Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Good Student, Bad Student

I'm going to let you in on a little secret... most people who make their livings as performers weren't the best students growing up.

Now I'm going to let you in on an even "littler" secret... I was not one of those performers.

I've always been a very good student.  ("littler" usage aside)  Growing up, I wanted to learn; I wanted to make my parents proud, and I believe I finished my educational years accomplishing both.

That being said, there are a few other things I picked up along the good student path that haven't served me quite as well in show business.  The most incriminating, I believe, is the "good student" label I worked so hard to get in the first place.

You see, in an educational system where "good students" get A's and "bad students" get F's, the one thing "bad students" have going for them is they aren't afraid of being called "bad" to begin with.  I, on the other hand, considered "bad" a deadly virus and went to great lengths to make sure I never caught it.

This might sound foreign to a few of my fellow artistic types.  Traditionally, we're known to complain about the existence of societal norms and labels.  "Why worry about grades at all?" we wonder.  "Soon enough we'll be wealthy actors, and when do actors ever need to know about quadratic equations?"  (Answer: Laura Dern in October Sky.)

Still, I see our point.  The problem in caring too much about how test scores, professors, or anyone for that matter shape the way we feel about ourselves, is that when it comes time to enter the real world, they're never enough.  And believe me, they shouldn't be!  There is no way to produce a subjective thing like art for a living and expect that everyone will always love it, so it only makes sense that success can't and shouldn't be defined by those terms.  Simply put: you're not always going to get an "A," and that's ok.

So I guess a near perfect report card isn't as important as I had previously considered.  If true power is derived from the way we feel about ourselves, and if the most successful artists answer to little other than their own dreams, then maybe the good student, bad student labels and subsequent behavior we've assigned to them aren't entirely accurate.


Maybe what I'm actually talking about here is respect.  There is no risk in disappointing someone you don't respect.  I was teased plenty when I was a kid, but it didn't bother me.  Why?  Because I didn't respect the ones that were doing the teasing.  On the other hand, there is a lot of risk in disappointing the people you respect the most: parents, teachers, a paying audience...yourself?

As I see it, performers, and humans in general, require a special blend of respect for their audience, mixed with enough self confidence to keep them from crying themselves to sleep if their audience doesn't laugh or clap when they're supposed to.

So how on earth do we teach respect worthy of disappointment AND self confidence worthy of success?

I don't know.

But here's what I've learned: you need both!  You can have one or the other and get a couple A's, but I promise the label won't last.  The sooner you get both respect and confidence, the "gooder" off you'll be.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post because it captures the essence of how invalid educational grades are to success in "real life". I remember my mom telling me that I would succeed in "life" because I had survived growing up in a small town where jealousy and back-stabbing were prevalent. A blend of respect/confidence are the needed ingredients to survive "life".