When I was 18, I had my confidence destroyed. I thought my teachers’ job was to guide and help me and the other students. Instead, they demolished us. We often heard variations on “you’ll be a failure,” directed at us. I felt discounted and alienated from my peers. It’s recently come to my attention that this was far from just my experience. Many of us felt the same way and worse. It’s taken us over a decade to connect over our shared trauma. This was at a respected undergraduate drama program. My dream school. The only college I applied to because it’s the only one I ever wanted to attend.
When you’re 18, it’s easy to let yourself get torn to shreds. Growing up with an easy childhood, I didn’t have to develop much of a backbone. When you’re 18 and are finally starting your life as an artist it’s easy to get kicked in the head by how difficult it is to make a living in the arts. When you’re 18 you still have stars in your eyes, which makes it harder to see the glass in the grass – as Morrissey would have phrased it. (Did I mention I was pretty depressed during that time? Morrissey-level moping.)
I’m 33 now and finally feel like I’ve started to discover the secrets to regaining my confidence. Finding it in myself, by myself, because it was there all along. These days, I spend a lot of time on twitter dot com. I chat with others who are working in VO, and I see a lot of people express the same anxieties I had when I was younger. Now, I can gratefully say I’m past a lot of them. Not all, but a lot. I want to tell those people what I wanted to hear when I was their age. What has helped me grow, rather than keep me stagnant.
I encourage you to read through it all, if that’s your style. Or only read the bullets, and if/when you feel a stab of self-righteousness: read that one.
1. Find what motivates you.
Ok, I’m gonna state upfront that I am still searching for my motivation. I’m still working on this stuff, too! But, there’s something about making people laugh that sticks with me. When you come up with a great joke or find humor in a piece of copy that you hope those listening hear too – those moments fulfill me in a way that sticks with me till I go to bed at night. I’m no stand-up, but I have had a few people tell me I’d have a good tight 5. I know that if you find your motivation and remind yourself of it, you’ll keep going when things get tough.
2. Find something to trust.
Personal disclosure. I am an atheist in a 12-step program. I’ve always had a problem with step 2: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It’s a hard one for me. Contrary to a lot of artists, I’m a hard science kind of person. I see it as a personal value to let the evidence lead you, and change your mind when appropriate. There’s not a lot of room for god in that worldview. Belief in god is faith: “complete trust or confidence in someone or something,” often despite evidence to the contrary.
When I started in the program I thought, “yeah, I’ll ignore that one.” I never thought of myself as a joiner or a twelve-stepper, but for some mysterious-to-me reason, I kept going back. After 3 years of meetings, I see the value in the program. It teaches responsibility, self-reliance, and open-mindedness. I’m currently going back to Step 2, and I’m taking it seriously.
Now, I’m not going to tell you to believe in God. But I realized that my black and white worldview was holding me back. Because sometimes, you have to trust in something. My mind would vacillate wildly between “I’m awful” and “I’m amazing.” (It still does, but it’s easier to put “awful” away now.) That kind of vacillation takes a toll on your productivity. It’s hard to stay focused on a goal if you’re doubting your abilities.
Your higher power, or “HP” in 12-step talk, can be anything. The only thing stopping you from having one is believing you’re the most powerful being in the universe. (And in a sense, you are in your own life, but you can still get hit by COVID-19 or any number of setbacks you didn’t cause.) Place your faith in the universe, cosmic energy, Jesus, or, like I decided to do the other day: Thalia, the Greek muse of comedy. (Why her? Cause I fuckin’ felt like it, that’s why.)
Now, as someone who believes in science and evidence, why would I choose a Greek goddess long out of fashion with modern believers? Because I had a revelation: I don’t have to justify this to anyone. Not even myself.
But Amanda, you believe in evidence! There’s no evidence that there are gods or muses or any of that stuff!
That’s right! But I need a place to put my stress, my worries, and my questions about my future. She’s a worry-keeper. I can trust that she’s got it. And if she doesn’t, well joke’s on me, ha ha. I don’t have to argue that she’s real – who says I have to prove it? I can start my workday by, I don’t know, telling her a knock-knock joke as my offering. At least I’m starting the day on a cheerful footing. I can trust that her spirit flows through me and thus, all my choices are artistically supported – bam! Or if I’m not vibing with the way I’m reading my copy, I can trust that she’s about to show me a better way. Plus, it just makes me happy to have a funny imaginary friend. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
3. Learn to recognize your critical mind and see how it keeps you stuck.
Yeah, I’m gonna recommend some self-help books here, get over it. The Artist’s Way helped me recognize what the author calls the “inner critic” and the negative impact it has on my life, and Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice has helped me start to fix it. Firstly, you are not your mind. The mind, in fact, is excellent at making you think it’s the shit, when most times, it’s what’s keeping you in the shit. Because it’s comfortable there. It may be stinky but at least the stench is familiar. You know that feeling when you want to go talk to that attractive stranger in the bar? (Or on Tinder, whatever.) The mind telling you, “what will you even say? You’re boring. I’m sure they have all kinds of people hitting them up, most way more attractive than you,” and on and on? It’s not helping you. It’s not your friend. It’s keeping you from doing what you want to do. Tell it to STFU and say hi to the attractive stranger.
4. Find the good things in life.
Gratitude is having a moment. I see people everywhere touting the benefits. Gratitude lists are all the rage! And that’s because it’s great advice. Realizing and being grateful for what you have, puts you in a happier and more productive frame of mind than obsessing over what you lack.
But Amanda, I don’t have anything! Everything sucks!
It’s true. Sometimes things just suck. But you might not be looking hard enough. You’ve almost always got something. A good support network. One friend. A cat to cuddle. A full belly. A tree outside your window. The sun. A good hair day. An internet connection! A quiet library. That soft shirt you love. A person you love. Your life and the opportunities for experiences that come with it.
5. Realize that other people aren’t the problem.
This is a big one. I see this a lot, particularly on social media – blaming other people for your problems. Here’s the issue: even if you’re right, even if that guy in the left lane did slam into your car for no reason, even if you get completely fucked over just because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time – blaming the other person won’t solve your problem. Ok fine, maybe other people can be the problem, but they sure aren’t the solution. You are.
If you want to stay stuck and blame other people because it feels good (and it does feel good!), recognize that your priorities are making yourself feel better, not making yourself better. If you want to make yourself better, you have to get over blaming people. And I’m dealing with this too. [POLITICSsorrynotsorry] I blame our big, wet president (TM) for stuff every dang day. And it feels good! But it doesn’t solve ANYTHING. If I want to do something helpful, I can donate to a charity, or canvass for another candidate. That might help solve things! [/POLITICS] You may not have control over every situation, but you do have control over how you react to it.
Bonus section: Things that didn’t work for me!
Come on, you know when you’re lying to yourself. You’re too smart for that shit. Here’s a way to short circuit that though: what if your affirmation were true? First of all, pick something possible. Lizzo might believe she’s the baddest bitch out there (AND SHE’D BE RIGHT!), but do you honestly believe that about yourself? So you can’t be the baddest bitch (that throne is occupied, tyvm). But what if you were a bad bitch? How would your behavior change? What are the concrete steps you could take to be that bitch you’ve always wanted to be? Why don’t you take them? What’s the smallest step you could take? Do that.
You’ll find this advice in a lot of places. I know I didn’t invent these ideas. But sometimes you have to see them in the right place at the right time. And I hope that for some of you, this is that place and time.
One last thing: Be kind to yourself. You’re the only you you’ve got. Get enough sleep and get outside sometimes, will ya? People love you.