There is a lot of buzz around this word. You need ‘confidence’ to succeed. “Confidence matters as much as competence”. Research shows that women have less of it than men. Mindy Kaling talks about ‘earning’ it in her memoir. There is a book called The Confidence Code. Forbes, Fast Company, Life Hacker, and every self help site in the known universe explores and exploits the word — it’s the golden ticket to success — a psychological mind set that will give you a leg up over the competition in this ever shifting job landscape. (A brutal version of it got a certain billionaire his place in the political spotlight.)
So if it’s just mind over matter (‘you say something enough times with confidence and people will believe it’), why is confidence so hard to have? (And why do so many people, women especially, have the opposite experience called the imposter syndrome?)
I’ve been thinking a lot about it as I’ve been back on the audition track both in LA and Vancouver. It’s tough out there. Making a living as an actor is an uphill battle. Getting auditions are more difficult than ever. And when you do, you better kill it — because you are up against names, picture perfect models, social media stars, friends of the director. So from where does one then pull this confidence? From talent and experience? From the quality of the work we bring in? Yes, that would seem to be the case. You have confidence that you will deliver the very best work showing your deep talent and passion.
But reality rarely serves this theory. For example, the part is a supporting role, meant to serve the main character with little to sink your actor teeth into. And your work? You barely had enough time to digest the 6 pages let alone work and coach it to camera-ready brilliance. Or on the flip side, the part is so awesome that your rational brain tells you that you would have to deliver an Academy Award quality performance to beat all the names and established actors you’re up against (not to mention meet the Hollywood standard of celebrity age-defying looks). So that confidence inner pep talk you muster — that you’re super talented so it’s going to go great, that you’ll own it, that they would be lucky to have you — is empty and fake, false blustery bravado that doesn’t produce the magic result you were looking for. (And I’m sure these examples apply to a plethora of careers, anything where you are putting your work forward for judgment). But you hear it, all the time, about that guy who walked into the room, completely confident, out of no where, killed it and got the job. So what was THAT? A genetic lottery ticket?
The thing is never about the thing…
In the irony of all ironies I was reading a TV pilot about Hollywood, when out of the blue, this unicorn question was answered. The script said (and I paraphrase): To get a seat at the table, it’s about having complete and utter confidence in who you are.
IT WAS LIKE A 1000W LIGHT BULB EXPLODED IN MY BRAIN. Such a simple idea, right? And maybe you already know this (and if so, you’re awesome and you can stop reading this post). But I realized that I’ve been looking at confidence all wrong. Confidence, to me, has always been about what I am about to do, not about who I am. It has been this psychological state tied to perfection, to achievement, to success through performing at my highest state. But this idea of confidence stemming from who I am, as a human being, as an artist, as a woman, as a HUMAN BEING — WHICH IN AND OF ITSELF MEANS FLAWED AND FALLIBLE — this idea turned everything on its head.
I took a lot inside and a lot of things suddenly became very clear.
For one, I realized that I had a problematic inner narrative playing: That unless I was perfect — which meant in an audition that I was off-book word perfect, emotionally connected, in the moment, having a surprising authentic experience as the character — that I wouldn’t be good enough to book it. This high standard was killing me — my confidence was intrinsically tied to this idea of perfection. If I found that I had ‘lost’ a line in the middle of an audition, an alarm bell would go off in my head: “abort abort, perfection fail, all is lost.” And then those lovely times when I did check off all those perfection boxes and I would leave fully elated, the reality of most often not booking (because of things beyond my control) would take its silent toll.
So it was time to take stock if I was going to look at confidence differently: If I’m going to be utterly confident in who I am, then Who Am I? I’ve lived enough, gone through enough self-exploration (and acting classes) to know this. I’m a big dreamer, deep thinker, punctuality challenged, emotional and intelligent woman who can cry as easily as she can fight. I am a chameleon, quick to bore, easy to inspire, a frustrated perfectionist who is overwhelmed with the beauty of existence, and shy to show affection. I am dreamer who questions everything, a procrastinator who loves the human connection and dares to unite science and entertainment. I am a human being that is exquisitely grateful to be alive and awed by the universe. Theses are all things that I know that I am. Imperfect, multi-dimensional, real. The good, the bad, the flawed, the soft, the sharp.
