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Finding Confidence, Joy, and Meaning

Self!sh by Stephanie Szostak

An excerpt from Stephanie Szostak's new book, Self!sh

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME

Growing up, two of my most significant teachers were my dad and my brother. My dad taught me that the quality of my thoughts affected my performance—in life and, most importantly, on the golf course. “One shot at a time,” he’d remind me again and again to keep me focused on the present moment. My older brother didn’t give two turds about golf. He was a Rastafari, and a rebel. He taught me to be independent-minded and to not follow the herd. He questioned everything and saw the world in unique ways. He also made me aware at a very young age of the complexities of the human mind, as I saw him struggling to fit in and battle his heroin addiction. He died much too young at twenty-eight years old, and he continues to inspire me every day.

FASCINATED BY THE MIND

I wanted to be a social worker when I started college, to help kids like my brother. But instead, I did the more practical and predictable thing: studied business and graduated with a marketing degree. I landed in fabulous NYC, in the glamorous world of fashion at Chanel—this corporate cubical stint wasn’t quite the right fit for me BUT it ended up being a great dry run for what was on the horizon. At the age of twenty-nine, I followed a quiet but persistent inner voice and signed up for my first-ever acting class. It was a theater studio in New York City and it was serious work. There were working actors and students. Twice a week, I’d watch them put up scenes of plays I’d never heard of and slip in and out of themselves. They made it seem so simple, so natural. The playfulness, the physicality, the freedom, the pain, the exploration, I was blown away by it all. It took me weeks to get my butt off my chair and get on stage and when I finally did, I lasted no more than a minute. “Stop!” my teacher bellowed, “I don’t believe a word you’re saying!” She sent my scene partner back to his seat and laid into me for what seemed to be an eternity. She crushed me. The audacity I had thinking I was ready to work, thinking I could waltz myself into “acting” just because I wanted to. The disregard I had for the craft. The incapacity I had at standing on my two feet. The permanent smile on my face—“Is what I’m saying funny to you?” she asked. I shook my head no. She humiliated me. She pissed me off. She hurt me. But she woke me up to my pretending, to a part of myself I had buried deep inside of me. I knew I had to do this. I knew I had found my passion (and my teacher!). So, I didn’t become a social worker. I only “play pretend” for a living, but still, as an actress, I get to dig into the psyche of characters, even if only fictional, and try to understand why they do the things they do and think the things they think. Why do they get in their own way and not necessarily do what serves them best? How ironic is it then that a decade after I started my acting career after making my way from independent movies to playing Jacqueline Follet opposite Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, I had to dig into my own psyche and figure out why my mind was undermining my confidence, my joy, and my well-being?

LOSING MY WAY

“That sucked. They’re gonna think it sucked. They’re gonna think I suck. I do suck. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I’m gonna get fired.” That was my inner dialogue on the set of my first lead role in a major studio film, Dinner for Schmucks. I was flooded with self-doubt. My inner dialogue was toxic. I felt like an outsider. Like a complete beginner. I lost my way. There I was, being handed the opportunity to work with comedic icons Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, and I lost my ability to trust, play, and let go. I completely lost my confidence and I didn’t have the tools to shake off the mental chatter and recalibrate.

LEARNING NEW WAYS

My mother told me that her forties were her best decade. She said that, for her, it was when she finally knew who she was and didn’t care what other people thought. Well, I was forty and I was longing for a whole lot of that. I had some learning to do and began DIGGING into books, podcasts, and online courses. I incorporated new daily rituals into my life that worked for me—gratitude, meditation, and journaling. I learned new skills that helped me not only with my confidence and mental health but also gave me a new outlook on life—a new sense of purpose and meaning—that was bigger than my career and bigger than me. I got a clearer idea of what kind of life I wanted to live and who I was. I got a Mindset Makeover....

BUT THE CHALLENGE REMAINED....

How would I remember all this guidance? How could I give it staying power? I heard the psychologist and grit expert, Angela Duckworth, explain on the Finding Mastery podcast how she can “help people make plans to change and make differences in their lives but—Why doesn’t it stick? Why isn’t it accumulating?” That is precisely the WHY behind The Self!sh Playbook.

Excerpted from (c) 2023 Published by Post Hill Press. Used with permission.

"I incorporated new daily rituals into my life that worked for me—gratitude, meditation, and journaling. I learned new skills that helped me not only with my confidence and mental health but also gave me a new outlook on life—a new sense of purpose and meaning—that was bigger than my career and bigger than me."

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