For My Inner 5 Year Old
When I was at CAP21’s professional summer program, I had an audition preparation teacher named Marshall Keating. Aside from all the insight into the audition process, he gave us, there is one piece of wisdom I will never forget:
“When you’re nervous and beating yourself up, think of yourself as a 5 year old. Would you curse out a 5 year old, and tell them they’re worthless because they aren’t perfect? No. Talk to your inner 5 year old, and get them through the day.”
The minute Marshall said those words, I flashed back to my 5 year old self. She wouldn’t go on her kindergarten interviews unless her mother bribed her with a vanilla milkshake. She made her dad promise to wait in the lobby all day, on the first day of school, in case she needed him. She absolutely hated talking to new people, or getting outside her comfort zone. For the next fourteen years or so, she beat herself up for not being outgoing and at ease in social situations.
Years and years later, I started forcing myself out of my comfort zone. I would push myself off the cliff before I even knew what was happening. I knew that if I looked out at the view, I’d never jump at all. While pushing yourself off the cliff does get you places, it also leaves you really, really terrified on the way down to something you’re already afraid of. But for a long time, that just seemed to be the only way to push myself: headfirst, without thinking about it.
But that day, sitting in that audition class at a musical theater program where I had been pushing myself to the limit- afraid and full of doubt all the while- I thought, “What if I could push myself and be nice to myself? What if I could jump off the cliff and enjoy myself on the way down?”
I slowly started taking that 5 year old girl by the hand, and coaxing her into things gently. When I do face challenging situations like going to new places and meeting new people- I try so hard to remind her that I’m proud of her for just showing up and doing her best. It felt silly at first- but it is surprisingly so much easier to push myself when I’m not bullying myself into things.
I also began to surround myself with people who share that message. They make me feel empowered, comfortable, and strong. I first went to one of Anandah Carter’s classes on a weekday afternoon with a friend. There were only 7 people in there and my classroom anxiety flared up as strong as ever, even in a dark studio, I felt so exposed and anxious. But by the middle of the ride, Anandah knew all of our names and made everyone at every skill level feel comfortable. When you feel that safe, you start to give yourself the freedom to discover what you’re capable of.
I went back to Anandah’s class a couple of weeks later and shyly reintroduced myself, confident that she wouldn’t remember me from that first class. I still remember the look on her face when she responded that she couldn’t believe I thought she wouldn’t remember me, name and all. Almost 3 years later, I’m proud to call this strong, compassionate woman my friend- and I think about that moment all the time. Having someone in my life that pushes me with love, and believes in me when I’m pushing past mountains of doubt, is everything. 5 year old me would have really loved Anandah.
Sometimes, when I’m out there challenging myself to try new things (like CAP21’s summer program or LAMDA’s classical acting semester in London), I think about all the dreams that 5 year old Alexa had. I look in the mirror, on a good day, feeling strong, open, independent, resilient and worthy. I’m young and haven’t achieved nearly as much as I want to yet- but I am pretty close to the woman I wanted to be when I was younger.
But it’s all a journey, and no one is 100% confident all the time. Sometimes, everything feels really overwhelming. I get too in my head before auditions, or sit in my room overanalyzing interactions I had throughout the day. After a little berating, I quiet down, and remind myself to think about the times when walking into a room full of strangers would make me want to burst into tears. I close my eyes and remember that 5 year old me, is so so proud and amazed at all the things I’m doing and trying.
The beautiful thing about a limitation is that once you overcome it, you get to look over your shoulder and see how far you’ve come. I made it pretty far by making friends with 5 year old Alexa instead of simultaneously rejecting her and bossing her around. Together, we’ve learned that the simple act of trying, while being nice to yourself, can get you everywhere you need to go.
I definitely deserve a milkshake for that.