Featured Artist In Action: Andrea Jones-Rooy

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As my regular readers know, our Featured Artist in Action posts are my favorite to share with you. Not only do I get to check in with some of the fabulous artists whom I've coached either in the Path Course or in Private Coaching, I also get a chance to see how the work that I've dedicated my life to has impacted others. It's an immensely fulfilling experience.

Today's Featured Artist In Action is the multi-talented Andrea Jones-Rooy, who first took the Path Class in 2014. Andrea's journey is an absolutely fascinating one (that spans the globe!). Additionally, Andrea's answers to my questions were so in-depth, that I realized they offered a true insider's view into the entire process of how the Path Course curriculum applies to someone's life on a practical level. If you've ever wanted to know how it all works, here are the goods. Let's turn it over to Andrea.

What brought you to the Path Course back in 2014?

Oh man, I was a lost soul. Well, I take that back — I think in 2014 I thought I was starting to figure things out, but boy was I wrong.

I signed up for the Path Course on the recommendation of my friend Damian, who had taken it a few months before. We were at a party one night and he was talking about it to a group of us, then turned to me, pointed in my face (in a friendly way) and said “YOU, in particular, will like this.” Sold.

My big issue going into the course was that I was worried that it would only help me figure out how to reach my goals, but my problem was I couldn’t even decide on what my goals were. I knew I wasn’t in a place (in any sense of the word) in my life where I wanted to be, but I didn’t know where I wanted to be, so I didn’t know how to get there.

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Let me be more concrete: I was a professor of political science at the time. I was also living in Shanghai (I took Path while home for summer break — yay, academic calendars!), professor-ing at NYU Shanghai. But I also was a circus performer — trapeze, aerial hoop, aerial silks — at a nightclub in China called Cirque le Soir. They also taught me how to do bed of nails and eat fire and some other cool stuff. I absolutely, positively loved Cirque.

Despite having spent 7 years in a Ph.D. program in political science, I also had always been drawn to the arts, especially performance and writing. In the middle of grad school, I sort of vanished to spend a year in NYC to study improv at UCB, and I had a blog of (very) short stories that no one read, but I updated anyway.

In China, I’d also just tried my hand at standup, and liked it, but had no idea if I could fit it all in (plus I was horrible at it).

Suffice it to say — I had no idea what I was doing. I was obsessed with Cirque, so not ready to leave China yet, and I’d been brainwashed into thinking academia was the only place where people do meaningful work, yet I hated it. And I was spreading myself really thin across other pursuits.

All I knew was that I wanted something more than what I had — Cirque was on the right track, but it wasn’t quite enough. I also knew I wanted to make my way back to New York, but didn’t know how.

This is super cheesy, but, while I was a post-doc (a fancy way of saying underpaid professor) at Carnegie Mellon, I once read a birthday horoscope book. I was stunned when, for my birthday, it said, “You would do best in a career in the arts, but you may not ever get it.” It stuck with me for years before I figured out how to get it (and to this day, every time I do something arts-related, I think, “Challenge accepted!”).

What were the goals you set when you took the Path course? Did you meet them?

The Path Course was a revolution for me for three reasons.

  1. The guided meditation was game-changing. In it, my future self was not an academic. She was happy, she was doing meaningful work, and using her brain, but she wasn’t affiliated with a university. Visualizing that possibility was so huge for me — like a massive permission slip from the universe (more likely, my own brain) that I would be ok, even not a failure, outside of the ivory tower.

  2. It led me to my agent, who is helping me propose a memoir about my magical (and sometimes dark and sometimes funny) time in a Chinese circus.

  3. In the one-on-one coaching, Betsy helped me realize that standup, while fun, wasn’t something I was ready to focus on yet. Removing it from my list of things was a huge relief that allowed me to focus on what I needed to.

My goals for my first year of Path were something along the lines of: Write the memoir, put together a one person show that’s a mix of circus and comedy, and make a living independent of a university.

As for meeting them...I'm still working on that memoir, but, my heavens, it's in-progress, which feels great (any publishers out there looking for a memoir?); I've performed two half-hour versions of a one-person show with costumes and everything, and want to develop it further this year; and — HOORAY — I make a (very modest, but real) living outside of a university, which is something I really didn't know I could do.

What’s your life like today?

