EXCLUSIVE: Jasmine Curtis-Smith finds her own light

The actress writes an essay on growing up in her sister's shadow, dealing with family separation, and building a career she can truly call her own.

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Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Moving your life to another country, having to adapt and trying to belong in a new city, a new school, and a new world all seem easier when you are a kid. I had to leave my friends in Manila behind at the age of 11. I was simply asked if I wanted to go with my mom to Australia or stay in Manila with my dad. I chose Australia thinking it would only be a holiday. Little did I know that months later I would be studying and living there permanently. I didn’t even tell my friends that I was leaving. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

There were opportunities to go back and see my friends when I was staying with my sister during Christmas but I was still trying to wrap my head around what was going on. I had a sister with a thriving career, so whenever we saw any Filipino in Melbourne, I immediately lost my identity to “kapatid ni Anne.” Let’s not mistake that with bitterness, it was just difficult to become who you wanted to be when everyone expected you to fit in someone else’s shoes. If it weren’t for my mother’s constant belief and overflowing support and love, I don’t think I would’ve even been able to be interested in staying in touch with my sister who was then thousands of miles away.

To add it all up, I left the country I thought I really loved, I got separated from my friends, from my sister, and from my own dad. What was going on?

It isn’t easy when you’re figuring out who to be, growing up under the shadow of someone else, dealing with family separation, and at the same time building a career.

On Jasmine: Vania Romoff linen coat, Áraw shift dress, Charles & Keith sandals, Souvenir earrings. Photo on top of page: On Jasmine: Áraw square crop top and slit skirt. Photos by RALPH MENDOZA

The career path I’m on? We needed a new car for mama. The move to Melbourne? I honestly thought it was just a holiday. The move back to Manila? I had contractual obligations; there was a legal need to be back in town.

A lot of the aforementioned decisions and countless unlisted ones were made with the guidance of some of the mentors in my life. One taught me how to uphold my morale and strategize, another taught me how to model the power of impressions, while another taught me how to practice and experience life through its most extremes. These are people who always seemed to know exactly who they are supposed to be and people who always seemed to know exactly who I was and how my life should unfold.

At 17, someone told me that if I took the chance to go full steam ahead with what could be the “best money generating career I could ever find,” I could learn to take on tasks and roles demanded of me and “milk it.” I was then shuttling back and forth for work and classes while also dreaming of buying mama that car. There were expectations to be balanced between being a well-educated full-time student of a notable university and a professional “artista” who could work until the wee hours of the morning on the day of an exam. I’m not sure if much of you are aware but the life of an actress in the Philippines doesn’t just involve acting, we also need to be able to sing our hearts away so you can catch our film or teleserye. We sing so you can watch us act.

Due to ungodly hours and my refusal to accept a half-hearted learning experience, I only stayed in college for one semester. This was followed by a decision that the next best thing to do was to focus on the work commitments I already had, instead of forging a situation that I couldn’t keep up with just for the sake of imagery. I knew I wouldn’t be able to feed the expectations of being the type of artist who says yes to everything — the artist with no questions, the artist who has to wear this type of dress, the artist who wears makeup a certain manner. The thing is, I don’t bite my tongue when there is an issue but I also don’t intend to disrespect. I’ve always kept my “branding” simple: a working and passionate actress.

But, it wasn’t a good cut. I didn’t fit any bill. Too serious, too broad, too much of not much.

On Jasmine: Vania Romoff linen coat, Mango knit tank, Áraw pleated trousers. Photo by RALPH MENDOZA

I gave up trying to fit in existing categories that box you in and close you to the wonder of constantly growing and learning. But the irony of it all is that I tortured myself the last couple of years because I thought I had been making all the wrong moves, disappointing the people around me, and worse, not going anywhere with my life. So I ended up boxing myself inside my head. This is all based on the decisions and plans others had for me and based on what I was not doing compared to my contemporaries or my sister. It’s incredible what your mind ends up thinking about yourself because of what you end up consuming through other people’s viewpoints of who you are supposed to be or who they falsely say and think you are.

I was once given the false idea that taking a break from T.V. network exclusivity would jeopardize my career and make me fall behind, or that I wasn’t ready to take on T.V. projects. The latter may have more truth to it than I am willing to honestly accept. But the prior? Learning to make and accept breaks is one of the best luxuries I’ve allowed myself to have, permitting to give my family the time we need and myself the time to breathe. This space has enabled me to think of other ways in which I can start putting my skills to good use while at the same time still earning.

On Jasmine: Áraw shift dress, Souvenir earrings. Photo by RALPH MENDOZA

After all the unsolicited doubts, I wallowed for quite sometime but eventually looked and found the right people who helped gain my strength back. So, I tried to rise again, finding my own ways about my passion and the work I wanted to have. I began to listen less to these “mentors” of mine and started to look for people who would not just mentor me but also take on all the baggage that came with me. The only things I could offer my new support group were my friendship, my truth, and my next goals in life. That was enough for them. Even just for now.

After the last few years’ abundance of therapy sessions, I had to get started and move myself along. If I wanted something, it was now up to me. I’m turning over a new leaf at 25, and I’ve found new titles to own and the roles that I find myself aligning with in life and in work: an investor of Karpos Multimedia Inc. (known for their annual Wanderland Music Festival), and a business partner to my boyfriend, Jeff Ortega. Jeff and I are planning to build a hotel in La Union as our first baby to help set us up for our future once we decide to settle. And I’ve also decided to become my mother’s on-call private nurse, ready to figure out ways to get to her as fast as I can when things get tough and painful. Anne will always be our private financing/on-call nurse too, and I will always be the operations of the team we call our family. (Unless, life blesses me more and I can pitch even half the amount she can!)

On Jasmine: Vania Romoff linen coat, Áraw shift dress, Souvenir earrings. Photo by RALPH MENDOZA

Nevertheless, having found new roles in life, a new support group and having gone through therapy, I couldn’t be more eager about working more. I’ll still definitely be acting for a long time. I can’t keep away, whether it’s a cameo, a support or a lead role.

Having experienced all of this, I realized that you have to start questioning your own priorities and begin to give yourself unforgiving trust. The immense independence I’ve built feels like a wild fire that’s amazingly empowering. I learned that you should start looking for your own opportunities, start making your own future. As for me, I’m just beginning.

Jasmine stars in "Maledicto," showing on May 1 in cinemas nationwide.

Styled by MJ BENITEZ