Yeah right, right? I know what you’re thinking: If this chick can provide a recipe for banishing self-doubt, I’ll eat my hat. Well, no need to grab a fedora fork. I actually have almost no good advice on how to get rid of the very human tendency to doubt yourself sometimes. What I do have is a collection of reasons why you’d better come up with ways to make it look as though you doubt yourself very little, where this business is concerned. We all know about never apologizing for an audition (either before or after the read). But what about self-doubt when you’ve booked the job?
Last month, I was at a little after-party for an investor table read I had cast. One of the producers is also a reader of my columns, so when he approached me with a tale of an actor’s self-doubt, I knew he was both chatting me up and providing a seedling for a future article. Without getting too specific, what he told me about was an actor who did an ADR session and then left criticizing her on-screen performance as this producer was walking her to her car. “I understand an actor being self-critical,” he told me, “but she made me feel as though I’d made some huge mistake in casting her, as she continued to list all of the flaws in her work. It’s as if I must be an idiot if I thought that was a good performance. What producer ever wants to feel like an idiot? And why would an actor ever want to send a producer back in for editing meetings with the thought that perhaps that sub-par performance should be cut?”
Wow. Crystal clear, isn’t it? Every time an actor says, “Man, I suck,” that actor is telling the person who just enjoyed his or her performance (on screen, on stage, in an audition), “You are wrong if you liked that.”
Now, I understand the many reasons actors may put that sort of self-doubt out there. Sometimes it’s as simple as “fishing for compliments.” The actor doesn’t really feel bad about his or her performance, but would like some reassurance that the work was good. Here’s a novel idea: Ask. Seriously. If you’re the type who needs a little ego stroking, just come right out and ask, “Did I do a good job?” Of course, you run the risk of getting negative feedback or constructive criticism, which is probably why you’ve created the passive-aggressive tactic of saying you’re not good (hoping someone will politely correct you, even if you actually were not good, since people like to comfort one another when they’re feeling low). But if you need outside validation beyond the fact that you got hired to do the dang job in the first place, you’re probably in the wrong business anyway.
Some people will deflect compliments even when they didn’t go fishing for them. I was out with a young actor friend a few weeks ago and I told her, unsolicited, that I thought her acting had really improved lately and that I was looking forward to casting her someday. She first auditioned for me over three years ago, so I really have seen some improvement and wanted to give her some feedback! She quickly countered with, “Oh, no! I’m just okay.” Whoa! Did she just tell a casting director who is a fan of her work that the casting director is actually a fan of mediocre — not great — acting? Because this actor is a friend, I was able to point out to her that her innocent deflection of a compliment was actually a way of insulting another’s taste. “If you don’t want to sound like an egomaniac but you don’t want to be disrespectful of having received a compliment, try saying something like, ‘That’s always nice to hear!’ I use that all the time,” I said.
I remember reading about the need for a healthy ego in a book called How To Make It in Hollywood, which I had bought and devoured months before my first move to LA in 1993. Although I had been working as an actor in a minor market for years, I had never developed “rhino skin” as the author calls it. I was terribly fragile and certain that if anything kept me from success in Hollywood, it would be my inability to “take” the harsh comments from agents and casting directors about my chances. I was never one of those people who turned, “You’ll never make it,” into, “Oh yeah? I’ll show you.” Yet somehow I have learned how to have a healthy ego and, perhaps more importantly, how to make it seem as though I rarely face self-doubt.
It starts, I believe, with a desire to confirm someone else’s wise choice. “You were really wonderful in that play,” is met with, “I’m so glad you enjoyed the show.” That’s a great way to let someone know that you understand he or she had a positive experience, even if you’re not yet confident enough to reply with, “I know! I rock!” Similarly, “I love the choices you made in that scene,” can yield a response of, “That was so much fun to do.” That line is both an acceptance of the compliment and a “sharing the love” tactic for the overall good experience you had. Note: This is not the same as, “Yeah, the editor really made me look good,” which can trigger a series of “you’re giving away your power” type thoughts. Own that you did good work as much as you comfortably can. It’s a muscle that will get stronger each time you use it. I promise!
If this is already too much to ask that you try out, well, let’s look at the obvious option you’re probably already good at (on some level): act as if you have no self-doubt. I mean, you’re an actor, aren’t you? So, act like someone who has a healthy ego. Act like someone who enjoys his or her own work. Act as though a compliment is a wonderful thing to hear, graciously accept, and build upon. People who interact with you will respond positively to the self-assured vibe you’re putting out there. That reinforcement will help you build the habit into your “real life,” thus making it that much easier to really enjoy an existence in which a healthy ego is required (both for accepting the compliments and the criticism that go with this career choice).
Eventually, you’ll get so okay with feeling good about yourself when you do good work that you’ll be able to call yourself your own fan! I’m not talking about getting overly-narcissistic or anything. It’s just that a healthy dose of, “Hey, I’m not so bad after all,” is a good thing. I mean, if you don’t think you rock, how can you expect anyone else to do so?
So, how much do YOU rock? Let’s hear it, in the comments below! 😀
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000479.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.