Comparison - An Actor's Perspective
how do I shake this envy
when I see you doing well
sister how do I love myself enough to know
your accomplishments are not my failures
We are not each other’s competition - rupi kaur
Comparison is an actor’s worst enemy. You throw yourself into a field where you are constantly put up against friends, classmates and strangers and are judged for your talents, who you are, and what you look like. Some have taken a lifetime's worth of dance classes while you have only taken four years. Some were born with the gift of singing, while you have to work hard to make it effortless. Some can cry on cue and some can hardly get out a single drop. Finally, there are those who are just "born with it".
I remember watching a classmate perform in Studio and feeling worthless. I didn’t understand it. Watching people perform always filled me with such joy. Now it increasingly left me feeling hopeless and helpless. I didn’t know what to do. I felt lost. I knew the practical thing was to focus on myself, practice, and shake it off. However, when the feeling came sinking back into my body I never knew how to handle it. Was there a specific thing I could do to fight it? Did other people feel this way too?
Recently, I decided to ask some of my friends in the business how they cope with comparison. For some, like Gabrielle Filloux, it starts with what keeps us connected these days. “I do a lot of unfollowing on Facebook and Instagram so I don’t get caught up in other people’s Social Media presence”. While social media has become such a large part of the business, it is sometimes necessary to take a step back for your mental health and try not to let yourself think that this connection will be lost just because you aren't as active with that person on social media. It is the real-life impression that leaves the longer-lasting effect. In addition to unfollowing people or muting posts, it’s important to partake in activities outside of the theater that fuel your fire. Jacqueline Kiefner said, "I try to have something completely unrelated to theatre at all that I can find value in. If I have to find subjective value in myself I want to have it spread throughout my life and not theatre alone."
I noticed myself struggling the most with comparison problems when I entered college. I just felt like no matter how hard I worked it was not enough and other people would always be better. It wasn't until my senior year that I finally began to gain control over the little green monster. I felt I was surrounded by mentors and professors who were able to inspire me to believe in myself. Finally, I discovered that the most important thing you can do is commit to yourself and focus on the idea that you are the only person in your way of getting what you want.
My friend Josey Miller said, “Comparison is the death of the art and your own choices and experiences are what are going to help make you special. So try to remember that if you only focus on the things you didn’t get, you might miss the upcoming opportunities.”
Additionally, she asked if I had ever considered the possibility of those who could be jealous of me. This was a possibility I had never even stopped to consider. Who would be jealous of where I am today and how I got here? She later said, "It’s unavoidable in this business but you can’t let it get to you. You gotta focus on the good and the things that make you unique and special and how you can grow and learn from those feelings.” Essentially, you are you and that's enough! Remember to lean into your creativity, and believe in yourself.
This leads to the most important thing anyone must do. Believe in your journey. My friend Darryl led with, "Any and everything you book will come at the right time in your life, and just because someone else has booked something, does not invalidate your abilities. You have to trust your process! Nobody gets far following someone else’s map entirely. You gotta do what’s best for you, and create your own blueprint regardless of what anyone else is doing.”
Ultimately, I do not think this is an issue that will ever go away. However, if it is something we actively recognize and continuously work on, we can overcome it.
Finally, I turned to my mentor in college and asked for advice, much like I often would in those four years. “I am only able to be the best Emily Cherry. I have abilities and skills in a unique package unlike any other human on the planet and that is incredible if you think about it. I’ll never sing as gorgeous as Carolee Carmelo (one could only hope!) or be as petite as Kristen Chenowith, but they could never be me either! That confidence has come with age and experience. I wasn’t born with it and I still falter, but the days of doubts are less than they used to be. I also think it is very important to not live your life for theatre. I love theatre, it is my passion, but I also love baking, reading, going on hikes or long drives. If I don’t have those escapes it is very easy to get into a spiral, where all I do is compare myself and stress about my physicality and vocal health."
Essentially, I want to help my fellow actors and artists out there understand that while it seems impossible at times, there are tools we can use to help ourselves make the issue of comparison easier on ourselves. As Emily told me, "We only get one life... I can only do my best every day then give myself permission to put it away and move on to something else.” So, be patient with yourself and keep working on it. Then, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. We've got this. Now go out there and make some theater!
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