One of the hardest things we do in life is making choices and decisions. But it’s also one of the most powerful. Choices are the hinges upon which the paths of our lives turn. You can probably remember a choice you made sometime in your life that set your life on a completely different course than if you had chosen one of the other options available to you.
We’re faced with choices every day. Some are big, life-changing choices, but many are small, day-to-day ones. So how do you approach these different types of choices? How can you make the day-to-day choices without getting caught up in minutiae? How can you deal with choices in the moment while keeping the big picture in mind? When you’ve thought out the larger choices, which I’ll call fundamental choices, you create a context for choosing that allows the smaller choices to fall into place more effortlessly.
Fundamental choices are based on knowing who you are and what truly matters most to you. These are the kind of choices that take time and contemplation. Who are you? What makes you really happy? If you could do anything with your life, what would it be? What do you need (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) to thrive, not just survive? What do you value, both in terms of what feels morally right to you and what makes you feel whole?
As I contemplated these questions, these are some of the fundamental choices I came up with:
~ I am someone who needs diversity.
~ I am someone who needs a creative outlet.
~ I am someone who needs to be stimulated and grow intellectually.
~ I am someone who needs to be physically and mentally healthy.
~ I am someone who needs to explore and be in touch with my spirituality.
~ I am someone who needs to be challenged.
~ I am someone who needs community.
~ I am someone who needs to feel loved and valued.
These choices provide a sort of compass upon which to gauge the choices that come up in life, something solid to balance the “shoulds and oughts” that bombard us and throw us off course. With these fundamental choices in place, I can go on to make specific choices about how I want my life to be:
~ Although I am ambitious in my work and have plenty to keep me busy, I make time for spiritual pursuits, fun and exercise.
~ I choose to pursue a variety of endeavors rather than focus on one, although I may never be as great an expert on any one.
~ Although I can get caught up at my computer till the wee hours, I also need a certain amount of sleep to function well, so I choose to turn off the computer at a certain time even though I want to do more.
~ I make my friends a priority because it feeds me emotionally and provides the community I crave.
~ I choose to live a balanced life rather than go for achievements and accolades at all costs.
Having thought these through, when a friend calls me to come out and play, I have specific criteria by which to decide whether my needs and values will be served better by spending time with my friend or getting some work done. It can help me see if I’m focusing too heavily on one area at the expense of another, and I can make choices to restore balance.
Choices can be challenging and demanding, and sometimes you feel like you’d just like to sit back and let someone else tell you what to do. But choice is a gift, and when you practice it regularly and see the ease with which your life begins to fall into place, you’ll welcome it.
We all hate rejection, maybe even fear it. And we all have to face it at some time in our lives. But for the artist, rejection can come often and cut deeply. An actor may face rejection as much as daily, and when you yourself are the instrument of your work, it’s hard not to take the rejection personally.
People who are creative are sensitive by nature. It can be a delicate balance to build up the emotional strength to handle the ups and downs of your work without shutting yourself down. When I was just starting out as a young actress, my ego was more fragile, and it sometimes took me months to recover from a major rejection. As I grew stronger and more confident, I could eventually deal with a disappointment in an hour or even minutes.
There are times when you simply need to give yourself time and space to heal from a big disappointment or rejection. But you don’t have to wait helplessly until you’re ready to heal. There are techniques you can use to ease the way.
When the rejection comes, feel it deeply (suppressed feelings will only show up later for resolution), but then let go and move on. Be careful not to fall into despair or self-pity, as this can keep you stuck and affect future opportunities. You may need time to grieve or feel sorry for yourself, but set a time limit so it doesn’t go on indefinitely.
Get support from someone who believes in you, whether it be friend, significant other or coach. Have them support you through the grieving process and lovingly let you know if you’re indulging in it too long. Let them know you need to lean on them for awhile and return the favor when they need you. Do be wary, though, of friends who unknowingly support you in not succeeding. Having someone who’s always willing to lend a shoulder and say “poor baby” can become more attractive and easier than facing the next challenge. You can easily get stuck in the emotional gratification of the sympathy or hold yourself back for fear of outdoing your friends and losing them or leaving them behind.
Separate your work from who you are. When you’re creating something — whether it be a performance, a work of art, a verbal or musical composition — it’s an expression of yourself, of who you are, and it feels very close to you, if not virtually a part of you, and often something that you love and touches you deeply. But there are times when you may need to step back and let the work have a life of its own, apart from you, as well as you having a life apart from it. Be sure that you have an identity outside your art so that your work doesn’t become you exclusively. Develop a strong sense of who you are independent of your work. Get involved with other pursuits and other people. Find a healthy balance.
On days that you have an interview, audition, jury or critique, plan an activity afterwards (preferably with someone) so you’re not focusing on it. If it turns out to be an occasion for celebration, so much the better. But if it’s a disappointment, having something else to do will keep you from dwelling on it.
And finally, focus on the future, rather than the past. The past will affect future work only if you let it. Learn the lessons it offers and let it go. Failure happens, but that doesn’t mean it will continue to happen. People who are winners at life have both successes and failures. The difference is, they use their failures as learning experiences rather than opportunities to beat themselves up or hold themselves back. If you’ve faced a rejection, learn from it, evaluate the value of the feedback, make the improvements, and move on to the next opportunity.
When you need to make a major life choice, pretend you’re at the end of your life looking back. Consider each option from that perspective and see whether it leaves you feeling gratified or regretful.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”