Updated: Apr 18, 2021
It was hard to do. But not as hard as not doing it.
What creates the impetus for action? When not doing something gradually possesses less weight than doing something. The scales tip to one side and then we act. The appeal of taking the plunge overtakes the gravitational pull of inaction.
It is so funny that the profession of acting uses such a general verb - to take action. So what does it mean to quit acting - to stop being a verb, to take an action towards inaction.
Good acting is much like the analogy I gave in the first paragraph: don't do something until you have to do something. Do not do something just to do something - do nothing until the need to do something bubbles up out of you almost involuntarily. When we receive bad news, we do not immediately burst into tears. We hold back, restrain reaction, question what we heard until the tears escape us at an inopportune moment when we simply can no longer not cry.
I simply could no longer not quit. Quitting is seen as such a bad word, equated with giving up and accepting defeat. But we also quit smoking (I have), toxic relationships (you bet) and procrastination (feels great). So what about when you quit something you still love a little, something that was once good to you and for which you possess a talent?
In a Self Healing Consult yesterday, my client told me "I shared something you said that really struck me with my therapist" (yes, most of my one-on-one clients are also in therapy - heterogeneous styles of healing, people). "What was that?" I asked. "You said you don't have to hate something to leave it." Ah, yes.
I love Montreal, but I would like to move to another country. I have seen many people in romantic relationships with someone who has become a dear friend, but should no longer be their lover. I have possessed passion for nearly every job I've had, but was grateful when it was time to walk out the door one final time. So why do we depart one thing for another?
To make space. We have a limited amount of energy in an unlimited universe. It's the same reason we commit in a relationship. I forego the opportunity to date endless people so I can devote more energy to our primary partnership. To release one thing in favour of another is the basic foundational principle behind making a choice.
So when I called my dear acting agent and announced it was time to leave the business, I was not feeling disdain for that profession, for the people in it nor for my time as an actor. I was choosing another life for myself. I was making space to honour the career I was building, the person I was becoming and the lifestyle I was co-creating. And it required a removal.
In my first post, Getting Unstuck, I said one has to write to be a writer. But this gets complicated with acting. One can not simply wake up and go act in one's living room. You can create communal groups and work on scenes, you can record a monologue for Instagram or write your own material with the hopes of getting it produced (I got very close with the latter). With all arts, one essentially needs an audience to complete the experience of creation. A musician needs ears, a painter needs viewership and a writer needs readers. But an actor needs to be chosen in order to do what they do. So they need to audition.
Boy, have I auditioned. When I was eight years old, I auditioned for two years without booking. My first role was that of a hand double in a film where I got to meet Bob Hoskins from Hook in the waiting room (career highlight?). Then at ten years old, I booked a lead role in a feature film and got every role I auditioned for after that until my first "retirement" at the age of fifteen. At that time, I just wanted to be a high school student. I loved acting, the thrill of auditioning and the zen focus of being on set with the pressure of the film's budget weighing on the number of takes required to nail it. I loved every second of the acting bits. But I was sad those Friday nights that I waited in my trailer to be wrapped and missed a school dance. Or that I wasn't allowed to dye my hair or do adrenaline sports.
Trust me, when I was older and starting over as a struggling actor, the reasons for stepping back from the industry as a teen seemed frivolous and near nauseating. I was no doubt cocky thinking I could come and go as I pleased from the entertainment industry, unaware of how precious and rare the momentum I garnered was on a broader scale. But who was the 29-year old me to tell the 15-year old me what to feel and value? And truthfully, I also felt grateful for the rodeo of diverse experiences I had accumulated in all those years between. They would make me a more interesting actor, or at the very least, a more colourful human being.
In my late twenties, I quit my second major career: the contemporary art world. It wasn't for me (that's a whole other post). Since that time until my recent re-retirement, I realized that I was no longer in the business of professional acting. My job was to audition. Now, as a kid, this was a point of thriving to me. Even recently, the bigger the panel of industry executives at the table behind the camera, the more on my game I was on stage. I loved the pressure as it gave my mildly ADD brain the necessary singular focus to tune in and turn on.
But it gradually became less fun. For a variety of reasons. Sometimes I was underprepared and insufficiently invested. Sometimes I wanted it too bad, overprepared and felt off kilter or inauthentic. Sometimes I was rusty and took a chance that didn't work. Sometimes I simply forgot how to do what I knew deep down I knew how to do. Sometimes the role didn't quite suit me or I didn't possess enough genuine excitement for the project.
And then there were the other times - too many to count. That I was shortlisted to the top three over and over and over and over again. I'm not a statistician, but if you are in the top three forty times in a row, you'd think the dice would roll your way one of those times? Wrong. I would get feedback that I had done a great read from casting and directors. But somewhere in the selection process, when my tape was sent off to production, I was either too tall, the wrong colours, too remarkable for a small role, had too few credits for a larger role, looked too much like the lead, was too nice, not matronly enough - too this, not enough of that. Or perfect for it but it just "didn't go your (my) way."
I assure you I did not take this personally. Having been on the other side of the lucky stick for so long, I knew the dice could not always roll your way and felt some vicarious joy for whoever was breaking through the way I had in what felt like a previous lifetime. Despite my ability to rationalize the outcome, I was still left with a feeling that was unfortunately familiar: being too much or not enough for it to work. It may not be anyone's fault, but it was not meant to be.
