that by allowing myself to do things I love I’m more eager to connect with people I love and actively engage with the world.

I believe the path of solitude and self love, over time, leads you through the hero’s journey. If I’m honest, I’ve been afraid to actively love myself. I’ve been afraid of how powerful that is and how radically I’ll change my surroundings. That fear of self love undoubtedly has held me back in my creative career as well. However I’m now determined to love myself into a vibrantly creative life and hopefully I’ll give back and inspire people along the way. I’m in the midst of my own hero’s journey. 💛

I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

Overcoming Fear: Flying to London

This summer I got on an airplane and flew to London all by myself. It’s actually the second transatlantic flight I’ve gone on solo and for someone who has been afraid of flying since 9/11 thats not bad. Well it was stressful for sure, but I’m going to take a moment to appreciate how cool it is that I did it anyway. 🤔😏😉

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

I went to London to partake in a documentary from filmmaker Jack Everitt about having Phenylketonuria, my metabolic disorder. He initially reached out to me on Twitter because I was the ‘second most famous’ person with PKU according to the internet. I’m coming for you #1, just kidding whoever you are you rock. Can I interview you? Anyway, Jack wanted to interview me for his documentary and I excitedly said yes! And then I flew across the pond.

Jack was an incredible sweetheart and met me at the airport along with fellow PKU advocate Mark Edwards, who is based in Wales. Thank God because by the time I landed, 12am local time, I was hungry and dehydrated and was incredibly grateful to absorb the friendly advice – get your train ticket here, we’ll take the train here and then a taxi there – while downing a bottled water. Then our train broke down at around 1:30am and we waited for a new train for around 45 minutes or so, but I didn’t care because I had company! Alone, I would’ve been freaked. I also took the opportunity to have a little photoshoot.

While in London I was determined to interview three fellow PKU’ers about their experience with PKU. Lucky for me Jack, Mark, and Sarah all sat and chatted with me for the better part of an hour each and I’ve been releasing those conversations as part of my #PKUChat series on YouTube. Below watch a sneak peek of my interview with Sarah, an American lawyer with PKU, living in London. She’s also a PKU advocate with an Instagram page dedicated to PKU friendly food.

It was a lot of fun to talk with Jack about PKU for his documentary and I can’t wait to see it when it’s finished. We both realized our ultimate goal is for more people to know what PKU is. You know how when someone tells you they have diabetes you don’t feel confused? We’d like for PKU to be similarly understood. It would help us feel more at ease whenever we go out to eat with someone new. While I love educating people about what it means to have Phenylketonuria it’d be such a pleasure to sit down to eat with someone and feel accepted right off the bat no matter what’s on my plate.

(Photo still from documentary, credit Jack Everitt)

Getting over my fear of flying was well worth this exciting and productive trip to London! It was my first time there and I wanted to have a visual record of it so I collaborated with London-based photographer Dan Corbett for a photoshoot all along the South Bank and a little bit of Shoreditch too. I managed to get a bunch of sightseeing in as well hitting up some brilliant Tate Modern exhibits, the Tower Bridge, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, a couple of West End shows, and lots of walking including a haunted tour of London!

How’s that for facing fear?

(Photo credit: Dan Corbett)

Overcoming Fear: Speaking on my First Panel

This week I spoke on my first ever panel at the SAG Foundation on ‘Growing Your Social Media Following’. I was absolutely terrified before going out there, but let me just say it went really well. Except for the moment I set off an alarm and locked myself and all the other badass panelists in the elevator right before the panel began… more on that later. The other panelists were: Arda @ardaocaltv (our talented moderator), Heidi @marketing4actors (social media pro), Tony @tonyhowell (digital guru), and Jessy @socialmediaagent (next level brand partnership leader).

