#SorryNotSorry: The Art of Learning How to Stop Apologizing for Your Existence

Stop apologizing.

When you’re at a restaurant and ask the waiter for more water, “Sorry, can I have some more please?” Or you lean in at the Starbucks condiment counter grabbing a packet of sugar, “So sorry, just want to grab this!” Or passing someone on the street and you accidentally bump them, “So sorry!”

We excuse ourselves for simply being.

We apologize for our existence.

We feel badly for asking for that which we deserve.

Stop apologizing when you go into an audition and you make a “mistake.” Stop saying sorry for showing up and doing your best and then apologizing when your best doesn’t seem to measure up with the idea you have of that in your mind. Stop excusing yourself for kicking ass (!) but then feeling it was “incorrect” or “not what they wanted” or “too much” or you feel shame for simply being vulnerable.

The hilarious comedienne Amy Schumer has a sketch (watch here) on her show that demonstrates the cultural tendency for women (especially) to excuse themselves and apologize for their brilliance, intelligence and power. It speaks to our conditioned “politeness” and tendency to shrink ourselves when other people feel uncomfortable in the presence of our greatness. (And even though women may do it more often than men, guys do it as well, in more subtle, self-effacing ways.)

Listen. If you step on someone’s foot, say you’re sorry. If you hurt someone and need to apologize do so.

What we’re discussing here is how we use the word “sorry” as an implicit statement to the universe that diminishes our power. It cancels out our presence and suggests that there is a mistake in you simply being here.

You are not a mistake.

Watch how often you do this in life. Start using the words, “Pardon me,” or “Excuse me,” instead of sorry.

You have nothing to be sorry about. For being human. For being you. For being powerful and funny and weird. For allowing yourself to be vulnerable. For sharing yourself in a way that might make other people feel uncomfortable. That’s their problem. It’s not yours. And certainly something you shouldn’t ever feel sorry for.

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Stop Being Afraid to Take Action

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.

That goes for life and for acting.

Why is this? Because the more we sit around thinking about something, the less likely we are to take action as the thinking process red flags us to all the reasons why (we believe) something won’t work.

Or maybe Yoda said it better: “Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.”

Just. Take. Action. So simple, isn’t it?

That’s the basic premise of acting that’s been taught for years. The art of doing. (It’s actually the art of being first before we do, because we must first be in something before we can experience it.)

But once those physics are taken care of, we simply must do.

We get in our own way because we have expectations of how we think something should look first before we attempt it. And that hesitation is what keeps us from committing. It’s never going to look how we think it’s going to look, and if we could just allow ourselves to surrender to that premise, we would be more likely to act.

Things often don’t work out. You have to get over that fact. Things don’t work out! (Or rather, the truth is: Things always work out, but not the way we plan, control, or prepare. So for most of us, that means things don’t work out.)

But as soon as you understand that those are the real tangible principles of creating, then you stop letting that worry you and keep you from getting started.

Things come together and things fall apart—sometimes simultaneously, but the only way things ever have a chance of coming together (ever!) is by taking the step.

Stop sitting on the sidelines. I had a student (in the attached video) say, “It’s scary.”

Of course it’s scary. It’s designed to be that way. We don’t realize our potential staying in stasis. Security, comfort, and the illusion of control aren’t our friends. In fact, these qualities human beings seek out actually run counter to the true essence of who we are. We want to lean into the challenge of it all until our heads tell us not to.

So risk. It’s designed to work out just by taking the risk. But that means it works out in ways that are too complex and multi-faceted for us to understand from our limited left-brain’s mechanics.

So go for something in life. You ask the girl out. You take an acting class. You audition for a job. Maybe none of what you wanted happens. Or maybe some of it does. But by committing to the thing, there are all these other ancillary victories and discoveries and blessings that simply wouldn’t have come had you tried to think your way (out of) doing them.

Think less. Turn off the phone. Play more. Do more. Create.

It’s simple, though not always easy. But Yoda would be proud.

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It’s Not “Happn”-ing On Your Cell Phone App

Happn.

Heard of it?

It’s the latest app that tracks where you are in real time. (Do we need yet another app tracking my every move?)  When another user passes your current location, their profile shows up in your feed and you can then talk to each other if you mutually “Like” each other. Which is . . . ummm . . . supposed to make something “Happn!”

Get it?

I don’t.

Whatever happened to just walking down the street and simply saying, “Hello”?

Whatever happened to the mystery of being amongst strangers without having to hide behind our phones?

