Why You Can’t Be Too Hard on Yourself as an Actor

Photo Source: Graham Bartholomew

If there is one lesson I could have given myself, when I started working in this industry, it would have been to maintain balance.

I’ve always been a person that works obsessively when passion is involved. I come from a household where my parents were professional athletes—and thus, I was inspired to push myself to the limit and to try with all my heart to become one of the best in whatever I’d choose to do in life. In my case, that meant trying to become the best actor I could be. That mentality proved to be very helpful over the years, but it admittedly took me awhile to distinguish the hidden lesson that comes along with it.

Fresh out of acting school in New York, with the above-described mentality in mind, I immediately dove into a phase of obsessing about working towards my goal of being able to play full, complex characters and financially support myself fully from it as soon as possible. That was the dream, and in my mind, it couldn’t happen fast enough.

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What I didn’t realize is that by focusing all of my energy and attention exclusively on acting (that meant classes, workshops, watching movies, accent reduction, voice improvement, etc.) and trying “to get somewhere,” I absolutely paralyzed myself creatively. I took away the joy of acting. It all took away the passion I felt performing and caused unhappiness. I believe being unhappy in your personal life is probably one of the worst enemies you could encounter in your journey of being a professional actor. Make sure you are continuously happy in your personal life. Self-destructive behaviors and depression destroy and cut off any creative flow and any ability to feel, which is exactly what we actors need the most of.

On the one hand, I think it is a necessity to be obsessed with your craft in order to do this job and tackle all the obstacles that will be thrown at you throughout your professional life. But on the other, one can become overly ambitious to the point where “succeeding” (whatever that specifically means to you) in this endeavor takes priority over actually enjoying your craft to the fullest.

Unfortunately, many people equate professional success with self-worth and let their idea of “achieving something” become a measurement for their value. It absolutely should not be that way. Understanding that one has value in this world just existing in it and that “success” is not defined by outward validation but by what brings you joy in your everyday life and whether you are happy right now—that was probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this job so far. Valuing yourself and enjoying life outside of acting is tremendously important for your personal and even your professional life. After all, you are an artist. You draw from real emotions and are inspired by life. What moves us as humans is a character’s individual voice, learning and feeling their personal experiences, hopefully in the purest form possible. Of course, we play characters and some of them are further away from our own personality than others, but we inevitably draw from our own life and observe the beauty of human behavior constantly.

So, yes, working as hard as you can on your craft every day is important, but being present and experiencing life and being kind to yourself and letting go of the excess pressure that you put on yourself is just as essential. This is a balance that can go either way, but it is important to continuously monitor yourself to not just work hard but also stay in a healthy state of mind and enjoy your life—no matter where you are at in your career.

Dayne currently stars as Helen of Troy in Netflix’s new epic, “Troy: Fall of a City.”

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