By the time I got to college, many folks had told me how gregarious, extraverted, outgoing, and, ahem, charismatic, I was.
I mean, I had provided my Anglo Saxon pentecostal meets Topol impression lens to the role of Tevye in Mt. Airy High School’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, and there were those speech/essay contest blue ribbons I kept pulling down.
The magnetism evidence piled up everywhere.
When I rolled into Elon College’s musical theater program in 1996, I figured I’d keep winning the charisma wars like I had in Surry County.
However, my Dale Carnegie assessment score plummeted at my first musical theatre party.
Who were these people with their signed Playbills, multiple pictures with Bernadette Peters, and cast album CD collections?
And how were they so… so resonant? How could they talk over ALL the other people? And how were they making EVERYONE laugh?
(And why was there smoking? There was so much smoking.)
I didn’t even enter the party attention arena.
In this character shoe cage match, I was a back-row ensemble member still faking time steps. A BYO-Jane Austen novel attendee pretending to enjoy my tepid can of Icehouse in the corner.
Standing out in this environment meant you had to be louder, faster, funnier, and I was outa my league from the get.
We actors get the message early on: You have to stand out!
So, like any logical human, we set out to compete like we’re at a gathering where it’s normal to shout, “a 5-6-7-8” and three quarters of the room bursts into the opening sequence of A Chorus Line.
Once you start to compete, though, that’s the moment you get lost.
And I mean this in two ways.
ONE. You get lost in a crowd.
In college, after I learned what a jazz shoe was, I started to pick up a thing or two about dancing.
One thing I never really conquered, though, was trusting myself to pick up choreography.
I always watched the better dancers to double check that I had it right.
And that put me a half-count behind.
It also meant that my attention was on the dancer I’d decided was better than me and not on my own work.
If you’re busy looking around you to compare and follow, there’s no way you can get down into your own work and find out what your own point of view is.
Don’t get me wrong. Look around. Notice who you admire. Take in their influence.
But your work is about sharing what rings authentically in you, not scanning outside trying to crack a code.
TWO. You lose your actual way.
If you always look around, assess what you think everybody is doing and how you can do that better, there’s no room for you to check in with you.
You could spend several years trying to fill-in-the-blank better than someone only to find when you check in with you, your heart was longing to go a different direction.
It’s like you’re driving to New York City. You see a cool new sky blue Ford Bronco in front of you, and you’re all like, that’s a lot cooler than this serviceable Accord with more than 200K miles on it.
Before you know it, you just decide to follow that Bronco. Then, three hours later, you’re like, “How did I end up in Allentown, PA?”
Just because you’re on the same highway as someone else doesn’t mean you have the same destination.
When you navigate based on what everyone else is doing, you’re going to end up at some unintended Wawas. (Though that is a good opportunity to pick up a sammie and some Tastykakes.)
Bottom Line: standing out (big air quotes there) is an exercise in futility.
Here’s what do do instead:
👷🏽♀️ Build your skill every day (this is confidence and competence.)
💙 Check your heart. How can you walk through the world as open and loving as possible today?
💃🏽 Then, put your body in the place and do the thing.
After a while, your people at the party will recognize you, ask if you want some of the good stuff they hid in the back of the fridge, and you’ll talk about Stephen Sondheim.
That’s it: Build your skill. Hug and shine your heart. And put your body in the place and do the thing.
Because you know what I’m gonna say. There’s only one you. Folks need to hear the story only you can sing.