A lot of fruit is ripe and beautiful, but never picked. Here, Mela Lee elaborates on this analogy, and the damage caused when we strive to achieve an unrealistic standard. She eloquently reminds us to be present in the moment and check in on the ones we love.

Life is full of intentional surprises that allow us to connect with one another in meaningful ways, and I was reminded of that earlier this week.

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to speak with advocate, actress, and inspiration, Mela Lee. I was prepared to talk to her about her career, many achievements and what’s in store for her next. But instead we shared a conversation that I’ll never forget.

“Let’s talk about that human connection that we have,” she says to me, and a moment of silence fell over us before I could speak. My meeting with Lee took place during a time where I felt disconnected from the rest of the world. Since the year began I’ve been consumed by thoughts of my goals and getting ahead, and truthfully, I haven’t given much thought to the people around me. But as the universe would have it, my conversation with Lee challenged my perspective and reminded me of the importance of appreciating the present moment.

“We’re raised to think about what our goals are, but nobody ever says hey, let’s look back at what we accomplished,” she says. “We don’t think we’re ready for what’s next, but we are. We’re just measuring ourselves against an impossible visual medium,” she continues.

As a woman of color in the entertainment industry, Lee has faced many challenges getting to where she is today. She shares that there were moments where she, too, got lost in trying to achieve her dreams. There were moments where her own wellbeing and health were sacrificed. And the sad part is, neither she nor I are alone in experiencing this.

Pushing ourselves too hard, comparing ourselves to others, and an inability to look back on our progress can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. It’s something we’ve witnessed as a society to have catastrophic effects time and time again.

In December, 2022, Stephen Laurel, aka “tWitch”, passed away due to suicide. It was a heartbreaking reminder to the rest of the world that although things may seem okay on the surface, sometimes they really aren’t. That’s why it’s important to be vulnerable, honest, and check in with the ones you love. You never really know what someone is going through.

“We lost several people in our industry not to COVID or cancer, but to suicide. And I think that’s a blaring condemnation of what we prioritize in our society,” she says. “We’re seeing these super ripe, beautiful, juicy fruits of human beings fall to the ground and crumble. And I’m like, ‘whoa, why haven’t we harvested properly? What can I do to make sure I’m present for others? How can I be more vulnerable? And at the same time, how can I be less?” she says.

It took me a moment to process what Lee said because it forced me to be present. Talking about mental health is never easy, but it’s important if we want to make a change. I wasn’t prepared to have such a deep conversation, but it’s exactly what my soul needed to realign with my higher purpose. My conversation with Lee inspired me to put my attention where it really matters: in the present. We must remind ourselves to slow down, prioritize our needs, and be there for ourselves and others when we need it most. Because at the end of the day, we only have each other.

“That mindset has really helped me to know that even though I know that I want to be an excellent artist, actress and human being, some of my dreams may have to be pushed back, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or that the world isn’t abundant. It still is,” she says.

When asked what an ideal world would look like through her eyes, Lee said that it would be one where people know what she went through so they know that they’re not alone. “What I put out in the world can either create life and hope and inspiration, or it can destroy it. And I aspire to be the person that creates it,” she says. “I want to be the person I needed when I was younger.”

Lee says her goal is to make sure that anyone who is a fan of her work or is in her presence whether in real life or online, knows that although days can be hard, that doesn’t mean their dreams won’t come true. “All of my dreams came true when my life fell apart. You don’t have to wait till it’s all together to enjoy it,” she says

Oftentimes we think that success requires us to work hard every single day to the point of experiencing burnout, or that we need to look or be a certain way in order to be happy. But that’s definitely not the case. True happiness comes from the inside. It comes from connecting with other human beings, being in the present moment, and appreciating how far you’ve come regardless of what challenges you’ve been through or the uncertainty of the future.

Lee’s wisdom is powerful and reminds us that we never know what’s going to happen today, tomorrow, or the next day. She is a celebrated voice actress, vocalist, and advocate, who is inspiring people all over the world to be vulnerable and use that as their strength to create a happier, safer, and more understanding world.

“As human beings, it’s our responsibility to rise together,” she concludes. For more inspiration, be sure to follow Mela Lee on Instagram and stay up to date on the launch of her brand new podcast releasing in March, where she’ll talk about life, success, the human experience, and much more.