Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Aha! Moment: How I Learned to Trust My Own Instincts
About three years ago, I was in a little off-Broadway play. I thought it was great and was proud of it. But one night after the show, at an audience Q&A session, a guy said, “Don’t worry about The New York Times.” I’d learned never to read reviews, but this confirmed they must have been bad. And for a couple of days, that slayed me. I’d always thought that if I believed in what I was doing, people would respond well, even if they had different tastes. But at that moment I realized this was simply untrue. Then I thought, Maybe I’m completely wrong about everything. I became so sensitive to others’ opinions that I had a hard time saying, I know I love this, so who cares what everyone else thinks?
It took me a while—and it’s an ongoing challenge, to be honest—to stop seeking approval. But one day, and this might sound cheesy, I took my daughter, Ramona, to see the new Muppets movie. There’s a part where Kermit the Frog says, “Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you, you know? Maybe you just need one person.” When I heard that, I started crying. There’s just so much pressure to be a great mother, wife, friend, actress, or whatever your job may be. If some aspect of you wants everyone to universally love and understand you and approve of everything you do—well, that’s a sad life. You’ll bend yourself into a pretzel trying to be all these things you think you’re supposed to be.
These days I’m better at saying, Wait a minute. It’s all right if others don’t approve, because I believe in what I’m doing. I’ve found some strategies that help. A friend of mine, Emma, once told me, “You’re going to drop the ball sometimes. That’s how it goes.” This is a person who’s not constantly trying to please everyone or afraid of making mistakes—she just lives her life. So now I think, What would Emma do? A year ago, I even did another play at the same theater with many of the same people, and this time I felt so much stronger. I thought, This is my work. I’m doing the best I can. I know not everyone will love it—and that is fine.