It’s been nearly three years since I graduated college. And it’s only been recently that I’ve come to grips with the fact that I regret it.
I don’t regret all of it, obviously. I learned plenty of things, made a handful of pleasant memories, and had a good few opportunities along the way. But I don’t think I made the right choice.
I, like many people my age, went to college immediately out of high school. I tried one university that didn’t fit for a semester before finishing my degree elsewhere. While my alma mater was absolutely a better fit for me, in the end, it was my choice to stay when I started getting “the feeling” that served as my real mistake.
I studied Theatre, which I almost always proudly announce when asked. I still see it as a bit of a medal because I studied it knowing it wouldn’t get me work. I knew it was a “useless degree” and that I was taking a huge risk not studying something else. But I was proud of that, of going against the mold…of pursuing my passion as opposed to a profession.
But about two years into my college experience, I started to get that “feeling.” That instinct that wells up in your gut when something’s not working anymore. That passion I had decided to pursue left me, and I was lost. I had no idea what to do, where it had gone, or what had caused it… Nothing I could logically see was wrong, so ultimately, I ended up blaming my depression – because when logic can’t be found, it’s usually that irrational part of your brain that changes things…right?
After three years being away from it, I’m able to see that assumption was wrong. The depression only started hitting me when the passion was lost. When I started forcing myself through “the feeling” when it was telling me I didn’t want to. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and being away from it all has made everything clear for me.
I loved to act. The art of telling a story before an audience was one of the most moving experiences I had ever had both growing up and as a young adult. I honestly, genuinely lived and breathed for the story and the art. And from what I understand, if I’m to take the word of my loved ones and my peers, it was evident. On stage, I was a different person. No longer the meek, dead-eyed little bookworm that sat in the back of class… On stage, I was alive.
And I could feel it. I relish in the memory of it all. Of feeling everything in the moment, of exposing my soul and simply living it all. I was never aware of the set, or the audience, or the lights… As I stood on stage, all that I knew was the story being told, and everything in my body told me to tell it.
But for the first time ever… I could see the stage. For the first time ever, I’d look at my partner or my cast mates, and I’d see it all. The pages of script, the warm-ups backstage, the gears in their heads all turning in an attempt to maintain the techniques we’d been taught. Each new page would be met with some note that they tried to remember from the night before, or the forced conjuring of a memory that elicited the right emotion. I looked into their eyes and stopped seeing our story…
Where there had once been raw experience was now cold practice. The discussions had were clinical. There was no reverence or joy. Classes were bad, but backstage was worse. The conversations from our classes would trickle into our dialogue backstage, and worse than that… we would tire of the story.
I graduated in hopes that I’d find my passion again. I thought a change of scenery, a new group of people, a different environment…any of it would change things for me. But when I got back into the acting scene some year or two later…nothing had changed. In the end, I could still see the stage. I’d been trained to tear things apart to learn from them, but instead, I just broke the thing that I loved.
It’s not that what I learned was wrong or invaluable. No, I’m not saying that. In any way. I just… I need to accept that it didn’t work for me.
The problem is, even after writing this, I’m still having trouble saying it. There’s a shame in admitting it. I feel like I’m letting people down. Perhaps my teachers, who worked so hard and encouraged me so much. Perhaps my parents, who are still paying off my debt. Perhaps my peers, who struggled alongside me but never experienced it the way I did. Or perhaps myself because I invested so much into something that I’m trying to accept now that I didn’t exactly want…
It’s a lot of all of it, I’m sure…but I think more than anything, it’s admitting that I didn’t want what I said I did. It’s like being at the ice cream bar and seeing all the different flavors. I looked at my two favorite flavors of chocolate and decided on one because I thought I really wanted the one with mint chocolate chips… and only after taking a bite did I realize that I never want mint, and I should know better because I like mint in cookies but not ice cream.
I liked my theatre when it was about what I felt as opposed to how I felt it. I liked it raw and inexperienced and clumsy. Not because I didn’t appreciate quality or experience or finesse, but because imperfection made me feel alive.
Because in what I lacked, I gained everything.