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Upping My Game

Well, well, well. There's a MAJOR update on my website if you haven't noticed. I'll give you a hint:

My new headshots are here! And they look AMAZING! I'm probably going to brag about these for quite a bit, but since these came from NYC, I could stand to do a little puffing up with pride, right? Yup. You read that right. My headshots got done in NYC. I know what you're thinking. "Why did you go up to NYC to update your headshots instead of staying in the DC metro area?" Well, it's for a big reason, and I knew this question was coming. It's year six of my professional acting career. After five years of learning the basics and building experience while on the job, I thought it was a good time to move from novice to intermediate (or professional even!) in terms of headshots. And it's not just the headshot game that's getting upped. It's the type of acting opportunity I'm going for in my career, specifically, which roles and shows can benefit me the most. And that means no more submitting to every single company and organization out there and hoping that one of them will invite me to a callback or offer me a role. Another part of being in year six is essential to me, and it's one that many artists go through. And that's only going for the paid opportunities. No more community theatre projects. No more low-paying parts. No more student films. There are no more background roles or non-speaking parts with major motion picture or television studios. There are no more jobs out of state where housing and transportation are completed by myself. It's a lot to consider after the first five years of a career, and your resume has plenty of experience and education taught on the job to show for it (hopefully!). As you enter year six of your career, do you know what else to consider? Well, LOTS of things. And there's plenty of need for reflection and figuring things out, as I've discovered lately. It's the need to move forward and when it's vital to slow down or even stop after being on an ambitious streak. It's supporting others' moments to shine while also taking care of your mental and emotional well-being. It's deciding if staying in one area is the best or if it's time to move somewhere else where the opportunities are. It's seeing if the right time to join the union is at the end of this year or waiting until next year for more doors to open up to me regarding auditions and self-tape submissions. It's rediscovering why I wanted this career in the first place - awards and recognition notwithstanding.

It's coming to terms with how acting and the arts saved my life and how I can share my vulnerabilities in a safe environment with others. It's learning to love myself, all the flaws and imperfections included. This week's blog post will be a mish mosh of reflections and observations as I look at how year six is going for me thus far, but just the same; I'm glad you're on this journey with me. Maybe we can all learn something together this week. I've noticed recently when a fellow actor in the community gets an opportunity, that sounds fantastic. Especially if it was a gig or production I auditioned for and honestly thought I had a shot of getting a callback or job offer. The minute someone announces they got the offer and the rehearsals start shortly, and I immediately feel my pulse quicken. I grit my teeth. Evil thoughts come into my head. "Why not me?" "You're not even good enough to get cast in this!" "That person must be better than me." "I hate that person so much!" "It should be me in that role or opportunity, not them!" Do any of these thoughts sound familiar to you? These thoughts and whispers repeatedly played in my mind every time this happened to me. And I feel awful for being jealous of my friends' success and wishing it were me in that same position. I know it's a case of "only being human," but I get the sneaky suspicion it's deeper than this. It may have to do with something that occurred in your past that you're not proud of in the least bit. And it's causing you to beat yourself up and demand nothing but perfection in your craft in every audition, callback, and performance or gig you book. It's a vicious cycle, I tell you. So, what do you do about it whenever you see someone else's successes below your many victories in your career to insignificance and lead to the comparison game? Well, there are several ideas I've thought of we could attempt. The first is an obvious one: Don't see the show if you feel strongly about that person taking (stealing, even) the role you so wanted from yourself. It sounds selfish and petty, but it's better than seeing a show with simmering resentment and jealousy affecting you while watching the performance. In other words, you need to take care of your mental and emotional health, and if it means distancing yourself from the things that may trigger the intense feelings, including seeing someone else in a role you auditioned for and thought you got, then that is the best way to go. Another option is this one (and it could be a toughie): Letting that person know of your feelings. But don't play the blame game! That's the quickest way to turn a member of the arts community against you. Your character DOES matter in this business. If you act like a petulant child towards the other person who was the exact individual the director was looking for in them and not you, that's a fast way not to book any more jobs due to your lack of character. Let that person know you are happy with their success and have a hard time seeing them in the role because of how badly you wanted to play that part in the show. Please don't be disrespectful or put so much blame on them, but be encouraging and a little bit vulnerable. They may understand where you're coming from and may even have similar stories that may help you realize you're not alone in feeling this way. Here's one more option to consider: Go to the source of your feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, and determine why it is so intense when you see others thriving in ways you dream about frequently. Need an example of how to best go about this? I've got just the thing.

