When you first meet Sanaa Lathan, her noticeably calm presence makes you feel immediately comfortable. Comfortable enough to almost forget that you’re talking to mega star. Lathan began her acting career in 1996, appearing on noteworthy television series (Nip/Tuck, Family Guy, The Affair) and in blockbuster films (Love & Basketball, Blade, The Best Man, Now You See Me 2) — and is currently starring in Jordan Peele’s highly-anticipated Twilight Zone reboot, while growing her non-profit, The Sanaa Lathan Foundation.
When she sat down for her Thrive Diary, she revealed what it took for her to achieve her palpable calm — a regular meditation practice, which helped ease her debilitating anxiety attacks. “I always tell people it’s like brushing your teeth. The benefits are subtle. Just keep doing it, and it’s going to just raise the quality of your life over time.” Below are some highlights from the video as well as bonus insights on how she handles rejection and works to inspire others.
Thrive Global: In the industry you are in, there is a lot of rejection. How do you handle that, bounce back and keep a positive mindset?
Sanaa Lathan: Well, for me, it’s interesting, because when you’re an actor, in order to be a good actor, you have to be super sensitive, and you have to have a really soft heart. You have to have compassion and empathy, right? Otherwise, how can you tap into these experiences and tell these stories and emotions? But the business of acting is so cutthroat, it’s so judgmental, it’s so critical, it’s so competitive, that in order to survive in the business, you have to almost be like a warrior. You have to have a real armor, otherwise, you don’t last. I’ve seen many people not able to handle it. So, for me, it’s been a constant balancing act of strengthening that outer armor, but also completely keeping my myself open, and sensitive, and fight, and not getting bitter.
Early on, I was really lucky to have a mentor in the business who was also an actress and she was very spiritual. She gave me this wonderful perspective, because as an actor, you’re getting rejected every day. Even now, no matter how successful you are, you’re always getting rejected. And so, what happens is, it becomes not that much of a big deal from early on. But for me, the way that I could deal with auditions, and if I didn’t get them is, [I realized] it wasn’t for me, it was for somebody else. The roles that come to me, are for me. How many times have you been rejected either professionally or personally, where you were dying in the moment, and then a year, two years later, you’re like, “Thank God, thank God that didn’t work out.” So, you have to, in the moment, have that perspective of, “Okay, this is not working out for a reason.” Let’s trust that.
TG: What’s one of the most challenging things in your life right now?
SL: I feel like I’m in a good place right now. I really believe in working on yourself and I always encourage that. Mental health, to me, if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. I’ve been a big believer of support on every level. I’ve had many different therapists, and coaches, and spiritual mentors throughout my life, and I feel like now I’m just coasting. I just know that in life, life is never going to be always great. There’s going to be periods of sowing, where you’re sowing, and you’re working, and you’re struggling. And then there’s periods where you coast, and then there’s periods where you reap. And so right now, I’m feeling pretty good to knock on wood.
TG: How can we inspire young people to find their value? And also, how can we be better mentors?
SL: Well, I think the first part of that job is showing up. I think right now, in society especially, we’re so distracted, everybody’s so driven, everybody is so ambitious, and it’s like, show up! Be there, spend time with your kids, other people’s kids, volunteer, speak to kids about your experience. It’s as simple as just showing up.