So what if I took stock of all those things that I know that I am — both the good and the flawed — and loved them into one cohesive messy thing: my confidence core. The essence of me as an individual human being on this planet, as unique as my DNA. Where, I can own that little pocket of spacetime that I occupy. I will be as dense and present, creating gravity, pulling matter and energy towards me. What if I didn’t try to hide my weaknesses? Because that might be fucking compelling.
Female perfectionism and the interwebz…
Tara Sophia Mohr, (creator of the Playing Big course), speaks to the good girl /good student syndrome, how girls are prone to better grades because of their tendencies for rule following and diligence. I know I was. I was top in my class because I studied the hardest and delivered what I knew the teachers wanted. There was a brilliant guy in my English class who would constantly ask ‘why’, and challenge the teachers. I couldn’t fathom why he would do that. Be the perfect student and everything else falls in place. But the real world has no such formula or guarantee. It has no guidelines, syllabus or teachers to please with an award or a college acceptance letter at the end of the year.
But as much as life is not a high school test to ace, the cruel teen politics of the cafeteria has digitally mutated and followed us into adult life — Social Media. Let’s be honest, for most of us, our self-confidence is affected by every site that we dare to digitally implement ourselves into. It’s a two dimensional filtered and photoshopped world governed by likes, comments and followers. More than we would like to admit, our sense of self has become defined by the screen, by our feeds, by digital comparisons to our friends and colleagues. (For us actors and models, jobs can be based on social media numbers) There is always a digital persona that is ‘better’ than ours — Happier, sexier, more famous. These digital communities are set up to encourage neighbor envy. Being confident in who you are and what you have is not encouraged because the online consumerist ecosystem only works if you are coveting someone’s else’ life. Our confidence is constantly tested by every post, either in how the e-community judges our media through their likes and comments or by what theirs makes us feel in comparison.
So it’s easy to see how our ideas of success through confidence are wrapped up in external achievements, perceived image and perfectionism. Thus it makes this idea that embracing yourself, flaws and all, is more potent and powerful than this perfect idealized version of yourself, revolutionary.
Do the (messy) work…
But here’s the thing Mindy Kaling made me realize. You have to work hard to earn that inner confidence of self. All those descriptives that I listed? It took me more than a decade to unearth them. The meme of ‘I’m fabulous and just woke up like this’ is bullshit. “The truth is that I have never met a highly confident successful person who isn’t a workaholic.” Those are Mindy’s words and she speaks the truth. Going against the grain, against expectations, treading out into unknown waters with only a burning desire in your heart and only your gut telling your brain to trust it. And from there working, exploring, challenging, never taken rejection as a reason to stop and settle. Sound familiar? I have written thousands of pages of script pages, gone on hundreds of auditions, logged mind bending numbers of hours in class, gone through emotional gauntlets to prod the deepest recesses of my psyche, studied every crazy subject of science, locked myself in my office until all hours of the night because I’ve had ‘an idea’. There is nothing pretty or perfect about that work — and there are no school awards at the end of it. Just a deeper sense of self along my chosen journey with tiny victories along the way.
It’s messy, tough and dirty.
And so should our confidence be. Because it’s part and parcel with our all-nighters and our tears and our frustrations, vulnerabilities and our car that doubles as a catering truck and a changing room. This confidence that I’m talking about may be also known as authenticity or self esteem, but it’s also something that is greater than the sum of all those parts.
It’s our core. It’s our truth, our essence. It’s our raison d’etre…
Our reason to be.
So how has this affected my own work as an actor in the audition process? I have stopped fixating about what I am ‘going to do’ in the audition room, but instead embraced what I am bringing in — the work I’ve done and who I am. I no longer need the marriage between the two to be perfect, I want it to be meaningful and real, embracing the things I would have considered ‘mistakes’ before. And the oddest thing? I no longer feel the extreme high or low after an audition. Just that I went in there and got to do something that I love: bring a character to life. Into messy real life.
So I challenge you to start this journey of finding utter and complete confidence in who you are. Dig inside and unearth every part of yourself that you have worked hard to become, and embrace it ALL with zeal. Marvel in the weird and the wacky, the painful and the powerful. Rejoice in the unique human being that you have become (and respect that uniqueness in every other person). This is a new path in my own personal journey and I am unsure what changes it will bring. But I know that if I stay true to my core, my confidence core, that there will be some momentous ones. Let’s see what comes next.