“I’m the shit.”
It’s ridiculous how one word can make such a difference in a phrase. For the past year, my existence has pretty much been encapsulated by the first one. The one thing that I’m oddly thankful for is that my parents were never really the effusive type. I think the only time they’ve ever really made a positive notation my way was acknowledging that I was smart, while also telling me that I could be doing better if I wasn’t lazy.
Not that any of that was wrong per say, it was strikingly accurate. What’s funny too is that the teachers I most gravitated to were the ones that kicked the ever living shit out of me. The best teachers I’ve ever had weren’t the ones that made us use flashcards, or made me feel good about myself. They were the ones that challenged me, forced me to defend my opinions through excoriating scrutiny, the ones who browbeat me into realizing that the lens through which I viewed the world was distorted, and that I needed to broaden my horizons. Or just made me learn by repetition and rote, which is the truest teacher.
Which leads me to this point about a year ago. I sat at a desk, looking at spreadsheets, and realized that if this was the next forty years of my life, I was going to take a ballpeen hammer to my skull. Thankfully enough, I was fired the next week, and to which I owe my former boss a debt of eternal gratitude because I didn’t have the balls to quit.
So I sat there, asking myself, what do I actually want to do with my life? I thought about going back to school to get a PhD, getting a degree in something else, basically trying to hit a soft reset. But, I was wandering around New York City one day, and I just thought, “Fuck it, I’m going to try acting.”
This is not because I think acting is easy, or acting is fun. I remember I snuck in acting courses my last two years of college because I’ve always wanted to do it. Those classes not only changed my life, but may have redeemed it. They taught me how to be emotionally intelligent, to be mindful, and to be present in the damned moment. Now, I might not have followed all those teachings, but they were there, and my instructors never let me off the hook. They would never blow up at you, but they would passive-aggressively destroy you with their critiques. I don’t think I was close to being the best student, but holy fuck did I ever try. I had a few moments of brilliance or at least I deluded myself into thinking that. I never actually pursued it and I gave myself a lot of reasons, but the long and short of it was that I was chicken shit.
Self-doubt is useful and a great guide, but it’s also paralyzing. On the flip side lose your self-doubt and your lack of self-awareness will get you killed.
But, at this point, one year ago, I took stock of my life. I loved acting, it gave me voice, it taught me how to be heard. That was it, there wasn’t some grand vision or calling. When I made my decision, it wasn’t because I wanted to change the world, win an Oscar, or tell stories about the human condition.
I just wanted to be an actor. If I could survive as a working actor, that would be a miracle. Every rational part of my being told me that I was being a fucking idiot. You spent the last thirty years of your life training as a scientist and now you are going to do arguably the thing on the opposite of that spectrum.
And like that, the rational side of my brain stopped complaining. Instead, it started giving me ideas about how to get a foothold and I realized how lucky I was living in New York, one of probably only two places you can just up and try to start a career in this industry.
I can honestly say that the last eleven months have given me more stories than I had in my past five years. I have gone through my lowest lows privately and endured without admitting to anyone how hard it was. That struggle isn’t over nor will it be any time soon.
December is a slow month, so here we are: The next few weeks are going to be a spotty memoir about the past year of my life. It’s the ridiculous tale of a thirty-one year old Asian man who decided to become an actor with just the bare minimum of training. It’s the story about a year where nothing went right, dreams were crushed, then attained, then those dreams were found wanting. It’s the story about the year I worked the hardest in my life, the year where I had debt for the first time in my life, the year where if I told my past self where I would be right now I wouldn’t believe me.
I promise to tell the truth with no embellishments.
So, about a year ago, with no real acting experience what so ever, I went to the truest teacher that I’ve ever known: Getting the absolute shit kicked out of you until you get good.
So I signed up to be an extra. The shittiest job on the shittiest tier of showbiz.
And that’s how I started. A wholesale acknowledgement that “I’m shit.”