Actors and writers are destined to struggle, at least until they find fame and fortune. The thing is, most will struggle and only a few will reach their aspirations, but they still keep going. How do they do it? What distinguishes the persistent ones is the way they explain events to themselves; they are able to re-define failure as something else, to reframe it.
As we all know, there are two sides to every story, several ways to skin a cat, and many ways to peel an orange. Language is replete with sayings that reminding us that it can be useful to look for other angles when we are facing a dilemma or dealing with something we don’t like.
Our beliefs and the explanation we give ourselves have a huge impact on how we experience life. Even, in some cases, if we live at all. For example, Larry Dossey, in one of his books*, gives the example of a critically ill patient who, on overhearing his case being discussed by doctors, misunderstood the term ‘galloping’ when they were referring to his heart rhythm. He was in decline and expected to die, but instead he confounded his doctor by flourishing. In a conversation with his carers later on he said ”When I heard that my heart was galloping I figured that it must have a kick like a mule, so I realised I was going to be OK.”
There are many other examples I could give, not all so dramatic but all pointing to what is also borne out by research: how we experience our lives is largely a matter of our attitudes, beliefs, and how we explain things to ourselves. Meaning is all, it seems.
This is where reframing comes in. The ability to see things from multiple perspectives confers advantages because it enables us to put different interpretations on unsettling events. Most actors attend auditions only to be rejected, and writers too are used to having their brilliant efforts returned to them, usually un-read.
Hopefully, in the process, they have the odd success that helps them pay the bills, but these are not enough to keep them going. What enables them to keep putting their efforts up for scrutiny and risking rejection? They certainly don’t see refusal and proof that they are useless (even if they are), they see it as par for the course, valuable experience, an opportunity to learn and improve, or even that fate is telling them they are knocking on the wrong doors.
Being able to reframe events means being able to accept that there is more than one interpretation. In the case of a potentially disturbing event, this means going with an explanation that buoys us up, rather than one that brings us down.
Of course the time has to be right. If you are stuck in the doldrums because of some terrible event (or one that seems terrible at the time), you may not be ready to consider other perspectives. That’s OK, you don’t have to accept other viewpoints, but at least accept that they exist.
* This is from memory so I may be mistaken about the source and the exact quotation, but it’s accurate enough to make the point. I think I read it in Healing Breakthrough: How Your Attitudes and Beliefs Can Affect Your Health, by Dr Larry Dossey.