How one woman reinvented herself fearlessly

From the outside looking in, it appeared that Laila Garroni had it all—the best apartment, the best friends, and the best journalism job her southern Brazilian town could offer. She was grateful and always had a passion for telling stories, but three years of hard news journalism didn’t quite fit the script.

“I was very tired of journalism. I got to the point where I realized this isn’t what I want to do for life. It’s not something that fulfils me,” said Laila.

Laila dreamt of pursuing acting and directing since a young age, but she was never able to make her dreams a reality. The resources for creative outlets in her town were extremely limited and only available through expensive private teachers, according to Laila.

On Dec. 12, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. Laila was fired from her journalism job. To most, getting fired would seem like a door closing, but to Laila, the uncanny timing with the repetition of the number 12 felt like divine intervention leading her to her next opportunity.

“It felt like there was this portal opening up for a change. I remember getting fired and feeling ‘Oh if it’s happening right now. I’m 100 percent sure that this is for something better.’”

After taking some time and looking for work in Rio de Janeiro with no luck, Laila decided to take the advice of her friend and head to New York just to experience a new place. She landed in New York City in February 2013 expecting to stay for a few weeks. But once she arrived, she never looked back.

When Laila first arrived in New York City, she possessed a small vocabulary of English words and didn’t know a soul. However, she already felt more fulfilled as a person. Her brand-new environment seemed so familiar from years of watching movies and absorbing art centered around the city. It didn’t take long for Laila to realize this is where she needed to be.

“Walking down the street just feeling New York and seeing the most amazing people doing the most amazing things here; I thought ‘I want to be that person,’” said Laila.

Laila decided to commit to her new life, pursue her acting career, and take the city by storm. She’s thrived in the city since then, and just six months ago, she heard about New Women New Yorkers (NWNY) from her friends who were participating in the LEAD program.

NWNY does amazing work for immigrant women seeking guidance in the workforce. After five and half years in the city already under her belt, Laila decided to join the program for the artistic outlets and the ability to grow with women just like her. She may not be interested in the typical 9-5 job, but the program still has so much to offer regardless of career choice.

“To be able to be in a room with other women that are going through the exact same things you are, seeing them finding new skills and new ways to do things they did back home is very powerful,” said Laila.

Through NWNY’s partnership with The Moth, a community built around empowering people through storytelling, she participated in a workshop that allowed the women to tell their stories in a freeing, open environment.

Telling her own story without a script or character was a different experience for an actress, but Laila eventually fully embraced this new vulnerability. The workshop was focused on the big learnings in even the smallest stories, which inspired her to change which story she would tell just a week before the showcase—a night dedicated to the women taking the stage to share their stories in front of an audience. Many, for the first time.

“I love telling stories,” said Laila. “Getting involved with the stories—letting the stories be a part of me.”

Laila felt so empowered after the storytelling workshop. Hearing from all the different women carries such a powerful message for not only those involved, but everyone who values the importance of hearing perspectives that differ from their own. “If we all learn each other’s stories and each other’s past, what brought us here and what experiences we have, we’re going to have so much more compassion and love for each other,” said Laila. 

Laila has not stopped contributing to that message and since has written, directed, and starred in her own short film. Being an actress with an accent is not easy in such a competitive industry and Laila is no exception as an immigrant of color. She has vowed to always create opportunities within her shows for immigrants with artistic passions regardless of where they come from.

Language barriers have never stopped Laila from accomplishing her dreams and she doesn’t plan on letting them stop her now. “Language is a code,” said Laila. “Just because my code isn’t perfect, what I can bring to the table as a professional, as an artist, as a businesswoman, isn’t going to be any less than an American.”

Laila is forever grateful for her new life. In fact, her only small regret is not finding New Women New Yorkers sooner. To Laila, life is about rebirth, running toward your passions and channelling the power of change. Every day is a new adventure in her eyes, and she wants every person to have the courage to be whoever they truly are. 

“There’s this phrase that I love, and it goes ‘die before you die,’” said Laila. “When I moved here, the Laila that lived in Brazil and worked as a journalist died and a new one was born. Now I say, ‘I cannot wait to die again’ and see what’s next.”