Rising Star Benike Palfi: “There’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ — you’re perfect just the way you are”

You’re perfect just the way you are: This may be related to the above but we — or I, at least — always spend so much time trying to fit in and be more ‘of something’ — be better, be smarter, be thinner, be wiser. I was on set a few years back and had […]

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You’re perfect just the way you are: This may be related to the above but we — or I, at least — always spend so much time trying to fit in and be more ‘of something’ — be better, be smarter, be thinner, be wiser. I was on set a few years back and had said something along the lines of wanting to change my body or lose weight and the make-up artist stopped and reminded me that I had booked that specific part because I was perfect for it — just the way I was. If I had been anything else, I wouldn’t have gotten it. So there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ — you’re perfect just the way you are.

As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benike Palfi. Benike is an actress and writer of German and Hungarian descent, originally from Namibia in Sub-Saharan Africa. She has since traveled the world and called various continents her home, and is currently based between Cape Town and London. Benike has appeared in numerous South African, European, and American television and film productions.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you so much for having me — it’s a pleasure to be here.

I’m always fascinated by stories of actors pinpointing the exact moment that they knew they were made for a life in the entertainment world — it’s beautiful and I wish I had that. But I don’t. Acting is just something that’s always been a part of me and I can’t recall a specific moment when I decided to follow this path. It’s always been my path, for as long as I can remember. I’m assuming there were influences — notably, my sister, who decided to follow this career path at an early age. And since I always looked up to her, it’s likely that her passion shaped me so considerably at such an early age that there has never been a different path for me.

But I grew up in Namibia — a desert country with a tiny population and almost completely cut off from the rest of the world — so it was the most unrealistic dream to have. That didn’t deter me. I started with drama classes as soon as I was old enough to do so, and spent all my time performing, dancing, writing, and creating.

When I was finally old enough to move away, though, I fell into the world of academia. The academic world came naturally to me — I’m a born thinker — and I loved spending my time in dust-ridden libraries, writing academic papers, and discussing philosophies. But there was always this nagging voice deep inside me, telling me that I was meant for something else, and I finally left academics before pursuing my Ph.D. to finally step into the entertainment world. And here we are.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Hmm, perhaps not interesting per se but certainly a moment that has stood out for me. I had just been confirmed on a television film and happened to run into the director on my way to breakfast with friends. We chatted for a bit about the project — we really got along very well — and suddenly he said that he wished he had a bigger part for me so I could be on set for more days, and then ended the conversation saying that he’ll make a plan.

The next week, my agent called saying that the production had swapped my role for a different one with more days on set. It wasn’t a jump in the cast list, not at all, but it did strengthen my attachment to the project considerably and I had the most amazing few weeks with the team.

This really highlighted the importance of personal connection for me — all doors are open if you’re kind and courteous and happen to know the right people. It’s not a ticket to success but it’s always great to have people in your corner.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This isn’t entirely acting-related but more about life on set. I was on my way to — I think it was the second or third — a job I had ever booked. We were shooting a lake scene on an estate and, even though I had checked the directions, I was suddenly overcome with doubt. I was at a fork in the road, called production to double-check, still wasn’t sure, and then just made a choice — which turned out to be the wrong choice. I ended up on a tiny path an hour away from where I was supposed to be, in the middle of nowhere and completely lost. Production had to send a team out to come find me.

I was terribly embarrassed — and am blushing just thinking about this now — but, at the time, I didn’t know enough about locations and didn’t trust myself enough. I was too afraid to make a mistake or come across as uncertain that I didn’t ask for help when I needed it. And I think that’s a big lesson to learn early on — it’s ok to make mistakes, it’s ok to ask for help. You need to know yourself enough to be able to get what you need.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

At the moment, I’m in the early stages of a project I’m hoping to co-write and co-produce. I can’t share too much about it but am working with an amazing creative mind and am absolutely inspired every step of the way. Writing and producing content is an entirely different ballgame and it definitely feels like I’m crafting and designing a baby that will, hopefully, stand on its own one day.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I was working on Cinemax’s ‘Warrior’ a while back and we were in the midst of shooting a massive explosion scene. There were tons of technical aspects to it, so the actors spent 90% of the day sitting on set and waiting. My scene was with Hoon Lee and he really took me under his wing, for which I’m enormously grateful. I ended up spending a few days with him and a handful of the other leads — Jason Tobin, Kieran Bew, Tom Weston-Jones, and Perry Yung — and we had the most fascinating conversations.

I think, as an actor, we have a tendency to be loners and feel isolated but what astounded me the most about this core group was that, for the first time, I felt I was among people I finally resonated with. Lee spoke about his experiences at Harvard, and my inner academic came to life. Here I was on an amazing set of a great show with all these fantastic actors and we could talk about acting and set life and academia and I felt so complete.

Perhaps the conversations or the experience wouldn’t have been interesting to anyone else but, for me, it was that recognition that I wasn’t alone in this world and that there were others just like me who had undergone the same things as I had and enjoy the same things I do. It’s a good feeling.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not burn out”?

Gosh, this is so incredibly important. Anyone in the entertainment industry can tell you that this career can break you down. The entertainment world, the acting, becomes part of our identity and it’s difficult to differentiate self from actor. So, for me, the most important thing to keep sane and prevent burnout is to have something completely unrelated that takes my mind away from anything to do with acting.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a side project (I love food and write restaurant reviews as a hobby) or physical activity (I love swimming in the ocean and hiking), what matters is that it takes you away from this world completely. It gives you that mental rest so you can come back full of energy.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

I’m very much a Type A personality so the prospect of failure still scares me — every day — and I work relentlessly to avoid that. But success and failure are just goal posts that keep on changing as your career develops. It’s my why, my reasons for wanting this, that keeps me going.

