When Melissa arrived at the audition (ten minutes early despite having tried to use the wrong door to get inside), she waiting patiently in line behind the other actors. When she made her way up to the front, the kind producer behind the table asked her to fill out an audition form and asked her what song she would be singing tonite.
"Excuse me?" Melissa said.
"What song will you be singing for us tonite? A cappella, of course." He paused, surely noticing Melissa's deer in the headlights expression. "We were going to tell people in advance, but the director thought it would be better to ask people when they arrived tonite."
The sense of adventure went right out the window. Melissa was suddenly filled with panic. No, rage. No, fear. No, ALL THE FEELINGS. She looked down at her newly printed headshot. She felt like ripping it in half and walking out. She hadn't sang for an audition in fifteen years. And even then, she wasn't a strong singer; her voice shook, her knees knocked together, and she always left feeling like a loser. It wasn't kind of her to think of herself that way, but there was no denying that was how the experience had made her feel in the past. How could she willingly repeat that experience, one that would surely make her feel like her anxious, shaky teenage self all over again?
She stood still for just a moment, feeling her feet pressing into the floor, and realized that over the years since her last singing audition, she had learned to become more kind to herself. Melissa had learned to take care of herself in the decade plus since she has last auditioned for Into the Woods at SUNY Geneseo, and as a result, she became her own Fairy Godmother and granted herself permission to leave the audition right away. No one was forcing her to do this, and there was no need to do something that would make her feel like a failure. After all, asking actors to sing a song with no advance notice was not very professional anyway and she wasn't obligated to do it. This was her choice.
Melissa felt her feet pressing into the floor again and took a deep breath in, then exhaled. Melissa had made her decision. She would sleep soundly tonite and all the nights after this one, knowing that she did what she had to do to take care of herself and to be at peace with herself, not just as an actor but as a human being. It wasn’t about what other people wanted her to do, it was about what she wanted to do.
When the producer called her name, Melissa marched into the audition room, shook the director's hand and sang "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's for all four people on the other side of the casting table. She didn't hit every note perfectly, but she stayed in one key (mostly) and gave it all the heart she had. The most amazing thing was that her knees didn't knock together and her voice didn't shake. When she walked out, she felt as if she had just skydived: she was still high on the adrenaline from free falling through the air and at the same time, she felt more grounded than ever.
Alright, I am interrupting this in-progress story for a brief newsflash. Spoiler alert: The Melissa in the story is the very same Melissa typing to you right now (what a twist, I know!), and this audition experience actually happened to me this spring. A director really did spring a singing request on me at an audition and I, a lifelong scared singer and anxious artist, walked in like I owned the place, sang my heart out, and lived to tell the tale. How the heck did this happen? How did I get here?
It hasn’t been an easy journey or a straightforward one, but the explanation is actually quite simple: over the years, I have practiced the art of not giving a f*$k. Or rather, of giving less f*$ks. And most of the time, I didn't even know it.
You see, in the years since I last sang for an audition, I've gained a stronger sense of self-worth. The kinder view of who I am has been hard won and is not over by any means; through conversations with mentors, meeting friends who shared my love of theatre and creativity, self-help books, meditation, therapy, and a boatload of soul searching, I think I have finally run out of the enormous amount of energy that it requires to hate or shame myself on a regular basis about thing that are supposed to bring me joy. I am starting to accept my perpetual imperfection and to value my enthusiasm and creative courage, and have grown a community of kindred spirits who love and support me for me, not for some talent I do or do not possess. I have taken risks, been down and out, enjoyed a number of successes, and eventually found ways to support myself through the roller coaster ride that is a life. Even in the darkest times, the sun kept rising, and I rose with it, and life moved forward. Progress wasn't obvious but was happening all the same, similar to how we don't often notice day to day differences in the mirror, but can see changes when we look at an old photograph of ourselves. I make tiny inroads into personal peace again and again and again without seeing any difference, until one day, the day of the aforementioned audition, I was able to see just how far I have come in regards to giving less f*cks. And boy, does it feel GOOD.
In his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson explains that we only have so much energy, we only have so many f*cks to give, and when we choose to freak out about every interaction we have, every risk we take, every new goal we strive for, we end up giving away all our energy and all our f*cks. This is exhausting and is certainly not a sustainable way to live, create, or love.
Manson goes on to explain that it’s not about not caring about anything at all, but rather being mindful about what you do choose to give your energy and worry and time to. I love this middle path between not caring at all (is it even healthy to not care at all what any other single person on the planet thinks about you? Doesn't this mean you have a serious emotional issue going on?) and caring so much that you literally lose sleep over something (a recipe for mental and physical health anguish). What if we thought of our ability to care as currency? Would we be willing to hand a lifetime of emotional and spiritual savings over to a stranger who witnessed our clumsy dance audition? What would we be willing to spend our caring on, and how much would we be willing to give?
If I’m honest, I have had a few moments since the singing audition where I have thought “Oh my goodness, four people I don’t know heard me sing a song that I didn’t get the chance to prepare and could be thinking all sorts of bad things about me.” It’s natural to feel that way when we put ourselves out there and take a creative risk and one of the signs of making peace with yourself is realizing that there will be times that the peace comes and goes.
I can also honestly say that I haven’t lost sleep over my audition, called myself a loser like I used to, or felt discouraged to seek out other auditions. I feel brave and a bit more sure of myself, a bit more like myself, and that feels like gold. As Manson says, “Not giving a f*$k does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.” Who couldn’t use more opportunities to be comfortable being you, in all your courageous, creative glory?
Call me corny, but I'm committed to being my own best cheerleader instead of my own worst critic. We often don't realize just how far we've come from the shore where we started until we allow ourselves the moment where we stop paddling like mad and look back to see just how far we have been able to come in this little boat of ours. It’s not about big leaps, but small and steady steps. Experiences like my audition are so important to have because without them, it’s hard to gauge the progress that we’ve made.
And as for what other people think, I don’t really care too much about what those casting folks thought of me; I don’t know them and more importantly, they don’t know me. They don’t know how far I’ve come because they don’t know where I started. It’s not their fault at all, it’s just impossible for us to see things in the same light.
But I do care what certain people think; people in my life who have been dear friends who have loved me and have showered me with encouragement and enthusiasm throughout the years. I told this story to a few of them and they laughed along with me as I described in detail the unfolding of the audition and rejoiced with me at the end. Sharing felt good and nothing at all like failing. It felt like the biggest victory possible.
So my Friends, what are your stories of courage in the face of the critics? How have you grown in compassion for yourself and all that you are and all that you can do? Have you had an “a-ha!” moment when you realized how far your have rowed your little boat out to sea? I would love to hear all about it!