The Thrive Questionnaire//

Actress Shantel VanSanten Encourages Us to Be More Present and Embrace Growth

The For All Mankind star shares why personal evolution is slower, more sustainable, and more important than we expect.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people. 

Actress Shantel VanSanten has appeared on a variety of hit shows throughout her career, from “One Tree Hill” to “The Flash,” and she’s now playing NASA astronaut Karen Baldwin on  Apple TV+ ‘s “For All Mankind,” a series that reimagines the Space Race. The show’s plot offers a refreshing celebration of failure by exploring what the United States could have actually gained from losing the race. VanSanten tells Thrive that the show has helped her come to terms with — and reframe — her own failures. VanSanten encourages people to use their failures as an opportunity to evolve. “Life will change you on its own — circumstances force you to face fears, trials stretch your heart, and triumphs allow you to propel,” she tells Thrive.

In her Thrive Questionnaire, VanSanten talks about her experience with the transformative powers of gratitude.

Thrive Global: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

Shantel VanSanten: I would like to become the person who instantly says: “meditate.” But more realistically, I would sit and eat some good food. I feel my days are always so hectic, and having a meal isn’t always possible unless it’s while I am driving. So truthfully, I would take a moment to pause and stuff my face. 

TG: Your new Apple TV+ show, “For All Mankind,” tells the story of an alternate universe where Russia beats America to the moon. Has the storyline of the show taught you anything about failure?

SV: Yes. While I am terrible at it and so afraid of it, so much can be gained from “failing.” More lessons and growth come from these moments than those where we succeed or win! If we don’t fail sometimes, we don’t learn, and then we don’t evolve. To me, I am not living unless I am evolving. 

TG: In what ways are you similar to your “For All Mankind” character, Karen? In what ways are you different?

SV: Karen and I have different opinions and perspectives on the world, but I found I could always connect with her passion towards her convictions. I always find that my characters are better humans than I am and want to feel I am like them, but in many ways I am more human, and think I would fall short in their circumstances. The reality of military wives and astronauts’ families is more complex and challenging than I could ever imagine. 

TG: As a child, you had a fascination with space. Do you still feel a special connection to it now, as an actress on a show centered around NASA?

SV: Of course I do, and I don’t think it will ever wane. It is forever ingrained in me, as my experience of visiting NASA as a kid on school field trips and family outings intrigued my mind and pulled at my heart: the magnitude of what is out there to be discovered, how small we truly are, seeing pictures of the world as a blue marble and wanting to experience that first hand. I was uncertain about Karen’s trajectory and how her influence on the Space Race would play out, but I allowed that to fuel her story. It’s incredible to be on a show where we get to portray the experience and make it feel a little more real than just my dreams of space. 

TG: How do you hope people feel when they see your show? 

SV: Inspired, moved, connected, contemplative, changed… even in the smallest of ways. Maybe it’s just allowing themselves to wonder what if, or to feel empathy towards someone who they may not have understood before. There are so many stories being told through different characters, and I hope the audience can connect to one and be a part of our journey. 

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

SV: Breathe, then surrender. You can’t control it, and the more you release and just trust the journey, the more you will gain. 

TG: A major part of your career involves auditioning. Has auditioning taught you anything about rejection?

SV: There is a lot of it! Take the losses and criticism and use it to grow. And most of the time, it’s not so much rejection as it is redirection. 

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?

SV: Honestly most of the women in my life inspire me. I have wonderful friends and family who each practice their faith and spirituality in different ways. Each of them have different lives, circumstances, and roles but they all are not just surviving in life but thriving in it. Seeing their process and being invited to join them has helped me find what works for my soul. Allowing myself the space to meditate, praise, and worship with others makes me see where my heart thrives the most and feels most at home. 

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?

SV: To me, it’s not surprising, but I find people shy away from talking about it — it’s therapy! I’ve been in therapy for 12 years now and it’s a place where I must call myself to the mat and do the work. Mindfulness is a choice, and it’s easy to ignore it and slip into old patterns. But the awareness I gain from therapy helps me to break old cycles and learn to be more conscious of my choices. 

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking? What brings you optimism?

SV: This is my biggest struggle. Growing up, I was programmed, after lots of repetitive traumatic experiences, to expect the worst. I was not able to celebrate or enjoy life because I wondered when the other shoe was going to drop. I was looking for the warning signs of the worst and missing the good moments. But then I learned one huge heart-hanging word: gratitude. It changes the lens I view everything from: being thankful for even the missteps or tragedies, and knowing each moment and outcome is happening for me. A grateful heart sees potential for a journey that continually unfolds in my favor. 

TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?

SV: The realization of how freeing forgiveness is. From a very young age, my life was defined by pain and trauma. It was a tough road. I waited to be seen in anguish, to have someone believe me, to hear an apology, and to have an acknowledgement of faults. But the day I realized I had the control to heal my wounds without waiting on others was huge. The moment I took control of my healing by forgiving others, I was free. It released my heart from so much pain. I didn’t need to fall victim to the selfish choices made by others. I could take ownership of how I was going to allow them to affect me and free my heart. 

TG: What is your advice for those just entering the entertainment industry, or other industries with equal amounts of pressure?

SV: Be fearless. Believe in yourself more than anyone. Be ready to do the work. Believe with all your heart that you left nothing behind with each opportunity. You never fail if you do it honestly and authentically. 

TG: You recently launched a campaign to support the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE, which unites women against their #1 cancer killer. What inspired you to share your voice?

SV: My grandmother, Doris Dooyema, who lost her life to lung cancer. I started working with Lung Force shortly after her passing almost five years ago. It helps me find an outlet to heal my heart and carry on her fighting spirit. I hope that by sharing her story, I can educate others and inspire them to share their story. My grandmother was a non-smoking, healthy 79-year-old who was exposed to radon and passed within six months of a stage-four lung cancer diagnosis. Lung cancer doesn’t always look like what we think! There are so many staggering facts about this epidemic that I didn’t know and wished I would have. There is so much work to be done, and through each dollar raised, I think of how I am honoring her life by helping save others. I always say, alone we can make a difference, but together we are a force. I have seen the power of change through so many individuals uniting in this cause. I am honored to be a voice for the voiceless. 

TG: What is your advice for people who want to start using their voices to create change, but may be hesitant to do so?

SV: Change starts with one brave voice thatmay be trembling but still decides to speak out. Your story matters. You are not alone. 

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