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Find Your Inner Child: Advice from a Monkey Trainer

Updated: Jan 18

What did you dream about when you played as a child?

By asking this question, a very dear and wise friend brought calm to my chaos as I desperately searched for the ground during a difficult time in my professional career. I felt like I was trapped in a whirlwind… spinning and searching for a foundation. I was giving credibility to those who didn’t truly know me or my aspirations.  I was letting everyone else dictate while I sat back took notes. I was lost.

But that question changed the course of my creative career almost instantly.

She continued by saying something like,“I believe that what we dreamed as a child when we played is something we should always cultivate as we grow into adulthood.”

That wonderful human is Lisa Roberts. Who is still wonderfully artful, deeply passionate and continues to be a positive influence in my creative journey.

So simple isn’t it? Yes. It was. And it still is.

It's the fact I knew I was modeling that proves I've always wanted to be in the spotlight.

Go back in time for a moment. If your birthday is before the early 80s, you played wildly imaginative games and made up fantastic stories with your friends long before computers, phones and video games. It was the days when we had nothing but our imaginations to set us free for the afternoon.  Nobody gave us “rules of play” so-to-speak. The only instructions were don’t play in the street, be home by dinner and don’t talk to strangers. Rules that kept us safe.

Our imaginations, however, were wild, unruly and free. We could be exactly who we wanted to be simply by being.

Be a Broadway star.

Be a cowboy.

Be an astronaut.

Be a mommy.

Be a vet healing the neighborhood cat.  (Oh that poor cat.)

Be a construction worker and build the best fort ever.

This isn't my photo but I love what it embodies!

Children simply believe and it is so.  A child’s imagination is absolutely limitless and has the capacity for suspending disbelief while easily creating extraordinary fantasy worlds. Writers are masterful at holding on to that insanely unique gift. We may not all be proficient writers, but we all have the ability to imagine.

So maybe you’ve lost your passion.  That thing you used to dream about.

Why does it leave?  Where did it go? As we grow up, we go to school where we learn important things and broaden our minds.  But are also told to be quiet and listen. Stop daydreaming. Don’t be so wiggly. Stay inside the lines. Do it this way. Pay attention. Stop talking so much.

Grades define our worth.  Rankings become bragging rights for parents. (Guilty.) And Dean’s lists become medals… but is it for our children, or for us? Somewhere between playing and applying, being the best can obliterate creativity and freedom. Colleges expect teenagers to know their life’s mission before they’re even legal adults. Not exactly a great environment for protecting your passions.

If this graph causes you anxiety, you might need to grab a canvas asap.

There is so much more to dive into here, but personally, I can say that I never felt fully supported for my creativity in school.  There were a handful of teachers who affirmed my love of art and gave me confidence in areas that were undeveloped.  But they were very few and far between.  Oh but HEY!  If I made an A on a math test… well… throw a freakin’ party for the artist who isn’t very good at math.  She’s finally getting it.

[Big eye roll here.]

Children absorb the world as the adults around them deliver it.  Or worse, how the adults respond to it.

Here’s my point:

Adulthood drains...well, CAN drain, the dreams from the child you used to be.

So how do we hold on? How do you invite your playful child back to live inside you with the rest of your unique self?

Consider this:

Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

So what if you replace “artist” with “playful” or “passion”?

Every child is playful.

Every child has a passion.

Now replace “child” with “adult”.

Every adult is playful. Every adult has a passion.

And as Picasso says, the problem is how to remain playful or passionate once he/she/they grow up.  That playfulness and passion enables us to realize the truth.  Playfulness washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

So I ask you, what is your passion?

Maybe it’s not your work.  And that’s okay.  I mean, I’ve heard it said you should do what you love so you never work a day in your life, but that’s a little simplified if you ask me. I’ve worked through plenty of frustrations and heartbreaks… and I absolutely love my work.

Your passion is the thing tapping you on the shoulder when you feel numb by the daily grind.  When overwhelmed and bored collide, you simply must return to the thing you dreamed about when you were little.

Gypsy 2017 with Ken Roberts as Herbie and me as Rose

That’s your thing. Get there somehow.  Make time.

There are so many reasons to ignore your passion.  Work, family, responsibility, bills. I get it.  But I also believe, as my mentor said, we must cultivate our inner child.

Your passion can be anything. Monkey trainer?  What? Don’t laugh but…here’s a quick story.

In 7th grade Career Education class, with a wave roaring laughter following my announcement that I wanted to be a monkey trainer, I was left quietly devastated.  I didn’t think it was funny at all. I was dead serious.  But I was embarrassed and humiliated because 13 year olds can be mean.  So I gave up the idea of working with monkeys.  But the irony here is that I have made a career in the film and theatre world working with a bunch of wonderful, creative, lively, ridiculously talented monkeys.  I’d say I stayed in my lane that I declared in 7th grade.

Peter and the Starcatcher
My Be Theatre creative family (monkeys?) in 2018

Before that, when I was about 8, my canopy bed was a stage and I sang alongside Barbara, Carol and Bernadette with my hairbrush as the microphone. I was the title character in Annie on a daily basis.

I have stayed in my lane, and I am so grateful for the opportunities I've had to explore, play and create.

I know many people, young and old, who say they don’t have a passion.  And to that I say, yes you do.  I can’t tell you what it is, but there is something in your soul that feeds your inner child.  That thing you wish you could do, or you actually do, that makes you feel calm and happy.

And when you are doing that thing, you are fed. You are playful. You are full of passion.

If you don’t know what your ‘thing’ is, I challenge you to try to remember what your pretend world looked when you were little.  It doesn’t have to be wildly creative.  Sometimes our passion is helping people.  Did you love animals?  Did you polish the car with absolute perfection on a hot summer day?  The sun didn’t matter, but the shine on the car sure did.  We’re you obsessed with legos? Then go build something.

You have a thing.

Go get it.

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