How to Deal When Others Doubt Your Acting Career
Posted Aug. 8, 2017, 3 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Backstage Magazine
It’s happened to every actor. You’re eating dinner with a loved one or chatting away at a party when out of the blue, someone asks: “So, how’s acting going? Booked anything lately?”
Suddenly, it feels like you swallowed an anvil. You haven’t booked anything lately. Or maybe you haven’t booked anything ever. Or perhaps you have booked something, but you have the distinct feeling it’s not something this person is going to be impressed with.
You try not to stumble over your words, but it happens anyway. Everything you say about “how acting is going” feels painfully insufficient. No matter how much you wish it weren’t true, your self-doubt is stronger than your optimism.
And then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, they hit with you with the proverbial gut punch: “Well, don’t feel bad, it’s really hard to make it as an actor. Have you ever thought about getting a ‘real job’?”
And then you hear Chopin’s Funeral March in your mind, playing to the death of your dreams.
Whether this doubting Thomas (who just managed to ruin your evening) is your mom, a close friend, or a complete stranger, why do their words seem to have so much power over you? This is one of the most central questions to answer on your path to success as a working actor. Confidence is key and you simply can’t afford to let other people’s doubts (let’s call them OPDs) get into your head.
So, how do you prevent OPD mind invasion?
1. Recognize that OPDs aren’t even about you.
Anytime someone expresses doubt in your ability to make it as a working actor (or do anything else for that matter), what they’re really saying is that they don’t believe they could do it. What’s coming out of their mouth is a direct reflection of their own beliefs about what’s possible, for them, based on their own story. They’re talking about themselves. Every. Single. Time.
2. Recognize that your courage triggers others.
You’ve chosen a challenging (and incredibly rewarding) path. When people who have chosen safe, predictable careers are faced with someone who is following their dream, it often triggers them. They’ll want to poke holes in what you’re doing as a subconscious way of telling themselves that they’re doing the right thing by not following their dream.
3. Shield yourself.
It’s important to see OPDs about your acting career for what they are: attempts to bring you down. Even if the other person doesn’t realize that’s what they’re doing, and even if they think they’re doing you a favor, they’re not. You can shield yourself by limiting your time with that person, or where that isn’t possible or desired, imagine their words are tangible and you block them from hitting you by imagining yourself inside of a safe, protective bubble, or using a shield or magic bracelets like Wonder Woman wears. It may sound cheesy, but it’s something you can “do” in the moment that prevents OPDs from sinking in.
4. Avoid trying To persuade others.
Trying to convince others you’re on the right path (when faced with their doubts) is a drain on your creative energy. Your decision to be an actor just is, you don’t have to justify it to anyone. When someone springs their OPDs with you, shield yourself in your mind, and then externally, you can nod, breathe, and say as few words as possible (like, “It’s going great”); but don’t try to convince them that their doubts are unfounded. Save your precious energy for bringing your vision to life.
5. Craft a message for yourself, from the other person.
When OPDs get stuck in your head, try customizing the following message to fit your situation (swapping out the words for the ones they said) and reading it to yourself out loud, as if it’s from the other person (just don’t share it with the other person):
“I am so sorry that I told you it’s not practical to become an actor and that you should do something else. I should never have said that to you; I was wrong. The most practical thing you could ever do is what you love. And it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be an actor. Honestly, what I said had nothing to do with you, it was about me and my own doubts, but I’m sorry for putting them on you. I’m actually really inspired by what you’re doing. I know you have everything it takes to succeed and I’m going to be cheering you on the whole way.”
You can’t change the fact that you’ll always be exposed to OPDs, but with time and practice, you can arrive at a place where they have little effect on you. One additional way to do that is to surround yourself with other like-minded artists who are all about encouraging one another, like those you’ll find in my private Facebook group, TEA House. I hope you’ll join us.