Whatever happened to the excitement of being surprised by the sudden unexpectedness of the moment and all the weird things that can come out of it? Like real connection. Which might mean real rejection.

Apps are making us risk averse. Risk is exactly what we need in order to be curious, creative, alive artists and human beings.

Somewhat ironically Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”

Saying hello.

Smiling at someone.

Putting your life-line down (your phone).

Walking up to someone and introducing yourself.

You’re going to have to risk time and time again when you audition, when you have to connect with your co-star, when you’re working on material that far exceeds your comfort zone.

Lose the app and get into the moment.  That’s where things are really “happening.”

Step into the mystery of life that goes beyond digits and data and search engine optimization analytics that can’t predict the wonderful weirdness called human variability.  Thank Gawd there’s that. Last I looked we’re still not robots, so we’ve got some time before that “happn’s.”

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A LIFE CHANGING LESSON IN SIX SECONDS

Science has recently discovered that a human being’s attention span is that of a goldfish – 6 seconds.

That’s scary. Especially if you think that lots of the things we ruminate on within those 6 seconds are based in our neuroses, fears, anxieties, flaws and failings.

Pretty much left brain stuff.

Well if we’re really becoming a species ruled by technology and “dumb” phones, turning us into robots and creatures that have collective ADHD and are devolving back to our gill-bearing cousins, let’s make the most of those 6 seconds, shall we?

Let’s work with the assumption that you are Divinity, or Love, or Source. Or energy. (Actually science proves that we are just energy – and mass which is converted energy – is ultimately neutral.) If you assume that you are this – or at least possess a quality of this – you would be perfection. If you’re perfect, then thinking anything about yourself that is less than perfection is imperfect, which you aren’t.

So simply stop thinking those thoughts that align you with the false assumption that you’re fucked up, too weird, unlovable or untalented. You can’t be perfect and be all those other things too. So which are you?

Staying true to my promise of keeping this short, I’m going to end with a Buddhist Koan – or riddle.  For AMAWers, if you solve it – tweet me the answer and if you correctly answer you’ll be put in a drawing for two free casting director workshops.

The Buddhist riddle:

Even when we’re thinking thoughts that are out of alignment with who we are – the victory is that those thoughts are also ________.

Keep trying to use our 6 seconds for good. If that’s what we’re working with these days, make them count. Positively, powerfully, perfectly.

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To Swipe or Not to Swipe: What Tinder Can Teach Us About Acting

Robert Duvall says acting is simply “talking and listening.” If that’s true, then connection is an essential part of the equation. You can’t actually listen to someone with your head buried in an iPhone or while staring at the text of your scene during class. Connection requires something deeper. It requires presence, eye contact (ideally), and active listening. But we constantly seek connection through the wrong channels in our acting and in our life. Enter…Tinder.

I just joined Tinder. 

I’m always late to the party. But maybe that’s a good thing, because with the exception of those people who’ve found their “match” on such dating apps, I’m using it more as a social experiment to figure out human nature. (And I’m feeling a bit like Mary Shelley’s monster through the process. Fire. Is. Bad.)

Everything that technology (and thereby our phones) claims to be creating is some sort of innovation to enhance greater “connection.”

It makes sense. We’re hardwired to connect. It’s in our DNA. It’s part of our tribal consciousness that’s been carried down through the millennia. Get kicked out of the tribe, you don’t survive.

And at a personal level we all want to have more meaningful interactions with people who inspire us and challenge us and make us think (and feel) in ways that are new and exciting and sometimes scary.

That, right there, as Duvall says, is the art of acting (and of all great art) as well. Whether it’s going into an audition or being on stage acting opposite someone, what we’re really trying to do is connect. That’s the experience we’re after, whether we’re aware of it or not. And when we do, we leave an impactful impression on the other person who’s experiencing us. Everyone’s in it to feel something.

When I was on my first Tinder date the other night, it actually was going well. He was much funnier than I could’ve imagined through our Emoji exchanges, and Chemistry.com would have said we had just that. Chemistry. Connection. And yet, when I went to the bathroom, the Pavlovian dog in me turned back on my Tinder app to see just who else responded to me (don’t judge!), and lo and behold, I noticed that my date was “active” on there at the same time! “Brian. Active 1 minute ago.” Busted. (It took me three minutes to pee.)

