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Why my Failure Inevitably Becomes my Success

July 24, 2013

As I sat watching fireworks this fourth of July, holding my boyfriend’s hand and reveling in the comforts of home my home in America, I had the sudden revelation that for the past three years, I’ve spent my fourth of July solidifying plans to leave the country for an extended period of time. The first year, I was terrified and overwhelmed as I set out to study performing arts at a school in Europe. The second, I was happily accepting a singer/dancer contract in Asia with simultaneous feelings of the sweet contentment and jolting anxiety. And finally, this year, I’ve barely given any thought at all to my upcoming trip abroad to musical direct a show on the other side of the world.

In taking this moment to reflect on my sudden lack of enthusiasm, I realized that the cause might lie in another source. As a 21 year old who’d never gone anywhere alone, never done much theatre of worth, and really had no clue who I was, the me that left to study in Europe two years ago was suffering from a case of blurred and shifting life goals. Before I left, I’d spent years in a classroom, learning about theatre. Jumping out of my skin for a chance to actually make a career out of it. I had nightmares that life was passing me by without my having achieved anything. I’d get cut from an audition and doom myself to negative, inhibiting thoughts for the next month straight. After a year of perspective I found in travelling the world and taking care of myself on my own, I drew closer to understanding what my life goals might look like…but no closer to achieving them.

The 22 year old me who left for Asia to make big bucks performing in a kick ass show was prideful, reckless, and still pretty confused about life in general. A year fully submerged in this professional theatre lifestyle was a big eye opener. Now pair that with major culture shock, experience working with actor’s from all stretches of the planet, and an agonizingly long period of time spent separated from everyone I love. When I left my contract, I came home with an entirely new set of ideals, new immediate and long-term goals, new challenges to overcome, and a whole new set of things to be confused about.

23 year old me who is leaving the country for a third time next week is finding herself just as confused and just as eager to achieve something of worth. And yet……..I am somehow calm. Recently I attended an audition for a show I place a very high regard on. Yet somehow I found myself driving to the audition and waiting in the holding rooms……..somehow calm.

What has happened to me over the last two years? More professional work under my belt has helped boost my confidence, more experience in the industry has shown me how to more aptly find work, and maturity that comes with age I’m sure has had its positive effects. But if there’s one “lesson” or “ideal” that I have taken away from the last two years I have spent living and working in 20 different countries, it is to calm down.

By that I mean several things.

1.) Nothing is as frightening as your imagination makes it seem:
I moved to Europe thinking all the worst thoughts. What if I hate every moment, what if I am so lonely I become suicidal, what If I miss opportunities at home, what if I get kidnapped, or lost, or hurt, or, or, or, what if, what if, what if. Guess what. I DID get lost (a lot…), I DID get lonely and depressed, I DID miss opportunities…but I managed to come out of it just fine, in fact, the experience had infinite positive effects on me. I guarantee that your “what if’s” will be ten times worse if you don’t go for it at all.

Worse comes to worse, just come home!! Or quit the show, or change majors….whatever that big leap of faith was that you were debating on, it’s never too late to take a step back and make it better if the plan goes haywire. I have left a show before my contract was complete, I’ve changed majors mid semester, I’ve moved on a whim to different continents…and I ended up just fine. You are the boss of your own destiny!

2.) Nothing is as big of a deal as your peers make it out to be:
We’ve all performed in some mediocre show that we’ve presented as glamorous and covetous through Facebook photos and posts. We have also stalked other performer’s Facebooks and been seething jealous of their “perfect lives” and “endless success”…that may or may not be a gross exaggeration of their reality. I’ve said it before, Ill say it again. Surround yourself with positive people who improve your life, not negative people who stress you out. Seeking advice from other actors is a wonderful idea…if you know who to ask! Don’t skip an audition because an embittered actor was complaining about the “unfair” audition process. Don’t scare yourself out of a dance class because a veteran of the class is outside bragging about how difficult the choreography is. Don’t psyche yourself out during rehearsals because your biggest competition also booked a role in this show.

More importantly, accept that everyone has different opinions, standards, performance backgrounds, etc. An upcoming audition for a “high quality high budget show” to an unseasoned actor may just mean that a nice community theatre is holding auditions for their annual Christmas show. Conversely, an “awful contract” offered by a cruise line you always thought was great, may be a rejected actor’s way of making themselves feel better about their failed audition for that cruise line last month. Don’t let someone else’s opinion shape your next career move or send you running away from your next big break.

3.) Change is unpredictable:
Life changes. People change. You change. There is something so noteworthy to be said for those who stick to their goals and work hard to achieve them. There is also something to be said for those who are flexible and always keep their head on straight. Things WILL go wrong. Things HAVE gone wrong….and you’ve always made it out alive in the past…I hope…or you wouldn’t be reading this.

Walk into an audition with a healthy amount of perspective. “There will be another audition next week for something else.” Approach high stakes opportunities with caution but also peace of mind. “If this doesn’t work out as perfectly as I planned, my life is not over.” If you find yourself drowning in stress and panic, calm down. There is always a way to fix it. This too shall pass. Most problems seem to resolve themselves with time. A clear and calm mind is much more efficient at problem solving anyway.

So as I’m packing for my next overseas adventure, am I nervous that something could go wrong? Of course. I could miss my flight, I could have trouble teaching music through the language barrier, I could get sick from the food and have to push through work while dealing with food poisoning. I am very aware of all possibilities for failure and inhibition. And yet, I am calm. Because calm doesn’t necessarily mean that I am numb to stress or that I don’t understand the realities of potential problems. It means that I have accepted that I can do nothing further to prevent these inevitable problems and have therefore decided to carry on with life as rationally, and peacefully as I can until said problems are staring me dead in the face. Some of my previous escapades abroad have been laughably problematic epic failures. But those were the ones that taught me how to survive and shaped the person I want to be.

My successes have contributed monumentally to my calmness. I don’t feel so anxious about my need to achieve greatness because I feel that I am well on my way to that at my own pace. However, it is my failures that have allowed me to reach a level of calm and clarity like I never imagined. I realized first hand that life can and DOES go wrong, and then I realized how remarkably one can recover from a failure and make it into one of the biggest successes of their life.

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