I’m sitting in the blackbox of Studio C. The light from the large corner window is rapidly fading, and one of my classmates is reaching the end of their Pedagogies assessment, a 20-minute class taught to our own cohort.

I’m bone-tired. Weary. I’ve got that tingly sensation in my sinuses that warns of a potential full-body shut down if I keep pushing it, and there’s a light ache in all of my muscles. I could easily lay on the floor right here and go to sleep.

I’m also filled with joy. It’s humming in me, it’s brimming up from my belly and into my heart and it’s leaking a bit from my tear ducts. I can’t help the crazy grin that’s spreading across my face as I watch my classmate take the space, command the room, and fully come into her own. I know the journey’s she’s been on, I know the ideas she’s wrestled with, the skills she’s labored on, the heartaches she’s endured. And I know that I’ll only ever know part of it, of course. But what I know is enough to bask in the radiance of this, the culmination of everything she’s worked for this term.

And that’s when I realize something: I’m actually, genuinely, joyful. I do a quick scan and check for my usual voices — Comparison, Perfectionist, Critic — and they’re…pretty quiet. Maybe a murmur here and there, but the loudest part of my being right now really is love. Full, unconditional, beaming.

Because…I belong here.

Not just that…what is it?

My full “I” belongs here.

All my voices, doubts, imperfections, all my skills, ideas, energies, they belong here.

I don’t need to be better than my classmates, or even on equal footing with my classmates, in order to belong here.

I’m on my own journey that’s beautiful and buckwild and entirely me.

And now that I’m not spending time and energy trying to convince my Gremlins that I belong here, I have full access to my unconditional compassion and love for others.

And that love is radiating from my every limb like I’ve flipped on a light that’s been off for a very long time.

Holy fucking shit.

In this moment, sitting in my folding chair, tears brimming to the surface, feet on the floor, breath in my belly, eyes on my cohort, I am fully fucking present.

For the first time in months.



When I go home that night, I almost fall asleep in the bathtub. I remind myself that no matter what happens tomorrow, I’ve got a self-compassion toolkit in my back pocket that will take me from one moment into the next. I collapse and sleep like a log.


It’s Friday, the very last day of my first term of graduate school.

I fill my kettle with water, and prep my favorite mug with tea, honey, milk.

Oatmeal boiling on the stove.

The adrenaline already hums through my veins as I eat and watch the sun rise but it’s grounded by my connection to the earth, my breath, some intangible force of groundedness.

I move through an improvised yoga routine, releasing my breath and my voice.

The nerves and the panic is there, but it’s soft and it rolls like waves. When it comes I lean into my self-compassion toolkit:

Mindfulness: Nervousness is here. Hello, hi.

Common Humanity: Nervousness makes sense right now, lots of humans before and after me have been nervous.

Kindness: All these feelings are welcome. Let them come, let them pass.

I pace the living room and run through my class. As I reach the end, I discover a new bit that I want to say. Shit, I think, this is quite good, but it’s probably too late to make changes now, right???

Breathe into the belly. This week has been an Accelerated Learning Journey. That means learning is still allowed, it’s just accelerated because of the assessment bit at the end.

I record my new thoughts into my phone and then I jot them down. If I run out of time, my teach is fine as-is, but if I have time, I can try throwing this in.

I kiss Jordan good-bye and I head out the door, distinctly aware of how much this feels like my very first day of class did — walking the same route, butterflies in my stomach, a big grin on my face. I put my headphones in and listen to the same song that has gotten me to class almost every day this term —

Don’t Lose Sight, baby don’t lose — aw, damnit.

Halfway to the train I realize I’ve forgotten my poster. I ring Jordan, he’ll bring it outside, I run back the way I came, laughing. Wouldn’t be a Big Day for Caitlin without me forgetting something.

Jordan tosses me the poster, BLESS YOU THANK YOU, and I’m on my way again.




When I come in, the folks that taught yesterday and are Done give me the Big Eyes that say: You ok? You ready? Can I help? But I think I’m good. I focus on cheering on the two folks who are teaching before me, and I find that I can actually fully drop-in to their exercises for decent chunks of time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s touch-and-go, but there are several-minute-chunks where my nervous system is fully relaxed and present before the next wave hits me.

At some point the course leader comes over and is next to me, she checks in, she says something like, “Don’t try to please me,” maybe a “You got this,” and I’m breathing and taking it in but I’m also Good. I’m actually good. I just want to do the damn thing.

It’s my turn. I tape up my brightly-colored poster I’ve drawn of the ingredients of self-compassion as ingredients used in baking. I move, I breathe, I smile at all the walls. I’m so excited to teach this Teach. I really, really believe in it. It’s everything I’ve worked on this term. I’m living, breathing proof of this thing I believe in, and yes, let’s just do this!

I slate my name for the camera. My classmate pushes play on the timer. I turn to my class.

