It’s beyond enriching and beautiful to experience different cultures, take them in, and integrate what resonates most to us. Therefore, whatever we choose to identify with, our continuous becoming is not comparable with anyone else’s because our life force expression imprinted through us is unique in perspective and authentic in essence.
We are creators, continually creating an unrepeatable creation.
Jona Xiao, an actor, as well as an athlete and a creator, whose passion for what she does in and out of the screen is evident through the example of her physical realm, says, “My background definitely plays a role in who I am today. I was born in China but grew up in the United States. So, I think there’s that very traditional Chinese side of me and the Americanized side because I grew up in America. That leads to me being very hardworking—the Chinese work ethic—as well as finding that fun and freedom that we can sometimes associate with Americans. So, I’d say I have a combination of both sides.”
Jona is not only a blend of cultures, but also a blend of two disciplines: sports and acting. When playing sports—and playing being someone else—our flashlight of attention is focused in one direction, which inevitably leads us to be more present in the now. “There are a lot of transferable skills between acting and sports. It’s really about being in the moment as well as being really present to what’s happening. Sometimes, it’s all too easy to let distractions and outside thoughts get in the way of being present in the moment. And in both cases, when you’re in the zone, whether it’s acting or football as a quarterback, you have to be mentally dialed in and put everything into the work, mental, physical, and emotional aspects of you. Moreover, acting and football are very similar in that regard,” Jona shares.
Often, we see ourselves as separate from everyone else and compare ourselves to them. But when we realize there is mutuality in everything, that we are part of the collaborative creation process that translates into the reality we are experiencing, we will celebrate others and ourselves for who we are.
Jona has always been a very competitive person, but she prefers being collaborative over competitive when it comes to acting. She says, “If I’m going to be competitive with anyone, I’d rather be competitive with myself. How do I be a better version of myself? How do I give and offer more to the world? So, I think I measure myself based on just being the best version of myself. When it comes to my career, I think it’s a much healthier approach. I’ve been working through external validation because, growing up, I was under pressure to perform and be accepted if I did well, such as getting good grades. As a result, I still put pressure on myself to do a good job nowadays. But we should all measure success based on things we have control over. So, rather than being results-oriented, I think it would be so much better for us to see success as taking action, being process-oriented, and building great habits that will lead to the external things we want in our lives. Thus, when we change our definition of success, it’ll change our happiness level, and ultimately, what we achieve in our lives.”
When we focus on our goals as the destination, we miss out on all the synchronicities and magic along the way. Every time we accomplish something, we are right away on the lookout for what is next. Therefore, if there is a destination, then it’s the infinite, never-ending movement of the discovery process between the desire formulated and the formulation of the new one. To embody any desire, we have to include ourselves in the story of that desire coming to life, knowing that we don’t have to know all the “whens” and “hows,” but instead allow ourselves to enjoy the unfolding.
Through the acting process of becoming someone else, Jona is including and representing not only hers, but other people’s stories and, in essence, our desire to live a fulfilling and satisfying life. Passionately, Jona says, “To me, inclusivity is embracing, highlighting, and amplifying all kinds of voices from different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, race, class, everyone. So, it’s great to really demonstrate the diversity that we have in this world.”
Daisy is the name of Jona’s character in Starz’s series Hightown. Jona felt the responsibility to ensure that Daisy’s portrayal is truly multidimensional—a real human being and not just a sexual object for the male gaze—rather than simply perpetuating stereotypes of a hypersexualized Asian woman. Although Jona is very different from Daisy in real life, finding the common grounds with the character helped her explore and add more layers to the role.
Jona excitedly says, “We’re both ambitious. We’re both smart. We’re both resourceful. So, I’m starting from there and asking myself, ‘Okay, how are we different?’ We both came from low-income families, but her life was more rough than mine. Then I continue asking myself, ‘What would it be like to grow up in Lowell, Massachusetts?’ I found in her a lot of pain, a lot of suffering. And then, ‘What kind of perspective does that give me as Daisy in the world? Like the world is a dangerous place where you must protect yourself or else you will die. That’s not my point of view as Jona, who sees more abundance than anything else. It’s just a very different outlook on life because of what she’s experienced. So, it’s just simply understanding that character’s point of view of the world.”
To embody someone else, actors have to fall in love with their character and explore beyond what it seems to show on the surface. They become aware of all the multidimensional layers we have as human beings; therefore, they understand why people do what they do. “A question I like to ask myself if someone pisses me off, for example, my first reaction might be, ‘Oh, he seemed such a jerk.’ And then I’m like, ‘Alright, if they weren’t a jerk, what else could this mean? What else could be going on?’ So, I think, asking myself those questions, and having to ask that about Daisy, really opened me up in a lovely way,” Jona says.
Starz’s series Hightown is in its second season, and it brings to the audience tough topics such as addiction, about which Jona shares, “It shows that these flawed characters all deserve love and that we’re all more similar than they are different. It is also to give people hope: hope for redemption, hope for positive change in their own lives because you see the characters really struggling in big ways. However, there’s always that hope. Then, with Daisy, I hope they can relate to a character who’s often stuck between a rock and a hard place and is just desperately doing her best. And, at the end of the day, I think that’s what we’re all doing in the world: just doing our best.”
Sometimes, the best we can do is think of ourselves with a bit more love, and that love will reflect into others. Jona’s inspiration to share her love and passion for acting had led her to create Career ACTivate (www.careerACTivate.com), a portal sharing supportive tools for actors who want to succeed within the entertainment industry.
“We have a lot of free resources as well as classes, workshops, and coaching. It was a very personal journey for me when I started out as an actor. I got scammed. When I was younger, I knew nothing about the industry’s business side until I started working in areas like casting, representation, producing, film festivals, etc.. Then, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so much that I wish I had known.’ So, it inspired me to start teaching and helping fellow actors because I think so many artists are really focused on their craft, which is so important, of course, but then they ignore the business side. And then they get taken advantage of or really struggle when they’re super talented. So, that’s what inspired me to start teaching.”
Then Jona continues saying, “If you can empower yourself, you can empower the world. So, the word ‘power’ simply means giving it to yourself and taking what’s naturally inside of you. I think we sometimes believe it is all outside of ourselves. Successful people, of course, do it on their own, but never alone. So, I think we can lean on each other for community and support. But, at the end of the day, I believe we have everything inside of us to succeed. It’s just about figuring out how to pull those resources within ourselves to really step into that power, affect our own lives, and create the change we want to see in the world. I believe it starts with a mindset shift. Each one of us is extraordinarily powerful, and we are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for.”
And, just like Jona, if making an impact in the world is important to you, we must first take care of our own steadiness and balance, then we can apply that balance to anything and anyone we choose to give our attention.
Photography // Brett Erickson