For Amanda Crew, art imitates life. While she is largely known for her role as Monica Hall on the HBO series Silicon Valley, she recently sat down with me to talk about the duality between her personal life and experience playing a woman who feels torn between the life she’s created and the life she really wants.
It’s a thriller, Amanda tells me, but the underlying turmoil her character faces is something she can relate to in her own life. It’s something that she thinks other actors are familiar with as well. Because even when the camera isn’t rolling, they’ve still got a role to play.
I spoke to Amanda before about her experience with a “post-success hangover,” and today, we talked about self-discovery and making it through the darkest parts of your soul to unearth what you truly want out of life.
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What is the “dark night of the soul”?
It sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? Good. Because sometimes, we need to be really honest about what we’re feeling, even at the expense of coming off too strong or seeming like we’re overly sensitive.
Because you can only go through the motions in life for so long before the routine starts to wear you down. A lot of people depict this type of struggle as something young adults in their 20s experience, and maybe so many adults don’t talk about it because they buy into that stereotype too.
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In your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, you should have your life together. Whatever you’ve built, you should be proud of. But so many of us find ourselves going down a path that almost felt predestined, and not in the romantic, fulfilling, Disney kind of way.
It’s more like you realize you’ve been acting in a movie you wouldn’t even want to watch. You may not even like the genre. And you’re not even sure if you’re the main character. It’s a lot to take in at once, and it’s even harder to admit it.
But when you do, you’re faced with something terrifying and potentially life-changing: the dark night of your soul.
Amanda describes this as the moment when everything in her life collapsed. She was tired of throwing herself into passions that were really just a way to seek validation from others. She says she was “miserable,” and that despite all her outside markers of success, “nothing made sense to me anymore.”
On her 30th birthday, Amanda reached out to a friend. She was inconsolably depressed and didn’t even know why yet. It was him who told her she was passing through the dark night of her soul.
Naturally, she Googled it, and she found excerpt by the renowned spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. He describes it as a form of ego death where the you that you’ve been is gone, perhaps abruptly, and you’re left in the aftermath wondering who you are, what you want, and how you’re supposed to move forward.
Amanda admits that it’s a terrifying experience, but it’s also a blessing.
“You’re being given the most rare opportunity to go to the basement of who you are and discover a whole new level of yourself.”
If you can relate to any of this right now, you’re in good company. Not only are there millions of people around you going through the same thing, there are also many people who have been through it and come out on the other side.
Understanding Fulfillment vs Success
We live in a success-driven culture. When people ask what we’re doing, they want to know what we’ve achieved, not if we’re happy. And for a lot of us, we think happiness will naturally follow achievement.
Sometimes it does, but a lot of other times, the high of success wears off, or we succeed at the wrong things that don’t matter to us.
The most difficult part of overcoming this inertia is realizing that it may not have an exact cause. You might not have any childhood trauma or major losses that got you here.
You did everything you were “supposed” to do, but you’re not happy, and you don’t know why.
It’s likely because despite whatever you’ve done, it hasn’t fulfilled you. And fulfillment is the root of all lasting success.
For Amanda, she thought that realizing her childhood dream of becoming an actress would unlock everything she was missing — it would finally make her feel worthy, successful, and infinitely happy.
While she has amazing memories from her work, she also knew that she wasn’t entirely in it for herself. There were much deeper needs she needed to address, and answers to questions no one could ask but herself.
Part of finding fulfillment is getting rid of the idea you need to achieve a goal to be satisfied. It’s looking at the journey instead of the destination.
In Amanda’s words, it’s a process of embracing every aspect of what she’s doing, even if it isn’t immediately enjoyable.
“I missed the fulfillment part… don’t put off your fulfillment until you get to the top, like enjoy the entire process, even the lows.”
How to Create Your Own Happiness
What’s the first thing anyone has to do if they want to move beyond the dark night of the soul? Admit that you’re in it.
Denial only keeps a problem going. You have to be willing to slow down and admit that things aren’t working right now, and believe that you deserve more out of life.
There can be a lot of guilt involved in this process. You may feel like you just aren’t grateful enough for your job, your family, your privileges, and so on. But in reality, you can be grateful for all of those things and still admit there are changes you need to make in your life.
Happiness is a skill rather than a feeling. Learning how to create joyfulness in your life is how you start to build fulfillment rather than relying on other people to make you feel successful.
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What makes life joyful for you? Is it creating something? Is it helping others? Is it connecting with people?
Find small ways to start building joy in your daily life, and appreciate the process. Don’t be afraid to experiment, either. This is your time to learn more about yourself, who you are, and what you really want your life to look like.