Sixteen years ago, on a glorious, summer day, my family and I were invited to attend a barbecue at my Mom's friends house. I was eight years old; full of spunk, energy and enthusiasm; ready to take on any challenge thrown at me. When we arrived I immediately got into my swimsuit and water wings. I wanted to feel the cool water on my skin and splash around in their beautiful outdoor pool.
Because I had never learned how to properly swim before, the water wings were of extreme importance to my safety. I would jump into the pool, climb back out and jump in again; over and over. I had never felt so free, floating about and laughing loudly.
An hour passed and for some strange reason, I impulsively decided to take the water wings off. There was a strange jolt of bravery in my heart, and I thought to myself, "I can do this." My mom's friend Monica noticed this and she called to me, "Are you sure you don't want to wear your water wings?" and I replied, "Yeah! I'm fine!" I jumped in and out a few more times. It was so wonderful to be independent of the small inflatables on my arms.
But, the last time I jumped, I had gone too far into the deep end, and hadn't realized it.
And once I got in, my feet could not touch the bottom. I began to panic. I didn't know what to do next. All I could think to do, was to flail my arms above my head, as I high I could and hope that someone would see. This struggle carried on for minutes it seemed and to my fear, nothing was happening on the surface. I was accepting my fate.
As i tried to analyze the situation, the first though that came to me was: "I haven't even had my first kiss and now I don't think I ever will." My mind was spinning and I began to lose momentum and strength. Images of my beloved family and friends circled around me, as the water began to fill my ears and nose.
And just when I thought all hope was lost, someone's hand was aggressively clasped onto mine, pulling me out of the water. It was Monica, and she saved my life.
The moments afterwards are all a blur, but the years following were greatly affected by this event. I was ruled by fear. The fear of loss and of death, for I been so close to it. I had difficulty trying new things and being adventurous in my childhood.
However, my timidity changed, when I was hired by Disney Cruise Line, at eighteen years old. In order to become an official cast member, I had to pass a extremely thorough swimming test. I was so distraught at the news, for I knew that if I didn't pass, one of my cast mates could potentially replace me. I had never prayed so hard in my life.
It was pouring rain that day at the outdoor pool and I was the last one in the entire group to complete the test. I was beyond petrified. After two hours of sinking, crying, trembling, and physical exhaustion, I miraculously discovered how to face my greatest fear and learn how to tread water in a pool 15 feet deep. I learned how to swim!
This success was intensely fueled by being given an opportunity of a lifetime. I was granted my dream role to play princesses on a stage for a nine month contract. and I wasn't going to let my fear get in the way of that.
Allowing my worry, anxiety or fear overcome me, was not an option. I had to just JUMP IN, and hold my head above it.
The fact that I was able to accomplish such a task still baffles me to this day, and is a constant reminder to not give in to the negativity that is found in our world at times. As many of you may know, being a performer in Los Angeles can often be exhausting and discouraging. But as soon as I look back and recognize that I was able to tackle such a feat and succeed, I am encouraged! The experience of nearly drowning, and being able to push through that fear to reach a goal, has become a metaphor in my life. Fear of rejection is similar to my fear of drowning, and the only way to overcome that, is to dive in and learn how to float with ease and tranquility.
Although I am often afraid, worried or emotional, I am learning to use that energy as motivation to push harder. In these past two and a half years living in LA, I have faced many challenges that have required me to face more fears than I can count. Driving in crazy traffic, auditioning regularly, being vulnerable at those casting calls, playing challenging roles such as Ilse in Spring Awakening, and not losing sight of my dream to be on Broadway someday.
I know that life may throw me hundreds of different shapes, sizes and temperatures of swimming pools to splash around in, but through experience, I am properly prepared: with scuba gear, life preservers and oxygen tanks at hand. What I will leave you with is this: In the words of Dory, the adorable, often forgetful fish. In difficult times you just gotta"... Keep Swimming!" and cherish each day that is filled with all of the wonderful blessings that the world has to offer. You are not alone, and there is always a way to reach your dream if you apply yourself and wipe away the doubt that may keep you from reaching that goal. Celebrate your dreams and the journey it takes to get there, it will be so much less scary to step out of "what if" and step into "I'm so glad I tried that!"
Monica Ricketts is a 24 year-old, Los Angeles based actor, singer and Disney enthusiast. She has lived in the area for almost three years and enjoys the lively, exciting life of a performer. Having grown up in a small town, the experiences here have truly shaped who she is today in a very powerful way. She hopes to continue to bring joy and hope to others through theater, storytelling and song.