Layla Pessoa always knew that she belonged in a career path in the arts. While many people went for medicine, engineering or law, Pessoa decided to do what inspired her. Taking the unconventional path, she decided to do musical theatre. Those “safe” careers are the ones that every parent seems to want for their children. In a way, it makes sense. They usually pay well and everyone wants to be financially stable, to pay the bills on time and have a comfortable life. But what if those careers cannot fulfill a person emotionally? What if those careers only make the person frustrated because they aren’t doing what they’re meant to be doing? This can make you come to a dilemma. Should you take a risk and follow your dreams, or should you stay in the “safe” major?
Pessoa decided to do what brought her true joy, to go after who she was meant to be. But getting there wasn’t easy.
She started college in her hometown Manaus in Brazil as a psychology major. She was 17, straight out of high school. And the truth behind her choice of major? Every person in her life said that she needed a plan B for her dream of becoming a professional actress.
“This makes me pretty upset, because you never ask people from other careers to have a plan B,” Pessoa said. “You don’t come up to a medical student and ask them what is their plan B.”
She realized that by doing psychology as a “plan B” instead of theatre, she was not valorizing her own desired profession.
“It’s not bad to do two majors—which I think is admirable, by the way—but I feel like the reason I did it was to mask my own fear of things not working out,” she said.
The realization of the nature of her decisions, combined with doing two majors in college, disturbed her a lot. She felt that without passion, she couldn’t do well in both theatre and psychology.
She decided to prioritize what she really wanted.
After a whole semester of college, she traveled to Rio de Janeiro, where she got some pamphlets from a great theatre school in the area. She told her parents that she was doing the test for the theatre school, and that if she got in she would do it.
Many auditions later, she got in.
“I convinced my parents that I could do both theatre and psychology from Rio,” she said.
Pessoa moved to Rio and did the same thing that she did Manaus: theatre and psychology. Not too much later, the story repeated itself: one major started the other.
“I talked to them [my parents] and said that it was too much, I could not handle both. I am not good at psychology and I don’t really like it,” she said.
After some convincing, they agreed to let her only do theatre, even though they thought it was only immaturity on her part. Pessoa stayed in Rio for a year and a half and then transferred to São Paulo, where she finished theatre school. São Paulo is the cultural center of Brazil—known as “Brazilian New York”—where the vast majority of musicals happen and where she would have better opportunities.
“That was a hard transition for me,” Pessoa said. “I was established in Rio, but then I decided to move.”
In São Paulo, Pessoa didn’t know anyone. Once again it was time to build her life from the beginning. In São Paulo, after feeling pressured to follow a more “stable” career, she tried to give psychology one last shot.
“Just in case I ended up liking it this time,” she said.
Once again, she realized that it was not what she wanted.
“As much as I think psychology is interesting and helps with people skills, I don’t think it makes me fulfilled professionally and emotionally,” Pessoa said. “That was the talk I had with my parents. Psychology is just something that does not fulfill my soul.”
Her parents slowly understood. Even though they still wanted the best for her and thought that it came in the form of a more stable career, they slowly accepted that theatre was, in fact, better for Pessoa. But it was not her words that convinced them that her “pipe dream” was more than just a dream. It was her actions.
“They saw me studying a lot, how much I dedicated myself. They started believing with me,” Pessoa said.
When her mom visited her, it was the moment she really started believing: Pessoa spent most of her free time studying and rehearsing.
“After doing professional theatre, our daughter matured a lot as a person. Acquiring more responsibility, despite her young age, she became an independent, empathetic, happy and dedicated woman in everything she does in life,” said her mother Leila Gomes.
Her hard work didn’t go unnoticed in the musical theatre department. Every teacher not only knows her name, but also compliments her on both her dedication and her growth.
“I could see her evolve in vocal technique, as well as in acting, and I could see her transformation,” said her vocal coach Luanna Barbosa. “Each challenge faced became ammunition to increase her self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Pessoa realized that she is very open to the opportunities that life gives her. She says that if one day she wakes up and decides that she wants to do something else, she will. That helped her with the feeling that she would eventually risk too much in such a hard and competitive field. Before, she used to think that if she dropped psychology she would never be able to go back. Now, she realizes that’s not true.
“Our liberty is in our hands in that sense,” she says. “If I could give a piece of advice to 17-year-old Layla, I would say to just be honest with what you like and go for it. Don’t invest in something you don’t like just to please your parents and society. It’s just a waste of time.”
And the best part of finally leaving her fear behind and following her dreams? Doing it every single day. She loves the routine.
“Laylinha has become more communicative and more authentic,” her father Ivan Pessoa said.
Going to school every day, studying and finding new reasons to dedicate herself represent the things that she believes made the change worth it.
“There are days where I am feeling low, go to school and leave renovated, which is something that wouldn’t happen if I were to do anything else,” Pessoa explains. “It’s the feeling that what I am doing makes my life worth living.”
Pessoa can identify a lot with the new Pixar movie “Soul.” Just like Joe, she often thought that her career would only work out if she got a certain number of jobs, callbacks and admiration, only to later realize that daily life is also really important.
“One thing I would do right again? When I started theatre school, I would change my view of going to school,” Pessoa said. “When I started, I kept thinking ‘I wanna graduate as soon as possible and start working’ and I didn’t enjoy the process. Now I think, ‘I am going to enjoy every second of it because one day I will graduate and I will miss this.’ I love this.”