I wish I was famous and rich and an academy award winning actor (or Emmy or BAFTA I’m not picky). I will probably always work to become that, but the fact is that no matter how hard I work, I may never make it. Some goals depend on factors other than hard work that we can’t always control.
But I have accomplished other big goals for myself. I currently teach and perform at The Second City. Prior to 2009 that was not true. I live in L.A. (wasn’t true a year ago). I have imdb credits (nothing huge, but I didn’t have any before 2009 and before 2014 I only had one). I currently fit into size 34 jeans (the goal is 32, but it’s been a while since 34s felt comfortable or even possible). I have made my living off just acting (a huge goal I had always wanted that finally happened in 2008).
Why am I bragging? Because if I’m going to talk about what it’s like after accomplishments I better have some experience there. I find it hard to listen to advice from people who haven’t mastered the thing they’re talking about, especially if those people have YouTube channels or write books.
I have struggled with depression, anxiety and poor self image off and on (mostly on) my whole life. When I was in junior college all I wanted was to get a full academic ride to TCU. And I did it. I remember when the counselor from TCU called to say that I was one of the five recipients of the full scholarship for transfer students that year. I felt good about it. I really did. But if I’m being honest (no reason to lie on a blog post) I had to manufacture some of that happiness on the outside for other people’s sake. On the inside I only really felt happy for a few days and it wasn’t all that much. I didn’t get the overwhelming sensation I assumed was going to happen.
Rather than saying, ‘good job’ to myself what I really said was, ‘of course you got that, but that’s not a big deal, you should do a lot better.’ In a way that was positive self talk in that I felt I obviously deserved the scholarship (feels gross to type that, but it’s true). I told myself it was no more an accomplishment than it would be for Michael Jordan to make fifteen points in a game. So, in a way I was saying I was somehow the ‘Michael Jordan’ of the scholarship recipient pool.
But it was also damaging self talk, because I never gave myself real praise. I was glad I got the scholarship, but I didn’t feel worthy of a celebration or accolades. I just felt like me – depressed, anxious, self deprecating me.
A very similar thing happened when I was told I got into Second City’s Conservatory. I didn’t even live in Chicago when I flew up to audition. And I got in without taking any prior classes there. I didn’t know anyone there. I hadn’t even stepped foot in the building before. And I got it on my first try. Felt amazing…for about a day or so. After my first class I felt like my ‘accomplishment’ meant very very little and the real goals were still so far away.
I filed my 2008 taxes without having any income from a non-entertainment source. I boarded a Hawaiian cruise ship in 2010 to live rent free and get paid to be an actor who saw Hawaii for the first time in my life. And I still got depressed and felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything worthwhile.
And even now as I write this I’m super tempted to say that if I ever become a regular on a TV show that I would then finally feel a sense of genuine happiness and accomplishment. But the evidence does not support this theory. Every time I’ve acheived something in the past the happiness was short lived and soon faded into that old familiar depression. So, why would I think that a regular on a TV series would be any different?
I think the reason I think that is because it’s safe to think that. You can’t prove that it’s not true. We can only make educated hypotheses. That means it might be true. And that gives me hope that happiness is achievable. It means one day I might feel a sensation of happiness more powerful and long lasting than I ever have before.
My hope that that is true feels similar to the hope that many people have in winning the lottery. But even that has evidence to show it’s not the end all be all of happiness. According to this article (http://tinyurl.com/lxgt8ok) 70% of people who suddenly come into large amounts of money lose most of it within seven years. I don’t believe I would lose it if I lost it, but I bet a lot of that 70% felt the same way. I’d also like to believe that if I was cast on a TV show I would be happy, but I’ve met actors from TV and movies who are depressed. Some of them have famously killed themselves either intentionally (suicide) or unintentionally (drugs, over eating, etc.). The fact is I don’t know or believe a TV gig would make me happy. Instead I hope that it will. And after looking at this honestly, I don’t think that it would.
My whole point is that the accomplishments I’ve had in my life didn’t by themselves make me happy. So, any future accomplishments no matter how big may have the same effect as the previous ones.
I’ve been in therapy now for three months and I’m gradually learning how to be happy with myself. It’s a slow process, but I’ve made progress. In other words I feel better about myself more often and for longer stints than I used to, but I haven’t had any major accomplishment to cause that. I didn’t rely on the potential future accomplishment to bring me the happiness. Instead I did something I never thought I’d do to get it.
And now that I feel better more often, I still want the same goals I had before I started therapy. That part didn’t change. But the difference in my day to day life is huge. I don’t feel constant pressure to do better. I don’t beat myself up (as much) because I haven’t accmoplished them yet. And here’s the best part: my excuse for my negative self talk most of my life turns out to be incorrect. I used to say that my high expectations coupled with constant dissatisfaction and self imposed pressure were necessary ingredients to prevent myself from slacking off and being lazy. But I still work hard to accomplish my goals currently. I haven’t slacked off one bit. I don’t know if I work any harder since I started therapy, but I can definitely say that I don’t work any less harder. And more importantly, I feel better.
So, if you’re like me and hope that accomplishing x will make the pain and sadness turn into happiness, I hope you challenge that belief. Test it against your own personal history and other people. Be open minded. If you honestly answer ‘yes I need to work tirelessly to accomplish this goal because it will make me happy’ then do what you need to do. I won’t stop you. But if you think that your belief could be wrong and that happiness comes from within more than outside sources, maybe start looking at other options to make yourself happy.
I didn’t challenge my own beliefs. Instead I just sunk further and further into depression until my girlfriend begged me to seek therapy. I’m very thankful she insisted so much, because I’m not sure if I would have ever done it on my own. And I don’t know what would have happened had I kept the sadness in the back of my mind all the time. I don’t think it would have ever gotten to critical mass, but then again I don’t know. And more importantly, I don’t have to know anymore. But if you feel depression and don’t have someone in your life encouraging you to seek help, let me be that person. Please look for help. It doesn’t have to be therapy. Maybe it’s just guided meditation or something else. But your mental health is worth the investment of time and energy into finding a solution.
And one last thing. Let’s say for the sake of argument that becoming a regular on TV would make me happy in a way that is different than any other previous accomplishment of mine. Why should I believe that it’s the only way to make me happy? Since booking a TV show is very difficult and partially based on luck and looks and trends it seems horrible to put all my hopes for happiness onto that very small chance. Why not look for other ways in the mean time?
In conclusion, don’t hope that one of your goals will bring you happiness. Find other ways to get that happiness while still pursuing your goals. And if you are like me and you beat yourself up, stop it. It’s not helping in anyway.