This is my first post in a series of articles I’m entitling “Acting School Fridays.” Every Friday I will cover a different idea I learned in acting school and how you can apply it to your own life.
This week is all about making mistakes and fucking up.
Let’s get started!
The Fear of Fucking Up
In June, I bite the bullet and chased after something I have wanted to do for a long time now. I enrolled in an intensive acting course.
The studio I attended specialized in the Meisner technique of acting.
One of the fundamental exercises in Meisner technique is called repetition.
Basically, you and a partner repeat something back and fourth to each other until something changes. The exercise is meant to teach you how to respond to behavior: what is being said or conveyed is not nearly as important as HOW it is being conveyed.
Let’s say Alex and Annie are acting partners. Alex starts the repetition by making an observation or judgment of some sort. It encounter would go as follows:
Alex: Your shirt is cheery.
Annie: My shirt is cheery?
Alex: Your shirt is cheery (Sounds more insistent.)
Annie: Ok, my shirt is cheery.
Alex: Ok, your shirt is cheery,
Annie: OK, MY SHIRT IS CHEERY.
Alex: Yeah OK, your shirt is cheery.
Annie: This is annoying now.
Alex: This is annoying now?
Annie: Yeah, that’s what I said, this is annoying now.
Alex: Yeah, that’s what you said, this is annoying now.
Annie: Yeah, it’s annoying now.
Alex: Yeah, it’s annoying now.
(You may be questioning the usefulness this exercise, but this article isn’t intended to defend the Meisner technique. It's merely an example.)
Repeating the same thing over and over can start to mess with your brain. Words slide into each other, pronouns and prepositions collide, phrases you’ve known for years begin to sound like foreign tongue.
Eventually, you will hiccup. You will stumble over an R or L. Your heart will flutter and your mind will yell “NOW EVERYONE IS WATCHING ME, AND EVERYONE THINKS I’M STUPID.”
This happened to me on the absolute first day of class. I told my partner she had a snazzy belt, and while we were throwing this word back and forth in a heated match of verbal hot potato, I accidentally said “snaggy.”
I thought my life was over. I had spilled my stupidity all over the floor for all to see.
But I had to keep going. My partner was still hurling words at me, and I had to listen and respond. I couldn’t continue to obsess over having said snaggy, or else…
You bet. I said it again. Horror, take two. Maybe I even said it three or four times times. I have no idea. I just remember not being able to let my slip-up go, and sliding further down a slippery slope of errors.
Obsessing Over Mistakes Makes You More Likely To Make More Mistakes
I didn’t understand at the time that focusing on what I did wrong was pretty much ensuring that I continued to make errors (similar to the problem of focusing on NOT binge eating).
I knew I had to keep going, because my partner was saying things.I was only half hearing her. I kept obsessing over “SNAGGY,” And because my attention was on MYSELF, I faltered. Again and again.
Each slip-up fueled my sense of shame, and I became more and more determined to correct my blunder. The only solution I could come up with was to fixate even further on what I was doing wrong.
I’m a slow-learner, but I eventually figured out the importance of LETTING SHIT GO. I couldn’t continue to dwell on my mistakes. It was stunting me.
During the first few weeks of class, I remarked this phenomenon with a few of my classmates. Some stumbles were graceful, vanishing as quickly as they came, and yet others sparked resistance and awkwardness that seemed to linger throughout the entire exercise.
I couldn’t deny it: self-consciousness was at the root of the difference. It literally inhibited growth.
In order to progress with my partner, for our contact to unfold and bloom and change, I needed to just embrace the fact that I fucked up, and move on. That’s it.
It took a few weeks to get the hang of, but eventually I learned a key idea that really helped me to forgive myself:
You’re The Only Person Who Cares About Your Mistakes
Honestly, I promise.
The only reason we harp on ourselves for making mistakes is because we believe other people are watching us, and judging us, and laughing at us.
We do not want other people to think badly of us. We want to feel smart. We want to be well received.
But people are inherently selfish, and they do not care about your mistakes unless they directly influence their lives.
While my partner may have cared about my mistake (briefly), I can assure you no one else in the world did.
Everyone else in my class was busy thinking about their turn, or the time they messed up, or texting their girlfriend, or having to pee but not wanting to interrupt class.
Think about it. How often do you remember someone else’s mistakes? Sure, we may all feel a fleeting pang of embarrassment for the person who trips or pronounces something wrong, but do we carry this with us?
So then why do we believe that people notice our faults so much? Are we fundamentally more interesting than everyone else? Are OUR mistakes so much more note-worthy than the rest of the world?
Don’t give other people so much credit. They honestly don’t notice you.
This could make you sad, or it could set you free.
Either way, you’re going to make mistakes.