My life took a few wild turns late last year, and not just because we were in a pandemic. A few months into the pandemic, I landed my first Co-op job, working remotely for SFU Health & Counselling. That was also when the acting agency I worked with shut down and I moved to join another agency. You would think that my Co-op job would be my number one source of stress, but nope! My acting career was what caused me to feel stressed out. I would be constantly wondering if I was training enough, if any auditions with tight deadlines would come in, etc.
I was always the try-hard student who put 100% of myself into everything I chose to do in order to succeed. Usually, the formula would work… I’d work super hard and I’d produce the desired results. However, with acting, there is no one way to do a scene correctly. If you try to do the scene perfectly, it won’t be perfect. You have to believe in yourself and your own abilities and only then, will the scene turn out well. I kept focusing on my acting and the idea that I had to perform well (to match my own standards and show myself that I improved). I’d nitpick everything without thinking about the things I did well. I’d think I wasn’t good enough and that the acting career I wanted so badly wouldn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t as passionate about acting anymore and that was frustrating. This is just a long way of saying that sometimes, you just need to let it go. (You know how sometimes that job or opportunity you thought “whatever, I won’t get it, but I’ll try” and apply for, is the one you end up getting? It’s like that.)
I was basically dealing with a combination of perfectionism and the beginning stages of burnout, but I still really wanted to achieve my goal of becoming an actor. Fortunately, I have gotten through the thick of it and I’m here to share some tips for when you’re in one of these slumps.
Please keep in mind that this is what has helped me and it may not match up perfectly with what helps you.
1. Breathe or Take a Mindful Walk
The first thing to do is to take a deep breath. Remind yourself that it will be okay. You could hug a plushie if that helps you feel more comfortable. If you want to clear your head a bit, go for a nice walk while listening to your favourite songs.
2. Get Your Thoughts Out
It may be helpful to write down your thoughts in a journal so you can reflect on them later. I’m more of the type to text or call a friend and talk out my thoughts with them. I do keep in mind our boundaries and do welcome them to speak about what they’re struggling with as well, so our conversations are not one-sided and that my friends won’t feel overwhelmed. Once your thoughts are out, you may find it easier to think about the situation more clearly and in a different way.
3. It’s Okay to Take Breaks
When dancers train, they have periods of strenuous training and also periods of rest. This time of rest is for their muscles to recover and get stronger. Working super hard all the time is not very sustainable in the long term. If you are continuously working super hard, you may start to experience burnout and when you do reach your goals, you may not be able to feel fulfilled. Remember to take breaks. That may actually help you to refocus and come back stronger. It can also help with reminding yourself why you are passionate about that thing you chose to do in the first place.
4. Focus on Other Things for a While
On a similar tangent, focus on something else for a bit. My Co-op placement being routine-like actually improved my well-being as during work hours, I did not worry about acting. If that doesn’t work for you, you could focus on a hobby or schedule in some game time with your friends.
5. When Trying Something New, It Might Not Work Out. It’s Okay.
Back then, whenever I tried something new and found any kind of flaw in it, I’d feel frustrated. I’d wonder why I couldn’t do it perfectly. Now, I am more self-compassionate. I remind myself that I’m trying something new, which means it is a challenge. Challenges are supposed to be difficult so in doing something difficult, I should not expect myself to be able to do it perfectly. I should focus more on what I did well and what I can improve on. Just because it was not perfect, doesn’t mean that it was bad and even if it was bad, that’s okay! You don’t have to be good at everything. As long as you enjoy it, it is worth doing. Having off-days is also okay! It doesn’t define your self-worth. Think about how you would talk to a friend if they confided in you with a similar situation and treat yourself how you would treat them.
I admit that I still struggle with this, but now that I am more aware of it, understand it, and know what helps me, it has gotten better. Once I became more self-compassionate, I was able to trust my abilities more and my acting improved too! Additionally, learning about mental health and well-being has helped me. For example, at Health & Counselling, I am constantly exposing myself to information about well-being and finding ways to support other students. Those ways of supporting others can be turned towards me as well.
With all of that said, it is most important that you find what works for you, your lifestyle, identity, goals, etc. If you’re struggling right now, I hope you remember that it will get better!