Lillian Isabella at SAG Foundation

I was asked to be on this panel because I’m an actor, writer, model, and social media expert. After graduating NYU Tisch with a BFA in Theatre I dove right into social media and built a large following including 45,000+ on Facebook and 22,000+ on Twitter. Then I took on clients including Tribeca Film Institute, I increased their Instagram following by over 300%, their Twitter following by over 50%, and their Instagram following by over 25%. Needless to say I love social media and the power it has to connect people.

IMG_5178

Okay back to the panel – this was my first time ever speaking on a panel but I have spoken in front of large crowds before. The thing I love most about public speaking is it’s a chance to genuinely connect with a roomful of other humans and get them excited. In this case we were talking about something I’m usually pretty jazzed about anyway.

The panel was all about looking at social media from an actor/brand perspective. How can you best utilize social media to amplify your brands reach and message? It became clear pretty quickly that all of us panelists agree social media is about genuinely connecting with people more than being a sounding board for your artistic endeavors. Social Media Pro Tip: Use your storytelling abilities to create an engaging narrative about who you are and what you’re about then connect with the people you want to work with.

You can watch the panel in its entirety here:

I want to work with everyone who spoke on the panel on Monday and I’m thrilled I got to meet them. Also although my nerve wracked brain fantasized about suddenly not being able to attend the panel (safety!) I’m so happy I was in fact able to go. It was a life changing experience and I can’t wait to speak on a panel again. Making people laugh is really addicting. Not so funny was when the amazing NY Program Director of the SAG Foundation Melissa Zakri Zareh, the other 3 panelists and I got stuck in the elevator because I accidentally leaned on the emergency button with my butt. Luckily Melissa used her staff badge to whisk us out of that situation and get the elevator doors to open. Sorry team! Haha. Okay maybe it was a tiny bit funny, but only because it didn’t last long.

On a more serious note, I’m noticing those moments where I do something in spite of my fear often wind up being life changing for me. I’m reminded of that Kafka story where the man stands in front of a gate waiting for permission from the gatekeeper to go through. He waits for many years until he’s on the verge of death but then finds out the door was only meant for him to go through this whole time and now it’s too late and it’s closed to him forever. Yikes! In reality we are both that eager striving man and that gatekeeper. Our fear often keeps us from walking through a gate of opportunity, growth, and new expansion. However we also hold the power to change that and push through. Take that, fear.

Facing Fear: Starbucks and Senators Oh My!

This week I drank my first cup of fancy Starbucks coffee ever. I have the metabolic disorder #Phenylketonuria (PKU), which makes it so that I can’t break down the amino acid Phenylalanine found in food high in protein, more on that here. This includes cow’s milk and is why I hadn’t tried any of those macchiato confections – because let’s be real they’re straight up sugar.

Besides, I’m not a big coffee drinker and wouldn’t want to drink straight black coffee. However a couple years ago Starbucks added Almond Milk and Coconut Milk as substitute options, both are MUCH lower in protein than cows milk and are PKU friendly.

Once I could try one of Starbucks’ fancy coffees I delayed it because on some level I was scared to. I had thought of Starbucks as something I couldn’t enjoy for so long I was in denial that it wasn’t so anymore. Now I understand what all the fuss is about.

Lillian Isabella

I’ve been wanting to take my advocacy for PKU to the next level for a while but the idea of reaching out to a politician was a bit scary. What would I say? Would they even take me seriously?

Last week I emailed one of my Senators to ask if I could speak with her about sponsoring the Medical Nutrition Equity Act. The Act would provide public and private insurance coverage for physician prescribed medical foods – medical formulas (my PKU shake) and low protein modified foods for children and adults with PKU and other inborn errors of metabolism.

Lillian Isabella PKU
I love drinking my shake. It’s called Phenyl Ade Essential

This is incredibly important because the medical formulas and foods ensure people with PKU, such as myself, are able to function at their full capacity instead of becoming mentally disabled. Without insurance the cost of these medical formulas and foods runs approximately $12,000- $15,000 per year.

Right now coverage differs state to state and many families with a loved one with PKU find it incredibly challenging to get the help they need.

