When I was a kid in school, I made a plan with a new friend to spend a sunny Saturday together in the park between our neighborhoods. We were in the same writing class, so I imagined it would be a whimsical artist date. I thought she was so cool and smart (definitely cooler and smarter than me) and I wanted to make sure she enjoyed my company.
That Saturday morning, I filled a paper shopping bag with supplies. I packed board games, legos, books and books and books. I loaded up on colored pencils and highlighters, sketchpads and construction paper. The bag bulged at its edges, threatening to tear. As I walked to meet her at the park, I clutched it against my chest, afraid it would break and spill its contents if I held it by the handles.
When she arrived, she took a look. She pulled out some colored pencils and maybe a few sheets of construction paper. Then she suggested we go for a walk, hiding the unwieldy bag behind a bush for safekeeping. We found a spot to sit and doodled in our journals, chatting and laughing. At the end of the afternoon, we headed back to pick up the tightly packed toolkit from its hiding place and went home.
This story tells me many things. I think of myself at that age, so excited to get to know someone I admired, and so unsure I had enough to offer them. I think of how much pressure I put on that one day, how certain I was that I had to turn the party out or it would be both the first and last time. I think of how indecisive I was that morning, how scattered; and in that scatteredness, a loss of myself. A mistrust. A hesitance to make my own choices, to move toward what I might have wanted to do with a new friend.
I also think about auditions. I am often caught in thick waves of indecision leading up to them, worrying so much about the pieces coming together that I can't focus on any one thing. I know I want to present the most well-rounded version of myself. I want to show all I can do, to assert the wide range of value I can bring. But it is easy to get so caught up in trying to do everything at once that you lose yourself.
My therapist helped me put some language around this state last year: Analysis Paralysis. As much as we try to be well-rounded artists, we also have to make choices. Choices make us memorable. Analysis Paralysis occurs when we resist making decisions out of fear that, faced with a panoply of options, whatever we choose will not be the best choice. We either make no concrete choices, foregoing decisions and leaving them up to others (as I did with my giant paper bag of tricks), or we shut down entirely, avoiding whatever stressor is stimulating the indecision.
Making specific, actionable choices in our work builds confidence and develops style. There is no single right choice in any creative scenario; in fact I have had many teachers tell me to make bold choices even if they're wrong. But sometimes we feel paralyzed out of fear that someone in the audience or on the other side of the table won't like what we've chosen.
This story of me taking everything with me in a big paper bag has one more thing to tell me. My friend chose to bring so little on our walk because she knew what we had to offer one another would get us through just fine. And it did. Not all people are going to meet us where we are, but we can't manage that. The best thing to do is show up and trust.
This is not to say we should never make choices; we absolutely should. But all of our choices must be fueled by what brings us to life. What fascinates us? What can we offer? What do we want to get out of an experience? More importantly, though, we don't have to put pressure on ourselves to know the answers to those questions the first time we try something. We can let ourselves find them.
I recently completed the first draft of a big project and have been working through revisions. What I am most proud of so far (and what I could not have done until very recently) is that I kept writing even as I knew things weren't quite how I wanted them to be. Even when I wasn't sure how I wanted moments to land, or when I couldn't quite see the whole picture, I kept writing. I forged ahead, trusting that not everything had to be made the first time around, believing that showing up for the work would teach me how to shape it. Showing up and resisting the pressure to bring everything at once allowed me to figure out what I did want to bring. It led me to true, strong choices — without force — but with patience and trust.