‘Are you feeling a bit shaken? Maybe fearful and doubtful and completely, utterly, wildly terrified? Good. Keep going.’
– Victoria Erickson
A couple of weeks ago I was having coffee with my friend who is also an actor. Discussing life, I asked him, ‘what would you do if you weren’t an actor?’
He replied, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it.’
Time stood still. The world stopped turning. I forgot to breathe. I’m sorry what? Say that again. You have never thought about it?
What kind of magical utopia must my friend be living in, to have never, EVER, even considered the possibility that he may, at some point need a job other than acting. To have never even contemplated a world in which he could not financially support himself through acting. I was stunned.
Suddenly I began to wonder, am I the only person, specifically actor that regularly doubts acting as a career choice? Am I meant to be brimming with certainty?
I mean, just that very morning, first thing upon opening my eyes, I had found myself mentally listing all the careers I could pursue if I never worked as an actor ever again.
Was I the only person walking around with these thoughts?
I can’t be. Right? RIGHT GUYS?! Well suddenly alarmed by this, I began to consider doubt. Specifically, is it okay to have doubts about your creative pursuits? Why do we so often hide our doubts? Can doubt serve a useful purpose in our lives as actors?
And so began my investigation. Ever the optimist, I wanted to uncover the gifts of doubt. Here is what I found, I hope it inspires you to explore.
We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time. ” – John Patrick Shanley
DOUBT AND VUNERABILITY
Doubt is uncertainty. It is the state of mind or belief that something is unlikely or untrue. So, to express doubt in your acting career is to express doubt in yourself, in your abilities. This is a very scary prospect for any actor, to admit uncertainty. To be an actor and to voice doubt is in some ways to go down a rabbit hole of sorts because it makes those doubts a reality. This is especially true, as many actors when pursuing a career have faced criticism or concern from our families, friends and even society.
Doubt recognises our own limitations and challenges fundamental beliefs but should not be seen as a limitation of self-belief but an important part of it. The process and exploration of doubt allows you to come to an important place, that of vulnerability and nothing is more interesting for any actor. Brene Brown describes vulnerability as the ‘birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.’ In allowing ourselves to go on a journey of doubt, we acknowledge our faults; we acknowledge that we have taken risks. At times we have failed and that we continue on knowing all this with still no guarantees or certainty about the outcome. Self-doubt allows us to examine ourselves in our truest, rawest form but in doing but we can make room for our greatest self-growth and love.
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
When I first moved to LA, I had a meeting with a manager. During the meeting, the manager, quick to dish advice on being an actor in LA told me this,
‘There are three rules to surviving here as an actor. Firstly, never discuss your personal religion or politics, second- kill them with kindness because you never know who anyone is. Lastly, when someone asks you how your acting is going, no matter the reality, always, always say how wonderful it is.’
Leaving the meeting, I thought about the advice I was given and its subtext. To me, in many ways it highlighted an almost unspoken rule of being an actor, that in order to be successful, an actor should conceal self doubt at all times. That we must always present ourselves as confident and self-assured. This is not untrue, three years later; the manager’s advice is not without merit. We can’t always be honest about circumstances and it does serve you in many situations to put your best foot forward. Yet, there is still a valid place for doubt in the lives of actors and more importantly, a place for actors to express this self-doubt. It is important to reflect and analyze on your own limitations and to even doubt your abilities because an avoidance of doubt, what is a necessary path for any creative pursuit can surely only have negative and unhealthy outcomes.
CONFIDENCE IS OVERRATED
We are all told from both society and the entertainment industry that success and confidence go hand in hand. Pretty quickly we realize that in order to survive and continue pursuing a career, we must develop a special kind of resilience. A necessary ego develops to continue with what can be an exhausting treadmill of weird auditions and rejection. We learn to avoid the negative and adopt an unwavering sense of self-belief. This serves as a great life skill, the ability to go unwaveringly in pursuit of your dreams. However, resilience and positivity aside, why can’t actors have doubts? The notion that actors should always be presenting their best self, existing in a state of constant self certainty is not only serving to live a lie but it is risky for your mental health. Doubt is so often seen as a negative. The internet is filled with a barrage of articles on how to overcome self-doubt and be ‘your best self’. We are told that confidence is the key to success. But confidence is overrated. The journey of doubt can in fact be a journey of self-discovery. It allows you to reflect and redefine yourself and your success, to be clear about what you want and how you can get there. Doubt and discontent encourage self- growth, acting as a motivator for change and betterment. It is simply unreasonable to believe that anyone can be certain all the time and that actors should not openly acknowledge doubts. I believe we need to make a place for doubt in our lives and accept it as a necessary and worthy part of any creative pursuit. Especially when a journey of doubt can often lead you to a place of deepened self-belief.
DOUBT AND FAITH
Doubt is shape shifting, it can take on many forms and it can be hard to escape and that’s likely because we shouldn’t. American Playwright Wilson Mizner said, ‘I respect faith but it is doubt that gives you an education.’ The gifts of doubt lie in it abilities to teach and uncover so much about you. Although seen so often in a negative light, there are gifts in self-doubt and when explored they allow for so much personal growth. If you can ensure doubt does not consume you, then it can actually make you better. It can redefine your goals, redefine your love and ultimately allows you to explore your own vulnerabilities. If you are struggling with doubt, as we all so often do, it is okay to speak about your uncertainty to the right audience, to people you trust the most. I hope you are able to explore this uncertainty to its fullest measure and that you are able to return to a place of greater self-love and belief, knowing that you are actually where you are meant to be. At times it can be encouraging to remember you chose this path. Likely, people even tried to dissuade you from this pursuit but you continued on and made countless decisions and sacrifices that led you to where you are today and it is not for nothing. It is important to remember the little victories. There is a place for doubt for it does in fact come with many gifts but there is a greater place for faith. Believe in yourself.