Nov 3rd 2015 By Madison Davidson

Cultivating Resilience: What Military Life Taught Me About The Entertainment Industry

By: Madison Davidson

As Actors, I think it’s safe to say that we feel EVERYTHING.

We are empathic, sensitive, deeply in tune with our emotions and comfortable with vulnerability. These are fantastic qualities and they make for some of the best acting. But it also means that when we come up against the industry side of the business, many actors give it up. And when you think about it, it makes sense. Letting the most sensitive human beings line up in a room for a person with a clipboard to evaluate their talent, tell them to lose ten pounds and basically treat them like cattle sounds like a sick cosmic joke. If you’ve chosen to be an actor, you did not take the simple path and that can mean some unpredictability.

Being a military wife has taught me that when you love something and you choose a life of unpredictability for it, it will take some resilience and some sacrifice. But sacrifice, when done well, doesn’t need to be masochistic.

Most people balk when they find out that I’ve been married for over four years and have yet to live with my husband. While challenging, it has taught me how to get through difficult situations with my head on my shoulders and my heart intact.

Despite popular belief, strength doesn’t mean just muscling through tough situations and closing your heart off to feeling anything. We have a bit of a binary in our society which either says “you are unfeeling and therefore are strong and capable of enduring tough circumstances” or “you are a crybaby who feels all of your feelings and therefore cannot cope with anything in life.” This is extremely ridiculous and leads to dysfunction no matter which side you fall on.

Resilience, especially for those of us already deeply in tune with our emotions, doesn’t mean you don’t experience the emotions of sadness and frustration or that you never shed a tear again (much to my husband’s dismay). Resilience, in my experience, means that you are aware of your experience, you take care of yourself and you keep going without letting tough circumstances steal your joy. It is a matter of emotional awareness with a heaping dose of perspective.

If you’re looking to cultivate some emotionally healthy resilience, here are a few lessons that may help you get started.

Lesson 1: Acknowledging vs. Wallowing

Sometimes sh*t happens. Whether it’s a terrible audition or a rude comment during a casting workshop, or your husband’s orders have been extended for three more months, sometimes bad things happen. When they do happen, you get a surge of emotion and all kinds of things come up: anger, hurt, frustration, self-doubt, sadness, disappointment, etc. It can be extremely sucky and when it happens it’s important to face those feelings head on. Treat it like a terrific storm. Punch that pillow, cry it out, release some long loud sounds, journal, vent to your friend and feel every one of those damn feelings. But like all storms, it will blow itself out eventually. When you’ve felt all that you feel, release it and let it go.

I see way too many people take their bad news and disappointments and shove them way down or they simply add them to the laundry list of everything else that has gone wrong in their lives. This leads to wallowing and meditating on the negative.

You’ve probably spoken to this kind of person before or maybe you’ve done it yourself. One minute they’re venting about someone being rude to them and the next minute they’re listing off every other thing that has ever gone wrong in their lives. When we do this, we chart the geography of our lives by the negative events and eventually, if we do it enough, even the best lives start to feel like a tragedy worthy of Chekhov. When bad things happen, acknowledge them, validate every ounce of your feelings, and let them go. Don’t wallow or hold on to them like talismans of martyrdom.

Lesson 2: Be Your Own Babysitter

Sometimes it may take longer than 15 minutes for your feelings storm to blow out. Sometimes it takes days or weeks to really get through one of the mega storm feelings and that’s perfectly okay. Maybe you’re not facing any one terrible thing, but it feels like life is pelting you with a ton of tiny things all at once and you get overwhelmed. Your insurance is giving you problems, you’re trying to join SAG but there are issues with your paperwork, you can’t get your agent to call you back and you feel like all of the new headshots you just paid for make you look like a troll. Been there.

