Shoba Narayan is a musical actor, which means she faces more rejection than the average person. Going from audition to audition and hearing the word no isn’t just a side effect of the business. It is the business.
But even with a career that seems impossibly hard, Narayan has credits in major productions. She has played the role of Natasha in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton, and most recently, Princess Jasmine in Aladdin—all Broadway productions and are notoriously hard to get cast in.
In this episode of Brilliant Thoughts, Narayan talks to SUCCESS People Editor Tristan Ahumada about what it takes to achieve a dream few people have reached. It typically requires three skills: removing mental limitations, believing in oneself and embracing uncertainty.
Push past the limitations in your mind.
In high school, Narayan was used to getting the lead role in a production. College was a significant turning point in that, for the first time, starring in a play became rare. It made Narayan question her talent within the industry. Could she perform on Broadway if she wasn’t landing major roles in college?
“It’s a hard business to go into,” Narayan says. “There’s also an added challenge of the fact that there was no one like me in musical theater who was starring in Broadway shows—who was in the spotlight or who was there to show me my dreams were possible.”
Narayan convinced herself of two things to overcome those challenges. If you’re pursuing a dream that feels impossible, make these statements a daily manta:
- “My dreams are non-negotiable.” Giving up isn’t an option when you’re invested in your goals.
- “Finding my tribe of supporters will help me succeed.” No one builds their dream life by themselves. Lean on the people you trust to be a source of inspiration, honesty and daily grounding.
Know that the key to beating rejection is self-belief.
Believing in yourself is hard. It requires you to step out on faith and embrace your success before it happens.
Making such a triumphant decision feels incredible, and yet nothing changes on day one. You still run the risk of failing or being rejected from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So how does self-belief turn things around?
For Narayan, it was about releasing an energy she was holding back in her auditions. Her form of self-belief looked a lot like throwing out the rulebook and letting her raw talent shine through. It was risky, but she ended up landing her first leading role in a college play. The casting directors were so impressed that her audition song, Jessie J’s “Who You Are,” became the show’s musical finale.
“That was the moment a lot of my classmates got to see what I’m capable of doing,” Narayan says. “I was really taking ownership of what I had to offer and not hiding or pulling back.”
Narayan learned three lessons from that experience:
- You need a strong dose of bravery to achieve your dreams.
- Beautiful things happen when you trust your instincts.
- Be fearless—even if you make a fool of yourself.
Uncertainty can feel like a sneaky form of rejection; learn to adapt.
The year 2020 was a rejection of almost everything. The pandemic forced millions of people to reassess their careers, fair wages, productivity, race relations, vaccines and the global supply chain.
At the same time, everything was slowing down. And non-essential workers faced what seemed like a cosmic rejection of their livelihoods.
“I invested my whole life into [musical theater],” Narayan says. “I work on TV and film, but that was also shut down. It was a lot of waiting for some answer of how we can continue to do the work safely.”
Without much to do, Narayan accepted her fate and embraced the new normal. She looked for ways to grow in her personal life while still furthering her career. That led to several passion projects, like producing original music and co-writing a TV pilot with a friend at HBO. Eventually, she emerged from the COVID-19 lockdown with the biggest opportunity of her career, landing the role of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin.
As you chase your dreams, know that setbacks are filled with opportunities. You are given a rare period of stillness to reflect on why you do what you do, or to explore projects that enhance your career. But no matter what you choose to do, doing something productive—whether it’s rest or work—eases the sting of rejection that comes from uncertainty.