So my most important advice would be to figure out your why. Why do you love acting? Why do you want to be a storyteller? Why do you want to achieve success? Once you have your why figured out, the rest is easier — not easy, but easier. Your why is a moral compass that will help you with your decision-making process, help you sift out opportunities from scam, and keep your head level. And, most importantly, it’ll help you figure out what success and failure mean to you.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I’m a bit of a workaholic and self-care is something I really need to force myself to do. But the more I’m learning and growing, the more value I see in it.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s important to engage in physical activity to help switch off. For me, it’s swimming in the ocean or going for a hike. Nature works as a reset button. It refreshes my mind, body, and soul, and really is the best self-care I can engage in.

But, I’ve also learned the importance of other practices that I try to bring into my routine on a daily basis, including yoga, meditation, journaling, and practicing gratitude. I like to start and end my days with these, which really helps me to set intentions and value myself. That way I know that, even if nothing else good happened that day, at least I took the time to honor and respect my body, mind and soul.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Hmm, tough one, as I’m always continuously learning. But I wish I had known these:

  1. Being different is a good thing: I’m a redhead. Growing up, I hated that. I hated being the odd one out, I hated being different, and all I wanted was to be just like everyone else. It wasn’t until I started standing out because of my differences that I realized that this was a good thing. Embrace what makes you unique. There’s no one else like you, and that’s your strong point.
  2. You’re perfect just the way you are: This may be related to the above but we — or I, at least — always spend so much time trying to fit in and be more ‘of something’ — be better, be smarter, be thinner, be wiser. I was on set a few years back and had said something along the lines of wanting to change my body or lose weight and the make-up artist stopped and reminded me that I had booked that specific part because I was perfect for it — just the way I was. If I had been anything else, I wouldn’t have gotten it. So there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ — you’re perfect just the way you are.
  3. You need more skills than you think: Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and you don’t need to be a jack of all trades, but I’ve found that more skills generally equate to more job opportunities. A simple example is language and accent skills. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be everyone’s hero in this regard, but, in general, speaking with a clear British or American accent is incredibly important if you’re after a mainstream career. English isn’t even my first language. I wish I had more guidance on this when I was younger.
  4. Set your moral compass: I’ve always had strong moral values and very strict boundaries so this isn’t something I’ve struggled with a lot but it’s crept up time and time again. Wanting a career so bad that you’d be willing to do anything for it can quickly throw you off your game. There is no right or wrong here but know what your limits are and stick to them.
  5. It goes faster than you think: Time passes quickly — very quickly. Take every opportunity, work every chance you have, never think that anything is beneath you — or bigger than you. Just keep on moving forward, no matter how slow your progress may seem. And never, never, never give up.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve learned a great deal from Stoicism and one of my favorite quotes is this: “You can’t just sweep once. The dust comes back. You have to sweep every day.” Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read this or who said it, but it stuck.

A successful life is created by a succession of good habits. You can’t lose weight by exercising once. You can’t master a new skill by practicing once. You can’t have a viable career by reaching success once. You need to do it all again and again and again. Success is a continuous repetition of good habits.

This can be exhausting — especially if you’re reaching burnout and are tired of trying, tired of practicing, tired of sticking to a routine and not moving forward. But the truth is that you are moving forward, even if you don’t see it. If you’ve broken down your goals into actionable steps, turned these into habits, and are sticking to them, then you will make progress. It’s inevitable. But you can’t stop. The dust will come back.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been blessed with the most amazing family and I wouldn’t be here without any of them. My sister is my biggest cheerleader, my mom my emotional support, and my dad my voice of wisdom. The three of them have guided and supported me in every decision I’ve ever made — and they’ve always been there to catch me when I fall. And when things go really bad — as they inevitably do from time to time — I jump on a plane and head home. Maybe it’s the timeless majesty of the Namibian desert or maybe it’s just the comfort of being with my family, but there’s nothing in this world that a strong family home can’t fix.

But, of course, the journey of an actor goes beyond family — or friends. We need a career support system like no other — our agents, managers, coaches, and publicists literally shape our career with us, and it’s important to choose a team that works with you. Whenever people ask me for advice about signing with an agent, that’s always my number one tip: Go with someone who believes in you one hundred percent. You’ll need that support when the going gets tough.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Ifirmly believe that the world would be a better place if it would be run by love and kindness. And that starts with the self. If I learn to truly love myself and the world around me, then I can, in turn, be kinder to every person around me. And if I’m kind to every person around me and can help those people love themselves, then they, in turn, can help others. And this can start a chain reaction that can change the world.

It’s my mission to help every single person around me — whether it’s by simply listening to them, by offering guidance, or by sharing my story and letting them know that they’re not alone. I want to help and support and build others up. Of course, I don’t always succeed — but I strive to.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

At this point in time, I would have to pick Tim Ferriss. I’m an avid listener of ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’ and so many of the ideas around self-discovery and self-enhancement resonate with me. A breakfast or lunch with him would make for a fascinating conversation.

How can our readers follow you online?

You’ll find me on all major social media channels under @benikepalfi. I use these platforms to not only share my work but also to share my story and help spread love, kindness, and gratitude. It’s a beautiful journey, and I hope you’ll join me.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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