When you follow your passion into an arts career, you can find many creative satisfactions and emotional rewards, but also experience unique challenges and pressures.
One kind of pressure actors and other performers and artists may face is the demand to present yourself in ways defined by others as “viable” – even when that may be distorting who you really are.
Leyna Bloom became the first transgender actress of color to earn a lead role in a film at the Cannes Film Festival: “Port Authority.”
Photo is from video: “Cannes 2019: ‘We are all transgender,’ says actress Leyna Bloom.”
In an article about her journey to becoming an actor, writer Amy Kaufman notes:
Leyna Bloom turned up at the Port Authority bus terminal [in New York City] at 17 with one red suitcase and nowhere to put it.
She’d saved up a little money working part time at McDonald’s and Starbucks on the South Side of Chicago, the place she’d left behind 22 hours before.
But it wasn’t enough to pay rent, so she spent her first few weeks sleeping on the train, traveling between SoHo and Chelsea and Alphabet City, surviving on $1 slices of pizza.
She’d come to New York City in the hopes of being discovered. She felt she needed to take her life into her own hands after dropping out of the Chicago Academy for the Arts months earlier.
When she was granted a scholarship to the prestigious dance program in her sophomore year, she’d already transitioned.
But the school would recognize only the gender she was assigned at birth. She wanted to be a dancer, and feared this could be her only shot.
So she shaved off all of her hair, bought boy’s clothing and started presenting as a male.
“I slowly started to fall into pressure, but I wasn’t living my most authentic self,” Bloom, now 25, recalled.
“I was living my life for people saying, ‘You are a boy.’ I was like, ‘I don’t fit this.’ I’m gonna do pas de deux as the male? I’m the woman, I’m the soloist, I’m the princess!
“Life is too short to be someone who someone else wants me to be. I don’t want to be stashed away. I want to be living out loud and proud.”
“I’m not just trying to act as a trans woman in ballroom — I am a trans woman in ballroom playing a character,” she said.
“It’s very real and it’s very raw and it means a lot to me, because I am in this moment representing the most marginalized community in the world.”
How Leyna Bloom became the first transgender actress of color to star in a film at Cannes By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times MAY 19, 2019.
(See video with Bloom and more quotes below.)
Living under pressure in an arts career
Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Psy.D., LMFT provides psychotherapy for creative people in TV/Film, performing and fine arts, and writes about the emotional and creative pleasures of this inner life – and its challenges.
She writes about the pressures and demands of arts careers, and how to deal with them:
You chose this career in the arts. You love it. It’s fascinating and it gives you the privilege to live your heart’s desire.
Yet, you know that this work takes more than passion.
You need dedication and action to for your creative ideas come to life and to make a living as an artist.
As much as you love this work, some aspects of your career may feel more like an unsolvable puzzle or and unending maze.
Always trying to figure out what’s your next job, show, or audition…. The demands never end.
As you juggle so many aspects of your career, it feels like the pressure is coming from everywhere.
Pressure to show up. Pressure to have the ‘right’ attitude or to ‘impress’ the ‘right’ people… And, the ultimate pressure, to make your art under all this pressure.
Living under pressure is quite challenging.
You can feel the negative energy taking over.
It’s sucking the the life out of you.
Sometimes, as pressure starts disconnecting you from your creativity, you forget why you are an artist after at all.
Slowly you lose your genuine connection to who you are as a creative.
But pressure comes with the territory. You can’t escape it. It’s part of the fine arts and entertainment world.
So, how can you work with pressure while still maintaining your authentic connection to yourself, your art, your audience, and the people you love?
Here are some powerful, healthy options to help you work with pressure:
Keep a private journal
First, make sure this journal is for your eyes only. Subconsciously you can sabotage your journaling if you’re worried that someone else may have access to it.
The journal is for you to be able to “say” anything that comes your mind about your life circumstances, the people you have to deal with, your self expectations…. It’s a place for you to reveal your true feelings.
As your feelings take shape on the page, you can see them and experience them with more clarity.
When you’re under pressure, you often don’t have time to feel and acknowledge your feelings.
But, when denied, feelings can come back to haunt you.
Your denied and repressed feelings wait in your mind, ready to show their power in indirect ways.
They can make you tired, lost, and confused.
They can make you emotionally over-reactive and out of control.
They can show up as depression, anxiety, and addictions. They disconnect you from your authentic self – the birthplace of your authentic art and connections.
Journaling gives you the opportunity to reconnect with your real self.
As your feelings come back to life in your journal, you come back to life as well. Deeply grounded in your own truth, you can reconnect with your creative energy.
It’s from this authentic and grounded emotional place that you can create your genuine art and make good decisions about your career.
Share your career experiences with someone you trust
Many times, when under pressure, artists can become emotionally isolated.
