It’s almost Thanksgiving Break! Which means that it’s right about that time in the semester when everyone starts thinking about changing their major.
Changing your major can be both exciting and scary -- you’re excited because you feel a few steps closer to the right career path, but it's scary, because that path can be a complete 360-degree turn away from what you had originally thought your future would be. Some of you may even feel that you wasted your time in a major or profession that looks like it has no connection to what you want to do next.
Here is a conversation I had with one of my current professors at Azusa Pacific University about her career change. This professor spent nine and a half years in the convent serving as a nun, before she felt called to go to Hollywood. Since then, she has been a screenwriting consultant for movies like "The Passion of the Christ." She has even founded her own comprehensive writing program to help train Christian writers and producers.
Even though it was a scary and incredibly drastic change for her initially, she was able to take her faith and what she had learned in the convent and apply it in, of all places, Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world.
Here is her story:
Q: Not everyone knows you used to be a nun, so can you elaborate on that? I think it’s just so fascinating.
A: Well, I went from the great books education in my undergrad into the convent, mainly because I read a book that really impacted me, and that was "Story of a Soul" by St. Therese “The Little Flower." Having read all the great books, this one was like a program on life, and it was built around total focus on Jesus, about serving the Church and the people, and that just appealed to me tremendously when I was twenty. I just basically all of a sudden looked up one day, and there were some nuns on [my] campus, and I was like, “Who are you, because I think I want to be one!” I entered three months after having met them, I didn’t discern at all. It turned out that they were nuns who worked in media and publishing and radio, TV, things like that, so it’s weird that they were the [nuns] I happened to see first. The highlight, or keynote, of the nine years that I spent in the convent were the three hours we spent everyday in prayer. For me, that was excruciating because I’m an extrovert. But, I had to learn solitude, I had to learn quiet, I had to learn meditation and prayer, and just being alone with God and it’s a long time -- a lot of people don’t spend three hours in their whole lives praying. So three hours for nine years is a nice chunk.
The rest of the time we spent studying, ministering, being the face of the Church for a lot of people. It’s very interesting being a nun because people project on you all of their thoughts about God, all of their experiences, all of their anger and their joy and their hate and their love, because you’re just this visible symbol there. They’ll just come right up to you and start telling you their life story, and meanwhile, you’re a person, but it doesn’t matter who you are because it’s who they want you to be. I have so many stories like that…I have a story, a couple of times, where I was spat upon, you know, people just screaming epithets at you. And then on the other extreme, there are people coming to you right out of the blue asking for help and counsel. It’s very, very humbling to be a nun.
Q: Did working alongside nuns who worked in the media influence you to enter Hollywood right after?
A: My fellow sisters told me that they felt God was calling me somewhere else. We were all crying, it was like "The Sound of Music," but they were right. I was like a big fish in a little pond [in the convent] -- I would say to the nuns, “We need to have rallies with 10,000 people! We need to be writing screenplays and movies!” And they would say, “We’re nuns, we don’t do that.” We had our cute, little media center but it was nowhere near what I was geared towards. So then I flew to film school at Northwestern, and I had no idea it was the number four school which would open incredible doors for me. I had only wanted to go there because I wanted to live in Chicago. They let me in because they told me they had never had a nun in their program (laughs), or ex-nun, so that was a novelty for them. What was cool was that when I came to L.A., to Hollywood, Northwestern had an amazing network of people who helped me get jobs, and that helped me quite a bit.
Q: Was it an easy adjustment, going from the convent to Hollywood?
