Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Nailed It (Thoughts on Confidence)
For being someone who has virtually nothing to do with the performing arts anymore, I sure think about my high school drama teacher a lot. Unlike some of my classmates who had dreams of Broadway, I never really saw myself as being in plays or dance productions very far past high school. And (at least so far) I've been right about that. During high school I was in somewhere around 8 or 9 productions, maybe more if you include the dance concerts I performed in. Post high school? Nada. But I still value and cherish all of the time I spent in my drama and dance classes and in all the productions throughout my high school years. I learned lessons in those spaces and with those people that spoke my language and taught me important things that I'll never forget.
"Take stage!" I don't know how many times I heard those words throughout my high school drama career. My director/drama teacher was adamant that we master the skill of standing still, so my classmates and I were constantly being peppered with the direction to "take stage" which meant that we needed to plant our feet and speak our lines without shifting our weight and scratching our itches and fiddling around with our hands. I'm afraid it's a skill I never completely mastered, but it is one I sure have thought about a lot over the years.
When it was my turn to recite monologues (oh how I hated those!) or do something else up in front of the class, I had to think very consciously about taking stage. And at first I didn't think it mattered much. But then when I sat and watched my classmates also not taking stage, I finally recognized how distracting every little scratch and weight-shift really can be. It takes away from wherever the focus is supposed to be (the lines, the intentional movements, etc.) and makes it so all the audience can think about is how unconvincing of an actor that person up on stage is.
And, on the flip side, as I watched my classmates blossom into really powerful, engaging actors and actresses, I came to appreciate the power of standing still, speaking your part, and refusing to be embarrassed about the work you've done.
I think the same principle applies to how we carry out things in life too.
Case in point...
For better or worse, I've been in charge of several parties lately. Some of them were low-key potluck-style barbecues. One was a birthday party that was simple, but a lot of little details were involved. Then last night I hosted a party for the optometry wives club I'm in. All of this in addition to the Brown Bag nights that I had been planning and hosting for several months in a row (though I haven't done that in a while now).
You might think that after all that party planning I am now a pro. Or that I like it. Or that I'm comfortable doing it. As it turns out, none of those things are true. I am not a pro, I don't like doing it, and it makes me anything but comfortable.
Don't get me wrong. I like thinking about cute little details. I like buying supplies. And I love getting together with friends. But I hate being in charge of parties. I'm not very good at making sure everything is ready at the same time (which is kind of important for parties).
And, despite what you might think after bragging about my flourishing career in high school drama, I do not enjoy getting up in front of people. I am much more comfortable using a pen and paper than my out loud voice. And whatever I once learned physically about taking stage has flown. Now when I stand up in front of people I'm a fidgeting, weight-shifting mess that wants nothing more than to sit down and let somebody else do the talking.
Side note: Whenever I think about writing and publishing (I hope!) my book, I get so excited. But then sometimes I think about the book launch parties that shops do a lot of times (and one wonderful local store has already talked to me about doing one once my book is ready--eek!) and I get freaked out. Ahh! What if people actually want to come and meet me? And talk to me?! I just know I'm going to come off seeming like a total jerk because it'll seem like I'm not interested in anyone, when really I'm just too intimidated by everyone to actually open my mouth and carry on a conversation. If this happens to you in the future, please know that I think you're really great and I was probably too preoccupied thinking about how cute your outfit was and how sloppy I feel to be able to put together coherent sentences out loud.
So, this is how things usually go when I'm in charge of a party. I think about it a lot. I dream up lots of fun things. I think of so many details. I want things to be simple, impressive, stylish, perfect, and not overbearing all at the same time. I imagine myself casually chatting with guests and I think through the flow of the party and what order to do everything in. It is going to be so fun!
Then the actual, real-life planning and doing starts. I feel awkward sending/handing out invitations. "Oh, hey. Ya know, I mean you can come to this party if you want to and stuff." I realize how much work all of my precious details are going to be. I worry that if I start too soon it'll be too soon and if I start too late it'll be too late. I worry that it's all going to be too much and everyone will walk away from the party thinking, "Wow. She is weird. I guess she's really into this stuff."
So instead of doing all the cool details I thought of I only do a few things and then by the time the actual party rolls around things look half put together and I'm just standing up front fidgeting and being my awkward weight-shifting little self. "Uhh, hi guys!"
(Hangs head in shame.)
But. Last night I had a breakthrough.
Last night I hosted a fun little back-to-school themed party for the optometry wives group that I belong to. Optometry school is hard work for our men, which means that, often times, we wives are left to deal with a crazy schedule (not as crazy as med school--I bow to you, med student wives, because your life is for reals hard and mine is only for fakes hard) and meals to cook and kids to care for and a house to clean and still try to come out feeling like a real person at the end of the day. So the back-to-school party last night was really a "let's share our tips for maintaining cleanliness and sanity" masked under a lot of cute school supplies.
As per usual, I spent a lot of time thinking about all of the little details I wanted to include. But this time, instead of getting embarrassed and only doing things half way, I put my all into it. I'm sure someone else still could have done it better and cuter and classier, but it was my best and I'm proud of it. I even made myself (yes, I really had to think about it) stand up in front of everyone the whole time to guide the guests through the activities. So many times I thought to myself, "This is dumb. I should just stop and move on to the next thing. Nobody wants to do this dumb activity." But I planted my feet, took stage, and plowed on through anyway. And I know that the whole experience (for everyone involved) was better because of it.
At the end of the night I felt satisfied that everyone had enjoyed the food, the goodies, the activities, and the good company. And I was relieved to be able to look back on the evening and remember myself as a mostly-graceful host instead of a really awkward one.
I had been dreading comments like, "Wow. You sure got every little detail," or "You must be really into this." But nobody actually said anything like that. They just talked about how fun and cute and well put-together the evening was. Whew! So I guess I had been dreading the judgement that I'm "that kind of person" for nothing. Not that I think being "that kind of person" is all that bad, but I just don't want someone to come under the illusion that I'm actually good at it and then make me do it all again.
I remember one day in high school I was hanging around the stage during a class break or something. Auditions for a new play were coming up and my director commented to me that she was worried about finding enough people for the lead roles. "I really hope these auditions go well," she said.
That two minute conversation was a turning point for me in my high school drama career. Even though I had spent countless hours in the company of my director in drama and dance classes and on stage, even though I knew what a fun, kind, loving person she is, even though I knew how much of herself she pours into every single production, it had honestly never occurred to me that she wanted us to do well in auditions. In my fear, I had always subconsciously thought that she only expected the really talented students to do well and then she'd make do with the rest of us. In reality, she would have loved nothing more than for all of us ho-hum actors and actresses to buck up, shake off our insecurity, and really do our absolute best out there.
In my next audition, I did exactly that and it was the most fun I ever had in an audition before or since. I enjoyed every single moment of it. Not because my performance was perfect, but because I was doing my absolute best and I wasn't worrying about the possibility of failure. As a result, I was cast in the exact role I had been hoping for.
I'm still working on applying what I learned that day to my everyday life experiences. The boss I'm interviewing with wants me to have a great interview so they can fill the position. The new girl I'm shy about talking to and inviting somewhere wants to be invited so she can feel included. My someday publisher wants to find another great book to publish. And the fun ladies who came to my house last night wanted to come enjoy a fun, well put-together party and have a good time together.
The trick to having confidence is being confident. Know that whoever you're aiming to impress wants you to succeed. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust that, in the moment when it matters most, you'll be excellent. Stand still. Take stage. And, most importantly, be yourself.
Posted by Katie Lewis at 3:46 PM