I don't need to remind you that I'm a Christian or believer, as some put it, but I've discovered this book is a big help to me. And the title alone can be a big help to you, too. The central premise of this book comes from the book of Daniel in the Bible. At this time, the Babylonians took over Israel due to the constant unfaithfulness and desertion of God's people, no matter how many times He and the prophets warned them not to turn away from God. King Nebuchadnezzar ruled with an iron fist and desired nothing more than the people's loyalty to him. He even had the exiled people change their names, learn the Babylonian customs and language, and even bow to a statue of him when the notes of a song played. No one would dare disobey Nebuchadnezzar, right? Think again. When the song played, and the people bowed, three high-ranking officials refused to join in - Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. And as you can imagine, Nebuchadnezzar was pissed. What does one do to anyone who dares to disobey the king? How does being thrown into a fiery furnace sound? Nebuchadnezzar had the fire so hot and tortuous that even the guards who stoked the fire died on this particular day. He asked Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego why they won't worship him and bow at his statue and threatened to throw all three men in the fiery furnace if they continued to disobey his commands. What the three men said next is one that will make you revisit the title of this book: Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18) "If this be so... if not." EVEN IF. The resolve and commitment to serve God even if things don't go the way they want and hope for is quite a game changer, even for this actress who's writing these words. Mr. Lee puts it best this way: The best kind of faith in God (or the universe) expresses itself in: *A resolve to trust God in ways that we never thought possible. *Endurance amid difficulties that we didn't know we had strength for. *Peace and hope that are so otherworldly they can bless and transform others. It's something all of us, even if some people don't follow organized religion, can get behind. It's like an acceptance (NOT a resignation) that all will be well, even if the things we want to come to us or get sent our way according to plan. And it comes in handy for yours truly who is struggling with the "even if" concept. But I also know what you're thinking: "How does this piece of Biblical scripture relate to upping your game?" I'm glad you asked. One particular section of the book I read this week got to me especially hard, and that's the section appropriately titled Counter Ifs. You know very well what they are. "Only if." "If only." "What if." They all come from a piece of our lives that we tend to hide: our past. In this section, I discovered that the times I often compare myself to others when they're seemingly doing well and are in a better place than I am all come from the tumultuous past I had. One that my life filled with longing for acceptance, a need for love, feelings of worthlessness and not being good enough, a sense of fear, the paranoia of not being in a better place at a certain age, and more. All of that culminated in a thirst to prove myself worthy of God's blessings and the good things that come with my career, which means prominent roles and paid opportunities. And if I didn't get that, I blamed God and wondered what I was doing wrong. It even got close to the point of turning away from Him. But as I read this heavy section on the train this week, I had to look deep within myself to see that I was using the words "only if," "what if," and "if only" quite frequently. Mr. Lee broke down these three question starters this way: "Only if": God, if I could make a difference, becomes God; only if my work makes a difference will my life matter. "If only": If only I had a little more time, or If only I had more obedient children to deal with the self-condemnation of not being perfect in the eyes of others. "What if": What if I fail at this project? What if they don't like me? What if people discover who I am? Don't you see? These counter-ifs come from a place of anxiety, regret, and fear. We're allowing us to have control to ensure that none of the thoughts we're thinking come to fruition or that everyone goes according to plan when what we're doing is feeding off what happened to us in the past, fueling our present. Our past is ruling over us, making us fear that we're becoming who people told us they thought we were when we were younger. Our past affects our present, and if the pattern continues, it may affect our future. In layman's terms: Do you want to up your game in your respective career field? You must face your past head-on and start to remove the "if only," the "what if," and "only if." It means evaluating and reflecting on your life to see where all of the regret and anxiety began and see where God (or the universe) stayed with you and got you through the most challenging times. It doesn't mean putting on a smile everywhere you go and pretending things are fine. It means being vulnerable with others you trust and yourself and especially to God (or the universe) on the root cause of your anxiety, regret, and fears. You do the most complex thing any of us can do. You start to let go. You start to feel a weight lifted off your shoulders when you realize you're on no one's timetable but your own, and you don't need to compare yourself to others or even pretend to be someone you're not to show others you're okay. You accept that you may not get everything you want or ask for, but you have a steadfast reliance on a divine figure that will lead you to where you need to be. Will this be an easy process? Aw, hell no! It will be a DAILY process, but an important one. Rest assured, you will start seeing a difference once you conquer the counter-ifs with prayer, meditation, reflection, and quiet faith. I know I already have. (This week's reflection took me to places I never thought possible, but as with my previous blog posts, these are MY observations and thoughts. You are welcome to disagree with me on anything I say, but I will not tolerate any hate speech or offensive language directed at myself or anyone else. We need to be kinder to one another and take the time to understand each other. If you need to prove your point without listening or even respecting one another, I will block you.)

I don't know which stage you are at in your career or even if you want to move forward in your respective field. But I do know this: If you want to up your game and get to where you want to be, you have to do some internal work on yourself and discover what needs to change or transform to see what your life could become. And the only way to do that is through ACCEPTANCE and LETTING GO. It's a daily struggle I've had to undertake a lot lately. But it's one I wouldn't change for the world when I share what I learned in the past week. "Even if" lifestyles aren't easy because we want things going our way and are blessed when we receive the wishes we ask. But if your heart is open and willing to accept that you are worthy of more than the "what ifs," "only ifs," and "if only's" that ruled your life from a young age, the goodness and rewards are a true hundredfold. Even if the blessings aren't what you expected them to be. You are worthy of so many good things coming your way. Yes, it's hard to give up control and let things go as they're supposed to go. But I promise you it will be worth it. Mainly when you accept that things may not come to fruition the way you want them to, and even realize that you are not your past and don't have to hide who you are anymore. Even if things don't go according to plan, I will still keep going. Even if the opportunities I want won't come, I will still flourish in my career. Even if people don't like me for bringing out their inner demons, I will continue to be a light to others. Even if I'm standing alone, I will stand firm in my faith. Even if the plans, wishes, and dreams don't come to fruition the way I want them to, I will still worship God. Even if the worst possible outcome comes, you will be okay. I have faith good things will come your way, and even if they aren't exactly what you hoped for, I believe your life is blessed. And I recommend reading this book. It may open your eyes to the blessings you never thought would come your way. And who knows? This book may be just the thing to up your game. I know it already did for me.

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