Boxing Yourself In

Judy Ditchfield

Brave enough to change

I started my official life as an actress in 1984. I slotted into the box perfectly. I came from a family of performers, I loved to perform so I went to University, got my drama degree, and got into a resident acting company. The perfect job for me.  But I remember feeling really irritated and quite affronted when people asked me what my real job was. 

What’s your proper job?

The reaction was for quite a few reasons. Firstly, was the assumption that being an actor couldn’t be a full-time job – “I mean you joke around on stage, don’t you?”” It’s fun, not work?” Really? 

Secondly the assumption that there was obviously no skill required. “Anyone can act, we all act all the time” And again, really?

Thirdly, that being in the creative field meant it wasn’t really a “job”. And the claim that actors only “worked” 3 hours a day. “That’s not work…”

I resented the questions, all of which I knew were not true, and I was proud to be an actor. I was determined it was who I was, and I would do nothing else.

Why this resistance to change?

So for years, I plundered on, as a successful actress. I was a busy actress and rarely was out of work. Yes, there were times when I was out of work for a few weeks or months, and really struggled, but that wasn’t too often. And I understood, that, was being an actor. 

We all knew that most actors spent as much time looking for work as working. But even through those struggling times, I never considered doing anything else. I didn’t want to do anything else.  I had tried being a waitress in my teens and I was dreadful and looking back I am not surprised that after hours on my feet, I had received a measly 50 cents tip! So that wasn’t an option. And I didn’t want another option. I was an actress.

A friend’s call for help

A few years later, a friend asked me to write a proposal for her. At varsity my English lecturers had informed me that my writing was dreadful. They suggested that if I wrote like I spoke I would have excelled, but my creative writing was hopeless. So bad that I gave up English. But my friend was insistent.

My guilt made me do it

My friend insistence that if I didn’t help her, she would lose the job, made me start writing. And so I did it. I turned out to be a good writer. So much so, that 2 years later, I was basically seen as a writer more than an actor. This threw me into panic. I was not a writer; I was an actor.

I turned down my first big writing job

I panicked so much, that when a big corporate client asked me to forward examples of my writing work as they wanted to start using me, I said I was no longer writing, just acting. I stopped writing. And once again I moved full time into acting.

Role Playing

Many years later, a British company came to South Africa looking for Role Players or business simulators. It terrified me, but that at least felt a bit familiar and I started doing that as a sideline. Well it required a level of acting skills like listening, embodying a character, “playing” a role in a specific context so it didn’t feel too removed from my acting role. 

What you resist, persists

Then about 15 years ago, still convincing myself that I was solely an actress, another friend asked me to help her out on a training program. She had a regular job with a large company, but there was one day, she was double booked. If she didn’t find someone to help her, she would lose the job. She begged me to do it, and I remember saying: “I can’t train people. I know nothing about it. I am an actor”. She commented that as an actor, all I needed to do was learn the material, stand up in front of the delegates and perform as if I was a trainer. I agreed to do half the day. A full day was too daunting. But still I claimed I did it as a sideline.

My mentor got real

Then I met my mentor who used me in a demonstration of coaching. He said if I agreed to being coached, he would push me hard. He did. He challenged me on why I was so reluctant to start facilitating full time, where this was clearly what I was meant to do. I remember feeling angry, frightened determined to hang on to my acting. But he got me thinking.

There is joy in the unknown

The more I did Role Play and Facilitating, the more I started realizing the power in it for me and the people I engaged with it. I stopped running from it and started embracing it, and my life has literally changed. The majority of my work now is the facilitation and Role Play, and my acting has become secondary.

I still adore my acting, and don’t think I will ever be able to let it go completely. It still is my creative joy and am so happy when I do it, but I now adore the training and role play too. They bring me joy too.

So I guess what I am saying is: What box have you put yourself into? What have you told yourself you are? What don’t you know you are capable of, because of that box? And what are you missing out on because of your fear of change. The fear is real. 

But in the fast-moving world, can we afford to limit ourselves, our opportunities and our potential? Or would we rather stay stuck in the box we put ourselves in. Boy am I glad I saw the light peeping through and opened the lid. I challenge you to at least explore the light.