I still don’t believe I got picked.
It was April. Nancy Robinson, Director of Education Programs at the Television Academy Foundation, called to tell me I got picked to be in the Star Trek Command Training Program. I screamed into the phone like a teenager who just won concert tickets. “You’re my first screamer of the day,” she said.
For a little context, I’m that kid that never gets picked. From over a decade of acting auditions going all the way back to being excluded on the elementary school playground, I was always on the outside looking in, always feeling unwanted, always feeling like I don’t deserve to take up space. And finally getting picked for the internship of a lifetime doesn’t change that belief- that I don’t belong. That stays with you, and becomes part of who you are.
Why am I like this? For so many reasons, and I’m sure my therapist could offer a better opinion than I could here. Partially it stems from being a half Chinese, half Iranian, first generation American. I think Spock would understand, even if he doesn’t show it. B’Elanna Torres would probably know what I mean. Maybe even Deanna Troi, although she seems to have her sh*t together. We’re those folks, the ones who are mixed, caught between two worlds, and have two polarizing sides fighting for dominance. We don’t belong, not even among our ancestors. Having to prove my Chinese or Persian identity to folks of my own ethnicity has made me feel like an imposter my whole life, including this moment.
I still don’t believe I got picked.
The last eight weeks seem like a fever dream. Did I really have one on one meetings with showrunners Dan and Kevin Hageman, Mike McMahan, Michelle Paradise, and Henry Alonso Myers? Did I really talk about television writing with Jane Maggs, Kirsten Beyer, Diandra Pendleton-Thompson, Sean Tretta, Jen Muro, and Dr. Erin Macdonald?
Did I actually have deep conversations about diversity and inclusion with Olatunde Osunsanmi and Neville Page? Did I really bond with Ari Friedman, Monica Shapiro, and Avi Bello? Did I get to sit in writers’ rooms and be in the “room where it happens?”
That day that I was having a chat with Trevor Roth, C.O.O. of Roddenberry Entertainment, did Rod Roddenberry really pop in for a surprise zoom visit? Did I really get to go to the Lower Decks Season 2 Premiere?
Chad Rubel, Jason Zimmerman, Bernadette Croft, Mario Moreira, Jeff Russo, Gersha Phillips, Danny Feldheim, Jen Verti... shall I go on? The list of amazing people I got to meet seems endless. I feel like I should name them all so they know they all matter. These are department heads whose names I’ve seen on title cards dozens of times, development executives who I would have to have A-List literary agents to even speak to, and people in the inner circle of the Star Trek franchise. This didn’t really happen. I don’t believe it happened.
Even with all these experiences, my mental health degraded throughout the internship. You’re going to ask why. Why would a woman on the rise, living her authenticity, who got picked over who knows how many people for this unbelievable opportunity go down a spiral of rumination and self doubt?
Let’s rewind. I started acting at 17. The approach my reps took could best be described as scattered. I tried out for singing roles, and I can’t sing. I tried out for Spanish speaking roles, and I am not Latinx. I pretended to speak Arabic, learned dialogue in Italian, and made agonizing attempts at erasing my American accent on the rare times I did have Persian or Chinese language auditions. I even erased my middle name, “Chang,” from my stage name. I erased myself.
When I was 21, I decided to try my luck elsewhere. I moved to Taiwan where my mother grew up because I was naively confident that I would be accepted as I am. But then the thing that I would call the descent into madness happened. Agents, television executives, directors, my relatives, and everyone else who had an opinion insisted I change every aspect of myself in order to make it. Yes, even taxi drivers.
In LA I erased myself. In Taiwan, I became a lie.
It took me years of growth to break out of the rat race. I moved home at 24 and quit show business. I volunteered at a sea lion rescue on the weekends and got a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. But you see, when you make a storyteller stop telling stories, it metastasizes inside of them. I’m a storyteller. And I couldn’t quit. So I did something to break the cycle: I started to write. And then my life started to change. Through writing, I was able to breathe life into roles that only I could play. I became a magnet and attracted empowered artists. Instead of trying to find a seat at the table, I built my own table.
I learned to undo the lie, and subsequently hit “undo” on the self erasure. I stepped into my authenticity and I found my voice. That was the shift that led me to this moment. This internship. This powerful life changing circumstance of living, eating, and breathing my favorite Universe of all time for the summer.
However, I did not come out the other side unscathed. What is leftover is a deep sense of imposter syndrome that may never go away.
I still don’t believe I got picked for the Star Trek Command Training Program. And it’s okay. It’s been an honor, a set of memories I will revere and cherish forever. I’ve made friends. I’ve made mentors. I’ve been welcomed into the family.
I don’t believe… but maybe one day I will.
Sarah Chang Tadayon (she/her) is a Chinese Iranian American writer, producer, and actress living in Los Angeles. She writes stories inspired by the communities she comes from. You can find her on Instagram or Twitter @SarahTadayon