“I want to gift you the first 60 seconds here to do anything you need to do to transition from our break, back into class. Move, breathe, vocalize, journal, anything that feels good to you.”

And we’re off.

I bring us into a circle.

I use the analogy of my roommate baking 900 cookies last Christmas to describe how I want to explore Self-Compassion as a physical practice that actors can repeat, again and again (just like making cookies, again and again), until they don’t need the recipe for it any more, they can just do it.

We get on our feet and 9 volunteers shift into Soft Focus as they try to jump simultaneously and silently.

The circle begins walking, and the ensemble is now listening to each other, trying to find the simultaneous change in direction.

I offer, “Trust that if you are feeling the impulse, someone else is feeling it too, OR, this group has got your back, and they’ll move with you.”

You are not alone. You are connected to the whole.

The ensemble explores a simultaneous jump and there’s a misfiring moment where they all try to figure out when to start walking again. It’s this imperfect moment that is the most connected they’ve been. I pause the action to share this with them.

Our common humanity is rooted in our shared imperfection. To be human is to be imperfect.

We come back into a seated circle and discuss. “When did you feel connected? When did you not feel connected?” I ask.

Replies. Learning. I’m still buzzing with adrenaline but I’m here. I’m here I’m here I’m here.

A glance at the clock — I’ve got two minutes left, and I know that’s just enough time to add in the new bit I found this morning:

“So, why are we exploring this? Why is this concept of common humanity important for actors?

I think it’s important because my actor training was filled with messages that amplified Aloneness. In order to “make it” (whatever that means), I needed to be better than my colleagues. In fact, if I stepped on some of them in order to climb my ladder toward success, that was considered a normal part of being an actor and the ruthlessness of this industry. I was alone on my quest to become an actor.

The problem with this thinking is that it builds Self-Esteem at the expense of Self-Compassion. High self-esteem associates our self-worth with external achievements and validation; self-compassion builds intrinsic self-worth. Low self-compassion can lead to deep feelings of isolation, getting “hooked” by our thoughts and feelings, and a strongly critical, unkind inner voice. This in turn increases levels of cortisol and stress in our bodies, which can cause anxiety, depression and other ailments commonly associated with chronic stress.

So, it’s no wonder that so many actors leave the industry, feel harmed by the industry, and/or harm themselves in the process of trying to “make it” in the industry. This is why I feel that self-compassion should be a critical part of actor training. Building self-compassion builds resilience, presence, and makes available a deeper compassion for others — all essential tools for an actor to have a healthy, sustainable, thriving career.

Thank you.”



And then, in a second, I’m completely surrounded by my classmates, they’re hugging me and squeezing my arm, they’re whispering “Good job!” and “Wow, Caitlin” and one of them tells me she wants to develop her own self-compassion now, and another says they were with me the whole time, and I’m swallowed by external validation that I’m cautiously receiving.

I’m distinctly aware of how sweet this is, and how much I’ve longed for it, but I’ve worked too hard the last few months to take this external validation and put it up on my “Wall of Self-Worth”, which is basically how I’ve operated most of my life.

When things calm down a bit, I try to sit in both — I allow the joy to wash over me, the relief of being done, the excitement that my teach seemed to be received well; AND I breathe in that I feel good about what I did even outside of the external reaction. I feel good about the teach because I showed up for it the way that I wanted to show up for it, and, well, fuck the rest. I’d create space for reflection, learning, and growth tomorrow.


My cohort is AMAZING. I could see that they were amazing before, but the amazing was always paired with “And therefore I’m not good enough to be here” and that limited how much love I could shower them with. This morning I’m thrilled to be able to access all of that love because truly y’all, these folks are going to change the world.

Moving to London removed the vast majority of my sources of self-worth — my theater company, my friends, my family, even our house — and put an invitation in front of me to find an internal source. It started with being fully confronted by my Perfectionism, but over time I realized that that was only a Fight – Flight – Freeze manifestation of the actual need: a source of self-worth. A source of self-love.

I’d be kidding myself, and you, dear reader, if I said that I’ve sorted it all out, that I’ve got this magical fountain of internal self-worth now and that I’ll be good from here on out. Nah, the gremlins are there, that anxiety has been baked in for 30 years now, that’s not going away anytime soon.


I’ve got a recipe now. (Thanks Dr. Kristin Neff….seriously, like, THANK YOU.)

And I’ve now physicalized that recipe a couple of times.

I’ve just started carving a brand-new neural pathway in my brain.

I’ve got a thing I can point to when the going gets tough and say, Alright, time to lean into the ingredients.

And make some damn good Compassion Cookies.

With love,


P.S. Here’s a little of what I’ve been reading & watching this term that’s supported my work with actor training & self-compassion:

Dr. Kristin Neff:

The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion (TEDTalk)

Fierce Self-Compassion: How Women Can Harness Kindness to Speak Up, Claim Their Power and Thrive

Brené Brown:

The Gifts of Imperfection

Glennon Doyle:

The “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast