Not that I don’t love them. I do. But inevitable comparisons to others’ careers (both in and out of showbiz) and the barrage of questions from family members take a toll on my self-esteem. I’ve written before about handling the holidays, but some twenty months into the pandemic, it feels like I’m back at square one with “the holiday struggle” in spite of all the work I’ve done on myself in the past few years.
That’s not true. The work I put into my self-esteem and the toolkit I’ve assembled to keep myself centered is real, but the pandemic was especially brutal for artists, so it’s worth restating what I do to survive–and even enjoy–the holidays.
1. Recognize that you do not need approval from anyone. This includes parents, grandparents, and siblings.
This is by far the hardest one for me. At 41, I struggle to remember this daily. I struggle with it as I post on social media, make job and audition choices, and figure out where and how I want to live and spend money.
I’ve accepted that I’m going to work in the arts whether or not my family approves. That may sound trivial, but I’ve spent the last couple of years asking myself if I want to keep on this path. Deciding that the answer is unequivocally yes doesn’t make that path (and the disapproval or lack of comprehension) easy, but it does give me a boundary of sorts.
My life path is not up for debate or discussion: “I accept that you have made different choices, but this is my choice and as an adult, I get to make choices about my own life.” End of story.
We only get one life. I spent so many years trying to fit in and win the approval and validation of others. In the process, I lost myself and my artistry.
You can be a successful singer and actor even if your father or mother don’t approve of your career.
If you struggle with parental approval, repeat that to yourself daily.
2. Have an “elevator pitch” and don’t stray from it.
“I’m in New York pursuing a career in opera. I continue to study and audition and I’m doing really well, thanks.”
End of sentence. Ask how others are doing. Other people are not nearly as interested in our lives and choices as we think they are. They’ve got their own things to deal with and more often than not, they’re happy to talk about themselves. Give them that opportunity.
3. Don’t overshare with the wrong people.
Just because well-meaning family members love you doesn’t mean you’re obligated to grant them access to your deepest thoughts. It’s okay to keep things superficial.
Sometimes the desire for validation and closeness leads us to tell relatives more than they need to know. You end up drinking too much eggnog and saying too much about your loneliness or struggles with professional rejection. You admit that sometimes you can’t make your rent or that it kills you to be waiting tables while your best friend embarks on a dream job (even if you’re so happy for her).
We need to share our thoughts and feelings, but we must choose people who will just listen, rather than try to “fix it” (or us) by suggesting a radical–invalidating–change of course. If you overshare with your Aunt Ellie from Iowa, she may come back with, “I’ve always thought you’d make a great lawyer. Have you thought about law school? It’s never too late.” This will only make you feel worse.
Choose your confidantes wisely. Have an elevator pitch ready to go, smile, and don’t stray from it.
4. Minimize/avoid social media.
In the interests of being “authentic,” I used to share my struggles in great detail. So many artists on social media post nonstop victories, I felt it was a service to others to be real. This year, I reexamined that commitment and decided not to post about being down or overwhelmed. As my readers know, I’ve had an extremely difficult 18 months, with more “down” than in several years prior.
But public venting doesn’t benefit me (or alleviate my pain) and it just worries friends and family. It also forces me to explain myself at precisely the moment I have the least energy or interest in doing so.
I’ve found it’s better to post about struggles when I have some distance or perspective.
I also limit the time I spend looking at other people’s social media accounts. The rabbit hole of comparison is just too tempting and destructive.
5. Have an exit strategy
If things get too heated at family events, have a an exit plan, even if it’s to go to the bathroom and taking six long breaths.
A few other options:
a) Choose a “holiday texting buddy.” This could be your best friend, or it could be another trusted friend you designate for this purpose.
b) Get outside and look at the night sky.
c) Take a ten minute walk.
d) Find a quiet room and do ten minutes of yoga. If you can find a wall, lie on your back with your legs up the wall for five or ten minutes. This will calm your nervous system and improve circulation.
e) Play a short comedy video on YouTube. Laughter is a great reset, taking you out of a tense moment and releasing tension.
f) Put on headphones and listen to a few minutes of meditation music (there are countless YouTube videos with nature scenes and peaceful music).
These short breaks help me not to react or engage with comments I’m better off letting pass without remark. After a reset, I’m ready to return to the party centered and relaxed.
6. Rest and enjoy yourself.
Take long walks outdoors away from your iPhone. Spend time with pets. Spend time with nieces and nephews. FaceTime your best friend in Berlin. Drink champagne.Take long baths. Read long novels. Wear sparkly hats.
7. If all else fails, know that the holidays don’t last forever. It’s about six weeks between Thanksgiving and the day after New Years.