Nobody gets away with never being disappointed, especially actors. You have to deal with disappointing others and, even more harrowing, disappointing yourself. Fighting this fact rather than getting comfortable with it will only bring more torment to an already difficult situation. Hearing a lot of no’s before you get to a yes is the likely path of an actor. In fact, if you talk to anyone who is at the top of their game, most of them will tell you it wasn’t an easy ride getting there. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, in fact, you are in very good company.
Everyone knows what it feels like to be frustrated and angry, but not everyone knows how to handle those powerful feelings. Contrary to belief, not all “bad” feelings are bad for you. Most people are afraid of their anger because it is connected to the fear of losing control or being disliked. Yet it is anger that can be your greatest protector, enabling you to speak out when you are not being treated well. It can help people back off when they have crossed over the boundaries you have set. Releasing anger helps you regain control. The inability to manage powerful emotions hurts your relationship to yourself and to others. It also interferes with your effectiveness at work, as an actor.
One arrow is enough!
No one is immune to the unpredictability of life. One week you’re riding high from a lucky break, and the following week you can’t seem to do anything right. Stop beating yourself up; not everything is under your control. Don’t get caught in the overthinking trap, trying to make sense out of the senseless—instead, use your energy to move through the pitfalls faster and wiser. Here are a few tips to shift out of a powerless, negative mode and into a positive, productive one.
Become an expert at supporting yourself on the inside.
Don’t wait for others to come to your rescue. Yes, it’s important and necessary to have supportive family and friends during tough times, but you’ve also got to develop the skills to rescue yourself. That means disarming your biggest critic: YOU! The first arrow going in is the undesirable thing that happened to you, such as not booking that job you were counting on in order to pay the rent, or being turned down by an agent or manager.
Are you aware of how invested you are in getting people to like you? It’s astonishing, the lengths that some will go in order to be liked and accepted by others. In fact, some people carefully monitor their behavior to avoid negative judgment altogether. This is especially true for those unfortunate enough to have grown up in a household where family members continually pointed out what they were doing wrong. An unhealthy environment can lead to deep feelings of inadequacy. It can also make people lean towards becoming perfectionists and people pleasers.
If this sounds like you, maybe it’s time to stop putting all your energy in trying to please others and redirect it towards pleasing yourself. The truth is that it’s impossible to be liked and accepted by everyone. Not everyone is going to fall in love with you, no matter how hard you try; just accept that fact. Humans are by nature judgmental; that’s just the way the mind works. You don’t have to trap yourself in a self-made prison of people pleasing. Instead, learn ways to free yourself. Here are four ways to let go of fear.
No, it’s not that you’re unlucky or that you deserve what’s happening to you right now—hitting hard times is just a normal part of existing. Rather than wasting energy whining, “Why me?” get hold of yourself, find your feet, stand up, and move through it. Sometimes you just can’t make sense out of crazy. You do all the right things, invest in becoming the best you can be, show up, take your career seriously, pay your dues, do your homework, take responsibility—and things still don’t go your way. It’s just the way of the world. I hear you, it’s hard and it’s unfair. But when you hit difficulty and it feels like an arrow pierced your heart, do you really need to put another arrow in by ruminating and obsessing about it? No, you don’t. Try this fresh approach:
1) Don’t suppress feelings, especially the bad ones.
Fighting feelings gives them more power. Think of trying to push a beach ball underwater, you push and push only to have it pop up more powerful. Feeling your feelings won’t kill you. It’s usually what people do in order not to feel their feelings that is most harmful. Appreciate every experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly—by focusing on the treasure it will reveal in time. Instead of running from unpleasant situations by denying them, put some space around them—it will help to make them feel less claustrophobic. Befriend, don’t defend difficulties. By inviting unpleasant feelings in for a cup of tea, they will feel less threatening. In fact, confronting feelings makes them hang around a lot less longer. Build mental muscle by cultivating the attitude that you are going to be with whatever shows up today. Remember that all feelings come and go, just like the weather. As bad as you may feel, remember nothing in life is fixated.
Think about what you’re thinking in 2017.
2016 was rilled with an unusual amount of loss and change. We lost many deeply loved cultural greats and our political landscape changed dramatically. People may have mixed feelings about the New Year. On one hand, you may be happy that 2016 is over, but on the other, apprehensive about 2017 and what it will bring. Often, fear is handled by getting in the “doing” mode. For example, focusing on making lists or setting goals in order to feel more in control. But before you sharpen your pencil, ponder this thought: Goals are about the future, and your life happens in the here and now. A wise person once said, “When you’ve got one foot in the future and one in the past, you’re pissin’ on the present.”
