Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Oooh, Baby, Do I Know What I'm Worth?

At my high school graduation with my whole future ahead of me

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You can fail at what you don’t want. So, you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.
-Jim Carrey


I stared at the computer screen and my heart dropped. The meeting was in 15 minutes and I had forgotten to include the data on the slide that would justify our proposal for ordering 30% more denim for the… good lord, THIS is what I’m doing with my days? Merchandise Planning has been my career for close to a decade, yet absolutely nothing excites me about analyzing data to figure out how many CDs, tents, plaid shirts or jeans are needed. These days, the office was more of a respite from chasing around my young kids, and man, it was really beginning to show. Shouldn’t I be better at this by now? I mean, after all these years I should be more confident in this job that involves sales data, forecast projections, industry trends that affect the assortment plan and optimal inventory lev… Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Hi, I’m Sheevani and I’m a Merchandise Planner. Gross. No, no I’m not. Hi, I’m Sheevani and I played a Merchandise Planner for many years.

Character Description: Indian woman, age 26-36 who loves everything Microsoft Excel and Access. She’s excited about replenishment systems, designing databases and spreadsheets with extra-small print on extra-large paper. On a daily basis, she will use the following terms: sales-lift, merchandising vehicles, product allocation and assortment plans. She never fails to build a solid rapport with her male bosses because she, too, gets a huge boner when inventory levels are juuuuuust right.

I sank my teeth into this role for about 10 years. I really wanted to love it and there were times when I convinced myself that it was enough. Now, I don’t want to offend the droves of Merch Planners who may read this. Look, you’re all doing the work we need. I mean, I know I have you to thank when I go to Target and my Olay Regenerist inventory is plentiful. Conversely, I also know who to blame when I cannot find any Key Lime Oikos Greek Yogurt on the shelf. I mean, clearly someone didn’t adjust the planned sales days factor!! Whew, sorry, I should have warned you this was going to get sexy.

From a very early age, my interests gravitated toward the creative. Also, from an early age, I was frequently reminded by my father that math and science were the most important subjects in school. “Why did you get Bs in math and science, Sheevani?” my father would ask after I handed him my report card. Mind you, the rest of the grades were As (NERD ALERT), but my father would focus on those Bs. Math and science did not come easy to me, and I was proud of those Bs… until my Dad was disappointed in those Bs. It was frustrating at the time, but I know his intention was to make sure I focused on subjects that would lay a foundation to lucrative careers like engineering or medicine. Indian stereotype much, DAD?!?!

Through other channels, I was able to nurture my creative side until college. Ah college, a period of time that holds some of my fondest memories, none of which include academic achievement. True story, I chose my major because of a nickname. Due to my penchant for arguing (mostly with him), my father nicknamed me “defense lawyer.” No matter the topic, I’d always defend the underdog. So yeah, in August of 1996, I sat in a muggy classroom at my Michigan State University orientation, and checked a little box under Major that read, “Political Science - Pre-Law.”  Yup, that’s how immature I was. Looking back, I should have never been allowed to go away to school. Nevertheless, I went and played the part.

Character Description: Indian girl, age 17-22 who thirsts for the writings of Plato, Thomas Paine, John Locke and every other political philosopher out there. In her study groups she is the silent contributor by way of taking notes and assembling presentations. During a heated Political Theory debate, she nods or shakes her head and says, “Absolutely!” or “Oh, come on!” without adding anything of real substance. She laments about the stresses of the LSAT and choosing a law school. Her grades are average, at best, but sometimes spike if the TA is hot. 

As Denise Huxtable will tell you, college is a "Different World" and well, a scary one for me to follow any of my creative pursuits. I did a pitiful amount of research on the theater opportunities when I first arrived at MSU, but my fear took over. Sure, I had a great chance to land a role in the school play at Kimball High School, but at a large university? No way. So instead, I distracted myself with the fun aspects of college; independence, friends, my first love and lots of chicken wings. Like, TOO many chicken wings. I cannot stress this enough… one time a bag of wings was delivered with “WING-O-RAMA” written on it in black marker. 

