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.
For actress Mina Sundwall, high school was anything but ordinary. She often had a textbook in one hand and a spacesuit in the other while finishing up her studies and simultaneously filming season two of her Netflix series “Lost in Space.” “My teachers were phenomenal at scheduling all of my exams whenever I was on top of a glacier or in a quarry,” Sundwall tells Thrive, adding that she enjoys having a foot in both ponds. Just like the characters on her show, it’s clear Sundwall shoots for the stars. With this type of perseverance, it’s no surprise that she’s found success at such a young age.
In her Thrive Questionnaire, Sundwall shares what brings her optimism and reveals what we can do to make the world a better place.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Mina Sundwall: Try my best to find my glasses. Every day is a new adventure.
TG: What gives you energy?
MS: I’m pretty sure coffee makes up about 80% of my bloodstream at this point. Especially with lots of travel in too many time zones and waking up at ungodly hours; coffee is a life saver. I wish I had a better answer like “ginger-spinach smoothie with activated charcoal” but no, coffee.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
MS: My phone and I have a complicated relationship. I am a teenager, so I am glued to it often and, yes, dependent on it. I am appreciative of the fact that it stores most of my life; I am known to forget my wallet everywhere so I’m thankful for Apple Pay. I can always be in contact with family and friends across the world, my photos are my prized possessions and my playlists run my mood. But, I also force myself to say no. I try to limit my texting to have actual conversations when I can. I hate notifications, so I turned off most of my social notifications. I turn on Do Not Disturb at a decent hour so that I can sleep. I am trying to make sure I stay present and keep some boundaries, although sometimes it’s difficult!
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
MS: It depends on how early I woke up that morning. I am growing to appreciate midday naps. I’m a part-time grandma.
TG: Your Netflix series ‘Lost in Space’ returns this month. Has the show’s storyline taught you anything?
MS: You mean, apart from maybe space travel with family isn’t the best idea?
TG: In what ways are you similar to your character Penny Robinson? In what ways are you different?
MS: We’re both similar ages going through the ups and downs of being a teenager. Neither of us are science-oriented, we are both into reading, writing, and both really observant people (I’m a psychology major in college). We also have a similar sense of humor; I’m a big fan of a quippy comeback.
We differ in our sass. Penny definitely beats me in that regard. I also think that Penny, in some ways, acts younger than I am. I grew up in New York City, which matures you quickly. I’ve never traversed space but I’ve taken the subway on my own since a very early age. I’ve fought for survival and met my share of Dr. Smiths in my own way.
TG: How do you hope people feel when they see your show?
MS: I hope that people go through a rollercoaster of emotions — that’s the goal this season. It is happy, terrifying, anxiety-irking, funny, sad, and everything in between. When we film, we feel the life-or-death situation that the Robinsons find themselves in every day, but we also live for the small moments — when John tells a dad joke (or sings terribly out of tune) or when Judy and Penny argue over who a T-shirt belongs to. The small moments make life richer. I want everyone watching to feel everything, big and small.
TG: How did you balance both high school and filming?
MS: Ah, coffee is a recurring theme here. Somehow, my teachers were phenomenal at scheduling all of my exams whenever I was on top of a glacier or in a quarry, but you work it out. I spent a lot of time with half of my brain dealing with sin(x) and arcsin(x) and the other half in near-death in a garbage compactor. I like having a foot in both ponds, you never get bored. I have to say, the hardest part was trying to type on a computer while my space suit was dripping water.
Overall, because of the scattered schedule, studying was a constant. In the morning before shooting, during breaks or even in the evenings after coming home from set. In the end it worked out, but I am definitely excited for more flexibility in college.
TG: What are three must-haves that help you thrive while on set?
MS: 1. Hands down a reusable water bottle and coffee mug that I keep with me at all times. There are so many cups used on set every day I’m really focused on reducing our waste. It’s a big goal!
2. A yoga mat, bands, weights, or any kind of portable exercise equipment. The reality is that we spend a good part of the day waiting (some days even six, seven hours at a time), your body feels stuck and you get sluggish. Stretching and doing simple movements helps me stay awake and alive throughout the day.
