In August 2010, a girl called Jenny shot to internet fame overnight. She decided to quit her job by emailing her entire office with a set of photos of herself holding up a hilarious sequence of messages on a dry erase board. But one of her collegues forwarded them to the Chive and her ‘I quit’ message ended up being seen by the whole world.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. It turned out that the whole thing was an elaborate - and brilliant - hoax! Jenny didn’t actually exist; she was in fact an aspiring actress called Elyse Porterfield.
I’m always fascinated when people, out of nowhere, suddenly find themself in the public limelight. How will they handle the pressure? Will they make the most of the opportunity to push open new doors? Will it help or hinder them?
So I decided to follow Elyse via Twitter and Facebook to see how her story would pan out. And now, coming up to two years on from that moment of fame, I thought I would interview Elyse and see how she’s been getting on and what she’s been learning along the way.
For those who are regular readers of KERUFF, you’ll be aware that I am fascinated by talent and human potential and I’m always on the look out for interesting stories that will help other people to maximise the potential in their own lives. As with all of my interviews, this also has that angle.
My dream is to be making a comfortable living by doing what I love, acting. Be it film, television, or stage, as long as I am able to fulfill my passion for acting I will be blissfully happy. I don’t need to be famous, but a certain amount of recognition for my work is always appreciated and is a motivator for me. Hopefully 10 years from now my career will be established to the point of me being able to own my own home and live a comfortable debt free life.
I grew up in a performing household. My mom was a music teacher and she also taught voice lessons. I had a passion for singing at a very young age. When I turned nine I got to audition for my first community theatre show “Annie.” I ended up playing an orphan in the ensemble, and I was hooked. I guess you can say that is when I officially caught the acting bug, but my mom would tell you that I always wanted to be a star.
I have a BA in Musical Theatre and for me singing has usually come first, and that is where I feel my unique talent lies. When I sing a song I get emotionally connected to it, and my imagination runs wild, which in many ways influences my acting. I am the happiest when I am using the talents God gave me, and I feel that my most unique talent lies in singing. Although I have been told a few times that I have a very expressive face, which is great for acting :)
It was definitely dealing with the people at my University. I was in a very elite and selective program, but the teachers acted like children and the whole four years were worse than high school. I was miserable every single day. The teachers created cliques of popular kids and they would only hang out and cast those people. I refused to be a part of that type of immaturity. I’m not one who will in a sense “lower” myself to get what I want. They were shallow people and because I chose to live a life outside the program, I was shunned for it. It’s funny though because I’m very greatful for it now. It gave me the thick skin I needed and it continues to motivate me to this day. The funny thing is that they all suddenly loved me after the hoax. Guess I finally earned their attention! :)
It’s given me more confidence in both areas. It happened so quickly and easily, and it’s a constant reminder that things can change overnight; and that is an exciting thing. To this day I will get randomly recognized on set or on the streets, and I love the fact that some truly famous people out there know who I am. I feel like I’ve accomplished so much more in my first year living in LA than I ever expected to, so it comes with huge satisfaction.
Well, I’ve done a web print shoot for Expo Markers and AskMen.com, cameo’s and background on tons of TV Shows, featured in How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation (airing soon), CSI NY, Pretty Little Liars, and more. I can also be seen in the feature films The Muppet’s movie, Water for Elephants, and Project X. I have done a few web commercials: You-too (a video streaming type site), and “Bump” the iPhone app. I also played the part of Lauren in a pilot called Drama. It was featured in the NY TV Festival this last fall.
The only thing I really need to take my next step is a good agent that can get me into good auditions. The crazy thing is that I’ve booked 90% of everything I’ve auditioned for! That’s a huge success rate, but it’s just impossible to really get in the door to bigger things without a good agent, or good connections, so that’s what I’ve really been focusing on. Making industry connections is the most important thing you can do as an actor.
Obviously John Resig of the Chive, my amazing family, and my husband Matt, but I have also received a lot of personal support and advice from actors that I admire, and that is priceless. The one person from my University who always did support and believe in me in was David Grapes. He is the head of the performing arts department and he always gave me a chance. I felt his support when no one else at that school would support me, and to this day he continues to keep in touch and cheer me on. I want to make him proud.
I would say my parents for sure. They raised me to chase after my dreams while staying strong in who I am. They want me to be happy in whatever I do, and having that support has freed me to go after my goals full force.
My bird Charlie. Haha. I get to clean his dirty cage! Just kidding. My husband is very good about making sure my head doesn’t get too big :) I have a very strong and normal support system of friends and family. I really don’t think I’m anyone spectacular. I’m just someone doing what I love, and it’s a bonus to get recognized for it!
Train train train, and never give up. Don’t let other people decide your fate. I honestly believe that if you truly believe in yourself and never give up, you can accomplish anything. It’s the giving up part that gets most people. Keep going!
Several things jumped out to me from this interview with Elyse. I love the way that she is so down to earth normal! She has a sense of humour and doesn’t take herself too seriously, whilst at the same time being totally serious and focussed about pursuing her dream. That’s exactly the right kind of balance to strike.
It’s great also to see her gratitude towards family and other key people who have helped her along the way. Gratitude is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to trying to live a successful life.
I’ve said many times that talent, hard work, and character are three essential characteristics to a successful life. Elyse embodies each of these. She has talent, but she’s made the choice to combine that with a LOT of hard work and commitment. Talent is never enough. It takes blood, sweat, and tears to take a talent and turn it into something meaningful. And she has stayed grounded and kept her perspective.
Lessons for us all!