This brings us right back to the conundrum of those phones. So we go to them to “connect” (and thereby to feel), but what they (and their apps) end up making us do, is feel the opposite of what we’re intending. We end up feeling disenfranchised, alone, insatiable. We become addicted—looking for more “hits” or “likes” or “matches” or affirmations in some way, and none of the algorithms or computer-generated optimization “facts” that are accumulated about me or my “likes” or you and our “common interests” can in any way replace what we’re going there for in the first place: goddamn real connection.

And that’s created through something I would call the human variability factor—presence, one’s essence, how emotionally available and engaged we are with our own feelings in a very conscious way.

Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, when asked what was the easiest form of communication for him said, “Do I feel like I’m an expert in having a normal conversation face to face. Absolutely not. That’s just not my natural state.”

Is it becoming not our natural state because technology is replacing it with a form of communication that is not human? (Maybe Mary Shelley was on to something 200 years ago.)

I don’t know. I just got on Instagram. Hit me up there and we’ll see.

 

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Actors Ask: How Do I Get Out of My Own Way More in the Work?

I get asked hundreds of questions by actors and I thought this week I’d tackle one of the most common ones posed to me – and also seems to be the one that most actors struggle with everywhere.

“When I’m in my head and trying to get present, is there something I can do physically to help drop me in my body, get out of my own way and get present?

Part of what we have available to us at all times is awareness of what is keeping us from being released. These are not hard principles to grasp. The correlations are those to life. When I get stressed out, when I get anxious, when I’m in my head in life, the most practical way to become present (and in our body) is to breathe. Mindfully breathe. We don’t do this. We reach for our phones, we breathe from our shoulders and neck, we continue to think thoughts that make us anxious and exacerbate the problem rather than simply slowing down and truly taking a deep breath from our diaphragm. Try it. Right now while you’re reading this just take a deep breath consciously. Notice how you immediately drop into your own body and relax into you (for some people this might take a few deep breaths and that’s okay too). Just this simple, beautiful act immediately changes us. That’s how efficient our own bodies are in correcting the problems we create for ourselves in our heads.

Another way is to find (and use) the emotional equivalent to what we’re thinking that is distracting us. So we pull out of the moment (and the scene), by hearing ourselves say, “Well that was stupid,” or “I sound like an idiot,” or “I can’t do this,” or “I suck.” Immediately when we engage in this kind of left-brain dialogue, we’re in our heads and out of the moment. The key is to again understand that the body has a way of solving the problem for us we’ve created in our minds.

Saying these things to ourselves also simultaneously makes us feel something. This will be different for each of us. One person might get angry, someone else sad. One person might feel frustrated, while another person may want to scream. Whatever the feeling is, use it. The expression of that feeling into the moment is what gets you back into the moment. You will immediately get out of your head and into your body by feeling what you’re really feeling and that energy will be used to fuel telling the story.

Now sometimes the actor might say, “Well, what if that isn’t what the ‘character’ is supposed to be feeling?”

Light bulb. If you are feeling it in the moment, that’s what the character is supposed to be feeling. What you are feeling is always the scene. Always. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.

Kevin Spacey talks about this truth during his experiences playing Richard III.

“I don’t start off a performance going into a corner and trying to become Richard III. I’ve trusted that if I just go out and however I am that day, whatever mood I’m in… if I’m frustrated, if I’m angry, if I’m lonely or incredibly happy, doesn’t matter what… I start there. There is a remarkable thing that happens which is just that… I let the play take me there. And it always does.”

We have ideas of what something is supposed to look like and then the true science of acting (and the moment) asks us instead to feel and act off of what we’re actually experiencing in the moment. When we start to acknowledge the moment more and feel what we’re feeling in it, we’ll get out of our heads and be gloriously expressed in our body through the feelings we each individually experience. That’s what we’re all after anyway. We’re all after these fleeting moments of emotional expression in our lives that transcend our self-dialogues and self-judgments that keep us stuck in our heads.

Now that you’ve been given a primer in how to do it more, trust it. It’s exhilarating and inspiring and reminds us of what it truly means to be alive. We each have enormous amounts of energetic potential. Start putting it somewhere that is useful. Not in our heads. Instead, in the moment that becomes an expression of you.

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The #1 Way to Get Out of Your Way? Stop Comparing-and-Despairing!

I’ve lectured on it before. Compare-and-Despair-ism.

Don’t do it. It’s a zero-sum game you can never win.

You’re comparing your dress rehearsal to everyone else’s opening night, and when you do that you’re always going to be cast as the ugly duckling.

Put down those magazines that trade in on people’s insecurities and create comparisons. Stop going to websites whose job is to make everyone else’s achievements look so glamorous.

The truth about creating and getting anything done is that it’s work. It’s not glamorous. In any business. It’s work!

Frances Anderton, the host of KCRW’s DnA recently interviewed the filmmaker, Frédéric Tcheng about his new movie, Dior and I. Mr Tcheng’s film follows Raf Simons as he becomes the new creative director at Christian Dior.

Mr. Tcheng asked the workers in the atelier what they thought of the new designer. Most of them didn’t know who he was.

“They’re not following fashion in that way,” Mr. Tcheng says. “They’re doing the work and are knowledgeable about what the craft is, but they don’t follow the celebrities of fashion and who is who and who does what . . . and it’s interesting in comparison to this image of celebrity culture we live in.”

Just do your work.

Stop comparing yourself to other people’s work. Everyone’s work is valid. It’s like comparing a cello to a tuba. They both make beautiful music, together or separately. They’re both musical. Neither is better.

Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) says that, “The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant. I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt.”

Everyone has their own process. Everyone has their own journey. To punish yourself for where you are today because other people seem to have “made it” way ahead of you is a denigration of self. And simply dishonors where you are.

Social science shows that the more we compare ourselves to others the worst our self-esteem is. And this has to do with appearance-related comparisons, success-level comparisons, how we perceive ourselves, and our own self-worth.

But all of these comparisons are illusory anyway because you don’t see the struggle in the finished product. You just see the finished product.

All the struggles, disappointments, obstacles, heartaches, challenges, setbacks, rejections, failures, bad ideas, and false starts are edited out.

You’re comparing your entire creative life continuum to a 2-hour movie, or puff-celebrity-piece interview, or TV show or some other pop-culture project that had all of the stuff that almost prevented it from getting made – edited out!

You’re not seeing that story.

You’re seeing the story that wants to be presented to the public.

So stop comparing your entire creative journey to someone else’s editorialized story.

Celebrate your life. Without the edits. Because the full story is always more fulfilling than the abbreviated one.

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Don’t Let Your ‘Arrested Development’ Rob You of Your Joy on the Job

Tony Hale is best known for his career breakthrough role on Arrested Development.

What it took him to get there, I’m sure, is what it looks like for most artists: surviving rejections, overcoming obstacles, perseverance, and commitment.

What was surprising (not really!) is what it looked like once he arrived.

Disappointment. He said, “It didn’t satisfy the way I thought it would, because of all the expectations I placed on it.”

Whatever that “big” thing is that we place far out into the future – whether it’s moving to Los Angeles, booking the “dream” job, getting the girlfriend, finally getting married, signing with the perfect agency – anything that we think our happiness is predicated upon our achieving – constantly keeps us at odds with being happy now.

Happiness isn’t in a thing. It’s in our state of being.

Happiness doesn’t come later. It abides in us now by becoming more present with who we are. Right now.

Mr. Hale said he has a friend who tells him, “You have to wake yourself up 100 times a day to where you are.”

When our expectations, plans, and ideas about how we think things should look, clash against where we are (which also includes where we aren’t) – the recipe for unhappiness is easily attained.

And this can be compounded in the entertainment business because everyone is constantly asking us, “What’s next for you?”

As if where we are isn’t enough. As if where we are shouldn’t be celebrated or fulfilling. As if we have to constantly be fast-forwarding to something else. Somewhere else.

And actors have it doubly hard because so much of our identification is quantified by how much we are (or aren’t) booking. So when someone asks us what we’re doing and we can only answer in grey areas – “I’m good,” “I’m auditioning,” “I’m still plugging away,” we get down on ourselves. We compare ourselves to other careers that have an A + B = C timeline. Other jobs seem to yield tangible results. So when we go through periods where no results are being generated we panic, thinking we’re doing something wrong.

A life in the arts doesn’t follow “normal” trajectories. (And thinking it does, can be yet another reason we postpone our happiness.)

If you don’t practice joy where you are it’s not going to happen once you get whatever (or wherever) you think you need in order to be happy.

Mr. Hale goes on to say, “We’re trained to be looking for the next thing, rather than just learning to be.”

The greatest cause of suffering is our incorrect belief that we need something that we don’t currently have in order to be happy.

So cut yourself some slack, get present to where you are right now, enjoy your journey and stop comparing your life to an expectation in your head that can never be fulfilled. Once you do, you’ll start fulfilling yourself (!) and anything that comes in addition to what you already are will just be icing on cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Do You Create?

That’s a good question to ask ourselves.

What is it we’re seeking? Why do we desire to tell stories? What’s the purpose of our being here and exploring who we are?

I heard this interviewer explain that Zayn Malik from One Direction shouldn’t be leaving the group now that, “he’s got fame and fortune and everything he could ever want.”

Sorry, it’s not everything we want. When will people get this? That’s not why we create.

Look, those things are fine. But they’re not sustainable. The external end results of doing something are transitory. We don’t create to get things. We create for creating’s sake.

Matthew Weiner, the creator of “Mad Men” says, “We have a desire to make something out of the feelings we have.”

That’s it. Whether it’s writing poetry or singing a song or acting a scene or painting on a canvas, we’re imbuing the moments of our creation with our own self. That self is a feeling self. From a deeply profound level of self-expression, that’s it—that’s why we’re doing it.

It gets tricky because we constantly use monetary value as the yardstick of whether or not our creating matters. So, one person’s creating is better if it makes millions of dollars, or he’s rich and famous. Another person’s creating is better if it gets millions of “likes” and a franchise. So we equate creating with leading to bigger things and everyone taking notice.

Mark Duplass, in his recent SXSW speech, talks about our belief in getting “somewhere” and how everything’s supposed to change once you’ve created something that everyone says matters. So we work to get to a new level in our lives and then we think, “This time the cavalry is f*&king beating down your door.” And then you realize, “How is it possible that the cavalry is not coming?”

And that can be disappointing to any artist because of our relationship with what we think creating leads to.

But, as Duplass says, “Here’s the good news: Who gives a fuck about the cavalry? You are the cavalry… No one can stop you from doing exactly what you want to do. If you can accept that the cavalry won’t come, and if you can be the cavalry, it gives you a chance to be happy.”

You don’t need a corporation to acknowledge you anymore. You can self-create. You can put something up that draws people to you. You can green light yourself. You don’t need validation or support or admiration or, God forbid…approval from anyone else to tell you how or what to create.

You also don’t need those things to dictate your happiness.

So it’s OK to want our art to be received and appreciated. It’s OK to have goals and to work toward meeting them. It’s OK to have dreams and watch them unfold as we had hoped.

And what happens is we stop waiting for someone’s permission before we create, and we realize that whether or not they do come, we have a lot more power in creating than we ever realized.

And that then becomes yet another real reason why we create.

(And good for Zayn Malik, by the way.)

*First published on Backstage.com*

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What the NCAA Basketball Finals can Teach us About Acting, Fearlessness (and Life)

One of the things I found most inspiring about the recent NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship Finals was that the sports announcers kept using the word “fearless” to describe the Duke players – especially the freshmen players – who just drove the ball in amazingly aggressive, wild and yes, fearless ways.

Grayson Allen, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor.

Sometimes it didn’t work. But that’s also what was thrilling about their taking the risk.

And that’s why those freshmen showed us all, really, how to play ball in life.

We are all naturally fearless – especially when we’re young – because our memory bank hasn’t yet been fully loaded with the repercussions of what’s to come from risk taking; meaning the setbacks, rejections and challenges we will inevitably face.

I’m not saying there aren’t challenges in our youth – but because our brains are still developing and we’re still open to trying so many different things – we generally bounce back quicker and are less likely to personalize everything.

So we continue to participate in things regardless of the consequences. And we don’t yet ascribe personal meaning to our setbacks. In other words, when we fail at trying something, we don’t shame ourselves by calling ourselves, “Stupid,” or telling ourselves, “We’re never going to make it.”

At one level that’s inspiring because we’re creative risk takers and innocent and wild.

At another level it’s also scary because we’re creative risk takers and innocent and wild.

(This is why car rental companies won’t rent vehicles to people under the age of 25! Their reptilian brains are still developing. i.e., they’re risk takers, innocent and wild!)

As adults, we need to try to get back to that way of creating. Taking the risks. Going for stuff. Being fearless. Knowing that you’ll fail but taking the leap anyway. We need to stop ascribing meaning to every action we take that doesn’t work out the way we thought it would and stop punishing ourselves for attempting it in the first place.

We have to give up being risk-averse to being more like our freshmen selves.

We’ll make more errors driving to the basket, perhaps, and some of the risks won’t pan out. But with no attempt there is no success.

And that’s how you end up winning an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

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