It Girl | DANIELA LABI
I met Daniela at the United State of Women Summit and absolutely loved her spirit. Daniela mentioned that she quit her job at a software company (samesies) to do more creative work. I knew she would be an amazing It Girl and woman for us to learn from. Her message and quite frankly activism preaches the idea of women having more diversity and body representation on film. Preach.
Name: Daniela Labi
Job Title/Company: A human who’s existing, acting, singing, and making films. I’ve found less pressure and more acceptance that things happen in their own time when I make them gerunds and not nouns.
Education Background: BA Middle East Studies, George Washington University
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
I’m easily intimidated by this question — the moment I say what I am, I feel an immense pressure to be the perfect version of that thing like…yesterday. My soul tingles when I’m acting in front of camera, singing under redwood trees, writing with a felt tip pen, cuddling my friends, moving my body, or talking (actually preaching) about body positivity.
2. What sparked your interest in your starting your career transition from the tech world to what you do now?
By a lot of people’s standards, I had a really great job at Lyft headquarters and was making great strides toward an abundant career in tech. Two years in, I noticed that my health was deteriorating, that I didn’t feel nourished by my community, that I wasn’t energized by work, etc. I decided to see an acupuncturist every week to get back into balance and one week while on the table, I asked myself: “What is my most outlandish fantasy? What is the thing that I’m not letting myself want?”
I wasn’t surprised by my answer — I’d been having visions of being an actor for years, but I’d been ignoring them. I’d been ignoring them because I didn’t believe that people who looked like me could be actors; I didn’t believe that people who looked like me could even want to be actors.
Two months later, in my first acting class, I was asked to perform an improvised dramatic scene of a mother coming home to find out her daughter had gone missing. As the scene unfolded, I felt something in my body change; it felt lighter, felt freer. Maybe it was adrenaline, but I never knew existence could feel so full, so vibrant, so, well, alive.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
I love strangers. Strangers remind me of my humanity, my insignificance, the art that exists in simple interactions, and the intimacy we share when we think we won’t see someone again. We’re all influencing each other all the time.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
I was a server at a Le Pain Quotidien in DC for a few months while I was in college. I have to look up how to spell that restaurant every time. Like every time.
5. Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?
Ummmm you mean the one in the future when I’ve gotten an Oscar???
But really, achievement is hard for me. Our society seems to conflate credibility with achievement, but what about normal existence? What about today? Today I woke up, acknowledged I was in an emotional funk, called friends, moved my body, went to acupuncture, cleaned my house, almost forgot about the deadline to answer these questions, and then sat at a coffee shop to answer these questions. Five years ago, I would’ve spent a day like today watching Netflix and bingeing on whatever was in my kitchen. Now, with some eating disorder recovery, I can make a day happen, so today feels like an achievement.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved? OR What is your goal with your work?
I became an actor because I believed we need body diversity in media, television, and film. Being an actor never crossed my consciousness because I never saw a body like mine on screen. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up because all I wanted to be was thin. I realized if I wanted to stop this phenomenon of marginalized bodies feeling less than, I would have to put my body on screen.
At first I just wanted to act. Now after seeing how little content is being made by and for fatter women, I feel more compelled than ever to write and produce my own content, show that diversity is beautiful, that bigger women have complicated lives. We’re not the funny fat friend; we’re the leading ladies, the damn damsel in distress if you want. Though, let’s be real, we know how to get you out of shitty situations and make you piss yourself laughing at the same time.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned on this journey so far?
Is googling a life skill? Because I had to google “life skill” to figure out how to answer this question.
I learned how to meditate when I was in my early twenties and the gifts of that have helped in my corporate life, the audition room, and even an underwater shipwreck where I almost had a panic attack and stopped breathing. So, yeah, feeling the rising and falling of my belly has helped nearly every day of my life.
8. Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
Shooting a film in Italy, drinking limoncello between takes, and singing as the sun goes down with kindred souls.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
I usually start my days by moving my body at the gym. Two days a week I’m working at a film studio. Other days, I’ll go train with fellow actors, meet up with my web series writing partner, go to a coffee shop to do the biz side of acting, prepare for an audition, go to a shoot, film a self tape, rearrange my room 100 times so that my bed isn’t in the digitals I have to send to my agent. You know, the usual.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?
In the beginning of this transition I believed that living the artistic life I wanted would happen, but that it would take a loooonnnng time. Like years, maybe decades. I was unconsciously postponing my future dream because I doubted my current ability. Classic perfectionism. It took me a year to dissolve that thinking and build the confidence to go out for the projects I was ready for. That was a big obstacle, but don’t make my mistake. Don’t place your dreams so far in the future. Place them right where you can taste them. You’re more ready than you think you are.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Beeeee Yourself! Trite, but true.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
There’s this tender time in the mornings when I’m in between dreamland and awakeworld, when I can go back into my imagination to retrieve images from a dream or look at my phone and check my email. On the mornings I don’t go straight for my phone, I usually have a lot of ideas like lyrics for songs, sensations to build into a scene, different mannerisms to try for a character, or how to start a candy business.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
Last week I had a second callback. The director had whittled down his decision to me and one other actress for this part and I bombed the callback. I wasn’t present, I didn’t prepare enough, and I spent the rest of the week beating myself up about it. My inner critic was (and still is) on blast.
Stay humble, stay curious. That was my lesson. I no longer assume I’m entitled to things that I’ve gotten or things I haven’t. I’ve learned that I have to remain curious — ask myself what else there is to explore about a character, what I don’t know, how I can stay engaged even through discomfort, fear, or rejection. Fueling my curiosity is going to make me a more resilient artist.
I asked my 75-year-old self about the callback and she said: “What callback? Ob-La-Di.” And, you know what? She’s right. Sometimes the universe says yes, sometimes no, sometimes no, not yet. When I’m 75, I’m probably going to think: “Oh, thank goodness I didn’t get that role otherwise I wouldn’t have experienced ______.” Life is funny that way and I’m looking forward to what that blank is.
14. How do you unwind?
I have a playlist on Spotify with female artists singing sultry, sensual, badass songs. I usually put that on and dance/sing the fuck out of it in my room or I’ll go to a hot tub. Being in water is so great.
15. What would you tell someone else who is interested in taking a leap from corporate?
Just like Finding Nemo: Fear is your friend, not food. But really, let your fear be a part of the journey, but don’t let it feed off of you.
When you’re taking the leap into a new rhythm of life, take time create the balance you need to exist without the 9-5 framework. What do you need to make the journey enjoyable?
Remember that you are an investment. You may feel like you can’t spend money on yourself because you’re not getting a steady paycheck, but if you need to join a coworking space to be more productive, then it is worth it. If you need to take a class or hire a consultant to get you where you need to go, do it. Investing in yourself is worth the payoff later on.
Make community with people who don’t have traditional schedules. My friends and I started a group called Feminists who Freelance to support one another. It changed everything for me to have women around me who were on this alternative journey with me.
Re-evaluate how you define “success” (lord, I hate that word.) BUT, when you’re out of the corporate world, you’re not going to get a promotion, a raise, or title change. What is your new definition? Make a system, make a spreadsheet, and track those small things so that you can celebrate you!
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
I hope that you learn to make friends with your fear and say: “Hi fear. I see you. Let’s go for a ride.” Give your fear a name and talk to it. If you want to double date with my fear, we’re available and would love to get a beer sometime. Well, my fear likes beer; I’m more of a G&T kind of gal.