I have always been a people pleaser. I remember the intense stress of taking timed multiplication tests in first grade. I hated the pressure of the 300-yard dash in gym class. When I got in trouble at school, I always cried.
I remember thinking, “I’m going to be really successful because I’m such a good student.” I got straight As on every single report card until physics during my senior year of high school. But I didn’t realize that my hard work was motivated by the fear of not being liked and the fear of disappointing others. I also didn’t realize that being a good student is a submissive way of operating, and it doesn’t cultivate personal desires and ideas.
I chose to pursue a degree in musical theater in college, but even then, it wasn’t about fun or enjoyment. I took my schooling very seriously, and I’ve always been very hard on myself. If I wasn’t performing to the best of my ability and receiving praise and validation, I was miserable.
This fear-based motivation landed me on Broadway a year and a half after coming to New York City. I came from a small, conservative town in Pennsylvania. I didn’t have artist parents or examples around me. I followed that path all on my own and accomplished an incredible feat.
When I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to travel outside of NYC with a touring show. It took me all over the United States and Canada. This was the first time I was out of school, without the constant requirement of completing assignments. I had tons of money and tons of open space. I didn’t know what to do with myself without someone over my shoulder, telling me what I need to be focusing and improving on.
My mind turned to comparing my journey to that of other performers, spending my money at the mall, and mindlessly browsing the Internet.
I thought, “I just need to get back to New York City, and I’ll book another show.” My misery on the road was to be solved by returning to New York.
When I came back to the city with no job, thousands in savings, and my ego’s hunger for auditions, I again did not know how to handle free time. What do you do when no one is telling you what to do? That’s what they don’t teach you in school. What do you do when you’re programmed to be a people pleaser, and you want someone to hire you from your performance in an audition?
Sounds like desperation. I fell into a victim mentality. Doubting my talent and career choice to be an actor. But, it had all seemed so easy at first. What do I do now?
I started working out, I started meditating, I went back to an acting studio, I completed a yoga teacher training, I wrote my own show, I started to realize I’m not “supposed” to just be one thing, like an accountant or a dentist. I spent all my money.
I began to realize how my people pleasing mentality had driven me for so long. How my anxiety of disappointing people had made me turn against myself, my intuition, and my entire life–and to only seek personal value in my accomplishments. Why did I want to be an actor? To be liked? To be validated?
During all of this, I had a sense that, “It would be a good thing to have yoga in my life. It would be a good thing to have a yoga teacher training along with my acting.” I got that sense during college when I began to read self-help books, learn more about habitual thought patterns, and explore why I felt the way I did. I also found yoga to be an escape from the competitive entertainment world.
The moment I was prepared to teach yoga (literally during my CPR certification class), I was asked to teach my first yoga class the following day. I was terrified but said yes. Then, another friend asked me to sub for her class, and then another, and another, and soon I was teaching tons of free yoga and not really focusing on acting.
I felt conflicted. Shouldn’t I care more about acting? Shouldn’t I be taking this acting class with such-and-such person? Shouldn’t I be going to X amount of auditions a week? This yoga stuff is great, but what about acting? Shouldn’t I be spending more time on that? I “shoulded” myself to death. Until I decided to stop.
What if acting and yoga (and writing and producing and creating and teaching) don’t have to be mutually exclusive? What if they can all exist together?
Now I teach yoga and am compensated. My performance skills translate to my yoga classes. I am also still an actor, but I wrote my own show instead of waiting for someone to cast me.
I have to mourn the death of the part of me that is a people pleaser. It’s sad because a part of me is dying. The part that I have identified with for almost 26 years has to die if I am to grow. We have to shed our old skin to become who we are meant to be.
I know I want to be “used” fully, I want to wake up millions of people, I want to speak my truth and help others. I want to own my own business and create something new. I don’t know if acting fits into that vision the way I thought it would. Maybe performing in “big” and “important” shows was just a way for me to learn that the shiny, flashy accomplishments aren’t the answer.
Related: On Not Letting Fear Get In the Way
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