Live the Life You Have
Updated: Dec 12, 2018
“You learn to let go and live the life that you actually have, as opposed to the life you thought you were going to have.” - Greta Gerwig
One of my first acting classes in college. We’re in the dark, cold basement, sitting on the studio floor, all dressed in black. A collection of kids, bursting with false ego, giddy excitement and a deep confusion that we are trying to fill with emoting.
Our acting instructor to the class: “Look to the people beside you. Chances are only two of you will actually be a working actor in five years.”
What does everyone think? “I’m going to be one of the two. I’m not giving up.”
So, we went to school for the next three years, aching for parts in school productions and student films, wanting desperately to be chosen, for anything, ever. When we weren’t chosen, it was the end of the world. When we were, everything was right.
We took classes on the business of acting, got headshots, were taught how to apply to agencies, how to act on set, what to do to get hired and the main advice? Be yourself.
And yet, we were all being forced into this very constrictive box. The box that is "what a successful actor looks like". And how, when being forced into a tiny box, could anyone feel free to be themselves?
Certainly, there were people who felt that this box was like home. It didn’t seem small at all, in fact, they were able to get in it and expand it, like magic. Just like we were taught to do.
I was not one of these actors.
I was one of the actors who thought, “I’m going to be one of the two”, which is why when I realized years and years later that my life and career would not be like the one I was “supposed” to have, it felt like a huge failure.
I had failed as an actor. I could not get the right agent, only one who couldn’t see my true potential. I wasn’t able to get the right auditions, and any auditions I did get were completely unexciting. I felt bad about myself, mainly because I couldn’t get rid of the idea that if I “gave up” this dream of being an actor I would just be like all the other failures that gave up too. All the people who had strayed off the path, becoming accountants and real estate agents.
Through all this pain and suffering, I was unknowingly being set up for a life that I was actually meant to live. One where I am in the lead, I am making the decisions and I feel completely filled up by it. It took a long while, but when I finally started to see this, and let go of the idea that I had failed, doors started to open.
But unfortunately, so many actors are living in the former.
Feeling stuck, feeling like giving up but not wanting to admit defeat; confused, frustrated and feeling like all the magic that was once a driving force has been depleted.
It’s because they’re living in someone else’s dream, and that someone else could be a former version of themselves, or it could be something that was implanted in them, like with my acting school example.
There’s no shame in this. Being an artist of any kind, but especially an actor, is incredibly outward focused. Actors are looking to directors, producers and casting directors to give them work, and then once they have it, they want to be told they’re doing a good job. They want to draw a reaction from an audience. They want to get enough followers so that they even get noticed by casting. For something that comes from such a tender, vulnerable, internal place, doesn’t that seem a bit backwards?
What if all your satisfaction came from within? It is possible, and it starts with living the life you actually have. Meet yourself where you’re at. Practice gratitude for the life you have, the things that life has offered you whether deemed “good” or “bad” and realize that all of those things were setting you up for this moment, right now. To be in this exact place and time, feeling the way you feel. There is immense power in this.
Look at what you’re holding onto that may be connections to the life you thought you were going to have. What daily practices do you continue, either habitually or not, that are leading you towards something that you don’t even know if you want. The habitual ones are harder to detect, but beginning to bring focus here is a start.
Next, what do you want? Not what is expected of you from family, friends, colleagues, or past selves. What do you want. Right now. This can be an extensive process of shedding layers and layers of beliefs, but I assure you, beneath it all, you are there and you know what you want.
Once this becomes clear, that’s when you can make choices and decisions from an internal place and those steps will be deeply satisfying, whether they pan out the way you think they will or not. Because they will be steps to realizing a life that is entirely yours.
I wish I could have whispered in the ear of that 19 year old version of myself, who was so excited to be in a world of theatre and acting and expressing herself. I would have leaned in and said, “You do you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, even your teachers. You are here for you, not them. And there is no way that they can know what you’re capable of. So, you do you, and they’ll do them, and it will all unfold perfectly.”