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Well, funny you should ask! I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is work on my memoir proposal (yes, still happening; no, it isn’t easy). I made a bunch of progress on it a while ago, but then stalled out. Thanks to Betsy’s coaching in a recent Reset Your Path workshop, I now begin each writing session with a ritual to send my inner critics on a parade to New Jersey (to this music, if you want to try it at home — it’s great fun imagining those jerks waiting for the train at the Christopher Street PATH station).

Then...I start my NEW job, which is my dream job, as a quantitative researcher at FiveThirtyEight, a data-driven news site. It so happens, I ALSO have this job thanks to Path! At last year’s Reset Your Path (yes, I go to them all), Betsy made us talk out loud about our goals. By that point, I had completed my original Path goal of living independent of a university — I had quit my job as a professor, which was the most important and terrifying decision of my life (here’s the story if you want to read it), and was scraping together a meager living through freelance research consulting, circus, and standup (after Betsy’s great advice to let it rest, I was finally able to turn to it, guilt-free, a year later when I was ready and have been loving it ever since).

I was speaking loudly at the Reset Your Path workshop about how I really wanted to be a social science journalist, but wasn’t sure such a job existed. A woman named Lori overheard me and found me to tell me her friend was an editor at FiveThirtyEight, and maybe she could offer some advice. Very long story short — 8 months later, I walked into their office as their new hire.

So, what do I do? I do research on all the things, alongside really smart people, about everything from how to win a Heisman trophy to the probability that State of the Union policy proposals become law. It’s fast-paced, challenging, and insanely fun. I sound sappy, but it’s honestly a dream come true — I get to talk and think and write about the social science ideas I loved dearly as a professor, but I also get to connect it to the real world and be creative and sometimes even funny (I’m proud of Poll Bot).

At night and on the weekends, I perform standup at the Lantern comedy club, or fire and trapeze at a wild Russian spot in Coney.

Have you encountered unanticipated challenges and roadblocks? How did you handle them?

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Oh, my heavens, yes. The thing that’s gotten in the way the most is insecurity and self-doubt. Path has helped me time and again with this. When I first quit my job, I didn’t know what to do. My friend Damian (original Path recommender) quit his job at the same time, and we became accountability partners. Forcing myself to tell him what I was going to do each week — and whether I did it — helped me get things done that I otherwise would have been too fearful to do myself (basic stuff, like send an email, even). Learning to catch, hear, name, and tame my inner critics has been monumental.

Finally, this is cheesy, too, but it was almost a year between when I quit being a professor and got my current job at FiveThirtyEight, during which I was absolutely lost at sea and wanted to give up time and time again. I wrote Betsy’s advice: “Be, Do, Have” on a Post-It and looked at it every single day. I couldn’t just sit around hoping for a job — I needed to be the job I wanted. So I started a podcast about data science, and a political science blog, both of which helped me get better at the skills I use in my current job, helped me learn that it really is what I want to do, and (I like to think) helped me convince FiveThirtyEight that I really was motivated.

What was the most valuable thing you took away from your Path Course experience?

For all the things I’ve mentioned, I actually think the most valuable thing is one I haven’t mentioned yet: Say out loud, to other humans, what the hell you want out of life.

I spent my whole life secretly wanting to be a standup comic and a writer and a public social scientist and never told a soul. When I finally said out loud, “I want to write a book,” someone in my Path class introduced me to the person who is now my agent. When I finally said out loud, “I want to write about social science for a broader audience,” someone in the Reset Your Path workshop introduced me to the person who would ultimately lead me to the other people who gave me my current job.

It sounds like something from The Secret, but it’s real: You won’t get your goals unless other people know you want them! So often we keep our most prized and sacred goals to ourselves — and that gets us nowhere. Honestly.

A related second piece — you need other people to get where you want to go. You can toil away in isolation all you want, but it won’t likely get you far. And networking isn’t so bad — it’s fun, even — if you’re all just helping each other out.

What advice do you have for anyone struggling with their careers?

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This is way, way, WAY easier said than done, but if you think you want to do something, please just start doing it. I started a political science blog long before I got a job writing about political science. You don’t need the official job or title to just do the thing you want to do.

Also, my heavens, send your inner critics on a parade to New Jersey. Writing has become my favorite part of the day now that I can wave my three critics (Existential Edward, Hateful Harry, and Ye Olde Good for Nothin’) goodbye first. I am not exaggerating.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Trust yourself.

What’s next for you?

For the first time in my entire life, I’m genuinely excited to do more of what I am currently doing. I feel very lucky, and very, very grateful to Betsy, the Path Course, Damian, Lori, and Sarah, in particular. <3