The Melissa McCarthy Story: From $35 in Her Pocket to The Highest Paid Actress in the World

The Melissa McCarthy Story

“Is it magic fucking whiskey? Do I get a motorcycle with it? Is it gonna be served in a Jesus shoe?” — Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy has taken the acting world by storm. She is known for her outlandish and quite frankly hilarious one-liners; she has captivated audiences across the globe with her incredible humour but more than that, Melissa is an example of someone her preserved until she struck gold.

She has applied herself seamlessly to a number of roles: high-flying boss, down and out waitress and even a fraudster. Every single role she stars in you can’t help want her to be your friend. I want her to be my friend.

She is, in my opinion, the best actress in Hollywood, well perhaps Sandra Bullock takes joint-first with her.

But McCarthy wasn’t always this loved. She only hit our screens with real authority in 2011 with the smash-hit Bridesmaids*. Prior to 2011, McCarthy playing a supporting role in the brilliant Gilmore Girls. The real question though is how did this total talent go largely unnoticed for years and how did she then take our screen by storm?

And more importantly, what can we learn about this absolute legend?

*Side note — if you haven’t yet seen Bridesmaids get off here immediately and go and watch it. It’ll be the best 125 minutes of your life. Well, probably.

The Power of Believing in Yourself

McCarthy is a powerhouse now but if you wind the clocks back a decade or so, she wasn’t so successful, yet she’s always pursued acting. She never gave up.

McCarthy was born in 1970, in fact, she turned 50 this month — Happy birthday Melissa. Today she is an actress, comedian, producer, write and multi-award winner. However, rewind 30 years ago, a young McCarthy was a struggling actress just about to hit NYC for the first time.

McCarthy is from a farming background of all places and she moved from her home town in 1990 to try to figure out if she could make it in the big apple. She had a hard time. Upon leaving her home town and fleeing to the big apple she had just $35 in her pocket and a pretty big ambition to make it big.

The trouble was (and still is), ambition isn’t always enough. After a series of dead ends, she soon moved to LA but there she ended up with more bad luck. Long story short, she didn’t land a full-time, consistent, gig until she was just shy of thirty. Thirty.

That meant for 10 years, McCarthy was a struggling actor, hoping anyone would take a chance on her. 10 years of struggle and 10 years of not giving up on her dreams. This is a lesson to us all, so often we give up with ease. We think that because we haven’t landed the dream job or founded a 6-figure business at the ripe old age of 24 that we are complete failures.

But McCarthy’s story contests that.

McCarthy’s story proves that you need an unwavering sense of self-belief, even if you fail for 10 years. Even if you don’t get a big break for a whole decade. You’ve got to keep plodding along as if you are just a small step away from your dream.

If you believe you are good at something and you know that something is how you want to spend your time, don’t let anyone tell you can’t. If it’s something you want to do, be your own biggest fan.

Keep going even when there is no sign that it’s worth it.

Being Persistent and Practical

We are told that life is binary. If you don’t achieve your dreams then you need to settle for a crappy job in a place you hate with people that you despise. In life we are told the options are as follows:

a) Live your dream life, fancy house, car, the lot. You’ll have sun-kissed skin, a great workout routine and a life you can show off.


b) You work a job you hate, probably a 9–5. You hate the hours, the activities, the people, everything.

But that’s not the case at all. The truth is that life often isn’t that black and white. Some years you’ll work hard on pursuing your dreams and other days you’ll watch movies all day and not get out of your PJs. That’s fine. That doesn’t mean you are a failure or a success. It just means that life isn’t as black and white as we are taught.

McCarthy is a testament to this. You’d look at her today and you might think:

I bet she’s always lived a life of luxury.

She hasn’t. She was a nobody, (for 10 years I might add) she was working as a nanny, a waitress, in a nursing home and in retail. How many people would back the part-time actor working as a shopping clerk right now? Not many.

Success doesn’t have an expiry date.

What McCarthy did was work practically and persistently. She was keen to pursue her dream, she went for acting gigs so she practised her craft. But she wasn’t impractical. She knew she’d have to get some part-time work to pay the bills so she did. She worked as she needed to in order to pursue her dream.

She didn’t throw in the towel after 5 years and to change industry to become someone else. She was persistent with her dream and gave it the time it needed.

Today we are so quick to give up and put all our eggs in a new basket but you can do both. You can pursue your dreams and work a 9–5 alongside. Most people are romantic about giving up everything and giving it their best shot. Sometimes your best shot is actually multiple shot over many years, with a part-time job.

Don’t be romantic, be practical and persistent. You don’t need to give up on your dreams if you aren’t fulfilling them right now.

Knowing the Game, Having a Strategy

McCarthy knew that committing to supporting roles was a quick way to become pigeon-holed. She needed to make herself so big in the supporting roles that they gave her the lead. Once she got the lead, she needed to hold on tight to that leading role and never accept a supporting role again.

This is a lesson for us all.

Sometimes to get in the door you need to take a lower grade job. Suck it up. We’ve all had to do it. When I was 17 I took a job as a cleaner because even though I’d just qualified as a lifeguard, at the time there was no lifeguarding job going. So I cleaned toilets for 40% money than I could be earning because I wanted a foot in the door. Then a lifeguarding job came up, guess who was first on the list to get an interview?

That’s the way life works. Sometimes you have to go through a few doors to open the one you want. If you don’t walk through that first door you won't go anywhere.

That’s what McCarthy did. She had an opportunity, she took it and she over-delivered. Once she got a bigger opportunity, she over-delivered again. And again.

What was the result? Well in 2016 she was the highest-paid actress in the world. Yep, world.

Know your strategy, a low-grade job now is one foot in the door. Get that job and over-deliver like mad.

Perspective and Accumulation

When McCarthy was just shy of 30 years old she was yet to have a fulltime acting gig. She’d just spent a decade in small-time roles and was supplementing her income with part-time jobs.

20 years later she is one of the best actors on the planet.

30 years old is a funny age. It’s the age we start thinking (I’m guessing) that we need to get our life in order, that we’re actually quite old and we should have done things by now. Imagine being 30, giving it 10 good years and still not have made it big.

Imagine the pressure.

Now 50 years old, McCarthy is a world-renowned actor. She’s simply brilliant but we didn’t get to see how good until she was 40. Yep, that’s right, 20 years of graft before the world truly got to see the talent she was.

For us, we’re all aspiring to be something, someone. We feel like we’ve failed if we haven’t made some serious headway by 30. We might even be inclined to give up.

Don’t give up, you might just be a step away from your big break.

Trust in the process, realise you’ve got bags of time and that your only job is to try your best.

McCarthy proves that with some hardcore persistence, a heap of self-belief and a never end humble attitude to life you can go from $35 to $80 million.

You must though, belief in yourself over anything else, you must be willing to commit to this craft of yours, regardless of what you get back. You must understand that this thing you want to do is going to be your lives work, so if you get seemingly nowhere in the first 5–10 years, who cares? You’re spending your whole life doing this.

So, the question remains, what will you do with all your time? How hard will you work?

Written by

BSc Biomedical Science, studying MSc Behavioural Science. Essays exploring a happy self.

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