Lisa Jakub is a child actor-turned-writer, and hasn’t looked back ever since.
The author of many books, and whose professional history hasn’t always pinpointed her squarely in one industry, Jakub shows us that a winding career path isn’t such a stressful or bad thing after all. She is a testament to the idea of an ever-evolving self that many women and girls can relate to. Hello Flo got the chance to talk to Jakub via email.
What do you do for a living, and why should our readers know about it?
I’m a writer. I took an unusual path to find this career, but I love it. My first book, You Look Like That Girl, was published last year. It’s a memoir about my life growing up an actor in the film industry. I started working at age four, and by the time I was 22, I had been in more than 40 movies and TV shows. People said I was “successful,” but I didn’t feel that way. Being an actor had been fun for a while, but it was no longer making me happy and didn’t feel authentic to who I was.
I wanted something different, but I had no idea what that really looked like. So, I left Los Angeles, moved to Virginia and tried to figure out who I was when I wasn’t acting. The book is about that journey and the things that many of us experience when we examine what kind of contribution we want to make to the world. Sometimes, our path doesn’t look the way other people expect, and that can be really challenging. But figuring out a way to live life truthfully and with passion is always worth it.
Tell us more about an exciting project that you’ve been working on lately.
I’m working on my next book, and I am incredibly excited about it. It’s all about the challenging topics of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. I have dealt with those things all my life, and there is still such secrecy and shame surrounding mood disorders. The book is about my story of dealing with these issues, but I also talk to other people and share their experiences. I look into the research and science of mental wellness and examine how we can make life a little easier for ourselves. There are so many people struggling silently, I’m grateful to be part of a bigger conversation about mental health.
What are your hopes for your future and the future of writing?
I am a writer, but I’m a lot of other things, too. I do speaking events; I’m doing yoga teacher training; I volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter; and I travel a lot. I enjoy having a variety of things that keep me interested and engaged. My hope for my future is that I can keep writing and pursuing the things that contribute to the world in a positive way and make my heart feel whole.
What do you consider to be one of the most important aspects of your work?
For me, writing is all about connection and community. It’s about being honest about all of life, not just the pretty parts that people tend to post on social media. Through that kind of honesty, we can all realize that we are not alone. Often the details of life look different—I was an actor, and maybe you worked at a bookstore or your family’s pizza parlor—but so many of the things we go through are similar. We all encounter these universal truths: We all want to find a purpose, we want to belong somewhere, and we want to be loved. Those are just the essential human experiences of life, but we tend to get caught up in the details. I love to write about the things that bind us together.
How do you find inspiration and hope in the face of discouragement?
When I fail, which is an inevitable part of being a human, I remind myself that failure is brave. Failure means that I got out of my comfort zone and tried something. I’d rather live a life where I fall on my face sometimes, instead of being too scared to put myself out there. Because when I fall, I can be my own safety net. I can pick myself back up and keep going. I have a sticky note on my office door that says “I would rather fail than quit”—and I truly believe that.
What’s an important lesson that you’ve learned since you started this work?
The internet can seem like a really mean and scary place, but it can also be a place of great support, encouragement and love. My social media pages are full of the kindest people on the whole internet. I’m so grateful for that little tribe of folks who have created a safe place to share things—from silly selfies to being honest about how hard the recent death of my dog has been for me. Opening up and being vulnerable can be terrifying, but it also has greater rewards than I ever imagined.
Can you describe one of your proudest moments in your career?
I am a massive introvert and I get incredibly nervous speaking in front of people. But in the last couple of years, people have been inviting me to speak to groups—colleges, high schools, and conferences. It always terrifies me, but I also find it hugely rewarding. I get to speak about my favorite topics, authenticity, creativity, mental wellness, yoga, mindfulness, how to find your passion—and there is this beautiful relationship with the audience in real time. Public speaking is still challenging for me, but when the talk resonates with the audience it’s electric. It’s such an honor to be part of that.
What has been one of your biggest career challenges, and how did you overcome it?
I think my biggest career challenge was me! Since I was an actor for so long, I didn’t think I had the right to change my mind and do something new. People were telling me that I must be crazy to quit the film industry. But I knew I wasn’t happy and I needed to make a change. It was scary because I didn’t have a backup plan: I got thrown out of high school on Mrs. Doubtfire because I was away so much, so I didn’t have a diploma and I didn’t know what I could ever do other than act. I felt like I was not smart and washed up and incapable of doing anything in the real world.
But at some point, I decided to stop listening to that mean critic in my head and just get out into the world and figure out what I loved and what I was good at. I tried a bunch of jobs—I did communications for a non-profit, designed websites and I was a radio DJ. I failed at all of those things in one way or another before I found my happiness as a writer. I eventually overcame my own self-doubt and insecurities by just giving myself the space to explore the world and discover my passion. You don’t always know what “the thing” might be, but there is so much fun in exploring what might interest you.
Do you have any advice for young girls who want to be more involved in writing?
I used to think I could never be a writer because I’m a terrible speller and I don’t have an MFA. Here’s a secret—those things don’t really matter. Advanced degrees are great, but mostly, to be a good writer you need to write a lot and read a lot. I don’t have any formal writing training (and now I teach writing classes!) I just continually educate myself and I write from my heart. I write what I want to read.
No one else is required to believe in your dream other than you—so just set aside time and just do it, just write. Give yourself permission to follow your passion and then put in the hard work. That’s how you become a writer.