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'Emily in Paris' actor Ashley Park's career advice: 'You're allowed to dream big'

Ashley Park.
Photo courtesy Rebecca McGlynn

Ashley Park has long kept it positive.

The award-winning "Emily in Paris" actor grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, always a performer ― dance, a-cappella, musical theater. She credits her parents with planting the seed of positivity in her head.

"My mom and dad have taught me by example how to find a silver lining in everything," she tells CNBC Make It. "What is the lesson? How did this make me grow? What did I learn? How did a rejection or disappointment become a blessing that made me stronger?"

It's an attitude she's taken with her even as she's entered a field in which rejection can be a daily routine. Park started her career in theater, garnering acclaim off-Broadway and receiving a Tony Award nomination for her turn as Gretchen Wieners on Broadway's "Mean Girls" in 2018.

She received a Critics' Choice Award nomination for her performance as Mindy Chen on "Emily in Paris" in 2021, too.

Most recently, she partnered with Northwestern Mutual for its Great Realization campaign centered around millennials' shift in priorities over the past few years. It refers to the moment when each one gets clarity about their life goals, prompting them to re-architect their routines accordingly. Park says the company has helped her, personally, get some of that clarity.

Here are four lessons she's learned on the path to achieving her own career goals.

'You're allowed to dream big'

Park says she never thought she'd have the opportunities she's gotten.

"I entered the industry with the understanding that there wasn't a place or path for me onscreen and onstage in the way there visibly was for my white peers," she says. "But I did so happily because I loved being an actor and performer and artist."

Staying positive and continuing to push forward eventually earned her opportunities to work with entertainers like Jake Gyllenhaal and Tina Fey.

"You're allowed to dream big," she adds.

Last year, Asians and Pacific Islanders got 11% of overall screen time on streaming services, 2.7% of the screen time on cable and 3.2% of the screen time on broadcast television, according to media data and analytics company Nielsen.

That's an increase across the board from 2020. It also still mostly lags behind the country's population figures: Asians and Pacific Islanders made up roughly 6.4% of the U.S. population last year, Nielsen adds.

Don't pretend to be someone you're not

Early on, Park says she thought she had to minimize who she was to get a role — or even pretend to be someone else.

"I used to go [into auditions] and be like, 'OK, I have to trick them into thinking I'm this character,'" she says. "Or I have to bamboozle them into thinking I'm a white person."

Eventually, she started to realize that the people who'd hired her were the ones who wanted her specific skillset, not someone else's. Her advice: Bring your full self to any form of job interview, and show how you personally connect with the nature of the role.

If it's the right fit, they'll want to hire you, she says.

Celebrate other people's success

Park says her parents and career experiences both taught her to champion the people around her, even when their success came at her expense.

During her first year in New York, she became a finalist for two different theater roles — and found herself up against friends both times.

"And then in the same day, I learned that both of those parts went to my two friends," she says.

"Emily in Paris" actors Lily Collins and Ashley Park.
Stefanie Keenan | Getty Images Entertainment

Instead of the heartbreak that might've come from her two losses, what she says she remembers is feeling "genuinely happy for them." That made a huge difference in her day-to-day happiness, especially in a career typically filled with constant rejection.

Studies back the benefits of Park's mindset: Researchers at the Harvard Medical School have found that fostering good relationships can improve both people's health and happiness.

"If I surrounded myself with good people and was constantly celebrating their successes," Park says, "then I was just constantly celebrating."

Know you'll always 'see the other side' of a struggle

In her sophomore year in high school, Park was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that attacks part of the blood cells and can rapidly spread. She was hospitalized for eight months and has since been in remission.

"Once you get to the other side of that mountain, every other mountain that comes your way, you just have this innate faith that, like, I will see the other side of it," she says.

The attitude makes processing difficult moments in her career and personal life easier, Park adds: Regardless of the hurdle, she always knows things will eventually get better.

She also notes that some of her toughest losses have been immediately followed by big wins.

"Most of the time, when I've gotten a dream job, it's been right on the heels of or at the same time of being rejected from another thing that I really thought was going to be the game-changer for me," Park says.

Check out:

Ryan Reynolds reveals the No. 1 skill that's helped him succeed: 'It really changed my life'

'Nope' star Keke Palmer on handling rejection and staying consistent: 'I try not to have an ego'

How 'Veep' and 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' actor Reid Scott built a successful creative career

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