Is Ambition Blinding Us?

I have always been a dreamer. I think the ability to imagine something in your mind and then try and make it come true is simply beautiful. That being said, I’ve realized lately that my dreams often get ahead of my life. Sometimes I find myself focusing so much on my goals for the future that I fail to focus on the present and enjoy the moments and opportunities that I’ve been given each and every day. My worries about the future are driven by all of the voices who have ever said to me “You’re going to wait tables for a living” or “You’re going to be a starving actress. Haha!” Well I’m definitely not laughing. Hearing these phrases so often lead to stresses that catalyze my moods. These worries about the stability of my future that I add to my life are dangerously affecting my positive energy and zen-like persona that I love to inhabit. Now that I’ve had some down time from classes and the busy schedule of college life, I have been able to reflect and consider how I choose to let my fears about the future affect me.

This year I have developed a small obsession with podcasts and I began listening to one called “Actors Anonymous” on-and-off for this entire semester. This podcast is hosted by an alum of my university named Wesam Keesh who is a Hollywood Actor. Super cool, I know! In the 85th episode of his podcast (which I just listened to today) he quoted a book, Mastery by George Leonard, multiple times and I found the passage truly inspiring.

In a short summary, the passage talks about a student who was training to be a black-belt in martial arts. This student described his daily practice and the experiences he had during his training. He said about himself, “I was an impatient, rather driven person who had always gone for the quickest, most direct route to a given goal.” Over his time as a student he discovered that he felt more fulfillment when he focused on training for the sake of training and bettering himself. He fell and he got back up. He struggled and worked hard. But he learned that he found joy from knowing he was growing and learning as opposed to being handed a reward from his instructors. The moment he was handed a brown belt and reached a status close to the black-belt, he found his mentality shift. He began chasing that goal of becoming a black-belt relentlessly instead of focusing on his training. He said “the worm of ambition was eating stealthily away at the center of my belly.” He was unable to properly train and learn because he was so consumed with the idea of reaching this ultimate level of achievement. Once he realized this, he refrained from steamrolling to achieve that goal and instead “settled into steady goal-less practice.”

These few quotes really spoke to me because I often find that I set so many goals for myself that I become overwhelmed when I am unable to achieve all of them. I dream so much and I want to do all of these different things that I lose sight of the journey to get me there. There is a danger among young actors to be so consumed with ambition, that they fail to focus on their craft.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be successful, but sometimes when we pay too much attention to the end goal, we lose sight of the importance of developing our skills as actors and growing as human beings.

We can’t just think about the end process of an audition or a performance otherwise we are doomed to fail. As Wesam says in his podcast a lot, “go back to the acting”. We must always simplify and go back to what we know when we’re in an audition or a stressful situation. We have one job to do and there are ways that we can prepare ourselves for that job and those situations. When all the factors out of our control cause us to be anxious, we go back to what we know – the acting. “Our practice as actors is very important. Meditating, going to classes, practicing improv, improving our physical fitness, etc. All of these are essential to being prepared, we cannot neglect them.”

I’m going to be real that with you. My family didn’t spend buckets of money on acting classes or dance classes for me. I was not privileged enough to spend thousands of dollars on extra vocal training. I had to work hard with the opportunities I had. Scholarships were essential in order to go to theatre camps and I am now heavily on scholarship at the University of Tulsa. When I listen to my other theatre friends talk about their schools, it is SO incredibly easy to fall into this trap of comparing myself to them and the programs/training they are receiving when there is absolutely nothing wrong with where I am right now in the present. And as a performer and a human being, I know that the path I’m on is the one that was designed for me. It might be different than the one I expected and different from the path of others but that’s okay. Reflecting back on my year, I am able to pinpoint moments where I was yearning for the end goal of a reaction from an audience member or affirmation from a teacher, and it took me out of the moment of a scene or a performance. This reflection made me realize how much I need to strive to live in the present, learn to listen, and be thankful for where I am and the opportunities that I’ve been given. There are so many people who probably dream of continuing to study theatre but they are not given the opportunity. So if you are going to college as a theatre major and you’re reading this, have a thankful heart and go hug your parents because you are oh-so-very lucky.

I don’t know what my future holds for me and I need to learn to be okay with that. Maybe you’re a person who struggles with this concept as well. It’s hard to let go of controlling all aspects of life and trust that certain things will guide you to exactly where you need to be. It’s also still okay to shoot for the stars, just be aware of not letting ambition take control of your life. I know my goal is going to be learning to appreciate the small moments in life and learning from anything and everything around me right now. Today. In the present.

Interested in listening to the podcast I talked about? Check it out! Actors Anonymous Podcast

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