I’m making dinner.

I don’t normally like cooking because it stresses me out. So many options – what spices go with what? What tastes good with what? I have no idea. I let my partner do the cooking.

But we’ve got a student discount on HelloFresh so for the last few weeks we’ve had meals delivered to us with all the ingredients ready to go, with a perfect little step-by-step instruction set that has completely hooked my absolute love of organization, order, and efficiency. After spending my days in classes where we’re perpetually thrust into the gray space of “Why do you think that?” “What’s the nuance of that?” “But have you seen it from this perspective?” it’s soothing to come home and complete a task successfully the way someone else told me to.

Ironically enough, cooking HelloFresh meals drives my partner absolutely bananas. Last week, after he utterly destroyed a HelloFresh meal and we were forced to order pizza, it was agreed that I would be the household’s HelloFresh chef, and he would captain our more creative meals.

Brilliant. Anyway.

The dinner is going according to plan. I’ve got my AirPods in and I’m listening to Dr. Kristin Neff’s TedTalk about the space between self-compassion and self-esteem. I’ve heard this one before, so I’m only vaguely paying attention while I cut up the potatoes.

“Self-esteem is a global evaluation of self-worth…to have high-self-esteem you have to feel special and above average…It’s not ok to be average. It’s considered an insult to be average…”

I stop cutting the potatoes. Neff continues:

“Self compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly. Embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all.”

It’s another holy shit moment. The penny drops for me.

When someone asks me whether I like myself or not, I say yes. I list off all the things that I’ve done, all the things that I’m proud of, all of my accomplishments — straight A’s, honors student, successful theater company, the most pull-ups in middle school (I am admittedly really proud of that one). I’ve dismissed TedTalks like this before because I think, “I don’t need this. I like myself. I went through some hard years in middle school and high school but I conquered that, and yeah, now I like myself. Moving on.”

In this moment, with the knife mid-air and the potatoes dangerously close to rolling off the cutting board, I realize that I’ve got high self-esteem.

But I’ve got crap self-compassion.

Most of the things I like about myself are related to what I’ve done. Outward successes I’ve had. Tangible, objective markers of a “productive, good member of society.” When I think back on times when my confidence and self-image really hit rock bottom, it was related to some external perceived “failure.”

My whole sense of self-worth is wrapped up in how well I perform and accomplish things.

When the TedTalk finishes, I look for more information on Neff’s website. She says:

“…self-compassion is not based on positive judgments or evaluations, it is a way of relating to ourselves. People feel self-compassion because they are human beings, not because they are special and above average. It emphasizes interconnection rather than separateness.”

My mind immediately traces the last several weeks. How many outward “markers of success” had I left behind to be here?

My theater company,

my day job,

my house,

my friends and family who validated me,

my community…

I arrived on UK soil with a lot fewer outward markers of success than I had had before.

And then I thought about the return of my Perfectionism once I started grad school, the shame and frustration I felt with that, like instead of moving forward, I had moved backward. How alone I felt. How isolated. How challenging it was to stay mindful and non-judgmental through those thoughts because they were so deeply unkind, resulting in a sense that I was completely alone in my experience, and so what was wrong with me?

Neff talks about self-compassion having three components: Kindness, Mindfulness, and Common Humanity.

Holy shit, I think, as the timer goes off on the potatoes. My anxious experience since arriving in the UK totally lines up with someone that has low self-compassion.

Kindness: The shame around the re-arrival of my Perfectionism made it nearly impossible to talk to myself/treat myself with kindness…

Mindfulness: Being under-resourced and overwhelmed led to an inability to stay mindful in the midst of Anxiety Attacks…

Common Humanity: The shame spiral led to isolation which made me feel as if I was alone in my experience…

Low self-compassion. High self-esteem.

It didn’t escape my attention that even in the midst of my anxiety I could think of myself as a skilled person. But I wasn’t thinking of myself a person deserving of love. I hate myself echoes in my head from a particularly hard day at school.

Dinner winds up being delicious. I order two books on self-compassion online and in my head, it’s like a million fireflies are going off as the dots start to connect in my head.


In my previous post, I explored how my actor training taught me to be a Perfectionst, amplify my shame and lower my sense of self-worth.

Or maybe not lower my self-worth exactly…but I think there were aspects of my training that taught me to align my self-worth with outward accomplishments.

What if actor training boosts self-esteem at the expense of self-compassion?

Well, then no wonder our industry has a record of high narcissism, substance abuse, and self-harm. An actor’s career, unless they are outrageously, extraordinarily lucky, has huge swings between highs and lows. One year you’re overworked and begging for a break, the next year you can’t find work anywhere. If you don’t have a fierce sense of self-worth outside of any accomplishments you may or may not make, you swing low with the lows and you swing high with the highs.

It’s exhausting.

If your self-talk resonates with “No pain no gain!” and “Get a thicker skin!” and “It’s me or them!”, you’re not becoming the “tough cookie” this industry requires you to be, you’re grinding yourself down to the bone. You’re not building resilience, you’re wearing yourself out.

It’s unsustainable.

At least, that’s my experience.

The industry doesn’t need more actors with “thick skins.” We need actors skilled in self-compassion and radiant with resilience.

I think actor training programs should build curriculums with self-compassion at the center of everything they do.

I think this is how actors can have sustainable, fulfilling careers.

I think this is how we make better, bolder, more inclusive theater.

There. I said it.

What do you think?


It’s 9:09p and I can still smell the candle that I lit for yoga earlier today, warm vanilla and jasmine. My head has not been quiet all day. It’s been buzzing with half-formed thoughts about what the hell I’m going to teach for my early morning class tomorrow.

I think self-compassion starts with noticing that we have a body.

And then noticing that that body has a voice.

And we can build integrity with ourselves by slowly, gently, kindly, responding to that voice:

“I hear you. I see you. You need this. Here you go.”

Maybe that’s what I’ll try teaching in class tomorrow.

I’ll let you know how it goes.



Bean is not amused at how much reading I am doing, when I could be giving her scritches.