3. My dog. He is constantly freaked out by the robot, but loves the heater inside the trailers. Whenever I get back from being on set, he’s all warm and snuggly. It’s the best.
TG: A major part of your career involves auditioning. Has auditioning taught you anything about rejection?
MS: So much rejection. And rejection is hard to handle. Auditioning has taught me a lot, and I’m still learning (not sure if it ever ends). It’s often impossible to know in advance what a project or a director is looking for, so I just use the audition to demonstrate that I can make acting choices and if the director doesn’t agree with my choices I hope I’ll get notes and a chance to adjust but it doesn’t happen often. Either way, I can’t read minds and I still think it’s better to show that I have an opinion and can execute it rather than being plain vanilla. But it’s a risk.
Competition is out there at all times — there’s no point in stressing about it. If someone else gets chosen, for whatever reason, I just need to move on and look forward. I cannot be what I am not. All I can do is my best; the rest is not in my hands so I can’t overstress it.
Sometimes, it’s just not about you. Which sucks, but it’s true. No matter how hard we try we might just not be the right choice for a character. It’s not necessarily the acting or the look or the age, we are just not it. In that case, it’s almost not rejection. It’s okay if a square doesn’t fit in a hole; it’s not round. Letting go is much easier said than done and I feel that all the time. But I have also been lucky. When I get frustrated and disappointed, I try to remind myself that what matters most is perseverance and doors will open eventually.
TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?
MS: Whoever is able to turn their passion into their reality and live it fully, everyday, is my role model. They don’t have to be famous or rich, just satisfied (that’s a big word). I definitely think that satisfaction in life is a goal of mine, definitely not one that’s so easy to achieve. We always want more. But then again, I don’t want to be stagnant. A thriving life is about living to your fullest, always learning, letting go and breathing through hard times, having friends and loved ones around, indulging in things you enjoy. I mean, satisfaction rhymes with chocolate cake. Does it not?
TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
MS: Cooking. Cooking is Zen. Cooking requires that you are present and aware. It’s about smells and textures. It’s creative but also a repetition of simple actions (think, lots of chopping), it allows the mind to focus on small things to do them well and let go of stress. For instance, when making cream or pudding, there is a lot of slow stirring and looking at a simmering pot. Cooking is a break from the real world, and at the end you get to sit down and eat something that you cared about, made at home, and isn’t processed. It couldn’t be better.
TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?
MS: A quote that I love is “today is a good day to have a good day.” A lot of our problems are so much smaller than we think they are. I try my best to step back and remind myself that there is so much good that happens to me, that no matter what I may feel in the moment (I mean, I am a teenager. Hormones are real). There is always a reason to be in a good mood.
TG: What brings you optimism?
MS: This is cheesy, I admit it, but the feeling of doing good for other people. Nothing is better than making someone’s day or reducing their hardship. I love it when people smile, especially children. There is no money in the world that gives more satisfaction.
TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?
MS: Dare I say it? I think I’m in the middle of one right now. In the last six months I graduated from high school, turned 18, moved to a new city, and specifically moved out of my parents’ house, learned how to mount IKEA cabinets, and also learned that stainless-steel pans are not easy to clean. Laundry likes to pile up faster than I could imagine, plants die if you forget to water them, sometimes it’s so scary to be all alone… and I still have to call my mom for the simplest questions. It’s all very new and big and exciting. I’ll keep you updated!
TG: What is your advice for those just entering the entertainment industry, or other industries with equal amounts of pressure?
MS: I try to follow one main mantra: Treat your body and everyone around you with the same respect. Our minds drive us so hard; phones make us available 24/7, and we forget what our body needs so we crash (been there, done that). Without a functioning body, the rest doesn’t matter. Similarly, entertainment is a collaborative and very fluid industry. Everyone has a role and an assistant today could be a director tomorrow. So many people have incredible skills and we only discover them if we are open to the chance.