The best career advice Laverne Cox ever received —and what she tells others

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25: Jay Sethi, CMO of Diageo Beer Company and Head of Smirnoff North America, sat down with Emmy-nominated actress Laverne Cox for a fireside chat at Advertising Week to discuss how and why it is important to represent the LGBTQIA+ community in brand campaigns on September 25, 2019 in New York City.
Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Smirnoff

In 2012, at the age of 40, Laverne Cox was ready to give up on her acting career after years of trying to make it in Hollywood.

"How many black trans women over 40 had careers in 2012 as actors?" Cox says to CNBC Make It at Advertising Week in New York City. "So I thought, OK, it's time for me to do something else."

But she says the "universe" had something else in mind, and she got the call to audition for the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black." Months later, she landed the part of Sophia Burset, a trans woman who is in prison for credit-card fraud.

In 2014, Cox became the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy Award and the first trans to appear on the cover of Time Magazine.

The experience has taught Cox, "[You have] to keep showing up," she says.

Before Cox decided to quit acting, she says she remembered the advice of one of her early mentors, and she says it's still the best career advice that she has been given.

"Don't ever give up," Cox says. "I would call [my mentor], and she would say the people who make it in this business are the people who are persistent."

And that doesn't just go for acting. Cox says she advises people who want to succeed to stay engaged in their chosen career and try to learn every aspect of it, because once that door "does open, you need to be prepared to walk through it."

"There's a lot of hard work and perseverance around putting yourself in the right place and [also] a little bit of luck," Cox says.

Cox, who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, says she gets her drive from her single mother, Gloria Cox, who worked two or three jobs to support her and her twin brother growing up. Cox says her mother taught her to "work really, really hard" for what she wanted in life, even through the hardships.

At the age of 11, Cox says, she attempted suicide after developing feelings for her male classmates and was repeatedly bullied for not acting like the other young boys in her grade. Later, during her college years, Cox decided to begin to medically transition to female and continue her path to become an actress.

She says after she landed a successful platform as an actress, she decided to use it to help others.

"I still don't know how long I'll have this platform, so I wanted to try to make a difference while I have it," Cox says. "I'm passionate about humanizing trans people in the LGBTQ community. But then I'm also a person of color, and so I approach the world that way as well, and I'm a woman, so I just allow myself to exist in the intersection of all those places unapologetically and always proceeding with love."

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