Dealing With The Uncertainty of An Actor’s Life
In the days before the Academy Awards, Hollywood began to vibrate with excitement. People scurried like busy bees getting ready for what has always been referred to in this city as, ‘The Big Night.’ It’s not just a palpable time for those nominated or invited to the events and parties, but also for actors who are aspiring or retiring from the business. They plant themselves on a comfy couch in front of the TV and wait for the glamour to unfold. So many rewards come attached to the award, leaving us wondering: Who will be this year’s lucky honorees?
The delightful ingredient that makes the Academy Awards so thrilling, besides seeing the million dollar mini treasures dangling from Angelina’s earlobes on the red carpet—is the uncertainty of who will receive the Award and who won’t. We are thrill seekers by nature, and the mystery of the Academy Awards doesn’t disappoint, keeping us on the edge of our seats from the time the show starts till the end credits roll.
A good drama always contains some suspense. It’s not surprising that the longest running play in theatrical history is a mystery, Agatha Christie’s, ‘The Mouse Trap,’ which ran for 60 years. So, how can it be that the very element we are tickled by when watching theater or the Academy Awards is unbearable to tolerate when it happens to us on a personal level?
Uncertainty is an enormous part of an actor’s world. There are the auditions, callbacks, putting your heart and soul into a role not knowing whether the reviews will be harsh or kind, and trying to be in the right place at the right time so you can be seen by the right people. Uncertainty is an inherent part of being an actor, so rather than waiting for it to go away, you can learn to take control and navigate through the discomfort of it.
Let’s start with the fact that you are not alone. Take comfort in knowing that everyone struggles with this. Uncertainty can create self-doubt, fear and anxiety. Left unattended, it can freeze actors in a state that renders them incapable of moving forward with their careers.
Let’s look at how John learned to handle his anxiety around uncertainty. When he first started therapy, he was consumed with feelings of self-doubt, contributing to feelings of being ‘lost at sea.‘ His career initially started out with a lot of auditions, commercials and healthy activity during pilot season. John didn’t have any time to doubt himself because he was too busy working. But all of that seemed to come to a slow, screeching halt. His agents told him that it was the economy, but that didn’t soothe his fear of never working again. The uncertainty kept him in a constant state of anxiety, which began chipping away at his self-esteem. It was hard for him to remember and hold on to all of his past achievements as an actor. John used to feel excited when the phone would ring with an audition, now it caused him dread in the pit of his stomach. Auditions were scarce, when he did get one, his anxiety went through the roof leaving him unable to focus and perform well. He put time and effort into acting classes, but it wasn’t his acting skills that needed the work now, it was his inner life. He needed to learn how to get a handle on his anxiety before it got the better of him.
Through our work together, John realized that in his past, uncertainty meant terror. Because of his chaotic family history, dealing with an alcoholic parent, uncertainty was an unwelcome part of his life. He handled it back then by distracting and keeping busy to the point of exhaustion. This defense mechanism actually helped him survive a tumultuous childhood. But now as an adult, avoidance didn’t hold the wisdom he needed in order to successfully deal with the uncertainty he was facing now. In our work together, John rolled up his sleeves and started to understand all of his fears that were planted in his past. He learned how to distinguish the frightened little boy he used to be from the independent adult he is today. The anxiety he was feeling about the uncertainty of an audition was not the same as the life-or-death anxiety of that little boy with the out-of-control father. He was able to calm himself down by doing an internal and external check-up. When frightening emotions would wash over him, he stayed grounded by realizing that they weren’t life-threatening and remembering his skills and accomplishments as an adult. John’s work on himself enabled him to deal with his daily unknowns in a more realistic and productive way.
You can begin working on your uncertainty by following these tips:
- Know and understand your emotional blocks caused by old belief systems formed from past wounds.
- Replace negative self-talk with positive words that will move you forward instead of backwards. Remember playing those negative tapes in your head will only set you up for fear and unhappiness. Stop them now!
- Focus on the process and not the outcome. When auditioning, stop fixating on whether or not you will get the part, instead set your intention on simply having an illuminating experience. Think journey not destination.
- Make generosity a way of life. Giving to others will bring you more balance. What you are experiencing will feel a lot less overwhelming when you open your heart and give to others.
- Dwell in the present without obsessing about the past or the future. Practice being in the present moment by learning mindful meditation.
- Avoid comparisons. The next time you are among other actors waiting to audition, look around and see them as colleagues not competitors. You are all in the same family.
- Stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Instead, strive for excellence in everything you do and be content in knowing that is enough.
- Gratefulness will protect you from unhappiness. “People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals.” –Robert Emmons.
- And above all when you feel doubt and uncertainty, stay grounded by remembering who you are today including all of your accomplishments and successes.
Change is possible, but it takes time and effort just like everything else that is worthwhile in life. Don’t expect outside material things to take care of your internal insecurities, it’s an inside job. No one can give you anything that will be worth more than what you give yourself. To deal with the uncertainty in your profession and in your life, don’t let fear shrink you. Learn to face the fear of uncertainty by keeping an open mind and an open heart. Strive to be a courageous soul who welcomes whatever shows up at the door today. My warmest wishes for an incredible journey!
For added support join me at my upcoming “Conscious Actor Workshop Series” in New York, designed to help actors develop the tools needed to successfully navigate through the day-to-day challenges of their profession. Let’s discover the path of learning how to take obstacles and turn them into opportunities of personal growth and wisdom.
The tools you will learn include:
- Handling fear and anxiety so it doesn’t shut you down.
- Turning emotional obstacles into opportunities.
- Reconnecting, rediscovering and embracing who you are.
- Receiving a complimentary Conscious Actor Journal to help inspire and rekindle your passion for those times when you are stuck.
Click here for more info and to sign up.
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.