When In Doubt…
Jackie arrived at 2:00 pm for her session, flopped on the couch and looked visibly exhausted. She swooped her long brown hair off her shoulders and into a bun at the top of her head as she slouched down and began telling me about her frantic day. She had 4 auditions and had been driving from Silverlake to Santa Monica since 10:00 am this morning. Jackie has been financially stressed since arriving to Los Angeles from Chicago to pursue an acting career a year and a half ago. Working during the evenings as a hostess in a Beverly Hills restaurant has freed up her mornings and afternoons for auditions, but leaves her little time for anything else. She is barely making ends meet, but is trying to stay focused on her dream of becoming a successful actress. Today, she is not only physically exhausted, but experiencing mental exhaustion from not getting a callback or booking an acting job since October. Her disappointment starts to chip away at her confidence, and it makes her feel envious of those around her that are working.
Jackie also noticed that she has more anxiety than usual, especially during auditions. She is aware that her negative self-talk is piling on more unwanted stress and pressure. Whereas before she used to enjoy the audition process and joyfully exchange chit chat with the casting agents, now she is scanning their faces for any critical judgments. It’s gotten so uncomfortable for Jackie since the feeling of excitement she used to have when her agents called with an audition has now turned into a feeling of dread. Doubt and confusion are setting in and she is seriously questioning whether or not she wants to continue on the path she was once so certain of only a year and a half ago.
The winding road of acting is often paved with jolts of daily disappointments. The highs of applause and the lows of rejection can leave you feeling powerless and overwhelmed. But, rather than focusing on trying to fight the curves in the road or finding a new road all together, let’s focus on preparing yourself to handle the curves when they appear so you can arrive at your destination in one piece.
Self-doubt does not have to be an enemy; it can be the guiding light which helps you transform into a warrior who makes decisions from strength and takes responsibility for your life’s direction. I remember reading an article by John Horn in the L.A. Times entitled “Directing Is The Easy Part Think It’s Fun To Be A Director? These Six Will Enlighten You.” He interviewed filmmakers David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, Tom Hooper, Ben Affleck, Ethan Coen and Lisa Cholodenko. This diverse group of directors shared one emotion that plagued them before, during and after their films were complete, doubt. They all expressed the grueling process of feeling like failures – Affleck: “I feel like all filming for me, directing, is about failure. Every day I go home, ‘oh, my God.’” Coen: “Yeah, that’s terrible isn’t it?” Aronofsky: “It’s the worst.” Coen: “And you kick yourself all the way home – that stuff you could and should have done.” Hooper: “I think it’s an extraordinary thing when you watch your first assembly (of the roughly edited movie), the film always has become something slightly different from what you thought…” Aronofsky: “The worst day of my life every time.” Affleck: “Way worst.” And these are successful filmmakers! Before you try to move away from what you feel, let’s take a second look at the value of getting to know it a little deeper and appreciating where you are right now. Below are some different views of dealing with your fear and self-doubt when they arise:
- Difficult emotions can be your greatest teachers. Rather than trying to get rid of the distressing feelings, view them as an important message waiting to reveal themselves to you. Your strength is in your struggle. Sitting face to face with these unwanted feelings, getting to know them well will give you power over them. Investigating uncomfortable feelings helps you to transform them into clarity of self-understanding and stability. Catch yourself before you fall into your usual pattern of trying to get rid of your unwanted feelings by either distracting, denying or self-medicating them. See them as an important part of who you are and value them as a way to get back to your true self. Ask yourself, “How can I use this unwanted feeling as a vehicle for transformation so that I can get unstuck?”
- What are the stories you are telling yourself right before self-doubt sets in? See the stories you are telling yourself and question their validity. When you don’t get a callback or book a job, what is your self-talk (ie: ‘I’m a failure, She/he was better than me, Dad/Mom/Aunt Tillie was right, I’ll never amount to anything; my hair, nose, body, voice are just not perfect enough’)? These stories are keeping you locked in a prison of fear. Initially, it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing to take a clear look at ourselves, most people would prefer staying in denial. But, instead of looking at them as faults, see them as temporary and workable habits of the mind. If we don’t stop and open these heavy bags that we have been lugging around for most of our lives, we won’t be able to look at them closely and get rid of what we don’t need anymore. Set yourself free from Aunt Tillie’s need to make you feel miserable because she’s had a disappointing life. Lighten your journey by letting go of the unnecessary burden of thoughts from the past that are no longer your truth. Learn to stay in the here and now, in this present moment. (You may visit my website for more tips on how to do this).
- Discover the treasure of knowing that you are not alone. Shame needs isolation to continue to exist. The directors interviewed in the LA Times article not only revealed their fears to the journalist interviewing them, but also to their fellow directors and 1,019,388 other people reading the Sunday L.A. Times. I would gladly wager a hot fudge sundae that the majority of people who read the article did not think, “Oh that Ben Affleck, what a loser, he’s afraid of failure when he makes a movie, can you imagine?” No, I would think that most people could identify and connect with Ben Affleck’s fears and see him in a more human light. Ben is in good company, and so are you. Rather than telling yourself the same old story, on your next audition, take comfort in knowing that the person sitting across from you is most likely feeling the very same thing you are, doubt and fear. Your vulnerability can lead you to a place of self-acceptance and connection to others.
Jackie’s journey through self-doubt enabled her to accept and value all of her uncomfortable emotions. She learned about the stories she had been telling herself throughout the years that caused her to reactivate her fears. Cultivating a feeling of connection and self-acceptance by knowing that many others felt the same as her, she was able to let go of her shame. It’s easy to harden into fixed ways of being when we tell ourselves the same old stories in our minds. If we can bring awareness to our raw, vulnerable emotions, be curious about them, rather than repressing them, or drowning them out with distraction, we can make room for a healthier perspective to emerge. That’s real growth.
For more helpful information to guide you through your journey, visit my websiteor follow me on Twitter. I am happy to answer any questions you may have pertaining to my articles. The identity of any patients written about within my articles have been altered to protect their confidentiality.
Good luck on your wonderful journey.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.