If I told 11-year-old Maria her dreams of being a writer and college magazine president had come true, I don’t think she’d believe me. True, she might play it a little coy and tease me about it, but then ultimately freak out once she’d realized that hey…I wasn’t kidding. She’d be so happy that her dream of being a published author for so many articles and blogs came true — and that she’d done it alongside so many incredible new friends in an out-of-state school.
With that being said, I also think my childhood self would downright laugh at me, holding her sides until she was on the floor, if I then followed up by announcing that I’d spent almost a full year of my young adult life working in the entertainment industry as a full-time college student.
Yeah, she would definitely, positively, absolutely…not believe me. It’s just facts.
Coming from an immigrant background, my family almost all nearly had heart attacks during my senior year of high school when 18-year-old me confessed that my dream was actually the polar opposite of what everyone had expected.
Instead of becoming a biomedical engineer, I was going to major in communication and try to break into an elusive industry that didn’t have a place for Asian-Americans, or honestly, for any young women with no connections. But, to be quite frank, does any place? There are so many obstacles along the way to following our dreams, and I can truly say that yes, I’ve learned this the hard way. Maybe you have, too.
Throughout high school, even though I had worked to get all A’s in my Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses and got voted Class MVP in a classroom full of boys, I just didn’t feel the calling to devote my life to engineering the same way I did for story-telling.
Instead, there was something about the mystical story-telling, the power, the history and the mysterious glamor of Hollywood that beckoned me to give it all up and fantasize about running away to the West Coast. Although I didn’t drive off to Hollywood right after I snatched that diploma and am still a few months away from graduating with my college degree, I still think my 11-year-old self would be stunned that we’d overcome the adversities and discouragement we’d faced all those years and finally just went for our dreams (in one way or another).
Honestly, the arts lured me in from an early age. Whether I was writing a story, editing an article or watching a movie, the arts made me feel free to pursue who I really was and who I wanted to be. My friends and family all smiled fondly at my “hobbies” at the time, but when I became a published writer of an article for a national magazine at 11 years old, things quickly started to bloom from there. My dreams were more concrete than I had imagined, and as any young kid would, I spent hours practicing my craft. I always felt a safe space in creativity and stories, and the work I put in sometimes didn’t even feel like work at all. It felt like home.
In addition, growing up, I dreamed about a life in the movies. At first, I told my Gifted and Talented Education teacher that I wanted to be an animator and change people’s lives through designs and stories, to make them feel different emotions. But I never did stop writing or lose that creative ingredient in the core of my body. Then, the beauty of a few internships in college introduced me to the wonders of business and marketing and the excitement that lived behind those doors, and I knew this was the sector I wanted to explore the most.
I started my year of working in the entertainment industry when I was 21 years old, just over the summer. I would wake up early at the crack of dawn and write newsworthy stories and tantalizing headlines about entertainment news — celebrities, companies, movies being made and more. These things spiced up my imagination and intrigued me beyond measure! Celebrity Page TV gave me an outlet to express myself and the freedom to be supported in writing accompanying segments for television. It was my portal into this exciting world of entertainment and storytelling, mixed in with the hunger and complexity of social media, journalism and editing. I met amazing people and gained a portfolio of incredible stories, tying my name to blockbuster movies, talented reporters and more.
Now, I’m blessed to say that I am in my second semester of working as a Professional Intern for The Walt Disney Company and am continuously learning so much every single day. I wake up and want to jump out of bed because of how excited I am to start my day and see where the adventure goes. I’m grateful for my hands-on experiences getting to help with global movie deals and gain exposure into this beautiful world of entertainment, whether it be through movies or TV shows. I get to help review creative assets, read movie scripts, watch animatronics, view teasers and more from film distribution companies around the globe. There is a lot of data, insights, strategy and consideration that go into entertainment, and it blows me away just getting to learn more deeply about these components and help in some small way to bring joy and comfort to people around the world.
Disney has given me a chance to express myself creatively and speak my mind while also learning from the best. I remember being a little girl and growing up wanting—no, scratch that—needing representation in films. Movies like “Mulan” were so important to me that I’d watch them repeatedly to the point where my family would tease me for memorizing my favorite scenes. Now, as a member of the subcommittee leadership board of one of Disney’s AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Business Employee Resource Groups, I can help plan events that make the entertainment industry a safer space for Asian Americans and other minority groups. As a kid, I sometimes felt invisible because I tried so hard to assimilate and fit in. I escaped in literature and movies and became best friends with the characters of my favorite tales.
Now, in my early twenties, I feel confident enough to use my voice for good, work on collaboration projects and be who I truly am—in my career path and beyond. It was what I wanted to do in engineering, but I found another way to incorporate those same personal goals into the field I work in today.
Now, 22-year-old me is beginning the process of finding that perfect job once I graduate in a few months. This is the chance for me to really explore what’s out there and take a gander with my life. The past few weeks have been so stressful, as everything boils down to the notion of having to be an adult and actually believing in myself enough to start looking for a position that best suits me and my interests. It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for: the silence before the spotlight hits your face and you’re on-stage amidst hundreds of people, waiting, just waiting, for it to begin. That’s how this moment of my life feels—the deep breath before plunging underwater and swimming in the ocean. The moment where who I was intersects with who I’ve always wanted to be.
Looking back, I feel proud and grateful for the journey I’ve had so far, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. So when I think of what my childhood self would say, who felt shy speaking about her dreams and didn’t quite know how to begin, I feel comforted.
And I hope that when you get to this point of your journey, whatever or wherever it may be, you feel ready to look your childhood self in the eye with no regrets, too.
So. Am I ready? I ask my reflection.
And I smile now as the 11 year old me answers with a grin and a movie quote. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”