The phrase "scarcity culture" explains so much and comes from University of Houston research professor Brene Brown, who has spent decades studying shame and vulnerability. Brown explains the way we operate in a world in which we believe resources and opportunities are scarce: "We wake up in the morning and we say, 'I didn't get enough sleep.' And we hit the pillow saying, 'I didn't get enough done. For me, the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It's enough. I'm enough." This is the voice I hear when I think about saying no to an artistic opportunity: There are never enough artistic offers. If I turn down this offer, when will the next offer come? Will there be another offer? For me, it's paralyzing.
I used to think it was irresponsible to say no, but now I'm not so sure. I used to beat myself up for turning a role down, chiding myself that I betrayed my dream, but I've recently been exploring a different way of navigating my life. I'm still very much in the experimentation phase, but so far I've found something incredibly valuable in listening deeply to myself and making decisions based on what will be best for me, not what will look good to family and friends, on my resume, or the world outside myself. We live at a moment in history when we are starting to get more comfortable deviating from the way people have always done things. We're getting braver about charting our own maps and going farther and farther from the shore. It's both terrifying and freeing. In the arts world, it can feel even more difficult. We think of artists as people who have already deviated from the path, and so to be an artist deviating from the path that other artists have followed can feel extra foolish. But the truth is, there is no magic number of projects per year that we need to take on to be deserving of being called a "true artist". The work we are doing is enough (it really is), and so we need to start making decisions about what is best for us, rather than trading our time out of desperation to be recognized as a "real artist".
It's not that different with an acting gig (or writing gig, teaching gig, new job offer of any kind, chance for a new relationship, deciding to have children, buy a house, ride the roller coaster, pretty much anything can fit here). If you find yourself trying to rationalize about why you should take the offer, this might be a sign you're not that into it. For me, I start talking about the role by saying what "a good opportunity this would be" and telling myself that "I shouldn't throw away a perfectly good chance to perform". It's the "nice date" all over again.
A lead role or promotion at work may look nice from the outside, but at the end of the day, it's you and you alone who have to walk through your daily life. If you decide you're going to take an offer simply for the sake of doing what you think you should do to further your artistic self, you will probably find yourself less than thrilled with the overall picture of your life. If it's an offer you feel drawn to accept because you feel truly intrigued and challenged by it, that's a different story. There have been times before where I've turned my life upside down to seize a chance that my gut told me would be worth it. And in these instances, it was worth it, even if it did mean being busy and a bit sleep deprived for awhile.
After weighing my options in this new way, I did in fact turn down the role that I wrote about at the start of this post. Yes, I honestly did feel a small pang of disappointment, but it was almost instantly cushioned by knowing deep down that my decision is authentic and right for me at this moment. After the show I'm currently in closes, I am looking forward to to being at home in the evenings, cooking dinners again, and continuing to work on the first draft of a book I've begun to write about creativity. Instead of thinking that I said "no" to something, I am going to think of it as having said "yes" to my own path right now. When you do this, I actually think that the sense of scarcity goes away and you are left feeling abundant about the opportunities that you do have.
Have you ever felt paralyzed with indecision? How do you decide what to take on and what to let go? As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts!