This is advice that you can take or leave, but I hope that you get the chance in your high school career to take it.
I’ve always believed that every student—the quirky, the average, the athletic, the introvert, the life of the party, the super industrious and the super intellectual—should have an experience alongside the super talented ON STAGE. Every student should take the opportunity to be in a high school show.
Performing arts and theater teaches us most of what we need to be successful in life:
Be kind to everyone from your director to the stage hand to the lighting designer. Your performance—however small or large—is dependent on these people; and although you may be a lead now, the guys in the chorus might be waving at you in a year or two on their way up.
Learn your lines: If you don’t do your homework, study, and rehearse to the best of your ability, you won’t be in any shape to put in a good performance—that goes for onstage, in the classroom, in the boardroom, or in the operating room.
Learn to improvise: when something goes wrong onstage you have only moments to fix it, so you had better learn to be light on your feet. We rarely think about this, but if an actor drops a prop and doesn’t find a way to improvise and pick it up, no matter how extraordinary his performance is after that drop, no one is paying attention. All anyone in the audience is thinking about is when and how he’s going to pick up that prop. In school, at work, in relationships…things will go wrong. You can either learn how to pivot quickly and fix them, or you can let the error define you.
Learn to connect: Connecting with an audience from the stage is a subtle art—the same art that enables you to cultivate new friends at college, or convince a company that you’re an excellent internship candidate. It’s one part communicating confidence in who you are (a quality that inspires people to get behind you as a leader), one part allowing some vulnerability to show, one part being aware of how to “read” your surroundings (i.e. Know Your Audience), and one part likeability. If you can connect, you can persuade. If you can persuade, you can make big things happen in your life—including persuading admissions at a few of your dream colleges that you will make their campus more interesting and colorful with your presence.
Be micro-committed: When you’re onstage you can have only one focus…your performance. Are you in the moment? Are you reacting authentically to your cast mates? Are you remaining in character? Nothing else going on in the environment matters—not the coughing man in the audience stage right; not the chattering little girl stage left; not the woman texting about the performance in center orchestra; not the latecomer who can easily throw you off your game. Your commitment to this one, small task on this one small stage is the thing that makes the difference in how your audience will perceive your talent. It might get you a great review in the school newspaper, it might be the beginning of a shining career, or it might just give you the confidence to know that you can handle being in front of an audience of hundreds. So don’t be afraid of making micro-commitments. You make one in school when you focus on studying for one standardized test and bow out of the social scene for a month or two while you study; you make one when you start brainstorming your personal statement for college—draft after draft until that one essay is the best creative writing you have ever done; you make one when you compete with your team for the title in that national debate, cross-country race, or DECA competition—because the effort shows that you care; you make one when you decide that science research is the thing you want to explore and the place you want to excel so you spend a year of your life on original research that might get you to ISEF; you make one when you decide that there is something glorious in you and you’re going to share it with the world by getting a community service or entrepreneurial project off the ground—regardless of how much time and energy this one project will take to launch. Making these meaningful micro-commitments throughout high school will not only teach you what you’re made of, but will undoubtedly catch the eye of admission officers at the colleges you dream about. The little things can become the biggest catalysts in our lives…little hinges swing big doors.
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