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Rising Star Jessica Schechter: “If I could start a movement it would be one that encourages everyone to do a “perception check” before making assumptions about the other person’s behavior”

There is the concept of “perception checking” in Interpersonal Communication. When teaching a course on it a few years ago, I was struck by how much strife in the world could be avoided if we didn’t jump to conclusions and instead first communicated genuinely with each other. If I could start a movement it would […]


There is the concept of “perception checking” in Interpersonal Communication. When teaching a course on it a few years ago, I was struck by how much strife in the world could be avoided if we didn’t jump to conclusions and instead first communicated genuinely with each other. If I could start a movement it would be one that encourages everyone to do a “perception check” before making assumptions about the other person’s behavior. Miscommunications and misunderstandings often happen because people don’t have a full story. In a perception check, you verify, out loud in a conversation, what is going on with the other person instead of assuming you already know. For instance, if someone doesn’t call you back, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are deliberately ignoring you. Without being confrontational or accusing them, ask if the reason is the one you suspect. It could be something else, even something completely unrelated to you. There is so much that goes on in people’s lives behind closed doors, and we would all be better off if we sought communication and understanding first.


As a part of my series of the rising stars in popular culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Schechter is an award-winning director, actor, performer, and producer in New York City. She has an MFA in Directing from the Actors Studio Drama School, and a bachelor’s degree in Educational Theatre from NYU. Jessica is a certified theater teacher in New York State and has been acting, directing, and running drama programs for over 15 years. She is a director member of the renowned Actor’s Studio Playwrights-Directors unit and has worked with Tony and Emmy award-winning actors and directors. Jessica is currently producing and acting in the award-winning hit web series “Soon By You” and is an acclaimed speaker, improvisor, and stand-up comedian presenting at conferences and community centers around the country.


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

It all started when I was 4 years old. I was performing in a nursery school play and all the kids forgot their lines, so I played all the parts. There was no going back from there! Since then I’ve pursued the arts wherever I could, attending the USDAN Center for the Performing Arts in the summers and going on to start my high school’s drama program. In college, I studied at NYU’s Educational Theatre program where I learned how theater can be used as a powerful tool for education and social change. After a few years working in the field, I went back to graduate school for my MFA in Directing from the Actors Studio Drama School at PACE University. I always feel alive and my best self when I am part of the creative process.

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

I think one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had was co-directing a play called “These Shining Lives” for Infinite Variety Productions (IVP), a theater company whose mission is to tell the untold stories of women in history. This particular play was about the brave women who suffered from radium poisoning at their workplace in the 1920s. On the opening night of the production, I received a text about 2 hours before showtime that one of the actors in the play had been admitted to the hospital. Without missing a beat, the head of IVP and I decided that I would play the actor’s role that evening with “script in hand”. It was such a surreal experience to act in a play that I had directed. My heart was pounding the whole way through. I was living the fear of being on stage without fully knowing what you are doing. It was an adreniliine rush and I had the upmost support from my wonderful cast. I gained a tremendous appreciation for the actor’s craft and how terrifying and vulnerable an experience it is to step into a character’s role in front of an audience. I will never forget that night.

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?

I had relatively little film experience when I first started out with Soon By You. It was thrilling to be on set and playing a main character in front of a camera. We shot the first part of Episode Two right before a holiday. I had no concept of the film schedule or when the next shoot date was so I didn’t think twice before getting a haircut. It was only after the hairdresser had taken a bit too much off, that I realized the error of my ways. I didn’t think through the continuity problems getting a haircut would cause. “Oh no! When is the next filming? What have I done?!” I frantically called the film director and the person in charge of hair to confess. I ended up running around the city to get hair extensions and we had to work very hard to make my hair look exactly the same as before. We met the challenge, but it was a silly mistake to have made in the first place. I learned never to do that again!

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

As a multifaceted artist, I am usually working on several projects at any one time, and I am excited about them all. We are currently in pre-production for the next few episodes of Soon By You. I am also working with a playwright on an original play with the themes of overcoming trauma and tackling mother-daughter relationships. I have two personal projects in development as well. One is a devised work on the “pursuit of perfection”, and the other a one-woman show incorporating poetry, comedy, and original storytelling.

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

One of the most interesting people I’ve interacted with is James Lipton from Inside the Actors Studio. As he is the Dean Emeritus of my graduate school, The Actors Studio Drama School, I have had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions. The live tapings of Inside the Actors Studio are an amazing experience. He does a tremendous amount of preparation for each guest and is so thoroughly engaged and present as he interviews them. He attended the stage performance of my graduate thesis production, and came over to me afterwards to share how the show had impacted him, and that he thought I was a brilliant director with great promise. To hear that from such an esteemed individual at an early stage in my career had a powerful impact on me. Whenever I start to doubt myself or my work, I go back to that moment to find the renewed fortitude to keep pursuing my passion.

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

Some of my tips for burnout are:

1. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take breaks to rejuvenate by doing things that you love. This career is full of ups and downs, ebbs and flows. There are times when you will be working so much you barely have time to sleep or take care of basic errands, and other times when there’s a dry spell and you worry you’ll never work again. Lean into that rhythm and trust that things will work themselves out.