Yesterday afternoon I got an email from a senior advisor to Senator Gillibrand and I will be speaking with the advisor about the act soon. I’m excited and a little intimidated but I’ll let you know how it goes!

Overcoming Fear – Directing My 1st Film

I’ve wanted to try my hand at directing for a couple years, been curious about it, daydreamed about it, and even imagined accepting an Academy Award for doing it, but until two weeks ago I hadn’t made one yet. I came up with all the excuses for why not, but mainly it was because I was scared to get started.

Well, last month I was invited to take part in a film challenge called Film Force Five an independent project led by Jose Rodriguez (Director Documentary Programs at Tribeca Film Institute) and Timothy Noble. It was just the push I needed. Psyched the Universe threw this opportunity my way, I accepted and on May 2nd, 2017 I produced and directed my first short film, Working It Out!

FullSizeRender (12)

Jose and Timothy sent five filmmakers (including me!) a short skeleton script containing only dialogue and asked us to interpret the genre, setting, character details, action and scene directions, etc. They requested we approach the script with unexpected direction and to feel free to be weird and original. We had one month to interpret the script, go through the pre-production process, and shoot and edit the film. It was intense, exactly what I needed to push through the fear, throw myself into action, and finally make a film.

IMG_4075Since we weren’t able to add any dialogue it forced me to concentrate on telling the story visually – which is what filmmaking is all about! Also, being weird in my interpretation of the script was fun. The script originally only had two characters in it, but I split one of the characters into two without changing the order of the dialogue. I’m grateful to the talented actors Anna Fikhman, Laura Riveros, and Andrew James Gordon who dove into the unusual script and had fun with it.

FullSizeRender (11)

My DP/ Editor Benny Krown was also a great asset to have on set. Due to the tight pre-production and shooting schedule, we had to think fast and make changes on the fly. Benny knew what he was doing with the camera and that made ALL the difference. I was happily able to focus on rehearsing with the actors when I needed to.

WorkingItOut Slate

The experienced Sound Mixer Ruben Morales was also invaluable to have on set! We had a spectacularly noisy park location with airplanes flying overhead and a drill going on somewhere nearby. Without Ruben, we would’ve been in trouble. Ryan Pattison was on board to help with sound and Sophia Rodriguez (my sister) wound up with a 1st AD credit because of how much she contributed on the day of. I originally just asked her to be the photographer so I’m grateful for her willingness to help.

IMG_3950

I had always found it funny how Academy Award winners seem so shocked to be winning one. Don’t we all imagine winning one at some point and practice speeches in our heads? Yet to actually put our dreams into motion requires a shift of mentality that pushes the award-winning daydreams out of mind.

By the time I had finished shooting the film I was just so grateful it happened. That by some miracle, the actors came to set safely, the equipment worked, it didn’t rain, we finished filming in under eight hours, we got enough shots to make a film, we all got along, we made it happen.

FullSizeRender (10).jpg

Directing is fun beyond my wildest dreams. On set I literally jumped up and down with excitement when we got a great take. I loved balancing all the different elements of the production – sound, shot list, actors, scheduling, feeding everyone. I was in my element. That’s where the joy of creating lies – in taking action, making it happen, and teamwork. Take that, fear.

I learned a lot, gained experience, and created a fun short film that passes the Bechdel test (of course).

Facing Fear – Improv in a Bar

I haven’t written a post in longer than I’d like but in the past month, as I work to overcome fear, I’ve been going out, doing more, meeting new people, and thrusting myself into new situations.

Just yesterday I performed improv in a bar with a group of friends from my Upright Citizens Brigade improv class. I had never performed in a bar before, and had performed in an improv show only once before about two years ago.

When they asked me to join them my initial reaction was AHHHH! Perform live in a bar? There will be (drunk uninhibited) people there watching us! But I barreled through the fear and said ‘yes why not?!’ After all, I’d get to perform! Performing is one of my absolute favorite things to do.

