When I graduated NYU I suddenly found myself in a place where many actors find themselves: entirely and utterly lost. Here I was in New York, diploma in hand, alleging that I knew something about acting, with about zero sense of direction. I had learned many important things in college, but surprisingly, nothing about how to launch an acting career (a huge oversight in the curriculum, if you ask me).
My resume, consisting of experimental performance projects and student films, paled in comparison to friends who had signed with agents, booked under 5’s before graduating and were flying from coast to coast for commercial auditions. I definitely did not feel adequate to begin competing in “the real world.”
But this is an odd word, adequate. It casts suspicion over our belief that we deserve to make the art that we love. It makes us question whether or not we deserve to take up space or have a voice among the many other talented people competing for the spotlight. When we begin at square one we often doubt our abilities and we doubt ourselves.
It took a lot of wandering around the country, existential crises, money, self-help books, glimmering moments of hope and terrific crashes to my ego to discover that square one is not, in fact, a bad place to be.
It is the beginning of everything. It’s the fresh, unblemished page waiting to be written on, brimming with potential. Many of us fear and reject square one. But year after year, I’ve realized that I come back to square one a lot. It became a familiar place where I was allowed some serious reassessment and recalibration. When you find yourself here (and you will… a lot) keep these things in mind to help your time at square one go smoothly so you can learn what you need from it and move on:
Lesson 1: You deserve your own compassion.
Alright, let’s get this one out of the way right now. I don’t care how amazing you are, you will be tempted to beat yourself up a lot. This is where we find ourselves looking into the mirror with questions about our own adequacy and crippling self-doubts.
Do you have the desire to create? Do you have the desire to act, sing, direct, perform, or make things? If yes, then you are good enough to do it. That’s it. Question over. No permission slip needed.
It is my belief that if you are filled with a desire to do something it is because your very being has been constructed to do that thing. You may never be featured in a magazine, you may never stand in front of a crowd holding an award and delivering an acceptance speech. You may never be the best at that thing, but I would recommend dropping that torch right now if you carry it because it becomes far too heavy a burden. But if you have the desire to commune with creativity in any of its forms, your adequacy is not up for questioning.
With every new day, give yourself permission to act and to love it. Be compassionate with yourself. Remind yourself that by being here, filled with desire, you are entitled to participate in your dreams.
Lesson 2: Comparison will only slow you down.
There are two types of artist in this world. Being that you are at square one, you have the luxury of consciously choosing which one you want to be.
First, there’s the Malnourished Artist. Fraught with self-sabotaging habits, insecurity, talent and a bad boy appeal, the malnourished artist believes that his work haunts him and may be slowly killing him off. He exists in a space where there’s not enough room for everyone’s voice. He sees fellow creators as competition, not community. His whole sense of self-worth is wrapped up in how his work is received, rather than the process of making the work itself. This artist may make some beautiful art and may be long-remembered and celebrated. He will, however, never know satisfaction with his own work or journey. His passion will never feed him. He will only feel more and more desperate for external validation. If you really feel this is the way you’d like to do it, please know that it is perfectly valid and don’t let me stand in your way.
There is an alternative to this and it is one I recommend.
I call this the Marathon Artist. This type of artist knows that creativity is not a sprint to the finish line, it is a marathon. Everyone crosses the finish line as long as they keep going and the only thing you need to be concerned with is your own endurance. He understands that the accomplishments and successes of his peers help lift up his community and by extension, himself. He finds joy in the journey of the art, in the blood-sweat-and-tears labor of showing up every day to do the work. He knows that public recognition and gleaming accolades, while sexy and lovely, are fleeting and not nearly as fulfilling as the act of creation itself.
The marathon artist knows that every day is a new shot. The malnourished artist believes he has one shot to “make it.” I’m not even sure what that means.
My advice: Get up in the morning, wash your face and whatever your art is, make it. That’s the only concrete sense of “making it” that I know of. There are 365 shots in a year to do that. Don’t waste any of them, but don’t fall into the negative thought that you only have one opportunity and it may already have passed you by.
Lesson 3: Fear may join you, but don’t let it lead you.
I’m someone who is intimately familiar with fear. Fear and I go way back and I have been the most guilty person I know of letting fear lead me. So realize that I humbly write this with some time-worn experience under my belt.
You will be afraid of a lot of things at square one. You’ll be afraid of getting it wrong, of failure, of rejection, of embarrassing yourself, of putting yourself out there and getting crushed. You’ll be afraid of so many things you may want to pack up and hide away so that you never need face them. But please, trust me when I tell you, that the thing you should be most afraid of is letting yourself hide away and having your creativity eat away at you while you’re trying to protect yourself from rejection.
It is okay to be afraid. It is okay to feel exhausted from the exposure it takes to put yourself out there over and over again. Listen to yourself and do what is right for you, just try to say yes to opportunities more often than you say no. Go to those networking events, make that scary cold call to a casting director, accept the invitation to go out with your friend and all of her cast-mates. Developing this muscle of risk will take time. Just say yes more often than you say no and don’t psych yourself up for rejection you haven’t experienced yet.
Fear will always be present whenever you are doing something that matters. Accept that fear will be there, but realize early that fear can simply be a silent traveling partner. Do not let it hold the compass or be the navigator.
There will be times where you fall on your face and you fail. You may experience this quite a lot through your career and you will definitely experience it at square one. This is part of the contract we sign when we decide to be creators. But the crucial question is, is it worth it to you to get up and try, every single day, even if some failure is part of the deal? If the answer is yes, then journey on. You’ll be on to square two in no time.