At 39 years old, the Luke Cage actress has had her fair share of ups and downs, opening up about her heartbreaks with the world and using them as learning lessons. About seven years ago, Dawson's grandmother died, a moment, she tells ET over the phone, put her in “a dark place.” Then in 2017, her 26-year-old cousin, Vaneza Vasquez, died from natural causes related to heart disease.
"Things have been rough, especially over the last couple of years,” Dawson, who recently partnered with Quaker Oats for a video series about living a healthier life, explains. “My cousin passed away in 2017 and she was only 26 years old. There was definitely a period of time, especially in many aspects of life, where I recognized that I’ve lost my gratitude and that I maybe was focusing more on things that I was critical of than the things that I was grateful for."
It's the unfortunate circumstances of dealing with loss and pain that have completely altered her perspective and outlook on life. For one thing, Dawson counts her blessings. She also aspires to choose projects that make her happy and is committed to spending more time with her friends and family, including her daughter, Lola.
“When my cousin died at 26, it really put a lot in perspective,” she divulges. “My grandma died just before her 76th birthday, and I think that for the past seven years that put a real dark cloud over my head because that’s just so young. But when my cousin died at 26, it was like, ‘If I make it to 76 that would be a real gift.’ It’s so interesting how quickly your perspective can change."
"I wasn’t expecting to get so dark after my grandmother passed, but I’m so grateful that out of such tragedy with Vaneza I could just reconnect with my family and my friends, and myself, in a way that even in my toughest, most challenging days just gets me out there feeling motivated, grateful and excited. That no matter what, I have a chance at something," she expresses.
"There’s really something to be said when you lose someone at such a young age. No matter what, I have already been on the planet over a dozen years than she ever will. And do I really want to sum that up with time that I have been down?" Dawson reflects. "I just want to make sure that I am taking advantage of pushing myself and not just sliding into the next day, slopping through it and be one of those people who just look forward to [the time off during] the holidays. My daughter is in high school. These couple of years I have with her, even if she’s going to be moody or rolling her eyes like a teenager, these are precious moments and I want to be able to maximize them as much as possible.”
For Dawson, it’s now about putting her energy not only on her daughter, but also on herself. Last year, she helmed her first short film, an experience she calls “life-changing.” “I directed readings before, but I never directed anything on camera and it was life-changing, and I realized the level of excitement that I got from it. I hadn’t really felt that in a really long time,” she shares, adding that it “made me sad to recognize that maybe my daughter never experienced Mommy being that excited to go to work.”
With over 90 acting credits to her name, Dawson is at a place where she says, “It’s not about going to work, paying the bills, and then coming right back home.”
“It’s about being lit up, learning, challenging yourself and pushing and utilizing your skills and talents, and just being excited about what you get to do," she says.
Her skills and talents also included working alongside Eva Longoria, Zoe Saldana, America Ferrera and Gina Rodriguez in 2018 to encourage Latinos to vote in the midterm elections.
“We do not see enough women together. We don’t see enough women from different backgrounds together, and even in the Latino community, we don’t see people coming across from the different islands and countries,” Dawson, who co-founded Voto Latino in 2004, relays. “We wanted to be able to represent that and we came out as All Americans representing Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Cuba, and we didn’t even plan it that way. It was just us texting each other seeing who could roll through. We just felt like we wanted to do a final show. It shows you that when you’re really passionate and interested, you really want to make an impact and a difference, you’ll find the community and the people to make that happen.”
From her newfound outlook on life, as well as turning 40 this year, Dawson explains that she just “wants to be of service” to herself, her family, friends and community.
“We have so much negativity and ugliness out there and we get so critical and so angry, depressed, and when you’re in that space, you build from that space,” she says. “I just want to build from the love that I have. I’m in an amazing place with my daughter, and with my friends and my family. It’s rough out there. I just want to enjoy myself as much as I can along the way. I definitely spent a lot of the time over the years being way too critical or harsh. I’m going to be 40 this year. When you look back, you’re like, ‘Wow, that was a long time [of me being hard on myself].’ Maybe it wasn’t all in one long run, but when you add it all together that’s crazy. That’s a significant chunk of my life. Ultimately things could be better, but they could definitely be worse."
With many projects on the horizon, as well as continuing her work with Quaker -- she vows to eat more oatmeal and live her healthiest life -- Dawson hopes that people start to have a more positive outlook on life. Speaking from experience, as well as practicing what she preaches, the Jane the Virgin actress wants people to not limit themselves.
“Be present as much as possible. What lights you up? What gets you excited? Is something bothering you? Do something about it, right now,” she says. “Who knows how much time we have on this planet, and trying to avoid discomfort doesn’t work. You have to sometimes just rip the Band-Aid off and say, ‘Hey, that bothered me,’ or, ‘Hey, can we talk about this?’ and just keep it moving...If I can pass this idea to my kid, of not being perfect, working through whatever flaws, mistakes and problems, and being stronger and more knowledgeable [that’s great].”
“Scars are a great thing. It means you survived something,” she adds. “It means you learned something, you got through something, and I definitely got some battle wounds on me over the years. I’m that much more grateful that it’s less about trying to hide the scars and more about being grateful that you earned it. And that is where I’m at.”
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