Lauren Alice Smith
Overcoming Personally Manufactured Shame to Live Authentically
Shame, guys. Shame.
It's a tricky lil bugger that will totally distort your view of not only yourself but the world around you without you even noticing. It creeps up slowly and quietly and latches on, and as it slowly grows inside of you. You become so used to it that all of a sudden it is a deep seeded part of who you are that is influencing your decisions and getting in the way of your intuition. And the worst part is that often this shame latches onto a thought or feeling inside of us that is part of our own personal reality and no one else's.
For about a year and a half before I finally made the decision to leave New York, I was working pretty regularly out of state. I would leave for a couple of months and have a great time on contract, and I would return to the city refreshed and invigorated. Within a week of returning, this would disappear and as the days passed on, it got harder and harder to get out of bed. It was clear any time I was back "home", I wasn't happy there anymore. However, I wouldn't admit it to myself until last spring and kept forcing myself through hell and back. I bet you can guess why.
I launched into my career without a shadow of a doubt in my mind - I was moving to New York. Its the epicenter of all things Musical Theatre and it would be the best place to be to ensure a plethora of opportunities. I had visited the city many times and lived there for the summer before my senior year of college. I knew I loved NYC and I was moving there planning on living there forever. I envisioned being on Broadway, meeting a mate, buying a beautiful but modest apartment on the UWS. I had attached so much of who I was and who I was going to be to living in New York.
But even worse, I had bought into the common industry thought process that New York was the only place you could be successful. New York was the end all be all and if you weren't a theatre actor in New York, than you're nobody. There is no other path. So many people around me echoed it until I, too, believed it.
I was so ashamed when I finally stepped back and realized the life I had built myself was untenable. All I could think was that I was a failure, that the fact I was even considering leaving and starting over was a sign that I couldn't make it in the city, and therefore the business. But most of all, I was terrified of telling my friends in the business. Shame had crawled into my brain and told me that they would all judge me and think less of me for leaving. But in all truth, I had created and heightened my shame for assuming how everyone was going to react. I have never been someone who cares what other people think. However, when it came to breaking out of an arbitrary "industry standard" in my career that also happened to be my life's passion, I was all consumed.
So, I left on contract, told maybe 5 people that I was leaving for good, and never came back.
Over the past year, I have regrown into who I am meant to be and realized that there was nothing to be ashamed about. I have slowly told friends and colleagues about my life change and not a single person was mean, unkind, or told me I just made a huge mistake. Instead, many responded with how proud they were of me. I listened to my heart and my gut and the universe has shown me how incredible life can be when you are in tune with your own personal needs and desires. I have shaken off the self imposed shame to the point where I am able to write this post today, proud of myself and my decisions.
Our profession is one of the most difficult in the world. We have no job security. We audition for a job and when we don't get hired, we don't have the luxury of getting feedback as to why we were not chosen. Hell, we are lucky if we even get a "thanks, but no thanks" email. We are constant nomads, often living paycheck to paycheck, and without health insurance. Many of us are not lucky enough to be able to pay the bills from our artistic endeavors. To anyone without the passion we have, they'd read that list and think we are insane. They'd say "Why would anyone subject themselves to that?" and our answer is always that we couldn't imagine doing anything else.
This field is hard enough without putting added weight and pressure on yourself to try to be something you are not or fit a mold you weren't cut out for. But I am living proof, standing here, telling you that you are still valuable in this business when you forge your own path. You are still an incredible performer that theatres all around the country will want to hire. There is never one way to do things. Do things your way. Follow your gut. Wear what you want to wear to that audition. Live where you're the happiest. Sing your own version of "Tomorrow" from Annie in the room if that's what speaks to you. There are no rules other than 'Do what makes you happiest'. Be authentically you and everything else will follow.
Oh, and kick shame to the curb.