I’m thinking a lot about passion at the moment. We’re about to embark on a series of conversations about it at Mosaic, and I’m also doing some research for a separate project.
One thought that struck me today when thinking about passion though was how often people find their passion through a disaster or tragic experience. The rape victim who becomes a counsellor for others who are raped. The genocide victim who becomes a champion for bringing forgiveness and restoration. The car crash survivor who spends the rest of their lives campaigning for road safety.
There are so many examples of people discovering their life’s purpose through a dramatic, negative personal experience.
The fact that good can come of ill is of course wonderful. It’s so encouraging when we see people refuse the path of bitterness and instead turn their pain into a cause. But what about the rest of us? That good can come from ill surely doesn’t mean we all need to have something terrible happen to us if we are to discover our reason for being alive.
I think that the important thing for the rest of us is to think less about the need for a negative experience and more about experiences in general. Experiences, good or bad, shape us. They shape who we are, who we want to become, and what we want to do with our lives.
So whilst it is easy to see the examples of tragedy shaping passion, I think the more common route is actually positive experiences awakening something within us. And these kind of experiences are something we can and should pursue as we seek to uncover our passion and purpose in life.
One of the keys to a passion informing experience is not so much whether it is positive or negative, but whether there is pressure, uncertainty, and discomfort. Pressure, uncertainty, and discomfort create an environment that reveals things about ourselves that we might never otherwise see.
All these three elements are inevitably in place during a negative, tragic experience, but that is not necessarily the case with positive experiences. Positive experiences can be simply experiences that feel good and enjoyable. The key to discovering more about ourselves and opening the door to discovering our passion and purpose lies in choosing to embrace and seek out experiences that include pressure, uncertainty, and discomfort.
I remember as an eighteen year old taking a team of seven students to Ghana for three and a half weeks in the summer of 1998. The trip was a fabulously positive experience that was littered with pressure, uncertainty, and discomfort. And because it had those ingredients it meant that we all grew as people and discovered so much about ourselves.
The lesson for us all is to not shy away from embracing experiences that will deeply challenge us. They are what will reveal our passions and help us find context for our talents.
This article has be transferred over to my new website. You can read the interview there.
I’ve long been fascinated by talent, strengths, success, motivation, and other such human potential elements. I’m particularly interested in people who do an amazing job of pushing themselves to the limit and maximising their abilities.
One person who I’ve been ‘strengths watching’ from a distance of late is the British swimmer Keri-Anne Payne. Keri-Anne already has an Olympic silver medal, two World Championship gold medals, and was the first British athlete to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
I started following Keri-Anne on Twitter just over a year ago and following her updates and reading various articles about her over this last year has been interesting and enlightening.
One of the things I love about Twitter is the way it enables you to get a fuller glimpse into people’s personalities and interests who you would otherwise know very little about. It also opens up your eyes to get a sense of the day-to-day life of, in Keri-Anne’s case, an Olympic athlete.
On reflection, there are three main aspects to watching and learning about Keri-Anne that have stood out to me the most this past year: Talent, hard work, and character.
The truth is that I could put just as many hours into swimming each week that Keri-Anne does and it wouldn’t make me an Olympic standard swimmer. Oh no! In fact, I would be wasting my time. Without talent, hard work is wasted.
And having a love for something doesn’t mean you have a talent for it. Watch X Factor if you don’t know what I mean. There you have no end of people who love singing, but who can’t sing. And some of them work really hard and invest no end of time into their singing dream, but the truth is still the same: they have no talent.
So the challenge is to find something that you do have talent in and invest your time in that. That is what Keri-Anne has done. She’s discovered her talent and then made the necessary investment to turn it into a strength.
As an aside, it is important to recognise the difference between a talent and a strength. Talent is innate potential; strength is developed potential. Keri-Anne was born with the potential to be a great swimmer, but having that talent was no guarantee of success. Talent is never enough.
The reason Keri-Anne is an Olympic silver medalist and World Champion is because she invested in her talent. How? Hard work. There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. Even when someone rises to the top seemingly from nowhere, you can be sure that hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice, hard work, and skill development has taken place behind the scenes.
If you’re not convinced of just how much hard work Keri-Anne does, here’s a breakdown from an article in The Times today:
I’m tired just reading that!
But that’s the kind of hard work high level success requires. There are no shortcuts. Success comes from identifying your talents and then dedicating your life to developing them. It doesn’t matter whether your talent is suited to sport, business, arts, or wherever, the principle is the same. Focus on what you’re good at and work hard at becoming great at it.
There is one final element that is often ignored when it comes to success. And that is character. Who you are is as important as what you can do. There are so many stories of people whose careers have been undermined, weakened, or sometimes completely curtailed, because of character and integrity issues. And usually one or more of the deadly trio of money, sex, and power are in the mix when this is the case.
It is sad to see how many people are able to show such self-control when it comes to developing their talents but, when it comes to other areas of their life, it’s as if they don’t know what self-control is!
There are two things I’ve noticed about the articles on the internet about Keri-Anne: first, they’re nearly all about her swimming. And second, when they’re not about swimming, it’s about her wedding next year!
My point is that she’s in the papers for the right reasons. Her career isn’t getting distracted by unhealthy pursuits and activities.
And, on top of that, she seems like a very genuine, authentic, all round decent person.
There’s is no doubt much more that lies behind Keri-Anne’s success, but these three aspects of talent, hard work, and character are undoubtedly big factors that lie behind Keri-Anne being the top-level swimmer that she is today.
But the good news is that any one of us, no matter what we do, can apply the same approach to our own lives and careers, no matter what they are.