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Life and Work with Natalie Ann Goenaga

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalie Ann Goenaga.

Natalie Ann, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up in Miami, I was a painfully shy little girl with a love for the stage (kind of ironic, I know). My parents put my sister and me in dance classes from the time we could pretty much walk and performing became an outlet for me to let my inner self shine. My mom is also a huge movie buff so I grew up watching all the classics from West Side Story (I was named after Natalie Wood) to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and would regularly put on plays with my sister and cousins for our family. When I was eight years old, my mom and I were approached by a gorgeous woman who was a model herself at the grocery and she asked my mom if she ever thought about putting me into modeling. My mom, who competed in beauty pageants as a young woman to help get scholarship money for college (she is a first generation Venezuelan and Cuban immigrant and the first woman in her family to go to college), said she had thought about it, but didn’t know if she wanted to start me off so young in an industry that could be competitive and cutthroat. The woman also happened to be a photographer (and in a weird twist of fate my best friend later in life’s aunt) and talked my mom into letting her take my first modeling photos and she would help us present them to her agency.

A few weeks later, I was signed with an agency and working a ton. By the time I hit 12, I was 5’2″ with a size 8 shoe and was very much in my “awkward” phase. My agent realized that I wouldn’t book kid clothing jobs because of my height, but my face was still way too young for preteen and teen work. She suggested that I begin acting in the interim and try my hand at commercial and TV work. I was terrified and excited all at the same time. Modeling was a way to be out there on the world’s stage, but I didn’t have to say anything, whereas acting is a whole other ballgame. I was still that lanky shy girl and didn’t know if I’d be good at it and there was a different kind of pressure because THIS was my true dream, but it scared me. My mom gave my agent the OK and I’m glad she did. Acting brought me out of my shell in ways that I didn’t know were possible and I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for putting myself in front of the camera. I started with a few national and local commercials then began auditioning for tv and film roles and eventually began to slowly stop modeling altogether to focus on my acting career. Working so much as a young kid always comes with a little bit of bullying, but I truly loved what I was doing. My parents had a little trick for me when I would feel down and told me to put on my invisible raincoat and let all the bad things people said slide off like little drops of rain. I slowly began gaining more confidence and not letting other people’s words get me down. I truly found my personality, my voice, and developed a thick skin because of the industry and because it isn’t the traditional path people take in life and that could come with a little backlash.

My parents and my family have been my rock while I navigate this career path and without their support and encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today. One thing they were big sticklers on though was going to college and getting a degree and that was instilled in me since day one when I signed up for all this. They told me if being an actress was what I wanted to do in life then they would support me and help me when needed, but that I needed to get a college degree. So, for four years, I put my acting dreams on hold and received a Bachelor’s in Communication from the University of Miami where I studied Broadcast Journalism. I loved still having the option to work in front of the camera, being able to write my own stories, and I was able to learn all the going on’s behind the camera as well which has helped significantly in my career. After graduating, I took the traditional route and worked as a writer for the morning shows for one of Miami’s top news stations from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. then would come home and nap and go to my other job as a reporter, editor, and producer for a smaller TV station in one of Miami’s cities. After working both jobs for about a year, I then found a position as a Social Media Executive for a top PR firm where I expanded my knowledge in the growing realm of social media and was able to use my creativity to create successful campaigns for clients. I also began video production services while at the firm because I missed my days in front and behind the camera.

In 2016, I met my boyfriend (also a University of Miami alumni!) who always dreamed of moving to the City of Angels. This same year, I had decided to try my hand at pageantry for the first time ever as a nod to my mom who had been dying for me to compete since the day I turned 18 and follow in her pageant footsteps (she was the second runner up in Miss Florida USA in 1982!). At 24, I signed up for my first pageant and little did I know what I was getting myself into. The dedication that you have to have to be able to compete is unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Rigorous training is involved and not just with your diet and exercise, but everything from the way you walk to to the way you stand to the two most important things: your interview with the judges before the onstage competition to your onstage interview questions. Thankfully, my dad is a personal trainer and kicked my butt into the best shape of my life and I had the most amazing coach as my mom and one of her friends who also competed. I hate to admit that I was a person who had stereotyped these incredible women who are intelligent, hardworking, and give back to their communities in so many ways and through this experience found a new level of respect for them and felt so empowered to be a woman. I went on to win my local pageant and became Miss Coral Gables USA and then competed in Miss Florida USA where I made it into the Top 15.

