Saying NO…(but I’ve been conditioned to say yes, and..)

Creatives (definitely actors) are often told to take what they can get. It’s a tough world out there. Opportunities are few and far between. If you don’t say yes, you’re at risk of working at Walmart for the rest of your life, or worse – not being considered a “real” artist. Oh whoa is me. I can’t tell you how much this has fudged me up not only as a creative, but also in my daily life. Actually, I can tell you and I’m about to.

Take a seat.

When I was a wee little Kelly back in the 90’s, my mother got me involved in everything. I took dance classes, piano lessons, ice skating, karate (I think? Was that a dream? Note to self: ask mom) I even played basketball for a hot minute. HUGE mistake. I was the only girl on the team. That and growing up with 3 older brothers meant I was introduced to toxic masculinity way earlier than any child should. Ugh, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was always encouraged to do more and more and more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for a kid to experiment and find what they’re passionate about. However, this means I was already in a complicated spot to begin with going into a career in the arts.

Here’s what happened once I graduated with my BFA in acting. I moved to Chicago and pounded the pavement hard. I’d say yes to every opportunity that came my way. Every class. Every show. Every awful improv team filled with a bunch of dudes in who made me play “the crazy girlfriend.” Everything. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was saying yes to way too much, but it has taken me long to stop and start saying no. I can really only speak for actors in this instance but I’m sure other artists can relate. Here’s what we’re told:

  • We’re told we need to work harder than every single person out there to even have a chance of being noticed.
  • We’re told we need to hustle as hard as possible. Show up to every audition even if it means waiting all day and never getting seen.
  • We’re told we should take every opportunity to perform because it will always keep us “sharp” and who knows who will be in the crowd?!
  • We’re told we should work for no pay because it will fluff up our resume, or maybe we’ll meet someone who can help us in the future.
  • We’re told to network network network. Go to everything and mingle your ass off.
  • Say yes to that student film project. Hey, it might be crappy but what if it ends up being good and you can use it for your reel?! A DOLLAR IN A DREAM MY FRIEND.
  • We’re asked when we’ll be seen on television or if we’ve ever been in anything someone may have seen before. Which is a whole different kind of pressure I can’t even get into here.

And so on and so on. Look, I’ve been acting, improvising and writing/putting up shows in this city, out of college, for almost 6 years now. I know there is massive truth to a lot of these points…but I also think it’s dangerous…I’ve said yes to so many shows, teams, classes and films that did not benefit me in the least. In fact, they’ve made me resentful. They’ve hurt relationships, burnt me out and have added an anxiety to my life that I could really do without. I think a lot of teachers/coaches are telling artists to say yes more than they realize…A sentence like “you need to work harder than every single person competing with you” has haunted me on a daily basis. It cultivates a feeling of “not enough-ness” that is already running rampant in our industry. Yes, it takes a lot of perseverance, thick skin, hard work and skill to work as an artist but I think the creative part get’s lost. What if we chose work based solely on a connection to the material or people involved? What if we took care of ourselves first and put the audition on Sunday second on the list? Does that mean we’re not still working hard? I don’t know about you – but I do perform a lot better when I’ve practiced self care and felt passion for what I’m doing. I’m out there like:

Not saying “no” when I know I’m overwhelmed or not interested has made its way over to my personal life as well. I pack way too much on my plate because I feel such guilt saying no. Isn’t that insane? I once did a 6 week run of a show that I hated because I felt guilty saying no. I’ve worked 12 hour shifts every day for a week because all I know is “work harder, harder, harder!” So really, being an actor has made me feel rejected and guilty every week. Holy shit. That’s pretty fudged if you ask me.

So I’m trying a different method. Any time I am asked to do something, which is every day, I’m going to stop and actually ask myself “do I feel a drive to do this?” “Do I feel it’s something I want to do?” “Do I feel passionate about it?” “Do I feel it will help me or others?” “Do I have the TIME?

Does this seem a little overboard and meticulous? I mean, sure. Though, as my one day close friend Brene Brown would say “choose discomfort over resentment.” Choose saying no if you truly don’t feel you want to do something. Choose asking yourself the uncomfortable or overbearing questions. Choose yourself. Maybe it seems selfish, but I don’t think it does anyone any service to have my grumpy, resentful and exhausted presence doing something for them! Words to live by folks.

Well those are my thoughts this week. Till next time:

Self care. Self flare.



Published by Kelly Tietjen

Chicago gal offering my own take on self development, creativity, mental health and more.

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