A: No, no, not at all! I don’t even know how to compare it. No, it was dreadfully hard. I spent two years in Harvard Square in between taking some school and getting a life, basically, because I had been out of the world for nine and a half years. I couldn’t get a credit card -- people thought I was a felon because I would try to get an apartment, and I would have no records, no credit history, not anything. So I had to get a life pretty fast before graduate school. Everything was an adjustment. I think the main thing was the noise of the world outside, the lack of reflection, the lack of living in the presence of holy thoughts. People [outside the convent] only did that once a week on Sunday for 40 minutes. Also, I had to suddenly care about things that I had not cared about before, like car insurance, shopping, getting furniture.Finally, there’s a kind of dirtiness in the world. There’s a crassness, there’s a lack of decorum, there’s a lack of respect. I mean in the convent, there were sinners, obviously we are all sinners, but there was a veneer of respect for charity and kindness. You come out into the world, and it’s not that at all. That was very shocking for me. Just seeing people say nasty things about people in the workplace, and I'm like, she’s just one office down! I remember at one of the first places I worked, there was an affair going on between two of the people on staff, and they were both married, and everyone just [glossed] over that.Aside from that, it was funny because my older sister at the time brought me out shopping and wanted me to buy shoes, and I asked her, “Why? I already have a pair of shoes!” And she was like, “You can have more than one pair, you know!” And at the time, I would just walk and cross streets without looking because before, I would be wearing the habit and cars would recognize that I was a nun and stop for me. But once I was out of the convent, my sister had to tell me that I just couldn’t do that anymore.
Q: Well, I think your life beautifully mirrors Christ’s life, about how He came out of heaven and went into the world. How did being a nun impact the way you work in Hollywood today?
A: I mean one thing that was cool was that I had an amazing work ethic that I had from being in the convent, because as a nun, you basically did two things -- you prayed and you worked. We had one hour of recreation a day where we walked around, talked, laughed, and then the rest of the time, we were working. We would get up at 5 in the morning, and then after chapel and breakfast, we would work from 8 a.m. until about 6, and then we would engage in sewing and cleaning.
I remember when I had first started out [in a production company] and the producer gave me something to do, and I brought it back to him that afternoon done. He was like, “That was supposed to last you all week!” And then he would give me other things to do, and I would get it done immediately and bring it back to him, and so he said “You can take longer!” But after a while, he would start piling my desk with stuff because he knew I could do it. What you find when you go into the world, very often, in offices, is people saunter in, they read their paper or surf the net, get their coffee, talk for a little bit, maybe they get an hour of work in in the morning, then they go to lunch, there’s a lot of gossiping going on, and not much gets done. So I had a really good work ethic because I didn’t do any of that. So I started in the company in June as the really low man on the totem pole, and I was the number two person in the company by Christmas.
I don’t think people realize that being a nun is very empowering, because there are no men in the convent. So you learn to do stuff, and you don’t just stand around waiting. Most people think of nuns as being helpless, but it’s the exact opposite extreme. I remember this one time when I was in the convent, I came across this room where there were several nuns taking apart a lightbulb, and they were rewiring it.
Also, there was another time I was stationed in L.A. at a house outside of the motherhouse, I was 24, and they had a $4-million construction project going on where they were building a new convent book center. I was placed in charge of the construction and given a hard hat, a blueprint, and a book on reading blueprints, and I had a job site meeting the next week. So, I learned, and I showed up at the job site the next week to meet the architect and contractor, and they were just putting steel things in the cement. I looked, and I was like “You know, there’s a bar here, but I remember that it’s supposed to be a doorway.” And they were like, “Oh Sister!" thinking I had no idea what I was talking about, but when they looked, they realized it had been a $1,500 mistake. Can you imagine another work force where women get to do that? As a nun, we had to learn to do everything by the grace of God.
I hope her story serves as a reminder that life will throw curve balls at us, but don’t be afraid to venture into something completely new, because God will always be there to supply you with the grace you need, whether you’re serving in the church or writing and producing movies. Follow His promptings and guidance, because He will show you which paths to take, and though it may not make sense initially, in the end, you will have a life story that is wonderful, fruitful, and inspiring (Did I mention that Mel Gibson wanted to make this professor’s life into a movie?) Anyway, every experience in life matters, so don’t ever feel that it was a waste of time. Make every moment in your life count.