Jet Skier flipped upside down in the ocean.

I gave up my lifelong dream of becoming an actor when I was about 15.   

I had grown up in community theater. Both my parents acted, danced and sang. My first performance was with an opera company at the age of 6. We performed music from Hansel and Gretel. 

I remember my brother and I auditioning for the Wizard of Oz. They couldn’t decide who should be a munchkin and who should be a flying monkey. “I’m taller” I declared. I became the flying monkey. My brother never forgave me.

When I got into junior high school I began to go to a Jewish Camp called Kutz Camp that included not only Jewish studies but dance, theater, mime, voice lessons and so much more. Every summer for many years we had the chance to take a bus into New York City and watch a musical sitting in one of the first few rows. I actually got to see Ben Vereen perform in the original Pippin and saw the original cast of A Chorus Line.  

I was in heaven and it solidified my desire to be one of those people performing on stage.  It’s all I thought about as I continued to audition and get roles in the chorus of some musicals in my hometown of Cleveland.

So how did I go from spending my entire childhood dreaming about being in musical theater to politics (yeah some may say there isn’t much difference.)

It happened in one brief moment.

I was contemplating applying to colleges and was researching those that had great theater programs.

I mentioned this to my Mom.

“You want to be an actor? Do you realize how hard that will be? You will have to get another job like waiting tables. Are you sure you want to do that?” Mom replied with her ever-present reality check.

Wow. That sounded scary and overwhelming. My Mom didn’t mean to have that effect on me, she was just being a realist and wanted me to be prepared.

But I let her comment take the wind out of my sails and I began to question whether that was something I really, truly wanted to do.

When I got to college in 1981 at the ripe old age of 16 I took my first class in American National Government with Dr. Murray Fishel the founder of my graduate program in Political Campaign Management. As a wide-eyed freshman Dr. Fishel ignited a passion in me I didn’t realize I had — to be a grassroots organizer and run political campaigns. 

But, I have always wondered whether he could have ignited that passion if I hadn’t let the fire inside of me for performing die off?

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot and I don’t have an answer. But I’m not sure having a definite answer is important.

What is important to me, is how I dealt with “failing” at fulfilling a life-long dream.

For a while, I blamed my Mom, but that didn’t make me feel any better because I wasn’t being responsible that I took what she said as “the TRUTH.” I didn’t do any investigating on my own. I let her words stop me from going for it.

I didn’t come to this conclusion naturally, I had a coach help me realize this when I was taking a course in Denver back in 2005.  She also helped me realize that failing to go for my dream that one time was only TEMPORARY it didn’t have to stop me from performing ever again.

That’s when I began to do standup comedy because I didn’t have the time to devote to be in a play or musical (someday I will) but had the time to perform once a week anywhere I could.  Committing to performing once a week also made me devote time to writing as well.


What is the difference between failing and being a failure?

Failing is only a temporary set-back or disappointment that is part of the journey toward success. If looked at in an empowering way, failing can be a gateway to growth and development.  I often tell my clients, if you aren’t failing, you aren’t playing a big enough game.

Thinking you are a “failure” because you failed is only a mindset. It’s a decision you made in a moment (like when my Mom said what she said to me) but that mindset can become permanent when not identified and interrupted. Becoming a failure signifies the end of your journey of growth and development. You’ve now become a quitter.

How do you know when you’ve gone from failing to becoming a failure? Take a clue from John Burroughs, a writer and activist in the US Conservation Movement who said:

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”

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About The Author

Jen Coken's picture

Jen Coken is an author, life coach, and comedian who wants to live in a world where you’re free to be yourself and achieve your soul’s purpose—a vision that has driven her work as a Coach, Speaker, Author, Comedian for more than 20 years.

Drawing on three decades of experience as a non-profit leader and grassroots organizer, Jen helps CEOs and entrepreneurs overcome their self-made limitations and do their heart’s work.

But Jen’s impact doesn’t end there: She spent six years on the Denver stand-up comedy circuit and brings a sense of humor to every topic she addresses, including the experience of coping with her mother's diagnosis and death from ovarian cancer.

Jen’s book, "When I Die, Take My Panties: Turning Your Darkest Moments into Your Greatest Gifts" chronicles that experience and shares Jen’s core message that everything that comes our way is meant to teach us about ourselves.

When she’s not crafting bestselling books or speaking to audiences around the country, you can find Jen eating Nutella by the spoonful in the nearest grocery aisle.

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