I dropped out of college after about two and a half years. I say “about” because I sort of just stopped showing up somewhere during my fifth semester. I wasn’t being lazy or giving up- quite the contrary. I was working several jobs to make ends meet, so when I started booking paid acting and modeling work, I didn’t have time to fit in everything. I figured I didn’t need a theatre degree for my career as an actor if I was working as an actor, so I let the need to finish school go.
(Side note- I am not advocating the idea that one should take dropping out of school lightly. However, I also don’t think anyone should finish college and get up their eyeballs in debt if it doesn’t make sense for their lives. Another blog post for another day.)
Since I left school before most people I knew at the time who were pursuing the acting life, I suddenly had this feeling that I was a little bit “ahead.” Not as a person, or an actor, definitely not in experience or financially, but just as far as time was concerned. It was like I had two “free years”, where all acting credits and experience were “bonus”, where I could slack off or not, and it didn’t matter.
My friends were finishing college. They were busy with classes and papers and parties. I felt I had time coming out of my ears.
I ended up staying in Chicago (where I went to school) for the next two years, so when I moved away, it was around the same time my class was graduating. I moved to Florida and did some of my first truly professional theatre, then straight to LA. The feeling was that others were “catching up”, but I was doing ok. You know, as far as time was concerned.
Then, suddenly, I “fell behind.” I didn’t, really, of course. What on earth would that even mean? I was just plugging along, doing my best, but I didn’t have the sense anymore that I had a cushion. I started comparing myself to the people I came up with, some of whom were on Broadway already, or in TV shows. I began feeling jealous. I would endlessly scan IMDB, hoping to find examples of famous actors who had the same number of credits as I did at my age (or less!). I started feeling that I was already too late, that I hadn’t done enough at my age to have any career at all. I began to panic, and scramble.
“I need to join the union, right this second! Why can’t I get a voucher?!”
“I can’t believe I screwed up another audition- I’ll never get cast in anything!”
“I have to take this crappy acting job, I need more credits!”
And so on, and so on. Add an eating disorder to that, and I was basically a nut job.
Luckily, as time went on, I started to understand that my purpose in life was about creating art, telling stories, helping others, and being a full, complete human being, not about having a “successful” acting career and being famous. I watched my friends’ careers go through ups and downs, same as mine but on a larger scale, and it clicked with me that this wasn’t a “straight line to the top” kind of situation. I stopped panicking, and took better care of myself. I made better decisions. Yes, sometimes I slacked off or missed opportunities…but that’s when the “good” version of what I’m about to discuss would kick in.
The basic lesson I’ve learned is that there are two situations in my life where I begin to feel a rush of a feeling one might describe as “missing out.” I’m not describing that FOMO feeling where you decide to stay home on a Friday night and wonder how much fun everyone is having without you, or if Andy Dick showed up to your friend’s party and you weren’t there to watch him run into a screen door.
I’m describing that feeling that sometimes wakes you up in the middle of the night, that compels you to act, that can freak you out and make you act as crazy as Andy Dick.
There is a good version of this, and a destructive version of this. One motivates you; the other sends you spiraling. One lets you know you may have veered off your path and need to refocus; the other tells you you aren’t good enough. One should be embraced; the other means you need to start meditating again, like, now. Here, in my experience, are some ways to tell the difference.
*When You Feel You’re “Missing Out” in a Destructive Way:
- You start comparing yourself, your body, your career, your resume, your house, your car, or your journey in general to others.
- You feel bad about yourself, and your inner voice starts telling you some really crappy things.
- You begin to make decisions out of desperation and fear.
- You beat yourself up for wasting time and not being “good enough.”
- You find yourself in situations you wish you weren’t in, where you feel uncomfortable, miserable, or taken advantage of.
- You feel tired, sad, and defeated, or totally manic.
- You shame spiral and miss things you actually want to be a part of.
- You feel yourself complaining constantly; you start to feel like a negative person in your daily life.
- You are stuck in the past.
- You try to find someone to blame, even if it’s just yourself.
- You become self-destructive, whatever form that takes for you. Starving yourself, drinking too much, going back to a relationship that’s bad for you, etc.
- You repeat the same bad habits because you don’t have enough perspective to learn from the hard times.
- You feel lost in your failures and lose the ability to see a better, brighter future.
- It feels like a conversation with that one person (or many people) who never believed in you, telling you they were right and you’re just a big screw up.
*When You Feel You’re “Missing Out” in a Positive Way:
- It’s like realizing you need to go to the chiropractor, but for your soul. It’s a loving kick in the pants.
- You are pulled out of bed early in the morning full of passion or motivation.
- Your creativity is soaring- you start thinking of a million ideas that you wish you could work on right away.
- You feel desperate to connect with other people of like mind or journey.
- You feel energetic and clear, if a bit too full of energy sometimes. (Pace yourself! Take a breath!)
- You are able to focus on others and you want to help people, either in big ways or small.
- You feel present in this moment and its possibilities.
- You start taking concrete steps to get back on track- signing up for a class, making plans to move to where you need to be, contacting agents, writing again, etc. (Again, pace yourself to prevent burnout!)
- You are able to see where things went off track without assigning blame; to the contrary, you take the blessings and lessons from your recent experiences and can see clearly why one thing led to another.
- You start learning and reading again.
- You can see the big picture and have a balanced perspective. You know life is long and this moment is just one piece of it.
- You can have a sense of humor about your less-than-perfect moments.
- It feels like a conversation with a good friend, where they remind you that you have certain dreams and goals that are important to you, and that you have the tools you need to reach them all, and also that you are deserving of all good things.
The point is, we all have moments where we realize we’ve gone off the rails a bit, or lost sight of our priorities. This definitely doesn’t only apply to actors or people pursuing a creative career. We can and should use these moments to reevaluate our lives and priorities, to make positive changes to realign with our values and goals.
I know one thing for sure:
Beating yourself up + comparing your path to the path of others = crappy, useless shame
Don’t fill yourself with crappy, useless shame.
And, probably, don’t go to parties with Andy Dick.