Unhinging The Artist Within

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

Pablo Picasso

The first film I remember watching was The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I remember falling in love with the Von Trapp’s, as I danced around my room to the 1960s musical. It was from that very moment that I knew acting would forever be in my life.  Fast forward a decade and I find myself as a senior in high school, finally taking the next leap towards her dreams. I spent hours collecting monologues, rehearsing pieces, and traveling from city to city for over 20 college auditions, all culminating in one ‘yes’ which would define my next four years. Seeing as Michigan was my dream school, I expected to feel at home the moment I walked onto campus, but as is too often the case, reality did not reach my high expectations.

(Pre-Covid) Alyssa Maria Melani, center, and the University of Michigan Acting Class of 2023.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Maria Melani

When dreaming about the first semester of college, the scenes are typically filled with new friends, late nights, and self-reinvention. Looking back on this time, everything feels like a blur. It was as if I was physically present, but never truly living in the moment. I found myself frequently dissociating in order to not burst into tears from picking myself apart. I was growing into a new person, yet I felt uncomfortable in this new skin. It wasn’t the environment or people that were causing this reaction; I absolutely loved the school and was surrounded by inspiring and talented young actors. I had everything I had wanted, but I was lacking a sense of internal fulfillment. As I moved through the motions, a lingering sensation existed of not belonging. As the voice grew I became convinced that I wasn’t talented enough or worthy enough of ‘taking’ someone’s spot in my program.  I felt like an imposter.

Imposter Syndrome, according to its dictionary definition, is an inability to believe in one’s success being deserved or legitimate. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon, as the multitude of google search articles suggests, yet it’s one rarely discussed. According to the Best Colleges blog, around 20% of college students experience Imposter Syndrome during their undergrad years, and about 82% of people experience it at some point in life. My case was not unique; after a year-long process of learning material, traveling to colleges, back to back auditions, and waiting for the rejections, I had finally achieved a goal I thought would allow me to finally feel like a true artist, but I found that I wasn’t fulfilled. As I met new friends, auditioned for shows, and worked on material in class, the voices of doubt grew larger. I focused primarily on the things I wasn’t, rather than all of the things which made me unique. 

Blending in became more advantageous than standing out, which worked against everything I had thought being an ‘artist’ meant. The doubt was coming from myself, not from any outside force, and in trying to fit a mold, I lost the qualities which helped me stand out. In searching for validation in my artistry, I sacrificed the individuality, creativity, and trust which make me an artist.

The title of ‘artist’ has a personal and unique meaning. In my case, it wasn’t until I stopped seeking outside validation for my art and put myself first, that I began to ‘unhinge the artist within.’ The imposter syndrome will always be there, filling my head with criticisms and doubts, but my power as an artist is in the things which make me unique. The qualities which sometimes make us feel different, like outsiders fighting to be left in, are our most important tool. Learning to accept, love, and embrace these characteristics is the most important step in unhinging your inner artist.

Feature Image Credit: Peter Smith Photography

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