‘Pursue what you want’: Jennette McCurdy encourages students in honest conversation

Jennette McCurdy spoke to students on Zoom during her "Taking Control" discussion. Photo grab by Claire Wislar

Katharine DeRosa, Executive Editor

Jennette McCurdy is urging VCU students to forge their own path in life — whatever it may be.

McCurdy starred in the hit Nickelodeon shows “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat” as Sam Pucket from 2007 to 2014, but her talk with student Malcolm Small titled “Taking Charge,” reached well beyond her acting career — delving into advice for young adults, her writing process and finding passions. 

“That career had defined me for so long that I needed to define me for me,” McCurdy said. “I needed to really kind of sink into myself and realize what I wanted to do with my own life which was writing.”

Her recently published memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. The book delved into abuse from her mother, struggle with eating disorders and a path to working on herself. 

McCurdy’s mother died in 2013, and McCurdy quit acting after “Sam & Cat” was canceled. Her mother had pushed her into acting and, while McCurdy became well-versed, the passion was never there, she said.

“I had success as an actor,” McCurdy said. “It felt so unfulfilling.”

McCurdy spoke genuinely with Small, telling him that she takes the time to set intentions before speaking to college students as the age of young adulthood was the most challenging period of her life.

“I’m saying this now because I know that a lot of you … have parents who want you to pursue something and they are probably very vocal about that and might even be vocal about how much they have helped you on your path to pursue that thing and how you would disappoint them if you didn’t pursue that thing,” McCurdy said.

Find what sparks passion and focus on getting good at it, McCurdy said. Then, a career path can follow the cultivated passion and talent.

“Pursue what you want for you please. I’m begging,” McCurdy said. 

Her writing style is distinct, as Small praised her ability to write about trauma with a sense of humor. McCurdy’s number one tip for writing about hardships: time.

“It took a lot of time for me to get there and to be able to see my story for what it could be to an audience versus just what it was to me and it took a lot of unpacking in a private therapeutic setting before exploring it in a public facing way,” McCurdy said. 

Though “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” details McCurdy’s journey with a severe eating disorder in the form of bulimia and emotional and physical maternal abuse, McCurdy writes in a matter-of-fact, almost nonchalant way.

“Life is just too fucking hard if you don’t have a sense of humor about it. It’ll literally just knock you to your knees,” McCurdy said.

Ever since McCurdy quit acting, she has focused solely on her writing career, she said. After dealing with writer’s block, McCurdy discovered she was a “panster” rather than a “plotter,” meaning she approaches writing in a “vomit first draft,” type of way.

“I don’t allow any of my critical mind to come into play. I really just write the thing I try to just let it kind of run through me, as spiritual as that might sound,” McCurdy said.

In terms of what’s next, McCurdy is currently working on a novel, she said. She reached 30,000 words on Monday before speaking to the university and is excited to share it “very soon.”

VCU’s Activities Programming Board facilitated the event and shared student health resources to supplement McCurdy’s talk, including university student counseling, access to 24/7 mental health services through TimelyCare and physical and mental well being through RecWell. Visit health.students.vcu.edu or recwell.vcu.edu for more information. 

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