Saturday 6 November 2010

The least craziest thing

I read a story the other day about a young neuroscience student turned fashion designer and boutique owner that reminded me very much of my own journey to becoming an actor.

Like Erin, I was always good at academics. It was never a question that I would finish high school and finish with good grades. It was never even a question that I would go to university and get a degree.
And even though I looked at alternative options to going to uni, I never felt quite comfortable with actually going through with any of them. I had a very very long list of possible post-high school pursuits and every single one had a craft and creative component to it. The list included among many other things carpentry and goldsmithing, landscape designing, costume design and construction, animation, screen writing, and directing. I didn't end up doing any of it.
Why? Because I had never done any of it. I had never worked with wood, I had never smithed metal, landscaped a garden, sewn other than by hand, wasn't particularly great at drawing, had not written anything since school drove the writer out of me very early on in high school, and had never directed a play or a film. In other words, while I was good and in some instances very good at academic stuff, I had no idea whether I could succeed at anything creative. It was out of my comfort zone to be creative and I had no idea whether I deserved to even try.

Worst of all, acting didn't even make the list. Because I was convinced more than with anything else that I was bound to fail at it and that I wasn't worthy of even trying.

I could have finished school, gotten a job, made a choice about what creative field I wanted to go into most and taken the time to do the preparation necessary to be able to apply to a related course. I could have taken night classes and learned drawing. I could have sat down every day to write something, anything. I could have just tried to do something other than going to university.

I didn't. I don't know how else to explain it than to say that I didn't know I was allowed to. I felt this immense pressure to chose a degree and start university. And even the half year that I took off between finishing school and finally starting my law degree felt like I was being bad and the whole time I felt so paralysed by fear of doing the wrong thing that I didn't even try to be creative in any way.

None of it had to do with pressure that I received from home. My mum never cracked the whip on me about uni or anything else. But she also never told me that I was free and worthy to do anything that I wanted to do, no matter how crazy in the eyes of most people it would  be. I don't think anyone had ever told her this either. I was consumed by fear of not getting a job after uni, consumed by fear to be struggling financially as my family had done all my life. It had always been very difficult to see my mother trying so hard to make a living for us, so hard to get a job and keep it. My mum is a historian and she is very good at what she does. But the nature of Western capitalism is that there is not much monetary value in historians and therefore jobs are extremely scarce. It was heartbreaking to see her feel like a failure because we were never financially secure. I think all I wanted after high school was to choose the right path, so my mum wouldn't have to worry about my financial future, and so I could fix hers. I felt that I needed to find a degree that would guarantee me a good job that I would keep for the rest of my life. Isn't it strange and sad that that was all I could think of?!

The other side of it was probably that I have this maybe even common way of thinking that I cannot be good at anything that I am not already good at. I have come to discover and accept that this way of thinking is rooted in people's belief that they are, for whatever reason, not worthy.

I wasn't worthy because of what my father thought of me or more correctly how he didn't think of me. He had left my mother because she was pregnant with me. He didn't want another child. He had already abandoned his first-born son, my half brother who I have never met, after his first marriage had failed. My father wasn't interested in me. At all. He did his legal duty of paying child support but only ever because he didn't want to get in trouble. I met him twice and after the second time, as I found out years later, he said to his new partner that he was concerned I would drive a wedge in his new family and it was better I didn't see him again. I was eight years old then. So, if my father who was by the law of nature required to at least show some sort of affection for and interest in me, was so absolutely disinterested, if I was already not worthy to be a daughter to him, how was I worthy to chose the life that I really wanted? My mum did her damnedest to make me feel loved and secure and special. And I know she has always felt guilty that she wasn't able to break this incredible power the other parent has over his child to utterly screw with her heart and mind.

So, instead of figuring out what I really wanted to do and follow that path, I chose to study law and business. I was reasonably good at it, even excelled in my postgraduate work and finished two law degrees without ever wanting to be a lawyer. I was so stuck in the belief that I somehow was required to do all this that it wasn't until after many smaller and larger crises and after I was almost finished with my Masters degree that I realised that something had to give. It wasn't until an actress friend of mine asked me this simple question, 'If you close you eyes and imagine that there is absolutely nothing holding you back from doing what you really want to do with your life, what would it be?'

In that instant I didn't even have to close my eyes to know the answer. I didn't say it out loud. I just wasn't quite there yet. What I said was, 'I want to do something creative.' So, my actress friend of mine dragged me to a crew meeting for the Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre and encouraged me to join the costume department for that season. I went on to co-design 15 or so costumes for one of the plays and best of all got to watch a number of rehearsals for inspiration. The Best Thing Ever! Every time I went to a rehearsal I thought, 'Oh, this looks so much fun! I want to do that!'

So, I did. I auditioned for plays, and performed in a couple of them. I started taking acting, accent and most recently circus classes. I got head shots and an agent. And after all this time I am an actress. Just like that.

My mum said to me the other day that she was proud of me and happy that I was doing what I love to do. And that makes me insanely happy. She also said that she still thinks I am crazy for doing this. Mum, I love you more than the world but you are so so wrong! Being an actor is the least craziest thing I have ever done my entire life.

Is it hard? Yes it is. There are no guarantees that I'm ever going to make it in this business. It isn't so much the rejection that you have to deal with on a regular basis. I have already survived the worst form of rejection that I could have possible faced, and have done so well in spite of it. It is all the responsibilities that come with being a parent; with having gone to university and owing shitloads of money for that, especially to people I love dearly; with being part of a family and paying for a mortgage on a home. Turning actor has put me in exactly the financially unstable situation that I have dreaded my entire life. And still, most days I couldn't be happier!

So, close your eyes and ask yourself, 'If there was absolutely nothing that could hold you back from doing what you really want to do with your life, what would you do?' And then do  that. Because you're worth living the life you WANT to live.

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