I am a firm believer that every single person has experiences and that, whatever those experiences are, we are meant to have them. They are what make us unique. I know I would not be the person that I am today had I not gone through my own experiences and had my own story.
Being from Southern California, I grew up with a very tight-knit family and posses a strong appreciation for those close to me. At an early age, I learned so much about how important it is to spend time with good people. I was always a connector and have always believed in connecting with people in all aspects of my personal life and career.
My father was an entrepreneur, so he was always running a business. Not that he wasn’t around, but I remember him working a lot, like most entrepreneurs do. Being the oldest, I would take care of my brother and sister and sometimes my mom. My mother was never diagnosed, but she was an addict and suffered from something like bipolar disorder. Some days she was the most beautiful, bright, brilliant, shining light ever, and other days I would have to lock myself in my room because she was going to take her anger or her disease out on me. When I was 13, she took her own life and I was there with her.
Sitting there as she slipped away is perhaps the worst thing that a 13-year-old could ever possibly go through. I remember thinking, this is the person who is supposed to be my biggest champion and my biggest fan, and she just left me to figure it all out on my own.
I will never forget what my father said to us during this time: “Never use this as an excuse.”
He always instilled in us three kids (I am the oldest of three) that we are strong and we are individuals: We can do anything that we want, and just because this happened to us, that's no reason to make an excuse to not do what we want. He raised us that way, and because of that, everything that I've done in my life, I have always done wholeheartedly and passionately.
As an adult, I went to college and got a degree in communication and journalism. After college I moved to New York, which was a really rude awakening. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to being the tiniest fish in the biggest pond. I was making $18,000. I was broke as hell. A big part of me thought I was going to graduate school and be on top of my career. However, that was far from the truth. For the first time in my life I was on my own. In my past I had spent so much time worrying about everyone, distracting myself and taking care of everyone else, that this was the first time that I was alone, figuring it out for myself.
But I did it. I moved up in various companies and then ultimately came back to Los Angeles, where I was head of talent on the Daytime Show. It's a great show, but it was a beast, so ultimately after about two years, I left. I didn’t have anything lined up or any clue where my next dollar was going to come from. All I knew was that I had to move on with my life. Driving away that day, I never felt more powerful, inspired, and in touch with myself. I was fully confident in myself and my abilities — I was going to be successful. I did a little freelance work from there, and then became the head of talent for a Sony-owned production company called Embassy Row. It was a big job for a twenty-something-year-old, and it was there where I really learned and honed in on my craft. After being there for a few years I was ready to start my company.
I knew my value and I knew my worth; that’s one of the things I’m very proud to say because I know that’s a very hard thing for a lot of women, and really for a lot of people in general. I think you have to know your value. That comes from just listening to that little voice in your head or that little gut feeling and sitting with it and understanding who you are and what you want. I really believe in intuition. I think that we all have something inside of us. It’s important to challenge ourselves, to continue to grow, and to make a difference. I think that has been what has led me the most.
Looking back at when I launched my company, I think it’s really important to take it a day at a time. Have a big vision, but understand that one step forward means there's probably going to be three steps back and it's not going to be perfect. You have to continue to believe in yourself, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and be patient. I am and have always been honest and true to who I am and what I want. That’s the most important part of it all.
One of the things that I've done with my life and my business is I created something that didn't exist before. Beyond that, I created something that is utilizing my strengths, my knowledge, and my relationships. I love my job. I'm so passionate about it every day. It's fun, and it's not a traditional path by any means, but I've created it.
So my advice is this:
1. Whatever you're good at and whatever feels right, lean into that. Even if it's not a traditional path, location, or outlet, just trust yourself and create something that is uniquely you. Anything really is possible.
2. Nothing we do is the “end all be all.” If you are unhappy, do something else and do it wholeheartedly and presently.
3. Don’t ever let money make a decision for you. Oftentimes we stay in a job or select a career because of money and end up sitting in an office day after day collecting the paycheck. But there is no passion. Passion is KEY! Follow your passion.
I really believe that it is because of my life experience that I am the woman, friend, and business owner that I am today. All of our lives are unique to only us, and we have the power to make any situation a lesson for the better. I look at life today and think I can get through anything, I can do anything.
Jen is the Founder & CEO of Cultivated Entertainment. Her warmth and energy have solidified her as one of the industry’s go-to experts in talent development, casting, producing and booking. Just before launching the company, Jen was the Head of Talent for Embassy Row, Sony Pictures Televisions’ TV and digital production company. She also held roles as Head of Talent for a cable network’s daily talk show, was an Entertainment field producer for Fox News and worked on the talent representation side, on the booking desks of CAA and ICM.
Words: Jen Proctor
This narrative was edited for clarity