After the pageant, my boyfriend was offered a job at an amazing firm in LA and we decided to move to the West Coast together. I decided to leave the “real world” behind and once again continue to pursue my acting dreams as I did before going to college. I was nervous because I know there is so much competition in LA, but my Miami agent helped me to get signed with modeling, commercial, and theatrical agencies (my Miami agent is also still my “mother” agency and they send me out as well. Love them to pieces!) and I have been fortunate enough to have been in some commercials for brands like McDonald’s, Samsung, L’Oreal Paris, and Apple Music. I also had the opportunity to guest star in an Amazon TV show, as well as book a lead for a short film. It was an exciting and overwhelming transition made easier by the fact that my boyfriend is my #1 fan and one of my biggest supporters and we have an amazing circle of friends living out here which helped us feel at home right away. Being an actor in LA is no cake walk, I had to figure out how to make enough to make rent every month, eat, and live a full life without depending on my parents who said they would always be there to help if I needed it (but, I would not feel like a full “adult” if I did that and also feel TERRIBLE asking for money!!).

So, I got a part-time job working as a hostess at a popular restaurant in DTLA where we live and at a workout studio. I also decided to put my expensive UM degree to good use. When my boyfriend and I moved to DTLA, we found a few publications who helped guide us through our new neighborhood like Happening in DTLA. The account is amazing and filled with so much information of all the latest happenings in DTLA, but they didn’t yet have a video platform. I reached out to them via email explaining my background in broadcast journalism and how it would be so fun for their followers to have someone personally guide them and show them some cool things happening in the neighborhood/have a face to the brand. They loved the idea and coincidentally a videographer (Matt Britos who is the most TALENTED human ever) reached out with a similar idea and now we’ve created our own original content and really fun videos for some amazing local businesses in DTLA. I also met the founder and editor of UncoverLA (an online magazine dedicated to highlighting LA’s most stylish places, sales, events, people, and things) while at work after striking up a conversation with the amazing girl boss and mama and told her a bit of my background in journalism. We met a few times and I wrote some stories for the site as a freelancer/contributor and now officially hold the title of Events Editor where I do a weekly event roundup of the coolest events happening in LA and get to attend some rad events to cover via social media and on our website.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No matter what path you decide to take in life, it’ll never be a smooth journey. That would be way too easy. But it’s those struggles along the way that help define who you are and who you become. I’ve experienced bullying, rejection, and feeling like I’m stuck. Like I’m watching everyone’s life move on and they’re successful in their career and in their life and I’m struggling to work four different jobs and still haven’t landed that big role. There have been days where I’ve called my parents crying and have wanted to throw in the towel and go back to working at a “real” job, but I’m thankful for those days. They remind me of my journey and that this is what was meant for me and that I am strong, I am resilient, and I am being true to my heart and to my path. The best advice is to surround yourself with people who love and believe in you even when you have those days that you don’t believe in yourself. To write, write, write your feelings and write your plan and envision where you’re going to accomplish. Having those bad days and days that you struggle make those good days even more special. Be true to yourself and never compromise your values or who you are for anybody or any job or anything. A friend of mine posted this quote on a day where I was struggling and it was a very important reminder: “My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me and that what misses me was never meant for me.”

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I would say that I wear a lot of different hats. I am an actress, a video host for a popular Instagram page/website, and an Events Editor for a stylish online magazine. I’m really fortunate to have found two jobs outside acting where I get to use my skills and creativity to make money doing what I love. I also am starting my own travel, style, and lifestyle blog called Nat Navigates!

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
Thankfully, A LOT is changing in the entertainment industry and some of the biggest barriers are at the forefront of movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up. I think right now is an amazing time to be a woman in any industry because a lot of women are speaking up for what’s fair and what’s right and bulldozing new paths for other females in the field. I still think there is a lot to work on like equal pay and treatment in the workplace, confidence to speak up for your beliefs (this is something I still see us women struggle with), and for women to stop being so competitive with each other. It’s something that is instilled in us due to the world in which we live, but we can stop the vicious cycle and root for each other and not see other women as competition. We got this ladies!

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Image Credit:
Jason Marlow, Timothy Nash, myself

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