In the second of multi-talented AYT writer Emma Bentley’s series of very personal articles, she talks about feeling overwhelmingly jealous of her peers and whether it actually matters if you’re a treasured alumni of your drama school.
Scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I am often faced with old friends from high school buying houses and getting engaged (I’m 28 so I feel it’s about that time). They are also platforms where I can keep up to date with my theatre pals and their work. Recently, I decided to delete all these apps off my phone, because I was being bombarded with information which made me feel crap. Why? Because I can’t help but compare myself to pretty much everyone around me. Sound familiar?
Just so we’re all on the same page here, I suffer with depression and have had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the past to help me try to combat the negative mindsets that I get myself into. I now take antidepressants to help me day to day. Sometimes I wonder if my mental health would fluctuate as much if I wasn’t an actor, like is it just this mad profession that makes me sad? Probably not, but it doesn’t help.
With this in mind, it might explain some of the thoughts that I am about to splurge on your screen; thoughts I’m sure will be all too familiar. As a caveat, these feelings are me at my worst; my most self-critical, wearing my ‘gloomy glasses’ and being the most catastrophic. The worst thing is, I know I’m being selfish. That by comparing myself to everyone around me, I’m always bringing the focus back to my life and my achievements – or lack thereof. And this stops me celebrating the progress of my peers.
So let’s consider it. On a bad day, somewhere like Twitter can be a dangerous place. One minute you’re reading a thread that has got you inspired to do something amazing and the next minute you see that someone you did a [INSERT NAME OF COURSE] with, has landed a role in [INSERT NAME OF PLAY THAT YOU WOULD CHEW YOUR RIGHT ARM OFF TO BE IN]. Now, if I am to be totally and brutally honest with you, my first feelings upon seeing this news are not positive. I might say, “wow, I’m so happy for them!” but it’s through gritted teeth and the fakest smile you’ve ever seen. I wish, I wish I didn’t feel that way. And part of why I wanted to write this article is because I hope that I will be able to get to a better place, get some motivation and maybe some tips from some of you out there. Perhaps I can eventually change my thought process, rid myself of jealous feelings. Perhaps I can stop spending about 20 minutes googling one person and their project. Look, I know these feelings are unnecessary and unhelpful. “Comparing yourself to others is a waste of energy,” is a phrase that my mum often tells me on late night teary phone calls. But perhaps there is a way I could harvest these negative feelings into something positive – like putting on another play of my own.
As well as the general sadness induced by seeing that I haven’t been invited to such and such party, there is also a sore spot in my heart because I know I am not one of the treasured alumni of my drama school. Every 6 months, when our school’s alumni newsletter ‘See Me Now’ comes through my letterbox, it provides another ripe opportunity for The Comparison Games to begin. Yes, I know that who gets a mention is partly just a fluke. And obviously, I am going to sound like a crazy bitter lady who’s like “Why don’t they care about meee?!?” But I guess I have a chip on my shoulder because I am always comparing myself to the actors who are doing big theatre and TV gigs. And that makes sense, right? Because of course drama schools want to focus on alumni who demonstrate that you can pay your bills with acting work and therefore prove the money you have spent on the course is worth it. I haven’t necessarily always done that – two Edinburgh Fringes were not lucrative for moi and hence why I haven’t been mentioned, I guess. It would be wrong to say that LIPA only cover alumni doing War Horse, but maybe if they could branch out into celebrating the work of some of us who are not so highly paid, we would feel seen.
Some people I am sure, couldn’t give a toss about being validated or not and good for you if you are one of those people. Part of what I do find interesting about this subject however, is the fact it makes us really question what we deem to be successful. A friend told me that the key is to set your own goals and put actions in place in order to achieve them. If you are doing that, you can’t compare yourself to others because it’s unlikely that you have exactly the same goals as someone else. Yes, you probably still wouldn’t mind being in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but that’s not your end goal. And if you need someone who will tell you: “it’s going to be okay” occasionally, I am sure they are out there. No matter what anyone else is doing: we got this.
If you enjoyed reading this, visit Emma’s Author page to see more articles. Go on, treat yourself.