After finishing graduate school, I was determined to be a working actress. However, after numerous casting calls in several different cities, the starving artist façade quickly became a reality. I was broke, and my student loan payments were due, so I quickly had to find a “real” job. I landed a gig on Capitol Hill in the office of then-senator and now our illustrious president, Barack Obama. I know what you’re thinking: an actress on Capitol Hill? How does that work? Well, aren’t politicians the best actors in the game?
However, a true artist is immensely restricted on the Hill. Consistently hidden behind a muted color palette of navy blue and black suits, coffee, C-Span, and whatever flavor of frozen yogurt is being served in the cafeteria on any given day. But that never stopped me from indulging in an occasional pirouette down an empty Senate hallway. Or from singing the intro to the “Circle of Life” from The Lion King on an empty train car ride over to the House side. The acoustics in the Capitol dome are just that amazing.
When President Obama announced his campaign for president, I was excited and quickly did anything I could do to help. From attending rallies in D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, to even attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver. I was focused.
But before I left for Denver, my mom (more like my mom-ager) quickly reminded me that attending the DNC was not only an excellent opportunity to support the Obama For America campaign, but also a great time to network as an actress. Everybody who is anybody in the industry would be there. She even made sure that I had 100 headshots and resumes to pass out. But there was one major problem. I am also an introvert who can be very uncomfortable in many social situations. Again, I know what you’re thinking: “How can an actress be an introvert?” Well, I am. Just accept my reality, please.
The thing is, I find my uninhibited strength when I am performing. And I don’t have to endure small talk and awkward silence while I’m doing it either.
Despite my nerves, with a lot of love and encouragement, I packed my bag and prepared to confront all my networking possibilities.
My mother was right. Everyone who was anyone was there. I rode the elevator up eight floors with President Jimmy Carter. I took selfies with Danny Glover. I watched Blair Underwood shade autograph-seeking hopefuls by saying, “I’m with my family.” Congressmen and women, filmmakers, actors, artists, singers, ambassadors, preachers, and journalists were all there. One of the duties I had was escorting VIP guests into a Congressional Black Caucus reception. Many well-known stars arrived at the event, from Congresswoman Maxine Waters to Alfre Woodard. All I kept thinking of is what my mother had told me to do. Network. What the hell does that even mean? I don’t know how to do that! What am I even supposed to say to these people? I thought to myself. I was a nervous wreck. Time was winding down at the event, and I had yet to net or work anything. I knew I had to do something or the headshots I was carrying around in my bag would surely have been a waste of good ink. Then out walked Tracee Ellis Ross in all of her beautiful, bubbly, curly-haired glory. She was heading to the bus full of other celebrities to shuttle them back to their hotel. This was it. This was my time to net the work.
I reached into my bag. My stomach was in my back with the rest of my nerves at this point. I started walking over to her, and I could feel the pain of fear take over my legs and feet. My heart was pounding a bass line beat to the tune of death accompanied by the ringing in my ears. I walked over to Ross, reached my trembling hand out with my headshot and resume attached and said, “This is my–” That was it. No other words came out. But what happened next haunts me to this day. I burst out crying. I’m not talking a cute cry with a few drizzling tear drops. Oh no! I balled like my very soul had been ripped from my body. The scripture says, “Jesus wept.” Well, I guess me and Jesus have something in common because I sobbed uncontrollably. I guess my nerves ransacked my tear ducts because I could not stop.
Ross took my headshot and said, “It’s okay! Don’t cry! I’m going to keep this.” She gave me a lengthy hug, wished me luck on my acting career, and got on the bus. To this day, I wonder if she really kept it or if she and her celebrity friends laughed about it all the way back to their hotels. Either way, I will forever be the girl who cried on Tracee Ellis Ross’s shoulder while trying to get my hustle on.
And that’s what happens when an introvert tries to network. Thanks a lot, mom.