When this happens it can feel like your inner two-year-old is having a meltdown and it may take a few days before you’re completely functioning like yourself again. In these moments it’s important to be your own babysitter. While one half of you is crying, downing a bottle of wine and raiding your cupboards for chocolate, there’s another part of your brain that can turn on and function as your caretaker. This part of you can let the toddler have her wine, but will also set her a bedtime to make sure she gets a lot of sleep. This part of you can let yourself have chocolate but will order you a nice big salad on seamless because it’s important for your body to have fresh, nutrition-filled food while you’re going through this. This part of you will text your friend to ask her for a bike-ride date tomorrow because she knows you need some fresh air, exercise and a little venting sesh. Let the wailing internal toddler have a meltdown, and be her caretaker while she goes through it. This minimizes the damage the toddler can do that you will need to clean up after the meltdown is over.

Lesson 3: “No (Wo)Man is an Island”

This was something I struggled a lot with when I first got married and also happened to be launching my acting career at the same time. I had no idea how to let my inner circle of supporters help me. When we are going through things it can be hard to call on members of your tribe to offer you support or advice. Despite having some really loving friends and supporters, I went a few years without divulging to anyone how scared or unsure I was sometimes, both with the struggles of military wifedom and being an actor.

Once I learned to open up a little and let myself lean on people as much as I asked them to lean on me, the burden became a whole lot less to bear. When you open up to your inner circle, a few crucial things happen. When you vocalize your experience to someone you trust, suddenly the volume of drama turns way down. You realize that this difficulty is temporal and it is also something that others experience as well. Once I started opening up, I was amazed by how many people responded to me by saying “Oh thank god you said that, I have been feeling that way too!”

Sharing your truth allows you to form alliances with others who may be struggling with the same things so that you can help each other as you climb your mountains. Now, I’m not telling you to blast your darkest feelings all over social media or to divulge them to the lady in line with you at the grocery store. But I would bet that you can name at least one person who has been there for you before, whom you could trust with a little of your vulnerability. The next time you find yourself walling people off while you’re in difficulty, jerk yourself in the other direction and call them up. You can only receive as much support as you allow others to give you.

Lesson 4: Divorce Your Identity from the Thing You Love.

If you take away one thing from this entire post, let it be this:

You probably love a lot of things. You may love acting, your partner, your family, your friends, but who you are is separate from all of those things. This is important to understand because there are times when the things and the people you love will fail you.

We subconsciously seem to weave our identities into the things that make us feel most fulfilled and the most alive. Most commonly this is our passion, our romantic relationship or both. But there are days where I will perform terribly. I will have an off day in rehearsal, I’ll have a fight with my husband and I’ll write a blog post for The Scene Labs that completely pans. If I anchor my self-worth and my identity to being an actor, a wife and an entrepreneur, then I’m really setting myself up for some crises when all those things go to hell for a day. It also means that I am incapable of truly hearing constructive criticism about any of those things without taking it way too personally.

If you think of who you are and you take away what makes you money, your romance, and the things you’re talented at, then what is left? It’s you. It’s plain you who is awesome and is allowed to have off days and trip up and not do so well all the time without your worth being called into question. Get to know this version of yourself and love them hard especially when things aren’t going so well. Invest some time in getting to know yourself in this context and don’t try to do this in any prescribed fashion. For me, it usually means going to the movies alone, taking myself to dinner, cooking up a new recipe or trying out something I’ve never done before. Everyone has advice on how to self-date these days, but the only person who can really tell you what they want to do on a self-date is yourself.

When your relationship with yourself isn’t anchored in what you’re good at or who you love, you can still look at yourself in the mirror when shi*t is falling apart and say, “Hey you, you’re awesome. And we’ve got this.”

Like I said in the beginning, resilience isn’t about cutting yourself off from feeling in order to get through difficult circumstances. It’s about self-knowledge and having some systems in place so you know how to take care of yourself when the going gets tough. I guarantee you that if you put some of these practices in place, you’ll be surprised at how grounded you feel even when things aren’t all coming up roses and the longevity of your acting career will thank you for it. Come back to these lessons when you feel a storm brewing and you'll be out on the other side before you know it. You’re in this for the long-haul baby, and you’ve got this.

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