Full text of TV star, Catherine Reitman’s talk: A Guide to Believing in Yourself (But For Real This Time) at TEDxToronto conference. In this talk, she shares her lessons learned in seeing ideas through to their completion, not allowing others to reshape your vision and a little bit about family dynamics.
Catherine Reitman – Producer, Workin’ Moms
I feel so fortunate to be here, you guys.
I should let you know I’m not an academic – hell, I barely have a university diploma – but I have found myself in a very fortunate seat.
I’m the showrunner of my own series. “Showrunner” is industry talk for a boss lady, hence the blazer.
And even as I say it to you, it feels strange because it wasn’t so long ago – four years now – that I felt completely powerless, and unqualified, and specifically like I didn’t have a choice.
Have you ever felt a tingle inside? That you were meant for more, that something outside of your prescribed life was calling to you, but you didn’t feel entitled to it?
If so, don’t sweat.
I want to talk to you about the choice you have to grow outside of your comfort zone.
See, I spent the majority of my adult life feeling like I had no choice. I lived in a constant state of rejection. I’m an actor. I spent my career going into rooms desperately trying to convince someone that I was the perfect version of that character, only to be told “NO.”
I’m sure you’re all thinking that acting is a very glamorous career. And the irony is the majority of creative types work a very small percentage of the time – if at all. So I got fed up.
I mean, look, if I was trying to sell you this jumper and you said “no,” I could blame the jumper.
But when the product is yourself, it becomes harder and harder to sleep at night. As passionate as I was about acting, I was so sick of feeling like I didn’t have a say in my own career.
So I did something that felt a little bit illegal. I started writing, not very well. And it felt like, I don’t know, it felt like writing was meant for someone smarter than me, or more special than me.
But I get these ideas, one in particular – little morsel. I had an idea for a medical dramedy that took place in a pediatric children’s hospital. I know, hilarious.
And instead of giving it time to develop past its infancy stage, I pitched it to an industry veteran. And this guy – smart, hell of a resume – I really trust him.
He’s also a very good father. For those of you who know my dad, Ivan Reitman, you know he’s considered one of the forefathers of comedy. He’s the dude who made Ghostbusters. Yes.
And he’s also here today.
Happy birthday, Dad.
And I am so sorry for the story I’m about to tell you.
You see, if you know my dad at all, he is beyond blunt. Yeah. I’ll never forget his face. He looked at me, right in the eyes, and said, “Catherine, a medical dramedy? Leave that to Aaron Sorkin.”
Those words on a loop reverberated through my brain for weeks: “Leave that to Aaron, leave that to Aaron, leave that to Aaron Sorkin.”
Ah, every time I went to brush my teeth: “Leave that to Aaron Sorkin.”
Tried to parallel park my car: “Leave that to Aaron Sorkin.”
Everything should be left to Aaron Sorkin, who, of course, is responsible for writing The Newsroom, and The West Wing, and more notably won an Oscar for The Social Network. Smart guy.
But yeah, that shut me down. I released the idea back into the wild and felt shame for even stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Now, if that moment is something you can relate to, where you suppressed your magic and you devalued yourself, I’ve got awesome news.
That is an absolutely required moment in identifying the choice.
I keep harping on about the choice because I find it very important to notice that there is one; I find that empowering.
But before we take that step, let’s just, for a second, examine what happens if you say “NO” to the choice, because we do it all the time, right?
You don’t have to say “yes.” You can ignore your inner voice and listen to that more critical voice that’s always running, right?
“You’re not smart enough. You’re not special enough.”
Remember that teacher who didn’t think much of you? That ex-boyfriend who thought you were a hack? He wasn’t always wrong.
And what if you fail? What would that feel like? Would it be that different than your current state of creative passivity?
For me those two states were the same. The idea of writing something and not going anywhere – failing – and not writing because I was too afraid of failing was about equal.
If you do fail, can you survive it? I think you can. Talk to someone on their deathbed.
In 2011, Bronnie Ware published a book about her time as a palliative care nurse. She documented the five biggest regrets of people on their deathbed.
The number one regret of people about to pass away: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life more true to myself and didn’t worry so much about what others expected of me.”
So look, you can unpack that in a bunch of different ways, but for me the takeaway is that it is our duty to listen to our inner voice in order to be our truest self.
So let’s take a step to the edge for a second; let’s just consider the uncomfortable.
Now look, my Aaron Sorkin idea, Dad, wasn’t there yet. But Aaron Sorkin didn’t become Aaron Sorkin by allowing anyone who did something before him halt his development. Right?
Granted, he’s a white male, and that gave him opportunity, you bet. And that’s not just my opinion; that’s a statistical fact.
As a female showrunner, I frequently find myself in these conversations, talking about how key roles in the entertainment industry aren’t going to women. It’s why I make a practice of hiring predominantly women even if their resumes don’t support it yet.
But guys, Aaron Sorkin is not the problem. He’s merely the incumbent. He’s currently holding office, which means you get to be the challenger. And yes – your path into the arena must be a challenge.
And in order to do that, you got to enter the arena. That’s where the choice comes into play.