The Importance of Chasing Happiness

Jake Mallove is a graduate from Occidental College, in Los Angeles, California where he graduated Cum Laude in 2013 with a BA in Theater Arts. Now living in Los Angeles, Jake is an actor, writer and improviser pursuing a career in the crazy world of Hollywood. He enjoys traveling, comedy, cooking and falling asleep as often as possible. He hopes that his musings can bring clarity or insight to whoever reads it and wishes everyone luck as they make their way through college and life after!

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be an actor. Not just in an “I want to be famous” or “this is fun” kind of way, but in a truly passionate, determined and dedicated career path kind of way. Therefore it was without a doubt what I was going to pursue in college because the right kind of training was vital to hone my skills and prepare me for a life in the arts. When I was 14 years old I traveled to New York City for the first time where I visited the campus of New York University and I instantly fell in love. Born and raised on a small, quaint little island in the Pacific Northwest I was accustomed to a quiet, slow-paced life. However, one step into that New York City world of skyscrapers and beautiful people made me yearn to grow up faster and get my life started. Everyone had a purpose and was there creating and flourishing and generally being fabulous or so I thought. The city was intoxicating and the passion inside of me began to shine brighter than ever before. This is where I was meant to be. NYU Tisch School of the Arts was the definition of a dream school and I would attend come hell or high water.

From that moment on, I dedicated my entire high school career to gaining acceptance at NYU. From the extra-curriculars I did, to the grades and test scores I received. I had never worked so hard or wanted something so badly in my entire life. I applied early decision and went through a grueling interview and audition process in which I flew to New York again and auditioned for a panel of teachers and administrators. My family was skeptical because my grades and SAT score were slightly below standard for NYU but I kept my faith alive. Finally, on a blustery December afternoon in 2008 I received a package from NYU. It wasn’t one of the small dismissive envelopes. It was huge and it exclaimed in all capital letters “CONGRATULATIONS AND WELCOME”. My heart soared. I was accepted to the school of my dreams.

The rest of my senior year of high school and the summer after graduation were a blur. I no longer cared because I couldn’t wait to begin my life in New York. However, the instant I moved to Manhattan was the instant things went downhill. The problem with applying and getting accepted as an early decision applicant is that you are never forced to “choose” a school. Early decision is binding and therefore all the weighing of pros and cons is done for you. In that regard I never actually sat down and thought about what I wanted out of a college experience. At 14 years old I had fallen in love with New York City and that was that. However, an idealistic middle school attitude is not the most reliable to depend on when deciding your future. To me NYU was a symbol of a life I wanted, a life of success, excitement and change, not to mention the prestige behind the name of NYU. Yet through all of this, I never thought about the practicalities of living there. I never thought about the size of the school, the size of the city, the lack of campus, the distance from my small town life and family in Seattle, the long work hours, the lack of sleep, the rigidity of a conservatory versus the freedom of a liberal arts style curriculum. Therefore, needless to say, I fell into a deep depression my freshman year.

The first and only year I spent at NYU was the hardest of my life. I stopped eating, lost thirty pounds, starting taking anti-depressants and lost my joy of living. I was receiving a world-class education but I was such a workaholic that the excitement and passion I had for acting was burning out. I missed my family, my friends, and my dog. New York City was extremely isolating and lonely and it was stripping me of everything that made me who I was. However, I hated the idea of giving up. I hated having worked so hard to be where I was and leave almost immediately. Not to mention the fact that I was in one of the best programs in the country and to give it up would not only be stupid but borderline fatal to my career.

I battled these decisions for my entire first year. Should I choose success or should I choose happiness? Ultimately, in the spring of my freshman year I decided that transferring out of NYU was the right option. I began to tour other campuses and apply to other schools. On my spring break I auditioned at Occidental College, a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles, California and it was visiting there that I had a similar experience to my 14-year-old self. I took a deep breath in, looked around the campus and felt a huge weight lift off my chest. It was the first time that I felt like there were possibilities outside of my current situation and that things were going to be all right. That summer, I was accepted to Occidental as a transfer student for beginning of the fall semester and from that moment on my life changed dramatically.

Occidental was a wonderful experience. It was exactly what I was looking for – a small liberal arts school in the heart of a big city. It had an enclosed campus with dedicated faculty members, yet I had all of Los Angeles to get to as well. I still worked incredibly hard to gain the training I wanted but I did so on my own terms. I was not only allowed to take classes in other fields besides theater but I was encouraged to do so. The color returned to my face and my soul smiled once again.

Now I have graduated from Occidental and am acting and pursuing my dreams in Los Angeles. I have a great community of people I went to school with and I feel that I have all the tools, preparation and training I need in order to be successful in this industry. Sometimes I look back on my times at NYU and think how my life would be different if I had made myself stay, if I would be more successful or have made better connections. That may be true, but at the end of the day I think happiness is the most important thing in life. I wish to be successful in my career, but I was not willing to sacrifice my happiness or my pride in order to do so. College is for being young, making mistakes, learning about yourself and growing into the person you want to be. That is not to say that you should choose a school where you will have the most fun, but there is nothing wrong with choosing to rid yourself of a toxic environment and finding somewhere where you feel happy, confident and where you’re able to thrive.

I don’t regret my decision at all. I don’t feel left behind or out of touch because my training was “technically” not as prestigious. I don’t feel like I sacrificed my dreams or gave anything up. I know plenty of people that moved to Los Angeles after NYU and are in the same boat I am. Every experience in college is different and it is up to you to choose what will make you the happiest. For in the end, that’s all we want out of life and as Albert Camus said, “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads”.

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