How To Take Control of Your Career (When You Feel Like It's Impossible To Do)

Name: Narlyia Sterling

Current City: Los Angeles, CA

Hometown: Cedar Heights, MD



It’s not easy being an actor. You see, most of it is a waiting game: waiting to be discovered, waiting for the right project, waiting for the world to embrace your work. Unlike other careers, the process can be daunting and lonely because no matter how much you prepare yourself and refine your skills, most of your career fate is in the hands of someone else (usually the trifecta of casting director, producer, and the director). The process of waiting and wishing can derail many but not in the case of Narlyia Sterling. The D.C. native came to LA to see her dreams of acting, writing and producing through and she has made good on that promise to herself. Instead of resting on her laurels with fingers crossed, she’s plunged head first into creating her own. We chatted with the woman with the master plan.

In a few sentences, please tell us about yourself:

I have always have been submerged in the arts: acting, singing, dancing, stepping, writing and drawing. Setting my eyes on Howard University Department of Theatre Arts with a concentration in acting, I graduated as a young single mother and on to passionately self-produce many shorts, web-series and feature films. Refusing to allow a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ dictate my path, I am tenaciously building an independent production company that will honor the stories of surrounding communities.


When did you decide to pursue your current career path?

Watching E.R. growing up I swore I wanted to be an open heart doctor until I realized they were actors. THAT’S when I decided acting would be a whole lot easier. I always created ideas, wrote and acted in plays, but it was at Howard where I learned “Business Show” – you are your brand [and] business comes first. Attending Cannes Film Festival in 2011, seeing how my theater training meshed with the film world, learning the strategy of selling and distributing large scale productions, I could see the bigger picture and was truly happy about living within my career.



How did you go from idea to execution?

It’s truly mind-over-matter. We artists stand in our own way and are super hard on ourselves. It’s almost a catch 22 but stagnant feelings propel me to create! Ideas form as final result but the steps to reality are just about starting somewhere. I write my ideas and build from there. I collaborate with trusted individuals who tell me the harshest, most honest truth. Sometimes I’m hard headed [and I] fall, stumble and regret. I am spiritual so if it doesn’t feel like a good move, I will be patient.  

My first short film, Pro, opened the conversation about abortion within my community. I began with no concept of a shot list or even had a script since it is a silent film. I could only envision it, so I wrote what I saw. Curious, which explores the LGBT community, took two years to develop. Many outlines and rewrites later, I felt comfortable collaborating with a friend, who happened to be a professional screenwriter and she give me a full pilot episode. Luckily great filmmakers are also friends so the production formed quickly. I am still learning the business aspect, accepting the challenge to explore in front of/behind  the camera.

Do you have a mentor?

I have a few mentors. Great women and men from all walks of life. Doreen Blunt and Dustin Felder specifically come to mind. Doreen has supported my goals since I was 14 years old growing up in the church. She was working in the media department on the studio cameras for Sunday service. Knowing I was studying acting and theatre, she encouraged me to get involved in TV and Film as she was heavily involved with WIF (Women in Film), an organization that has helped me tremendously as well. She has poured into my dreams by being Supervising Editor on Curious and teaching me the skills of cutting.

Upon recently moving to LA, I performed at an open mic where my mom handed me a flyer afterward. It was for Dustin Felder Actors Studio which I enrolled in. His mentorship has provided a safe place for emerging artists to grow, gain support and to be pushed to their limits. He has fostered collaborations with many like-minded individuals allowing me to see the reality of my potential.



Has rejection ever affected your creative process? If so, please describe.

Yes of course it has. Rejection makes me take a step back and look at several different points of views. It challenges me to make a decision to accept and regroup or push on in faith. Without it, there is no pressure in taking accountability to strive for better. It’s a part of life that you eventually figure a way around.


Name 3 lessons you’ve learned from building your business:

  • Be free to create with whomever, whenever and wherever.
  • Plan ahead for the great, good, bad and ugly.
  • Contracts are great to have especially when finalizing details.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue the same career as you?

Be passionate and have faith. If you know, then know it; there is no need to stress over things that you know. Build toward what you want, daily. Stay ready, read and explore. Some things really do manifest with time and you can’t be mad at that!


What has been the pit and peak of your week so far?

The highest moment was yesterday when for the first time, I worked as Floor Director on a talk show with a green screen! Immediately afterwards I was on my own set, producing and starring in a script written by an amazing writer and friend.

The lowest moment of this week was checking my bank account. The glory is in the work and it pays off eventually… but apparently not this week [laughs]!


Top resources for creatives and why you chose them:

I am still reading and growing and am terrible at technology these days. However, I think creative should read:

The Four Agreements

The Alchemist

48 Laws of Power

and all of Robert Greene and Shakespeare.


What are you working on that we should know about?

Filming Curious the web series :4 Pilot Web- Episodes released. Fundraising to complete season one of #Adulting Web Series – 5 Web Episodes released; Pre Production for Season Two

YeyeNi Taji – An African Feature Film by Natalie Bydrsong


Finish this sentence:

I want people to remember me as: a Black Girl With Magic 

If I only had 24 more hours to live, I would: spend it with my daughter at Legoland.

If I had to choose a theme song to represent me it would be: It would be between PepperAnn and the Living Single theme songs. 


Photo credits: Lizzy Okoro