I next had to decide on my major. No one ever said, "Gee, Patty, you like to sing and be in plays. Do you think you want to be an actor?" And why would they? My father worked as a sportswriter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and had no interest in theater or music. No one I knew had ever had anything to do with any aspect of the entertainment industry. My older sister Alice seemed to be headed for an acting career, winning a summer acting scholarship and studying theater at Kent State. But when my mother died, Alice came home to take care of me and my younger sister, Fran, and her aspirations were set aside. So the only other theatrical event in the family was the yearly roast for the newspaper my dad sang in (badly) and acted in (worse). In fact, journalism was what we knew best, so it was journalism I picked. My dad assumed that after college I would come home, and he would use his connections to get me a job at the local paper or with one of the TV stations. At that point in my life, I had never even been on a plane, so the idea that I would end up in Hollywood was entirely unthinkable.
But I was deeply unhappy in college and it wasn't until the middle of my junior year that I realized the depression I had been experiencing since my mother's death wasn't just due to her passing or the lack of counseling I received for it. It was also because I wasn't pursuing my passion. I liked writing but not journalism—I always thought that I was more interesting than the people I had to interview. That's an actor's ego right there, folks! But in my own defense, there wasn't a lot of anything interesting in Columbus in the '70s. I finally decided I was going to pursue a career in acting, or at the very least, change my major.
MAKING THE SWITCH
It took quite a bit of courage to tell my dad that I wanted to change my major to theater. Think Dorothy approaching the great and powerful Oz. Because both my dad and brother were journalists, and I wasn't half bad at writing, majoring in it made sense to my dad. It's just what our family did. So as I prepared my speech in my head, I just knew I was going to get a lot of resistance, and I dreaded the battle. But I dreaded journalism even more. I finally screwed up the courage to tell Dad. Looking back, I'm not sure why I was so trepidatious. Sure, my dad helped me take out the loan for college, but I was the one paying it back, and if I was paying for college myself, it should be my decision, right? I had a good argument in my mind, but still, I guess we all need our parents' approval. I'll never forget sitting across from him in our living room one weekend, nervously wishing I had Toto to cling to. My dad was sitting there in his T-shirt and jogging shorts, legs crossed, reading the newspaper. It was quiet for a moment. I finally just said, "Dad, I want to change my major to theater." He looked up at me, paused for a moment, and said, "That's fine." And that was it. No problemo. I realized later that it wasn't so much that he was "fine" with theater, he just didn't believe that I would actually pursue it after college. I'm sure he was certain that I would come home, and he would get me a job locally, in journalism, as predicted.
I wonder how often people don't pursue their passion because they feel they need to get permission from someone first? How often do we take the road of what's expected of us even though it's a road we were never meant to travel?
BABY STEPS TO THE ELEVATOR
There's a scene in the 1991 film What About Bob? where an accomplished psychiatrist played by Richard Dreyfuss is helping Bob, a man riddled with phobias, played by Bill Murray. In his office, the psychiatrist explains to Bob that he doesn't have to worry about every detail of his life, he only needs to take "baby steps" or set small, reasonable goals, one choice at a time. Bob feels a sense of relief and renewed purpose. He starts with baby steps across the office floor, then baby steps down the hall, then baby steps to the elevator. The doors open, revealing an elevator packed with people. Unfortunately, Bob is claustrophobic. Bob takes a deep breath, coaching himself quietly to take baby steps into the elevator, and as soon as the doors close, we hear Bob completely lose it, screaming at the top of his lungs as the elevator descends. Gotta love Bill Murray.
Though that didn't go well for Bob, the philosophy is a good one. My journey to a long and successful career in Hollywood was just a series of baby steps, the first one being changing my major in college. Ohio State is not known for its theater department, but that was what was available to me in the moment, so I took it—a baby step. That baby step also had a huge impact on my mental well- being. I was a long way from making my living as an actor, but the feeling of knowing I was doing what I loved, and what I believed I was supposed to be doing, helped alleviate some of my depression.