Friday, March 16, 2012

Play To Lose

An actor can’t get an audition much less a part. “Why is this happening to me? What am I doing wrong?” he asks his coach.  He is afraid, confounded, desperate. 

The coach tells him, “Oh, you’re going to get an audition, very soon, in fact, and when you do – I want you to blow it."
The actor is alarmed.  “That’s crazy! Why would I do that?” 
“What’s more important,” the coach asks, “The audition or your life?” 

I witnessed this exchange many years ago at a weekly seminar in LA facilitated by life coach Breck Costin.  My mentor at the studio where I worked suggested I meet Breck after she’d walked into my office one afternoon and found me adrift in a sea of emotional pain.  I was far, far, far from who I thought I was or the person I wanted to be.  I was cautious and afraid of conflict, overly sensitive, stuck, low-paid, over-worked, depressed and always tired -- instead of bold, innovative, laughter-loving, bounteous and free.

“What’s wrong?” Nancy asked as she stepped into my office.  I was still getting to know her and didn’t want to go into the details of my unhappy life, so I just said, “I feel like if I were myself there wouldn’t be enough air to breath.”  Nancy smiled like a Cheshire cat and sat down in the chair across from me.  With that one look, all my layers of protection fell away and I felt completely exposed.  “If you were yourself,” she said, still smiling, “you’d be a forest.” 
I went back to the seminar the next week and the actor told the story of what had happened in the intervening days.  Unbelievably, he did get an audition – just like Breck had said – and for a pretty good role too!  He bravely went in and did everything you’re not supposed to do at an audition – he talked loudly in the hallways, chewed gum on stage, and after a couple lines into the reading he tossed the script on the floor and started to complain how the writing sucked!
The producers loved it and hired him!
Why did it work?  
Breck’s theory was that you can’t produce when you’re afraid of losing.  The reason people don’t fully invest in someone or something is because they’re afraid of losing that person or thing.  They do everything possible to avoid the loss.  Which means they can’t play or create in that arena (be it money, sex, career, parenting, partnership or whatever) and so they become petrified, literally.  Stuck in a block of cement.  
Breck said magic happens when you develop a full-blown relationship with loss – when you are fully invested and play full out to lose.  Unlike most self-help gurus who exhort you to be a winner, or those who trick you into winning despite yourself, Breck encouraged you to play to lose.  When you worked with him you had to give up the right to have a result. The purpose was to bring up all the feelings you avoided and to heal them.  Actually, the feelings never quite go away, you just learn how to live with them.
Joseph Campbell said “follow your bliss” but Breck believed that your calling will bring up feelings of more than just “bliss.”  Sometimes, he'd say, dealing with your life's work takes all you’ve got.
As for me, Breck thought my calling was "voice."  I had to give up the right to have one.  I had to take all the committed actions not to be a successful storyteller but to bring up all the feelings of loss, of never having been heard, of being shouted down, of confusion and making mistakes, of forgetfulness, of feeling invisible, dismissed, accidental, powerless – and not deserving of love.  Notwithstanding those feelings, I slowly began to speak up for myself, pipe up at department meetings, express my anger to a boss – and share my writing with others.   
That was a long time ago, and still, every day, I struggle to remember that my life is worth more than my fear.
What are you afraid to lose?