IMG_3400

As I got ready to head out to the venue last night I kept wondering how the night would go. Would the audience greet us as welcome entertainment or intruders on their night out? Would they enjoy our show or wish they were elsewhere? You know typical fearful thoughts.

I hadn’t eaten dinner yet so once I got there I wolfed down some fries and a glass of wine. My friends and I all played a verbal warm up game together. We’d pick someone in the group and name a category then they’d list the first five things that came to mind. I hadn’t played that game before but it was fun and helped loosen me up and get my mind churning. (I’m sure the glass of wine helped too.)

Then we went downstairs to the underground black box theatre. Two improv groups went before us and they each got about 15 minutes. I could tell the audience was an incredibly supportive one made up almost entirely of other improvisers, and that this was a safe space to play. As our time on stage got closer and closer my nerves started to flare up. I couldn’t BELIEVE what I was about to do. What we were about to do.

IMG_3401

Then it happened. The host called out our group name and we leapt out of our seats, high energy and willing to play. We asked for a one word suggestion from our audience to riff off of and then dove right in.

It was so fantastically fun! I’m proud of all of us because we left inhibition at the door, picked up on each others cues and built on each others ideas. It was improv as it should be – fun and alive and present.

I’m not saying we or I were perfect obviously and hopefully the more we practice the better we’ll get, but we were ON. We got a bunch of laughs too and claps after our individual scenes which is a rewarding feeling.

IMG_3409

I’m excited to perform with my friends in our class show this weekend and to keep exploring the world of improv. Pushing through my fear seems to frequently lead to reaching new heights of joy.

I also Instagrammed the story as it was happening so if you want to follow my adventures in real time follow me over there.

Dealing with Anxiety in my Creative Life

In the past couple of days, I’ve been particularly focused on overcoming anxiety and fear about my creative life. However, without a solid definition of what fear is, it kind of feels like I’m dealing with a nebulous blob of unpleasantness. What does ‘fear’ actually mean?

noun: Fear
1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Thanks, Google. Now to adapt this general definition to what I’m specifically afraid of.

noun: Lillian’s Fear
1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that allowing myself to express my creativity is likely to cause pain.

DSC_1308
Photo credit: Joel Marsh Garland

Okay, now I’m going to break it down even further. Why do I believe that my creativity is likely to cause me pain?

  • I won’t be perfect right away.
  • I might tap into deep emotions that disturb me.
  • I might do something I feel good about and share it and then have to deal with unknown consequences.
  • It’s not safe to take action and change.
  • I might get rejected.
  • If I do express myself creatively in the ways I’ve already thought of, I’ll need to move on to new unknown ways of expressing myself.
  • Other people will know more about my creative capabilities and expect more from me, which will necessitate more growth and change.
  • I’ll be threatened by people who disregard my creativity and value their own more highly.
  • I’ll realize that my idols are people too and lose that safe fantasy of the creative person as other.
  • I’ll be held accountable for my actions as opposed to living in my safe ‘one day I will’ world of ideas.

A lot of what I wrote above has to do with the pain of change and moving into the unknown or losing a sense of safety. Those pain points can’t be avoided if I want to keep living a healthy full life, and I do.

It’s possible that it won’t be as tough to deal with that kind of pain as I strengthen my creative muscle and resilience over time. Maybe that’s how overcoming fear feels. I’ll likely open myself up to new challenges along the way and with my newfound strength overcome bigger obstacles and push through new levels of fear.

The first step is to accept my fears, express myself creatively anyway, and trust that everything will be okay.

Being Happy While Facing Fear

When you’re committed to overcoming fear, you’re signing up to challenge yourself and push past your comfort zone. This is no easy task. It comes with plenty of agonizing, trepidation, sweat, and possibly tears. However being in a constant state of stress as a by-product of facing fear is a recipe for burnout and not a good long-term plan.

