How to talk to your conservative family about your unconventional life.
Are you one of the few liberals in your conservative family? If you’re a black sheep like me you probably get stressed out when they ask you, “What are you doing, ya know, with your life?”
Here are some ways to save your mental health and hopefully your family ties.
[Ed. note: these tips work for any situation where you know you’ll want to avoid conflict with anyone. Conservatives talking to liberals, LGBTQ folks talking to those who aren’t supportive, etc. Sometimes it makes sense to stand up for your beliefs and sometimes you just need to get through an uncomfortable situation without harm to anyone. This would be for the latter situation.]
Like most of you, I’m a multifaceted creative. I’m an actor and comedian — doing standup, characters, standup as my characters (most recently as Melania Trump), producing sketch comedy web mini-series and starring in each of them — and I round it out by being a speaker on the college circuit.
Try summing that up to your cousin who only takes the train into the city for a really big occasion.
My family lets enough comments slip by to show that they imagine that I spend my life playing games like a fifth grader.
So I’ve stopped trying to explain myself and that might be the solution for a few of you as well, if it helps your own mental health and happiness.
Give up the justify-yourself game. Someone who screws people out of millions of dollars for a living at Morgan Stanley is never going to understand why you’d do a Kickstarter campaign for a few thousand. A manager at the Sanitation Department is not going to understand that you go on 37 auditions, get one job, and consider that a success.
It’s never going to happen. It’s not! No no no!
But also don’t hate. Don’t start judging those who aren’t like you for being mainstream: “They’re just not cool enough.” Remember, you don’t get them, either. You don’t get why they would make their life choices, so don’t hate on them for not getting yours.
Keep it basic
The most important element of your conversation with your conservative family is to give them the least amount of information as possible to preserve the peace, if that’s your goal.
My acting teacher Caryn West once said, “Don’t tell your family about the audition until you’ve booked the job.”
I’d go one further: “Don’t tell them until you’ve filmed it.” or even “Don’t tell them until it’s aired.”
So many things in the creative world are beyond your control. You may get it, then it falls through. It might happen, but then the distribution falters. The normals in your life aren’t going to understand this. Zip the lip on opportunities and the in-progress projects. Focus on tangible, easy things.
I’ve learned this the hard way. The last few years have been a trail of heartbreak of almost getting lots of exciting roles on television shows. I’m often “on hold” which means you’re one of very few people that they’re considering. Now in my world, this is a good thing — it shows progress, that you’re getting closer to booking. That didn’t make sense to my pension/benefits-focused grandfather. Without thinking I told him about a particular close call and he zapped back, “Sweetheart, it always seems you don’t quite get it.”
Follow these three steps
Keep these in mind as you follow this formula to answer the question: “What are you doing with your life?”
- Give a vague statement in broad strokes about how you’re doing. Avoid “I’m busy,” because that’s trite and you’re better than that. Remember to keep your response tangible and easy: doing a lot of comedy, been writing a lot, have a new project about which you’re excited. Trust me, they won’t ask you follow up questions.
- Give them an actionable item. This helps connect them to what you’re doing in a tangible way that makes sense to them. (And if you want to completely disassociate yourself — your choice! — then skip this step.) People understand how to watch videos, like + share social media posts, donate money, and buy show tickets. Invite said family member to do one of those things. It will make them feel like they’re a part of your team. (Although they couldn’t describe what that team actually does.)
- Ask them a question about themselves. Shift conversation away from you. Pick any topic! Parents are super easy… just ask how their kids are doing and 45 minutes will zip by, the lasagna will be served, and the conversation will naturally turn to food and how you’re getting home.
Crisis averted… until next time.
Let me know how this goes for you! What’s your favorite strategy for holding conversations with people who do not understand you?