I disappointed myself yesterday.
Years ago, I had a serious problem with stage fright: it was crippling, actually, and was a big part of why, after awhile, acting simply stopped being something I wanted to do. It never manifested on a set – only at auditions…but it’s extremely hard to get to the being-on-set stage when you collapse during the getting-there process. Knowing you’re capable of performing once a camera is on you is lovely, but it’s others, unfortunately, who need to be convinced.
My stage fright was so bad that I had to devise ways to get around it, like wearing scarves (even in the summer) to disguise my flushed neck, or pants in case my legs shook. But sometimes the indicators couldn’t be hidden, like the time when I was auditioning for a famous actress and the panic rose up in my throat so badly that I actually stopped the audition midway through, said “I can’t do this,” and ran out. Or the time when I met with the head of a major studio and could not get out a single word that wasn’t quivering with nerves. It didn’t happen all the time, of course…but it happened often enough that I had trouble trusting myself.
And I thought all that was gone. Certainly I do tons of on-camera work these days, and never even have a flicker of anxiety – it’s something that I’m really, really proud of, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I feel much more relaxed and confident as a host than as an actor. But yesterday I had to audition for a project, and halfway through…I sort of fell to pieces. My voice got shaky, my cheeks flushed, my ears started ringing, and I felt myself retreat into a shell, wanting to hide from the people watching me. I don’t know how much of how I was feeling came across in the room, but I do know that I didn’t do what I’m capable of. It was horrible, not because I probably won’t get the job…but because I thought that part of me had been conquered and slayed. Because I wasn’t able to rise to the occasion and just deal with my stupid nerves like a grown-up even though I have a baby on the way, and I want so badly to provide for him as best as I can.
I thought about what happened a bunch afterwards, and I realized that it was the fact of auditioning itself that sent me into a tailspin. You see, I hated auditioning, hated everything about the idea that you had thirty seconds to prove your worth and if you couldn’t be perfect in those thirty seconds, you – and all the work you’d done to prepare – were thrown away. But it’s not the fact that I screwed up an audition that’s bothering me, especially since I don’t really audition often at all anymore: it’s the fact that something that plagued me for so long, that I thought I had overcome for good, is still lurking there, ready to trip me up. It’s shocking and upsetting to realize that your old foibles and fears may never quite go away, even after the passing of many years and the gathering of much experience.
But you know what? Before, when this happened, I would fall into spirals of despair (“I’ll never be successful, I’ll never be worth anything, and nothing will ever change so long as this problem exists in me”). And now?
I screwed up.
But I didn’t run out of the room: I kept going, finished as best I could, and went about my day.
I screwed up.
But it wasn’t a disaster. It wasn’t an indicator of something larger, a pathological, crippling flaw that will be my downfall if it’s not banished forever, never to return again…it wasn’t anything more than a mistake. And the fact that I made a mistake yesterday doesn’t mean that I’ll make the same one tomorrow, or the next day.
But hey, I might. And either way:
I screw up cakes all the time, but I still bake.