While hosting a YouTube live, one of my subscribers typed in: “What if your parents don’t support you?” I realized over the years I’ve had many students come to me with this same question and I was glad that “Andreea”(a 13 year old from Europe somewhere) had brought it up again so we could talk about it here.
The teens I know in this situation often experience pain and struggle. Feelings of depression, anger, guilt and even shame sometimes arise.
Andreea went into more detail about her situation in an email to me:
I am currently 2 years away from high school, in an arts school, playing the piano. I have the option to graduate in theatre, the classes starting from high school.
My parents are making me to go to piano competitions, even after I’ve told them that I don’t want to…my piano teacher told me she won’t support me (*I think she means in the theatre*) and that I won’t make it on stage, ever.
For me, the competitions are meaningless, it’s just an incredible amount of pressure put on me to be perfect and when I’m done all I get is a paper with my name and a score on it. Sure, it’s an occasion to be on stage and that is great and you never know who is there to watch you and who are you performing for, but it’s just mentally exhausting to know that if you don’t do the piece good enough, first of all you will get a lower score, (which isn’t good for the professor’s resume) and second of all your parents will be profoundly disappointed.
I’ve told my mother about theatre, she told me that it’s just a phase and basically that I’ll never make it. My father doesn’t know anything about this. I’ve asked my mother if I can take theatre as an extracurricular next year and she told me “yes, yes, now leave me alone” so I’ll use that.
I’ve found a particular private school that has theatre classes and very professional teachers, but the information on their site is lacking, so I will send an email to the school asking for more information.
Now I want to introduce my best friend, she is amazing and she supports me, she bought me books with “stories” (*I think she means monologues*) from which I will choose one to work on and present for my high school audition – I hope my parents will understand and support me by that time- and her family likes me and is very open minded. (*then she spoke a bit about the email she will send to the school…*)
Now, I am prepared to work, (I’ve worked all my life it won’t be that hard) I’m prepared to work double the amount, I’m prepared to work triple the amount, I’m prepared to sacrifice, I’m prepared to pay my extracurricular, I’m prepared go everywhere I must go.
As a side note: I know it sounds pretty self contradictory – but my parents aren’t bad, they just want me to have an easy life, and if that means doing something that I hate for the rest of my life, then that is exactly what they want for me.
I want to end this by saying that on the paper it’s great, on the paper I have a plan so crazy that it might actually work but in reality it’s tearing me down mentally. I’m not afraid to work, I‘m afraid to work mostly alone, without my family’s support.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.”
I’m so grateful to Andreea for writing so we could have this opportunity to discuss an issue so many people (of all ages!) face.
First of all, I can’t tell anyone what to do and will never expect to really understand anyone’s particular situation since I am not in it, but I will offer some thoughts I have.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I’ll start by asking you this:
What do you stand to lose by not pursuing your dream of a career as an actor?
Did you really ask? If you get quiet and listen, I know you’ll get an answer.
(Parents, you can hate me. I can take it.)
But for you: what is the price? Your family may end up not truly supporting you. But they may very well come around. Give them time and the benefit of the doubt.
I also don’t think for one second that Andreea’s parents are “bad” as she said and yours probably aren’t either. I think they love her and want to protect her.
The truth is, they are supportive, they just don’t get it.
Don’t expect them to get it.
The result? Less stress and all of those negative emotions associated with an unreasonable expectation. Expect them not to get it. It’s not their job to.
Regarding her piano teacher and “not making it ever”…
I say, hooray. You know why? Because this could be Andreea’s gold. Truly! Would it be lovely if everyone supported our dreams? Sure. But you know what? These kinds of people push us to become even greater. We have to rise to the occasion. This reminds me of many episodes I’ve seen of Chef’s Table (yeah I’m a dork like that). Breaking through as a top chef (especially for women!) is incredibly challenging and many chefs told stories about people in their lives who didn’t believe in them.
Try not to hate the haters. It will only keep you stuck.
Who does support your dream?
A huge high five to Andreea for leaning on her friend’s family to get support around the acting stuff where she can. If you are reading this and your parents don’t yet get it, try to think of just one or two people who have your back. That’s truly all you need. Your best friend, a grandparent or an aunt or uncle. And if you can’t think of anyone right now, you’ll find them. You will.
What about having to do things you hate?
Andreea clearly doesn’t want to be doing these piano competitions anymore. I really empathize and you may be in a similar situation. This is a tricky one and there’s no easy answer. Depending on your parent(s), you may be able to really speak from the heart and make some headway. I recommend bringing it up when you are calm and not in attack or defense mode. (Definitely not in the middle of a fight about it.) And try to let the first step be talking about wanting to let go of the thing you don’t love vs also bringing up doing the new thing like acting.
Maybe when you are both at ease you could try saying something like, “Mom/Dad, I need to talk to about something super important to me. I really do know that you love me and want what’s best for me and that’s why you want me to (do piano competitions/whatever), but I want you to know that when I do, I feel (really anxious/stressed out/fearful/get stomach aches/whatever) and would like to (take a break/do less/whatever) for a while and see how that goes. You don’t have to answer right now, but please think about it.”
That may or may not fly with your folks. I don’t know.
It may also be worth jumping through some hoops right now.
If it’s super important to your parents that you get great grades, for example, but less so for you, consider this:
There are (possibly annoying) things you can be doing now that will absolutely pay off in the future. I know jumping through (seemingly pointless) hoops is really hard to do when you are a teenager. I was you. BUT, some of the best drama schools in the country require you to do really well academically. Schools with awesome drama programs like Northwestern, for example. So yeah, you may hate doing math and ask things like “when will I ever need this”, but killing it in math may totally pay off in the future.
If you can connect to your biggest dream for yourself every day before you walk into math class, seeing yourself accepting your Tony award for example, maybe it will make math a bit easier to bear.
Academics don’t only matter if you want to go to college. This may be impossible to understand in a deep way right now, but try to trust me if you can. An educated actor is a better actor. You are actually gaining skills working through math problems that have nothing to do with math. Plus, what if you get cast as a mathematician? 🙂
You don’t need your parents to support you to have a career. So what can you do?
First off, you have time, my friends. It doesn’t feel like it, but you do. And even if your parents have you on lockdown and you are feeling suffocated and all you can think about is acting (or any other dream you have) you can start now.
If you love acting, hopefully the hard work will be fun. But believe me, it takes hours. Hours and hours and hours and years and years and years of study and practice. If you are excited about the work and you want to get going on your own right away, here are some things to try:
- Study this blog! You can learn a lot about acting with all my free lessons here on the blog. Learn how to play intentions, to listen in acting, to create a character, to use beats….I have hours of free lessons to get you going.
- Read The Intent to Live by Larry Moss. It’s my favorite acting book.
- Read great plays. You could even start an ongoing monthly event with some friends to get together and read plays out loud. This post has a list of some fabulous playwrights to get going with. Challenge yourself to read a play a week. Even a play a month would be an awesome place to start.
- Get a job and earn the money to take acting/voice/dance lessons. You can even work with me online if I have availability and you don’t live in LA.
- Create characters / stories and shoot movies/shows on your phone or camera. There are even a ton of film festivals with categories for student films. Check out the site Withoutabox for inspiration.
What do you think? How are you feeling? Do your parents support you?