This past Friday I was walking down the staircase of my NYC apartment in a bit of a funk. Now usually when I take the stairs I fervently wish not to run into anyone. It’s awkward, the staircase isn’t that wide and then I feel pressured by their tempo as they walk, do we have one flight between us? Two? Are they gaining on me? Etc…

So my initial reaction that morning as I was joined by a neighbor on the staircase was Ah! Another human. Wince. Are they going to talk to me?! Then I thought hey wouldn’t this be a good moment to practice facing fear and say hello?

I did and lucky for me this guy was in a GREAT mood. Picture an older Russian man with a light accent. I said hey, how are you? He said ‘good, Happy Friday!’ I said ‘yes, indeed!’ He went on to say the following as we made our way down to the lobby:

‘But every day is happy for me. You can do it. Happiness is a choice. It’s not easy, but you tell your mind what to think about. You can write a list of all the things that make you happy and then all the things that don’t, and cross off the things that don’t and you’re not allowed to think about those things. Only think of the good things. Be happy for your health, your beauty, your boyfriend. It’s not easy but you can do it. It’s the truth!’

C6b3z2rXMAEqZ1n

What?! Is this guy real or a psychic angel dropped down to help me out in a moment of need? No, but seriously it was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment to lift me out of my self-absorbed (if not justified) funk. Plus I LOVE lists and I’m definitely going to try his suggestion.

I waited a moment in front of the building untangling my headphones to listen to a podcast as he walked away ahead of me. When I looked up again a few seconds later he had disappeared, but his words are burned into my memory.

It’s been four days since I had that conversation with him but since then when I feel down I remind myself in a slight Russian accent ‘happiness is a choice.’ Somehow remembering that makes it easier to shrug off unhappy thoughts and brightens the path towards facing my fears. Happiness is a choice, and when I choose it life gets a little less scary.

 

Overcoming Fear, One Moment at a Time

Facing fear is necessary for me right now, I have to do it in order to continue growing and thriving. What is the point of life but to thrive while living it? Easily said.

When my boyfriend and I first started living together in NYC three years ago, I was always getting startled by his presence in the apartment. He’d turn around the corner and I’d jump externally but also my heart would jump up into my throat. Do you know that feeling? Ugh. Rollercoaster status but without the thrill of the drop.

My boyfriend is definitely not scary, he’s slightly taller than me, handsome, and really quiet. I’m the loud one. Nonetheless, it was starting to make him feel somewhat self-conscious because every time he turned the corner I was frightened. We adopted tactics to avoid the scare; he’d say ‘I’m entering the room now’ whenever he was coming into a room I was already in. This helped me a lot but admittedly wasn’t practical and certainly not a long term solution.

One evening I entered our pitch black bedroom and was completely surprised to find him in our bed, sleeping. I screamed at the top of my lungs because I was so startled. I woke him up and he shot up out of bed and screamed at the top of his lungs, which only made me scream even louder. When he clutched his chest in pain we realized enough was enough.

Obviously, it’s terrible to walk into a room where someone is peacefully sleeping and scream. He thought something terrible was happening, as anyone would. I have no idea why I was so startled that evening. It’s not logical to me but fear really isn’t a rational emotion.

We needed a new tactic that didn’t involve him announcing his presence because he can’t do that when he’s asleep – unless he developed some crazy lucid dreaming technique. So, now I peek around the corner before I enter a room to assess where he is.

I’m happy to say I have adjusted to living with a partner and have had no fearful reactions to his entering a room, or sleeping peacefully, in about 2 years or so.

DSC_1903.jpg
photo credit: Joel Marsh Garland

I suspect that a lot of the fears I have are similarly ridiculous and by catering to them I’m causing myself (and possibly others) undue stress and pain. Facing fear is necessary to continue to grow in my relationships, profession, and life generally. Dealing with anxiety, performance anxiety, fear of flying, fear of intimacy, it isn’t going to be easy, but my prediction is my day-to-day life (as well as that of those around me) will be vastly more complete (and less alarming) as a result. Time to let go.