22 Feb 2013

We ape, we mimic, we mock. We act.Laurence Olivier

Have you ever walked into an interview or an audition and the interviewer, in an effort to relax you, tells you “just be yourself”? And rather than helping you, you only get more butterflies in your stomach?

Your mind races. “What does that mean – ‘be yourself?'”
A litany of questions commence in a split second.
“Just how much of myself should I be?”
“What do they want?”
You try to relax, but more questions race through your mind.
“How should I show him who I am?”
“Who am I anyway?”

You start to worry. “If I act like I do at home or with friends – is that what they’re asking for?

They see I’m nervous. Uh-oh! BREATHE! SMILE!”

“Maybe I should act like I don’t care. But I do care.”
“I want this job and they already see I’m nervous. That’s not good.”
You smile even more, ignore the cotton in your mouth and soldier on.

Sound familiar?

Those thoughts and questions take you farther and farther from your true self and you end up trying to be what you think they want you to be. What’s more if you fixate on those questions and concerns regularly, you will begin to act on that anxiety and work towards showing the world a self you think you should be or a self that you think others expect you to be.

That was me many years ago. I was a mess. I created a self that was based mostly what I thought others wanted from me. I wanted the world to see me as talented, funny, nice, likeable… No, more than likeable – Lovable. Yet down at the core I didn’t really see myself like that. I was out of touch with my real self. I was what you’d call a phony. A good one; one that you’d never know. I thought I had mastered the art of being genuine as well.

Sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.Daniel Schorr

So whenever I heard ‘just be yourself’, I panicked.

I won’t go into all the therapy I was doing or the drugs I took. Suffice it to say I worked hard at trying to be me, but had no idea what really that meant.

My mind was honed to a razor’s edge to pick up signals, anticipate reactions, be prepared with a battery of responses to any situation and could draw on them in a flash. I presented myself to the world as how I wanted to be – funny and likeable and quick-witted. I could make people laugh, put them at their ease and match wits with the best of them. It’s what drew me to Improv.

I thought that Improv was the practice of that very thing I did so well: Pick-up signals, accept offers from people and fulfill their expectations. I would never deny any offer and I would always support it and add something to what everyone onstage was doing. I was processing a lot of information quickly and turning it into comedy.

I was pretty good at it. In my early years as an actor in LA, I had made my way into a very funny Improv group and was able to keep up with them. We produced a lot of very funny comedy Improv. But for me, it was not fun, it was stressful.

I became increasingly unhappy and got into therapy to unravel the mystery of why I was doing what I wanted to do, but was so depressed. I was funny, likable, and relatively talented. And I thought I was a pretty good improviser.

Then I took a class with Viola Spolin.

In her class, my shtick didn’t work. I was what she called ‘in my head’ and she pointed it out often. I had a terrible time with it at first, until, after playing dozens and dozens of games, I started being really spontaneous and having fun. So much fun in fact that I had no time to ask myself the questions that paralyzed me before.

In Viola Spolin’s class, I re-learned how to play and that was the beginning of my transformation. I became myself. My authentic self and I did not lose any of my talents save one. I lost the ability to pretend I was who I wanted to be. I became myself.

One of the greatest gifts in life is the ability to be ourselves: To be our authentic self.be yourself emerson quote

Authenticity starts to disappear early in life for many reasons. We learn early on that we get rewarded for being and doing what others expect of us; by parents, teachers and the media We are bombarded with messages as we grow up that puts distance between who we really are and what the world, our teachers and culture expects of us and thinks we should be. We then aspire to that.

When we watch children at play – we smile and long for that care-free, unabashed ability to be as they are; unfettered by expectations and joyfully playing with each other in a wholesome and fun way. You say to yourself, “Let’s never grow up.” Ah, but we do. But we need not lose it.

What children do, we need to do. PLAY! Be spontaneous! Have fun! And carry that into our adult lives.

When we become spontaneous in the act of playing we are literally re-formed into ourselves. We are in the moment and we become truly who we are and were meant to be.

I advise you to play and have as much fun as you can as often as possible!

So when you hear that direction in an interview or audition, ‘just be yourself’ – you will be!

Good luck!


Gary Schwartz – North Bend Feb. 2013