Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: episode 34

Melissa Iglody

Episode 34 goes back to the class of 2012, the class that included my episode 6 guest Hernz Laguerre, Jr. and episode 10 guest Tendrina Alexandre. Melissa Iglody’s bright, bubbly personality infused positivity and a lively spark to our arts community.

Melissa was another example of someone who found refuge in the performing arts, taking dance classes during the school day and who discovered Thespians in her freshman year. There, she found her people, her happy place, and a way to fit into the bigger picture. She got her feet wet in stage crew for the first year and a half, then jumped into the deep end as a sophomore when she auditioned for Pippin and performed in the ensemble. Finding her comfort zone onstage, she shone a little brighter as Ethel McCormack in her senior show, Footloose, where she showed the world her voice in one of my favorite musical trios: “Learning to be Silent.”

After spending four years in her high school happy place, she sought the warm embrace of the theater community in college. She found it at SUNY Plattsburgh, double-majoring in English writing arts and theatre. There, she found her new home when she auditioned for their annual student production of Rocky Horror Picture Show. That was it: she found her people, her new happy place. Immersing herself in the university productions, Melissa gained valuable experience in stage management, lighting, props management, acting, playwriting.

What she didn’t know then was just how important her theater education would be as she entered the world of adulting.

In Plattsburgh’s theater program, Melissa discovered a new passion: puppetry. At graduation, she walked with her creation, Little Mel.

After graduation, Melissa worked locally for the Rockland Conservatory of Music until she found work as an Executive Assistant for several Manhattan-based companies. Most recently, she landed an EA position with Piper Sandler, a Manhattan-based investment bank. Wherever she goes, she brings that same aura of positivity, her spirit of teamwork and a keen sense of creative problem-solving, embracing the Thespian motto:

Act well your part;
there all the honor lies.

Alexander Pope, Essay on Man

From adolescence to adulting

As a teenager, Melissa fondly recalls her high school self being fun, carefree, and fearless. I remember her as a ray of sunshine who proudly expressed her own personal style and, unlike her peers, did not seem to care what other people thought of her.

I carried myself with that swagger of ‘I’m me and if you don’t like it, that’s your loss.’

What kept her grounded was surrounding herself with people who were similar to her, who made her feel comfortable being who she was so she could grow into herself.

I was bouncy, a little bit all over the place. Finding my people helped me hone that a little bit more in myself and find a common space where I could channel that energy into something and see it work in real time.

That energy was quite useful in my programs, and she poured it into every production. With each new show, she loved to see how we started with nothing, only to create something beautiful, poignant and magical over the course of a few months time. She learned how to be a team player, a part of something bigger than herself, and to use her abundant energy for good.

On developing resilience

Adulting has certainly tamed some of that energy, and as life would have it, she has weathered some stressful storms in the process. Life has a funny way of teaching us that the only truly permanent thing is change: jobs come and go, people come in and out of your life, health can quickly become a limiting factor. All of the uncomfortable, upsetting things that we endure serve to carve out new paths for us to follow. Ideally, how we navigate those paths, based on the choices we make, will lead us to emerge as stronger, wiser people. Those life lessons, if we are willing to heed them, teach us so much about ourselves, who we are, and what we can handle.

Resilience is something I’ve really grown into and realized that I do have a lot of.

Of course, in your adolescence, most kids don’t have the brain development from life experience to understand the scope of their own resilience. Everything seems so huge and devastating, to the point where it is hard to see themselves as strong enough to withstand life’s great challenges. Melissa offered some thoughts to help out her younger self:

Keep on being who she is. No matter what life has to throw at her, no matter what she feels like she’s going through, she can take it. She’s stronger than she thinks she is. Just keep on keeping on. She’s amazing and honestly, back then, didn’t know it enough to really believe it.

She believes it now, by the way.

In that spirit, she recalled the words that Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh:

Promise me you’ll always remember: 
You’re braver than you believe,
and stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think

A.A. Milne
On approaching her third decade

At 29, the carefree nature has ebbed a bit and she does give some more consideration to what others think about her. It’s natural, especially as one approaches their third decade and the adolescent narcissism has given way to an increased awareness of the external world. The new-found resilience provides instruction about being more cautiously optimistic and mindful of all the moving parts in their sphere of influence.

Another feature of adulthood learning the necessity of disconnecting from the bustle of our lives. Melissa has come to enjoy quiet, introspective, alone time; the time where she can finally turn everything off, recharge, and just be her most authentic self.

I really am appreciating those kinds of moments in my adulthood. I can sit down with a book, my guitar or my laptop and enjoy my own company.

She’s a girl after my own heart; I often come home from work and run right to my laptop to work on a blog or podcast episode. In the summer, much of my time is spent in creation mode. It feels therapeutic to restore my brain and my heart after giving it all away at work.

I feel like that is a form of self-care; that you want to feed into your own creativity on your own terms. Being able to do that, it does something for our brains to calm us down, center and ground us. There’s something important and beautiful about that.

What is Melissa grappling with now?

