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Identity Crisis

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

I was a “drama kid” growing up, happily participating in every school play offered (except for the musicals—no singing for me!) from the time I was in about third grade until the time I graduated high school. I loved it, and even declared my future career choice was to become an actress. And while we had to audition for every play, I never worried because I always got a part—not always the lead, but always something.

Until the time I didn’t.

My senior year in high school I auditioned for a play and on the day the cast list was posted I was stunned to not see my name anywhere on the list. I remember blinking, staring hard at the list, and trying to make sense of the fact that my name was missing—I simply couldn’t comprehend it. I’d gotten so comfortable with being in plays that it had never occurred to me that I might not be.

Probably out of some guilt surrounding my obvious shock at being “rejected,” our director offered me the chance to stage manage the play, and probably out of some desperation to be involved any way that I could, I said yes. Having never stage managed before, I had no earthly clue what that job actually entailed, and so I pretty quickly found myself just vaguely hovering around like some kind of lost puppy. Too afraid to admit that I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t ask for help or instructions and therefore the director started giving tasks—my tasks—to another student who was helping out backstage.  Slowly and subtly she essentially became the unofficial stage manager, and the person the director knew he could count on. She took my place, because I didn’t know what my place was and didn’t know how to even find it.

What had previously been a comfortable assumption that I was an actress who annually bestowed her comedic talents to her classmates was quickly reduced to the harsh reality that not only was I not necessarily even wanted as an actor but I was also pretty useless in all other parts of a stage production. Or so it felt to my angsty teenage heart. In short, it was my first identity crisis—the first time the person I thought I was had been challenged, and I was left feeling like I had somehow lost myself.

It’s ironic, because pretty early on in college I realized two things: 1. I didn’t actually like acting all that much and 2. I was really a pretty awful actor. And then I realized a few additional things: 1. My skill set was much more suited to that of stage managing/directing and 2. When supporting a production in a role of stage manager/director, I felt totally in my element. Even more ironically, in my current career I use both the skills I developed as an “actor” and the skills I honed as a stage manager/director, pretty much every day, and both are equally important to my success.

So, while not getting cast in that play seemed at the time like an epic failure and a rejection of everything I thought I was, it was actually the beginning of a new me that needed to emerge, even though I couldn’t even begin to see it yet. My identity crisis was simply the end of one chapter of “me” and the beginning of another.

Do you have an “identity crisis” that you can re-frame as the simply the beginning of a new chapter of you?    


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.