Why did I recognize this feeling? From previous relationships. Where no matter what I did, I always felt I needed to be and do better to gain the person's approval: lose weight, gain muscle, be more confident, possess more femininity, don't be so loud, be more bold - turn up this dial, lower that one - no, not like that... etc.
On the phone one day, venting about the strain the life of auditioning was putting on me, my mother asked me: "if this were a relationship, how would you describe it?" This is what I could answer: "I am not sure if it's for me anymore." "I give more than I get back." "I never feel good enough." "I am not what they want." "I'm sad and drained but I can suck it up." If someone were describing a marriage to me this way, I would recommend they consider a divorce.
Now just like with a marriage, sometimes it's better to work through it. And it's the same for acting. I know the feelings I describe are common to most actors at one point or another. The hard work they put in only for the opportunity to slip right past them for sometimes arbitrary but no less hurtful reasons. It's the name of the game in a highly competitive industry. So do I think every struggling or discouraged actor should quit? Hell no.
So here's what tipped my scales. When it comes to my business, Tour de Soul, I know I am in a competitive industry. When I write blog posts and hope to also write a book some day, I know there's an unquantifiable number of people with the same hopes and dreams making my personal investment a significant gamble. But these pursuits feed me along the way and the striving feels worth it. When I post near daily on my Instagram, not everything garners feedback, but when someone comments that something helped them through an issue in their own life - it's all worth it. When I have a quiet week of work and worry about my monthly income tally, but then finish a consult with a client and feel like I have just aligned with my purpose and helped someone access a truer, stronger, freer part of themselves, it's an unquantifiable reward. And whenever I write a blog post, I feel a knot of tension within me unravel into exhilaration and levity, an act of self liberation, and I know I am in the right place at the right time.
I still pursue long term goals with uncertain ends. I still embrace my daily commitment to competitive industries and know I will need to work in the dark at times, with no cheerleaders rallying me forward on my path. But I am being fed in the meantime. The relationships here are reciprocal, nourishing and enhance my sense of self worth rather than rattle it.
One of the final moments I knew I had to quit acting was in a Self Healing Consult with another one of my clients. I heard myself urging her to leave behind a career where she was thriving to pursue her long term dream of writing fiction, which was already starting to bear fruits. I knew how hard it was to step back from something that had brought such success, societal recognition, money, inspiration - and even a feeling of being special - in the past. I knew the mourning it entailed. I encouraged her not to cling to what had worked for her previously and to make room for the new forms her inspiration was yearning to incarnate.
I didn't want to be a hypocrite as I supported my clients in taking leaps of faith to pursue the thrill of their most authentic joys, while releasing their fears of losing what they had. This helped me realize that what I missed most about acting in my youth was what it brought me: a sense of purpose. Incredible relationships. An outlet for my creativity. Travel to wonderful places. Being paid a good rate for my talent. The support of my community. A feeling of success and energy well spent. Long days applying myself and a sense of quiet satisfaction at the end. I still wanted all those things. -- Did I really want to be on a set, in a make up chair reviewing my lines or developing my character on weekends? I felt a quiet shame but relief as I realized the particularities of being an actor didn't actually excite me that much anymore.
It's been hard to let go of twelve year old Natalie, living in Australia or Ireland, shooting a movie, the passion/exploration/excitement and fulfillment from deep focus when cameras are rolling. I'm still in a mourning process.
In the weeks leading up to quitting, my auditioning got better. I cared less about the outcome as I was prepared to let go of the industry altogether and paradoxically, because I was less desperate, my performances improved - they became truer and freer. As I got closer to what I thought I wanted, I realized it was no longer for me. And I felt that a few days on set here and there would not be worth the life of auditioning any longer.
The pain of inaction and waiting (literally 'an inability to act') became greater than the desire to succeed. The act of quitting felt empowering and self-liberating. I could choose to not do and in that demarcation, I was choosing something else. And it could still have all the ingredients I want: the travel, the purpose, the creativity, the determination, the camaraderie, the adrenaline, even the instinct to perform.
I just didn't need to be cast in a role to play that part. I have new outlets for that now. And after having spent 27 of my 35 years in the audition room, I was no longer waiting to be selected. I was choosing myself and a new life. Uncertain, but fresh.
What I am meant for I will find and what is meant for me will find me. There is no need to push or force.
I was no longer excited when an audition popped up in my inbox and this was all that I needed to know. For actors that are meant to continue, the pain of the struggle may be great, but the pain in not pursuing their dream is far more significant. This is why they should and do continue.
I will always be an actor, as part of the plurality of my selves. My work requires me to speak on camera most days and I relish it. But I love writing my own lines. I love choosing myself every day to represent my story. I love knowing I have selected the possibility of what I yearn to become over the false certainty of what I have already done.
Walking away from acting without having found success again was a VERY hard pill for my ego to swallow. It was also a gift. My work in the spiritual realm would all be fraudulent if I didn't believe the Universe or Source gently (and sometimes roughly) guides us away from what is no longer meant for us. I gave the Universe the deadline of my 35th birthday - if I didn't book a role by then, I was not meant to continue. After making that decision, I read online that many other actors had made the same pact with themselves and booked a role in the final days of their self imposed deadline.
As my deadline approached, I felt relief realizing the role would not come. Like I was being spared. A little voice inside me asking permission to get off the carousel of waiting to be chosen while pursuing an expired dream.
This time I could answer it firmly and with love, say: "It's a wrap."