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.
Stephanie Laing is a producer and director who has won two Emmys for her work on Eastbound and Down and Veep, and worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. She always knew she would work in entertainment, but success didn’t come without significant effort. “I started off as a bank teller in Cincinnati and really focused on that job,” she tells Thrive. “I would be in the moment, but I never kept my eyes off the long-term goal. Over time, one of my regular customers hired me to be a production assistant. My first job was washing a Toyota truck, and I couldn’t have been happier.”
Now, Laing is directing the hilarious Hulu series DOLLFACE starring Kat Dennings, Shay Mitchell, and Brenda Song — about the importance of strong female friendships and reconnecting. When asked about why this show resonated with her, she explains, “I think friendships are more important than anything other than your kids. Honestly, I mean that. My friends are my family.” In addition to working on films and television series, Laing also runs her own company, PYPO, a digital platform for women that creates and distributes original content.
Here, Laing tells Thrive what motivates her, how she handles failure, and what keeps her grounded.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Stephanie Laing: Let the dogs out and stand outside in my backyard feeling grateful and ready to take on the day.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
SL: I have several life hacks, but the one I’m using the most now is that “no” is a complete sentence. Learning to say “no” is freeing, and lets you focus on things that truly matter. Also, I think if you’re not early, you’re late. So getting to a meeting 15-20 minutes early lets me get a jump on things or catch up on reading and emails.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
SL: Sadly, my phone sleeps with me. I have a love/hate relationship with my phone, and most nights we curl up together and go to sleep. It’s hard to unplug.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed, and how did you overcome it?
SL: I feel like I fail and succeed several times a day. Some days, I’m a great mom, and some days, not so great. At work, I try to focus on what feels authentic to me. I know it’s cliché, but failing leads to success.
TG: What is your advice for those entering the entertainment industry, or other industries that are just as stressful?
SL: My biggest advice is to stay authentic and don’t stop trying. It takes time, talent, and a little bit of good luck. It also takes tenacity and drive. Find something you love outside of work to help with stress, and try to leave work at work.
TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?
SL: I could use more role models, we all could. I’m always looking for ways to give back and to learn more, which is one of the reasons I started PYPO.com. For me, the best way to live a thriving life is to be balanced, calm, and keep moving forward.
TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
SL: One of the ways I practice mindfulness is by being quiet. My job is crazy, and people are always talking, whether at work or not, so for me it’s a sound break.
TG: What brings you optimism?
SL: Young people today bring me optimism. I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of person, and always will be. I think it’s a trap to see negativity. I think sometimes you have to train yourself to be positive.
TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?
SL: To me, one of the best ways to connect with others is to listen – really listen. Speak less and listen. I’m still working on this.
TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?
SL: Almost nine years ago, I got divorced, and moved from LA to Brooklyn. During this time, I decided to switch the focus of my career from producing to directing and writing. I think mainly because the divorce was so hard, and moving with three kids across the country was so challenging, that what had seemed like an obstacle before now seemed easier. I wasn’t afraid to make the leap; it felt right. The divorce, move, and career switch brought me closer to my kids and my true self.
TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?
SL: I put my kids to bed, read over the next day’s work, and then pass out. If I’ve left the work stress at work where it belongs, then I can doze off fast. If my kids don’t go to sleep on time, then all bets are off.
TG: What are three ways we can strengthen our friendships, starting today?
SL: Listen. Be there. Recognize that a little criticism goes a long way and dial it back.
TG: Do you feel it is important for people to find balance between the different relationships in their lives? If so, how can we achieve that balance?
SL: Yes, but that can be hard. I think the key is recognizing where people are coming from and who they are as individuals. We can celebrate our differences.
TG: Several characters on your new show deal with breakups. What is your one key piece of advice for those looking to overcome heartbreak?
SL: Tomorrow will come; the rules of the universe dictate that – and science. The sun sets and rises the next day, so keep moving forward. Learn from the experience and open a new door.
TG: With directing often comes endless travel and many long nights/early mornings on set. What helps keep you grounded amidst the chaos?
SL: Focus and prep. For work, I like to prep, prep, prep, and then focus: focus on the scene and the performance. If I stay focused, the chaos can’t disturb me. I also use Superna Cosmic face oil and I swear it helps. Oh, and I use a pillow by Purple and it has changed my life. My kids steal it all the time, so it changes my life on nights I actually get to sleep on it.
TG: What is the most challenging part of your career? And the most rewarding?
SL: The most challenging is the travel and long hours. A typical day is 13 hours on set. The most rewarding part of my job is working with so many talented people in front of and behind the lens. I’ve met some great friends at work, and I feel creatively stimulated being around so many artists. It changes the way you look at the world. It’s also very rewarding to watch something I’ve directed, and see how people react and what they take from it. That part is also a little scary, not knowing how it will be received. But I think when things are scary, it’s magic happening.
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