The Thrive Questionnaire//

Trish Sie on Facing Her Shortcomings Head-On

The Pitch Perfect 3 director discusses the first thing she does when she gets out of bed and what gives her energy.

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.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Trish Sie: I pee! Then I swing my arms around. It really helps wake me up and knock me into action. I just stand with my feet apart and twist my upper body from side to side, like a corkscrew. Hot damn, it feels great. All those nighttime kinks just unspool and stretch out. And I swish my arms around in big circles, both directions, rolling my shoulders as I go. It’s like all the energy I replenished overnight has pooled in my body in certain spots, so swinging it all around gets everything circulating and flowing. It charges me up and makes me ready for my day.

TG: What gives you energy?
TS: Plants, animals and dirt! My garden energizes me! I love digging around in the soil, planting things and watching them grow, creating new combinations of plants, rocks and flowers, luring hummingbirds and butterflies to my yard, snapping cuttings off my succulents and forming new little plant-families. It’s continually changing—every day in the garden looks and smells different. Some days, the colors, textures and scents strike me as so heartbreakingly beautiful, it makes me want to cry. I adore my flock of cuddly lap chickens and my dogs—we all head out to the yard and putz around in the dirt, then lie around looking up at the sky and the wild birds.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
TS: Salt in coffee! Just a tiny pinch of salt makes even the shittiest, nastiest, stalest coffee taste so smooth and silky. Game-changer.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
TS: The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster). When I was very young, my mom read it to me from the front seat of our station wagon on a long road trip, and it absolutely blew my mind. The boundless creativity and possibility, the NUMBERS, the magical potential in everything and everyone, and the unforgettably brilliant and berserk characters. It was the most insane and limitless thing I had ever heard or imagined, and it was the perfect book for an endless, boring car ride because it forever instilled in me the life lesson that BOREDOM IS THE ENEMY, that ennui is the dark and inevitable force we must fight with every ounce of our being.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
TS: No way. I love my phone—it’s by my side most of the day—but that little buddy goes into airplane mode before bed and charges across the room, far away from me. I don’t turn it on again until after I’ve peed and swung my arms around the next morning!

TG: How do you deal with email?
TS: I have 13,082 unopened emails in my inbox, which sounds outrageous, but the thing is, I’ve had exactly 13,082 unopened emails in my inbox for at least eleven years at this point. That’s just my number now—my ground zero. I can’t stand when I have more than 13,082, so I open everything right away, just to keep my number stable. I try to answer things really promptly because I know how much I hate waiting for other people to get back with me. But also, I hate dropping the ball when old emails get buried and slip between the cracks, so I try to knock them out as they come in. I love that my mailbox automatically shunts off the social media, spam, and promotional crap so I really only have legit emails coming to my inbox now. Also, I love that I can search for anything, even from years back. I never delete anything. I keep it all. Everything.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
TS: Power nap. I love a ten-minute snooze in the middle of my day, and I’m pretty much able to sleep anytime, anywhere—at the drop of a hat. Waking up is hell… but then I swing my arms around and feel like my batteries have been replaced. My brain power is much juicier on days when I sneak a little nap.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
TS: I was utterly and completely wrecked by the time we delivered the final movie of Pitch Perfect 3 in September. I’d been working 24/7 on this movie for well over a year—first, pitching like a wild woman for the job; next, developing the script… then prepping and rehearsing the movie… then shooting it, then editing, then collaborating with Universal Studios to test the film with audiences and tweak the cut, finalize the sound, music, color, visual effects, etc. I had been eat-sleep-breathing this project for months, steeping myself in both the creative demands, the politics of making a major Studio movie, and the grueling schedule—which were all a gratifying but exhausting experience. When I finally handed the thing over, I felt like an empty husk. I had to give myself permission to spend lots of time lying in my garden with the chickens, reading tacky beach novels, sleeping late, listening to cheesy New Wave music, planting flowers and watching home makeover shows on HGTV. I knew I wasn’t going to accomplish anything productive for a while, so I forced myself to be OK with that. I knew my creative juju would come back, eventually.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
TS: Man, life is so full of failure. I screw up SOMETHING every single day, and I still struggle to accept that. For instance, I pitch for so many projects—movies, commercials, music videos—and I usually get rejected. At least 19 times out of 20, I throw myself head over heels into a creative pitch for a job and don’t end up winning it, which can be demoralizing. But the hardest for me to accept are the personal failures, rather than the professional ones—the times I’ve let someone down or had a lapse of character. Most recently, I feel like I really failed my son’s fourth grade teacher. This woman is so incredible—she’s strong, smart, creative and devoted to her students. Anyway, she asked me to help stage her class’s holiday performances this year, and after saying yes, I just dropped the ball. There was all this paperwork required for volunteer clearance at the school, and between the TB test and the myriad forms, I just never got it all together. This meant I couldn’t work with the students. In a sad attempt to compensate for my failure, I made plans to send her a video with choreographic ideas, but I didn’t even manage to get that done. On top of all this, I didn’t sign up in time for my son’s parent-teacher conference, but his teacher was still willing to meet me on her own time after hours. She’s a terrific human being and I just really flaked on her… repeatedly. Ugh, I feel like such a jackass, just telling this story. I can be such a mega-jerk. The way I plan to deal with this is the way I try to deal with all my failures—stare it in the face, even though I hate looking at my own shortcomings—and then do whatever I can to make it right. In this case, it’s too late to stage the 4th grade show, but I can apologize, acknowledge my own extreme crappiness, and then find some other way to donate my time to help out. Owning up to my screw-ups feels so much better than sweeping them under the carpet.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
TS: “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” — David Foster Wallace

Trish Sie is a film, commercial, and music video director based in Los Angeles. Her work includes the films Step Up: All In and the much anticipated film, Pitch Perfect 3, which hits theaters on December 22, 2017. In addition to her work in film, she also directed multiple music videos for the band, OK Go, one of which earned her a Grammy Award in 2007 as well as multiple Grammy nominations.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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