It’s wonderful to take the time to set the course of your life, but while focusing on your future, be sure not to cheat yourself out of all the wonderful moments happening right now. The quality of your life will be reliant upon how well you can balance your focus between the two—tomorrow and today. When your mind wanders more towards the future than the present, you can unconsciously set yourself up for a lot of anxiety and disappointment over things that haven’t even happened yet. Remember, thoughts can be helpful or harmful, so start to become aware of what you’re putting in your head. If your mind is continuously like a checklist that must get finished, you’re leaning too much in the fast-forward mode and not living in the present moment. When operating on that level, you’re only half-living, unable to take in what is happening right before you. It’s like coming upon a tree of singing birds with earplugs. You’re going to miss out. Listening to songbirds will have a positive effect on your heart and soul, while crossing tasks off a list…meh.
When the political reality feeds polarizing views in a country, art can step in and help mend the divide. Through the art of storytelling, an actor’s performance can help create bridges of understanding between opposing forces and give way to common ground. Actors don’t require passports to perform their magic. Their work can radiate across the globe reaching millions of people with just one click. Actors, you are part of a profession that tackles differences in a creative way. Performances have the potential to touch people’s hearts and open their minds. It is only through having an open mind that different ideas can be exchanged and mulled over peacefully. This idea is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago when Aristotle said, ”It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Not only do actors help create open minds in their viewers, but they use their open minds as a tool to break out of their own comfort zones in order to get at the core of a character they are portraying. Maybe the character is unlike anyone they have ever known, or perhaps is extremely unlikeable. The actor’s challenge is to find some shred of humanity that they can relate to and build from there. They must see a piece of themselves in their character in order to deliver an authentic and moving performance. I’m sure you have all experienced goose bumps while watching a great performance in a play or on a screen. I know I have. You can’t fake that kind of visceral reaction. It comes out of feeling fully connected and committed to the work.
Are you aware of what you want? Having clarity of your desires moves you closer towards them. Confusion around priorities will leave you floundering in circles of frustration. Do you know what your ideal life looks like? Can you visualize it? If you’re having difficulty answering these questions, you might find yourself having difficulty building a life that leads you towards fulfilling your goals.
Setting Long-Term Intentions
The first step towards living a fulfilled life is to make sure that what you want is aligned with what is in your heart. Are you living the life you want to live and not someone else’s version of it? Is your dream really yours? Are you unconsciously wanting fame and fortune because you’re living one of your parent’s unfulfilled dreams? People are ready to give advice on what you should do and how to do it. Sometimes it comes from a very loving place, but nonetheless, it’s coming from someone else, not you. Only you can know and decide what’s best for you. No one knows you as well as you know yourself. Remember that.
Most people feel good knowing there are certain things in life that they can count on. The summer months bring warm weather, children go back to school in September, Christmas is in December, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. We have an innate, deep-seated desire for certainty and control, it brings peace of mind. On the other hand, uncertainty doesn’t feel so good. Do I have enough talent? Will I work again? Will I fall in love? Will I be successful? People do funny things to manage their anxiety around uncertainty. One of them is to slip into thinking that you will be guaranteed what you want if you are more in control and always do the right things. But it is a lofty illusion to think that by enforcing these behaviors, you will achieve your goals. In fact, taking this idea too far can actually undermine your achievements and your ability to be happy.
Being controlling can have a negative impact on your life and your acting career. A great Robert De Niro quote sheds some light on this concept:
“A lot of young actors have the idea that, “I’ve got to do this right. There’s a right way to do this.” But there’s no right or wrong. There’s only good and bad. And ‘bad’ usually happens when you’re trying too hard to do it right. There’s a very broad spectrum of things that can inhibit you. The most important thing for actors – and not just actors, but everybody – is to feel loose enough to create what you want to create, and be free to try anything. To have choices.”
Well said, Robert. But how can one attain this sense of freedom to try anything? How do you let go of fear? How do you let go of not being invested in the outcome?
Are your emotions being held hostage by outside circumstances? Do you find that your good mood is reliant upon things going your way? Are you happy when you get what you want and pouty when you don’t? Although these reactions seem logical, they can eventually take a toll on your ability to feel balanced and happy. When outside circumstances control your mood, you’re hitching your happiness to events that are most likely out of your control. As actors, it is especially important for you to learn how to handle the ups and downs of your profession. There is so little in your control. Whether you work or not is dependent on another person saying yes. You may want that particular agent or manager to represent you, but it is up to them to say yes. Even when you work your hardest, you may not get what you want and deserve. Things don’t always go your way. Life feels unfair. You’re not wrong for feeling all those things, but after you kick and scream, then what? Are you going to dwell in the muck for the rest of the day, week, year? What a waste.