2. Find a passion project that speaks to you. There’s a lot of different art to create. Some of it pays the bills and some of it feeds your soul. It’s important to have a balance of both in your career. Doing the things you love helps you to remember why you started down this path in the first place.

3. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. There are people in this world who will try to discourage you. You have to learn to tune out the negativity and tune in to the people who know you well, who have seen your growth, and who are true believers in your potential to do great things.

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

There is the concept of “perception checking” in Interpersonal Communication. When teaching a course on it a few years ago, I was struck by how much strife in the world could be avoided if we didn’t jump to conclusions and instead first communicated genuinely with each other. If I could start a movement it would be one that encourages everyone to do a “perception check” before making assumptions about the other person’s behavior. Miscommunications and misunderstandings often happen because people don’t have a full story. In a perception check, you verify, out loud in a conversation, what is going on with the other person instead of assuming you already know. For instance, if someone doesn’t call you back, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are deliberately ignoring you. Without being confrontational or accusing them, ask if the reason is the one you suspect. It could be something else, even something completely unrelated to you. There is so much that goes on in people’s lives behind closed doors, and we would all be better off if we sought communication and understanding first.

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

  1. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. In the process of learning and taking on new things, we inevitably will find moments of failure. I remember I was working on a project that seemed too good to be true, and it turned out that it was. I thought it was going to be my “big break”. When it became clear that things were not going to work out, I was devastated and my instinct was to blame myself. I felt like I never wanted to do anything in the arts again. The truth is that the failures that we encounter are only a few paragraphs of the book of our lives. No single event in your life defines the entirety of who you are. What matters most is how we learn and grow from that experience, and that we pick ourselves back up again and keep on going.
  2. Trust the process. A great result comes from a rich, engaged, and creative process. We shouldn’t be too focused on specific results at first. Trust your gut and if you don’t know exactly where you are going, allow time for things to become clearer. They usually do.
  3. Live in the confusion. This was a key mantra in graduate school and helped us cope with the confusing world of acting training. I would feel utterly lost when we would do exercises that had a very “wax on, wax off” type of feel, like we were being instructed by Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. It was only later that I appreciated the tremendous value of those exercises. Allowing yourself to “live in the confusion” and embrace not knowing all the answers allows for your greatest discoveries.
  4. Believe in yourself. No matter how much validation you may or may not get from the people around you, the most essential thing is that you believe in yourself and in your worth. On the first day of graduate school, our program director, Steven Nicholas, told us that there will always be a little voice on our shoulder that is telling us that “we are not good enough”. We have to work our hardest to not let that voice get the best of us. I find that my harshest critic is often myself. Learning how to counteract that negativity is a foundation for having the grit and fortitude to keep going when you start to doubt.
  5. Take time to really savor and enjoy the great moments. They are rare and fleeting, so when you are given that gift, let it sink in. One of the most transformative moments of my acting career was when I was in a play in college called “Kindertransport”. I had never been so fully immersed in a role and a story, and it was incredible. The week that we opened I was flying high. It was one of the best, most fulfilled feelings I had ever experienced up until that point. When moments like that happen, you have to treasure them. It is so rare for opportunities like that to come, so take time to really reflect and appreciate them. Those moments can then become touchstones of inspiration for your entire life.

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

There’s a quote that I love from the film A League of Their Own in the scene when Gina Davis’s character is about to quit the baseball team. She says to Tom Hanks “It just got too hard”. And he responds, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would be doing it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” I really love that quote because it shows the tenacity and grit that’s required for someone to excel in any field, sports or otherwise. I took a road not often traveled in my community and was discouraged all along the way. It’s so easy to give up when things get difficult. But it’s exactly in those moments that you must continue playing the game.

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?

Oprah always talks about the importance of having “dream keepers”, people who believe in you and support your dreams and encourage you along your journey. In my case, one of my biggest dream keepers and champions is my mother. She has offered her endless support and belief in me when no one else did. I remember hesitating before going to graduate school to study directing. So many people were questioning that decision, and I began to doubt myself. “What would I do with my life?” “How would I possibly pay back all of those loans?” My mom is the only person who believed in me so completely that I took a chance when even I didn’t believe in myself.

On the day I was to send in my deposit for graduate school, I stood over the mailbox, unable to put the envelope in. I called my mother and she gave me a wonderful pep talk and I knew everything was going to be alright. With a deep breath, I opened the mailbox and took the leap. I am so grateful that I did. I know that so much of what I’ve been able to achieve has been because of her endless love and support.

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. 🙂

If I could meet with anyone for lunch or breakfast, it would definitely be Ellen DeGeneres. I’ve always been inspired by Ellen. Her standup is absolutely hilarious and never mean. She is authentic and true to herself. She does so much good with her life. I greatly appreciate that her show is not just about celebrities, but highlights everyday people doing extraordinarily kind things. She builds everyone up around her. She goes out of her way to make people feel special and important. I love her energy and her passion to spread happiness and joy to all around her. She is definitely a role model for me and many others, and someone I aspire to emulate.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: like my page: Jessica Schechter

Instagram: jess.shek

Website: www.jessicaschechter.com

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

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