I originally pitched a blog post about the challenges of being a practising theatre director doing a PhD. Then I thought about writing about the challenges of being a non-EU national studying in the UK. Then I read the other posts here and many other blogs by fellow doctoral students, fellow theatre makers, and fellow foreigners, and I realised most of my fellows are talking about challenges. It is important to talk about the struggle and to share tips for overcoming and survival, but I think there is a need to talk about confidence in a non-apologetic manner, too. So I’ve decided to speak of boldness in my guest post.
I have often described myself as a cocky little shit. I use the expression for funsies because I also think I’m hilarious, but I have noticed the slight self-deprecating tone there. It feels like I’m not allowed to just say I’m bold or confident. I reckon there is a lot of chat about Imposter Syndrome both in academia and in the arts, which may well be a truthful experience to many people, but it also makes me despair a little when I see it being almost compulsory for high-achievers to say they don’t think they deserve their achievement. Particularly for women. And although I have always been bold, I too have been guilty of not wanting to admit to it.
There were two moments that helped shape my change of perspective. Spoiler alert: the first one was when I watched The Dark Knight Rises in the cinema at a 5am screening in Edinburgh. There’s this bit when Bruce Wayne is imprisoned in this hole in the ground dungeon thing. He can see the exit at the top, an opening that lets light and air in and is there to tease the prisoners because it seems impossible to reach. So Bruce decides he’s going to climb it and escape. Observing his health and safety training, he fashions himself a harness and for weeks on end, he attempts the climb and keeps falling back down. He is about to give up and resign himself to rotting in there but chatting to an older guy who has been there for years, he finds out that there was a boy there some time ago that managed to climb out. He asks this man how the boy did it and the man replied, ‘he didn’t use a harness’. So you know how it goes, Bruce channels his inner Batman, sheds the harness and obviously climbs out of the hole and saves the world. He was bold.
The second moment was when I was coming up to the end of my first year as a PhD student and I went to a show at the Edinburgh Fringe called Hot Brown Honey. A completely unapologetic and spectacular show by black, Aboriginal, and Polynesian women from Australia. At the end of the show, my friend and I went to congratulate the MC, Busty Beatz. We approached her like two fangirls, shouting, ‘that was amazing!’. Busty gave us a big smile, nodded, and said, ‘thanks. I know’. She knew. She knew her show was amazing and she wasn’t afraid to own it. That made a big impression on me.
So here I am, owning my boldness. Since I learned to walk, I would let go of my parents’ hand and wander off in busy supermarkets and shopping centres. When I was 4, I snuck out of my aunt’s house in a big city and crossed a huge avenue to follow my dad into the football stadium without anyone noticing. I wandered off at the beach a few weeks later. When I was 12, I tried to run away with the circus. At 16, I told my almost entirely medical family I was going to study English and Drama. At 22, I quit a solid teaching career and moved from Brazil to Scotland, a country I had never visited before and where I had zero friends or family. At the age of 30, I applied for a PhD without having a Masters degree, but with two first-class BA Honours in a language that is not my mother tongue and lots of professional experience. I am now in my third year and still doing a fair bit of guesswork, still under a lot of pressure because there is a lot at stake in my personal life, but I’m not afraid of failing because failing isn’t an option. I left the harness behind the first time I let go of my mum’s hand in a busy supermarket.
Be bold. Be confident. Be like Busty Beatz. Know that what you are doing is fucking amazing and own it.