The following Career Dispatches essay was written by Australia-based actor Melanie Zanetti, who lends her voice to the animated series “Bluey.”
I was never going to be an actor. I thought acting was just for incredibly beautiful or unknowingly deluded people and I didn’t consider myself either of those things. From the beginning, having a deep desire to be in a creative profession where the odds are against you and nothing is guaranteed felt terrifying, highly impractical, and reserved for people who weren’t me.
I tried to control this yearning by enrolling in an arts/journalism degree program, which I excelled at but felt like a cheese grater was rubbing against my soul. That was until my parents sat me down and said, “We think you should consider doing acting, you loved it and you can always go back and finish this degree later.” It was like a rock had been thrown in my inner pool of knowing and the displaced liquid was now streaming down my face.
Deciding to pursue acting was my first step in surrendering to the unknown.
Now, after more than a decade working professionally in the industry, so much of being an actor feels like some form of surrender: surrendering to the work, to the moment, to that crackling intimacy with an audience, to being terrified but doing it anyway; to letting go of the outcome of auditions, making peace with financial insecurity, letting go of how you will be perceived onscreen, onstage, and in the media; letting go of comparison (truly the thief of joy), if you will be liked, if people think you’re talented, if you think you’re enough; letting go of “getting it right.”
An acting lecturer once said to me, “Your problem is you are still good whilst holding onto the railings but unless you let go you will never be great.” Discovering that a huge component of “The Work” is learning how to completely surrender and welcome the unknown was incredibly perturbing. You mean I can’t just be a big nerd and work really hard and get gold stars and get it RIGHT? I must be truly vulnerable and search around in the dark and fall on my face and question everything and make huge mistakes and get my heart broken?
It was 2016 that became the year that schooled me in the practice of surrender. I was on hold for different projects for about half the year without booking any. I had so much anxiety my hair was falling out. I learned the physical sensation of when a role slid from being a possibility into intuiting it was not mine. As soon as I started feeling desperate, I knew it was gone, like the ghost of that role had just brushed up against me before disappearing into nothingness. To survive, every day I had to consciously let go, release my grip from holding too tightly because I was learning that surrender was the only way to not be a panicky, miserable mess. I was also learning that a vice-like grip never yielded positive results; whereas the sensation when I was going to get a part was always one of expansiveness, like I’m in the flow and open-palmed, there is space and grace around it.
The fact that I didn’t book that year lead me to invest some serious time into breaking into voiceovers and the following year I booked a lead character in the animated series, “Bluey,” which has become a huge international success, had a significant social impact, and is one of the greatest joys of my career. Often our path isn’t totally clear but by surrendering to what “is” in the moment and problem-solving from that place of truth, more creative pathways can be revealed that were previously covered by the foliage of “should.”
Working as an actor has been such a beautiful gift in fast tracking aspects of my personal growth and helping me in so many ways to pry my white knuckled fingers one by one from the railings of perceived certainty. When you let go of trying to control outcomes, you take the blinkers off, the tunnel vision turns panoramic, and you stop paradoxical intention in its tracks. Everything becomes expansive and scary and wonderful. Surrender creates space for discoveries and the unexpected, allowing you to trust your instincts, truly take flight, and sometimes end up places more brilliant than your wildest imaginings.
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