MENTAL HEALTH & SHOWBIZ: Coping When You’re Feeling “Unaccomplished”
The entertainment industry is the epitome of a contradiction. Time and time again, we’re encouraged to take control of our careers. Get “drinks”, make a movie with no budget, write that feature script, build your resume! On the other side of the equation, it seems that our success is always in the hands of someone else. Unfortunately, that means we’re waiting for someone to hire or promote us, someone to read our samples, someone to put in a good word, someone to fund our project, or someone to take a meeting. The list is endless.
With the fallout from Coronavirus, most of our careers have stalled. On the bright side, know that you are not alone. I’ll admit since I’ve had to rethink my entire trajectory, my future is a giant question mark. When asked in an application “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I wondered,
“How the fuck should I know?”
Of course, I didn’t write that, but I put my words a bit more eloquently. With the whole of showbusiness restructuring and crumbling, I still don’t have a concrete answer. Back in March, I’d interviewed for a well-paying job I really wanted. My experience lies mostly in film festivals and events. The woman who interviewed me was very impressed, stating something like “We need more people like you in the film festival space.”
Literally days later, the entire festival circuit fell apart, event after event canceling or transitioning to an online format. Now it’s hard to think back on the woman’s words without wanting to laugh. She meant well, but yeah…My dreams of working at a sexy company were pretty much shattered for the time being.
Not only are we enduring a pandemic, but we’re plundering through a recession, horrific racial tensions, and a host of other human rights crises that keep unraveling each and every day. Not to mention, we’re in the midst of an election year while democracy hangs by a thread. More so than any other time in history, there are things that are simply beyond our control. I’m here to let you know that it’s perfectly OK to not have an answer to what you’re going to do next.
Hustle culture and capitalism have become so entangled in the entertainment industry, that even when the world (or at least California) is on fire, we feel guilt for not always taking the necessary steps to “make things happen.” Combined with Hollywood’s obsession with youth and overachievement, it always feels like there’s an expiration date on success. With every “35 Under 35 List,” “Next Gen,” and every utterance of “The Future of Hollywood,” there’s a sense of shame if you aren’t where you want to be (or supposedly should be) at the geriatric age of 30. It’s like, how dare you not get your shit together any sooner!
In capitalistic societies, there’s always a push to quantify success, whether it be through accolades, “resources” (often in the form of social connections), the number of prestigious experiences on your resume, and so on, and so forth. In most networking events, the first question asked is often: “What do you do?”
“What do you do?” is mostly an innocent question, devoid of any malicious intent. In a time where so many have lost their jobs, this can be a loaded question, like asking about your nonexistent dating life during Thanksgiving. When a lot of your worth and social currency is tied to what you do, it can be demoralizing to be asked about your progress when you feel you don’t have much to show for your efforts.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I had to ask myself:
“How do I find my sense of self-worth outside of my work and accomplishments?”
Since high school, I’ve worked nonstop towards creating a better life for myself. It’s been an endless cycle of trying to jump the next hurdle or break the next ceiling. For years, I pounded the pavement, and several months ago I was nearing a breakthrough in my journey. However, as Coronavirus became very real, job opportunities evaporated, connections were lost, and I was at a standstill. After being in a state of perpetual motion for nearly a decade, for the first time in a long time, I was forced to stop in my tracks. After doing everything “right,” things still turned out “wrong” in my eyes. I’m not afraid to admit I’ve had a few ugly crying sessions. I constantly asked myself, “What am I doing wrong?”
That’s the funny thing about American job culture. Whenever we face rejection or hardship, we’re often taught that it’s our fault even when it isn’t. Although we’re in one of the worst economic recessions to ever occur, we still wonder if we’re working hard enough to move our careers forward.
In one of my psychology classes, my group was asked a deeply philosophical question:
“What is the cause of human suffering?”
Certainly, there are plenty of things that cause human suffering, but my answer was tied to my recent professional experiences. I thought,
“Human suffering is caused by seeking validation in the external as opposed to the internal.”
My response marked a great deal of privilege. All my basic needs are met, and my life was never threatened. On top of that, I was still employed, just not in the job I wanted. However, I was employed nonetheless. I made it through work every day. I still found time to create. I connected with people in ways I never thought I would. Those are accomplishments to be proud of, especially during these bizarre times. Did you write a couple of script pages? Great! Did you take some time for yourself? Great! Did you actually put some pants on this morning? Also great!
As paradigms shift in Hollywood, so should our perceptions of what success looks like. It’s OK to grieve what was lost, and it’s also OK to extend grace to ourselves when we don’t live up to our own expectations, or better yet, society’s expectations.
If there’s one thing I learned during this “unprecedented” time, is that almost everyone has a sense of imposter syndrome, no matter what their accomplishments are. Particularly in Hollywood (the institution, not the physical place), there’s no concrete route to success. While you admire someone else’s experience and accolades, maybe they’re admiring yours. Overall, there’s been this collective sense of insecurity, and a strong desire to be somewhere other than where we are right now.
On the surface, someone may look like they have their ducks in a row, but they may be trying to figure things out too. Like the words of High School Musical, we’re all in this together.
Over the past six months, I’ve been learning the process of coping with feeling like an “underachiever.” I’ve had periods of time when I’ve done absolutely nothing, and there have been periods of toxic productivity, where I’ve attended every single event, overworked myself to write, and neglected rest because I felt the need to make the most of quarantine. It’s OK to be productive, but not at the expense of our physical and emotional health.
Just know, that you can still make things happen. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process.
In conclusion, here are some ways to find encouragement when you are feeling “unaccomplished.” Here are some methods that have helped me. I hope they can help you too:
- Make a list of all your accomplishments, even if they aren’t entertainment-related, and even if they are not a big deal to you.
- Take things a step further and keep a gratitude journal. Each day, write about all the things you’re grateful for, and all the things that give you joy.
- Take a social media break and/or limit your time online.
- While networking, ask more wholesome questions. “What made you decide to be in the industry?” or “What are your aspirations?” are great icebreakers.
- When someone asks “What do you do?” don’t hesitate to state your craft first. Whether you’re gainfully employed in the industry or not, you’re a writer, actor, director, etc. If you do it, don’t say “but” or “aspiring.”
- Set clear boundaries between work and leisure. It’s OK to rest.
- Surround yourself with genuine, supportive people.
- If you don’t already have a therapist and have the resources, find one.
- Find people to connect with and neglect the transactional mindset. Seek to enjoy other people’s company as opposed to thinking of what they can do for you.
- Find other hobbies to enjoy (without trying to monetize them).
- Get lost in a film, TV series, book, or any other media. Find something that reminds you why you’re doing what you do.
- Don’t be afraid to be open about your journey- victories, failures, and all.
- Remind yourself there’s no one way to succeed. Your story is your own, and what makes you unique.
- Remind yourself that rejection is one step closer to a breakthrough.
Best of wishes,