Stories can lift you up or hold you back. This one's been holding me back for THIRTEEN YEARS.

This is a long one, y'all. It's all important, though. 
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Thirteen years ago, I spend a semester in a theatre school intensive. This beautiful piece of the Long Island Sound was where I first acknowledged my issues with depression and anxiety in any real way.  My heart and soul took a tremendous beating there.

It was all a bit like being brainwashed. We had classes seven days per week, ten to twelve hours per day. The instructors did not believe in positive feedback, only constructive feedback. I was in a lot of physical pain from a stress fracture (as I learned toward the middle of the semester) and ended up spending six months in a boot.

BUT. I had some wonderful artistic breakthroughs, some of my best moments as an actress, the realization that I did not really want to be an actress, but rather run the show, and wrote a beautiful (if flawed play). I also fell in disastrous, unrequited love, but that's another story.

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At the end of the semester, the instructors gathered in a room to give each student feedback. The catch - you were not allowed to respond. You had to just sit there and listen. As with the lack of positive feedback in class, this was supposedly to prepare us for the world of professional critique.

(Side bar - as a trained theatre educator, I  call BULLSHIT BULLSHIT BULLSHIT on this. The students in this program were exactly that - students. You do not pull this crap on students. You must, must, must give them hope. )

The interim head of my program was an incredible Shakespearean. His formidable mastery of text and keen wit kept all of us on our toes. His use of Shakespeare, which I already loved, fed me as a scholar. The plays he took us to in England form the basis of my (never ending) master's thesis.

The feedback from all of my teachers was essentially that I constantly held back, that I was too nervous, too stiff, all stemming from my self-consciousness. "You are really hard on yourself" was the constant refrain.

(Side bar again - if someone is being too hard on themselves, it is probably because they have severe anxiety or some other issue. If they have a panic attack and hyperventilate mid-semester after standing up to a teacher who was being an abusive jerk, they almost definitely have anxiety issues. Gently saying "being kinder to yourself is a great way to open up on stage!" is a better way to help a student, as is recognizing their strengths and reminding them that this is a safe place to try whatever they want to try. Saying "you are really hard on yourself" and then being harsh to that person is probably not the best way to get your point across.)

(Side bar to the side bar - people who teach should learn how to teach in such a way that they are not aggravating mental health issues, especially in the world of the arts, where EVERYONE is vulnerable ALL THE TIME.)

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The Shakespearean had the hardest words of all for me.
 

"You still look like a little girl onstage who enjoys being in plays."
...

That is the most painful critique I've ever received.

What's next is even worse.
...

Yesterday, thirteen years after the Shakespearean made that comment, I realized that I BELIEVED HIM.

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Thirteen years later,  whether it's showing up for a (rare) audition, posting videos of myself online, pushing for a job or promotion, I STILL BELIEVE that people see me as just a little girl.

My inner critic has thirstily fed on comments about my height (I'm juuuust under 5'1), the fact that I'm the youngest of six (the baby!), my high pitched voice, my "unnaturally small" hands, my desperate recession work-entry-job-hunt, for my entire life. The Shakespearean popped a cherry on top of that poison sundae, and I swallowed it whole.

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Here's the other thing, though. This painful memory popped up after a different realization.


I found out that this year, I am making at least $25k more than my partner. It made me think back over the nearly five years of our marriage and suddenly, clearly, what I've accomplished - what we’ve accomplished together, too - came into focus.
 

  • I've worked in 4 different full time jobs, each with a significant salary increase.

  • I had a baby and fought through postpartum depression and anxiety. I found child care that made me feel ok, even good, about going back to work.

  • I bought and renovated a motherf*cking house.

  • I found ways to travel solo overseas without breaking the bank completely.

  • I started a business that is thriving and making money, while working a day job at the highest salary I've ever had.

  • I took charge of our finances and made a plan to get us out of debt.


I did all of that while working on a master's degree in my passion field and never getting below an A-.

I hired people to help me. I found the resources I need. I kept creating, even if it wasn't onstage. I PERFORMED again. I performed my own work and was even able to accept praise.
 

That was just the most recent five of the past thirteen years. Prior to that, I was still a freakin' badass. 
 

I REJECT being called a girl. I am a woman.

I own my womanhood, my hard-won adult life.

I refuse to believe that I EVER look like a little girl who's just happy to join the party. And if I do, it's because you're a bad director who's not making use of my gifts. You're not going to belittle the work I've put in, the sweat and tears and desire and EFFORT it takes to just show up, just be on stage with people who may be better than I am.

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Dear Shakespearean, I am sure that you are still off traumatizing students. Please stop. Meanwhile, I am done being traumatized by you. I will show up, and I will play, and I will earn, and I will break hearts, and I will be a fully grown woman who CANNOT be controlled by anyone else. I will own m story and identity, and you will be a footnote.

One other thing - I am done sitting there and listening.

What about you?

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Psssst - if you enjoyed this, check out my upcoming webinar on vulnerability and being yourself on social media.  9/19/19, 7:30 pm. I'll send you the link soon. Till then...

PPS - I had an amazing teacher in grad school who told me that I was such a strong performer, she would never have believed that I had any fear of performing at all. I cried. True compliments can heal, yo.

Suzie Soloviev