And thanks for reading! This week I want to stray from the beaten path a bit and talk about “Defeat”.
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
Use this in a sentence…
There is an old “Little Johnny” joke that goes like this: Teacher tells little Johnny to use the words defeat, deduct, defense and detail in a sentence. Little Johnny says: “Defeat of deduct went over defense before detail’! That doesn’t have anything to do with this week’s topic, but the topic reminded me of it, and I think it’s funny! Anyway, sorry for the detour, please read on.
So why am I writing about defeat? Well, I’ll tell you! Not long ago I was talking to another actor friend, and they told me their career was in a place that made them “really just feel defeated”. Over the last year I have actually heard this from several people in differing contexts, and it just stuck with me; it has been said to me so many times I just had to address it. I also wonder why people share those types of feelings with me…but that’s another topic. Now, I am a FIRM believer in the fact that all feelings are valid…you feel what you feel. No stopping that. However, I am ALSO a firm believer that feelings, while valid, are fleeting, ephemeral even. Feelings are not reliable for making decisions, and many times do not reflect reality.
What caused that?
In the latest instance, the person I was talking to was comparing themselves and their acting career with someone else they perceived to be doing “better” than they were, getting more auditions, more callbacks and booking more work. I’ve done that too. We probably have ALL done that…I get it. But here is what I know for certain: What you can SEE about someone’s situation is probably not at all what their real situation actually is. The first thing to understand is that everyone is better off in some way than someone else. Everyone. In some way. Our lives are complex, not composed of single aspects like looks, or money, or personality or how many gigs get booked or a million other things. I may be better looking than you (I am, I’m certain of it!), but you may be way better at sports, auto mechanics (that’s likely if you are capable of more than pumping your own gas), or SOMEthing…while I stink at it.
Listen, a big mistake we make is comparing ourselves to others, especially when that comparison makes us feel somehow inferior. It’s a false narrative your brain concocts. Have you noticed we almost always compare our perceived negative trait or situation with someone else’s perceived positive trait or situation? Comparing causes feelings of jealousy, frustration, and hopelessness if they continue and if left unaddressed chronic anxiety and depression can be the result. Although it is not un-normal to compare ourselves with others, it can be pretty unhealthy if not addressed and may make you feel defeated.
Some comparison can be good
Much depends on what you do with it. Sometimes comparisons like those mentioned above can create motivation to improve yourself. Comparing yourself to a better actor and want to be as good as they are? Get a coach, take a class and train more/harder till you improve. Some comparisons can make you better!
The BEST comparison…
The best thing to compare yourself today to is yourself yesterday. Do everything you can to be a better you today than you were yesterday and do that every day! Or even be a better afternoon you than morning you. Be in competition ONLY with your former self. As Dr. Seuss says: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you”. Followed by: (True original source unknown) Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken (Usually attributed to Oscar Wilde). Any comparison with someone else, except for the purpose of giving yourself something to strive for, is simply a waste of time.
All well and good, but how do you stop comparing yourself to others? Well, there are some steps you can take that, if practiced regularly, will likely help.
Be aware of triggers and avoid them
At least initially until you can begin to overcome the comparisons simply avoid the things that make you feel bad about yourself. Clearly, this cannot ALWAYS be done (I mean skipping auditions because you think everyone else is a better actor is like a self-fulfilling prophecy), but try as much as possible until these places/people and situations stop triggering feelings of hopelessness or defeat.
Don’t compare other people’s outside to your inside
Remember that what you can see about someone else is just on the surface. You have NO IDEA what may be going on under the surface or what kind of sh!t show their life might actually be. Remember the old commercial (I’m dating myself) where they show a guy with a 4 BR house, swimming pool, new car, country club membership? From the outside his life looks AWESOME…how does he do it? “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs! Somebody help me!”. Watch it here.
Avoid too much social media
Social media exacerbates the issue by allowing us to portray all the GREAT things about our lives without having to reveal the warts. Keep in mind that what you see on social media is just a fraction of the truth. If social media makes you feel bad compared to others, avoid it as much as you can.
Remember: Money doesn’t buy happiness
And as someone who is pretty well off financially, I can confirm this. True, it is more comfortable to cry in a Mercedes than in a Yugo – but it is still crying. You can confirm this yourself even if you don’t have money by looking at all the celebrities whose life imploded AFTER they got wealthy. Don’t believe me? Here are 12 from a quick Google Search.
Count your blessings
Remember that it is very likely that someone is looking at you and wishing they had what you have. No matter where you are in your career, or life, you SURELY have a lot to be thankful for. You probably have something the person you are comparing yourself to and feeling “less than” about…wants. Focus on what you do have, your strengths. Try making a list of all the things you like about yourself. Pretty sure you can think of at least five, if not ten, things.
Insecurities are universal
It’s pretty normal to compare yourself to others and for them to compare themselves with you. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but it is true that there is something about everyone that others see and wish they had. Insecurities are universal, that means everyone has them. It’s normal. Just don’t let that guide your life and decisions (unless it is motivating – guiding you to better yourself).
Keep a record of your achievements
It’s inevitable. Feelings of defeat will happen from time to time. Try to keep a record of your accomplishments (EVERYONE has accomplishments) so that when you do start to feel this way you can pull it out and see that you are NOT defeated. You CAN accomplish things.
Know that, as long as you continue to draw breath, you are not defeated unless you stop trying and surrender. You can fail for sure, everyone fails sometimes, and most of the time failure is actually good and helps you grow/improve. Failure is temporary – defeat is permanent. I’m not suggesting you can do or be whatever you want. Let’s face it, most of you will never be the President of Botswana, the quarterback for the SF 49’s or a rival for Tom Cruise (or choose your favorite A list movie star) no matter how badly you want to be. What it means is this: you can continue to improve yourself no matter how old you are until you stop breathing.
And what does all this have to with acting?
Everything and nothing at all. I wrote much of this from a general “life” perspective, but pretty much all of it applies directly to acting (or any other profession). Comparing yourself to other actors and wishing you were them is a waste of time, leads to jealousy and bitterness and believe it or not that will all come through in your performance. As with every aspect of life, you do you. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken!