18 years ago I was reluctantly sitting in a large, sweaty sports hall taking my A levels. I say reluctantly, not because I don’t believe in education or learning or exams (or found them difficult), mainly because I would have rather been somewhere else… you know like the pub… in the middle of the day…talking to quick witted, complicated boys, playing pool, inhaling in Brit Pop and getting very very drunk. I was pretty dedicated to my ‘hobbies’ at that time so I managed to carve out plenty of time to do the above, you will be relieved to know.
However I didn’t technically need the A Levels. I had auditioned successfully at my number one choice of drama school and had a guaranteed place. You had a 1 in 20 chance of getting in so I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself.
The year 2000 (there is a song in there somewhere(!)) is half my life ago. I lived in Lincolnshire, in the same home since I was four, my parents were still together and I was still very much dependant. I had big, multicoloured dreams that I couldn’t wait to bring to life. You could say I had all the gear but no idea. However I did have a big heart, oodles of curiosity and stacks of ambition plus a lot of insecurity, uncertainty and a wavering trust in my own abilities.
The 36 year old, mother of one, business woman version of me may seem far removed from that younger, slightly chaotic version but of course ‘she’ is still very much part of me.
Here are a few thoughts:
Your career is long. I left home in search of the bright lights of London town in the same year as Big Brother launched. I had no desire to be a reality TV star who was caught half naked ‘canoodling’ (such a Daily Mail word!) with a second division footballer. It was never going to be my ‘zone of genius’ … you will know that phrase if you’ve read the Big Leap. I knew I wanted to be here for the long game; fiercely independent and doing work that makes me feel great. Obviously there have been a few odd choices that I have made over time but also I feel proud that I turned down certain ‘opportunities'
You can do you. I can recite Shakespeare and speak in RP with the best of them, but that is not generally how I have been cast. Although I love it when I am in a casting room and I am asked ‘Have you got any other accents?’… and then I produce one or 27 of the ones I have up my sleeve. Equally just because I am a coach and a business woman, I don’t have to wear brash suits or lack heart, soul and kindness. Life is good when you can bring your whole self to the table.
Not everyone is going to get it and many will tell you so. I have had so many rejections; near misses and ‘not this time’. Sometimes it is nothing personal. So you can’t take it as such. When you stand up for your dreams, it is likely that you will receive ‘feedback’ and a truck load of other people’s limitations. Sometimes the ‘concerns’ are from a kindly place. Often they are not. Perhaps you are a trigger for that person…in fact, it is quite annoying for them that you are ‘going for it’. Zip up your boundaries and be discerning about what you share otherwise the reaction can be pretty spiky.
Choose your ‘people’ wisely and be the person you would want to hang out with. Actors get a bad reputation of being self centred, attention seeking, loud and dramatic… I have met many of these. Most I heard before I saw :) However that is not my natural state…in fact when it comes to ‘Give us a song’ or ‘Nic, Nic, do that funny voice’ I can be quite shy unless I am with close friends or family. In order to do my best work, I need a lot of alone time, I don’t always get my energy from other people. Relationships matter and there are some people who have employed me since I began. You know the score, don’t be a d*&khead.
Make yourself feel good. You are the common denominator in your life. Don’t wait for the job, the ‘pat on the back’ from someone you admire, the lover who may never call… validation from others is ultimately not the answer. I am fully aware that I signed up for a career that wouldn’t follow a linear trajectory. There are going to highs, lows, disappointments, frustrations and break throughs. What makes me and all of us different is what we can bring; how we can contribute, the platter of skills and experience. Mindset and strategy work in union. I can’t gain success by just thinking ‘good thoughts’ with no action and vice versa. This is a daily ‘work in progress’…there is no end point where everything will be sorted and all will be neat and tidy. It is ever evolving and that is very exciting.