Being Vulnerable on Stage

The Barrier: Starting high school can be a difficult transition. I remember making a promise to myself that I wouldn’t show weakness to my peers. Instead, I would do everything in my power to seem invulnerable. I was painfully shy back then, and it was difficult for me to meet new people. So, I decided that I would try to make an impression in the classroom.

I would constantly ask myself, “how can I answer this question in the most insightful way possible?” and “how can I employ the most sophisticated  language?” The more I tried, the more pretentious I came across and the more desperate I became. You see, there was a time when I was both arrogant and insecure. While I often looked down on class mates for acting foolishly, I didn’t think myself worthy enough to be friends with them. As paradoxical as that may sound, it’s actually not uncommon.

Arrogance and Self-Esteem: According to an article in Live Science, “narcissistic self-aggrandizement may hide deep feelings of inferiority.” Psychologist Erin Myers at Western Carolina University conducted a study in which she asked 71 undergraduate women to rate their self-esteem. They were all attached to a lie detector test; some were told that the detector was off; some were told that it was on. Women reported with high narcissism rated their self esteem higher when they thought the lie detector machine was off.  When they thought they were being monitored, there ratings were significantly lower.”Narcissists may be trying to bolster their own feelings of self-worth by claiming to like themselves,” Myers said.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself a narcissist. Thankfully, my need to impress others never reached that level. However, reading this explains how could at I could be so arrogant and, at the same time, feel so insecure.


A Path Forward: My second year of high school, my best friend I decided to audition together. At the very least, we could lean on one another for emotional support. Little did I know that getting into the play would be the catalyst that would eventually cause us to drift apart.

Back stage, I knew I could no longer cling to my best friend. That’s when I learned that, if I was going to make it in the world of theater, I had to bring down the barrier. I had to open myself up, even I looked foolish or idiotic in front of people. My livelihood depended on it.

Vulnerability on Stage: Doing theater in high school ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. After performing in a full length production, I would go on to do it again and again. Eventually, I learned what it meant to be part of a thriving community. I also discovered the potential of vulnerability on stage. Even when you’ve mastered the dialogue, the blocking, and the mannerisms of a character, there’s still the feeling that you’re not in control; and, often, that feeling can be exhilarating.

Honing Empathy: According to psychologist Thalia Goldstein, being on stage can help actors develop their theory of mind, which refers to their ability to “understand what others are thinking, feeling, believing and desiring.” It can also teach people how to employ empathy. I won’t claim that doing theater made me a better person, but it certainly gave me the tools to enrich my life. I was able to broaden  my circle of friends and push myself out of my comfort zone. In three years of doing theater, I played a grandfather, a farm hand… even an assassin; that allowed me to understand and empathize with people I once dismissed.

I ended up doing things that I’d never thought I’d do. I sometimes bared my soul. I explored emotions I’ve never really had to reconcile before. I learned that, by making myself more vulnerable on stage, I could improve my self esteem in every facet of my life. I may still come off pretentious, but I’ve come a long way from the shy, arrogant kid from high school; and, I have acting to thank for that.




8 thoughts on “Being Vulnerable on Stage

  1. I can totally relate to being extremely shy as a child. The fact that you stepped out of your comfort zone and decided to do theater is awesome, and I am sure has helped with your shyness a tremendous amount. Though I have also overcome much of my shyness, theater is still something that is somewhat terrifying to me. I am still working on stepping out of my comfort zone sometimes, and your essay is inspiring to me. Thank you!

  2. Growing up I was painfully shy, it took a lot for me to completely open up and be myself around new people. I applaud you for stepping out of comfort zone and getting on stage. I was in an acting company when I was much younger and the idea of it was always so exciting to me but the actual act of speaking on stage terrified me – which is why I was never anything more than a character in the background. I have definitely outgrown most of my shy tendencies but stepping out my comfort zone is something I need to remind myself to work on. Thank you for sharing your story!

    – Sara

  3. Hello Stephen,
    I shared some similar tendencies when I had arrived in Boulder for my first year of college. I have played shows with various bands and shared some similar stage fright at first but was able to perform better as I became more comfortable with myself. I am glad you are able to perform theatre much more easily now that you feel comfortable on stage. I think it’s great that you were able to meet so many people through something you enjoy doing.

  4. I think that it is awesome that you were able to be so self-aware at such a young and vulnerable time in your life! I too auditioned for my first play as a sophomore in high school and felt like I experienced a lot of the same feelings that you experienced. Are you still trying to do any acting? I think that every person in their lifetime should get out of their comfort zone and try acting at least once in their life. It really shows yourself what kind of person you really are.

    – Andrew

  5. Hello,
    Overcoming being shy is so scary! I remember being selected for a main character in a play and I was so nervous that I turned it down. I couldnt sing in front of that many people! Thats so scary! Im impressed that you got on stage and did what you love! You overcame your fear for the things that meant most to you in life! You are an example to follow!

  6. Hi! Thank you for sharing your story. While I read it I relived those moments on stage rehearsing for a play and looking around to see all the people that become your family and share that precious experience with you. Thank you for your words and for making me smile! Thanks for being vulnerable.

  7. Hello,

    I enjoyed reading your story a lot, especially the psychological references you gave. I find the statement “narcissistic self-aggrandizement may hide deep feelings of inferiority” very interesting (Pappas, 2011). I know first-hand a lot of people who are always bragging about themselves but are obviously deeply insecure.

    It’s good to hear that you found self-acceptance and self-esteem through theater. I was also in theater for all four years in high school. However, I never really participated much in class which I now deeply regret. One of the girls in our advanced theater class has gone on to act in movies, popular YouTube channels, and BuzzFeed videos. She is also one of the most down-to-earth people I know. So what you said about acting helping you understand and relate to other people is very true.

  8. Hi!
    I think anyone can relate that high school is a tumultuous place for young adults. I can empathize with the feeling of hiding your weakness, I attempted to do it for many years. But you had the right idea of pushing yourself outside your normal zone of comfort. Going up onstage and putting yourself out there, exposing your vulnerability, gets easier and easier every time.

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