I’ve never been a very good actor.
I’ve known it for a long time, even if I’ve never put words to it. Like many other people I knew growing up, I entertained visions of grandeur—becoming a famous actress, going to Hollywood, getting married to Orlando Bloom, and living happily ever after. Getting roles in amazing movies and traveling all over the world sound like a dream, especially when you’re from a small town in the middle of nowhere.
But the thing about living in a small town in the middle of nowhere is that “making it” in acting, while not impossible, is…mildly unrealistic. You can dream about your flights of fancy, sure, but you know you have to cushion it. You have to tether your dreams to the ground with a “real” job you’d like to have. You work through your high school years, maybe take a year off after you graduate, and eventually you ride off to college like the ticket out of town it is.
I hadn’t felt the pull to go to college like some of my friends had. Those friends had everything figured out. They knew which schools they were going to go to and which classes they were going to take to get into the programs of their choice. In the event that something changed, they had a backup plan. No matter what, they were going to go to college. They were going to get out of here.
I did well in school, and if you do well in school people expect you to go to college. They don’t always suggest this out of a sense of duty or obligation. They do it because they love you and want the best for you and, to be honest, the best for you is probably outside of your small town. At least, that’s what they think. I never felt the pull, though. I never felt the allure. I was content where I was, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Well, I did know, vaguely. But what I wanted to do was nothing that I could go to college for, and it definitely wouldn’t result in a normal, stable career.
I’ve never been a very good actor, but I started to put on masks toward the end of my high school career. I told people that I was feeling fine when I really wasn’t, faking a smile and diverting the conversation. I wouldn’t grimace when they’d ask me what I was planning on going to school for, and I would even give them a well-practiced answer: I’d go to a university in a city nearby. And when people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to be a journalist or a teacher. People would nod their heads approvingly. I was gifted at writing and remembering things, and I was good with kids, so those options made sense.
By the time I graduated, the mask was becoming heavier. I could feel its presence on my face, on my head. I couldn’t tell people the truth, though, especially not the people who loved me. My fear of rejection and my need to please people were too strong. The mask made it harder for me to see my own way forward. I couldn’t focus on doing what I wanted to do when I was so busy telling people otherwise.
Eventually, I felt it: the drive to get out of my small town, the need to experience something bigger. My ticket out still wasn’t college, though; it started as a vague notion to travel, to experience something bigger than myself. My mentor guided that, encouraged me to look at an organization that has Bible schools all over the world. Eventually, I decided on going to the campus in England for a six-month course.
To do that, however, the mask had to come off.
I had to be honest with the people around me. It was a gradual experience; I practiced taking it off every now and then, here and there, telling people where I’d decided to go to school. I tried not being afraid of the question, “But what are you going to get out of it?” I tried being open about what I really wanted to do, even if it didn’t require a college education. Not only that, but I tried preparing myself for my new reality. By the time the mask was coming off, I’d lied so many times that I’d started to believe my own lies. I wasn’t going to college, and that was OK.
And it was. It really was. Because even if people had trouble making sense of my decision, they still supported me. They were behind me. They were backing me up, and they weren’t letting me go at it alone. They might not have completely understood, but they would be with me regardless. By the time I put the mask away for good, I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I’ve never been a very good actor. There’s freedom in knowing I don’t need to act anymore, and that I never needed to in the first place.