Feeling alone and disconnected, the pressure becomes a big, looming presence.
Having someone walk with you through the various pressures can create a safe emotional space for you to feel grounded in your own strength and power.
Companionship gives you the energy to take on your battles.
But it does have to be someone you trust. You don’t need someone who will discourage you, judge you, or dismiss you.
You need someone who can make you feel like ‘you got this.’
In fact, there is something very powerful and life sustaining about sharing your intimate struggles with someone with whom you have a strong bond.
Nothing can replace the genuine emotional support of an authentic relationship.
It fills you with the good energy of hope, encouragement, confidence, and trust that you can get somewhere.
Relationships can make you or break you. Surround yourself with those that believe in you, your success and happiness.
Meditation and mindfulness
When you’re overwhelmed by pressure, it can make you feel emotionally weak and out of control.
Meditation and mindfulness expand your capacity to bear pressure and not let it get to you.
See more suggestions in her article :
Leyna Bloom on making choices to be authentic. In this video, she notes:
“After my academics I would go into the dance classes and I would have to be a boy for for my scholarship: I had to cut my hair off, I had to throw away all my girl clothes for this opportunity.
“And I didn’t want to be dancing with another woman – I wanted to be that woman.
“And I said,You know what? Enough is enough. I can’t live like this. I immediately dropped out of the school…”
Being highly sensitive can increase the impact of pressures on creative people.
Nicole Kidman notes she was a highly sensitive child, and thinks “Most actors are highly sensitive people, but you have this incredible scrutiny.
“You have to develop a thick skin, but you can’t have a thick skin in your work. So it’s that constant push-pull…”
Creativity coach Jenna Avery describes how constantly striving and being urgent about our lives and careers can have negative impacts on emotional health, especially for highly sensitive people, who “don’t like to work under stress and pressure.”
See more in my article What is our rush? Freeing yourself from pressure.
This “constantly striving and being urgent” about a career may be a common feature of life for many actors and other performers.
That is another reason to actively help yourself deal with pressures and emotional health challenges – especially as a highly sensitive person.
One of my websites is devoted to this personality trait that is common for most artists.
Here is one of my articles on the site:
Family pressure – or not
Pressuring a prodigy to perform and excel
Pianist Lang Lang comments: “If my father had pressured me like this and I had not done well, it would have been child abuse, and I would be traumatized, maybe destroyed.
“He could have been less extreme and we probably would have made it to the same place; you don’t have to sacrifice everything to be a musician. But we had the same goal.
“So since all the pressure helped me become a world-famous star musician, which I love being, I would say that, for me, it was in the end a wonderful way to grow up.”
From article Lang Lang: “Pressure…but a wonderful way to grow up”
Director, actor, producer and activist Olivia Wilde commented about her passion to act at a young age:
“I wanted to be on Saturday Night Live as a cast member. So I went to my mom at ten years old and said, ‘This is what I want.’
“And she said, ‘Great, well, you’re going to have to go to Second City and you’re going to have to audition.’
“And she took me seriously. And I think that’s what always kind of helped propel me and take myself seriously is that I had supportive parents that were in no way pressuring me to do anything.
“But if I declared that I wanted something, they took me seriously. And that is often what it takes when you decide to be an artist.” [imdb]
Photo: Wilde with a Director’s Viewfinder – she has directed shorts and videos, and in 2019 her first feature film Booksmart.
Not so much pressure – more creative exploration
Actor, writer, producer Brit Marling attended Georgetown University and graduated valedictorian. At school, she met became friends with Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij.
She later co-wrote ‘Another Earth’ with Cahill, and with Batmanglij co-wrote the Netflix series ‘The OA’ (source of the image above of Marling).
Marling recalls Georgetown was “a strange place for the three of us to end up. A lot more people were going to work at banks or on Capitol Hill.
“But I think because the three of us found each other there, and because what we were doing was kind of unusual, it made it the most amazing place.
“We found each other and then we just started making this work.
“There weren’t a lot of people doing it, so we were just kind of teaching ourselves, and we felt this real freedom to do it, because there was not a lot of pressure.
“We were not doing it in the context of a film school or an art school, where there’s all this competition. We were just doing it for the pure love of it.”
The Otherworldly Brit Marling By Alexandria Symonds, Interview Magazine July 6, 2011.
[Photo above from article Who is Brit Marling, the brains behind cult TV show “The OA”? By Olivier Joyard, Numéro.
Some additional resources to help you thrive:
Emotional Health Resources
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional balance, mental health and wellness, and help master stress.
“Learning how to regulate internal states, how and when to use self-soothing techniques, and how to know when we are actually safe — these are key to emotional well-being for anyone, but for artists, they are especially useful.” – Psychologist Cheryl Arutt.