As someone who does not want to live her life with any regrets, Melissa grapples with the mistakes she’s made in her past. The act of looking back on the choices she’s made and acknowledging that perhaps they were not the healthiest ones for her physical, mental and emotional health can be burdensome, especially when she is generally happy with the outcome of her life so far.

Sitting with all that now, I have to be okay with not regretting what I’ve been through because I’m still happy with where I ended up. It comes and goes in waves. You are fine one day and then all of a sudden you go back home and the sun sets and you’re by yourself and it all starts churning in your head; what could I have done differently?

That rumination happens to to all of us in our quiet moments and can lead to us pouring a huge amount of energy into increased emotional stress. Radical acceptance, an important concept in distress tolerance, is about fully accepting our reality, letting go of the anger or blame we feel when we experience intense negative emotions, and accept that which we cannot change in order to make a proactive plan to move forward (dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com). When you can look at the biggest challenges in your life and see them through to the other side in this way, you develop resilience, which goes a long way in developing self-confidence and maturity.

One thing that helps her deal with those challenges is her is building a strong and supportive community around her. She recognizes the fact that for all of our differences, people are so much more similar to each other than we realize.

I’m a big believer of the community of the human experience. We experience the same emotions; we don’t go through the same storms on our little boats, but we have been through storms.

There is something helpful about that when you experience a lot of stormy weather that leads to fundamental and difficult shifts in your life experience. Something else that has helped Melissa are these wise words from her mom that always kept things in perspective:

The universe’s timing is always right,
even if it doesn’t suit your ego.

Mrs. Iglody

There are no small parts

How does a theater/literary arts major find her way into the world of finance? For starters, when you graduate from college, the golden road to life isn’t planned out for you. There’s no set path to follow; everything just unfolds as you go, and sometimes, the shifts and changes are dizzying. Ultimately, Melissa knew she needed to find a stable work environment where she could feel welcomed, useful and embraced.

It didn’t matter to me what industry I ended up in; I wanted to find my place in the bigger picture of life on this blue marble. I found that where I am now and it feels really, really good. I’m supported by great people; everybody is so smart and driven, and I’m really excited about this new chapter in my life.

Melissa’s perspective about life was firmly entrenched in the complex world of the arts which, to be honest, is quite informative for entering just about any industry. First and foremost, she knew that being part of a strong community was the magic that made things happen. The act of creating something from nothing is central to the arts, particularly in theater and dance where you need many people of many talents to bring a production together.

It was through her first onstage experience that she learned the true meaning of the phrase “there are no small parts, only small actors.” She was cast in the ensemble of Pippin, and she noticed how there were kids in her class with larger roles, prompting her to downplay her role, thinking I’m just the ensemble. It didn’t take her long to learn that there is no such thing as a small part: everything that the ensemble does is in support of the vision of the show. In a theater company, every person is essential to the enrichment of the production. If one person is missing or weak, the whole effort suffers, and this applies to every person who contributes anything to the show.

In that way, she has made a strong connection between her theater arts experiences and “the real world.” The backstage jobs, the ensemble actors, the producers: these are the roles that we see less of, sometimes not at all. But without them, the people who are front and center in the spotlight wouldn’t have a complete picture to present. It’s the same in the business world. Educational theater experiences help prepare young people to understand how to play their part to the best of their ability, no matter how “small” the roles are perceived. If someone isn’t at the button to turn the lights on, or pulling the curtain, or saying that one line at the right time, the show cannot run as smoothly.

Even my job now, people think ‘oh, you’re an executive assistant, that’s a small thing that you could do,’ but there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that we take care of. If that stuff doesn’t get done, and it doesn’t go smoothly, there are other people that can’t do their jobs and there are things that fall through the cracks.

When you’re working in finance, where there is real money at stake, every person’s effort matters. It’s the theater kids who understand the purpose of those “backstage” and “ensemble” roles; they know how to commit their energies to the greater good of a complex work environment and contribute to a well-oiled machine.

What advice does Melissa offer to high school students now?

  • Believe in yourself. You really don’t know how strong, how smart, how brave you are until you go through something and you’re on the other side of it in adulthood. Have confidence in yourself.
  • Fake it till you make it, when you don’t really feel all that confident. I’m a big proponent of this. That has been proven to work too!
  • Do not dull your spark for anybody. When it comes down to it, you have yourself. That’s the relationship that you’re going to have in your life the longest. Ultimately, it’s the most important to you, so make sure it’s the good one.

Melissa’s self-care strategies

  • I have a small routine that I do every day. I have a five-year memory journal; you write down one thing that you want to remember from that day. That helps me focus on the good in my life. It also gives you the opportunity to go back and see where was I a year ago.
  • Going for walks. Getting fresh air, shaking things out, breathing deep and seeing people in the outside world helps her remember how we are all connected, just by virtue of being human.
  • Music. Melissa has become quite an accomplished guitarist, and sitting and strumming her instrument while signing out loud helps her to get out the excess energy. At the end of a song session, she feels the wave of calm wash over her. She happens to be an enormous Taylor Swift fan and plays much of her songbook in her music sessions.

Enjoy our full conversation! Click the link below, then subscribe to the “Changed for the Better” YouTube channel. Write a comment, let me know what you think!

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