Stepping into Your Story
I am giving a TEDx talk on November 16th at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) about creativity and its transformational powers. I am not going to tell you here about the contents of the talk, but how it came about.
What’s a TEDx?
When I tell someone I am doing a TEDx I receive two reactions, one is bafflement and asking “What is that?” (my Mum was among those…), then there is a “Wow, how did you do that?”
Just over seven years ago I would have been in the first camp; then I saw Brené Brown’s talk on Vulnerability while I was at drama school and I loved every minute of its and her authenticity, thoughtfulness and vulnerability. I watched it in awe and in the back of my mind came the thought, could I do that? I wanted to ask her, “How did you do that?”
When I was first asked that question my first response was to describe the process of looking up the TED website, searching for a suitable venue that I could get to and then pitching my idea to them; the practicalities of how to apply. As I was speaking Melanie Gow, who has her own TEDx talk, stepped in and told my listener that I had changed my life, written a book and in doing so, discovered an idea that was worth sharing with the world. I stopped and listened, taking in what she said and letting myself take in why I am ready for a TEDx.
Why me? Why now?
Because the reason I am doing this now is a culmination of every decision I have ever made, every idea I have followed and brought into being and every moment I have lived. No one else can replicate it, only hopefully be inspired by it and their own desires and know that it is worth pursuing those deep callings, however insane they may seem.
And on the outside mine looked pretty insane. While I am a culmination of every moment I have lived there was a very vivid pivot point, or as I prefer to call it, a pirouette point. I was on maternity with my second (and last) child. I knew I loved to act and I wanted to give it a go. All the odds were against me.
You want to be an actor? Are you mad?
I was too old. I was used to being an expert at what I did. I had a career. Even if I did have talent there are few jobs for women of my age and my young family made it harder to drop everything and go where I did find those unexpected jobs. An average actor makes £5,000 a year and besides there aren’t average actors there are those earning millions and those making nothing, the balance tipped towards nothing.
I knew all of this. The reasons had rumbled around my consciousness for years. Along with the fear that turning my beloved hobby into a job would rob it of its magic and leave me cold, something I could hardly bear to risk. Not to mention my deeply rooted sense of responsibility and desire to support my family in the best way I could, while still living a life I loved with a version of me I could enjoy hanging out with.
Giving it a Go
In spite of all this I gave it a go. About nine years ago, when my son was a baby and my daughter nearly four I went back to drama class. I went to an evening class at RCSSD and started to learn again. I loved it and struggled with it and felt frustrated at myself for not knowing more or being able to step into expertise in this area effortlessly, forgetting the years of toil my professional success had taken me. But I also wanted to keep learning.
An opportunity came up to audition for the Diploma at RCSSD. This was a longer commitment, eight months of acting tuition including voice work, physical theatre, stage combat and performance, with a play at the end of it. I wanted to do it, burned with the desire to be involved. I chose to audition.
What am I Doing Here?
I arrived at the audition. I was 38, a mother of two, married with a mortgage and a suburban home counties life. I sat waiting for my time slot. People flooded around the building for their open day. It was a BA open day so hopeful and vibrant eighteen and nineteen-year olds bounded through the doors full of hope and excitement, as I might have done twenty years earlier.
I felt old. In spite of devouring the wisdom of Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way” my mind told me I was too old for this, too jaded, my time had passed. I thought “What am I doing here? I should go home and forget about this. This is not for me. I had my opportunity and I did something else. I should just accept that and leave this as the dream of what might have been.”
Let’s Do This
My body had other ideas. It wanted to stay. It wanted to perform the piece I had chosen and worked on. It took me into the room and did the work. All that judgement fell away and there was simply me, in the room, with the audition panel, in the moment, performing my text and telling a story. It was pure joy.
After the piece I talked with Ben Buratta and Gareth on the panel. Ben was going to lead the Diploma course. I talked about the role of an actor to serve the story and give themselves over to that experience. I ached to be part of the course. I felt alive, curious, willing to learn and an opening in my heart that hadn’t been there for some time, my vulnerability was coming out. I was risking everything I was for all that I had the chance to become and to experience, and I am no gambler, not usually.
Why? Because it’s my Why
But this, this mattered more than my salary, my job title, even my mortgage and bills. It was about who I am and how I show up in my life. It was about knowing what I am for at an instinctive level and following where that took me, not being at all sure of the outcome. It was about showing my children in the most powerful way I could that intuition, passion and purpose matter more than status and security. It was a fork in the road and I chose the path I could not really see more than a metre of at a time.
That is the road I am still on. I don’t know exactly where I’m going but I do know it’s going to be interesting, challenging, exciting and creative. I also know that I’m going to enjoy every moment of watching it unfold, even the really scary bits, and I’m going to love the people I hang out with along the way, especially the person I have become and am growing into as I go along.
Joining my Heroes
So now I am going to deliver a TEDx talk. I will join some of my heroes on that TEDx red circle and share my idea with the world. How did I do it? Why can I stand there and tell my story and what living that story has revealed to me? Because at a time when it made no sense at all I listened to my call and I stepped with faith into my story with no idea where it was leading.
In short, I chose life in all its richness and uncertainty.