American Horror Story actress Sarah Paulson shared nuggets of wisdom concerning an actor’s sense of self-worth during an interview with Off Camera’s Sam Jones. The Florida native started working as an actress as soon as she graduated from high school–first, in theater, and then she landed an episode of Law & Order in 1994. Just a year later, she nabbed a starring role in Sam Raimi’s American Gothic and has worked consistently in the industry ever since. But still, the actress has experienced her share of moments in which she second-guessed her talent and career prospects.

Paulson talks about her ambivalent feelings of self-worth as an actress as a result of casting professionals praising her talent and yet ultimately booking other actresses. She explains that much of an actor’s future is wrapped up in what others think of his or her work, and so experiencing rejection can really take its toll. When the industry keeps passing on what you bring to the table, it can be easy to confuse your value in finding work within the industry with your value as a person. But Paulson makes clear that if actors aren’t booking jobs, it does not mean they’re not talented or of value. She says:

“People want to be seen and want to feel that you matter and that you count. And when you’re constantly being told, ‘No, no, no,’ and that your work isn’t speaking to anyone or nothing you’re doing is making a difference to anyone, and you’re not being chosen, it’s hard to not personalize that–very hard to continue to strive.”

The entertainment industry is not based on a “meritocracy,” she argues. Indeed, when casting selections are being made, talent is just one element in the decision-making process. Other factors might include an actor’s chemistry with another actor, exhibiting energy that’s either too large or too small, or too soft or too hard, or being the opposite height for which they need; the reasons to reject a talented actor are endless. But, such is the business. 

As for Paulson, in addition to enjoying a steady stream of roles over the years, she’s earned many accolades to boot. She’s celebrated for her performances in the NBC television series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the HBO film Game Change, the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, the film Carol, the political-thriller The Post; she played Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson, and Paulson has starred as several different characters in American Horror Story.

Paulson describes herself as “self-critical,” and speaks with somewhat of a lisp, but she exudes an inner strength and ease, and she exhibits a natural, accessible personal quality. “I’m still the same actress I was when I wasn’t getting hired. Had nothing ever happened for me the way it happened for me, wouldn’t mean that I weren’t of value and that I didn’t have something to contribute artistically.” She’s certain she’d still find ways to perform even if she hadn’t “made it” in the biz.

However, rejection can take its toll. Paulson says, “It’s hard. It’s not for the faint of heart being a person–I’m not talking about just being an actor– it’s not for the faint of heart.”

On a similar note, motivational author Louise Hay has accumulated decades worth of experience counseling people, and many of her clients have been aspiring actors who were afraid of auditions because of the rejection inherent within the entertainment industry. In helping these actors see the bigger picture, Hay says, “My mantra was: ‘Whether you get the part or not has nothing to do with your self-worth!’ I wish this principle was the very first thing that actors were taught in acting classes. It would save so much pain and agony later on when they begin to go on auditions.”