Overcoming Self-Judgment as an Actor
Penelope Granycome reflects on what you can do to overcome the voice of self-judgment...
The biggest block to emotional wellbeing and relaxed presence in any area of life - but particularly an acting career - is the emotional seesaw of self-judgment. It can be so easy to measure our self-worth by whether or not we are ‘chosen’. Just like at team picking time in school, we can often internalise those results, attaching our sense of self-worth to outcomes. This can lead to unhealthy striving or complete inaction and withdrawal. Like many actors, I am no stranger to the turbulence of one minute ecstatically feeling it’s all happening, to those periods of ‘nothing’ (and that awful notion that ‘nothing’ will ever change…). A little reframing can help in a business that’s all about playing out complex emotions, drawing on yourself and your self-esteem. Here are the traps of self-judgment to avoid:
Remember that control is an illusion
While being cast in a desired role is thrilling and can lead to the confidence to pursue and expect other roles, the nature of the business will mean any period of sustained success may well rise and fall (as it does for high profile actors) as life is never a constant. To accept that we cannot predict or control outcomes or indeed others (or read their minds!) is a huge psychological relief. Understanding that casting choices are not about who you are or your worth as a person - and often not even to do with your talent - is to detach yourself from the exhausting loop of feeling you may have ‘failed.’ In the nicest sense, when you get cast, it’s not about you. When you don’t get cast, it’s not about you either.
Avoid the comparison trap
As humans, we hard hardwired to use social contrast to thrive and survive. We make comparisons as an element of the brain’s primal need to assess ‘threats’. In a nutshell, we constantly relate information about others to ourselves to help us see what we’re good at and not so good at. Add modern day social media into this evolutionary referencing and what you have is kerosene poured onto the flame of professional and social comparison 24/7. While it’s an amazing tool for sharing success, ideas and following the projects and people you love, social media and endless comparing can be harmful. In relation to an acting career it also skews our perception of those at the ‘top’ as we often only see the ‘highlight reel’ of others. The success of others is indeed inspirational and a catalyst for your own growth but watch out for the harmful effects of comparison if it leaves you feeling inferior by weighing your own worth next to others. And if your goal is celebrity?
No judgment here! If it’s what you want, go for it. Actors are often treated as celebrities and many embrace it but there are many shy, deeply private actors who just want to do the work and go home. Acting is not about ego or being watched as you (even though you are bringing elements of yourself) so here’s another healthy reason to press ‘off’ the self-judgment switch.
Use what is real
Another self-judgment destroyer is understanding that acting is emotionally and physically messy and your vulnerability is your A-game. Acting is about playing a living, breathing, sometimes messy, flawed human being. Your authentic inner ‘mess’ is a blessing and that lack of contrivance can be what gets you cast. This can take some work and letting go, as involves not projecting an image to stay ‘safe’. Natural confidence emerges from accepting yourself and to let your vulnerability feed your work. This will not only enhance the work but how you relate to others. Acting is revealing, not lying. Fear of being judged can manifest in arrogance, but working through fear and staying in the moment will help dissipate those worries – easier said than done. The best rule is to stick to what feel ‘real’ to you.
We all experience self-judgment
This is a hard one because of the psychology of being ‘chosen’, but other industry professionals are often as nervous about being there as you are. They have also worked hard for the job, faced rejection, climbed mountains. By throwing away any self-judgment you’re helping the other professionals in the audition room relax too - even if you are not suited to the role you will make their day. When the stakes are high, we all want the job badly.
Planning can make the difference
On a practical level: always do your scene work and start immediately if given sides to memorise. Self-judgment and procrastination are often accomplices. Procrastination gives us a way out of feeling rejected by rejecting ourselves first. This is not protective or safe. Make a strong choice! You may have little idea about the script in a bigger picture sense, but use your imagination and raise the stakes - what does my character want and what is against them? Absorb the world of the scene or script as much as you can. This applies to commercials as well as TV, film or theatre – it is all story in some form. And when directed against your ‘plan’, do your best to go with it. The camera will pick up what seeps through your mind as you respond instinctively.
It should go without saying, but look up the director and casting director’s previous work. I was at a wardrobe call for a big commercial recently and the director beamed when I told them how I’d been watching their work on the agency site. If you are stuck in an audition make a choice and remember that for an actor, the simple act of paying attention to what is ‘outside’ your thoughts – what’s actually happening around you, the actual people in the room, what is actually in the scene, destroys the fear and self-judgment.
You can use every experience
The wonderful thing about acting is that life experience informs the work. It seems like there is internal pressure to ‘make it’ but in reality, there is no such thing. Even major award winners have said they can feel like frauds. The most testing life experiences may nourish your work years later and the biggest block can be your mind thinking acting is some superior ethereal thing. It’s easy to forget that it is also huge fun and a joy to do. Though you shouldn’t forget the importance of ‘real life’ and a good community - having a day job and hobbies you enjoy will enhance everything, as will paying attention to your emotional and physical wellbeing. Who is on your team? A healthy diet and exercise go without saying as does connecting with people and nature. Use but don’t hide behind social media, be out there and play!
Use everything you’ve got to nourish your sense of confidence and self-worth, and leave self-judgment behind where it belongs. And finally, break a leg!
Penelope started out her career with the National Youth Theatre and has worked across film, TV and voice over. The past year she has featured in commercials for Capital One, Domino's and voiced for BT Sport. She is passionate about marine conservation and loves scuba diving whenever she can.
Image credit: Laurence LaRoache