A few days ago something struck me all of a sudden: a realization that made me sad and angry at myself even as it signaled a boost in my self-esteem. I was speaking with some students in my summer program who are also a part of a highly-ranked conservatory BFA program similar to the one that rejected me as a freshman applicant some years ago. After speaking with these students, I realized that one of my long-held assumptions about myself was no longer true, and maybe never had been true.
I was “good enough” (whatever that actually means) to be a part of this world.
It sounds incredibly stupid and obvious, but I’d thought for years that I was not even good enough to seriously study theatre, let alone have an actual career in it. Even though it was something I wanted more than anything else I could imagine, I let a few negative experiences and the opinions of others tell me that I wasn’t welcome, even as a student. I assumed that I would find myself out of my depth in this program, that even the 3/4ths of a theatre degree that I acquired and the things I’ve worked on since wouldn’t count for anything because I had been a bad student, because I’d only done community and school productions, because I wasn’t good enough and that hard work and intelligence didn’t count when you lacked talent.
If anyone had said those things to me, or about me, I would have verbally eviscerated them, but of course, that’s defensiveness speaking. It’s not that I’m confident about my theatrical work; it’s that I think I should be. It’s that I have a lot of knowledge and a decent amount of experience and that should count for more than talent. It’s because I’ve got a good directorial eye and can analyze a character like nobody’s business and that should count, too. It does count. I have to believe it does, or else I’ve wasted my time and this thing that I’m so passionate about is a lie.
I’ve carried around so much anger over this — seeing people get things that they hadn’t, in my opinion, really worked for because they were just naturally better, or prettier, or nicer, or something innate that no amount of hard work could mimic. And I thought I was fooling myself, that I didn’t have enough talent to even try, and that what skill — a different thing from talent — I’d managed to acquire wasn’t nearly enough to matter. I thought I was so deeply flawed that I wasn’t even teachable, and the worst thing about all of the above was that I was smart enough to be aware of my flaws, but too stupid to give up.
It’s only when faced with a variety of students of varying levels of experience, training, and natural talent that I realize that I fit in with them seamlessly. No one thinks of me as the one who obviously doesn’t belong, even the few who know I’m one of the older students in the program. All of us belong. All of us are at different places in our understanding of this craft. We’re all good enough to be there, and I could’ve always tried again for the conservatory education I’d originally wanted.
I’m angry at myself for wasting so much time and having so many wrong impressions of myself, for letting myself give up and play it safe for so long, for being so angry and jealous of others because I thought I was so much less than they were. If I’d heard a friend talk about herself the way I talked about myself, I would’ve yelled at her, tried to shake some sense into her, forced her to watch videos of herself until it sunk in that she was better than she realized. But I got angry at others who tried that with me. “You don’t know,” I’d always think. (And sometimes say out loud, removing the chance for them to try to know me.) “You don’t know, and you’re just saying that because you want me to feel better, because you’d say the same to anyone, because you’re my friend and you’re supposed to say that, because you’re just a nice person, but really because you have no concept of how deeply flawed I actually am, and if you knew that you wouldn’t even bother to lie to me.”
There were always a few who could get me to believe, or at least hope, for a few moments, but it never stuck because I always thought I was smarter. They couldn’t know, but I could, because I’d lived with myself for my entire life, and besides, people with nothing invested in me had already told me how badly I sucked. It never occurred to me that I had changed, that I had grown, or… maybe those people were always just wrong.
It was never going to sink in until I had my own confirmation, this arbitrary measurement that still let someone else define me. I hate that it took so long, and that I ultimately still had to compare myself, and let a single program determine that I was finally good enough to be doing the thing that I had never really stopped doing: acting, and learning. I hate that I judged myself so harshly for so long, and that I’ll probably still judge myself harshly in a million other ways now that this one’s losing its hold.
For now, let this post be a reminder that once in my life I realized truthfully that I was good enough to be somewhere that mattered to me.