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The Reset: Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones talks with Christi Paul about move from politics to acting

The former Cuyahoga County Commissioner reflects on his own "reset" from politics to acting and why it's so important to spot opportunities along your journey.

CLEVELAND — Are you doing what you want to be doing in your life right now? Do you feel like you need a reset or are in the middle of one that, perhaps, you didn’t choose for yourself?

That’s what 3News anchor Christi Paul's new series "The Reset" is all about, and the first conversation we are sharing is with Peter Lawson Jones. You may have seen the Shaker Heights native starring beside Tom Hanks in the movie "A Man Called Otto," but on his journey to big screen success, Peter has learned how to reinvent his life several times over - from actor to student to politician and back to actor. He told Christi that one quote in particular has pushed him through all of those transitions.

"I think it's very powerful and unfortunately expresses succinctly much of the human condition that 'most men live lives of quiet desperation.' They're unhappy, unfulfilled, their life doesn't offer psychic mental, emotional rewards," Lawson Jones reflected. "They feel rather empty oftentimes because they're not pursuing their natural gifts, they're not pursuing their passions. They're not excited about their nine to five."

Lawson Jones says identifying and moving toward who you want to be, can of course, be a challenge because we all have practical considerations on our plate - we have to put food on the table, and pay the bills. We have family to take care of. And because of those practicalities, so often, what we want for ourselves gets buried. Knowing how that feels, Lawson Jones says it is so important to spot an opportunity, especially an unexpected one. In his case, an early passion for acting was put on hold as he built a successful career in politics. Lawson Jones didn't act for three decades, but he had been writing, and in the early 2000's, as Cuyahoga County Commissioner, he joined the board of Karamu House, the nation's oldest, producing African American theatre.

"I had written a play in college," he recalled. "It was the first of the three plays that I've written, and they had a staged reading series every spring. And so I asked the then-executive director at Karamu, whether or not she would consider putting my play in that stage reading series. And she said, sure. And the play drew a good response. So they ended up giving it a full production right here at the Karamu main stage."

That single opportunity became the impetus for his next reset - when he was asked to do a stage reading, and then an audition.

"I was still the county commissioner. I did my first play in almost 30 years....and I had to prepare a soliloquy. And I practiced that, rehearsed that, and that was my monologue," he said. "And then there were opportunities that presented themselves. And so I followed the advice that I give young people who come to me, want to know how to succeed in virtually everything…that is to network hard and then work even harder. So I began to network and I took it very seriously."

Stage and screen success soon took flight. In recent years, Lawson Jones has appeared in high-profile productions like "Chicago Fire," and "Judas and the Black Messiah," but he says doing what he loves isn’t without challenges.

"It's interesting. I find that what I'm doing now is harder than anything I ever have done," he reflected. "Your belief in yourself and in your own talents and in a higher power is absolutely essential and that's why the quality of resilience is important in whatever you do. Because you're going to get told no. The only people who don’t get told no are those who don't aspire to do much of anything…And that's the other thing I think that helps you is you realize that we all fail at something. And here's one other thing. So many people have quit just before the gravy train arrived. And I never wanted to be one of those people."

You can watch Christi Paul's extended conversation with Peter Lawson Jones in the player below and on WKYC+.

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