I didn’t have the courage to change my major to theater or at least something related to writing. I'll never make peace with the fact that I wasted my parent's money on an area of study that I knew I wouldn't pursue. I was too scared to tell them I didn't want to be a lawyer, so I kept up the ruse. I really thought settling for something my parents would be proud to talk about with their friends would deaden the pain of denying my true purpose. 

“Acting is fine as a hobby, Sheevu, but not as a career. Do something sensible.” Daddy would say.

Oh, by the way, my paternal grandfather was once the president of the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association, no big deal. THAT’S RIGHT. My father’s father was in the movie business in Bombay. Daddy never spoke much about that except to say that he was the one son who didn’t take an interest in performing, while his 2 older brothers were more involved. My dad’s oldest brother once said to me, “If you love acting, keep doing it.” I once saw him in a play during a visit to India. The image of him up on stage is still crystal clear in my mind. There was a comfort in realizing that this pull to acting was in my blood. 

From college through my career as a Merchandise Planner (calm down), I felt like a fraud. I looked around and saw my peers and friends making strides with career or advanced degrees; following their purpose. And there I was, sitting in my various cubicles, constantly letting fear win. I did have a few moments along the way where I said, “Okay, I’m just going to do it, I’m going to be an actor,” and almost immediately I could imagine the looks of judgement and hear condescending remarks from people I call my “life-doubters” (more on that in another entry). 

After years of being consumed by cowardice along with my career mediocrity, I plunged into a dark place of shame. I’d rewind my life and take inventory (ironic) of all my failures, from my squandered college years to messing up a dashboard metrics report (whew, is it hot in here?) at work the previous week. I was almost angry that my talents didn’t reside in the practical areas in which I was trying so hard to assimilate. I felt lazy and useless. I felt worthless.

Here’s a piece of advice: If you get compliments about the same things your whole life, BELIEVE THEM. For me, it was, “You are so funny!” or “You’re a great actor,” or “Wow, I love your writing,” or “Damn girl, where’d you learn to salsa dance like that?” Okay, the last one only happened once at a Salsa Club and I’m pretty sure the guy was trying to lure me back to his place, but if I’m being honest, I REALLY want to be a fantastic salsa dancer.

After I had my daughter, I woke up. While the fear didn’t completely go away, I was just DONE with self-pity. My fears had nothing to do with my parents, or from naysayers who told me I’d never succeed. It was all me. I was the biggest naysayer of all. Why the hell was I denying my creative side? Why was I forcing myself into a career that, not only was I not passionate about, but I was pretty shitty at. Trust me, you don’t want me behind a desk entering data to make sure your Dad's Carhartt jeans are in stock. Chances are, I’d mess up and he’d be pants-less. My value in this world is on a stage, screen or writing something to brighten your day. 

Oh wow, I really wrote that with some gumption and confidence, huh? Well… not exactly. Truth is, I still struggle with those doubting voices quite a bit. Saying, “I’m an actor, writer, comedian,” doesn’t roll off the tongue without the urge to qualify it with, “I mean… I’m aspiring… not like I’m in Hollywood or anything… but, I enjoy it.” It’s clunky, but I’m getting there. For me, one of the glorious things about getting older is just not giving a shit about what others think. Am I really going to avoid my dream because Bitter Betty or Doubtful Dottie thinks it’s ridiculous? How stupid. I’d rather hang out with Inspiring Ida or Fearless Fiona. These are all totally real people, by the way. 

Character Description: Indian woman, age 40, who dreams big and doesn’t give a f*ck. Enough said.

I know I was put on this planet to entertain you, and I am no longer ashamed of that. Oh and as it turns out, I’m not lazy, because when I’m working on a sketch show, rehearsing improv, writing this blog, seeking out freelance writing clients or prepping for auditions, I’m like the Energizer Bunny (or something more topical, forgive me). My kids are witnesses to my life, and they will see their mom working toward her dreams every single day… and that’s worth a lot. 

Hi, I’m Sheevani, and I’m an actor, writer and comedian.

On stage at Go Comedy Improv Theater


3 comments:

  1. You bring light you the world and I can't think of any greater contribution to society. I'm so thankful you are the Indian woman age 40 who LOVES to share her talents and doesn't let fear win.

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  2. Sheevani, You have tremendous self awareness. Do what takes an effort of will and you'll accomplish your dreams!!!

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  3. My real identity is Krista's dad

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