I wish I’d never been commended on doing well as a kid. I was a child. Whatever I was doing was mediocre at best in comparison to a basic-functioning adult and most probably happenstance, so there really was no need to pretend I was up for Nobel Peace Prize nominations at every parent-teacher conference. Writing at a 5th grade level in 2nd grade. Spelling at a 7th grade level in 3rd grade. Reading at an 8th grade level in 5th grade. “Gifted” in America, “Enhanced” in Canada. My parents? “Yawn.” It was such a given that I was likely kicking my peers’ butts at the brain-game that my parents kinda sorta mostly lost interest in parent-teacher nights and figured, hey, let’s just stay all stay home and enjoy the latest Seinfeld, yes? (Sucks to be them, comedy is what I prioritized over math.)
Kids just are, they do what they do, they soak up what they see, hear, experience. So their output is just that. And when I kept getting rewarded for being a nerd, I knew my brain was A-okay and chugging along. It seemed to be pleasing all of the adults around me with no intervention required. I could just continue deep-diving into my Bearenstein Bears, Boxcar Children, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley, Judy Blume goodness, my pocket thesaurus, presidential biographies, and that big book on geographical features, and not worry at all about figuring out how to really do anything. Because my brain seemed to be doing it on its own. And when it got confused? Well, I just walked away. I distinctly remember explosively failing a quiz on measurements in elementary school. My teacher’s facial expression was just flat-out confusion. Was Bree absent when I taught this? How is my star pupil bombing this, not just badly, but at all? Well, the measurements unit wrapped and we never talked about it again and then I wrote a killer essay on killer whales and wowed her pretty fast, pretty easily, and all metric system failures were quickly buried and forgotten. (This was in California, hence, metric, not Imperial.)
Sidebar: I still have no clue what Americans use a yard stick for beyond teachers pointing at chalkboards. They must’ve advanced to laser pointers by now so yard sticks are most probably obsolete both physically and in the percentage of carpenters using them, I’m sure.
I think I’m emerging with two points here. The first, the process of learning was never emphasized, so yea, there really is something to that “commend the effort, not the result” developmental psychology research theory for raising your kids.
The second, I became very scared of venturing deep into realms of learning where I sucked and natural intelligence could only get me so far. I walked into situations expecting an A, perhaps even an A+, so when a big ol’ “Wrong” came my way, it was instant Failure City paranoia. It should never be about failing. It should never ever be that. No kid should ever feel like their only options are to either just be great through no control of their own, or fail miserably.
As my natural intelligence started equalling the studying efforts of my teenage classmates in high school, failure and mediocrity became the new weird feeling inside of me. But I surely didn’t know it. Throw in a resulting depression and an inability to label, let alone address, these new feelings of frustration, I was doomed to hold tightly to the antiquated notion that I was naturally able to excel and be perfect– rather than face what I was being shown over and over through test results. I knew I had the brain… I just didn’t know how to use it anymore. I didn’t know how to study. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable about my shortcomings. I didn’t know how to say “Help me, I’m lost,” and “I suck at math so why am I trying to get into med school rather than writing The Next Great Canadian Novel?”
Second sidebar: I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realize that I’m pretty basic at math. When I do math in my head, I visualize. Nothing’s automated. I’m really speedy at those visualizations now, but in comparison to colleagues, it’s probably still a massively slow way to reach answers. (Yes, yes I have worked and trained as a data analyst, and I don’t know what to say about that right now so I guess stay tuned for a future blog post?)
Which all brings me to today. I know I’m good at acting, I might even say great at times and I can say that with confidence. I’ve grown as a learner since my public school and uni days. I’ve practiced techniques from acting and improv classes, gigs and watching others perform live and on TV; I’ve changed how I analyze scripts. People enjoy my performances.
But when I fail? Hoo-boy. The shame of my “natural intelligence” not gleaming through to glide me to perfection– yea it definitely tries to kick down the door to get at me and slam me down to my knees with brute force. But the default settings that came with my brain barely have anything to do with the clean, precise, technically-proficient and emotionally-generous professional actor I am continuously developing and forming.
Yes, I utilize my natural instinct of swimming into the depths of my emotional well, and I pick up humour faster than them non-humourous folks (who even are they, why even are they, please let me never go out on a date with any of them ever again). But the precision in harnessing my emotions for this career is something I’m constantly fine-tuning and will be forever. I’ll never be exactly what everyone wants. My god, I’ve picked the most subjective career possible– I’ll never get that A from all hundo-p of viewers (that’s 100%, don’t forget), let alone that A+. There’ll always be the flip-side of a reviewer deciding comedy needs to be explained to me because I just didn’t get it.
But as long as I don’t get complacent and sit back to rely on whatever level I’m at now, as long as I stay aware that perfection is nowhere near and there’s always room to push and uncover my next layer of unbelievable– yea, I’ll be here chiselling away. Because, here’s the lesson, kids, now I know how to get better. And I actually want to instead of running away from questions about how many meters are in yards (or yards in meters?). Because I love it so goddamn much beyond everything. All that career-flipping, purposeless wandering and suicidal depression that dropped me off at “either go die or pursue your dream career” cliff (which will fill up this blog)… was worth it.